JOHANNESBURG:US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in South Africa on Sunday, kicking off a three-nation African visit as Washington scales up diplomacy to counter Russian influence on the continent.
His visit comes after an extensive tour of Africa by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov late last month. South Africa, a leader in the developing world, has remained neutral in the Ukraine war, refusing to join Western calls to condemn Moscow, which had opposed apartheid before the end of white minority rule in 1994.
Blinken will hold talks on Monday with South African counterpart Naledi Pandor and also make a policy announcement on the US government’s new Africa strategy, Pretoria said in a statement. The two will “discuss ongoing and recent developments relating to the global geopolitical situation,” it said.
The US State Department last month said African countries were “geostrategic players and critical partners on the most pressing issues of our day, from promoting an open and stable international system, to tackling the effects of climate change, food insecurity and global pandemics”.
The African powerhouse, which wields great diplomatic influence beyond the continent, belongs to a group of emerging economies called BRICS. In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged BRICS countries –Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — to cooperate in the face of “selfish actions” from the West.
For Fonteh Akum, head of the Pretoria-based think-tank Institute for Security Studies, Blinken’s visit will help the US understand the southern African country’s position. It will also aim “to bring South Africa further into the Western fold”, Akum told AFP.
The US wants to “engage differently and… move towards understanding Africa’s agency in international relations and therefore the growth in diplomatic engagements,” the expert said. Blinken’s trip follows a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to Benin, Cameron and Guinea-Bissau late last month. Lavrov’s Africa trip took him to Congo-Brazzaville, Egypt, Ethiopia and Uganda.
That Blinken is coming after Lavrov and Macron, “basically shows that Africa is entering a phase within which there is another bout of great power competition over the continent,” said Akum.
It is Blinken’s second trip to Africa since his appointment early last year.
He will visit the Democratic Republic of Congo later this week, with the aim of boosting support for sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country as it battles to turn the page on decades of conflict. Blinken’s tour will then wind up in Rwanda, which has seen a flare-up in tensions with DR Congo after it accused Rwanda of backing M23 rebels, a charge Kigali denies.