US promotes democracy in Africa as rival nations expand influence

PRETORIA, South Africa — The United States grapples with the growing influence of China, Russia and Middle Eastern countries across Afri...


PRETORIA, South Africa — The United States grapples with the growing influence of China, Russia and Middle Eastern countries across Africa, a situation made more acute in recent months by competition for win partners in the war in Ukraine.

On Monday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken unveiled the Biden administration’s main approach to addressing this 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 that the poor governance, exclusion and corruption inherent in weak democracies make them more vulnerable to extremist movements and foreign interference. “, Mr. Blinken said in a speech at the University of Pretoria, the first leg of a tour of Africa that will also take him to the Democratic Republic of 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 settling into authoritarian rule – sometimes in military officers who carried out coups. The United States could risk alienating African leaders who prefer the authoritarian model or view Washington’s push for governance as a projection of imperial power. Some might call her a hypocrite, citing the recent erosion of democratic practices in the United States.

“If your tactic is to approach African countries and say, ‘Listen, you have to be democratic and use our model, it works’, I think that will lead to failure,” said Naledi Pandor, Foreign Minister from South Africa. who met Mr. Blinken on Monday.

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

China, which, according to Mr. Blinken, is the greatest challenger to american powerhas established a huge presence in Africa, with state-owned companies building infrastructure across the continent, the Chinese military bolstering a base in Djibouti, and the Communist Party open a pan-African leadership school in Tanzania. But there was a backlash among some Africans labor and lending practices of Chinese companies.

Middle Eastern countries are also playing an increasing role in Africa: Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are influential in the Horn of Africa, and Turkey has its largest embassy in the world in Somalia, where it also manages the main port and airport. .

Mr Blinken insisted at a press conference ahead of his speech that the administration’s Africa strategy was not centered on rivalry with China and Russia. But a White House document released the same day said the effort to strengthen “open societies” was in part to “counter harmful activities” by China, Russia and “other foreign actors.”

Mr. Blinken said in his speech that the US strategy “reflects the region’s complexity, its diversity, its agency” and “focuses on what we are going to do with it.” African nations and peoples, not for African nations and peoples.

He also said that pandemic recovery, health security, climate adaptation and environmental conservation were the pillars of the strategy for Africa, in line with what President Biden has designated as his global priorities.

The Biden administration has made democracy promotion a focus of its foreign policy, a throwback to Democratic and Republican administrations before that of President Donald J. Trump, which avoided the goal.

However, unlike the post-9/11 approach to democracy building, which took place under a heavy US military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Biden administration seeks to minimize the use of hard power by Africa.

Blinken said the administration would conduct governance stability programs with local partners “in places where conditions are conducive to conflict” – projects made possible by the Global Fragility Act of 2019 that gives $200 million a year in congressional approved funds for a decade.

The strategy document says the United States aims to “stem the recent wave of authoritarianism and military takeovers” in part “through a targeted mix of positive incentives and punitive measures such as sanctions.”

Bob Wekesa, deputy director of the African Center for the Study of the United States at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said: “The new strategy is to move away from this preaching and proselytizing approach of the past, but at the same time, it does not deviate much from it.

Mr. 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 diplomacy has come up against obstacles here. US officials have struggled to persuade their South African counterparts to abandon a neutral stance on the war in Ukraine. South Africa was among 17 African countries that abstained from voting in March on a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Russia, unlike the 28 African countries that endorsed the resolution.

Mr Blinken sought to highlight Russia’s brutality on Monday, saying the economic devastation caused by the pandemic had been “compounded by Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine”. He cited World Bank estimates that the invasion could add 40 million people – mostly in Africa – to the 193 million people worldwide who need humanitarian food assistance.

Mrs Pandor, meanwhile, criticized the Combating Malicious Activities of Russia in Africa Act passed by the US House of Representatives in May, which would in part identify Africans working with US-sanctioned Russians.

Gustave de Carvalho, a principal investigator on Russian-African 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 driven by self-interest.

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

As Africa’s most advanced economy, South Africa has maintained trade ties with the United States and Europe. Although China is its biggest trading partner, South Africa has a trade surplus with the United States. Their trade amounted to 21 billion dollars last year.

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

He went to a multinational summit in Beijing in June before flying to a meeting of the Group of 7 in the Bavarian Alps. In China, Ramaphosa accepted a statement calling for talks between Kyiv and Moscow, as well as impartial humanitarian aid. In Germany, South Africa main statement of the summit dodged the Ukraine issue and instead focused on climate change and energy policy.

On Monday, Ms Pandor took an equally distant stance on tensions between the United States and China, saying getting involved would be destructive for African nations and other countries.

“They are two great powers, the two biggest economies in the world,” she said. “They need to find a way to work together to allow us to grow.”

Edward Wong reported from Pretoria, South Africa, and Lynsey Chutel reported from Johannesburg. Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Nairobi, Kenya.

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Newsrust - US Top News: US promotes democracy in Africa as rival nations expand influence
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