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Nairobi (AFP) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday urged Africans to beware of growing threats to democracy as he embarked on a three-country tour of the continent which is also expected to focus on regional crises, particularly the war in one year in Ethiopia.
Before meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Blinken spoke with civil society leaders and asked for ideas on how to stop the “bad actors” who test democratic institutions.
“We have witnessed over the past decade what some call a democratic recession,” he said.
âEven vibrant democracies like Kenya are under pressure, especially at election time.
“We have seen the same challenges here that we see in many parts of the world – disinformation, political violence, voter intimidation, voter corruption.”
Blinken is focusing his trip on promoting democracy and action on climate change and supporting African efforts to tackle Covid-19 in the face of increasing Chinese incursions on the continent.
The visit will also focus on efforts to resolve the spiraling conflict in Ethiopia, with Kenyatta making a surprise visit to the country on Sunday and Washington supporting the African Union’s new offer to end the war.
Ethiopia has been a close ally of the United States, but the United States has been dismayed by restrictions on the delivery of aid in the northern Tigray region, where hundreds of thousands of people face under conditions of starvation.
Echoing frequent themes from President Joe Biden’s administration, Blinken warned of threats to the free press and corruption, which he said “undermines” democracy.
Blinken acknowledged that threats to democracy also existed in the United States, where a mob loyal to former President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6 in an attempt to overturn the election result.
âThe United States is hardly immune from this challenge,â said Blinken. “We have seen how fragile our own democracy can be.”
“Free pass” for Kenya?
Kenyatta was the first African leader invited to the White House by Biden.
The last elections in Kenya in 2017 were marred by deadly violence, although Kenyatta and his former opponent Raila Odinga have since made peace.
However, Amnesty International warned that the signs were not good for the upcoming elections in the country.
Kenyan NGO chief Irungu Houghton, who met Blinken, said he saw “all signs of a very contested and violent election” next year and urged Kenyatta not to “arm” the police, the justice and other institutions.
Houghton praised Blinken’s emphasis on democracy, but said Washington’s desire for Kenyatta’s leadership on the Ethiopian crisis should not shield him from criticism.
âIt is really important that America continues to be vigilant, attentive and engaged, and does not give Kenya a pass,â Houghton said after the Blinken meeting.
Biden pledged to pay attention to Africa and distinguish it from Trump, who made no secret of his lack of interest.
Biden has pledged a global effort to promote American values ââin the face of a rising China, which has sought resources in Africa and is quiet about democracy.
Symbolic signs of the challenges, Blinken’s motorcade traveled by a road under construction with Chinese funding and one of its meetings was held at a hotel with a conference room reserved for the Kenya China Chamber of Commerce. .
Blinken will travel from Kenya to Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, which faced US human rights criticism, including in the police response to mass protests a year ago.
He will end his trip in Senegal, considered a beacon of democratic stability in Africa.
Â© 2021 AFP