Abuja — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Nigeria on Thursday as part of a three-nation trip that includes Kenya and Senegal.
Blinken is expected to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, revitalizing democracies, and security issues. Ahead of his visit, Nigerian experts weigh in on the issues and their expectations.
Blinken will meet in Abuja with Nigerian President Muhamadu Buhari and other top government officials, including the vice president and foreign affairs minister.
They will discuss cooperation on global health security, expanding energy access and economic growth, and revitalizing democracy, according to a U.S. State Department release last week.
Political analyst and co-founder of YouthHub Africa, Rotimi Olawale, describes Blinken's visit as timely, especially as many African nations, including Nigeria, have failed to meet targets set by the World Health Organization for vaccinating the public.
"It's an opportunity to strengthen ties with Nigeria. As the world continues to open, Africa has been lagging behind in being able to access vaccines and I hope that that would be top of the agenda as well as issues in security, and support to ensure that the shrinking civil space not only in Nigeria but across the region is also addressed," Olawale said.
Nigeria is battling a range of security threats, including the Boko Haram insurgency, inter-communal clashes and more recently, a wave of mass abductions at schools.
The West African country has also been named among countries with shrinking civil space worsened by issues of police brutality that triggered mass protests last year, and crackdowns on free speech and the media.
While in Abuja, Blinken is expected to talk about U.S.-Africa policy, emphasizing the value of democracy.
This year alone, the continent has witnessed four successful military coups, threatening decades of progress toward democracy, says Olawale.
"There's also democratic challenges across West Africa, actually also across the continent where in the last couple of months we have seen a number of coups in Chad, Guinea, Sudan and in several other countries, where there's been a change to democracy. It's important that Nigeria plays a stabilization role across the continent, that this is also top of the agenda."
President Joe Biden took office in January aiming to bolster ties with Africa shaken by his predecessor Donald Trump.
Shortly after his inauguration, Biden signed an executive order lifting travel bans imposed by Trump on Muslim countries including Nigeria - a move that was widely praised.
Still, Nigerian security analyst Senator Iroegbu says major improvements in Africa policy under the Biden administration have been slow.
"Yes, there was an initial attempt at the beginning of the Biden administration to show that the U.S.-Africa relation will be different. A lot of policy makers in Africa are yet to understand the trajectory the Biden administration is taking when it comes to U.S.-Africa policy. A lot of it is shrouded in secrecy."
These experts hope the Biden administration's plans regarding Africa become much clearer by the time Blinken ends his visit.