U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is wrapping up a weeklong, three-nation tour of Africa that the Biden administration hopes will highlight its assistance on fighting the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
On a trip overshadowed by crises elsewhere on the continent, Blinken was in Senegal on Saturday promoting American-built infrastructure projects, sustainable development, women’s empowerment and other human rights initiatives to bolster faltering democracies across Africa.
In meetings with female entrepreneurs and executives from U.S.-based multinational companies, Blinken extolled the benefits of boosting women's roles in economies and of buying American. In a jab at China with which the U.S. competes for lucrative business, he noted that America invests “without saddling the country with a debt that it cannot handle.”
“The effects are going to be felt inside of Senegal, improving infrastructure, creating jobs and reinforcing public safety and climate resilience,” America's top diplomat said as he witnessed the signing of four road, traffic management and other deals between Senegal and U.S. firms worth about $1 billion.
The investment, he said, shows “our shared values of democracy, transparency and rule of law as well as innovation.”
With the female entrepreneurs, Blinken spoke of progress Senegal has made in promoting equality, but added “there’s still a lot of work to do,” particularly in making it easier for women to access loans to start businesses.
“The mobilization of women unlocks an enormous potential, a growth that is more robust and quick, in a country like Senegal that has been seeing explosive growth in the year before the pandemic," Blinken said.
As he does in France and other French-speaking countries, Blinken spoke almost entirely in French at his public appearances, including with Senegal's president, Macky Sall, and at an event at Dakar's Institut Pasteur, which hopes to begin producing COVID-19 vaccines with American help next year.
In a private meeting with Sall, Blinken was expected to address security issues, particularly a rise in jihadi violence across Africa's Sahel region and increasing authoritarianism that many believe is fueling extremism.
“Geopolitics and security are going to be the dominant themes of Blinken’s layover in Dakar, with a specific emphasis on the threats of both Islamist expansion and weakening democratic norms in the region,” said Eric Humphery-Smith, analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk consultancy.
Senegal is a key partner in the fight against extremism and a last year it hosted the U.S. military’s annual counterterrorism exercise, Flintlock.
One area where Sall may seek U..S. help is with increased security measures along the country's borders with Mali and Mauritania, where several counterterrorism operations have taken place in recent years.
“Washington has been concerned about security, politics and the humanitarian situation in West Africa for obvious reasons, the expansion of jihadist groups, multiple coup d’états, and one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world," said Rida Lyammouri, a senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based organization focused on economics and policy.
Associated Press writer Babacar Dione contributed to this report.
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