US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called for the preservation of democracy in politically and ethnically fractured societies as he opens his first official Africa visit to Kenya as crises deepen in neighboring Ethiopia and Sudan .
In a lengthy private meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and other senior officials, Blinken praised Kenya’s role in seeking an end to the conflict in Ethiopia and as an example of a vibrant and inclusive democracy despite the challenges which he faced in his own recent elections.
Kenyatta visited Addis Ababa over the weekend in an effort to bolster an African Union-led mediation initiative to end the violence in Ethiopia that engulfed the northern Tigray region and spread , arousing widespread fears of an overflow of the conflict.
Blinken spent an hour and a half alone with Kenyatta in a one-on-one session that had only been scheduled for 10 minutes, the State Department said, although the exact topics of discussion and potential developments are not immediately clear. .
“We continue to see atrocities committed, people in pain, and whatever we call it this has to stop and there has to be accountability,” Blinken told reporters later, adding that he would determine if the situation is genocide. “Once we have all the analyzes necessary to examine the facts”.
Kenyan Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo told reporters that “we believe a ceasefire is possible” but “ultimately these solutions will come (from the Ethiopian people)”.
In previous comments to Kenyan civic leaders, Blinken spoke of the importance of tackling the “democratic recession” around the world, including challenges in the United States that show “how fragile our democracy can be.” Kenya faces its own test of stability in a presidential election next year.
Blinken seeks to spur hitherto unsuccessful US diplomatic efforts to resolve escalating conflicts in Ethiopia and Sudan and to counter growing insurgencies elsewhere, such as in Somalia.
Months of administration engagement, including an August visit to Ethiopia by US Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power, and several trips to Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Khartoum by the Special Envoy of Biden for the Horn of Africa, Jeff Feltman, have produced little progress.
Escalation of conflict
Instead, the conflict in Ethiopia escalated between the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the leaders of the northern Tigray region who once dominated the government.
Tensions, which some fear could escalate into mass inter-ethnic massacres in Africa’s second most populous country, erupted in war last year, killing thousands, thousands more in detention, and more. million displaced.
“We have to see the detainees released,” Blinken told reporters.
The situation “could easily escalate into genocide,” said Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a confidant of President Joe Biden who traveled to Ethiopia earlier this year to meet with Abiy. During an online event Tuesday, Coons called for progress in the talks “before it becomes another Yugoslavia.”
Rival Tigray forces are advancing on Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, amid increasingly stern warnings from the United States and others for foreigners to leave.
While hoping that a window of opportunity for a resolution still exists, the Biden administration has moved towards sanctions, announcing Ethiopia’s expulsion from a US-African trade pact and hitting leaders and l army of neighboring Eritrea with sanctions for intervening in the conflict on Ethiopia’s behalf. Sanctions against Ethiopian officials, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy, are possible.
Skepticism and hostility to pressure
Ethiopia has condemned the sanctions and in Addis Ababa, home of the African Union, and elsewhere there is skepticism and hostility towards US pressure as America is the biggest donor aid from the country.
As Feltman shuttled between capitals, he and the administration were also bewildered by developments in Sudan, where a military coup last month toppled a civilian-led government that was making significant strides in the reestablishing long-standing ties with the United States.
Coup leader General Abdel-Fattah Burhan tightened his grip on power last week, re-appointing himself as head of a new Sovereign Council. The United States and other Western governments criticized the move because it removed an already existing military-civilian council. Sudanese generals responded by saying they would appoint a civilian government in the coming days.
Burhan clashed with civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok just hours after Feltman left the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, on a mission to resolve escalating tensions between them. The United States responded to the coup by suspending $ 700 million in direct financial assistance. Other measures, including a slowdown or reversal of a multi-year rapprochement with the government, could also be in the works.
America’s top diplomat for Africa, Molly Phee, met Hamdok and Burhan on Tuesday. Burhan said Sudanese leaders were ready to engage in dialogue with all political forces without conditions, according to a statement from the newly appointed Sovereign Council.
In addition to trying to ease tensions in the region, Blinken’s trip also aims to raise Washington’s profile as an actor in regional and international initiatives aimed at restoring peace and promoting democracy and rights. of man as it competes with China for influence.
This push did not get off to a good start in Africa. The coronavirus pandemic canceled a scheduled early summer visit by Blinken to the mainland. The trip was postponed until August, only to be postponed again due to the unrest in Afghanistan which preoccupied Washington.
Despite its importance in the US-China rivalry, Africa has often been overshadowed by more pressing issues in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America despite the massive US contributions in cash and vaccines for fight the pandemic and other infectious diseases.
Omamo said Blinken’s visit, as well as US contributions to Africa’s development, are “important road signs to be erected so that the whole world knows that the United States is indeed back, is indeed back. and interested in the advancement of our continent “.
Meanwhile, China has pumped billions into energy, infrastructure and other African projects that Washington sees as scams designed to take advantage of developing countries. Blinken and Omamo met at a Nairobi hotel in a conference room with sweeping views of an elevated highway still incomplete and funded by China.