US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in South Africa on Sunday in what experts say is an attempt to counter Chinese and Russian influence in the region.
Relations between the United States and South Africa became strained during the administration of President Donald Trump. President Joe Biden has tried to fix them, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has proved controversial.
The foreign minister’s second trip to Africa, and his first to South Africa – the continent’s most developed economy and an important democratic ally – follows a spate of visits by Chinese and Russian officials to the region.
After ignoring Africa for some time, the US is now playing catch-up and trying to counter the growing influence of Beijing and Moscow in the region, experts say, in what some say has elements of a new “Cold War”.
Washington also wants to build support for Ukraine, where many African governments have been reluctant to condemn Russia’s invasion, partly because of the Soviet Union’s support for African liberation movements in the years when the continent threw off European colonial rule.
Steven Gruzd, head of the Africa Government and Diplomacy Program at the South African Institute for International Affairs, said he doubted South Africa would be pushed to criticize Russia, its partner, along with China, in the BRICS group of countries.
“I don’t think Minister Blinken will find a receptive audience for his message that South Africa must fall to the West, and especially the United States, because of the Ukraine-Russia conflict,” Gruzd said.
Meanwhile, Bob Wekesa, director of the Africa Center for American Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, noted that China’s influence in Africa has grown significantly, and many African leaders are looking to Beijing for unconstrained infrastructure investment. Russia has also invested to a much lesser extent in the continent, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made a four-country visit to Africa last month.
“It’s actually true that it’s a kind of Cold War, even if it’s not the Cold War that we’ve seen since the end of World War II, but it’s a form of geopolitical competition, and the United States has to be prepared to be seen to be to compete with other states for influence in Africa,” said Wekesa.
Nontobeko Hlela, a researcher at the South African office of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, said former US President Donald Trump’s negative comments about African countries and other developing countries did nothing to improve relations.
“The United States must work hard to reverse certain policy decisions and statements made by former White House residents,” Hlela said.
While in South Africa, Blinken will visit Johannesburg’s famous Soweto township, once home to libertarian and first democratic president Nelson Mandela, as well as take part in South Africa’s Women’s Day celebrations.
On Monday, he will meet with his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor and launch the new US plan for sub-Saharan Africa. Climate change, trade, health and food insecurity will all be topics of discussion.
The top US diplomat then heads to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, which are in the midst of conflict.
Blinken heads to South Africa in new ‘Cold War’
Source link Blinken heads to South Africa in new ‘Cold War’