Blinken says US can benefit Africa amid rising Chinese influence
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that the United States considers Africa a “major geopolitical power” where it can deliver tangible benefits, seeking to boost US influence as rival China invests heavily.
Days before China holds a major meeting on Africa in Senegal, where Blinken heads later Friday, the top US diplomat said President Joe Biden plans to convene a summit of African leaders.
In an address at the headquarters of the West African bloc ECOWAS in Abuja, Blinken made no explicit mention of China but said he knew Africans have been “wary of the strings” that often come with foreign engagement.
“I want to be clear — the United States doesn’t want to limit your partnerships with other countries,” Blinken said.
“We don’t want to make you choose. We want to give you choices.
“Our approach will be sustainable, transparent and values-driven,” he said.
He said that other nations’ infrastructure deals can be “opaque, coercive, burden countries with unmanageable debt, are environmentally destructive and don’t always benefit the people who actually live there.”
“We will do things differently,” he said.
He said the Biden administration “firmly believes that it’s time to stop treating Africa as a subject of geopolitics –- and start treating it as the major geopolitical player it has become.”
He acknowledged reasons for cynicism, saying that Africans too often “have been treated as junior partners — or worse — rather than equal ones”.
“And we’re sensitive to centuries of colonialism, slavery, and exploitation that lead to painful legacies that endure today.”
Blinken, whose three-nation trip also included Kenya, promised cooperation on areas including fighting Covid-19 and climate change.
– Threats to democracy –
Biden — who next month holds a virtual summit of democracies — has vowed a new commitment not only to Africa but to democracy after perceptions that his predecessor Donald Trump was not focused on either.
A day after meeting Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Blinken met with religious and civil society leaders as part of an effort to move beyond dealings just with governments in Africa.
He praised grassroots efforts to defuse religious tensions, two days after he reversed the Trump administration’s decision, encouraged by evangelical Christians, to put Nigeria on a blacklist on religious freedom.
“Your leadership is one that we hope all will follow on, not just in Nigeria but beyond,” Blinken said, calling the diversity of Africa’s most populous country a “very wonderful and powerful thing”.
In a tone he has struck throughout the administration, Blinken in his speech acknowledged that the United States was not a perfect model on democracy in the wake of the January 6 mob attack by Trump supporters on the US Capitol.
“Democratic backsliding is not just an African problem -– it’s a global problem. My own country is struggling with threats to our democracy. And the solutions to those threats will come as much from Africa as from anywhere.”
“We need to show how democracies can deliver what citizens want, quickly and effectively,” he said.
Biden has identified China as the paramount US challenge of the 21st century with Beijing’s rapid growth and rising assertiveness at home and abroad.
China has ramped up involvement in Africa in its search for resources and an infrastructure-building blitz — and makes little fuss about democracy.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, speaking Thursday at a news conference with Blinken, dismissed concerns about China, saying that Beijing provided needed funding.
“We would have gone with anybody else that was providing something at a competitive rate for us,” he said.
“Sometimes it’s a good thing for you if you’re the attractive bride and everybody is offering you wonderful things.”