blink: Blinken in Africa to strengthen US response to regional crises

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WASHINGTON: The Biden administration’s competition with China for flu didn’t get off to a great start in Africa.
In August, the top US diplomat had scheduled a visit, only to postpone it due to unrest in Afghanistan that worried Washington. Now, three months later and as two significant African crises worsen, Secretary of State Antony rapid this week will also try to signal the administration’s message “America is back” to 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. Therefore, Blinken’s journey aims in part to raise Washington’s profile as a player in regional and international efforts to restore peace and promote democracy while competing with China.
It was a tough sell despite massive US contributions in cash and vaccines to fight the coronavirus pandemic and other infectious diseases. Meanwhile, China is pumping billions into African energy, infrastructure and other projects that Washington sees as scams designed to take advantage of developing nations.
More immediately, Blinken is seeking to reinforce hitherto unsuccessful US diplomatic efforts to resolve deepening conflicts in Ethiopia and Sudan and counter growing insurrections elsewhere. His three-nation tour – Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal – follows months of the administration’s attempts to alleviate both situations that have yet to bear fruit despite frequent lower-level interventions.
“Our intense diplomacy is ongoing and, through the journey, we would like to demonstrate that our commitment to African partnerships and African solutions to African challenges is enduring and will continue as we continue our intense efforts with our African partners and same ideas for facing the difficult challenges in Ethiopia and certainly in Sudan, “said Ervin Massinga, one of the best US diplomats for Africa.
Blinken begins his tour in Kenya, a key player in both neighboring Ethiopia and Sudan and currently a member of the United Nations Security Council. Kenya also has deep interests in Somalia, with which it borders and which has been ravaged by violence and instability for decades.
Yet months of administration commitment, including an August visit to Ethiopia by the administrator of the US Agency for International Development Samantha Power, several trips to Addis Ababa and Nairobi by Biden’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeff Feltman, and an ongoing visit to Sudan by the top diplomat for Africa, have produced little progress.
Instead, the conflict in Ethiopia has escalated between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and leaders in the former government-dominated northern Tigray region, with rebels now advancing towards the capital amid ever more dire warnings from the United States. and others so that the foreigners go away.
Those tensions, which some fear could escalate into interethnic mass murder in Africa’s second most populous country, erupted in a war last year, with thousands dead, many thousands more inmates and millions displaced. Blinken wants to highlight these concerns when he meets the Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta Wednesday, according to the State Department spokesman Ned Price.
While maintaining the hope that there is still a window of opportunity for a resolution, the Biden administration has moved towards sanctions, announcing the expulsion of Ethiopia from a US-Africa trade pact and hitting, at least initially, the leaders and the military of neighboring Eritrea with sanctions for intervening in the conflict on behalf of Ethiopia. Sanctions are possible against Ethiopian officials, including Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Ethiopia condemned the sanctions and intensified its criticisms of “meddling” in its internal affairs. And in Addis Ababa, home of the African Union, and elsewhere, there is skepticism and hostility about US pressure for an immediate ceasefire and for talks, despite America being the country’s largest aid donor.
While Feltman shuttled between Nairobi and Addis Ababa with the aim of easing tensions in Ethiopia, he and the administration were also confused by developments in Sudan, where a military coup last month overthrew a government a civilian leader who was making significant progress in restoring long-lasting ties with the United States
Just last week, the leader of the coup, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, strengthened his grip on power, reconfirming himself as president of a new sovereign council. The move was criticized by the United States and other Western governments despite saying it would appoint a civilian government in the coming days.
Burhan specifically moved against civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok just hours after Feltman left Khartoum on a mission to resolve growing tensions between them. The United States reacted to the coup by suspending $ 700 million in direct financial assistance to Sudan. Further moves, including a slowdown or reversal of a multi-year rapprochement with the government, could be underway without changes.
The top US diplomat for Africa, Molly Phee, is currently in Khartoum and will join Blinken in Nairobi to discuss her efforts in Sudan.
Mediation efforts, however, have so far stumbled, with Burhan and his supporters insisting on forming a technocratic government and pro-democracy advocates calling for a return to pre-coup power-sharing agreements, freeing Hamdok and other officials from house arrest and from the negotiations on extensive reform.
From Kenya, Blinken will travel to Nigeria to meet Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to discuss West African security deals amid a wave of Islamist extremist violence. Also for Blinken are talks on climate change, clean energy, sustainable development and pandemic, and a speech on the Biden administration’s strategy for Africa.
Blinken will conclude the trip to Dakar, where he will discuss similar issues with Senegalese President Macky Sall, who will soon take over the presidency of the African Union.

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