US vs Russia in Africa: Why the Biden strategy may be failing

11:53 02.05.2024 •

A demonstrator holds a pro-Russian banner that reads “We want Russia” pictured in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
Photo: AFP

U.S. officials are starting to accept that their strategy of pressing Niger and other war-battered African countries to break off ties with Moscow and embrace democratic norms is no longer working, writes POLITICO.

The recent breakdown in relations with Niger, where American troops are set to withdraw as Russian fighters arrive, has forced a reckoning inside the Biden administration over its approach to maintaining its allies in volatile parts of Africa, according to two officials familiar with the matter. Both officials were granted anonymity to speak about sensitive diplomatic negotiations.

Countries across the continent, including Chad, Central African Republic, Mali and Libya, have turned toward Russia for security assistance. Now, in Niger, Russian paramilitary fighters have arrived, sidelining the U.S. and forcing the withdrawal of 1,100 U.S. military personnel there in the next several months, one of the officials said.

While Washington has raised concerns about Niamey’s relationship with Iran, U.S. officials are particularly worried about operating in a country whose government has increasingly close military ties with Russia.

If U.S. troops leave, America will lose access to a critical military base it relies on to fight groups like ISIS (banned in Russia). The U.S. drone base in Niger is used for intelligence collection that is key for targeting terrorist strongholds in the region.

“When all of these countries kicked out the French and turned inward, we then tried to pivot to become the peacemaker in the hopes that we could keep our presence there,” said Cameron Hudson, a former intelligence officer for Africa at the CIA, referring to countries with coup governments in Africa. “All of that is clearly not working. We are now out. Russia is now in.”

The Biden administration’s strategy has been to try to engage coup governments and negotiate roadmaps and timetables for democratic elections.

But African leaders, while telling diplomats and other American officials that they want to maintain relations with Washington, have largely rebuffed suggestions that their countries need to more fully embrace democracy.

“With most of these governments, they really don’t want to be told what to do,” a third U.S. official said. “There’s a long history of the West telling African countries how to govern and they’re finally saying ‘enough.’”

Some African leaders have welcomed the Russian intervention, saying Moscow can provide fast security assistance when the U.S. cannot. Others have pushed back against U.S. demands for reforms, claiming the West has no right to lecture on democracy in Africa when it ignores similar issues with allies in other parts of the world.

Now, for the first time in Niger, the Russian ministry of defense is overseeing a new security mission, dispatching paramilitary fighters to help train Niger’s military. Russia’s moves raised alarms among Biden administration officials who have tried to negotiate a deal with the military junta that would ultimately allow the U.S. troops to remain in the country.

Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder confirmed Monday “the beginning of discussions between the U.S. and Niger for the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country,” and said DOD is sending a small delegation to participate in the discussions. He did not give a timeframe for the delegation to arrive or for U.S. troops to leave the country.


read more in our Telegram-channel