The US secretary of state has said Washington will "not dictate" which choices Africa should make and "neither should anyone else".
"African nations have been treated as instruments of other nations' progress, rather than the authors of their own," Antony Blinken said.
He is currently in South Africa as part of a three-nation African tour.
Washington is seeking to boost relations amid growing concern over the growing influence of Russia and China.
Mr Blinken addressed African reservations that the continent is sometimes used as a pawn in international relations: "Time and again, they have been told to pick a side in great power contests that feel far removed from daily struggles of their people."
He outlined the US's priorities for the continent, which include democracy, investment, security, Covid recovery support and clean energy.
The continent has big upcoming elections, including in Kenya and Nigeria. Mr Blinken said Washington will not treat democracy as "an area where Africa has problems and the United States has solutions" but will recognise the "common challenges" to "tackle together, as equals".
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