Blinken Heads to Africa as US tries to avert Ethiopia disaster

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Blinken Heads to Africa as US tries to avert Ethiopia disaster

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

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

Many alleged atrocities, including rape, executions and looting, have already come to the fore in the conflict in Africa’s second most populous country. Experts say the fight threatens the stability of a major US partner not only on the continent but across East Africa.

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

“It’s Rwanda-esque,” said Patricia Haslach, who served as the US ambassador to Ethiopia from 2013 to 2016. Ms Haslach stopped short of saying there could be a genocide in the country, but other experts have called it a realistic possibility. In a conflict increasingly defined by ethnic identity. The failure of the Clinton administration to intervene and potentially prevent the 1994 genocide of 800,000 ethnic Tutsi people in Rwanda has puzzled former US officials for decades.

Ms Haslach said her immediate concern was the potential for mass starvation in the Tigre, where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government is shutting down food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies to millions.

Some critics say the Biden administration has been inattentive to Africa, a common complaint about US foreign policy, but has gained more currency as China, America’s top strategic rival, with deep political and economic roots on the continent. And anti-American jihadist groups continue. to thrive there. Mr Blinken had planned to visit Africa in late summer, but postponed the trip after the Taliban’s sudden takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August.

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The Biden administration has not clarified its vision for the continent Mr Blinken was to address during a halt in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, where he planned to deliver a speech on the United States’ Africa policy. He plans to end his trip with a visit to Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

US officials are concerned about democratic backsliding across Africa, which has seen a wave of military coups in recent months – particularly in Sudan, where a coup last month sparked the 2019 ouster of the country’s longtime autocratic ruler, Omar Hassan. After a democratic transition had broken out. Al-Bashir. Experts say the four successful military coups in Africa this year – also in Guinea, Chad and Mali – are the highest numbers in more than 40 years.

Democracy will be a central theme of Mr Blinken’s visit to Nigeria, whose government Mr Biden has condemned for endemic corruption and for violently cracking down on protesters demanding more civil-society liberties.

Sudan’s coup also exposed the limits of American diplomacy on the continent. It came hours after a visit to the country by the Horn of Africa Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman, who went on to believe that a mediated political settlement was within reach.

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

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

Fighting in Ethiopia began a year ago, when Mr Abiy launched a military operation in the rebel Tigre region. Tigrian fighters soon seized the advantage and headed for the capital, Addis Ababa, a city of five million people. The State Department has repeatedly urged Americans in the country to leave immediately.

Mr Blinken told reporters last week: “I am very concerned about the potential for Ethiopia to erupt, which we are both seeing in the Tigre, but at the same time we have different forces and different ethnic groups that are increasingly growing up.” “It would be disastrous for the Ethiopian people and also for the countries in the region.”

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Mr. Blinken called for a cease-fire, free movement of humanitarian aid and a negotiated political solution.

The State Department’s efforts so far are being led by Mr. Feltman, who last week visited the Ethiopian capital and the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Ms Haslach described Mr Blinken’s visit to the field as important, but warned that “we cannot do it on our own.” She said a diplomatic solution would require the help of Ethiopia’s neighbors and the African Union, which is headquartered in Addis Ababa.

Mr Hudson suspected that the African Union, which he often said favored the continent’s rulers, was in a position to force Mr Abiy into genuine concessions. He said the United States should consider additional unilateral steps, including a possible embargo on weapons being sent to the government by the United Arab Emirates.

Complicating matters, some members of Mr Abiy’s government have accused the United States of attempting to topple him and set up a government led by Tigrayan officials, Feltman said in remarks at the US Institute of Peace this month. . He called those claims false.

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

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

He, too, called for the Rwandan genocide, saying that Ethiopia is “far bigger and geopolitically important than Rwanda.”

A spokesman for the National Security Council said the United States was pursuing a diplomatic solution and was not considering the deployment of military forces in Ethiopia.

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