It is an understatement to say that since the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House on January 21, 2021, the United States has shown little interest in Africa. Admittedly, Donald Trump’s contemptuous remarks towards the continent have been forgotten, but the break in tone of the current president with his predecessor is struggling to find expression on the ground.
While he has already visited Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Joe Biden has, for the moment, no trip to Africa on his agenda. Its Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, waited until November 2021 to make a first visit there.
His five-day tour of Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal was above all an opportunity to remind his hosts of Washington’s priorities, and to insist on the values of good governance and democracy, as well as the fight against Covid-19 and global warming. So many themes that do not necessarily sit at the top of the concerns of a large number of African leaders.
Of course, the appointment of several Africa experts within the Biden administration seduced the continent for a time. Many wanted to see a renewed interest in it, without it being clear today whether this move was intended to reassure Africa or the African-American electorate of the Democratic Party.
In recent months, the international situation taking precedence over American domestic policy, the position of Washington has evolved. The time seems more than ever to regain the ground lost in recent years in Africa against China and, increasingly, against Russia.
At the end of 2021, the United States first presented to the international community its Blue Dot Network (BDN) initiative, intended to support the development of the continent by offering an alternative to the new silk roads, without however meeting in Africa the expected accession.
Washington seems to see in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict – and in its consequences in terms of food security – the opportunity to show Africans its desire to weave this “partnership based on solidarity and mutual respect” called for several times by President Biden.
A peak at the end of the year
On July 20, Joe Biden unveiled a second major initiative by announcing, for the end of this year, the holding, in Washington, of an American-African summit, without further details. Until then, his secretary of state, as well as several senior officials of his administration, must go to the field. Objective: to strengthen overly distended ties with a large number of African capitals. As Young Africa had announced, Antony Blinken is expected in Kinshasa and Kigali during the first half of August.
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As a sign of growing US interest in the continent, the State Department contacted, in mid-May, Young Africa and offered us an interview with Derek Chollet, special adviser to Antony Blinken.
A veteran of foreign policy, he worked under both Republican Secretary of State James Baker and his successor, Democrat Warren Christopher. It is up to him today to explain his country’s position towards Africa.
Capcov: Has the Russian aggression against Ukraine changed the priorities of the United States in Africa?
Derek Chollet: The priorities set out by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Abuja last November are always the same, whether it is the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and against global warming, the economic inclusion of the continent , the strengthening of peace and democracy.
What is new is the problem of food security, which was already a problem in various parts of the world, particularly in Africa, before the invasion of Ukraine, but which is exacerbated by the current difficulties in the supply of food products and agricultural inputs, such as fertilizers. The United States has therefore decided to take all initiatives likely to mitigate the effects of this crisis, in the world in general, and in Africa in particular.
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What are your means of action?
Since February, we have already allocated nearly 6 billion dollars to food aid in the world, and in particular to Africa, which is very prone to the risk of shortages.
President Biden has, in In addition, announced a $500 million investment plan to boost US fertilizer production, and called on countries that can to make similar efforts. Our goal is to develop production capacities and good agricultural practices all over the planet in order to ensure long-term food security.
And on the diplomatic scene?
The United States presiding over the UN Security Council, the Secretary of State took the opportunity to organize, in May, a first ministerial meeting on this dossier. [de la sécurité alimentaire en temps de conflit], so that a common roadmap is defined. As he has repeatedly pointed out, the solutions are quite obvious.
Ideally, of course, Russia should put an end to its military operations. It could, at the very least, lift its embargo on part of Ukrainian grain exports in order to limit shortages and price increases of certain basic products.
Our objective is to do everything so that food security remains one of the world’s priorities. And that’s exactly what Antony Blinken is committed to doing in the coming days. Everyone will be able to quickly judge the diplomatic efforts made by the United States on the international scene.
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The Biden administration has so far had little presence in Africa. Does she intend to get more involved?
Our administration has already shown on several occasions the extent of its involvement in Africa and it wants to strengthen it. In recent years, we have not engaged as much as we should have. Other countries have benefited from this, such as China, which has increased its investments without always benefiting African countries. It’s up to us to show them all the interest they have in working with us. We are not asking our African partners to choose between the United States and others. We just wish they had a choice.
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Did the fact that many African countries refused to vote in May for the UN resolution on the conflict in Ukraine prompt you to review your level of commitment in Africa?
We readily acknowledge that we need to strengthen it, but that has nothing to do with the position that some countries on the continent have expressed at the UN. However, it is important that everyone understands that the situation [économique] current situation is the direct result of Russian aggression, not of the sanctions imposed on Moscow.
Our approach is based on the establishment of partnerships, which, to be built, require that we be more committed on the ground, and in a concrete way. This is why many American officials will be visiting Africa in the coming weeks. Starting with Antony Blinken, aware of the month of August.