US’s Blinken begins four-nation Africa tour amid Sahel worries

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Biden’s tour of West Africa begins as another top US official is on a similar tour within the region.

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said the US is committed to deeper relations with Africa despite global crises as he opened a four-country tour of the continent.

Blinken is touring four democracies on the Atlantic Coast – Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Angola – as security deteriorates in the Sahel and doubts grow about a key US base in neighbouring coup-hit Niger.

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US President Joe Biden welcomed leaders from Africa in 2022 in a show of newfound attention to the continent. But he did not visit Africa last year as promised.

Blinken nonetheless quoted Biden as he vowed, “We are all in when it comes to Africa.”

“Our futures are linked, our prosperity is linked, and African voices increasingly are shaping, animating and leading the global conversation,” Blinken said as he opened talks in Cape Verde.

“The United States is committed to deepening, strengthening and broadening partnerships across Africa,” Blinken said.

He called Cape Verde, a Portuguese-speaking archipelago of around 500,000 people that has cooperated with the US on law enforcement and naval stops, a “beacon of stability” and a “strong, principled voice”.

Much of the continent has been uneasy about the billions of dollars in Western aid to Ukraine, and Cape Verde’s Prime Minister Jose Ulisses Correia e Silva told Blinken that his country “strongly condemns” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Silva also criticised the recent spate of coups in Africa and said that Cape Verde was “guided by the values of liberal democracy”.

Blinken toured the port in the capital Praia, expanded as part of nearly $150m given to Cape Verde through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which grants US aid to countries that meet democratic standards.

The US government body said last month that it would work with Cape Verde on a third package, and Silva invited the Peace Corps to return after a decade-long absence.

Later on Monday, Blinken will head to Ivory Coast, where he will watch the host country take on Equatorial Guinea in the Africa Cup of Nations.

The match will take place at the 60,000-seat Olympic stadium built with support from China, whose own Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited last week.

Along with Russia, China – which is seen by the US as the top global rival – has rapidly expanded its influence in Africa in recent years.

While China has doled out loans for infrastructure projects, Russia’s powerful and ruthless Wagner Group of mercenaries has been deployed to Mali, the Central African Republic, and allegedly Burkina Faso.

A delegation visited Moscow last month from Niger, whose military last year toppled elected President Mohamed Bazoum months after a visit by Blinken aimed at bolstering him.

Niger had been the linchpin in US efforts to counter armed groups who have ravaged the Sahel, with the US building a $100m base in the Nigerien desert city of Agadez to fly a fleet of drones.

The government expelled forces from former colonial power France.

While Niger has allowed the US to keep its nearly 1,000 US troops, General James Hecker, the US Air Force commander for both Europe and Africa, said late last year that “several locations” elsewhere in West Africa were being discussed for a new drone base.

As Blinken opens his visit, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield is touring three other West African nations – Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, where she is attending a presidential inauguration and monitoring a peaceful transition of power in a once-turbulent nation.

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