Opening Africa trip, Blinken warns of threats to democracy

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken started a three-nation tour of Africa in Kenya (AFP/Andrew Harnik)
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Wednesday for Africans to be on guard against rising threats to democracy as he began a visit to the continent in key ally Kenya.

Before a scheduled meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta, Blinken held talks with civil society leaders and asked for ideas on how to stop the "bad actors" who test democratic institutions.

"We have seen over the last decade or so what some call a democratic recession," he said in a meeting that included rights advocates, an election observer and a union leader.

"Even vibrant democracies like Kenya experience pressure, especially around election time," Blinken said.

"We have seen the same challenges here than we see in many parts of the world -- misinformation, political violence, voter intimidation, voter bribery."

Blinken is focusing his trip on promoting democracy and action on climate change and supporting African efforts to fight Covid-19.

But the three-nation tour is also expected to focus on efforts to resolve crises on the continent, especially a spiralling war in Ethiopia.

Echoing frequent themes of President Joe Biden's administration, Blinken warned of threats against the free press and of corruption, which he said "chips away" at democracy.

Blinken acknowledged that threats to democracy also existed in the United States, where a mob loyal to former president Donald Trump attacked the US Capitol on January 6 in a bid to overturn the election result.

"The United States is hardly immune from this challenge," Blinken said. "We've seen how fragile our own democracy can be."

The Biden administration has embraced Kenya, one of the most longstanding allies of the United States in Africa, and Biden invited Kenyatta as his first African leader to the White House.

Kenya's last election in 2017 was marred by deadly violence, although Kenyatta and his former opponent Raila Odinga have since made peace, raising hopes for the conduct of the 2022 election.

Blinken will travel from Kenya to Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, which has faced US criticism on human rights including in the police response to mass demonstrations a year ago.

He will end his trip in Senegal, seen as a beacon of democratic stability in Africa.

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