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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Blinken heads to Africa as the United States tries to avert disaster in Ethiopia

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WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken left early Tuesday for a five-day trip to Africa, where he will uphold democratic principles and seek to advance diplomacy aimed at preventing Ethiopia from plunging into catastrophic civil war.

Mr. Blinken plans to begin his journey with a stop 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 northern region of Tigray.

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

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

“This is Rwanda-esque,” added Patricia Haslach, who served as the US ambassador to Ethiopia from 2013 to 2016. Ms. Haslach paused before saying genocide may be underway 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 massacre of as many as 800,000 ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 has haunted former US officials for decades.

Ms. Haslach said her immediate concern was the prospect of mass starvation in Tigray, where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government was suffocating food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies to millions of people.

Some critics say the Biden administration has been inattentive to Africa, a common complaint about U.S. foreign policy but that it has gained more currency as China, America’s main strategic competitor, plants deeper political and economic roots in the country. continent and anti-American jihadist groups continue to thrive there. 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 did not articulate its vision for the continent, which Mr. Blinken was expected to address during a layover in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, where he planned to deliver a speech on US African policy. He intends to conclude his trip with a visit to the Senegalese capital of Dakar.

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

Democracy will be a central theme of Mr. Blinken’s visit to Nigeria, whose government Mr. Biden he condemned for endemic corruption and for violently repressing protesters in search of greater civil society freedoms.

Sudan’s coup also highlighted the limitations of American diplomacy on the continent. She arrived a few hours after the visit to the country of the special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, who left believing that a mediated political solution was at hand.

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

“I am a bit close behind, I think,” he said, adding that Ethiopia’s fall into chaos would be “a huge strategic step backwards for this administration.”

The fighting in Ethiopia began a year ago after Mr. Abiy started a military campaign in the rebel region of Tigray. The Tigray fighters have quickly taken advantage and are advancing towards the capital, Addis Ababa, a city of five million people. The State Department has repeatedly urged Americans in the country to leave immediately.

“I am very concerned about the potential for Ethiopia to implode given what we are seeing both in Tigray, but also because we have different forces and different ethnic groups that are increasingly at odds,” Blinken told reporters last week, stating. that the result “would be disastrous for the Ethiopian people and also for the countries of the region”.

Mr. Blinken called for a ceasefire, free movement of humanitarian assistance and a negotiated political solution.

Leading the State Department’s efforts to date has been Mr. Feltman, who visited the Ethiopian capital and the Kenyan capital of Nairobi last week.

Ms. Haslach called Mr. Blinken’s trip to the region important, but warned that “we can’t do it alone”. He said a diplomatic solution would require help from Ethiopian neighbors and the African Union, whose headquarters are in Addis Ababa.

Mr. Hudson was skeptical that the African Union, which he often said siding with the continent’s rulers, was capable of forcing Mr. Abiy into royal concessions. He said the US must consider further unilateral measures, including a possible arms embargo that he said would be shipped to the government from the UAE.

To complicate matters, some members of Abiy’s government have accused the United States of attempting to overthrow him and install a government led by Tigray officials, Mr. Feltman. said in comment at the United States Institute for 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. upward essay of opinion published by Bloomberg last week, James G. Stavridis, a retired four-star Navy admiral, 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, adding that Ethiopia “is much larger and geopolitically important than Rwanda”.

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

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