By John Ikani
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has concluded his four-nation tour of Africa, visiting Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Angola.
The trip isn’t Blinken’s debut on the continent but his first to the sub-Saharan region in ten months as he had been much engaged since the breakout of the Israel-Hamas war in October.
Blinken has actively engaged with various African countries since becoming Secretary of State in 2020. Earlier in 2023, he visited North Africa, focusing on security, climate change, and economic ties.
He attended the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in November 2022 and even made a brief stop in South Africa in July 2022.
Fast forward to 2024, after six days of high-level meetings, public addresses, and diplomatic engagement, Blinken’s latest trip leaves several key takeaways worth analyzing.
Wider Scramble For Africa
It is no coincidence that Blinken’s visit comes at a time when Russia and China are making inroads in the continent.
Notably, the visit came just days after Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi left the continent.
Blinken’s visit commenced on January 22nd, 2024, while Wang Yi’s trip concluded on January 18th, making Blinken’s visit roughly four days later.
Although the timing has led to speculation about competition between the US and China for influence in Africa, both countries maintained that their respective visits were pre-planned and not necessarily in response to each other.
However, beyond the denials is a palpable scramble for influence on the continent as earlier highlighted by Heritage Times [HT].
While China is cementing its status as the largest economic partner on the continent, Russia is fast becoming a security ally to many African nations.
On its part, the U.S. seeks to renew waning Western influence but there isn’t yet a clear sense of what a more dynamic U.S. engagement has to offer.
Blinken’s visit signalled that the Biden Administration seeks to promote a less security-driven approach to Africa. Instead, the US is focused on consolidating its biggest export – democracy.
Save for Angola, three of the other African nations – Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria are in West Africa, a region that predominantly constitutes what is known as the coup belt of Africa.
Amid fear of putch contagion or the terrifying prospect of further political instability, Blinken strategic visit to Cape Verde saw him inspect the Praia port expansion, a $150 million project executed by the U.S-controlled Millennium Challenge Corporation to reward the country for meeting democratic standards.
Last month, the US body announced that it is working to deliver a third package for the Portuguese-speaking archipelago whose Prime Minister, Jose Ulisses Correia says is “guided by the values of liberal democracy”.
Similarly, in Ivory Coast, Blinken commended the progress of democratic consolidation under President Ouattara, an economist educated in the United States. In Abuja, the Secretary didn’t also hold back in lauding Nigeria’s efforts toward restoring constitutional order and democracy in Niger under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
New Look At Security?
The visit didn’t signal any new approach or tactical changes in the US approach to security in Africa. Notably, the US is on the verge of losing a drone base in coup-hit Niger, a nation that had been key to U.S. efforts in countering jihadi violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.
Niger whose elite soldier toppled elected president Mohamed Bazoum months after a visit by Blinken last year, has since aligned with Russia’s Wagner mercenary group. The powerful and ruthless mercenary group also hold sway in Mali, the Central African Republic and allegedly Burkina Faso.
Consequently, the U.S. is “in discussion with several coastal West African states over hosting a drone base,” US Air Force commander for both Europe and Africa, General James Hecker told newsmen late last year.
Notwithstanding, Blinken in his visit to Ivory Coast pledged his country’s support to providing $45 million in new funding to help the West African country and its neighbours counter spreading violence. The contribution brings the total U.S. stability-focused assistance in coastal West Africa to nearly $300 million since 2022.
In Nigeria, Blinken re-echoed the familiar commitment of strengthening the capacity of security forces in the Sahel, specifically “in terms of equipment and technology, intelligence sharing, and technical support.”
What’s With Angola?
With neither threats of political instability nor insecurity, Many could argue that Blinken arguably had no reason to visit Angola except to highlight the U.S. willingness to succeed wherever China fails.
Beyond the alleged ‘smokescreen” of commending President Lourenco’s continued efforts to de-escalate tensions between Rwanda and the DRC, Blinken hailed progress in the construction of the Lobito Corridor, an international freight rail line that traverses three mineral-rich countries, spanning from Zambia to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), ultimately reaching ports on the Atlantic in Angola.
Initially developed by China, which has been the foremost investor in Angolan infrastructure, the project faced stagnation. Spotting an opportunity to exert influence, the US stepped in and is providing $250 billion in loans to help rebuild the Lobito Corridor.
While the United States claims its involvement in Africa isn’t driven by competition with China, this move suggests that China still plays a big role in how the U.S. interacts with African countries.
However, it is worth noting that US interest in Angola goes beyond the Lobito Corridor. Did you know that the Biden Administration has increased its military assistance to Angola, providing more than $18 million from 2020 to 2023?
What’s more, in November of 2023, the United States and Angola officially signed the Artemis Accords, a collection of principles designed to govern collaborative efforts in the exploration of outer space among various nations.
According to the State Department, plans are underway to explore capacity-building initiatives in cybersecurity and for the Navy of Angola.