In Africa, Blinken sees the limits of US influence abroad

Dakar, Senegal (AP) —US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was traveling in Africa, first saw the limits of US influence abroad.

Blinken faced the ongoing challenges posed by authoritarianism, heightened threats from newly energized militants, and COVID-19 and climate change. All of these have stubbornly resisted various US interventions.

And last week’s three-country tour to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal couldn’t escape the obvious signs of fierce competition between the United States and China. For the last 20 years, especially in Africa.

Blinken said he was well received by all three leaders he met before leaving the continent at his last stop in Senegal. But he admitted, “We have to judge not only what we say, but what we do.”

The limits of Washington’s reach have been apparent for some time, but President Joe Biden’s “America is back” aimed at signaling the United States’ return to the international arena and institutions that its predecessor had avoided. It has been emphasized in the last few months as it promoted the story.

In Nairobi, many of the secretary’s visits and drives through the Kenyan capital took place behind or literally behind a large China-funded elevated highway construction project.

In Abuja, a convoy of Blinken from the airport passed through the huge and must-see headquarters building of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Nigeria. There, the chief executive joked about China’s appeal as a partner, dealing with the United States and China.

And in Senegal, the capital, Dakar, was preparing to host major trade and investment events in China and Africa less than 10 days after Blinken’s departure on Saturday.

The Biden administration’s efforts to help African countries fight the coronavirus pandemic and encourage climate-friendly policies appear to have made some early progress, but the broader perspective is less encouraging. not.

A new wave of authoritarianism has emerged, despite the highly public U.S. complaints and protests that leaders in Ethiopia, Sudan and elsewhere have ignored or paid only partial attention to. Has reversed the positive democratization trend of the United States.

“The government is losing transparency,” Blinken said Friday in the capital of Nigeria. “I see this happening all over Africa. Leaders ignore term restrictions, manipulate or postpone elections, use social dissatisfaction to gain and maintain power, and opposition Arrest people, crack down on the media, and enable security agencies to brutally enforce pandemic restrictions. “

He cited Ethiopia and Sudan as typical examples.

Blinken did not go to either country during the trip, but caused a crisis at each stop, and during the trip, top US envoys visited both Khartoum and Addis Ababa, where they retreated anti-democratic action. I put pressure on it.

Still, neither has resulted in heated success, despite the Sudanese agreement announced on Sunday after Blinken returned to Washington.

In Sudan, following a conversation between military leaders and Africa’s top U.S. diplomat Molly Fee, a new deadly crackdown on opposition protesters forced by Blinken to formally condemn in a statement. It was conducted.

As a hopeful sign, the state’s testimony-taken Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdock signed an agreement with the military that he would return almost a month after he was under house arrest by a military coup. .. However, major democratic groups dismissed it as a “form of betrayal,” and Blinken himself was cautious, saying he was “encouraging,” but still wanted to see more.

“We urge all sides to double further consultations and efforts to complete important transitional agendas on the civilian-led path to Sudan’s democracy,” Blinken said in a tweet. Protester. “

In Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa’s US envoy Jeffrey Feltman refuses from Prime Minister Abby Ahmedor to end the humanitarian blockade in the northern region of Tigray, home of the rebels currently advancing in the capital. it was done.

Meanwhile, permanent corruption, abuse of power and lack of transparency continue to hamper US-backed African infrastructure, development and poverty alleviation initiatives.

And while Biden talked about returning Africa to a prominent place in US foreign policy, other priorities and urgent developments, including imminent issues in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, are often of the administration’s. The tenure that crowded it in the first ten.

The White House announced on Friday that Biden will convene a US-Africa summit next year “to strengthen relationships with African partners based on the principles of mutual respect and common interests and values.” However, the announcement lacked important details such as who will attend and when it will be held.

And when Blinken arrived in Senegal, it was a sign of priority during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, his first to sub-Saharan Africa postponed from August. It was the third and last stop on the official trip.

Apart from the attention it absorbed in Washington, the impact of the Afghan exit left some American friends, including Africa, wondering about the resilience of their relationship with Washington. This has been of particular concern as China has cleared the perceived gap in US interest in Africa and interest in other parts of the world.

With the exception of China’s rapidly expanding power prism, that perception, fueled by the Trump administration’s indifference to Africa, is what Biden and Blinken want to change. Blinken, for example, never mentioned the Chinese name in his main speech on Friday’s Biden administration’s policy towards Africa.

Still, China was never far from the top of the agenda.

“Our involvement in Africa with Africa is not about China or any other third party,” Blinken said in Nigeria. “It’s about Africa.”

“Our purpose is not to let our partners make choices, but to give them choices,” he said in Senegal. “And when people make choices, they usually make the right thing.”

Senegal’s Foreign Minister Aisata Tal Sole, who co-sponsors the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation with Chinese counterparts from November 29th to 30th, nodded in favor of Blinken’s remarks.

“We have sovereign diplomacy and no one excludes it,” she said. “There is more than one choice. There are many choices.”

And, as Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Joffrey Oniyama pointed out, his country and other countries want the best deal they can get, which often means turning to China.

“We saw a great opportunity with the Chinese,” he said of some of the major infrastructure projects currently underway in Nigeria. “That means we’re used to many of these huge capital and infrastructure projects. We went with someone else who offered something at a competitive price. But in many areas they were.

“It’s not a problem in either country in itself,” he said, comparing Nigeria to women being persuaded by various suitors.

“I don’t want to sound almost cynical when it comes to US-China competition in Africa, but if you’re a charming bride and everyone is offering you great things, that’s good for you. You take what you can do from each of them. “