UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations headed to Africa on Wednesday, saying she was going to focus on how the United States can help Uganda, Ghana and Cape Verde deal with the food crisis that has hit them particularly hard the continent — not to compete with China and Russia.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the long-planned trip is not part of global competition with any of America’s adversaries, but is part of a series of high-level US engagements “aimed at reaffirming and strengthening partnerships and relationships us with African leaders and peoples”.
Her August 4-7 trip will be immediately followed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s August 7-11 visits to South Africa, Congo and Rwanda. It also comes after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of Congo last week, where he accused the US and European countries of raising food prices.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi kicked off 2022 with a four-day visit to Eritrea, Kenya and the Comoros, upholding a 32-year tradition of the country’s top diplomat making his first trip to Africa this year.
“We can’t catch up. They’re catching up,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “We’ve been dealing with this continent for decades, and even my own career is a testament to that.”
Thomas-Greenfield first went to Africa as a student in the 1970s, and in her career as a US diplomat she became assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 2013 to 2017.
He said high energy prices, climate change, COVID-19 and growing conflict have pushed millions of Africans “to the brink” and that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine has added to the crisis, “especially since some countries in Africa once got up to 75% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine.’
The US ambassador said the three countries she is visiting – Uganda followed by Ghana and Cape Verde – are all facing serious food insecurity situations due to significant increases in food and energy costs. But he said Ghana has been a leader in tackling it and he will visit a market, meet farmers and go to a grain factory in the country “to see how we can help them improve their production”.
In an interview and press conference ahead of her visit to the three nations, Thomas-Greenfield said her trip comes on the heels of Lavrov’s visit.
Refusing to call Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a war, Lavrov said: “The situation in Ukraine has additionally negatively affected food markets, but not because of the Russian special operation, but because of the absolutely inadequate reaction of the West, which announced sanctions.”
Thomas-Greenfield responded: “Russia is there to defend what it knows it has to defend – that it has taken actions that harm Africans, and they are trying to somehow defend their actions and blame someone else for the impact that the their actions on the African continent’.
“They can try to do that. But my question to them is how do you help Africans deal with the food insecurity issue, not those you blame for the food insecurity issues,” he said. “We are there to help Africans deal with these issues. Russia can deal with its own problems.”
As for China, while its trade with Africa last year was dramatically higher than US trade, Thomas-Greenfield said “if you look at our figures and how far behind our engagement with Africans has been, then we’re actually way above these numbers.”
“As you look at what China is doing in Africa, you have to look at the debt trap that African countries have faced, many of them, because of these relationships with China,” he said.
China has become one of the biggest lenders to developing countries through its Belt and Road initiative to expand trade by building ports, railways and other infrastructure across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Wang, China’s foreign minister, insisted during his visit to Kenya in January that there is no “debt trap”.
“The so-called ‘debt trap’ in Africa is not a fact, but a malicious hype,” he said. “It is a ‘talking trap’ created by those outside forces who do not want to see Africa accelerate development. If there is any ‘trap’ in Africa, it is the ‘poverty trap’.
Thomas-Greenfield said the US is “not telling African countries they can’t work with China.”
“What we are committed to is the vision of economic growth that promotes democracy and promotes respect for human rights and transparency and strengthening the capacity of Africans to create jobs for their citizens,” he said. “We respect the ability of countries to decide for themselves whether they want to cooperate with China or not.”