Choose & Choice: Inside Sec. Blinken High Stake Meeting with African Diaspora Youth on US-Africa Strategy

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“our focus is not on saying to friends partners you have to choose our focus is on providing a choice”  – what does this mean for U.S Africa strategy? 

In November 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed that “Africa will shape the future— and not just the future of the African people but of the world.” More than half the population in Africa will be under the age of 25 by 2025. By the year 2050, one in four people on Earth will be African. These figures remind us of the critical role young people on the continent will play in shaping the global geopolitical and economic future. Perhaps, it is why Africa is often referred to as the new or last frontier. The continent is blessed with a huge population (youth), large market, active labor force and rich natural endowment – but in whose interest?

Yet, despite its blessings, the largely underdeveloped continent is cursed and plagued with a number of issues from bad corrupt leaders in power, insecurity, economic and political instability. It is perhaps in a bid to fix these woes that the continent has attracted the interest of global world powers including the United States, Russia and China.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with African Diaspora Youth and Exchange Alumni

On August 15, on the heels of his trip to South Africa, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken met with influential African diaspora youth & youth-led organizations, and exchange Alumni in a high-stake, closed door meeting to discuss U.S.-Africa relations and the role of diaspora communities in the Biden Administration’s U.S Africa strategy at the Swahili Village Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

One would wonder how this is any different from any other US-Africa engagement, but indeed it is, any global foreign policy expert would easily acknowledge the significance of such strategic engagement in the great new geopolitical scramble for Africa. Even world leaders, Bureau staff and the Press can testify to how extremely difficult it is to book such high stake engagement with the Sec. 

In the true sense, the real question we should be asking is the Why and What. Why did Sec. Blinken felt it important to meet with the influential U.S. Africa Diaspora and What was discussed? 

In the new US-Africa strategy document, the US warns that Moscow views the region as a “permissive environment” for Russia’s private military companies to operate, “often fomenting instability for strategic and financial benefit.” The strategy also highlights how Moscow is using disinformation campaigns and its security ties “to undercut Africans’ principled opposition to Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine.” The document further warns that China sees the continent “as an important arena to challenge the rules-based international order,”and “undermine transparency and openness, and weaken U.S. relations with African peoples and governments.”

Following the Russia Ukraine war, a number of African states have stunned the West, abstaining on resolutions condemning Russia as the aggressor and suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. Although, the Sec. was quick to note that its renewed focus on Africa and engagement timing is not centered on great-power rivalry, a move not aimed at influencing Africa’s choices on global issues. It is not surprising, Africa has suddenly become a global diplomatic arena where the U.S, Russia, China and the European Union (EU) are scrambling for attention and influence.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov’s. Credit…Pool photo by Alex Brandon

Both West & East have come to quickly recognize the role of Africa in global politics. With a slew of foreign diplomatic visits to Africa, including recently from Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov’s- Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of Congo, French President, Emmanuel Macron – Cameroon, Benin Republic and Guinea-Bissau. African states have recognized the shift and are increasingly flexing their diplomatic muscle. They are speaking up, raising suspicions and quick to call out any form of political cowing aimed at influencing their stance on global political, economic and social issues.

So where does Africa loyalty lie? China and Russia aren’t folding their hands either, engaging on the offensive. Russia is engaging in disinformation and propaganda campaigns to justify its invasion of Ukraine, to sway African countries to support its actions and secure its influence over the region. China on the other end is increasing its effort to build ties with the continent through its massive debt-engrained infrastructure projects and loan waivers. China offered over $10Bn in IMF funds to nations on the continent. Will Russia disinformation influence campaign and China’s strategy of throwing money at the continent work? Only time will tell.

Choose & Choice – Where does America want Africa to be?

Similar to its “strategic ambiguity” strategy over Taiwan, the U.S is not saying to its African friends and partners to choose, rather it is providing a choice. But exactly what does that mean?. Given the antics, it is no surprise that the U.S is deliberating stepping up and recalibrating its Africa strategy in key priority areas –  supporting energy transitions, health, democratic governance, pandemic recovery, climate change adaptation, and environmental conservation. While focusing on gap areas and opportunities to deepen cooperation and collaboration across board – from civil society, NGOs, government, academia, private sector and citizens more broadly. 

In making the case for the U.S as a reliable socio economic and development partner compared to China and Russia, the Sec. stated: “For us now, this is not about what we do for Africa; it’s what we do with Africa. “There is not a single issue that isn’t really having an effect on the lives of our people (U.S) and on Africans – whether it is COVID that we’ve all been grappling with and global health more broadly, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s the impact of emerging technologies on all of our lives – not a single one of these issues can we effectively address alone”… 

There is however something different this time about its approach. The inclusion of Diaspora Engagement in its strategy. The U.S might just seem to have unlocked one of its greatest strategic assets, turning to influential diaspora (youth and organizations) to help achieve a shared US-Africa future.  A group the African Union classifies as the sixth region. 

Afua Osei, Founder She Leads Africa, Adedayo Fashanu Founder TANTV

For so many years, the U.S African Diaspora have relied on and have been impacted by events, happenings and contents emanating from the continent (entertainment, including film, fashion, literature, and music) however, to positively impact the people, shape the culture and mindset on the continent, the African diaspora must be able to impact and positively influence back home through exposure to diaspora lived experiences, culture, politics and contents. The African Diaspora plays a critical role in contributions to the economic development of the continent through its remittance contribution. Yet it is one group that is highly marginalized when it comes to access to media and other sectors in the US. The United State government is missing the gap when it comes to leveraging the African Diaspora to drive home its US Africa strategy. – Adedayo Fashanu, Founder, CEO. TANTV

Although the African Diaspora is a critical asset to the success of the US-Africa strategy, the question remains, how the U.S government can successfully highlight its policies, initiative and deepen mutual understanding on a shared future while working with the Diaspora population. 

Inside the 21ST Century U.S.-African Partnership strategy, the US highlights its plan to engage America’s African Diaspora, elevating engagement to strengthen the dialogue between U.S. officials and the diaspora in the United States, and to support the UN’s Permanent Forum for People of African Descent.

“African Diaspora is a source of strength and  among the most educated and prosperous communities in the United States”. 

Whilst these plans are commendable, the U.S.- Africa strategy failed to recognize the influential power of the Africans Diaspora private sector as a  block needed to help highlight its policies, combat misinformation, foster partnerships, deepen mutual understanding and shape the continent’s future. There is a need for the U.S. to treat the Diaspora as a separate block with its own extensive strategic objectives and actionable plans. 

Abolaji Omitogun

Abolaji Omitogun attended the diaspora meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the Biden Administration’s U.S.-Africa Strategy on Monday, August 15, at 2:00pm at the Swahili Village restaurant in Washington, D.C.

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