Blinken in Kenya seeks to calm regional crises

Blinken in Kenya seeks to calm regional crises

Nairobi The Independent: — US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken opened his first official visit to Africa in Kenya on Wednesday with a call to preserve democracy and integration in politically and ethnically divided societies. His message was delivered amid worsening crises in neighboring Ethiopia and Sudan.

With insecurity gripping both countries, Blinken embarked on a three-nation African tour of a country with its turbulent history of democracy. Kenya will face another test of stability in next year’s presidential election, but it has emerged as a player in trying to de-escalate the growing Ethiopian conflict.

Before meeting President Uhuru Kenyatta and other senior Kenyan officials, Blinken spoke with civic leaders about the importance of combating what he called “democratic stagnation” around the world, including challenges in the United States that show “how fragile our democracy is.”

“This is an important time,” he told a small group of human rights, labor and anti-corruption advocates in a Nairobi hotel. “All over the world we have seen that over the past decade or so we have experienced what some have called ‘democratic stagnation’.”

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“Even vibrant democracies like Kenya are experiencing these pressures, particularly around the time of elections,” Blinken said, referring to the presidential election scheduled for August 2022. Combating disinformation, political violence, voter intimidation, and corruption is critical to halting the decline.

Blinken looks to bolster the hitherto unsuccessful US diplomatic efforts to resolve the worsening conflicts in Ethiopia and Sudan and to counter the growing insurgency elsewhere, such as Somalia. His visit to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal this week comes after months of attempts by the Biden administration to ease the two situations that have yet to bear fruit despite repeated interventions at the lower level.

Months of engagement 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 chief diplomat For Africa little progress has been made.

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Instead, conflict escalated in Ethiopia between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and leaders in the northern Tigray region who once dominated the government.

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.

Tigray rebel forces are advancing in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, amid increasingly dire warnings from the United States and other foreigners to leave.

While holding out hope that there was a window of opportunity for a solution, the Biden administration moved toward sanctions, announcing the expulsion of Ethiopia from the US-Africa trade agreement, and hitting the leaders and military of neighboring Eritrea with sanctions for interfering in the war. The conflict on behalf of Ethiopia. Sanctions could be imposed on Ethiopian officials, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Abiy.

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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

The coup leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, tightened his grip on power last week, and reappointed himself as head of the new Sovereignty Council. The move was criticized by the United States and other Western governments because it abolished an already existing joint military-civilian council. The Sudanese generals responded by saying that they would appoint a civilian government in the coming days.

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Al-Burhan moved against civilian Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok a few hours after Feltman left the Sudanese capital, 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.

The top US diplomat for Africa, Molly V, was in Khartoum earlier this week and will join Blinken in Nairobi to discuss her efforts in Sudan. On Tuesday, he met Hamdok and Al-Burhan. Al-Burhan said that Sudan’s leaders are ready to enter into a dialogue with all political forces without conditions, according to a statement issued by the newly appointed Sovereignty Council.

Al-Burhan was also quoted as saying that the army had begun releasing political prisoners who did not face criminal charges.

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In addition to attempting to calm tensions in the region, Blinken’s trip also aims to highlight Washington’s standing as a player in regional and international initiatives to restore peace and promote democracy as it competes with China for influence in developing nations.

The Biden administration’s competition with China for influence did not get off to a great start in Africa. The coronavirus pandemic has canceled a planned early summer visit by Blinken to the continent. The trip was pushed back to August, but was postponed again due to the turmoil in Afghanistan that preoccupied Washington.

Now, three months later, Blinken hopes to get the administration’s message, “America is back,” to Africa. 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 despite massive U.S. contributions of money and vaccines to combat the pandemic and other infectious diseases.

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All the while, China has poured billions into African energy, infrastructure and other projects that Washington considers scams designed to benefit developing nations.

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Associated Press writers Kara Anna in Nairobi and Sami Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.

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