In spite of mounting security challenges in Africa and the high hopes many African governments had that the election of Joseph Biden as president of the United States of America would lead to a marked improvement in relations with the US after four years of President Donald Trump, who basically ignored the continent.
In the eight months since Biden has been president, as a mark of his administration’s top priorities, Antony Blinken, the U.S top diplomat, has embarked on several international travels, starting with Japan and South Korea in March 2020.
Both countries are in a region the U.S is focusing its national security apparatus.
Blinken made a “virtual” visit to Nigeria and Kenya on April 27, when he met President Muhammadu Buhari and President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya.
While the U.S. Secretary of State has mostly visited Europe and the Middle East, he is yet to embark on an official visit to any country in sub-Saharan Africa. The closest he has come to Africa was on May 26, 2021 when he was in Egypt as part of a diplomatic shuttle to bring calm to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
The flurry of meetings on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly also underscore the place of Africa on the list of priorities of the Biden administration.
The president met with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the Iraqi President Barham Saleh and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. His schedulers have been blamed for the low level of engagement with world leaders.
Biden’s Secretary of State, at the sidelines of the UNGA, met with his counterparts from Pakistan, Russia and China.
Blinken did, however, meet with one African leader on Thursday holding talks with Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) President Felix Tshisekedi.
According to a State Department statement, Secretary Blinken commended President Tshisekedi’s leadership as African Union chair, including his efforts at strengthening relations among the Great Lakes Region countries, and stopping armed groups’ illicit trafficking of natural resources in the sub-region.
Secretary Blinken in the statement emphasized the United States’ resolve to use all appropriate tools to end the conflict in Ethiopia, including the September 17 announcement of a new Executive Order authorizing the use of financial sanctions. The two leaders also discussed the African Union’s critical role in COVID-19 response efforts, and addressing the climate crisis, as well as mediating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam dispute and de-escalating tensions in Somalia.
President Buhari on Friday, however, secured a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, at the ongoing General Assembly.
Meanwhile, President Buhari has said ending the security challenges in Nigeria is only a matter of time with the supply of the Super Tucano aircraft purchased from America, and other helicopters on the way.
According to a statement by Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesima, the president also said support by the United States of America has made a great difference in Nigeria’s efforts to stamp out terrorism within its borders.
In the meeting with Thomas-Greenfield, permanent representative of America to the United Nations, the president indicated that America’s support was a morale booster to the military and people of Nigeria in general.
On how the country was able to mitigate the scourge of the Coronavirus pandemic, of which the ambassador said the Delta variant was “very virulent,” the Nigerian leader disclosed that a special team was raised by the federal government which, in conjunction with states, educated people on safety methods, “and we are not doing badly vis-a-vis our population.”
He said Coronavirus does not discriminate between small and big, rich and poor countries, “so we all have to collaborate and work together.”
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said about 70 per cent of her work at the UN centre on Africa, and expressed worry at the recent military takeovers in Mali and Guinea.
In his response, President Buhari said leaders have to respect their people, part of which is to obey the term-limit clauses in their Constitution.
“I am surprised when people spend the maximum term possible, and then tinker with the constitution to stay longer.
“In Nigeria, we try to educate our people to appreciate the democratic system. Elections should be safe and secure, no coercion of any form. People should elect the people they want. That would grow democracy,” he said.
On climate change, President Buhari said the impact had been badly felt in the Lake Chad basin area, with more than 30 million people affected, deprived of access to fishing, farming, animal husbandry, and causing irregular migration and other anti-social acts.
The president then canvassed concerted action on inter-basin water transfer from Congo basin to Lake Chad.
Meanwhile President Buhari aare preoccupied with security, and we are getting somewhere,” the president assured, adding that the North East and the South-South, which were the issues in 2015, are stabilising, while efforts are on to restore calm to the North West, North Central, and other restive areas.
On the economy, the president said the country took decisions to shut the borders, “eat what we grow, and curb smuggling,” noting that if that had not been done, “we would have been in serious trouble. We are lucky to have taken the decision when we did, otherwise things would have been impossible with the advent of COVID-19.”
On the resurgence of military coups in West Africa, President Buhari told his guest that he was surprised at the attitude of those tampering with the constitution of their countries, in ordef to stay longer in office. He assured that ECOWAS was doing the needful to address the developments.
Prime Minister Rutte congratulated President Buhari on how he successfully leads a country of over 200 million people, wishing Nigeria greater advances.