Picture: Andrew Harnik / AFP – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is greeted by South Africa’s International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor on his arrival for a meeting at the South African Department of International Relations and Co-operation in Pretoria, South Africa, on August 8, 2022. Blinken has denied that his visit has anything to do with the close ties Russia and China are forging in Africa, the writer says.
By Koffi M Kouakou
“L’Amérique ne s’engage pas en Afrique à cause d’un autre pays”, said bluntly secretary of state Antony Blinken and in perfect French during an interview on Radio France International in Pretoria, on his three-nation African visit a few weeks ago, when asked about his visit following Russian foreign minister Sergueï Lavrov’s recent Africa stopover.
Briefly, Blinken meant that “America does not engage in Africa because of another country.” He dismissed the idea that the US was now getting involved in Africa because it was concerned about the influence of Russia, China or any other country on the continent.
Asked about the rocky and uncomfortable past seven years with South Africa under president Donald Trump, during a press conference with minister of international relations and co-operation, Dr Naledi Pandor, he said that he was not interested in the past and that he was now focused on the present.
Anyone who listened to secretary Blinken’s interviews during his visit, would have been deeply persuaded by his embalming and quickly scripted statements on Africa and the new US Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa. Interestingly, his sleek diplomatic and salesman pitch seemed to have struck a chord with traditional mainstream media which gullibly agreed and wilfully stenographed all his statements wholesale without much scrutiny.
I almost bought them as well.
But with a closer look at the revamped public relations messaging and spinning campaign about the new US Strategy on paper and the contrast with what’s is happening on the continent, his statements look deceiving.
In short, he was lying outright to his audience. That’s what is called strategic lying, the abominable ability of politicians to conceal the real purpose of their ultimate aims. In this case, it is about the true goal of US strategy in Africa. Secretary Blinken’s statement was telling the opposite and pretending to say one thing while implying something else.
Lying in international politics, also known noble lies, is a preferred geopolitical sport in foreign policy for the US and many global powers. In Why Leaders Lie: The Truth about Lying in International Politics, renowned US political scientist John Mearsheimer gives a methodical analysis of lying as a tool of statecraft and its costs and benefits.
Politicians, who regularly mislead their audiences, do so deliberately to conceal their goals in pursuit of foreign policy objectives. Mearsheimer also argues shockingly that “lying about foreign policy is an intrinsic part of the democratic way of life”.
Blinken and many US policymakers have become adept at the use of such a statecraft tool. In truth, the US is ramping up its engagement in Africa mainly because of the growing geopolitical influence of Russia and China. What is more concerning is not just the big deception that lies beneath the veneer of the framing statements of the US engagement in Africa, but the belligerent nature of the strategy.
The US is at war with Africa, not by proxy. It’s real. The US has weaponised its Africa strategy and turning Africa into a new battlefield for a war on Russia and China as well. By demonising Russia, China and other nations that have close relationships with Africa, Washington also makes Africa an enemy and a war target.
The US aggression and war against Africa are not new. They have taken place directly or by proxy. They’ve come in multiple forms in history and in modern times. They are insidious and multidimensional – from geopolitics, foreign policy, geoeconomic, military, cultural, technological, medical and even with the media. From Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush Sr, Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump’s injurious shit-holes-nations-in-Africa comments to Joe Biden, US presidencies have been marred by regime change in Africa and at war, one way or another.
In the 1960s, the US was involved in plotting numerous coup d’états and assassinations of emerging African liberation and independence leaders in the Congo, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and many other African countries. In January 1961, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, less than seven months after taking office as prime minister of the newly independent country, Patrice Lumumba, the young pan Africanist leader, was brutally assassinated with his closest ministers. Declassified US documents showed that the US played a role in his assassination supervised by former putschist Mobutu Sese Seko, later known as the king of Zaire.
In February 24, 1966, Joseph Arthur Ankrah overthrew Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana’s first CIA-supported coup d’état. And the list has gone on around Africa for decades until today.
