Antony Blinken Talks sub-Saharan Africa Strategy at Future Africa

Posted on August 10, 2022

On 8 August 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered an address detailing the Biden Administration's strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa at the University’s Future Africa Campus. Acting Vice Chancellor Prof. Sunil Maharaj welcomed Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr. Naledi Pandor and Secretary Blinken to UP. 

Minister Pandor’s opening remarks unpacked South Africa’s approach to the strategic dialogue with the US. The Minister began by outlining the historic relationship between the two countries which appreciated the US’s continued investment in South Africa’s prosperity. At the same time, she took great care to emphasize that the US partnerships have supported many South African initiatives. She highlighted the fact the partnership allows South Africa to prioritize and implement measures that address the country’s current socio-cultural challenges. Minister Pandor then invited Secretary Blinken to take the floor to expand on the US's strategy towards sub-Saharan Africa. 

Secretary Blinken’s address spoke on the Biden administration's plan to strengthen the partnership between sub-Saharan Africa and the US. He explained that the strategy recognises that sub-Saharan Africa is a major geo-political force. This is why it includes help to adapt and build connectivity infrastructure – which includes a $300 million investment into the region to develop and build data centres, work with partners to tackle threats to democracy, aid in peaceful transitions of power through free and fair elections, helping to rebuild economies ravaged by Covid-19, and looking at ways to mitigate climate change. 

Blinken’s address was delivered eloquently and convincingly and at face value the strategy appears impressive. However, looking at this strategy from a South African perspective raises a number of questions. The relationship between the US and South Africa, for instance, has been complicated recently by the ongoing war in Ukraine due to South Africa’s ties to Moscow. In this world where we as a sub-Saharan collective look to find solutions to African problems, it may be prudent for South Africa to approach relationships with economic power houses of the world without a short memory. Connections with other countries can be a strength with those who share similarities and appreciate mistakes, but one needs to approach such relationships with caution due to global volatility. 

The Secretary of State’s address made important promises to ensure the developing and upgrading of infrastructure while aiding in the democractisation process on the continent. The fragility of democracy in the modern world is something we are all too aware of and South Africa’s own democracy struggle is an important factor in this new policy. 

When considering China’s prolonged presence on the continent and now looking at the US’s renewed economic involvement in Africa, there remains skepticism of the intentions behind this strategy. It remains to be seen whether President Ramaphosa will be willing to accept the proposed policies, or whether a revisitation of Cold War politics is brewing should South Africa instead strengthen ties with Russia and China. 

After Blinken's address, several postgraduate students from the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies and the Department of Political Science were invited to attend a discussion panel with senior State Department officials. The discussion with the Senior Director of African Affairs at the National Security Council Judd Devermont, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee and the Director of Policy Planning Salman Ahmed, elaborated on the US’s proposed strategy. With almost 90 years of experience in international relations and policy making between them, they were able to share their insights and involvement in developing the strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa. 

One of the questions asked was: “How does the US aim to gain the South African people’s trust and build a more solidified equal partnership going forward, considering the previous administration’s lack of dialogue and partnership with South Africa?”. Devermont, Phee, and Ahmed re-emphasised the US’s commitment to establishing an equal and more sustained partnership between the two countries. A point of contention occurred when the panelists were asked how South Africa’s historically strong ties with Russia would perhaps impact this new African Policy. While they acknowledged the question, the response was generic and diplomatic. Phee argued that it would not negatively affect the policy, emphasising again that the US would provide a ‘choice’ regardless of the country's political ties. What this choice means for South Africa was not discussed.

Overall, Secretary Blinken’s address and the subsequent discussion panel provided an insight into the world of policy making and policy implementation. Furthermore, the address and discussion panel was thought-provoking and allowed one to make critical, and informed opinions regarding the proposed US-South African relations. 



- Author Brittany Clarke, Duncan Lotter, Justine Binedell, Lisa McDermid and Letlhogonolo Senokanyane
Published by Heather Thuynsma

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