Antony Blinken to lead US counter-charm offensive in Africa

Washington calls out 'hypocrisy' of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's visit to region

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference at the State Department in Washington. AFP
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will lead a delegation to three African nations next month as Washington boosts diplomatic efforts to counter Russia's charm offensive on the continent.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, will also also visit Ghana and Uganda in August. USAID chief Samantha Power, in a recent trip to Kenya and Somalia, underscored the rise in malnutrition exacerbated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The diplomatic push from Washington comes as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov embarks on his own tour of Africa, during which he has sought to blame western sanctions for soaring food prices. The US has strongly rejected this, saying that Russia is blocking Ukraine's ports, causing prices to skyrocket.

"It's the height of irony for him to go down there and and blame the West for the hunger that is caused by the food insecurity throughout the continent," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday.

"It would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic.

"We're not fooled and we suspect that many African nations are also not fooled by the Russian narrative here and the rewriting of recent history that they're attempting to do."

Mr Blinken said he had spoken with Mr Lavrov and reminded his Russian counterpart of the country's pledge to restart grain exports.

"I ... emphasised that the world expects Russia to fulfil its commitments under the deal it reached with Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations on grain shipments from Ukraine," Mr Blinken said during a news conference.

During Mr Blinken's trip to Africa, he will stress that African countries are "geostrategic players" in tackling the effects of climate change, food insecurity and global pandemics, the State Department said.

South Africa has become a key diplomatic battleground as it has remained neutral on the Ukraine war, refusing to join the West's calls to condemn Moscow. The US secretary of state will visit Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria from August 7-9.

From there, he will head to Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to show support as the country looks to move on from decades of conflict.

He will complete his trip in Rwanda, which has experienced a flare-up in tension with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has accused its neighbour of backing the rebel movement M23 - a charge Kigali denies.

The State Department said that Mr Blinken will also press for Kigali's release of Paul Rusesabagina, who is credited with saving scores of lives during the 1994 genocide and is the subject of the film Hotel Rwanda. Mr Rusesabagina was jailed on terrorism charges last year.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

Updated: July 29, 2022, 6:14 PM
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