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US Secretary of State Blinken tours West Africa amid rising security worries

Trip will focus on building relations, trade and democracy promotion after spate of coups

African states in the Sahel and the Horn are facing their worst security crises for decades but United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken will skate around those regions on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa in ten months. Yet regional insecurity will be one of the major talking points on his tour which covers Cape Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria and Angola.

'We are all in when it comes to Africa,' Blinken said on the first leg of the tour in Cape Verde, echoing a comment made by President Joe Biden at the US-Africa summit in December 2022. Then Biden had promised to visit Africa in 2023 but the exigencies of the Ukraine and Middle East, combined with fiery internal politics, have kept him away. In spite of presidential elections in November, President Biden still wants to visit Africa this year, staffers at the White House insist.

Part of Blinken's task is to assure African governments that Washington is taking the region more seriously and backing its efforts to ramp up its presence in the main international organisations. There is unlikely to be a set of flashy promises with big dollar price tags attached.

In Praia, Blinken added that 'the United States is committed to deepening, strengthening and broadening partnerships across Africa'.

Cape Verde has been one of the main African beneficiaries of funds via the US Millennium Challenge Corporation. The MCC said in December that it was working on a new programme for Cape Verde on top of the US$150 million already spent.

The spate of recent coups in the Sahel and West Africa – and the growing influence of Russian security outfits such as the restructured Wagner group – have eroded Washington's and Europe's influence in the region.

Washington's Ambassador to Niger, Kathleen FitzGibbon has overseen arrangements to keep operating the US drone base in Agadez but that could be jeopardised by the Niamey junta's recent discussions with Russia about 'security cooperation'.

The US Congress is likely to extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act this year – a bill aiming to extend the AGOA trade preferences until September 2045 was introduced by Republican Senator John Kennedy last September and has bipartisan support. But there are unlikely to be many other initiatives to Africa from Washington this year (Dispatches 19/11/23, Despite the sceptics, Washington prolongs the AGOA trade deal).

Washington officials set out over $14 billion investment deals by US companies in Africa since Biden's US-Africa Summit in December 2022. Some of the officials in Blinken's entourage this week will be trying to build on that. Three of the countries on the itinerary – Angola, Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria – are among Africa's biggest economies.

Yet US trade and investment in Angola and Nigeria has slumped as its oil and gas companies stepped up production at home and focused their prospecting elsewhere in Africa – such as Mozambique.



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