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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wraps up his Africa tour


Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spent the week in Africa with a rather upbeat message.


ANTONY BLINKEN: I believe Africa will shape the future, and not just the future of the African people, but of the world. And that's why I'm here this week, visiting three countries that are democracies, engines of economic growth, climate leaders, drivers of innovation.

SIMON: NPR's Michele Kelemen traveled along with the secretary of state in those three countries - Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal. She joins us now from Dakar. Michele, thanks for being with us.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Nice to be here, Scott.

SIMON: Tell us about, if you could, the final stop on the itinerary there.

KELEMEN: Yeah. Well, he's in the Senegalese capital, and he's kind of showing off his fluent French, by the way, speaking only in French with women entrepreneurs, overseeing a signing ceremony for four U.S. companies that are making big infrastructure deals here in Senegal worth about a billion dollars. He's also visiting the Pasteur Institute, which is working toward vaccine production with U.S. help. And that's really been one of the themes of this trip, helping countries on the continent step up COVID-19 vaccination efforts. There's a long way to go on that. Another theme that you heard there is climate change. He sees a lot of potential for renewable energy on the continent and says the U.S. wants to partner with African nations on that.

SIMON: A lot of talk about partnering between the U.S. and African countries, but did the secretary of state talk about the enormous investments that China's made on the continent?

KELEMEN: Yeah. On that topic, I have to say Blinken's been much different than his predecessors. The U.S. has long been lecturing African nations not to get into deals with China that could saddle them with debt. But rather than lecturing again, which didn't really work, Blinken is trying to offer countries a different path, deals that are going to benefit local workers, deals that are more sustainable. He wants this U.S.-China competition on the continent to be a race to the top, as he calls it.

And, you know, Scott, there was one funny moment on the trip when Nigeria's foreign minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, talked about how this competition might be a good thing for his country. Take a listen to that.


GEOFFREY ONYEAMA: But sometimes it's a good thing for you if people are - if you're the attractive bride - you know? - and everybody is, you know, is offering you wonderful things. So you take what you can from each of them.

KELEMEN: So the attractive bride, as he calls it. And it's interesting because there's even a big China-Africa summit that's going to be held here in Dakar in Senegal later this month.

SIMON: Michele, we've talked about the upbeat message the secretary had. But, of course, at the same time, there are some very urgent crises on the continent right now, especially in Ethiopia and Sudan. How much time did that consume?

KELEMEN: It certainly did consume a lot of time during his first stop in Kenya, which borders Ethiopia. The yearlong civil war in the Tigray region has created a famine. There are mounting atrocities. And the U.S. has tried unsuccessfully so far to convince the government to stop fighting and allow in aid. Now it seems to be kind of looking to countries in the region to take a lead.

And he's looking for regional help on that issue of Sudan, too. Secretary Blinken has condemned a military takeover that derailed that country's transition to democracy. He condemned a crackdown on protesters; 15 were killed in Sudan this week. There's just not a lot of good news coming out of either Sudan and Ethiopia, and security on the Horn of Africa is really critical for the U.S.

SIMON: NPR's Michele Kelemen, thanks so much for being with us.

KELEMEN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.