Antony Blinken on African tour to maintain American influence

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken begins a week-long tour of the west coast of Africa on Monday January 22 to maintain US influence on a continent where competition from Beijing and Moscow is strong , while instability in the Sahel is more worrying than ever

Antony Blinken on African tour to maintain American influence

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken begins a week-long tour of the west coast of Africa on Monday January 22 to maintain US influence on a continent where competition from Beijing and Moscow is strong , while instability in the Sahel is more worrying than ever. The head of American diplomacy begins Monday with a quick stopover in Cape Verde, before heading to Ivory Coast, then Nigeria and Angola.

This is his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa in ten months, at a time when the war in Ukraine and the conflict between Israel and Hamas are dominating international news. Its president, Joe Biden, had promised to visit Africa in 2023, but he did not follow through on this commitment.

Since Mr. Blinken's last visit to the region in March 2023, the political landscape has evolved somewhat. At the time, he went to Niger to support the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, in this country where the United States has more than a thousand soldiers and drone bases for the fight against jihadists. But four months later, Mr. Bazoum was overthrown by a military coup and the new regime is seeking to diversify its partners: French soldiers have been driven out and ties are strengthening with Moscow.

Russia has developed its influence in several French-speaking African countries in recent years, notably with the presence of the Wagner paramilitary group in the Central African Republic and Mali, and privileged relations with Burkina Faso. The security situation in the Sahel remains worrying: jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State are still carrying out bloody attacks in Mali, Burkina and Niger, three countries led by soldiers who came to power during coups. State.

In Niger, the Americans have for the moment kept their base and their soldiers, but Washington is considering other options, particularly in more stable coastal countries. “Several locations” are being studied for a drone base, according to the words spoken last year by General James Hecker, commander of the American Air Force for Europe and Africa.

A ten-year plan to encourage stability

During this West African visit, Antony Blinken will help countries “on all fronts to strengthen their societies and fight against the expansion of the terrorist threat that we observe in the Sahel”, explains Molly Phee, Undersecretary of State for Africa, who visited Niger in December. It will also encourage countries to make “the security of civilians during military operations” and “the promotion of human rights and community development” priorities, she added to the press.

Antony Blinken, perfectly French-speaking and a football fan, is due to arrive Monday evening in Abidjan, where Ivory Coast is playing a decisive match for the African Cup of Nations (CAN) which it is currently organizing. His visit comes a few days after that of his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, who also visited Togo, Tunisia and Egypt. Beijing has long been very active on the continent, notably financing infrastructure in many countries.

In Ivory Coast, Mr. Blinken will welcome the consolidation of democracy since Alassane Ouattara came to power in 2011. The country has regained relative stability after a serious post-electoral crisis in 2010-2011 which caused more than 3,000 deaths. Bordering Mali and Burkina, it has so far succeeded in stemming the jihadist threat. The last incident linked to these armed groups in the north of the country dates back to early 2021. According to a study by the International Crisis Group (ICG), the Ouattara government's approach, based both on a military response and on the economic development of affected areas, particularly for young people, is bearing fruit.

The Biden administration announced a 10-year plan last year to encourage stability and avoid conflict in Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Togo, coastal countries that are in the target of jihadist groups. This plan, notably encouraging a social response, clearly stands out from the past approach, more focused on everything-safe.

Mr. Blinken begins his visit on Monday to Cape Verde, a partner of the United States, which praises the democratic stability of this Portuguese-speaking archipelago of half a million inhabitants. The United States has donated some $150 million (around €138 million) through two programs, including the expansion of the port in the capital, Praia, and improvements to roads and the water distribution system. drinkable. A third aid program is under study.