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Blinken’s visit: Will US win race with Russia, China over Africa

The recent tour of Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Cairo, Uganda, Ethiopia and Congo amid diplomatic isolation has triggered reactions, especially from the West.…

The recent tour of Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Cairo, Uganda, Ethiopia and Congo amid diplomatic isolation has triggered reactions, especially from the West.

Lavrov’s tour of Africa was seen as a diplomatic step by Moscow to show the world that it still has allies in the continent.

But, in a prompt and dare reaction, the United States in turn sent its Secretary of States, Anthony Blinken, to South Africa last week.

During the visit, Blinken said that, “US will not dictate African choices, the right to make those choices belong to Africans, and Africans alone.” 

Analysts however observed that looking at the timing and the circumstances, Blinken’s visit was a counter to Lavrov’s tour to build up US influence by dictating the choice of Africa not to pick Russia or China.

An analyst, and a former Ambassador of Nigeria to Ethiopia, Amb Bulus Lolo, said Blinken’s visit was not unconnected to the Russia Ukraine crisis. 

“America of course will want to mobilize the rest of the international community behind their own position on the conflict.

“Remember this is coming on the heels of the Russian Foreign Minister’s visit to Africa. Until now, neither Russia nor America had deemed it fit to come to Africa but Africa was talking about the negative effect of the war and with Russia being the country that started the war, with its negative consequences as it affects Africa, Russia sent its foreign minister. America in turn has replied by sending Anthony Blinken to visit. 

“So, there is a direct link between the visit and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine,” he said.

When asked about a call by Blinken that Africans should be allowed to make their own choices, he said, “Yes, it’s the right thing to do but the South African foreign minister also replied that what matters to the continent must be taken from the continent’s point of view not a country or a group or a bloc coming to say Africa should do A, B, C, D in its direction. I belief the South African foreign minister was talking about America’s policy in the Middle East as it pertains to Israel and the Palestinians; that there should be even treatment for the two. 

“A two-state policy is what Nigeria advocated and with long supported settlement of the conflict. And coming down to what is happening in Ukraine, it’s equally up to Nigeria, and Africa to look at the conflict from a wider perspective and make an informed decision on what needs to be done rather than being led by others to make any sense of the conflict,” he added.

To buttress this, the South African Minister of International Relations, Naledi Pandor, at a joint press conference in Pretoria, accused the West of sometimes taking a patronizing and bullying attitude towards Africa.

Ponder succinctly expressed this view even when Blinken stressed that his African tour was not to counter Moscow and Beijing’s growing influence in the continent.

“Our commitment to a stronger partnership with Africa is not about trying to outdo anyone else,” he said.

Again, referencing the plight of Palestinians, Pandor said the different approaches by the international community to different conflicts sometimes “leads to cynicism about international bodies.” 

“Just as much as the people of Ukraine deserve their territory and freedom, the people of Palestine deserve their territory and freedom,” she said.

She said the world should be equally concerned with what is happening to the people of Palestine as they are with what is happening to the people of Ukraine. “We’ve not seen an even-handed approach,” she added.

Recall that many African leaders have refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, so Lavrov needs to reaffirm that.

Another reason for Lavrov’s visit, according to analysts, is African natural resources because the continent is home to over 30 percent of the world’s mineral resources, and also an emerging market for foreign products.

Why did Blinken choose South Africa?

At the end of 2021, Blinken unveiled his first African visits to Nigeria, Kenya and Senegal.

However, this time, he opened the visit with South Africa, then Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Why?

South Africa has been neutral to global conflicts and is key to the continental future. It’s politically stable and the second largest economy in Africa. 

Blinken’s visit is aimed at understanding South Africa’s position and to bring the country into the western fold.

Analysts believe that good ties with South Africa is high on America’s agenda.

Then, the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the richly endowed African countries, is endowed with gold, copper, tin, columbite, and others. “So, the US access to these deposits is very important, but it would be difficult to kick Russia out of the country.”

This country needs international support as it remains in tussle with neighbouring Rwanda because of the armed group in the country that it is accusing Rwanda of backing.

Rwanda is the last leg of Blinken’s visit. Here, analysts say the country is an important ally to the US and Blinken wants to take advantage of the visit to ease the tension on the conflict in eastern Congo.

With this, we can say that American priorities are diverse, ranging from protecting democracy, investment security, covid support and renewable energy.

How poor leadership makes US lose grip on Africa

Barack Obama’s presidency was supposed to transform Africa/America’s policy, considering his strong connection with Africa but his policies towards Africa were more of talks than action.

Also, President Donald Trump was a step further; he insulted African countries and never visited a single African country throughout his four years tenure.

During this time, Russia and China were busy extending their influence in Africa.

Russian influence in Africa

Russia mercenaries are currently fighting multiple wars in Africa. These include Central Africa, Mali, Libya and Burkina faso; they also buy Russian weapons.

And, even the war in Ukraine did not make the Wagnar group abandon their mission in these countries.

Almost 40 percent of the Africa’s military imports comes from Russia, including helicopters, guns, tanks, fighter jets and other assorted weapons, which has given Russia diplomatic clout in Africa.

Russian also contributed in much of the food supplies to Africa. 

To confirm this, in March 2022, the United Nation General Assembly (UNGA) passed a resolution condemning the Russian invasion in Ukraine, where 35 countries abstained, out of which 15 were African countries.

Analysts said the abstinence was an indication that the African nations are not willing to hurt Russian sentiments.

China’s clout in Africa 

Over the years, China has enlarged its footprint in Africa. In 2021, China overtook the United States as Africa’s top trading partner with a total trade worth $254bn, while trade between US and African countries declined to $64bn in 2021.

It’s also on record that within the last 5 years, China pumped $70bn into Africa, funding not less than 287 projects.

Therefore, Beijing is now becoming the top investor in Africa, leaving America to play a catchup game.

Why US, Russia, China struggle for Africa

The 54 sovereign states of the African continent have become attractive and made a battleground of the world superpowers after discovering that the continent controls 17 percent of the world population with 54 votes in the United Nation General Assembly (UNGA).

Desperate by these, these countries began scrambling for influence to woo the African support in the event of voting at United Nations resolutions.

Also, nature has blessed Africa with abundant natural resources, controlling 9.6 percent of global oil output, 90 percent of world global platinum and cobalt supplies, two thirds of the world Manganese, 35 percent of the world Uranium and 75 percent of the world coltan.

Like ever before, these countries need a footprint in Africa for raw materials and a market for their finished goods.

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