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

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in South Africa on Sunday to begin 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 unfolding in Africa,” said William Gumede, director of democracy workstold AP, ahead of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s three-country African tour.

It follows tours by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who visited Egypt, Uganda, Ethiopia and the Republic of Congo to rally support for Russia amid its ongoing war in Ukraine, and of 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 intended to “reset 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 African countries”, according to Douglas Yatespolitical 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 FundSouth 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 received authorization for such a mission from HR 7311the Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act, which the United States House of Representatives passed on April 27, 2022. So-called malign Russian activities include the use of hard and soft power to expand Moscow’s influence over the continent.

Russian hard power includes the Wagner Group, a mercenary group with apparent ties to Moscow that is present in many countries, including the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mali. The group was EU sanctioned to fuel violence, plunder natural resources and intimidate civilians. Russian soft power includes the use of social and official media to spread anti-Western and anti-democracy propaganda.

Blinken 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 in favour. In addition, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa refused to convict The invasion of Russia. South Africa is part of the BRICS group, made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, countries considered to be the world’s major emerging market economies. While the Russian invasion of February 24 resulted in widespread condemnation of G7 countries and their allies, the only BRICS country to support the UN resolution was Brazil, with South Africa, China and India abstaining.

Will South Africa now condemn Russia?

Blinken will be in South Africa August 7-9, when he launches what the State Department calls the U.S. Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africawhich “reinforces the United States’ view that African countries are geostrategic players and essential partners on the most pressing issues of our time, from promoting an open and stable international system to combating the effects from climate change, food insecurity and global pandemics, to shaping 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 “designed to punish countries in Africa that have not toed the line on the Russian- Ukrainian”. in an opinion piece for The Daily Mavericka South African newspaper.

The visit to South Africa and the trip to Africa as a whole “would be a great 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 spread south’

After his visit to South Africa, Blinken will travel to DR Congo from August 9-10, when he is expected to declare US support for regional efforts, led by Kenya and Angola, to advance peace in the 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, who DR Congo accused of supporting rebel group M23 in eastern DR Congo. “In 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,” said the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Molly Phee, who will accompany Blinken on her 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 to 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, write a song in which he said the West had made a strategic mistake “by asking African countries to choose a side on Ukraine” because it allows Russia to adopt an anti-colonial posture even as it sends support unofficial military and maintains close economic ties with the mainland.

According to the Russian news agency TASS, Lavrovin 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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