Blinken goes 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 kick off a three-country tour that will also take him to DR Congo and Rwanda, aiming to “develop a strategy to enhance Russia’s efforts to promote democracy in Africa.” undermining,” said a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. a political scientist based in France.

Russia, France and now the USA. “It’s like there’s a new Cold War going on in Africa,” William Gumede, director of Democracy Works, told TSTIME ahead of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s three-country tour.

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

It is Blinken’s second trip to Africa since he was appointed Secretary of State. His first visit in November 2021 was aimed at “resetting US-Africa relations after Donald Trump’s presidency, demonstrating US commitment to democracy and showing that the US cares about its relationship with African countries”. said Douglas Yates, a political scientist specializing in African politics.

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

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

As such, the US, South Africa’s second largest trading partner in 2021, is “trying to get South Africa back in its lap,” he said.

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Fighting ‘evil’ Russian activities

However, according to Yates, the aim of Blinken’s second trip to Africa is to “develop with African partners a strategy to counter Russia’s efforts to undermine democracy” on the continent.

Blinken has received approval for such a mission from HR 7311, the “Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act”, which the US House of Representatives passed on April 27, 2022. So-called evil Russian activities include using hard and soft power to expand Moscow’s influence on the continent.

The Russian hard force includes the Wagner group, a mercenary group with clear ties to Moscow that is present in many countries, including the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mali. The group has been sanctioned by the EU for fomenting violence, looting natural resources and intimidating civilians. Russian soft power includes using social and official media to spread anti-Western and anti-democratic propaganda.

Blinken has carefully chosen the three countries he will visit, “because, with the exception of South Africa, they [DR Congo and Rwanda] are not considered models of democracy and the US wants to ensure that these countries are on their side as they have military capabilities that 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 Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while DR Congo and Rwanda voted for it. In addition, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa refused to condemn the Russian invasion. South Africa is part of the BRICS group, which consists of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, countries recognized as the world’s leading emerging market economies. While the February 24 Russian invasion led to widespread condemnation by the G7 countries and their allies, Brazil was the only BRICS country to support the UN resolution, with South Africa, China and India abstaining.

Will South Africa Now Condemn Russia?

Blinken will be in South Africa from August 7-9, where he will launch the US Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa, which the State Department calls “reinforcing the US view that African countries are geostrategic players and critical partners in the most pressing issues of our time, from fostering an open and stable international system to addressing the impacts of climate change, food insecurity and global pandemics, to shaping our technological and economic future”.

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South African International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor, who will meet with Blinken on Monday, said in an op-ed that the HR 7311 bill “is intended to punish countries in Africa that have not followed the war between Russia and Ukraine”. for The Daily Maverick, a South African newspaper.

The visit to South Africa and the Africa trip as a whole “would be a great success for Blinken if he were able to get a statement from Ramaphosa condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ensuring that South Africa does not go to the Russian camp is migrating,” Yates said. .

“This is not just a handshake with various officials, but rather a policy-oriented journey,” he said.

Making sure Russia’s influence doesn’t spread south

After his visit to South Africa, Blinken will travel to DR Congo from 9 to 10 August when he is expected to show US support for the regional efforts, led by Kenya and Angola, to restore peace in eastern DR Congo and the wider area of ​​the Great Lakes. .

Blinken’s final stop is in Rwanda from August 10-11, where he will meet President Paul Kagame, accused by DR Congo of supporting the rebel group M23 in eastern DR Congo, for the first time. “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,” said Molly Phee, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who said: Blinken will accompany him on his tour, The Africa Report told.

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Yates said that in addition to these official reasons for visiting DR Congo and Rwanda, “behind the scenes is developing a strategy to counter Russian influence in Africa and its efforts to undermine democracy. As Rwanda, DR Congo and South Africa are stable allies, they will be able to contain Russian influence and prevent it from spreading south of the equator to countries like Madagascar and Mozambique.”

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

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

Theodore Murphy, director of the Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a piece saying that the West has made a strategic mistake “by asking African countries to side with Ukraine” because it allows Russia takes an anti-colonial stance even as it sends unofficial military support and has strong economic ties to the continent.

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

The challenge that Blinken, along with other Western powers, appears to be facing is that many African countries simply don’t want to get caught up in what looks like another cold war between the US and Russia and need to take a definitive stance.

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