Blinken Lands in Praia to Launch Trip
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Praia, Cape Verde on Monday to kick off his four-nation tour of Africa. The trip is aimed at countering growing Russian and Chinese influence on the continent and addressing security threats in the Sahel region.
Blinken was greeted on the tarmac by Cape Verde’s Prime Minister José Ulisses Correia e Silva and Foreign Minister Rui Figueiredo Soares. He touted the “shared values” between the US and Cape Verde in brief remarks, emphasizing democracy and economic ties.
The Secretary is expected to discuss security, health, climate and economic cooperation with leaders in Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Angola over the next week.
Focus on Boosting Ties, Countering Threats
The US is hoping to showcase itself as leading partner for African countries in the face of rising Chinese investment and Russian mercenary activity. Blinken stated the US is “all-in” for Africa, highlighting the new $55 billion investment fund announced by President Biden last year.
However, violence from extremist groups remains a major obstacle for stability in parts of West Africa. The coastal nations Blinken is visiting have remained relatively peaceful, but the Sahel region nearby has seen a dramatic rise in attacks.
|Extremist Attacks in Sahel
|Deaths from Attacks
The spread of Russian private military contractors, including the Wagner Group, has also raised alarms within the US government.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan emphasized in a press briefing last week: “We intend to work with African governments to address issues of extremism that may exist within their borders and security challenges that need to be met.”
Meeting with Cape Verde Leadership
In his meeting with Prime Minister Correia, Blinken is reported to have addressed maritime security cooperation and increasing US private sector investment. Cape Verde has remained peaceful, but its strategic location off West Africa makes it valuable for countering threats at sea.
Blinken toured the Port of Praia and met with port officials after his meeting with the Prime Minister. In comments to journalists, he stated:
“Cape Verde is strategically located along vital shipping lanes. Enhancing maritime domain awareness is key for economic development and stopping potential threats.”
He announced the US would be donating radar systems and providing training to help secure Cape Verde’s ports and coastline. Blinken said this represents part of the new US strategy to be a “force for good” in maritime regions near Africa.
Next Stop: Ivory Coast
On Tuesday, Secretary Blinken will travel next to Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The country has emerged as one of West Africa’s most stable democracies after undergoing a civil war from 2002-2007.
However, Ivory Coast still faces economic problems and issues with corruption left over from the conflict. Youth unemployment remains high, raising fears of unrest or recruitment by extremist groups.
Blinken is expected to meet President Alassane Ouattara and emphasize American private sector investment in Ivory Coast’s critical cocoa industry. With Ivory Coast producing over 40% of the world’s cocoa, securing strong economic ties has become a priority for the US.
The Secretary will also likely address political reform. President Ouattara’s controversial third term in office sparked protests after the 2020 election. Ensuring stability in Ivory Coast’s democracy will be crucial for US interests in the coming years.
Focus on Security Issues in Nigeria, Angola
The third and fourth stops on Blinken’s trip will highlight security cooperation above all else. He is slated to meet with President João Lourenço in Angola and President Bola Tinubu in Nigeria later this week.
The recent loss of a key town in northeast Nigeria to ISIS-allied extremists places the fragility of regional security into perspective. Although not directly bordering the Sahel, Nigeria’s population and economy mean instability there affects the broader region.
Human rights groups have also accused the Nigerian military of abuses in executing the long fight against Boko Haram and ISIS factions. These issues have kept US-Nigeria security cooperation muted in recent years.
President Tinubu’s new administration offers optimism that improving bilateral relations on security can be made a priority. But endemic corruption and weak governance will remain obstacles that Blinken will need to consider.
Meanwhile in Angola, Blinken will discuss efforts to counter cross-border threats and target extremist financing networks. Angola borders volatile DR Congo and is strategically located on the southwest flank of the continent.
Expanding combined training and information sharing with Angola provides an opportunity for the US to expand its security footprint in Central-South Africa.
Conclusion: Challenges Ahead for US in Africa
Secretary Blinken’s trip sets out an ambitious agenda for advancing US-Africa ties on several fronts. But converts words and promises into tangible action will be the longer-term challenge.
Providing security assistance without fueling further conflict will require careful calibration. And following through on big dollar investments in African economies remains uncertain in the face of recessions or political changes back home.
Russia, China and other competitors will continue vying for influence in the near term. However, Africa’s growing population and economic potential make it indispensable to engage with productively.
Managing regional security and development issues alongside African partners emerges as the best path forward. Whether Blinken’s trip pays dividends toward that vision should become clearer in the months ahead.
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