By Libby George
ABUJA – The U.S. will do things differently in helping Africa build its infrastructure needs, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a policy speech on Friday, adding that too often, international infrastructure deals were opaque and coercive.
Africa, which needs billions of dollars a year to develop roads, railways, dams and power, has over the last decade received most of its funding from China, which generally does not tie the money to political or human rights-related conditions.
In a U.S.-Africa policy speech in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, Blinken said infrastructure needs were holding back growth and opportunity in too many places.
“By meeting those needs, we can improve people’s lives, strengthen economies, and protect the planet at the same time,” Blinken said.
“Too often, international infrastructure deals are opaque, coercive. They burden countries with unmanageable debt. They’re environmentally destructive. They don’t always benefit the people who actually live there. We will do things differently.”
On Thursday, Blinken said Washington’s involvement in infrastructure in Africa was not about China, but intended to improve the standard of infrastructure without countries becoming burdened by debt.
The Biden administration has been criticised by some as being inattentive to Africa, a common complaint about U.S. foreign policy but one that rings louder now at a time China has deepened its political and economic roots on the continent.
Olugbenga Agboola, CEO of Africa-focused payments giant Flutterwave, saw Blinken’s visit as important.
“For us, seeing more US deepening their partnership with Nigeria is great,” he said.
A key priority of Biden’s administration has been to revitalise its alliances worldwide after four years of a unilateralist approach under former president Donald Trump.
Blinken warned that authoritarianism was on the rise around the world and even the United States was struggling with threats to its democracy.
“Technology is being used to silence dissent and prosecute citizens. And democracies must answer the call to fight back against disinformation,” he said.
Blinken’s trip to Africa comes at a time when several crises are engulfing the continent, most recently the war in northern Ethiopia and the military coup in Sudan.