Blinken travels to Africa ‘to counter Russian influence’ on the continent

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in South Africa on Sunday to kick off a three-country tour that will also take him to DR Congo and Rwanda, aimed at “strategizing to counter Russian efforts to undermine democracy in Africa “, according to a political scientist based in France.

Russia, France and now the United States. “It’s as if a new cold war is being played out in Africa,” William Gumede, director of Democracy Works, told AP ahead of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s three-country African tour.

It follows visits by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who traveled to Egypt, Uganda, Ethiopia and the Republic of Congo to rally support for Russia in its ongoing war in Ukraine, and French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau with the aim of renewing France’s relations with the African continent. US Agency for International Development Director Samantha Power and US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield have also embarked on their own tours of Africa.

The trip is Blinken’s second to Africa since his appointment as Secretary of State. His first visit in November 2021 was aimed at “resetting U.S.-Africa relations after Donald Trump’s presidency, demonstrating America’s commitment to democracy, and showing that the United States cares about its relationship with countries Africans,” according to Douglas Yates, a political scientist specializing in African politics who teaches at the American Graduate School in Paris.

Blinken visited Kenya, Senegal and Nigeria on his 2021 tour, three countries that “meet the minimum requirements for democracies and have all emerged from military rule,” Yates said.

Since Trump’s presidential term, during which the United States withdrew from a number of initiatives important to South Africa, including the Paris Climate Agreement and the Green Climate Fund, South Africa sees the United States as an “unreliable partner”, Yates said.

So the United States, South Africa’s second largest trading partner in 2021, is “trying to bring South Africa back into the fold”, he said.

Countering “malignant” Russian activities According to Yates, the purpose of Blinken’s second trip to Africa, however, is to “develop a strategy with African partners to counter Russian efforts to undermine democracy” on the continent.

Blinken was authorized for such a mission by HR 7311, the “Countering Malicious Russian Activity in Africa Act,” which the U.S. House of Representatives passed on April 27, 2022. So-called malicious Russian activity includes the use of hard and soft power to expand Moscow’s influence on the continent.

Russian hard power includes the Wagner Group, a mercenary group apparently linked to Moscow that has a presence in many countries, including the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mali. The group has been sanctioned by the EU for fueling violence, looting natural resources and intimidating civilians. Russian soft power includes the use of social and official media to spread anti-Western and anti-democracy propaganda.

Blinken has carefully selected the three countries he will visit, “because, with the exception of South Africa, they [DR Congo and Rwanda] are not seen as role models of democracy and the United States wants to make sure these countries are on its side because they have a military capability, which they can use to counter Moscow’s influence,” Yates said. .

South Africa, like 16 other African countries, abstained from voting on the UN resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while DR Congo and Rwanda voted yes. Meanwhile, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa refused to condemn the Russian invasion. South Africa is part of the BRICS group, made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, countries considered to be the main emerging economies in the world. While the February 24 Russian invasion resulted in widespread condemnation from G7 countries and their allies, the only BRICS country to back the UN resolution was Brazil, South Africa, China and India abstained.

Will South Africa now condemn Russia? critical partners on the most pressing issues of our time, from promoting an open and stable international system to combating the effects of climate change, food insecurity and global pandemics, to forming our technological and economic future.

South African International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor, who is due to meet Blinken on Monday, said Bill HR 7311 is “intended to punish countries in Africa that have not toed the line in the Russian-Ukrainian war. in an opinion piece for The Daily Maverick, a South African newspaper.

The visit to South Africa and the trip to Africa as a whole “would be a major success for Blinken if he managed to obtain a statement from Ramaphosa condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ensuring that South Africa doesn’t migrate to the Russian side,” Yates said.

“This is not just a trip to shake hands with different officials, but more of a policy-oriented trip,” he said.

Ensure Russia’s influence ‘does not expand south’ Following his visit to South Africa, Blinken will travel to DR Congo from August 9-10, when he is expected to declare US support for the regional efforts, led by Kenya and Angola, to advance peace in eastern DR Congo and the wider Great Lakes region.

Blinken’s final stop will be in Rwanda from August 10-11, where he will meet President Paul Kagame for the first time, whom DR Congo has accused of supporting the M23 rebel group in eastern DR Congo. “In both the DRC and Rwanda, the Secretary will emphasize the need for respect for territorial integrity and explore how the United States can support efforts to reduce tensions,” the US Assistant Secretary of State said. African Affairs, Molly Phee, who will accompany Blinken on her mission. tour, told The Africa Report.

Yates said that in addition to these official reasons for visiting DR Congo and Rwanda, “behind the scenes it’s about developing a strategy to counter Russian influence in Africa and its efforts to undermine democracy. If Rwanda, DR Congo and South Africa are stable allies, they will be able to contain Russian influence and ensure that it does not spread south of the equator, towards countries like Madagascar and Mozambique .”

“Despite Rwanda’s small size, it has the most influential army in the region,” he added.

One of the many reasons why some African countries have not taken a position on the war in Ukraine is the continent’s historic relationship with the former Soviet Union, which supported several independence movements in Africa – diplomatically, and eventually, financially and militarily – against European colonial masters.

Theodore Murphy, director of the Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote an article in which he said the West made a strategic mistake “by asking African countries to choose a side on Ukraine” because it allows Russia to adopt an anti-colonial stance even as it sends unofficial military support and maintains close economic ties with the continent.

According to the Russian news agency TASS, Lavrov, in an article “for African media” published on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Russia “does not impose anything on anyone or [tell] others how to live. We treat with great respect the sovereignty of African States and their inalienable right to determine their own development path”.

The challenge that Blinken, along with other Western powers, seems to be facing is that many African countries simply do not want to get entangled in what appears to be a new cold war between the United States and Russia and must embrace a final position.

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