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Monday, March 4, 2024

ANALYSIS: Blinken’s visits and the crucial role of the United States in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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After the inauguration for a second term of the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Felix Tshisekedi, the Secretary of State of the United States, Antony Blinken, travels to Angola with the aim of shoring up the regional diplomacy essential to alleviate the tensions in eastern Congo.

The visit promises to strengthen US-DRC relations and address critical concerns in the region, highlighting Angola’s critical role in easing tensions in eastern DRC.

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“Angola has played a really important role in trying to address and reduce tensions in eastern Congo,” State Department Undersecretary for African Affairs Molly Phee said ahead of Blinken’s trip.

Speaking in Washington on Thursday, Ms Phee shed light on the important role Angola has played in addressing and reducing tensions in eastern Congo. Reflecting on recent events, she highlighted a diplomatic mission to Kinshasa and Kigali, expressing concern over rising tensions between Rwandans and Congolese. Diplomatic efforts, including weekly check-ins, were instrumental in ensuring that the withdrawal of the East African Community troop presence did not disrupt the DRC elections. However, last month, the Democratic Republic of the Congo held relatively peaceful elections, thanks in large part to unrecognized efforts by Angola to calm inflamed relations between Kinshasa and Kigali, which are believed to support opposing armed groups.

Specifically, Angolan leadership of the so-called Luanda peace process over the past two years helped avoid potential bloodshed surrounding the recent vote, Ms. Phee explained. Both Congolese parties and nervous American officials feared overt outside interference.

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Now, with Tshisekedi’s position strengthened, Blinken will meet with Angolan Foreign Minister Téte António and President João Lourenço to discuss how to ensure local dialogues can bear fruit.

Phee says Washington aims to “complement what we have invested in and what we [Angola’s] invested” (including sending its forces as part of a regional coalition, now withdrawn) so that lasting solutions can emerge to end Congo’s prolonged misery.

With Luanda proving its worth as a silent crisis manager and Kinshasa and Kigali showing their willingness to talk, Blinken’s visit indicates that Washington believes that peace, however fragile, may no longer be fleeting.

To the inauguration of President Félix Tshisekedi, President Joseph Biden sent a high-ranking delegation. The US team was led by International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) CEO Scott Nathan, signaling Washington’s desire to expand its strategic partnership with Kinshasa. The American delegation included the US ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lucy Tamlyn, senior diplomats and development officials. The appointment of high-level people who oversee African policy and are leaders of major development agencies underscores Washington’s commitment to expanding strategic ties with the Congolese people. While lacking the kind of economic clout of China, now the DRC’s largest trading partner, Washington wields unparalleled political clout.

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Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based White House correspondent and media commentator with experience in American foreign policy and international security. You can follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe

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