Published: 2023-03-17 12:54
Last Updated: 2024-02-21 12:35
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday offered new aid as he threw his support behind Niger on a rare visit.
Blinken is the highest-ranking US official ever to visit the former French colony, where both France and the United States maintain forces to battle insurgencies in the Sahel region.
"Niger is a young democracy in a challenging part of the world," Blinken told a news conference in the capital Niamey.
"But it remains true to the values we share. Niger has been quick to defend the democratic values under threat in neighboring countries."
After talks with President Mohamed Bazoum, Blinken announced $150 million in new humanitarian assistance for the Sahel region including Niger, one of the world's poorest countries.
The funding, which brings the total for the Sahel to $233 million for the fiscal year, includes food aid and support for migrants who have fled to Libya, he said.
Niger, one of the world's poorest countries, has seen stability since a democratic restoration in 2011 as military regimes have taken over in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso.
Mali has shifted decisively into Russia's orbit, hiring the Wagner mercenary group after French troops withdrew following a nine-year military operation.
Burkina Faso, which saw two coups last year, has also fallen out with France, although both the country's military leader and Russia have denied claims including from democratic Ghana that Wagner is operating there.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massoudou, speaking alongside Blinken, said he had no proof of Wagner activities in Burkina Faso but he warned against any movement to the group.
"Our hope," he said, "is that it does not go down this trajectory towards this organization which we consider criminal and mercenary," he said.
"We see that Wagner is only present in failed or failing states," he said.
"Our democratic institutions can defeat terrorism. In fact, there is no alternative," he said.