Blinken’s Trip To Africa – OpEd


Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to four African countries—Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Angola—on January 21-26, 2024, demonstrates just how worried U.S. policymakers are about recent developments in Africa. Despite the demands on his time from the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, Blinken obviously knows he has to pay attention to Africa. He and the Biden administration face six overlapping, simultaneous crises in different part of Africa: the Sahel, Nigeria, Sudan, the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia), the Great Lakes Region (DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda), and northern Mozambique.

Blinken’s highest priority is to make a deal with the putschists in Niger to maintain the U.S. drone base at Agadez in northern Niger. His other major priority is to deal with the deteriorating situation in Nigeria. And Washington is competing with China for political, economic, and diplomatic influence in Africa. To show that the United States can succeed in the competition with China for economic influence and prestige. Blinken will highlight the Lobito Corridor project in Angola.

Blinken is right to emphasize that United States is doing better on investment and trade these days, while China is doing far worse than generally portrayed. Chinese President Xi Jinping, severely disappointed by the “Belt and Road” strategy, has directed his government to abandon many current projects in Africa and to cut back on future Chinese plans for investment Africa. At the same time, the success of the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and other American economic initiatives in Africa—however limited that success might be—shows that the United States can compete with China on its own terms.

But the trip also demonstrates—by the omission of any significant initiatives other than pledging $45 million in weaponry and other military assistance to the remaining members of ECOWAS—that the Biden administration is incapable of responding to the challenges it confronts in Africa, at least for the time being. AlthoughBiden may still be committed to making a trip to Africa during his term in office, that can only happen if he wins a second term this coming November. So, Blinken has to go to Africa instead, even though it distracts him from missions in what the United States considers more important parts of the world.

It surely is no coincidence that the publication Semfor revealed on January 25 that Judd Devermont will leave his post as Senior Director for African Affairs in the National Security Council by mid-February 2024. Devermont took office in October 2021 pledging that he would promote a less militaristic U.S. policy toward Africa.  He has concluded, it appears, that his efforts have failed and that remaining in office is a waste of time.

Biden faces an immediate challenge in Nigeria. On February 1, the governor of Zamfara state announced the creation of a vigilante force, following a similar action taken by the governor of Katsina state in October 2024. Even Nigerian state governors have so little confidence in the government’s ability to protect the population that they have resorted to arm civilians so they can protect themselves. That same day, a coalition of 40 civil society groups petitioned Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, expressing concern at the deteriorating security situation and calling on him to take “actionable steps” to reduce the violence and end human rights abuses by government security forces.

Blinken has his work cut out for him in Nigeria, and throughout the rest of the continent, at least until November 2024.

This article was published at FPIF

Daniel Volman

Daniel Volman is the director of the African Security Research Project in Washington, DC, and a specialist on U.S. military policy toward Africa and African security issues.

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