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Blinken in Africa: Wielding more influence on the continent

The US Secretary of State is visiting allied African nations for the second time.

On his second trip to Africa, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will persue South Africa to a more critical stance on the Ukraine-Russia war and address armed clashes in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s tour of Africa begins on Sunday. The list of countries on his itinerary has been carefully selected.

South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and neighboring Rwanda will receive Blinken’s during his second official trip to the continent since taking office last year.

One important goal during the August 7-12 visit is to bring old allies closer to the United States during these times of geopolitical tension, according to Daniel Silke, a political analyst in South Africa.

Silke categorizes Blinken’s visit as another example of the ongoing diplomatic war between Russia, the United States and China that’s underway in Africa.

“The three big superpowers are all vying for Africa’s attention, both from a political-diplomatic point of view and in terms of raw material exports,” Silke told DW during an interview.

Making an impact in Africa

Other top leaders made efforts to wield more influence in Africa ahead of Blinken’s visit.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and French President Emmanuel Macron visited several African nations a few days ago, shortly after Samantha Power, director of the US Agency for International Development, returned from the continent.

US President Joe Biden’s decision to send his secretary of state to these regions perhaps highlights concerns that something about his Africa policy could be offtrack.

South Africa, the DRC and Rwanda are all allies of the United States, emphasizes Africa expert Silke.

But, “South Africa’s vote in the United Nations on the war in Ukraine and the very mixed messages from the government led by the African National Congress (ANC) make South Africa look like a weak ally of the US and even the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda,” Silke told DW.

Harder tones in South Africa

South Africa in March abstained from voting in the United Nations General Assembly on a resolution on war against Ukraine– as did 35 other countries.

The vast majority of the international community — 140 countries voted in favor. Surely a different tone will be struck in Pretoria when Blinken arrives there, Silke believes.

Against the backdrop of changing geopolitics and rising tensions between the United States, China and Russia, this visit is an opportunity for the top US diplomat to encourage South Africa to take a more critical stance — especially when it comes to Russia’s war on Ukraine and China’s increasing saber-rattling over Taiwan, she said.

Food security on the table

Tied to that is a new US government policy strategy that has been in the works for a year and will be unveiled during the South Africa visit, said Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at London-based think tank Chatham House.

“The strategy aims to better focus US government efforts around Africa, including how to contain China and Russia on the continent,” Vines told DW.

The State Department in Washington said before Blinken’s departure that the focus should be on pressing issues: A dialogue on stronger cooperation on health, law enforcement, trade, investment and energy — but also food security.

The shortfall in grain supplies from Ukraine has been felt around the world. The United Nations is warning of Africa’s worst hunger crisis in decades.

US Representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield is currently traveling in Ghana, Uganda and Cape Verde to assess the impact of the food crisis.

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