Oceans: Is the US presence in Africa free of conflicts of interest ?

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By Houmi Ahamed-Mikidache

The Comoros Islands, supported by the African Union and the Economic Commission for Africa, are organising a high-level meeting on the blue economy from 12 to 14 June. Prior to the summit, a senior State Department official visited Mauritius, Comoros and Seychelles.

Richard Verma, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources visited Mauritius on May 29-30, Comoros on May 30-31, and Seychelles on May 31-June 1. According to the department of States, this visit is a demonstration of the U.S. elevating its partnerships across Africa and deepening engagement in the Indian Ocean Region. Verma is the most senior State Department official to ever visit Comoros, and the most senior State Department official in over 20 years to visit Mauritius and Seychelles.

In response to a question from Era Environnement at a press conference on 12 May, on the presence of US maritime bases in Africa and a possible conflict of interest from Americans related to Africa’s natural resources, Major General Wasmund and Ambassador Scott did not know how to respond, except by citing the problem of sharing water in Africa, citing domestic problems in the US , but no answers on blue economy and strategic natural resources of the continent.

A new $300 million U.S. Embassy compound in Mauritius

However, recently Deputy Secretary Verma met in Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth and took part in the ground-breaking for a new $300 million U.S. Embassy compound, which says to reflect the continued growth of an already robust bilateral relationship. The Deputy Secretary and Prime Minister discussed continued cooperation in advancing shared values and interests in the Indian Ocean Region, including improving maritime security and promoting sustainable development that supports tourism and the blue economy.

The Deputy Secretary met President Prithivirasing Roopun, Opposition Leader Xavier-Luc Duval, and other officials. While in Mauritius, he met with Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Secretary General Salman Al Farisi. As a Dialogue Partner with IORA, since November 2012, the United States claim having a productive relationship with the organization. Deputy Secretary Verma underscored the United States’ commitment to the Indian Ocean Region and their shared goals, especially in areas of climate resilience, protecting oceans, food security, and global health.

USAID and the Department of State have reprogrammed $5 million in foreign assistance to Comoros

In Comoros, Deputy Secretary Verma met with President and AU Chairperson Azali Assoumani and other government officials to discuss their growing bilateral relationship, U.S. engagement in the region, and Comoros’s leadership of the African Union this year. The Deputy Secretary’s engagements pointed out five key areas where the the United States think the two countries are making significant progress together: democracy and governance, development assistance and food security, security cooperation, economic and commercial engagement, and people-to-people ties. While in Moroni, he opened a revitalized American corner and engaged with U.S. partners in Comoros. USAID and the Department of State have reprogrammed $5 million in foreign assistance to Comoros for food security, energy, and workforce development programs.  

The Department of State Bureau of International Security and Non-Proliferation has provided capacity-building support to Comoros maritime administration since 2019 to improve the Comoros international ship registry’s ability to implement sanctions targeting Iran. The United States is working with Congress to finalize a package of maritime security assistance, including associated training to increase Comoros’ maritime domain awareness. The Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs supports Comoros maritime security efforts through regional training and a dedicated UN Office of Drugs and Crime mentor supporting the Comorian Coast Guard. 

“The United States and Seychelles share an agenda that includes developing the blue economy”

“Today the United States re-opened its embassy in Victoria, Seychelles, marking a return to a full-time diplomatic presence 27 years. This re-opening – attended by Seychelles President Ramkalawan, Foreign Minister Radegonde, and other senior government officials – symbolizes our commitment to deepening our partnership with the government and people of Seychelles as a key nation in the Indian Ocean region”, explained in a statement Antoine J. Blinken, Secretary of State . He added: “the time is right to elevate the relationship so that together we can better address shared challenges and take advantage of mutually beneficial opportunities.” The United States and Seychelles share an agenda that includes developing the blue economy, responding to climate change, improving maritime security, and stemming transnational crime and corruption. He concluded: ” Our joint pursuit of peace, democracy, and prosperity will be a beacon across Africa and the Indian Ocean region.” Jim Donegan, who currently serves as U.S. Special Advisor to Seychelles, now becomes the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires ad interim.

The Comoros is organising a meeting on Blue Economy in Africa from 12 to 14 June. The meeting will bring together experts and senior officials from nine Indianocearian countries (Comoros, Mauritius, Seychelles, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, Kenya, South Africa and Somalia). Its objective: to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the blue economy in Africa.

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