“Deepening, Strengthening, and Broadening Partnerships”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has begun his tour of four West African nations, beginning in Cabo Verde. He started by touring the port of the capital city, Praia, which had recently undergone expansion as the result of 150 million USD in aid across two aid packages through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which gives US aid to nations which meet certain democratic standards. The US has stated they are working with Cabo Verde on a third aid package.
Blinken met with Cabo Verde’s Prime Minister, Jose Ulisses Correia e Silva, who stated that Cabo Verde was “guided by the values of liberal democracy”, amidst the Prime Minister’s condemnation of the recent string of coups that have gone off in West Africa in the last few years.
Following his visit to Cabo Verde, Blinken headed to Cote d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast), and is set to go to Nigeria, and Angola.
Blinken’s tour is running simultaneously to a visit from the US’ ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is visiting Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Today in Liberia the ambassador attended the inauguration of Liberia’s new President, Joseph Boakai.
Competing for Influence
Blinken’s visit comes as Western influence in Africa is steadily waning, and Russian/Chinese influence is steadily rising. In Blinken’s visit to Cote d’Ivoire he attended a football (soccer) match between Cote d’Ivoire and Equitorial Guinea in the Africa Cup of Nations. The competing influences are perfectly evidenced by the fact that the game was hosted in an Olympic stadium which seats 60,000, that was built by Chinese investment. China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, visited the stadium a week ago. The game, and Blinken’s visit, were in the coastal city of Abidjan. He met with President Alassane Ouattara and several other senior government members.
Cote d’Ivoire is one of the nations the US believes is key to fighting not only the growing influence from Russia and China, but also that of jihadist groups and other militant organizations operating in the general Sahel. While Cote d’Ivoire is the only one within this visit, Benin, Ghana, Togo, and Guinea are other nations apart of the US’ plan.
Many of these nations neighbours have fallen victim to severe instability, in particular Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, however they themselves have largely managed to escape the threats of widespread armed conflict, and they wish to keep it this way.
In connection with the US’ will to assist in maintaining the stability of coastal West Africa, Blinken announced while in Cote d’Ivoire the US plan to provide an additional 45 million USD in funding to “Cote d’Ivoire and its neighbours” in order to promote stability.
“The Secretary announced that the United States will provide $45 million in new funding, working with the U.S. Congress, to help Côte d’Ivoire and its neighbors prevent conflict and promote stability in the face of regional threats. With that funding, the United States will have dedicated nearly $300 million in stability-focused assistance in Coastal West Africa since 2022, which underscores our commitment to partner with this region for the Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability” -US State Department
The coastal nations of West Africa have sought an array of different paths towards escaping the instability on their borders, including military assistance both from within and without Africa, as well as economic development within their borders.
The visit by Blinken is his first such to sub-Saharan Africa in 10 months. When he was last in Africa, he expressed support to Niger’s at the time President Mohamed Bazoum. Four months after his visit, Bazoum was ousted in a coup. Last week, Niger’s new post-coup Prime Minister visited Moscow, as the nation forges military ties with Russia after forcing France, Niger’s former colonizer, out of the country.
West Africa has been subject to a series of coups over the last several years. In particular, coups in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso resulted in French troops eventually being forced out of the nation, as the relationship between the two quickly soured. Militaristically, many of these nations have turned to Russia, and the Wagner group PMC, to attempt to satisfy their security needs.
Following the coup in Niger, and the threat of an invasion from the Economic Community of West African States in order to reinstate President Bazoum, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali formed the “Alliance of Sahel States” (AES). The formation of the AES brought along with it not only a joint defence mechanism, meaning an attack against one is an attack against all, but also cooperation between the three nations against the militant threat they all face. Despite increased cooperation, however, the AES has failed to counter militants in any meaningful fashion. As such, Burkina Faso remains around 40% controlled by militant groups, with both Mali and Niger having large portions of territory outside their control as well.
In the face of the changing tides of West Africa, the US has attempted to re-orient their policy to be more inclusive towards Africa. As a part of this re-orientation, US President Joe Biden had promised to visit Africa last year in 2023. This visit never took place.
Niger, for now, remains host to a 100 million USD drone base for the US military. While France has been forced out, the US and it’s 1,000 troops stationed there is still allowed to operate. However, citing the worsening security situation, and likely also a lack of dependability on the Niger military Junta’s hospitality, the US has announced they are considering an array of other West African nations to host a military installment.