Security to top agenda as US diplomat Blinken makes 1st visit to sub-Saharan Africa: Analyst

Secretary of state will visit Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal from Nov. 15-20.

Security to top agenda as US diplomat Blinken makes 1st visit to sub-Saharan Africa: Analyst

Concerns over growing violence and terrorism in the Horn and East African region is likely to be a major topic in talks between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Kenyan top officials during a visit next week, an expert said.

“Al-Shabaab has been a main concern for both the US and the region for some time now and the fight against the al Qaeda affiliate group in the Horn of East Africa will be a top priority,” Abdurahman Sheikh Azhari, director of the Centre for Analysis and Strategic Studies, a Somalia-based think tank which focuses on security and counterterrorism, told Anadolu Agency.

The academic argued that according to President Joe Biden, after its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US will focus on states stricken by violence such as Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

The top American diplomat is now embarking on a trip to three African countries – Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal – from Nov. 15-20 .

Blinken will be the first highest-ranking official in the new US administration to visit sub-Saharan Africa.

He will begin his trip from Kenya, where he will meet President Uhuru Kenyatta and Foreign Minister Raychelle Omamo, affirming the strategic partnership, according to the US State Department.

"The Secretary and representatives of the Kenyan government will discuss our shared interests as members of the UN Security Council, including addressing regional security issues such as Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan," a statement read.

A raging war broke out last year in Ethiopia between the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and forces of the Tigray People's Liberation Front, which has left thousands dead, and many more displaced.

Abiy ordered a military offensive against Tigrayan forces on Nov. 4, 2020, after accusing them of attacking a military base.

Blinken recently told reporters in Washington, DC that he fears Ethiopia could implode if the civil war continues, saying a cease-fire and negotiations would be a better path.

"Out and out conflict ... could lead to the implosion of Ethiopia and spill over into other countries in the region, and that would be disastrous for the Ethiopian people," he said.

The situation in Sudan is also volatile as military leaders seized full control of the transitional government last month. Protesters continue to demonstrate against the military coup, and several protesters have been killed and wounded.

Blinken will then travel to Nigeria to meet President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama.

They will discuss "furthering cooperation on global health security, expanding energy access and economic growth and revitalizing democracy."

He will also deliver a speech on US-Africa policy in Abuja, the capital of Africa’s most populous country.

He will conclude his trip in Dakar, Senegal after meeting President Macky Sall and Foreign Minister Aïssata Tall Sall "to reaffirm the close partnership between our two countries." He is expected to discuss regional issues with Senegalese officials.

Critic skeptical

Iqbal Jassat, an executive member of Media Review Network, a Johannesburg-based think tank, told Anadolu Agency that the US choice of visiting the three countries reflects its goal to keep China's presence on the continent in check.

The Biden administration is also seeking to entrench its military presence on the continent, he added.

“We at Media Review Network are highly skeptical of the visit, especially in light of revelations that Israel has a hand in Sudan’s coup,” Jassat said.

“It goes without saying that while military coups may have domestic actors, strings are pulled externally. Egypt is a classic example where convergence between Israel, the US and the Saudi monarchy resulted in the overthrow of a democratic government."

Jassat said any objective analysis will summarize that the source of Africa's ills results from "Western greed" for control of resources.

“Africa has always been a contested continent during the colonial era, divided and exploited by European expansionist powers," he said.

He said the post-colonial period may have seen countries in Africa gain freedom and independence, but in reality the continent has seen an intensification of direct interference by the former regimes, as well as others.

“Blinken's forays must thus be seen in the context of America's intrusion in the domestic and external policies of Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal,” he said.