US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview with AFP that his country was a better partner than Russia to help the Sahel region fight against poverty and the jihadist violence that is ravaging it.
In this interview granted Thursday evening in Niamey, Mr. Blinken acknowledged that the all-military approach of the United States and France, a former colonial power in this region, was not sufficient.
According to him, "it is absolutely necessary to have a holistic, global approach, in which security is absolutely necessary, but not enough".
"The fact that Niger, which is clearly one of the poorest countries in the world, is so effective, I think underlines the importance of choosing this comprehensive approach," he said.
Following a meeting on Thursday with Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, he announced new humanitarian aid to Sahelian countries, including Niger, in the amount of $150 million, bringing the total of this aid to $233 million for 2023.
He also highlighted Washington's support for Niamey through a program to reintegrate repentant jihadists, a project to improve irrigation and climate-resilient agriculture in the arid country.
However, he felt that in addition to humanitarian and development aid, it was necessary to maintain security ties with Niger, where the United States has Air Base 201 in the north from which attack and surveillance of jihadists.
France still has a thousand soldiers in Niger, after having been forced to withdraw its troops from Mali and Burkina Faso, countries led by putschist soldiers and also hit by jihadist violence.
The African Union has spoken out against foreign military presence on the continent, including that of China, which has set up its first base in Djibouti.
"These partnerships that we have, we do not impose them on anyone. The countries choose to be a partner or not," said Antony Blinken, interviewed on the American base in Niger.
"The work that one can do to fight terrorist groups, extremist groups, will ultimately benefit others," he added.
The Biden administration wants to engage more in Africa to counter growing influences there, particularly from Russia.
Mali, a country bordering Niger, has moved closer to this country and has broken the military alliance with France and its partners in the anti-jihadist fight.
In February, it was one of six countries to back Russia by voting against a UN General Assembly resolution urging Moscow to withdraw from Ukraine.
Westerners claim that mercenaries from the Russian paramilitary group Wagner are in Bamako, which Mali denies, speaking of Russian instructors.
In December, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo Addo claimed that Wagner was also in Burkina Faso, which Moscow and Ouagadougou denied.
"Wherever Wagner goes, bad things tend to happen," said Antony Bliken, who did not respond directly to a question about the group's presence in Burkina.
“Where we saw him act, he did not increase security, on the contrary, we finally saw things getting worse, the exploitation of resources and corruption. The violence that this group generates is an epidemic which spreads among the populations and the countries that have chosen to work with him", according to him.
Wagner, led by Russian businessman close to the Kremlin Evgueni Prigojine, has been accused of abuses in the Central African Republic, Libya and more recently during the war in Ukraine.
A senior US official traveling with Mr Blinken said Wagner's foothold in French-speaking countries was no accident, with Russia having stoked post-colonial resentments.
However, according to Mr. Blinken, "the challenge for all of us - us, France, our partners - is to demonstrate through the work we do together, that we obtain results that are for the benefit of the people, the citizens, that respond to their desires, their aspirations".
18/03/2023 07:54:09 - Niamey (AFP) © 2023 AFP