Blinken to counter Russian charm offensive in Africa

AFP , Friday 29 Jul 2022

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel next month to South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, the State Department announced Friday, as Washington ramps up diplomacy in Africa to counter a Russian charm offensive.

Blinken   Lavrov
This is a combination photo of Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) who speaks at the launch of the US-Afghan Consultative Mechanism with Special Envoy for Afghan Women, on, July 28, 2022, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey (R) Lavrov who delivers his speech to embassy representatives of member states of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Wednesday, July 27, 2022. AFP AP


The US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, will also go in August to Ghana and Uganda and the US aid chief, Samantha Power, recently completed a trip to longtime US ally Kenya, as well as troubled Somalia, where she highlighted the rise in malnutrition aggravated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The diplomacy comes as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov undertakes his own extensive tour of Africa, where he has sought to cast spiralling global food prices as a consequence of Western sanctions, a hypothesis rejected by Washington.

Blinken will send a message that "African countries are geostrategic players and critical partners on the most pressing issues of our day, from promoting an open and stable international system to tackling the effects of climate change, food insecurity and global pandemics to shaping our technological and economic futures," a State Department statement said.

South Africa, a leader in the developing world, has emerged as a key diplomatic battleground as it has remained studiously neutral on the Ukraine war, refusing to join Western calls to condemn Moscow, which still enjoys affection over its opposition to apartheid.

Blinken will visit Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria from August 7-9. He will then head to the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa in a bid to show support for sub-Saharan Africa's vastest country as it tries to turn the page on decades of conflict.

He will complete his trip in Rwanda, which has seen a flare-up in tensions with DR Congo after it accused its neighbor to the east of backing M23 rebels, a charge Kigali denies.

The State Department said Blinken will press for the release of Paul Rusesabagina, who is credited with saving hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide and inspired the movie "Hotel Rwanda."

A US permanent resident, Rusesabagina is a critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and was sentenced to a 25-year prison term for "terrorism" after a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed in Kigali in 2020.

Blinken will be paying his second trip to sub-Saharan Africa since he took office last year with President Joe Biden's administration.

Late last year, he travelled to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal as he sought to highlight democracies.

Before Russia's February invasion of Ukraine, US efforts in Africa had a heavy subtext on the competition with China, which has poured money into infrastructure building on the continent and contrasts itself with the United States by making no demands on democracy or human rights.

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