Russia has less to offer the unstable Sahel than the West: US
Russia has less to offer the unstable Sahel than the West: US

Niamey: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has vowed to extend support for the violently unstable Sahel region beyond matters of security, positioning the US as a more beneficial partner than Russia, which has been increasing its presence there.

Blinken called for moving past what was frequently perceived as a military-first approach by the US and former colonial power France, which ended a contentious nine-year operation in Mali in November, during his remarks on the highest-level visit by a US official to Niger.

Blinken stated in an interview in the nation's capital Niamey, "We're in the process of building something relatively new. Security is crucial, but it is not sufficient, so we must take a holistic, all-encompassing approach.

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The fact that Niger, one of the world's poorest nations, is accomplishing this so successfully, in my opinion, only emphasises the significance of adopting this all-encompassing strategy.

Blinken highlighted US support for a programme to rehabilitate former extremists as well as a significant US initiative to improve irrigation and climate-resilient agriculture in a country fighting desertification. He also announced $150 million in new humanitarian aid to Niger.

Blinken did, however, acknowledge the need for security ties with Niger, where the US has forces stationed and an air base for drones to fly deep into the Sahel. A long-running anti-jihadist mission that France is still supporting with more than 1,000 troops is currently undergoing a reconfiguration as a result of its departure from Mali, a neighbouring country.

Concern over the growing foreign military presence on the continent, where China also established its first overseas base in Djibouti, has been expressed by the African Union.

These alliances we have are not something we're forcing on anyone. When questioned about the drone base, Blinken said, "Countries choose to be partners or not. He claimed that, in the end, "the work that we can do to combat terrorist groups — extremist groups will be to the benefit of others" in addition to Niger.

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Blinken's visit occurs as Mali, a neighbour, suddenly enters Russia's sphere of influence after France's Operation Barkhane, which was started in 2014 to stop jihadists from seizing the capital Bamako, came to an end.

According to France and others, military putschists are in control of Mali and have renounced France and enlisted the aid of Russian operatives and mercenaries.

Mali was one of only six countries to join Russia in voting against a request for Moscow to leave Ukraine at the UN General Assembly last month.

Bad things tend to follow Wagner everywhere he goes," Blinken said.
"It hasn't made security better where we've seen it operate. The exploitation of resources, corruption, and violence that it brings are a plague on the people in the countries that have chosen to work with it, on the contrary, we've actually seen things get worse.

Wagner, a company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with ties to the Kremlin, has been charged with human rights violations in the Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, and most recently the conflict in Ukraine.

The military junta and Moscow have both denied the claim made by Ghana that Wagner is present in military-run Burkina Faso, and Blinken dodged a question about it.

Wagner had succeeded in French-speaking countries, according to a senior official travelling with Blinken, and Russia had stoked post-colonial resentments.

Blinken asserted that he thought the US and France were on the same page regarding a new strategy for West Africa that places a focus on democracy, development, and good governance. The challenge, according to Blinken, "is to demonstrate through the work we're doing together that we can get results that benefit the people." This includes France and our partners.

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"If you experience severe insecurity issues, there must be a solution. And if there is no response to them, organisations like Wagner will try to enter the fray and exploit it.


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