Africa: Blinken Africa Revisit Focuses on Ending Conflicts in the Horn and Sahel

Washington, DC — Trip to Ethiopia and Niger is latest top-level administration Africa foray, with VP Harris expected to be next

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will visit Addis Ababa on March 14 and 15 to hold talks with the Ethiopian government and leaders of the Tigrayan forces to discuss the fragile peace process. The two-year conflict has claimed thousands of lives.

The trip includes a stopover in Niger and is one of a series of Africa journeys this year by top-level administration officials. Vice President Kamala Harris will likely be next. Her visit is expected to focus on women and technology in Tanzania and Ghana.

While in Addis, Blinken plans to see African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat “to discuss shared global and regional priorities,” the State Department said in a statement adding: “Their meeting will follow up on commitments from the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, held in Washington D.C. in December, in the areas of food security, climate and a just energy transition, the African diaspora, and global health.”

Blinken’s March 16 visit to Niger will be the first by a U.S. Secretary of State. While in the capitol Niamey, he will discuss security cooperation with President Mohamed Bazoum and Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou.

Administration visits to Africa this year have included First Lady Jill Biden to Namibia and Kenya, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to Senegal, Zambia and South Africa, and United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield to Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya, and Somalia.

In the lead up to Blinken’s discussions in Addis, administration officials have been debating whether to ease restrictions imposed after the war in Tigray began in late 2021. These include sanctions on selected Ethiopian and Eritean officials, trade limits and suspension of Ethiopia from benefits provided by the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

The proposed easing “has drawn backlash from human rights advocates and some factions within the administration”, Robbie Gramer reports in a March 9 story for Foreign Policy. Those advocating “to begin re-normalizing ties” include Mollie Phee, the assistant secretary for African Affairs, and Victoria Nuland, undersecretary for political affairs, Gramer says. Those arguing “that the administration needs to extract more commitments from the Ethiopian government on human rights and accountability for war crimes and other atrocities before agreeing to fully open access to economic and trade lifelines” include USAID Administrator Samantha Power, he writes.

Blinken may use the talks, which are expected to include Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other top officers, to extract concessions in exchange for improved ties. “What Addis is looking for is whether Washington is willing to say, enough has been done and we can normalize the bilateral relationship — and that means turning on the financial spigot by restarting international lending assistance and assisting with the country’s increasing debt crisis,” Cameron Hudson, Africa expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told VOA.