On the last day of a trip to Africa to bolster U.S. influence on a continent that receives much of its foreign aid from U.S. rival China, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said U.S. efforts to strengthen alliances in Africa must be evaluated on results.
The top U.S. diplomat visited Senegal Friday and Saturday on the last leg of a five-day, multi-nation trip during which he outlined the Biden administration’s policy toward Africa, declaring that the U.S. sees African countries as equal partners.
“We have to be judged on what we do and not simply on what I say and so let’s see over the coming months and coming years how we do,” Blinken said at a news conference Saturday in the Sengalese capital of Dakar.
Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall said at the news conference that U.S. influence in Africa “will always be important.” She noted the U.S. “never colonized” Africa and said the Sengalese “see the United States as a country of freedom.”
Earlier Saturday, Blinken met with Senegalese President Macky Sall at the presidential palace in Dakar. The two leaders also attended an event at Dakar’s Institut Pasteur, which hopes to begin producing COVID-19 vaccines with U.S. assistance next year.
On Friday, Blinken summarized the Biden administration’s policy toward Africa in a speech in Abuja, Nigeria.
“The United States firmly believes that it’s time to stop treating Africa as a subject of geopolitics — and start treating it as the major geopolitical player it has become,” Blinken said.
The continent needs billions of dollars annually for massive infrastructure projects such as building roads, railways and dams. Over the past decade, China has provided much of the infrastructure funding Africa has received.
Without mentioning China, Blinken vowed the U.S. would agree only to transparent and voluntary global infrastructure agreements that produce tangible benefits on the continent.
“Too often, international infrastructure deals are opaque, coercive; they burden countries with unmanageable debt; they’re environmentally destructive; they don’t always benefit the people who actually live there,” Blinken said. “We will do things differently.”
Blinken, who witnessed the signing of contracts valued at more than $1 billion Saturday between Senegal and four U.S. companies, said the U.S. is investing in Africa without imposing unmanageable levels of debt.
“As we look at infrastructure investment, and more broadly investment across the board, our purpose, the guiding principle, is to make this a race to the top. And if other countries want to engage in that race to the top … that’s a very good thing,” Blinken said.
Blinken’s visit to Africa was his first as secretary of state. He has said his trip is aimed at fostering cooperation on global health security, battling the climate crisis, expanding energy access and economic growth, revitalizing democracy and achieving peace and security.
The trip is part of the Biden administration’s effort to strengthen alliances in Africa after four years of a unilateralist approach under former U.S. President Donald Trump. It came amid worsening crises in Ethiopia and Sudan.
While in Kenya, Blinken called for ending the violence in Ethiopia, combating terrorism in Somalia and reviving Sudan’s transition to a civilian government.
On Saturday in Senegal, Blinken addressed the civil war between Ethiopian government forces and rebels in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.
“Intensive diplomacy is ongoing with leadership from the African Union and its high representative, former Nigerian President Obasanjo supported by the United States,” Blinken said.
“We continue to push for an immediate end to hostilities without preconditions and humanitarian access to the millions of people who need life-saving aid,” he added.
Despite large contributions of money and vaccines to contain COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, the U.S. has had little success in gaining influence on the continent.
Nevertheless, Blinken said U.S. President Joe Biden would continue working to improve relations with African countries.
“As a sign of our commitment to our partnerships across the continent, President Biden intends to host the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit to drive the kind of high-level diplomacy and engagement that can transform relationships and make effective cooperation possible,” Blinken said.
The top U.S. diplomat did not say when the summit would take place.