Showcasing football and ports, Blinken says US ‘all in’ for AfricaMon, 22 Jan 2024 21:10:00 GMT

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday celebrated Africa’s biggest football tournament and toured a US-funded port, hoping to prove the United States is “all in” for the continent despite global crises.Blinken is touring four democracies on the Atlantic Coast — Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Angola — as Russia and China make inroads in the continent, security deteriorates in the Sahel and doubts grow about a key US base in coup-hit Niger.Showing a softer side to the United States, Blinken in Abidjan went straight to see the Africa Cup of Nations, where his Ivorian hosts received him warmly despite their team facing elimination following a 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea in a critical group-stage match.Blinken watched a sea of Ivorian fans — some later throwing bottles in disgust at their team — from an air-conditioned VIP box alongside the country’s vice president, prime minister and foreign minister.As he entered the stadium, Blinken — who developed a love of football and a mastery of French from his childhood in Paris — was presented a jersey in his name from his hosts.He said he wanted to commend “the remarkable work” of Ivory Coast and called sport “another way of building bridges between the United States and Africa”.”We’re doing a lot of actual building of infrastructure, but this is building connections between people,” he said.- Boosting democracies -But the gleaming 60,000-seat stadium — named for President Alassane Ouattara, whom Blinken will see Tuesday — was built by China, which has gone on a building blitz across Africa, often financed through loans.Blinken highlighted efforts by the United States earlier in the day in Cape Verde, a Portuguese-speaking archipelago of half a million people that has long worked closely with the West. Blinken toured the port in the capital Praia, expanded as part of nearly $150 million given to Cape Verde through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which grants US aid to countries that meet democratic standards.The US government body said last month it will work on a third package for Cape Verde, whose prime minister, Jose Ulisses Correia e Silva, said his country was “guided by the values of liberal democracy”.President Joe Biden welcomed African leaders in 2022 in a show of newfound US attention to the continent.But Biden failed to live up to a promise to visit last year and Blinken’s trip is his first to sub-Saharan Africa in 10 months as he has been consumed since October with the Israel-Hamas war.Blinken nonetheless quoted Biden as he vowed “We are all in when it comes to Africa.””Our futures are linked, our prosperity is linked, and African voices increasingly are shaping, animating and leading the global conversation,” Blinken said in Cape Verde.”The United States is committed to deepening, strengthening and broadening partnerships across Africa,” Blinken said.- New look at security -While China has doled out loans for infrastructure projects, Russia’s powerful and ruthless Wagner mercenary group has been deployed to Mali, the Central African Republic and allegedly Burkina Faso.A delegation visited Moscow last month from Niger, whose military last year toppled elected president Mohamed Bazoum months after a visit by Blinken aimed at bolstering him.Niger had been the linchpin in US efforts to counter jihadists who have ravaged the Sahel, with the United States building a $100-million base in the Nigerien desert city of Agadez to fly a fleet of drones.The junta expelled forces from former colonial power France, and while it has allowed the United States to keep its nearly 1,000 US troops, General James Hecker, the US Air Force commander for both Europe and Africa, said late last year that “several locations” elsewhere in West Africa were being discussed for a new drone base.Blinken is expected to praise the democratic consolidation in Ivory Coast under Ouattara, a US-educated economist, as the Biden administration seeks to promote a less security-driven approach to the region.Ivory Coast, which has not witnessed a major terrorist attack for some two years, has invested in economic development in areas bordering Mali and Burkina Faso.As Blinken opened his visit, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, was touring three other West African nations — Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and finally Liberia, where she was attending a peaceful transition of power in the once-turbulent nation.