U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Ethiopia and Niger this week, the latest in a series of visits to Africa by senior U.S. government officials. In late January, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited South Africa, Senegal and Zambia, pledging more U.S. investment and trade. Yellen’s travels overlapped with those of Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who visited Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique and Somalia. First lady Jill Biden visited Kenya and Namibia during a five-day trip billed as an effort to promote democracy and raise awareness for drought and food insecurity. And the White House announced earlier this week that Vice President Kamala Harris will travel later this month to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia.
African governments have broadly welcomed the stepped-up bilateral engagement between Washington and African capitals, as well as the expressed desire by U.S. officials to chart a new course in relations with the continent. Biden administration officials also insist that Washington’s diplomatic full-court press of African governments reflects the United States’ resolve to improve the quantity and quality of engagement with African countries on their own terms, as a “geopolitical force” that “is shaping our present and will shape our future.” But given Washington’s insistence on framing Blinken’s visits to Ethiopia and Niger, as well as its increased engagement in Africa more generally, through the lens of geopolitical competition with China and Russia, the administration will likely struggle to convince skeptics in those countries and elsewhere that the U.S. is sincere about its stated commitment to treating them as “equal partners.”
In Ethiopia, Blinken met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to discuss a range of bilateral issues, as well as with African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat. In Niger, he huddled with President Mohamed Bazoum, after which he announced $150 million in new humanitarian funding for the country. Blinken’s stop in Ethiopia marked his first appearance there as secretary of state, while his trip to Niger made him the first U.S. secretary of state ever to visit the West African country. The two countries are also symbolic of Washington’s broader interests in Africa.Ethiopia is Africa’s second-most-populous country and located in the Horn of Africa, a geographically significant region for U.S. security interests. It is the largest economy in East Africa and a regular contributor of troops to international peacekeeping missions. Niger emerged as a key U.S. security partner in West Africa’s Sahel region in the mid-2010s, when concerns over the spread of transnational terrorist groups put the region on Washington’s radar.