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

United Nations — The United States Ambassador to the United Nations is traveling to Africa this week. She will be the second member of the Biden cabinet to visit this month as the administration seeks to show its commitment to tackling the myriad of challenges facing the continent, from conflict to climate change.

While neither Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield nor Treasury Secretary Janet Yellin, who arrived a few days ago, spoke directly about countering another nation’s influence, their visits are also a clear offer from Washington on the significant and expanding economic and political issue both China’s as well as Russia’s to respond, and military influence across Africa.

A senior Biden administration official said the high-level visits were intended to underscore the US interest in addressing “the impacts of drought, conflict … climate change and other factors contributing to food insecurity around the world.”

President Biden told African leaders last month that he was planning a trip to sub-Saharan Africa himself this year. He would be the first sitting US President to visit the region in a decade.

Chinese and Russian Traces in Africa

Next month, South Africa will conduct joint naval exercises with Russian and Chinese forces off its coast. The drills, along with CHina’s burgeoning trade with Africa — which surpassed that of the United States more than a decade ago — were at the forefront of the White House.

For decades, China has pumped money into Africa in the form of business and infrastructure investments and increased security cooperation with some nations. Aid from Beijing, mostly in the form of loans, totaled more than $153 billion between 2000 and 2019, according to the China Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced and International Studies.

Why China is investing in the Comoros


Russian influence has also been growing for decades.

Yellin arrived in South Africa the day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Pretoria. At a press conference on Monday with his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor, Lavrov spoke about the joint military exercises his country is scheduled to hold with Russia and China in mid-February. The 10-day exercises coincide with the one-year anniversary of Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine.

South Africa declined to condemn Russia’s war and remained neutral on the conflict, and Pandor defended his country’s decision to hold the joint drills, saying, “All countries are conducting military drills with friends around the world.”

Years of Russian and Chinese support for African countries may already be having an impact on the global arena of geopolitical standoffs. Kenya and Nigeria last March voted in favor of a UN General Assembly resolution calling for Russia to withdraw all of its forces from Ukrainian territory, but 17 African nations abstainedincluding South Africa.

Thomas-Greenfield specifically raised the issue Reform of the workings of the UN Security Council on the itinerary for her trip to Africa this week.

While the visits by senior US officials are not being portrayed by the administration as a reaction to Chinese and Russian influence, many experts say Washington has serious catching up to do.

“China wins”

Yellin hinted this week that China’s aid to countries like Zambia has left developing countries with massive debt burdens that could prove crippling if Beijing refuses to renegotiate repayments. She suggested that the US would be a kinder benefactor.

“We see a rapidly growing young population that needs opportunities and economic growth,” said Zambia’s chief financial officer. “We have many government programs and international programs designed to support infrastructure-building efforts, and when we do that we want to make sure we don’t create the same problems that Chinese investments have sometimes caused here.”

Zambia Yellen Africa
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen walks with Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema during their meeting at the State House in Lusaka, Zambia January 23, 2023.

Salim Dawood/AP

This week will mark Thomas-Greenfield’s third trip to Africa as the US Chief Representative to the United Nations. regional security issues; strengthening food security and refugee issues; Supporting Africa’s recovery and mitigating the effects of climate change; and to advise on the reform of the UN Security Council, an issue closed to the leaders of many African nations.

“We are focused on the pressing global challenges…which of course includes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” the government official said.

Michelle Gavin, senior fellow of the Africa Studies program at the Council on Foreign Relations, told CBS News’ John Dickerson last month that the Biden administration is prioritizing better relations in Africa for many reasons, not least because “Africa’s workforce is going to be up be larger than China’s and India’s by 2050.”

Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group, told CBS News that this week’s spate of visits represents an important diplomatic effort, and he said the Biden administration appears to be taking its efforts in Africa seriously.

“But at the end of the day,” Gowan said, “African leaders will ask if this is a short-term courtship or the start of a more sustained attempt by the US to rebuild ties on the continent because it will give China greater influence in Africa in the long-term.” business agreements.”

“Unless the US is able to counter China’s economic reach, American diplomatic reach will not turn the tide,” he said.

Yellin was to visit Zambia, Senegal and South Africa, while Thomas-Greenfield made stops in Ghana, Mozambique and Kenya.

Sarah Carter from CBS News in Johannesburg contributed to this report. Biden is sending senior officials to try to win over African nations long courted by China and Russia

Rick Schindler

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