More recently, in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan, the US was again involved in disturbing regime change interventions. The US’s most disturbing and vicious regime change event took place in Libya in 2011, when colonel Muammar Ghaddafi was publicly liquidated, and his country destroyed by NATO bombardments. Former secretary of state at the time, Hillary Clinton, was seen gloating in a television news interview moments after hearing that the deposed Libyan leader Ghaddafi had been killed. She jokingly said in a laughter, “We came, we saw, he died.”
To convince many African countries to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations, Blinken tried unsuccessfully to sway South Africa. In a sharp rebuttal at a press conference, minister Pandor uncompromisingly pointed out the hypocrisies and double standards of US foreign policy in the world and toward Africa. While Pandor somewhat politely endorsed the strategy without rejecting it outright, the tension in the room was palpable.
Blinken was uncomfortable with his double-speak and hypocrisy on democracy and human rights in Ukraine, Palestine, Syria, about Wagner, China and Russia. All that talk sounded hollow to the selected and culled media and African audiences. His salesman’s pitch looked stale. There was nothing new with the so-called new US Africa Strategy.
As China and Russia upped their presence on the continent and show visible successes, not just talks, threats, bullying and coercive partnerships, as we’ve seen with Ms Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations and veiled threats by secretary Blinken himself during his speech in Pretoria, the US looks unconvincing about its new Africa strategy.
On a visit or “listening tour” to Uganda and Ghana this month, Thomas-Greenfield warned African countries against buying anything from Russia except grain and fertiliser. These sorts of threats do not encourage sound, fair and win-win diplomatic relations with Africa. On the military front, the US is rapidly expanding across Africa with the Africa military command or AFRICOM. It is said that the US has 29 military bases and growing on the continent.
Clearly, the US wants a safe Africa for its natural resources, use the supposed threats of terrorism and exponential footprint of China and Russia to validate its Africa strategy. Africa is becoming a US war theatre against Russia and China. Now, NATO is also using the West’s military power to move into Africa, in the Sahel and soon in the Gulf of Guinea.
Medically, the global Covid-19 crisis exposed the selfishness of the US and its allies to unnecessarily hoarding vital vaccines while raising their intellectual property rights requirements.
On the media front earlier this month, Karine Jean-Pierre, the new White House press secretary since May 13, 2022, the first Black person and the first openly LGBTQ person to be White House press secretary, refused to let African journalists ask questions at White House press conferences – she dismissed, silenced and abused them.
Most Africans read through Blinken’s unconvincing sweet talk as the new US Africa strategy sales pitch lacks substantial offerings. Africans are concerned about the duplicitous nature of a renewed US engagement in Africa. This week, Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders, meeting in Kinshasa, fearful of the detrimental consequences of the Countering Russian Maligned Activities in Africa Act, now going through the US Senate to soon become a law, issued a statement that the Act is a danger to Africa and its trade partners.
A weaponised US law against Africans who do business with Russia is sinister. In fact, it is a full declaration of war against Africa, and not just an economic warfare against Africans. Peeling all those multidimensional levels of the US engagement with Africa, the new US strategy offers little so far and is unconvincing. Hopefully, instead of building military bases in Africa, the US would build infrastructure, deal with poverty and help create employment on the continent.
While Blinken’s soft-talks about a positive new agenda for a US-Africa future, Africans must be on the alert for coming wars on the continent. They must remain vigilant of a possible belligerent future. Let’s be clear. The idea of a US Africa strategy will not be favourable to Africans. Agreeing that it will is nonsensical. Moreover, the unrealistic strategy document deals with only with sub-Saharan Africa not Africa as a whole. It is a patronising and divisive strategy. The divide-and-manipulate-them tactic should be challenged. African tolerance for such cheap offerings is running thin. Successive US Africa strategies which are constantly telling Africans what, how to think and why, are couched under diplomatic niceties of equal partnerships.
However, Africans must change and broaden the conversation with the US and have an Africa-US strategy as well. A new conversation is needed. It should be a conversation that rejects the type of supply-side speech secretary of state Antony Blinken delivered at the University of Pretoria when he launched the new US-Africa Strategy.
Africans must push back against the US new cold war in Africa, as its new strategy is not development friendly, its impacts and consequences are detrimental to Africa. Africa has had enough of wars.
Koffi M Kouakou is Africa Analyst and Senior Research Fellow at The Centre of Africa-China at the University of Johannesburg