US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday cautioned Africa to beware of China’s growing role as he vowed a greater US commitment in talks with Nigeria and Kenya.
In what was billed as a virtual trip due to Covid-19 restrictions, the top US diplomat was holding talks with the two nations’ leaders and “touring” sites including a US-funded mobile hospital and renewable energy project.
Responding to questions from young Africans who have studied in the United States, Blinken said he hoped that African nations approach all their relationships “with your eyes wide open.”
“We’re not asking anyone to choose between the United States or China, but I would encourage you to ask those tough questions, to dig beneath the surface, to demand transparency and to make informed choices about what is best for you and your countries,” Blinken said.
The United States has increasingly had a competitive relationship with China, which has ramped up investment in Africa with a focus on natural resources and without any of the Western pretenses of advancing democratic values.
Blinken pointed to concerns that a number of nations have been saddled with unsustainable debts after taking Chinese loans, with Zambia last year defaulting.
“You should be looking hard at whether when other countries come in to build a big infrastructure project, are they bringing their own workers with them or are they giving jobs to people in the country where they’re making investments?” Blinken asked.
On the part of the United States, “We believe in Africa. We believe in the extraordinary potential.”
“Your success is our success, and we want to invest in it but in the right way.”
President Joe Biden has shown an early interest in Africa, even without specific initiatives, in contrast with his predecessor Donald Trump, who was the first US president in decades not to visit Africa while in office and notoriously was quoted as dismissing majority-black nations with an epithet.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, speaking to Blinken, thanked Biden for easing Trump’s harsh restrictions on visas to the United States.
Buhari vowed to step up close security collaborations with the United States on hotspots including the Sahel.
“Nigeria and our security forces remain resolutely committed to continue them and addressing the root causes,” he said.
“The support for important and strategic partners like the United States cannot be overstated.”
The virtual meeting was in response to the Chinese foreign minister’s five-nation of Africa at the start of the year. Wang Yi visited Nigeria, the DRC, Tanzania, Botswana, and Seychelles.