Blinken heads to Africa as US tries to avert Ethiopia disaster

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is due to leave on Monday for a five-day trip to Africa, where he will support democra...


WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is due to leave on Monday for a five-day trip to Africa, where he will support democratic principles and seek to advance diplomacy aimed at preventing Ethiopia from descending into a catastrophic civil war.

Mr Blinken plans to start his trip with a stopover in Kenya, which borders Ethiopia and which has played a key role in diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful solution to a conflict between the country’s central government and the rebels in its region of northern Tigray.

The conflict in Africa’s second most populous country has already featured numerous alleged atrocities, including rape, executions and looting. The fighting threatens the stability of not only a key US partner on the continent, but all of East Africa, experts say.

“I hate to be alarmist, but all the warning signs are flashing red in Ethiopia right now, and we are not using all the tools at our disposal,” said Cameron Hudson, director of African affairs at the National Security Council. of the Obama administration.

“It’s Rwandan,” added Patricia Haslach, who served as US Ambassador to Ethiopia from 2013 to 2016. Ms Haslach did not say genocide could occur in the country, but other experts called this a realistic possibility. in a conflict increasingly defined by ethnic identity. The failure of the Clinton administration to intervene and potentially prevent the massacre of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 haunted former US officials for decades.

Ms Haslach said her immediate concern was the prospect of a massive famine in Tigray, where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has been suffocate food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies to millions of people.

Some critics say the Biden administration has been inattentive to Africa, a common complaint against US foreign policy but which has grown in popularity as China, the US’s main strategic competitor, takes root deeper into mainland and anti-American politics and economics. jihadist groups continue to thrive the. Mr Blinken had planned to visit Africa at the end of the summer, but postponed the trip after the sudden takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban in mid-August.

The Biden administration failed to articulate its vision for the continent, which Mr Blinken was due to address during a layover in the Nigerian capital Abuja, where he planned to deliver a speech on US African policy. . He plans to end his trip with a visit to Dakar, the Senegalese capital.

U.S. officials are concerned about the democratic setback across Africa, which has seen a wave of military coups in recent months, most notably in Sudan, where a coup last month crushed a democratic transition that has followed the 2019 ousting of the country’s longtime autocratic leader, Omar Hassan. al-Bashir. Experts say the four successful military coups in Africa this year – also in Guinea, Chad and Mali – are the highest number for more than 40 years.

Democracy will be a central theme of Mr Blinken’s visit to Nigeria, including the government Mr Biden condemned for endemic corruption and for having violently repressed demonstrators in search of more freedoms for civil society.

The Sudanese coup has also exposed the limits of US diplomacy on the continent. It came hours after a visit to the country by special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, who left believing a negotiated political settlement was within reach.

Mr Hudson said the Biden administration had struggled to respond to the crises in Sudan and Ethiopia, and called for more aggressive US action.

“They are a little on their heels, I think,” he said, adding that Ethiopia’s descent into chaos would be “a huge strategic setback for this administration.”

Fighting in Ethiopia began a year ago, after Mr. Abiy launched a military campaign in the rebel region of Tigray. The Tigrayan fighters quickly gained the advantage and advanced towards the capital, Addis Ababa, a city of five million people. The State Department has repeatedly urged Americans across the country to leave immediately.

“I am very concerned about Ethiopia’s potential for implosion given what we are seeing both in Tigray, but also because we have different strengths and different ethnic groups who are increasingly at odds,” he said. Mr Blinken told reporters last week, asserting this result. “would be disastrous for the Ethiopian people and also for the countries of the region”.

Mr Blinken called for a ceasefire, the free flow of humanitarian aid and a negotiated political settlement.

To date, Mr. Feltman has led the efforts of the State Department, which visited the Ethiopian capital and the Kenyan capital Nairobi last week.

Ms Haslach called Mr Blinken’s trip to the region important, but warned that “we can’t do it on our own.” She said a diplomatic solution would require help from neighbors Ethiopia and the African Union, headquartered in Addis Ababa.

Mr. Hudson was skeptical that the African Union, which he said often sided with the continent’s leaders, would be able to force Mr. Abiy to make real concessions. He said the United States should consider further unilateral measures, including a possible embargo on arms which he said were being shipped to the government from the United Arab Emirates.

To complicate matters, some members of Mr. Abiy’s government accused the United States of attempting to overthrow him and install a government led by Tigray officials, Mr. Feltman. said in the remarks at the American Institute of Peace this month. He called these claims false.

Mr Feltman also cautioned against studies showing that “the average modern civil war now lasts 20 years. I repeat: 20 years.

Others called for even more dramatic US action to prevent such an outcome. In a opinion writing published by Bloomberg last week, James G. Stavridis, a retired four-star naval admiral, recommended that the United States consider sending troops to Ethiopia as part of a peacekeeping force. peace led by the United Nations.

He too invoked the Rwandan genocide, adding that Ethiopia “is much larger and geopolitically more important than Rwanda”.

A spokesperson for the National Security Council said the United States is seeking a diplomatic solution and is not considering the deployment of military forces in Ethiopia.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Blinken heads to Africa as US tries to avert Ethiopia disaster
Blinken heads to Africa as US tries to avert Ethiopia disaster
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