On his second trip to Africa, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will pursue South Africa to a more critical stance on the Ukraine-Russia war and address armed clashes in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s tour of Africa begins on Sunday. The list of countries on his itinerary has been carefully selected.
South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and neighboring Rwanda will receive Blinken’s during his second official trip to the continent since taking office last year.
One important goal during the August 7–12 visit is to bring old allies closer to the United States during these times of geopolitical tension, according to Daniel Silke, a political analyst in South Africa.
Silke categorizes Blinken’s visit as another example of the ongoing diplomatic war between Russia, the United States and China that’s underway in Africa.
“The three big superpowers are all vying for Africa’s attention, both from a political-diplomatic point of view and in terms of raw material exports,” Silke told DW during an interview.
Making an impact in Africa
Other top leaders made efforts to wield more influence in Africa ahead of Blinken’s visit.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and French President Emmanuel Macron visited several African nations a few days ago, shortly after Samantha Power, director of the US Agency for International Development, returned from the continent.
US President Joe Biden’s decision to send his secretary of state to these regions perhaps highlights concerns that something about his Africa policy could be offtrack.
But, “South Africa’s vote in the United Nations on the war in Ukraine and the very mixed messages from the government led by the African National Congress (ANC) make South Africa look like a weak ally of the US and even the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda,” Silke told DW.
Harder tones in South Africa
South Africa in March abstained from voting in the United Nations General Assembly on a resolution on war against Ukraine— as did 35 other countries.
The vast majority of the international community — 140 countries voted in favor. Surely a different tone will be struck in Pretoria when Blinken arrives there, Silke believes.
Against the backdrop of changing geopolitics and rising tensions between the United States, China and Russia, this visit is an opportunity for the top US diplomat to encourage South Africa to take a more critical stance — especially when it comes to Russia’s war on Ukraine and China’s increasing saber-rattling over Taiwan, she said.
Food security on the table
Tied to that is a new US government policy strategy that has been in the works for a year and will be unveiled during the South Africa visit, said Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at London-based think tank Chatham House.
“The strategy aims to better focus US government efforts around Africa, including how to contain China and Russia on the continent,” Vines told DW.
The State Department in Washington said before Blinken’s departure that the focus should be on pressing issues: A dialogue on stronger cooperation on health, law enforcement, trade, investment and energy — but also food security.
The shortfall in grain supplies from Ukraine has been felt around the world. The United Nations is warning of Africa’s worst hunger crisis in decades.
US Representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield is currently traveling in Ghana, Uganda and Cape Verde to assess the impact of the food crisis.
‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero on the agenda
In Rwanda, Blinken will raise the “wrongful detention” of US permanent resident Paul Rusesabagina, the US State Department said in a statement.
A Rwandan court last year said Paul Rusesabagina was guilty of terrorism-related charges and sentenced him to 25 years in prison.
Rusesabagina, a prominent opponent of the Rwandan government, was accused by authorities of lending his support from abroad to a rebel group in the African country.
The 67-year-old, who is now a Belgian citizen, was credited with saving hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide. His actions inspired Hollywood’s “Hotel Rwanda” in 2004.
Deep concern over fighting in eastern Congo
Security issues in Congo are central to US Secretary of State Blinken trip, as violence in eastern DRC threatens to escalate.
“The main objective of the visit to Kinshasa and Kigali is to address the recent armed clashes in eastern DRC and the resurgent M23 armed group,” pointed out London-based expert Vines.
He said the administration in Washington is concerned about the spread of violence and how allies are squaring off against each other.
Recent fighting in eastern Congo has escalated tensions between the governments in Kinshasa and Kigali. The security situation in eastern Congo had deteriorated in 2021. The Democratic Republic of Congo accuses Rwanda of supporting the M23 militia in North Kivu province.
In late July, demonstrations against the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO led to riots in the provincial capital of Goma.
At least five people were killed. Blue helmets were accused of firing on demonstrators and shooting several civilians, which sparked fresh protests.
Civilians: No more blue helmets
“We don’t want MONUSCO in Congo because countrymen are being killed. Still, there are armed groups here, including from abroad. Then MONUSCO comes in and kills us. We say no to that!” demonstrator Rebecca Kabuo, a member of the Lucha social movement, told the Associated Press (AP) news agency.
AP reports that as a result of the protests, the government in Kinshasa is considering whether to allow the presence of UN peacekeepers in the country to continue.
Since the United States is also one of the MONUSCO troop contributors, this is also likely to be a topic during Blinken’s visit. Reports from his ministry suggest that the diplomat will not only meet with politicians in Kinshasa, but also with representatives of civil society.
Blinken wants to pave the way for a peaceful and fair presidential election next year in the DR Congo, according to the ministry. In view of the continuing violence in the Central African country, this goal still seems a long way off.