ADDIS ABABA: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was set to meet Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Wednesday during a visit aimed at reviving ties and bolstering a fragile peace process after a two-year civil war.
He is the highest-ranking US official to visit Africa’s second most populous nation since war broke out in late 2020 between Ethiopia’s government and Tigrayan rebels, fraying US relations with its longtime ally as Washington alleged crimes against humanity.
Blinken’s trip is part of a push by President Joe Biden’s administration to step up engagement with Africa, where China and increasingly Russia have been moving to deepen their influence.
He is expected to hold talks in Addis Ababa with Abiy – a Nobel Peace Prize winner once seen as at the vanguard of a new generation of forward-looking African leaders, but whose reputation later took a beating in Washington over the war.
The violence erupted when the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which once dominated Ethiopian politics, attacked military installations, prompting a major offensive by Abiy’s government with backing from neighbouring Eritrea.
The TPLF briefly came close to marching on the capital but, beaten back by pro-Abiy forces, agreed to disarm under a November 2 accord negotiated in South Africa by the African Union with US participation.
Blinken says ‘no plans’ to meet Russia, China at G20
Molly Phee, the top US diplomat for Africa, told reporters before Blinken’s departure that his visit would aim to “help consolidate that peace”, but cautioned that the US-Ethiopian relationship was not ready to go “back to normal”.
She said Ethiopia needed to take steps “to help break the cycle of ethnic political violence” if it wanted to put the US relationship back on a “forward trajectory”.
Blinken is also expected to meet with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen and the head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat.
Inroads by Russia, China
During the war, the United States suspended Ethiopia’s participation in an accord that offered duty-free access for most of its exports, an issue sure to be raised by Abiy’s government.
Abiy has pledged to restore basic services in war-wracked Tigray, though it is impossible to assess the situation on the ground due to restrictions on media access.
The United States estimates the two-year conflict has claimed 500,000 lives – higher than the death toll from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has drawn far more global attention.
Moscow has since gone on a diplomatic offensive in Africa, including in Ethiopia, hoping the continent will stay neutral rather than join Western sanctions against it.
Russia’s efforts follow years of inroads in Africa by China, which has also offered the continent’s leaders relationships that are unencumbered by Western pressure on human rights.
Soon after Blinken’s visit, his third to sub-Saharan Africa, US Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia, three countries seen as committed to making progress on democracy.
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