© Reuters. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken departs for Niger from Bole Worldwide Airport, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 16, 2023. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/Pool
By Daphne Psaledakis
NIAMEY (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken introduced $150 million in new humanitarian help for Africa’s Sahel area throughout a go to on Thursday to Niger, a rustic Washington views as an necessary ally within the struggle towards Islamist insurgencies.
Blinken’s go to to Niger is the primary by a U.S. Secretary of State and a robust present of help for an impoverished nation that has had relative success in containing insurgent teams and managed a democratic transition in a coup-prone area.
“It’s going to assist present life-saving help to refugees, asylum seekers, and others impacted by battle and meals insecurity within the area,” Blinken mentioned in a press release in regards to the new help, which can go to Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania in addition to Sahelian refugees in Libya.
Blinken’s journey is the newest in a sequence of visits to Africa by U.S. authorities figures as Washington seeks to spice up ties with a continent the place China’s affect is powerful and plenty of international locations keep cordial relations with Russia.
Landlocked Niger and its neighbors Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Chad are all struggling to repel Islamist insurgents who’ve killed hundreds of individuals, displaced hundreds of thousands extra and in some instances seized management of huge swathes of territory.
Teams linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have carried out dozens of assaults in southwestern Niger, together with some by which dozens of Nigerien troopers had been killed, however the violence has not unfold throughout the entire nation because it has carried out elsewhere.
Shortly after touchdown within the capital Niamey, Blinken met with individuals concerned in a program, partly funded by the U.S., to disarm and rehabilitate defectors from extremist teams.
Whereas violence in Mali and Burkina Faso led to navy coups and a shift in alliances away from Western nations and in direction of Russia, Niger managed a democratic switch of energy in 2021 and has retained clean relations with the West.
“They’re making the best decisions, we predict, to assist take care of the form of threats which are widespread throughout the Sahel. So, we’re making an attempt to focus on a optimistic instance,” a senior State Division official instructed reporters.
The official praised Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum for talking out towards Russia’s personal Wagner group of mercenaries, which has been employed by Mali’s junta to assist struggle insurgents there. Mali describes the Wagner personnel on its territory as “trainers”.
Blinken mentioned the usage of Russian mercenaries had not confirmed an efficient response to insecurity.
“It isn’t simply we all know that is going to finish badly, we have already seen it finish badly in plenty of locations,” Blinken mentioned.
A French-led worldwide pressure has been on the bottom in Mali for a decade however has fallen out of favor with Mali’s management. Anti-French sentiment has been on the rise in Mali and a number of other different former French colonies in West Africa.
Ghana has asserted that Burkina Faso has additionally employed Wagner mercenaries. Burkina Faso’s junta has neither confirmed nor denied that.
When hundreds of French troopers had been kicked out of Mali throughout a dispute with the junta there final yr, they moved their base into Niger.
Blinken traveled to Niger from Ethiopia, the place he met on Wednesday with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and different authorities figures in an effort to restore the diplomatic harm attributable to the two-year struggle in Tigray that resulted in November.