US promotes democracy in Africa as rival nations expand their influence

PRETORIA, South Africa – The United States is grappling with the growing influence of China, Russia and Middle Eastern nations across Africa, a situation made more acute in recent months by competition. won a partner in the war in Ukraine.

On Monday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken revealed the Biden administration’s key approach to addressing that challenge and other strategic goals in Africa: promoting democratic governance across the continent.

“History shows that strong democracies tend to be more stable and less prone to conflict – and the mismanagement, exclusion and corruption inherent in major democracies leave them vulnerable. than against extremist movements and foreign interference,” Blinken said in a speech at the University of Pretoria, the first stop on a tour of Africa, which will also take him to the Democratic Republic of the Philippines. owners of the Congo and Rwanda.

It is unclear how his message will be received at a time when some African countries are turning away from democracy and turning to authoritarian rule – sometimes by military officers. The United States may run the risk of alienating some African leaders who prefer the authoritarian model or who see Washington’s push for governance as an imperial projection of power.

“If your tactic is to go to African countries and say, ‘Listen, you have to be democratic and use our model, it works,’ I think it is bound to lead to some frustration. defeated,” said Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s foreign minister, who met Mr. Blinken on Monday.

“I agree with Tony that all nations and peoples deserve the right to exercise their civil and political rights,” she added. “But I think with history, the approach has to be a bit different and I would recommend paying more attention to the tools that Africans have developed.”

China, which Mr. Blinken says is greatest challenger to American powerestablished a huge presence in Africa, with state-owned enterprises building infrastructure across the continent, the Chinese military fortifies a base in Djibouti and the Communist Party Open all-Africa leadership school in Tanzania. But There was a backlash among some Africans for the labor and lending activities of Chinese companies.

Middle Eastern nations are also playing an increasing role across Africa: Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have influence in the Horn of Africa, and Turkey has ambassadors The world’s largest restaurant is in Somalia, where the country also operates a major port and airport. .

Blinken confirmed at a news conference before speaking that the administration’s Africa strategy is not focused on competition with China and Russia. But a White House document released on the same day said the effort to strengthen an “open society” was partly aimed at “fighting harmful activities” by China, Russia and “other foreign parties”.

Blinken said in his speech that the U.S. strategy “reflects the complexity of the region, its diversity, its agency,” and is “focused on what we will do with it.” African nations and peoples, not for African nations and peoples”.

He also said pandemic recovery, health security, climate adaptation and environmental conservation are the pillars of the Africa strategy – in line with what President Biden has called his “global priorities”. me.

The Biden administration has made the promotion of democracy a central focus of its foreign policy, a return to previous Democratic and Republican administrations of President Donald J. Trump, who avoid this goal.

However, in contrast to its post-September 11 democracy-building approach, which took place under a dense US military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Biden administration sought to downplay its use of power. hard force in Africa.

Mr. Blinken said the administration would carry out governance stabilization programs with local partners “where conditions are ripe for conflict” – projects led by Global Fragility Act of 2019, bringing in $200 million annually in Congress-approved funds over a decade.

The strategy document says the United States aims to “contain the recent wave of authoritarianism and military takeovers” in part “through a targeted combination of aggressive provocations.” and sanctions such as sanctions.”

“The new strategy is to move away from the preaching and evangelistic approach of the past, but at the same time, it does not,” said Bob Wekesa, associate director of the American Center for African Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. go too far from it. “

Blinken and the National Security Council chose to announce the new strategy in South Africa because it is the continent’s largest democracy and an important trading partner of the United States.

But American foreign policy here has hit a snag. American officials had difficulty convincing their South African counterparts to abandon their neutral stance on the Ukraine war. South Africa was among 17 African countries that abstained in March on a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Russia, in contrast to the 28 African countries that passed the resolution.

Mr Blinken sought to highlight Russia’s atrocities on Monday, asserting that the economic devastation caused by the pandemic was “deeper than by Russia’s gratuitous war with Ukraine”. He cited World Bank estimates that said the invasion could add 40 million people – mainly in Africa – to the ranks of 193 million people worldwide in need of humanitarian food assistance.

Mrs. Pandar, meanwhile, criticized Act against Russia’s Malicious Activities in Africa passed by the US House of Representatives in May, will partly identify Africans who work with Russians sanctioned by the United States.

Gustavo de Carvalho, a senior researcher on Russia-Africa relations at the South African Institute of International Affairs, said African countries do not simply choose sides between the West and China or Russia, but are motivated by self-interest.

“In some cases, it’s a little more pragmatic,” he said.

As Africa’s most advanced economy, South Africa has cultivated commercial relationships with the United States and Europe. Although China is biggest trading partner, South Africa trade surplus with the United States. Their trade amounted to $21 billion last year.

Many South African citizens have called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to condemn Russia, but he has avoided doing so.

In June, he went to a multinational summit in Beijing before flying to group meeting of 7 people in the Bavarian Alps. In China, Mr. Ramaphosa agreed to a statement calling for talks between Kyiv and Moscow, along with equitable humanitarian assistance. In Germany, South Africa the summit’s key statement avoids Ukraine, focusing instead on climate change and energy policy.

On Monday, Ms. Pandor took a similarly aloof view on tensions between the United States and China, saying getting involved would hurt African and other nations.

These are the two great powers, the two largest economies in the world. “They have to figure out how to work together to allow us to grow.”

Edward Wong reported from Pretoria, South Africa and Lynsey Chutel report from Johannesburg. Declan Walsh Contribution reports from Nairobi, Kenya.

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