US Secretary of State Antony Blinken explored greater coordination with emerging regional partner Angola on Thursday, capping a tour of Africa to champion US-friendly democracies as global crises mount.
After years of estrangement with Washington during the Cold War, Angola has seen growing common ground with the United States, including by working together to address violence in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Blinken arrived late on Wednesday in the oil-rich former Portuguese colony’s capital, Luanda, where billboards with his picture welcomed him.
On Thursday, he was to meet President Joao Lourenco, who visited US President Joe Biden at the White House just two months ago.
Blinken is due to leave Angola later in the day.
But first he toured a gleaming new science museum, where he hailed Angola’s participation both in the US space cooperation programme and a new initiative to bring genetically modified seeds to developing countries.
“When we look at some of the traditional seeds that Africans have relied on — cassava, millet, sorghum -— (they are) incredibly nutritious and they can now be made even more resistant to the ravages of climate change,” Blinken said.
“Then we get to the point where Africa is feeding itself and, indeed, probably feeding other parts of the world.”
– US-China competition –
Angola is a linchpin of one of the signature US infrastructure projects on the continent — the Lobito Corridor, which will connect landlocked Zambia, hailed by Washington as a model for its democracy, as well as resource-rich DRC to an Angolan port on the Atlantic Ocean.
China, seen by the United States as its top competitor, has rapidly expanded its footprint in Africa through infrastructure spending, while Russia has ramped up security ties with military-run states.
Blinken said the Lobito Corridor showed the United States was not looking at making African states reliant on Washington.
“Here’s the biggest difference maker, I think — the United States also, and maybe uniquely, invests in knowledge and transferring knowledge and sharing techniques,” he told Nigeria’s Channels Television.
Blinken’s trip, which has also taken him to Ivory Coast and Cape Verde, comes as many Africans are voicing unease both at the billions of dollars provided by the United States to Ukraine to defend against Russia and at US support for Israel as it bombards Gaza in response to a Hamas attack.
South Africa, which Blinken is not visiting, has irritated Washington by bringing a case to the International Court of Justice, alleging genocide by Israel.
President Biden has said that the United States is “all in” for Africa but he did not live up to a promise to visit the continent last year.
– Seeking DRC headway –
During the Cold War, the United States backed the UNITA rebels in Angola but it has built close relations with the country during its transitions to democracy.
Angola, no stranger to conflict, has taken a leading role alongside Kenya in seeking an end to unrest in the east of vast DRC.
Talks in Luanda in late 2022 resulted in an agreement for a retreat by M23 in the DRC, ethnic Tutsi rebels that Kinshasa says are backed by Rwanda.
But the insurgents have since taken more territory.
The United States has made a new push to support the Angolan and Kenyan mediation effort.
US intelligence chief Avril Haines in November meet both DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame and announced they had agreed on steps to de-escalate.
While remaining deeply worried, US officials believe that greater engagement is the best chance of preventing a worsening of the conflict, which has caused major displacement and taken an especially heavy toll on women.
Over the past two weeks, Blinken has met Kagame at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and spoken by telephone to Tshisekedi, who is starting a new five-year term after being declared winner of the December presidential election.
The United States has previously found credible the allegations that Rwanda is providing support for the M23.
Kagame in turn has demanded action against Hutu fighters based in the DRC, who he says are connected to the perpetrators of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, which mainly targeted Tutsis.