Blinken says the US needs to show it can “deliver results” in the Sahel | Politics News

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the United States and its Western allies must show they “can get results” in Africa’s Sahel region, amid the growing influence of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group.

Speaking on a historic trip to Niger, Blinken said Washington had pursued a “comprehensive” approach that focused on security but also “on good governance, on development, on enabling responsiveness to people’s needs.”

“I think that’s exactly what makes the difference,” Blinken said during a joint press conference with Niger’s foreign minister, Hassoumi Massoudeau, drawing a contrast to what the Wagner Group can offer the region.

“We’ve already seen it end badly in a number of places,” Blinken said of the group’s interventions. “Where Wagner was present, bad things were inevitable.”

The trip marks the first visit to the country by a US secretary of state. Earlier in the day, Blinken met with Niger President Mohamed Bazoum and announced a number of regional initiatives, including $150 million in new humanitarian aid for the Sahel, bringing the total to $233 million for the fiscal year, according to the U.S. State Department.

Flashing Sahel
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken meets with Nigerian President Mohammed Bazoum at the Presidential Palace in Niamey, Niger [Boureima Hama/AP Photo]

Blinken’s trip to Niger follows his visit earlier this week to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and is part of a broader pledge by US President Joe Biden’s administration to better engage with Africa.

It also comes as widespread disenchantment with European involvement in the region grows, fueled in part by successive military coups in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso.

When asked about that disappointment on Thursday, Blinken said: “It’s incumbent on us to demonstrate — through this much more comprehensive approach that we’re taking to uncertainty — that we can actually get results.”

In 2022, French troops and the French-led European Union force withdrew from Mali, where France first intervened after a rebel movement in the north of the country in 2012. French troops also withdrew from Burkina Faso in February.

Mali’s government is increasingly relying on Russia’s Wagner group as it tries to stem violence in its vast central region, which borders Niger and Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso’s government is also said to have reached out to Wagner, although it denied reports that the mercenary group was operating in the country.

Violence has risen in recent years in the region, increasing by 50 percent in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in 2022 compared to the previous year. The attacks have also reached the more prosperous coastal West African countries.

The UN Human Rights Council recently called for an independent investigation into allegations that human rights abuses took place during joint operations between Malian forces and the Wagner group, including torture, sexual abuse and disappearances.

“We have seen countries that find themselves weaker, poorer, more insecure, less independent as a result of being associated with Wagner,” Blinken said Thursday.

“So it’s not a recipe for success that I think anyone should be looking for.”

“Cooperation Model”

Blinken also highlighted the growing importance of Niger to the US and Western allies, concerned about the possible spread of violence outside the region, where the al-Qaeda-linked Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen (JNIM) and the Islamic State of the Sahara (ISIS) affiliate , vying for power while inflaming communal tensions.

French and EU forces have rebased their operations in Niger, and Western leaders have praised President Bazum’s approach to tackling widespread insecurity in the country, as well as Niger’s move towards greater democratization.

This came despite widespread challenges in the country of 25 million, which ranked 189 out of 191 countries on the 2021 UN Human Development Index.

For its part, Washington has for years viewed the Sahel as another front in its decade-long “war on terror” and has been active in supporting European and regional powers, as well as providing humanitarian and climate aid.

About 800 US personnel are stationed in Niger, according to the US military, where they are believed to be maintaining two Nigerien air bases, including a newly built drone base in the town of Adagez.

On Thursday, Blinken promised to deepen ties.

“I go back to the fact that Niger is really an extraordinary model in a time of great challenge — a model of resilience, a model of democracy, a model of cooperation,” Blinken said.

“It’s something we deeply value and deeply respect.”

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