PRETORIA: The United States is seeking a “true partnership” with Africa and not trying to “outdo” other world powers in vying for influence on the continent, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday.

Blinken outlined the US government’s new Africa strategy as he visited South Africa in the first stop of a three-nation trip to the continent.

The visit followed hot on the heels of an extensive African tour by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Yet Blinken said the United States did not see the region as the “latest playing field in a competition between great powers”.

“Our commitment to a stronger partnership with Africa is not about trying to outdo anyone else,” the top US diplomat told a press briefing in the capital, Pretoria, alongside his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor.

South Africa, a leader in the developing world, has remained neutral in the Ukraine war.

Pretoria has refused to join Western calls to condemn Moscow, which had opposed apartheid before the end of white-minority rule in 1994.

Pandor said no one in South Africa supported war and described Russia as a “negligible economic partner” but added she was glad the United States was not asking her country to take sides.

However, there had been “a sense of patronising bullying” from other partners in Europe and elsewhere, she said.

“We should be equally concerned at what is happening to the people of Palestine, as we are with what is happening to the people of Ukraine,” she said, referring to a flare-up in fighting in Gaza.

Later on Monday, in a lecture at the University of Pretoria, Blinken laid out the new US strategy for sub-Saharan Africa, which he said focused on four priorities — fostering “openness” and democracy, pursuing economic development, and tackling global warming.

The United States and African nations needed to work together as “equal partners” to address those issues, he said. “Too often, African nations have been treated as instruments of other nations’ progress, rather than the authors of their own,” he said.

“The United States will not dictate Africa’s choices, neither should anyone else. The right to make these choices belongs to Africans, and Africans alone.” The new strategy was announced at the end of an extended policy review by President Joe Biden’s administration.

Some critics say a US focus on fighting extremist groups in Africa militarily has borne little fruit, even while China and Russia have made continued inroads by aggressively using diplomatic and economic tools.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2022

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