Antony Blinken visit to revive calls for democracy and human rights

Tuesday November 16 2021
Antony Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. FILE PHOTO | AFP


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Nairobi Tuesday night to push for what he called “shared global priorities” with African nations.

But it may also signal the return of President Joe Biden’s actual policy for Africa—the routine calls for human rights and democracy.

Although the official itinerary for his trip to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal talks of investments in clean energy, climate change, Covid-19, regional security and stability, his trip also includes the old issue of democracy.

“The secretary will look to advance US-African partnerships and underscore the common values we share with Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal and use those as platforms to really talk to the entirety of the continent but certainly the publics and leaders in those three countries,” said Mr Ervin Massinga, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs, at a virtual media briefing on Friday.

“Concerning human rights overall, absolutely, this issue is front and centre for our engagement across the continent, and certainly in this trip, in each one of the stops. And there will be a human rights component inbuilt into everything we’re doing.”

In Kenya, the US wants to collaborate on Nairobi’s full transition to renewable energy by 2030, and wants Nairobi to play a bigger role in helping ends the regional chaos in Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia. Mr Blinken is also visiting at a time Africa is lagging behind in Covid-19 vaccinations amid raging conflict in the continent.


Last week, Mr Blinken announced Johnson & Johnson had reached a deal to supply more doses through the Covax facility for supply to people in conflict zones.

Vibrant democracy

His itinerary says he will also meet with civil society leaders “essential to Kenya’s vibrant democracy” and participate in events related to climate and environmental protection.

Previously muted during the Donald Trump era as Washington pursued business policy to rival the Chinese in Africa, his successor seems to have re-attached it on his view of the continent.

In Nigeria, as in Senegal, which will be 2022’s chair of the African Union, Mr Blinken is likely to speak on religious freedoms as well as police brutality, especially in Abuja where there have been public protests seeking resignation of police chiefs.

In Kenya, where elections are due next year, Mr Blinken will hear from civil society groups what their fears are. President Biden has delayed finalising a trade deal with Kenya, whose negotiations began under President Trump.

Next month, Mr Biden will host a “summit of democracies”, according to an earlier announcement.

Blinken arrives in Nairobi on Tuesday night and will spend a day in Nairobi before heading to Nigeria and later Senegal.