The scramble for Africa

By YUSINYU OMER in Yaoundé

Just after the three nation’s tour by French President Emmanuel Macron and the four nation’s tour by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavlov, the US secretary of state Antony J. Blinken has announced a three nation’s tour of Africa starting next week. Blinken’s itinerary includes stops in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.

While in Pretoria, Blinken plans to present the U.S. Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa. It reaffirms the U.S. position that “African countries are geostrategic players and critical partners on the most pressing issues of our day,” the department said in a statement.

The U.S. delegation will participate in the U.S.-South Africa Strategic Dialogue, with a priority on climate change, food insecurity, and trade and economic development. Blinken’s visit comes ahead of a planned U.S.-Africa leaders’ summit in the U.S. in December, and follows the recent U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Morocco.

Blinken will follow his South Africa visit with a stop in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a focus on human rights and ensuring free and fair elections in 2023.

“He will also focus on combating corruption, supporting trade and investment, addressing the climate crisis, building agricultural resilience, and supporting regional African efforts to advance peace in eastern DRC and the broader Great Lakes region,” the department said.

A visit to Kigali will finish out the trip, with Blinken hoping to help reduce tensions between Rwanda and neighboring DR Congo there as well. Among other human rights concerns, he is expected to appeal the wrongful detention case of U.S. resident Paul Rusesabagina.

In the same week, another top diplomat, President Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, will be visiting Ghana and Uganda as from August 4.

The diplomatic push from Washington comes as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov embarked on his own tour of Africa, during which hesoughted to blame western sanctions for soaring food prices. The US has strongly rejected this, saying that Russia is blocking Ukraine’s ports, causing prices to skyrocket.

“It’s the height of irony for him to go down there and blame the West for the hunger that is caused by the food insecurity throughout the continent”, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. “We’re not fooled and we suspect that many African nations are also not fooled by the Russian narrative here and the rewriting of recent history that they’re attempting to do”.

“High level visits should signal commitment, not just competition”, said Michael Gavin, writing in a blog for the Council on Foreign Relations. “That energy and high-level engagement is unequivocally positive”, writes Gavin. But successful engagement “will take expertise, resources, and sustained commitment to move beyond crisis-management and execute a thoughtful strategy suited to U.S. interests and Africa’s dynamic future”, he landed.

“Moscow is trying to gain influence on the continent without investing in it”, Joseph Siegel from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies writes for The Conversation. This strategy can only gain traction if certain African leaders see Russia as a means to validate their hold on power, despite objectionable human rights and democratic norms.

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