South Africa’s Ramaphosa and US’s Biden to meet amid Russian war — Al Jazeera

Biden and Ramaphosa, who spoke by phone in April, are expect­ed to focus their talks on trade and invest­ment, infra­struc­ture, cli­mate and ener­gy, among oth­er issues.South African Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa and Unit­ed States Pres­i­dent Joe Biden will meet on Sep­tem­ber 16, the White House has announced.
Thursday’s announce­ment comes as the admin­is­tra­tion looks to draw African nations clos­er to the US at a time when South Africa and many of its neigh­bours have staked out neu­tral ground on Russia’s inva­sion of Ukraine.
Last month, US Sec­re­tary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden admin­is­tra­tion sees Africa’s 54 nations as “equal part­ners” in tack­ling glob­al prob­lems, dur­ing a vis­it to South Africa.
But the admin­is­tra­tion has been dis­ap­point­ed that South Africa and much of the con­ti­nent have declined to fol­low the US in con­demn­ing the Russ­ian inva­sion of Ukraine.
South Africa abstained in a Unit­ed Nations vote to con­demn Russia’s action, and Ramaphosa has avoid­ed any crit­i­cism of Rus­sia and has instead called for a medi­at­ed peace.
Biden and Ramaphosa, who spoke by phone in April, are expect­ed to focus their talks on trade and invest­ment, infra­struc­ture, cli­mate and ener­gy, pub­lic health and South Africa’s lead­ing role on the con­ti­nent, offi­cials said.
“The two Pres­i­dents will reaf­firm the impor­tance of our endur­ing part­ner­ship, and dis­cuss our work togeth­er to address region­al and glob­al chal­lenges,” White House press sec­re­tary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a state­ment announc­ing this month’s meeting.
Biden also plans to host a US-Africa lead­ers’ sum­mit in December.
Dur­ing the Blinken vis­it, for­eign min­is­ter Nale­di Pan­dor main­tained South Africa’s neu­tral­i­ty in the Ukraine war. In a press brief­ing fol­low­ing the meet­ing, Pan­dor accused the US and oth­er West­ern pow­ers of focus­ing on the Ukraine con­flict to the detri­ment of oth­er inter­na­tion­al issues.
“We should be equal­ly con­cerned at what is hap­pen­ing to the peo­ple of Pales­tine, as we are with what is hap­pen­ing to the peo­ple of Ukraine,” she said.
Blinken, for his part, under­scored that Russia’s block­ade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports has led to scarci­ties in grain, cook­ing oil and fer­tilis­er — an issue that has had dis­pro­por­tion­ate effects on Africans.
“The US is there for African coun­tries in this unprece­dent­ed cri­sis, because that’s what part­ners do for each oth­er,” Blinken said. “The Unit­ed States will not dic­tate Africa’s choic­es, and nei­ther should any­one else. The right to make these choic­es belongs to Africans, and Africans alone.”
South Africa’s neu­tral posi­tion is large­ly because of the sup­port the Sovi­et Union gave dur­ing the Cold War era to Ramaphosa’s African Nation­al Con­gress in its fight to end apartheid – South Africa’s regime of repres­sion against the Black major­i­ty that end­ed in 1994. South Africa is seen as a leader of sev­er­al African coun­tries that will not side against Russia.
The Biden meet­ing will come at a crit­i­cal time for Ramaphosa, who is fac­ing crit­i­cism from oppo­si­tion par­ties and from with­in his own par­ty for a scan­dal over rev­e­la­tions that $4m was stolen from his cat­tle ranch.
He has been grilled this week by mem­bers of par­lia­ment about whether the for­eign cash had been prop­er­ly reg­is­tered with South Africa’s finan­cial author­i­ties and why he did not imme­di­ate­ly report the theft. The scan­dal has dam­aged Ramaphosa’s rep­u­ta­tion as a leader com­mit­ted to bat­tling his nation’s ram­pant corruption.
Ramaphosa faces sig­nif­i­cant oppo­si­tion in his efforts to be re-elect­ed as the leader of his par­ty at a con­fer­ence in Decem­ber. If he fails to win the par­ty lead­er­ship he will not be able to stand for re-elec­tion as South Africa’s pres­i­dent in 2024.
South Africa’s econ­o­my has been in reces­sion since even before the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic and a third of the coun­try is unem­ployed, so Ramaphosa would wel­come any announce­ment of eco­nom­ic sup­port from the US.
Dur­ing Blinken’s vis­it to South Africa last month, he praised South Africa and Ramaphosa for achiev­ing a mul­ti-racial democ­ra­cy after years of white minor­i­ty rule. He also used the vis­it to for­mal­ly launch a new US strat­e­gy towards sub-Saha­ran Africa.

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