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Minister of Foreign Affairs made an important visit to Africa

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken started the new year with a meaningful and productive visit to Africa. In late January he traveled to Cabo Verde, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Angola. The aim was to maintain long-term strategic ties with African countries, with an emphasis on partnership and economic development.

China has devoted its attention to this continent for many years. When the Sino-Soviet split occurred in the late 1950s, Beijing made a strategic decision to focus on poor non-white nations. China’s prominence in Africa today is partly a legacy of the fundamental division between the two main communist powers during the Cold War more than half a century ago.

In Cabo Verde, it was emphasized that the country had completed two contracts of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and was starting the third. These include US grants for promising economic development projects. The country has also been declared malaria-free by the World Health Organization.

New regional security efforts were highlighted in Ivory Coast. The country borders three other countries that have suffered recent blows: Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali. Likewise, his visit to Nigeria also included the issue of security. In July, the military on the border with Niger overthrew elected civilian leaders.

Angola is witnessing a new and major agreement on private investment, which the Biden administration prioritizes. The Lobito Corridor railway project is financed by the United States, as well as African and European investment sources. The large-scale construction project is expected to be profitable and provide a positive balance to some of China’s “Belt and Road” projects, which have suffered from poor quality construction, difficult credit conditions for recipient countries and trade losses.

In the later phase of the Cold War, the U.S. government supported Angolan rebels fighting against a government supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba.

Historically, Americans have been absent-minded about Africa. Past presidents have generally focused on other parts of the world, with notable exceptions. Senator John F. Kennedy was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on African Affairs, a responsibility he was mindful of and brought his concerns about Africa to the Oval Office.

He worked steadily on African projects during and after President Jimmy Carter was in office. The Carter Center devotes ongoing attention to the public health and related issues of this continent. One dramatic result is the virtual eradication of guinea worm, a devastating, distressing disease. Carter effectively leveraged his center’s efforts for the World Bank’s work targeting the disease.

Former President Bill Clinton achieved rock star status in Africa, a popular stop on his travels on behalf of the Clinton Foundation. Reflecting changing times, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama took at least periodic interest in the continent while in office.

President Kennedy deserves credit for establishing the Peace Corps, a concept supported by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Senator Hubert Humphrey. The Peace Corps is extremely resilient and today consists of dedicated volunteers of varying ages.

Relatedly, the massive growth in private philanthropy means that unprecedented opportunities are emerging to raise living standards across Africa. But basic safety and security is sometimes difficult.

Terrorists are constantly causing death, destruction, and headlines, but they have yet to appeal to the average person in Africa or elsewhere in the world. In contrast, private economic development and investment is slowly growing with representative government.

The world is moving in our direction.

Learn more: Former First Lady Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt speaks with President John F. Kennedy: https://www.jfklibrary.org/asset-viewer/archives/JFKWHA/1961/JFKWHA-014/JFKWHA-014.

Arthur I. Cyr is the author of “After the Cold War – American Foreign Policy, Europe, and Asia” (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan).

Contact Acyr@carthage.edu

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