Oge Onubogu, the director of the Africa program at the Wilson Center in Washington, said that on recent trips to the continent she found confusion about the U.S. agenda there. Africans, she said, clearly understood Russia’s “at times sneaky” security interests, which often take the form of mercenary military partnerships with governments. And China’s economic development projects, she said, created “visible infrastructure that people can actually see and feel.”
“But they’re not very clear on what the U.S. is doing,” she said. Biden officials have sought to promote African democracy and condemned military coups in places like Niger and Gabon, she said, while working with authoritarian rulers in other places.
“The U.S. talks about democracy strengthening,” Ms. Onubogu added. “But at the same time, we maintain relationships with individuals Africans see as not being democratic leaders. So I think we have a struggle with messaging.”
Despite public alarms raised by security analysts, Biden officials bristle at persistent questions about how the United States is countering China’s enormous investments in a continent that increasingly supplies it with oil, minerals and other natural resources. Mr. Blinken will be arriving in Ivory Coast days after a visit by China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi.
“It’s you guys, frankly, who frame this as a U.S.-China soccer match,” Ms. Phee told reporters last week.
She added: “If China didn’t exist, we would be fully engaged in Africa. Africa is important for its own sake, and it’s important for American interests.”