Blinken, in Kenya, seeks to cool regional crises

AP , Wednesday 17 Nov 2021

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken opened his first official visit to Africa in Kenya with an appeal Wednesday for the preservation of democracy and inclusion in politically and ethnically fractured societies.

Antony Blinken in Kenya
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, is greeted by Kenya s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ambassador Raychelle Omamo, left, as he arrives at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. Blinken begins a five day trip to Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal. AP

 His message was delivered amid worsening crises in neighboring Ethiopia and Sudan.

With insecurity wracking both of those countries, Blinken began a three-nation African tour in a country with its own turbulent history of democracy.

Kenya will face another test of stability in a presidential election next year yet has emerged as a player in attempting to ease the growing Ethiopian conflict.

Before meeting President Uhuru Kenyatta and other senior Kenyan officials, Blinken spoke with civic leaders about the importance of combatting what he termed ``democratic recession'' around the world, including challenges in the United States that show ``just how fragile our democracy can be.''

``This is an important time,'' he told a small group of human rights, labor, and anti-corruption advocates at a Nairobi hotel. ``Around the world, we've seen we've seen over the last decade or so what some have called 'democratic recession'.''

``Even vibrant democracies like Kenya are experiencing these pressures, especially around election time,`` Blinken said, alluding to the presidential election set for August 2022. Combatting misinformation, political violence, voter intimidation, and corruption is critical to halting the backsliding.

Blinken is looking to boost thus-far unsuccessful US diplomatic efforts to resolve the deepening conflicts in Ethiopia and in Sudan and to counter growing insurgencies elsewhere, like Somalia.

His visit to Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal this week follows months of Biden administration attempts to ease both situations that have yet to bear fruit despite frequent lower-level interventions.

The top US diplomat for Africa, Molly Phee, was in Khartoum earlier this week and will be joining Blinken in Nairobi to discuss her efforts in Sudan.

In addition to trying to cool tensions in the region, Blinken's trip is also aimed at raising Washington's profile as a player in regional and international initiatives to restore peace and promote democracy as it competes with China for influence in developing countries.

The Biden administration's competition with China for influence didn't get off to a great start in Africa.

The coronavirus pandemic canceled A planned early summer visit by Blinken to the continent. The trip was rescheduled for August, only to be postponed again due to the turmoil in Afghanistan that preoccupied Washington.

Now, three months later, Blinken hopes to deliver the administration's ``America is back'' message to Africa. Despite its importance in the US-China rivalry, Africa has often been overshadowed by more pressing issues in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and even Latin America despite massive US contributions of money and vaccines to fight the pandemic and other infectious diseases.

All the while, China has pumped billions into African energy, infrastructure, and other projects that Washington sees as rip-offs designed to take advantage of developing nations.

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