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Secretary Blinken's agenda as he travels Africa

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in the middle of his fourth swing through Africa. It began in the remote islands of Cape Verde, and he took in a quick soccer match at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d'Ivoire with the prime minister. Today, he is in Nigeria. NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu joins us now from Lagos. Hi there.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Emmanuel, tell us, what has been on the agenda for this trip and what does Secretary Blinken hope to achieve?

AKINWOTU: Well, he's just arrived in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country and an economic powerhouse. He's meeting with President Bola Tinubu. And tomorrow, he travels to Angola. And the State Department are keen to cast this trip in a positive light and show that Africa is a key U.S. priority. The trip came just after the Chinese foreign minister departed, and the U.S. says that trip has nothing to do with that. But China's the largest trading partner on the continent, and clearly that's a factor. We've now had a few years where the U.S. has made this concerted effort to reboot its relationships in Africa, but we still don't have a clear sense of what a more dynamic U.S. engagement really has to offer.

I spoke to Oge Onubogu. She's the Africa director at the Wilson Center in D.C., and she said that the U.S.' Africa policy has made progress, but we need more to show for it.

OGE ONUBOGU: I think over the last couple of years, we have seen more of a push to listen from the U.S. side, listen to African actors. And I think we are now at that point, at that stage where the partnership has to be seen on an equal level, on an equal playing field.

SUMMERS: And Emmanuel, as you've been reporting, there have been several military coups in West and Central Africa over the last few years, as well as rising violence in the Sahel. Has this been a key talking point?

AKINWOTU: Definitely. Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire, they're just two of the many coastal states that are fearful that jihadist insurgencies and the violence we've seen in the Sahel might spread to it. While he was in Cote d'Ivoire, Blinken actually announced the U.S. would provide an additional $45 million to help fight conflict. And basically, that's extra support for these states. And there have been nine coups in Africa for - over the last three years between East and West Africa. And as well as that, you know, constitutional changes, elections with questionable legitimacy, so these are tricky issues that the U.S. is trying to grapple with.

SUMMERS: Right. As you mentioned, tomorrow, Secretary Blinken heads to Angola, which is the last country on his schedule for the trip. The U.S. is helping to rebuild a major rail line there. Can you tell us more about that?

AKINWOTU: Yes. This is really interesting. The U.S. are providing $250 billion in loans to the Angolan government as part of a larger consortium, and that's to help rebuild the Lobito Corridor. That's a major international freight rail line that runs through three mineral-rich countries, from Zambia to the DRC, Democratic Republic of Congo, right to ports on the Atlantic in Angola. And the symbolism is really important. This was a line that was initially developed by China, which has invested more in infrastructure in Angola than any other African country. But the development stalled and the U.S. spotted an opportunity and stepped in. The U.S. says its engagement in Africa is not about rivalry with China, but this shows that it's still very much one of the key factors in its relationships on the continent.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu in Lagos. Emmanuel, thank you.

AKINWOTU: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.