Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday the United States was committed to deeper relations with Africa despite global crises as he opened a trip in the shadow of coups and the rising influence of Russia and China on 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 coup-hit Niger.
President Joe Biden welcomed African leaders in 2022 in a show of newfound US attention to the continent.
But Biden failed to live up to a promise to visit last year and Blinken’s trip is his first to sub-Saharan Africa in 10 months as he has been consumed since October with the Israel-Hamas war.
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 some half million people that has cooperated with the United States 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 Prime Minister Jose Ulisses Correia e Silva told Blinken that Cape Verde “strongly condemns” Russia’s invasion.
Silva also criticised 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 $150 million 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 it will work with Cape Verde on a third package, and Silva invited the Peace Corps to return after a decade-long absence.
Blinken heads later Monday to Ivory Coast where he will seek to show a softer side of the United States, with the French-speaking, football-loving American to watch a knockout game at the African Cup of Nations of the host country.
The match will take place at a 60,000-seat stadium built with support from China, whose own foreign minister, Wang Yi, visited last week.
China, seen by the United States as the top global rival, and Russia have both rapidly expanded influence in Africa in recent years.
While China has doled out loans for infrastructure projects, Russia’s powerful and ruthless Wagner mercenary group 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 jihadists who have ravaged the Sahel, with the United States building a $100 million base in the Nigerien desert city of Agadez to fly a fleet of drones.
The junta expelled forces from former colonial power France.
While it has allowed the United States 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.
Blinken is expected to praise the democratic consolidation in Ivory Coast under President Alassane Ouattara, a US-educated economist, as the Biden administration seeks to promote a less security-driven approach to the region’s problems.
Ivory Coast has not witnessed a major terrorist attack for some two years.
A study last year by the International Crisis Group credited a dual approach under Ouattara of deploying forces near the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso but also investing in the economic development of northern Ivory Coast.
As Blinken opened his visit, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, was touring three other West African nations — Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where she was attending a peaceful transition of power in a once-turbulent nation.