US says top envoy's Africa trip not meant to catch up with rivals

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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 the continent particularly hard — not to compete with China and Russia.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the long-planned trip is not part of global competition with either of America’s rivals, but it is part of a series of high-level U.S. engagements “that aim to affirm and strengthen our partnerships and relationships with African leaders and peoples.”

Her trip from Aug. 4-7 will be followed immediately by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visits to South Africa, Congo and Rwanda from Aug. 7-11. It also comes on the heels of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit last week to Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of Congo where he accused the U.S. and European countries of driving up food prices.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi began 2022 with a four-day visit to Eritrea, Kenya and the Comoros, keeping a 32-year tradition that the country’s top diplomat make his first trip of the year to Africa.

“We’re not catching up. They are catching up,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “We have been engaging with this continent for decades, and even my own career is very much evidence of that.”

Thomas-Greenfield first went to Africa as a student in the 1970s, and in her career as a U.S. diplomat she rose to be assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 2013 to 2017.

She said high energy prices, climate change, COVID-19 and increasing conflict have pushed millions of Africans “to the brink,” and that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 has added to the crisis, “especially since some countries in Africa once got up to 75% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine.”

The U.S. ambassador said the three countries she is visiting — Uganda first followed by Ghana and Cape Verde — all face serious food security situations because of the significant rise in the cost of food and energy. But she said Ghana has been a leader in dealing with it and she will be visiting a market, meeting farmers and going to a grain factory in the country “to see how we can help them improve on their production.”

In an interview and at a news conference ahead of her three-nation visit, Thomas-Greenfield said her trip happens to come on the heels of Lavrov’s visit.

Refusing to call Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a war, Lavrov said: “The situation in Ukraine did additionally negatively affect food markets, but not due to the Russian special operation, rather due to the absolutely inadequate reaction of the West, which announced sanctions.”

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