Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken Kenya, to begin a tour across Africa amid political turmoil and questions about the Biden administration’s approach to the continent.
Mr. Blinken arrived in Nairobi on Wednesday night, making him the highest-ranking Biden administration official to visit sub-Saharan Africa. He will try to push diplomacy to pull Kenya’s neighbor, Ethiopia, from the brink of what experts say could be an expansion of the devastating civil war that has erupted in the country’s north, with the potential for genocide.
In his stop in Nigeria this week, Mr. Blinken will outline US policy toward Africa, which is expected to focus on the value of democracy for the continent’s future.
Some critics say the Biden administration was not interested in Africa, a common complaint about US foreign policy, but it has gained more attention as China, America’s largest strategic competitor, plants deeper political and economic roots on the continent and anti-American jihadist groups persist. to thrive there.
US officials are concerned about democratic backsliding across the continent, which has seen a wave of military coups in recent months — including in Sudan, where a coup last month suppressed the democratic transition that followed the ouster of autocratic ruler Omar Hassan in 2019. Bashir. Experts say the four successful military coups in Africa this year – including in Guinea, Chad and Mali – are the highest in more than 40 years.
Nigeria’s democracy is also in turmoil: As a candidate, Mr. Biden has condemned the country’s government for rampant corruption, and for violently cracking down on protesters seeking greater freedom for civil society.
Kenya has played a major role in diplomatic efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict between the Ethiopian central government and the rebels in the northern Tigray region.
“This is Rwanda-esque,” added Patricia Haslach, who served as the US ambassador to Ethiopia from 2013 to 2016. Ms. Haslach stopped short of saying genocide was possible, but other experts called it a realistic possibility in a conflict increasingly defined by ethnic identity.
The Clinton administration’s failure to intervene, and possibly prevent the massacre of up to 800,000 ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, has haunted former US officials for decades.
Mr. Blinken intends to conclude his trip by visiting the Senegalese capital, Dakar.
Not so long ago, the East African region known as the Horn was seen as one of the continent’s most dynamic, a place of rapidly growing economies, revolutions that toppled a dictator, and intense maneuvering between competing foreign powers seeking influence. She was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize by the young Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed.
Now, with Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken’s visit to neighboring Kenya, the Horn of Africa has become a crucible of chaos, plagued by widespread war and famine in Ethiopia and the recent military coup in Sudan that threatens to derail its transition to democracy. .
These crises have made the Horn of Africa by far the largest focus of US policy in Africa this year. However, Washington does not have much to show for its efforts.
In Ethiopia, the Biden administration has sent senior envoys to conciliate with Mr. Abiy, imposed visa restrictions on Ethiopian officials linked to alleged atrocities, and threatened sanctions against leaders on both sides of the conflict.
At the United Nations, US officials made impassioned appeals for international unity. “Doesn’t the lives of Africans matter?” Linda Thomas Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said in July she was visibly angry.
Those efforts have failed to stop the Ethiopian slip. Two million people were forced from their homes; Seven million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance; Human rights violations continue unabated.
Mr. Abiy, facing off against ethnic rebels pressing on the capital, has rejected repeated US pleas to negotiate – a priority clause for Mr Blinken, whose arrival in Kenya is part of a diplomatic struggle to avoid what he called the risk that Ethiopia could collapse.
In some ways, it’s a similar story in Sudan. The United States has bet heavily on the success of the 2019 revolution that toppled dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir, lifted decades-old sanctions, and welcomed Sudan back into the international community.
Now that progress is in jeopardy since Sudan’s army chief, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, seized power on October 25 — just hours after Washington’s top regional envoy, Jeffrey Feltman, left the country.
Some critics have blamed the Biden administration for the reaction too slow, particularly for not taking firm action sooner against Mr. Abiy.
Others say the growing scope of foreign countries with interests in the Horn of Africa – including the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Qatar and Russia – has frustrated US diplomacy.
The growing crisis may simply have spiraled out of control.
“The Americans may have handled their relations with Ethiopia a little better, but they were generally compliant,” said Murithi Mutiga, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group. “I think this crisis stems mostly from the cold logic of conflict in a country with a long history of domination rather than adaptation.”