Blinken Playing Catch Up With China And Russia In Africa – OpEd


Antony J. Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, visited Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Angola from Jan. 21-26 to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Africa. Blinken’s visit was also to accelerate the U.S.-Africa partnership since the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit held mid-December 2022 in Washington. The visit highlighted the collaborative efforts in key areas such as climate, food, and health security.

United States, at least, has been making serious efforts to strengthen its relations with Africa. And African leaders have also acknowledged its existing strongest competitive advantages including closely-knitted cultural ties, creating the working environment for Africans on the Diaspora to excel in their careers in different spheres in the United States. Without doubts, President Joe Biden indisputably described US-Africa relations as “US ‘all in’ for Africa” during mid-December Africa Leaders summit in Washington.

The Biden-Harris administration have been prioritizing comprehensive multifaceted relationships with various countries across Africa. The newly created Diaspora Secretariat under the Presidency also serves as strong bridge leveraging between the United States and Africa. Remittances from the Diaspora amounted to $68 billion, according to the World Bank. While Biden is yet to deliver on his warm-hearted promise to visit Africa, Vice-President Kamala Devi Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have, however, taken the responsibility for replaying summit pledges, monitoring the development of cordial diplomatic ties, pushing for an increased bilateral trade and getting investment partners crucial for development across the continent with approximately 1.4 billion people.

Somehow in practice, a few noticeable steps started with the possibility of extending the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) that would able African exporters to continue earning pretty revenues from the US market, a number of projects were also launched, financed partly from the Biden’s $55 billion approved for Africa. As well-known, AGOA gives eligible sub-Saharan African countries duty-free access to the United States market for more than 1,800 products and simultaneously create grounds for trade and commercial services. Since its inception, the AGOA consistently remains a transformative success story. 

Research shows that since 2021, the U.S. Government has helped close more than 800 two-way trade and investment deals across 47 African countries for a total estimated value of over $18 billion, and the U.S. private sector has closed investment deals in Africa valued at $8.6 billion. U.S. goods and services traded with Africa totaled $83.6 billion in 2021.

After Kamala Harris official visit to the East and Southern region last year, Foreign Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken also went on a four-nation working tour of Africa – to Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Angola from Jan. 21-26. The Africa trip was his third overseas this new year. He returned from a Gaza-focused, weeklong 10-nation trip to the Middle East and a three-day trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Blinken’s Africa trip comes as the United States is increasingly nervous about its relationships on the continent, particularly after coups last year in Niger and Gabon, and escalating unrest in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The primary purpose of the trip was to discuss U.S.-African partnerships over trade, climate, infrastructure, health, security and other issues. As expected in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (on the Gulf of Guinea), Blinken held discussions with President Alassane Ouattara and also with Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, at a sub-regional Rice Research Institute.

Those high-level engagements resulted in a pledged $45 million in additional financing to help fight conflict and bring stability to coastal West Africa, where insecurity linked to jihadist insurgencies has increased in recent years. The funding will supplement $300 million the U.S. has already invested in coastal West Africa over the past two years. 

United States faced a setback in its fight against militants in the Sahel when military officers toppled Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum, a key ally, in July last year. The coup in Niger was one of a series of military takeovers or attempted power grabs that occurred in West and Central Africa over the past three years. The instability has raised concern, particularly as juntas have cut ties with traditional Western allies such as the European Union and France, which withdrew thousands of troops from the Sahel last year.

In Abuja, capital of Federal Republic of Nigeria, Blinken held talks with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who took office last year with promises of embarking on possible economic reforms, broaden approach in creating partnerships and among other challenges is the need to clear away fundamental hurdles and hindrances for companies to invest in the private and public sectors in Nigeria. Nevertheless, the discussions offered an assurance of patching up with business, incorporating new strategies in the face of geopolitical changes.

Bilateral talks involving the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yusuf Tuga, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, and other government officials further focused on the fact that United States is seriously determined to remain a strong security partner for Nigeria and in the West African region. Nigeria — Africa’s largest economy and home to the headquarters of West African regional bloc ECOWAS — has also opposed its neighbor’s coup. United States has shown interest in ensuring the protection of civilians and its related humanitarian matters.

Blinken described Cabo Verde as a beacon of stability amid chaos and conflicts that have marred most of the West African countries. In a more persuasive strategy, Blinken emphasized the American government’s commitment to deepening win-win partnerships with Africa, during his meeting with Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva in Cabo Verde’s capital, Praia.

