Accessibility links

Breaking News

Can Blinken Sway Niger From Russia, China Influence?

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, shakes hands with Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum during their meeting at the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger, Thursday, March 16, 2023.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, shakes hands with Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum during their meeting at the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger, Thursday, March 16, 2023.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's trip to Niger could sway the country away from Russian and Chinese influences, analysts say, as global powers compete for partnership with Africans.

Blinken became the highest-ranking U.S. official to land on Nigerien soil Thursday as part of President Joe Biden's efforts to revamp ties with the continent.

Analysts say Niger's resolve to defeat Islamists insurgencies compared to countries like Nigeria, Mali, Libya and Burkina Faso — as well as it's endeavor to champion democracy — may have informed the top U.S. diplomat's trip to the Sahel nation.

The country's peaceful transfer of power in its 2021 vote that saw President Mohamed Bazoum elected has been particularly hailed.

Kabir Adamu, an Abuja-based security risk management and intelligence analyst, told VOA that Blinken's trip to the country is a significant gesture.

“[The visit] signifies the growing strategic importance of Niger, and in my view, it projects the U.S. foreign policy objective of strengthening partnerships with countries that have shown a good trajectory in terms of their democratic credentials and in the fight against global terrorism.”

The analyst said critical concerns over the expansion of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the U.S. duty-free trade program, and the effect of climate change in the Sahel did not dominate discussions.

“There was not much of talk on the economic front ... countries in the Sahel have been interested in the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and how it can benefit them. If you look at the burgeoning population, especially the youth, expanding AGOA to the region would be a win-win situation for both countries,” Adamu said.

“The other is the effect of climate change — the inability of the government to adapt, and its rippling impact on agriculture and insecurity challenge in the country is troubling.”

Adamu noted that in the face of rising interest in the continent by global powers like China and Russia, Blinken's conversation with the Nigerien president around the “growing influence” of the Kremlin in neighboring countries such as Mali and the Central African Republic could sway the country's focus towards the U.S.

David Otto Endeley, director of Geneva-based Center for African Security and Strategic Studies, told VOA that Blinken's trip comes at a time when France is experiencing a “serious decline” in countering insurgencies with countries in the Sahel. He added that not only is the U.S. trying to “leverage on the difficulty France is facing,” but also seeking allies against Russian's invasion of Ukraine.

“I think the West is hoping that they can sway Niger because it is becoming a beacon of democracy in the region,” he said.

“Having lost relations with countries like Burkina Faso and Mali, it is only necessary that there's no spillover effect into Niger. The U.S. alongside France is extremely concerned that Niger seems to be the last bastion for its counter-terrorism and insurgency operations in Africa, and especially in the particular region.”

Cameron Hudson, senior associate for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies's Africa program, told VOA in an emailed statement that Blinken's visit to Niger is “critical to shining a light on what it is doing right, pushing back against forces and seeking to undermine the state.”

“Niger is in a precarious position within the region. It is beset externally by both Russian pair of military, and internally by crushing poverty, and rising jihadism,” he said.

“Washington is very clearly trying to learn from the mistakes France has made in the region and pursue a more holistic set of policies to achieve better results.”