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Biden is sending senior officials to try to win over African countries long courted by China and Russia


United Nations – The US ambassador to the UN is going to Africa this week. She will be the second member of Biden’s cabinet to visit this month as the administration seeks to demonstrate its commitment to tackling the myriad challenges facing the continent, from conflict to climate change.

Although neither Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield nor Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who arrived a few days ago, spoke directly about countering the influence of other countries, their visits are also a clear bid by Washington to respond to significant economic and political problems of China and Russia. , and military influence throughout Africa.

A senior Biden administration official said the high-level visits are intended to highlight US interest in helping to “address the effects of drought, conflict … climate change and other factors that contribute to food insecurity around the world.”

President Biden last month African leaders said that he himself was planning a trip to sub-Saharan Africa this year. He will be the first sitting US president to visit the region in ten years.

Chinese and Russian footprints in Africa

South Africa will hold joint naval exercises with Russian and Chinese forces off its coast next month. Drills together with SChina’s trade with Africa developed — which surpassed America’s more than a decade ago — were at the forefront of the White House.

China has poured money into Africa for decades in the form of business and infrastructure investments, and has stepped up security cooperation with some countries. Beijing’s aid, mostly in the form of loans, totaled more than $153 billion between 2000 and 2019. in accordance with The China-Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced and International Studies.

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Russian influence has also been growing for decades.

Elena arrived in the South African Republic the day after the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Pretoria. At a press conference on Monday with his South African counterpart, Naledi Pandora, Lavrov talked about the joint military exercises that his country will hold with Russia and China in mid-February. The 10-day exercises will be timed to the anniversary Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

South Africa refused to condemn Russia’s war, remaining neutral in the conflict, and Pandor defended his country’s decision to hold joint exercises, saying “all countries conduct military exercises with friends around the world.”

The long-term support of African countries by Russia and China may have already affected the geopolitical confrontation on the world stage. Last March, Kenya and Nigeria voted in favor of a UN General Assembly resolution demanding that Russia withdraw all its forces from the territory of Ukraine, but 17 African countries abstainedincluding South Africa.

Thomas-Greenfield especially set the theme reform the way the UN Security Council works on the agenda for her trip to Africa this week.

While the administration doesn’t see the visits by senior U.S. officials as a response to Chinese and Russian influence, many experts say it’s clear Washington has some serious catching up to do.

“China wins”

Yellen hinted this week that China’s aid to countries such as Zambia has left emerging economies with heavy debt burdens that could prove crippling if Beijing refuses to renegotiate payments. She suggested that the US would be a more friendly benefactor.

“We see a rapidly growing young population that needs opportunities and economic growth,” said the head of the Treasury in Zambia. “We have a lot of government programs and international programs that are aimed at helping infrastructure efforts, and when we do that, we want to make sure that we don’t create the same problems that Chinese investment sometimes creates here.”

Zambia Ellen Africa
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen walks with Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema during their meeting at the State House in Lusaka, Zambia on January 23, 2023.

Salim Daoud/AP

This week marks Thomas-Greenfield’s third trip to Africa as the United States’ chief representative to the United Nations. Its priorities, outlined by senior administration officials, include strengthening partnerships with current and former UN Security Council countries; issues of regional security; strengthening food security and refugee issues; supporting Africa’s recovery and climate change mitigation; and consultations on the reform of the UN Security Council, an issue closed to the hearts of many African leaders.

“We are focused on pressing global challenges … obviously that includes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” an administration official said.

Michelle Gavin, Senior Fellow, African Studies Program, Council on Foreign Relations, John Dickerson told CBS News Last month, the Biden administration prioritized improving relations in Africa for many reasons, not least because “Africa’s workforce will be larger than China’s and India’s by 2050.”

Richard Gowan, director of the UN’s International Crisis Group, told CBS News that the flurry of visits this week represented an important diplomatic effort, and he said the Biden administration appeared to be serious about its work in Africa.

“But at the end of the day,” Gowen said, “African leaders will ask whether this is a short-term courtship or the start of a longer U.S. effort to rebuild ties on the continent as China gains influence in Africa through long-term business arrangements.”

“If the US cannot counter China’s economic reach, American diplomatic reach will not be a game-changer,” he said.

Ellen was to visit Zambia, Senegal and South Africa, while Thomas-Greenfield stopped in Ghana, Mozambique and Kenya.

CBS News’ Sarah Carter in Johannesburg contributed to this report.

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