Blinken for Africa to Strengthen US Response to Regional Crises
Washington The Biden administration’s competition with China for influence did not get off to a great start in Africa.
In August, the top US diplomat planned a visit, only to postpone it because of the turmoil in Afghanistan on Washington’s mind. Now, three months later, and with two important African crises worsening, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will try again this week to signal the administration’s message that “America is back” on the continent.
Despite its importance in the rivalry between the United States and China, Africa has often been overshadowed by more pressing issues in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and even Latin America. Thus, Blinken’s trip aims in part to project Washington’s image as a player in regional and international initiatives to restore peace and promote democracy while competing with China.
This has been difficult despite America’s massive contributions of money and vaccines to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and other infectious diseases. All the while, China is pumping billions into African energy, infrastructure, and other projects that Washington sees as frauds designed to take advantage of developing nations.
Immediately, Blinken looks to bolster the hitherto unsuccessful US diplomatic efforts to resolve the simmering conflicts in Ethiopia and Sudan and confront the growing insurgency elsewhere. His three-nation tour – to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal – comes after months of administration attempts to ease two situations that have yet to bear fruit despite repeated interventions at the lower level.
“Our intensive diplomacy there continues, and through the trip, we would like to demonstrate that our commitment to African partnerships and African solutions to African challenges continues and will continue as we continue our intensive efforts with our African partners and similar ideas to address difficult challenges in Ethiopia and certainly Sudan.”
Blinken began his tour in Kenya, a major player in both neighboring Ethiopia and Sudan, and is currently a member of the United Nations Security Council. Kenya also has deep interests in Somalia, a neighboring country that has been devastated by violence and instability for decades.
However, months of involvement by the administration, including an August visit to Ethiopia by Samantha Power, Administrator of the US Agency for International Development, several trips to Addis Ababa and Nairobi by Biden’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeff Feltman, and a current visit to Sudan, by the top diplomat for African affairs, has made little progress.
Instead, conflict has escalated in Ethiopia between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and leaders in the northern region of Tigray, who once dominated the government, with rebels now advancing in the capital amid high-risk warnings from the United States and other foreigners to leave the country.
Those tensions, which some fear could escalate into mass ethnic killings in Africa’s second most populous country, exploded in last year’s war, with thousands killed, thousands more detained and millions displaced. Blinken will confirm those concerns when he meets Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.
While holding out hope that there was a window of opportunity for a solution, the Biden administration moved toward sanctions, announced the expulsion of Ethiopia from the US-Africa trade agreement, and struck, at least initially, against the leaders and military of neighboring Eritrea. With sanctions for interfering in the conflict on behalf of Ethiopia. Sanctions could be imposed on Ethiopian officials, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Abiy.
Ethiopia condemned the sanctions and escalated its criticism of “interference” in its internal affairs. In Addis Ababa, the seat of the African Union, and elsewhere, there is suspicion and hostility to US pressure for an immediate ceasefire and talks even though America is the country’s largest aid donor.
While Feltman has been commuting between Nairobi and Addis Ababa with the goal of easing tensions in Ethiopia, he and the administration have also been confused by developments in Sudan, where a military coup last month toppled a civilian-led government that was making strides in restoring normalcy. strained relations with the United States
Just last week, coup leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan tightened his grip on power, reappointing himself as head of a new Sovereign Council. The move was criticized by the United States and other Western governments, although it said it would appoint a civilian government in the coming days.
Al-Burhan moved significantly against civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok a few hours after Feltman left Khartoum on a mission aimed at resolving the escalating tensions between them. The United States responded to the coup by suspending $700 million in direct financial aid to Sudan. Additional moves, including a slowdown or reversal of a multi-year rapprochement with the government, could also be underway without changes.
US Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly is in Khartoum and will join Blinken in Nairobi to discuss her efforts in Sudan.
However, mediation efforts have so far faltered, with Al-Burhan and his supporters insisting on the formation of a technocratic government and pro-democracy advocates to return to pre-coup power-sharing arrangements, free Hamdok and other officials from house arrest and negotiate a broad reform.
From Kenya, Blinken will travel to Nigeria to meet with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to discuss security arrangements for West Africa amid rising violence by Islamic extremists. Blinken also turns to talks on climate change, clean energy, sustainable development and the pandemic, and a speech on the Biden administration’s Africa strategy.
Blinken concluded his trip in Dakar, where he will discuss similar issues with Senegalese President Macky Sall, who will soon take over the presidency of the African Union.
Associated Press writers Kara Anna in Nairobi and Sami Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.
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