WASHINGTON (AP) – Competition between the Biden administration and China for influence in Africa has not met with much success.
In August, a senior US diplomat scheduled a visit but postponed it due to unrest in Afghanistan that worried Washington. Now, three months later, with two significant African crises escalating, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will try again this week to send the “America is back” signal to the administration on the continent.
Despite its importance in the US-China rivalry, Africa has often been overshadowed by more pressing issues in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and even Latin America. Thus, Blinken’s trip is partly aimed at enhancing Washington’s credibility as a participant in regional and international initiatives to restore peace and promote democracy in a competitive environment with China.
It was difficult to sell despite huge US cash and vaccine contributions to fight the coronavirus pandemic and other infectious diseases. All the while, China has been investing billions in African energy, infrastructure and other projects that Washington views as a robbery designed to take advantage of developing countries.
Moreover, Blinken hopes to support the so far unsuccessful US diplomatic efforts to resolve deepening conflicts in Ethiopia and Sudan and counter growing insurgents elsewhere. His tour of three countries – Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal – follows the administration’s month-long efforts to alleviate both situations, which, despite frequent interventions at a lower level, have not yet yielded results.
“Our intensive diplomacy there continues, and during the trip we would like to demonstrate that our commitment to African partnership and African solutions to African problems continues and will continue as we continue our intensive efforts with our African partners and like-minded people to solve problems. difficult problems in Ethiopia and, of course, in Sudan, ”said Erwin Massinga, a senior US diplomat for Africa.
Blinken begins his tour in Kenya, a key player in neighboring Ethiopia and Sudan and is currently a member of the UN Security Council. Kenya also has deep interests in Somalia, which borders it and which has been subject to violence and instability for decades.
Nonetheless, months of administration engagement, including an August visit to Ethiopia by US Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power, several trips to Addis Ababa and Nairobi by Biden’s special envoy to the Horn of Africa Jeff Feltman, and a current visit to Sudan by the top diplomat from Africa have achieved little progress.
Instead, conflict in Ethiopia has escalated between the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the leaders of the northern Tigray region, who once dominated the government, and insurgents are now advancing on the capital amid increasingly dire warnings from the United States and other countries that foreigners left the country.
These tensions, which some fear may escalate into massive inter-ethnic killings in Africa’s second-most populous country, escalated last year into a war in which thousands were killed, many thousands were detained and millions were displaced. Blinken will highlight those concerns during his meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Keeping hope that a window of opportunity for a settlement still existed, the Biden administration moved towards sanctions, announcing the exclusion of Ethiopia from the U.S.-Africa trade pact and hitting, at least first, the leaders and military forces of neighboring Eritrea. with fines for intervening in the conflict on behalf of Ethiopia. Possible sanctions against Ethiopian officials, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Abiya.
Ethiopia condemned the sanctions and stepped up criticism of “interference” in its internal affairs. And in Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the African Union, and elsewhere, there is skepticism and hostility towards US pressure for an immediate ceasefire and negotiation, even though America is the nation’s largest aid donor.
As Feltman shuttled between Nairobi and Addis Ababa to ease tensions in Ethiopia, he and the administration were also bewildered by developments in Sudan, where a civilian-led government was toppled in a military coup last month and was making significant progress in rebuilding long-stretched strains. ties with the USA
Just last week, the leader of the coup, General Abdel-Fattah Burkhan, tightened his grip on power by re-appointing himself chairman of the new sovereign council. The move was criticized by the US government and other Western countries, despite the fact that they said that a civilian government would be appointed in the coming days.
Burkhan famously turned against civilian prime minister Abdullah Hamdok just hours after Feltman left Khartoum on a mission to resolve escalating tensions between them. The United States responded to this coup by suspending $ 700 million in direct financial aid to Sudan. Further steps, including slowing down or abandoning years of rapprochement with the government, could also be in the works without changes.
Molly Phi, the top US diplomat in Africa, is currently in Khartoum and will join Blinken in Nairobi to discuss her efforts in Sudan.
However, mediation efforts have so far been unsuccessful: Burkhan and his supporters have pushed for a technocratic government, and proponents of democracy have called for a return to power-sharing agreements before the coup, freeing Hamdok and other officials from house arrest and negotiations on the issue. broad reform.
From Kenya, Blinken will travel to Nigeria to meet with Nigerian President Muhammadu Bukhari to discuss security measures in West Africa amid a surge in violence from Islamist extremists. Also for Blinken, talks will be held on climate change, clean energy, sustainable development and a pandemic, as well as a speech on the strategy of the Biden administration in Africa.
Blinken will conclude his trip to Dakar, where he will discuss similar issues with Senegalese President Maki Sall, who will soon take over the African Union presidency.
Associated Press authors Kara Anna from Nairobi and Sami Magdi from Cairo contributed to this report.