Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
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The US has unveiled a new strategy for closer ties with sub-Saharan Africa, while arguing that China and Russia have been driven by narrow self-interest in their attempts to strengthen ties with the region.
With one of the world’s fastest-growing populations, the largest free trade areas by geographic area and the most diverse ecosystems, Africa has a role to play in addressing the world’s major challenges, according to a White House paper released Monday to coincide with a visit by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to South Africa. These include ending the coronavirus pandemic, tackling climate change, global food security and terrorism, and addressing the failures of democracy.
The US is determined to “end policies that inadvertently treat sub-Saharan Africa as a separate world,” it said. “We recognize that we share vital interests and our path forward is based on a commitment to working together and enhancing Africa’s leadership to advance our common agenda.”
Sub-Saharan Africa has always been a low foreign priority for the US, with the region accounting for only 1.2% of total bilateral trade. The flows increased after the African Growth and Opportunity Act was passed in 2000, which removed US import duties on more than 7,000 goods from African countries, removing barriers to US investment, managing a market economy and protecting workers’ rights.
But the continent has forged even closer ties with China, which has largely stayed out of domestic politics and offered aid, loans and investment without strings attached. Russia has also been successful in strengthening ties with Africa in recent months as Western countries have sought to isolate it over its invasion of Ukraine, with a significant minority of governments on the continent refusing to condemn its actions.
Key US policy priorities in Africa include building democracy and improving governance, promoting development, peace, security, trade and investment, and supporting conservation and the transition to cleaner energy, similar to those outlined by Blinken last November. At the time, he stressed that the US did not want to limit Africa’s partnerships with other countries – a view that appears to have changed in light of Washington’s deteriorating relations with Russia and China.
China views Africa as an important arena for challenging the rules-based international order, advancing its own commercial and geopolitical interests, undermining transparency and openness, and weakening US relations with African peoples and governments, the new strategy paper says. document.
It also warned that Russia sees the region as an enabling environment for its state-owned and private military companies to operate, and that they often foment instability for their own strategic and financial gain. Russia has also used security and economic ties and disinformation to undermine fundamental African opposition to Russia’s war in Ukraine and related human rights abuses, the report said.
The US is seeking a “real partnership” with the continent, Blinken told reporters in Pretoria. “Our commitment to a stronger partnership with Africa is not about trying to outdo anyone else.”
While the U.S. has contributed greatly to Africa’s development over the past three decades, including building partnerships that have helped more than 20 million people living with HIV and electrified 29 million homes and businesses, its efforts to promote democracy, peace and security “has struggled to show the desired impact in recent years,” the document says.
“Some of our long-standing approaches are no longer sufficient to meet new challenges in a more contested and competitive world,” it said. “The U.S. government is committed to rebuilding and modernizing its traditional tools of government to advance U.S. interests on a changing continent.”
–With help from Akayla Gardner.