Blinken told AFP that Washington has more to offer the Sahel than Moscow

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview with AFP that his country was a better partner than Russia to help the Sahel region fight poverty and jihadist violence.

In this interview Thursday evening in Niamey, Mr. Blinken acknowledged that the all-military approach of the United States and France, a former colonial power in the region, was not enough.

According to him, “it is absolutely necessary to have a holistic, global approach, in which security is absolutely necessary, but not sufficient”.

“The fact that Niger, which is clearly one of the poorest countries in the world, has been so effective, in my opinion, underlines the importance of choosing this comprehensive approach,” he said.

After a meeting with Nigerian President Mohamed Bajoum on Thursday, he announced $150 million in new humanitarian aid to Sahelian countries, including Niger, bringing the total for 2023 to $233 million.

He highlighted Washington’s support for Niamey through a program to reintegrate repentant jihadists to improve irrigation and climate-resilient agriculture in the arid country.

However, he felt that in addition to humanitarian and development aid, it was necessary to maintain security ties with Niger, where the United States has Air Base 201 in the north from where jihadists attack and monitor.

A Barkhane force soldier in a helicopter flies over the Oulam military base in Niger, July 15, 2022 (AFP/Archive – Bertrand Guay)

France also has a thousand troops in Niger after being forced to withdraw its troops from Mali and Burkina Faso, countries led by putsch troops and hit by jihadist violence.

The African Union has spoken out against foreign military presence on the continent, including China, which established its first base in Djibouti.

Interviewed on US grounds in Niger, Antony Blinken said, “The partnerships we have, we don’t impose them on anybody. Countries choose to be partners or not.”

“The work that can be done to fight terrorist groups, extremist groups, will ultimately benefit others,” he said.

– Wagner, “An Epidemic” –

The Biden administration specifically wants to engage more in Africa to counter growing influence from Russia.

Mali, a country bordering Niger, has drawn closer to the country and broken a military alliance with France and its allies in the anti-jihadist fight.

In February, it was one of six countries that voted against a UN General Assembly resolution urging Russia to withdraw from Ukraine.

Westerners claim that mercenaries from the Russian paramilitary group Wagner are in Bamako, which Mali denies with Russian trainers.

Ghana's President Nana Akufo Addo at the Smithsonian National Museum in Washington, December 13, 2022 (AFP/ARCHIVE - SAUL LOEB)
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo Addo at the Smithsonian National Museum in Washington, December 13, 2022 (AFP/ARCHIVE – SAUL LOEB)

In December, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo Addo claimed that Wagner was also in Burkina Faso, which was denied by Moscow and Ouagadougou.

“Wherever Wagner goes, bad things happen,” said Antony Blicken, who did not directly answer a question about the group’s presence in Burkina.

“Where we saw it act, it did not increase security, on the contrary, we saw things get worse in the end, exploitation of resources and corruption. The violence that this group generates is an epidemic that affects populations and countries. spreads to those it has chosen to work with”, according to him.

Wagner, led by Russian businessman close to the Kremlin Evgeny Prigogine, has been accused of abuses during the war in the Central African Republic, Libya and most recently in Ukraine.

A senior US official traveling with Mr Blinken said Wagner’s foothold in French-speaking countries was no accident, with Russia fueling post-colonial resentment.

However, according to Mr Blinken, “the challenge for all of us – we, France, our partners – is to demonstrate that through the work we do together, we achieve results that benefit the people, the citizens to respond to their wishes, their aspirations”.

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