In this tiny but beautiful island, the Millennium Challenge Corporation has earmarked funds for specific corporate deals that would support economic growth. These concrete initiatives, at least, pointed to Blinken’s visit to the city’s port, Porto da Praia. The secretary applauded the country for being the first to complete two Millennium Challenge Corporation compacts and is now beginning the third. The partnerships will provide numerous benefits to the people of Cabo Verde and America.

Cape Verde’s notable economic growth and improvement in living conditions despite a lack of natural resources have garnered wide-recognition. It has one of the best educational systems in Africa, ranked 8th by the World Education Forum in 2023. With a population a little more than half a million, the majority of Cape Verdeans live in the United States and Western Europe.

“I’m deeply honored that we were able through one of the compacts to make substantial investments in the port here of Praia, and that’s had manifest benefits for the port,” he underlined in remarks. Blinken also congratulated Cabo Verde on being certified malaria-free by the World Health Organization (WHO). The malaria-free certification was a remarkable achievement for Cabo Verde, located approximately 570 kilometres (350 mi) off the western coast of the Africa, near Senegal and The Gambia in the central Atlantic Ocean.

In the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Blinken pitched United States as a better security partner for Africa. The United States would continue to support Nigeria and other regional partners in their efforts to help stabilize the Sahel, the vast region south of the Sahara Desert that Islamic extremist groups have turned into a global terror hot spot as it struggles with a recent spate of coups.

“We hope it can make a difference in restoring the constitutional order and restoring a critical partner in trying to find security in the region,” Blinken told reporters in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, speaking in particular about Niger, where a coup has threatened years of support by Western and European nations.

Historically American companies have been collaborating and investing in the Nigerian economy. But time has significantly changed …that the economic cooperation needs diversification. That is why Blinken, following a meeting with President Bola Tinubu in Abuja, highlighted the tech sector as a focal point for partnership. Emphasizing the commitment to President Tinubu’s one million digital jobs initiative, Blinken mentioned collaborations between US tech giants and Nigerian partners.

Beyond that means American entrepreneurs, venture capital firms, and tech companies be actively involved in fostering startups, financing initiatives, and expanding internet access in Nigeria. Despite acknowledging the challenging business environment and Nigeria’s corruption perception, Blinken sees the country as offering competitive opportunities for investors. 

But at the same time, it is necessary to address corruption and facilitating capital repatriation to attract foreign investments. Thus far, Tinubu’s reforms, despite facing short-term challenges, have garnered praise from investors, and Blinken affirmed continued US support to mitigate the impacts on the Nigerian people.

With geopolitical complexities taking shape, United States is crawling to surmount enough formidable challenges to embark on an ambitious investment in Africa’s infrastructure. Quite recently, in order to showcase the future trajectory of its relations especially in developing infrastructure, late November 2023 President Joe Biden hosted Angolan President João Lourenço at the White House, promoting major investments in the country. The two leaders held an indepth discussions over cooperation on critical spheres such as trade, energy, climate and a $1 billion U.S.-backed infrastructure project that would aid Angola’s economy.

As it lags behind major countries like Russia and China in competing for influence, Antony Blinken’s working visit to the Republic of Angola, the final leg of his four-African-country tour was to revitalize and guarantee the $1 billion rail project for Angola’s Lobito Corridor, which would eventually link Angola with mineral-rich parts of the Republic of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the biggest U.S. rail investment in Africa under Biden-Harris administration.

The State Department has repeatedly said in a statement “shared priorities of strengthening democracy and rule of law, expanding trade and economic cooperation, and improving local and regional security.” Notably, many West African countries desirous to benefit from its soft power and renewed AGOA, have quietly supported the U.S., aligning on issues such as condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden-Harris administration has also expressed committment to giving facelift to current relations with Africa unlike its predecessor Donald Trump. 

In a nutshell, many observers say time is still on the side of United States, it only needs moving faster and implementing viable projects and show more comprehensive actions. Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken’s week-long official journey, mid-January 2024, holds at least some significant importance in the context of tracking United States-Africa economic engagement. At least, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Angola have largely stood by the United States despite the fact that its persuasive power is steadily waning in the emerging multipolar world. 

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.

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