Biden Officials Focus on African Crises at United Nations Gathering

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met on Friday with African leaders seeking to restore Niger’s democratically elected government to power, capping a week at the United Nations in which the Biden administration worked to deliver on promises of support amid high-profile crises elsewhere, like the war in Ukraine.

In a sign of the instability threatening Africa’s potential for economic growth and independence, several of the leaders spoke about a scourge of coups that has spread across the continent — eight in the past three years — as President Biden has tried to promote democracy.

On Tuesday, Nigeria’s president, Bola Tinubu, told the annual gathering of the U.N. General Assembly that the military overthrows reflect widespread failures to improve African lives. “The wave crossing parts of Africa does not demonstrate favor towards coups,” he said. “It is a demand for solutions to perennial problems.”

Mindful of complaints on the continent that the United States is consumed by the war in Ukraine and competition with China, President Biden spent much of his speech to the U.N. on Tuesday addressing topics of particular interest to African leaders, including food security, development aid and climate change.

U.S. officials said that Mr. Biden’s address drew an enthusiastic response from African leaders and diplomats in New York who appreciated his attention to their issues. That included Mr. Biden’s discussion of plans for a U.S.-sponsored corridor linking Angola with mineral-rich parts of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (a project in which the United States, dependent on rare-earth minerals, has a significant self-interest).

But officials from the 54-nation continent hardly speak with a unified voice. In remarks on Thursday, Col. Mamadi Doumbouya of Guinea, who announced himself as that country’s new leader after a coup in September 2021, condemned democratically elected African leaders “who cheat to manipulate the text of the constitution in order to stay in power eternally,” calling them “the real putschists.”

Directing his comments toward Western nations, Mr. Doumbouya complained that “this democratic model that you have so insidiously and skilfully imposed on us” was not working for his continent.

The discord reflected just one of the challenges facing the Biden administration’s effort to follow through on pledges to focus American foreign policy more on Africa.

In the near term, Biden officials are working to address several broiling crises in Niger, Sudan and elsewhere.

On Friday morning, Mr. Blinken met with the leaders of several nations that are members of the Economic Community of West African States, a regional group that has been pressuring Niger’s military leadership to relinquish power under the threat of a military intervention. The Biden administration hopes to avoid a conflict that could spill across the region.

In a readout following the meeting, the State Department said that attendees “were united in their position that the National Council for Safeguarding the Homeland in Niger” — the country’s ruling military junta — “must release President Mohamed Bazoum, his family, and all those unlawfully detained.”

Mr. Bazoum and his family have been detained since July.

In a side drama this week, representatives of Mr. Bazoum’s government and from the junta both sought to address the general assembly.

Bakary Yaou Sangaré, Niger’s permanent representative to the United Nations, who was appointed under Mr. Bazoum, would have had the right to do so — had he not thrown his allegiance with the generals who seized power and who named him the country’s new foreign minister.

Under U.N. rules, that change of status means he will not be eligible to speak until next week, according to U.S. officials.

Even so, diplomats from Niger distributed Mr. Sangaré’s photo to journalists in the General Assembly hall on Monday, according to The Associated Press, along with a statement proclaiming that he would “reaffirm the nation’s sovereignty.”

U.S. officials also held meetings on the sidelines of the General Assembly in their ongoing effort to achieve a political settlement in Sudan, which has been rived for months by civil war.

And Mr. Blinken also attended meetings to rally support for an international, nonmilitary mission to support the Caribbean nation of Haiti, which the East African country of Kenya has agreed to lead.

The Security Council could vote as soon as next week to authorize such a mission, although U.S. officials said that China — which wields veto power — has been reluctant to do so.

On Thursday Mr. Blinken sat down with Kenya’s president, William Ruto, to discuss Sudan as well as Haiti, State Department officials said. “We must not leave Haiti behind,” Mr. Ruto told the General Assembly.

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