U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken began a trip to three countries in Africa on Sunday amid growing U.S. concerns about Russian influence on the continent, and on the heels of a recent visit by Moscow’s top envoy.
Many African countries have refused to take sides in the Ukraine war and have rejected calls from the West to participate in sanctions against Moscow. Mr. Blinken’s trip began in South Africa amid a series of high-level visits by U.S. officials to the continent to convey the message that Russia’s actions in Ukraine were to blame for the food crisis.
“It’s kind of a wake-up call,” said Brahima Sangafowa Coulibaly of the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning US think tank. “African countries have not shown an overwhelming willingness to just accept Western rhetoric.”
Major powers such as South Africa have refused to support a UN resolution condemning Russia. The African Union has complained to European leaders that it has become more difficult to pay for Russian food exports since most of Russia’s big banks were removed from the Swift payment system.
Mr. Blinken’s visit will begin as U.S. Special Envoy to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, wraps up a tour of the African continent, which includes stops in Congo and Rwanda. During her four-day visit with senior officials and others, Ms. Thomas-Greenfield repeatedly blamed Russia for the food crisis, according to the meeting’s official statement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited four countries at the end of July to thank African governments for not participating in the Western sanctions campaign against the war in Ukraine. He blamed Europe and the U.S. for high food prices and offered to sell Russian oil despite U.S. warnings that such a deal would violate Western sanctions.
“If there is a country in Africa interested in our oil, there is no obstacle,” Lavrov told a news conference with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
French President Emmanuel Macron was also in West Africa in late July, accusing Russia of being one of the world’s last remaining colonial powers.
Gustavo de Carvalho, senior research fellow on Africa, said: “Africa is becoming a space for competition around global influence, with all parties trying to really win the hearts of African countries and show their stance against Better for the African Continent.” Governance and Diplomacy at the South African Institute of International Affairs.
For Blinken, gaining influence was no easy task.
As his first stop, South Africa was careful not to take sides. President Cyril Ramaphosa had a virtual meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in March, but no meeting with Blinken was scheduled. When then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited South Africa, she met then-President Jacob Zuma. The top US envoy will instead meet with his South African counterpart, Naledi Pandor.
Pretoria’s position is unlikely to change, said Mzukisi Qobo, head of the Wits School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. One topic Ms Pandor may bring up with Mr Blinken is the future of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which is due to expire in 2025. Like many countries on the African continent, South Africa enjoys preferential access to the U.S. market for certain goods, a boon for its auto industry in particular.
The pair are also likely to discuss pledges by the United States, along with Britain, Germany, France and the European Union, to help mobilize $8.5 billion to support South Africa’s transition away from coal. The funds are vital for Africa’s most developed economy, which has been plagued by power outages of up to 10 hours a day in recent weeks.
While in South Africa, Mr. Blinken will develop the Biden administration’s strategy for sub-Saharan Africa, which is expected to seek to re-establish ties with the continent in the tense years of the Trump administration.
Governments across the continent will look for more details on the $600 billion infrastructure fund announced by the United States and its allies at the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies summit in June, aimed at aligning with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. contend.
Mr Blinken will be met by the heads of state of Congo and Rwanda, where he is likely to spend much of his time trying to defuse a fresh outbreak of tensions between the neighbours.
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi has accused Rwanda of supporting militias that have been attacking civilians and occupying territory in mineral-rich eastern Congo, a charge Rwanda denies. Several US senators have called on the government to review its ties with Rwanda over its alleged support for the M23 militant group.
“The secretary will emphasize the need to respect territorial integrity and explore how the United States can support efforts to de-escalate tensions,” Molly Fey, assistant secretary for African affairs, told reporters before the trip.
Without a solution, the U.S. could freeze military aid to Rwanda, as it did during the last M23 insurgency in 2012-13, said Nelek van der Waal, director of the International Crisis Group’s Great Lakes Program.
Mr Blinken may also try to rally support for UN peacekeepers in eastern Congo. UN personnel have occasionally been involved in violent protests over the force’s failure to protect civilians. Mr Tshisekedi’s government said it was reassessing the status of the UN mission, the world’s largest, after at least 36 people, including three peacekeepers, were killed in protests over the past two weeks one of the group.
— Nicolas Bariyo, Kampala, Uganda contributed to this article.
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