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 was sometimes used as a pawn in international relations: “Time and again, they have been told to pick a side in great power contests that felt far removed from daily struggles of their people.”
He outlined the US’s priorities for the continent, which included 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”.
He also addressed the controversial Russian mercenary group, Wagner, which has been operating in some African countries such as Libya, and as some reports say, in Mali and the Central African Republic also.
He accused the “Kremlin-backed” group of exploiting “instability to pillage resources and commit abuses with impunity”.
The Russian government denied any links with the shadowy private military company.
Mr Blinken said the US will launch a Global Fragility Act which “will make a decade-long investment in promoting more peaceful, more inclusive, more resilient societies in places where conditions were ripe for conflict”.
The project was set to receive $200m (£165m) in funding each year, for the next decade, Mr Blinken said.
Earlier, Mr Blinken and his South African counterpart, Naledi Pandor, stressed the historic ties between their two countries, and highlighted the importance of their cooperation in areas such as trade and investment, health and science.