Antony Blinken arrives in Cape Verde to start West Africa tour

The National accompanies US Secretary of State on trip that will also include visits to Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Angola

Antony Blinken speaks at Porto da Praia, Cape Verde, on Monday. Willy Lowry / The National
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday arrived in Cape Verde, a tiny island nation off the west coast of Africa, starting a week-long tour of the continent where he is seeking to champion US investment as China and Russia look to expand their influence in the region.

The National is travelling with Mr Blinken for the trip, which will also bring regional issues in the Sahel and security challenges in Nigeria into focus.

It marks his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa in 10 months as he briefly pauses from focusing on the Israel-Gaza war.

Mr Blinken started the Cape Verde visit by meeting Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva and touring Porto da Praia, in the capital city.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation invested more than $54 million to revamp the port from 2005 to 2010.

It is Cape Verde’s biggest and provides one of Africa’s smallest countries with more than 50 per cent of its container traffic.

Mr Blinken promoted Washington’s involvement in the project as an example of US investment in the region.

“All of that has created an incredibly vibrant place, a much stronger gateway to Africa for us and other countries,” he said.

He said the port project was "further evidence" that "the United States is all in with Africa".

"We see Africa as an essential, critical, central part of our future," Mr Blinken said.

He arrived only days after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited several countries on the continent, including Ivory Coast, which the Secretary of State visited on Monday evening to attend an Africa Cup of Nations match between the host country and Equatorial Guinea.

While the match was a lopsided affair, with Equatorial Guinea routing Ivory Coast, Mr Blinken praised the unifying power of sport.

"Especially when it comes to football – to soccer for some of us in the United States – it may be the most powerful unifier in the world," he said.

Mr Blinken said his visit was another opportunity for the US to build "bridges" with the continent.

The US has struggled to counter the growing influence of China and Russia. China has invested heavily in Cape Verde and Beijing's presence can be felt throughout the capital, with some signs in Chinese.

"This trip ... really does focus on President [Joe] Biden’s commitment and conviction that the United States and Africa are joined in partnership for the future," Mr Blinken said.

Molly Phee, US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, rebuffed the idea that Mr Blinken was travelling to the region to compete with any other country.

“Africa is important for its own sake and it's important for American interests,” she said.

In addition to Cape Verde and Ivory Coast, Mr Blinken will also travel to Nigeria and Angola.

Mr Blinken earlier announced that the US will provide $45 million in new funding to help Ivory Coast and its neighbours prevent conflict and promote stability in the face of regional threats.

On his last trip to the region in March 2023, Mr Blinken became the top US official ever to visit Niger, hoping to show support for elected president Mohamed Bazoum.

US investments are helping countries including Ivory Coast to address underlying drivers of conflict, the State Department said.

"These efforts are yielding results as local communities and security officials work together to enhance early warning systems, push back on fake news, and counter violent extremism," an official statement read.

In Nigeria, the country with the largest population in Africa, he is expected to discuss the security challenges facing the country including the threat from ISIS and Boko Haram.

In Angola, Mr Blinken is expected to highlight the Lobito project, a joint effort with the EU and regional partners to develop a rail corridor connecting Angola, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Updated: January 22, 2024, 8:51 PM