Blinken Heads to Africa as U.S. Tries to Avert Ethiopia Disaster


WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken departed early Tuesday for a five-day swing to Africa, the place he’ll lend assist for democratic ideas and search to advance diplomacy aimed toward stopping Ethiopia from descending right into a catastrophic civil warfare.

Mr. Blinken plans to start his journey with a cease in Kenya, which borders Ethiopia and which has performed a key function in diplomatic efforts to discover a peaceable decision to a battle between the nation’s central authorities and rebels in its northern Tigray area.

The battle in Africa’s second most populous nation has already featured quite a few alleged atrocities, together with rape, executions and looting. The preventing threatens the soundness not solely of a key U.S. companion on the continent however all of East Africa, consultants say.

“I hate to be alarmist, but all the warning signs are flashing red in Ethiopia right now, and we’re not using all the tools at our disposal,” mentioned Cameron Hudson, a director of African affairs on the National Security Council within the Obama administration.

“This is Rwanda-esque,” added Patricia Haslach, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia from 2013 to 2016. Ms. Haslach stopped in need of saying that genocide could be occurring within the nation, however different consultants have known as {that a} life like chance in a battle more and more outlined by ethnic id. The Clinton administration’s failure to intervene and doubtlessly stop the bloodbath of as many as 800,000 ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 has haunted former U.S. officers for many years.

Ms. Haslach mentioned her instant concern was the prospect of mass hunger in Tigray, the place Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s authorities has been choking off meals, drugs and different humanitarian provides to tens of millions of individuals.

Some critics say the Biden administration has been inattentive to Africa, a standard grievance about U.S. overseas coverage however one which has gained extra forex as China, America’s high strategic competitor, vegetation deeper political and financial roots on the continent and anti-American jihadist teams proceed to thrive there. Mr. Blinken had deliberate to go to Africa in late summer season, however postponed the journey after the sudden Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August.

The Biden administration has not articulated its imaginative and prescient for the continent, one thing Mr. Blinken was to handle throughout a cease within the Nigerian capital of Abuja, the place he deliberate to ship a speech on the United States’ Africa coverage. He plans to conclude his journey with a go to to the Senegalese capital of Dakar.

American officers are involved by democratic backsliding throughout Africa, which has seen a wave of army coups in latest months — notably together with in Sudan, the place a coup final month squashed a democratic transition that adopted the 2019 ouster of the nation’s longtime autocratic ruler, Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Experts say the 4 profitable army coups in Africa this yr — additionally in Guinea, Chad and Mali — are the best quantity in additional than 40 years.

Democracy might be a central theme of Mr. Blinken’s go to to Nigeria, whose authorities Mr. Biden has condemned for endemic corruption and for violently cracking down on demonstrators searching for extra civil-society freedoms.

Sudan’s coup additionally uncovered the bounds of American diplomacy on the continent. It got here hours after a go to to the nation by the particular envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, who departed believing {that a} mediated political settlement was inside attain.

Mr. Hudson mentioned the Biden administration had struggled to reply to the crises in Sudan and Ethiopia, and known as for extra aggressive U.S. motion.

“They are a little bit on their heels, I think,” he mentioned, including that the descent of Ethiopia into chaos could be “a huge strategic setback for this administration.”

The preventing in Ethiopia started a yr in the past, after Mr. Abiy kicked off a army marketing campaign within the rebellious Tigray area. Tigrayan fighters quickly seized the benefit and have been advancing towards the capital, Addis Ababa, a metropolis of 5 million folks. The State Department has repeatedly urged Americans within the nation to go away instantly.

“I am very concerned about the potential for Ethiopia to implode given what we are seeing both in Tigray, but also as we have different forces and different ethnic groups that are increasingly at odds,” Mr. Blinken instructed reporters final week, saying that final result “would be disastrous for the Ethiopian people and also for countries in the region.”

Mr. Blinken known as for a cease-fire, the free motion of humanitarian help and a negotiated political settlement.

Leading the State Department’s efforts to date has been Mr. Feltman, who visited the Ethiopian capital and the Kenyan capital of Nairobi final week.

Ms. Haslach known as Mr. Blinken’s journey to the area essential, however warned that “we cannot do this on our own.” She mentioned a diplomatic resolution would require assist from Ethiopia’s neighbors and the African Union, whose headquarters are in Addis Ababa.

Mr. Hudson was skeptical that the African Union, which he mentioned usually sides with the continent’s rulers, was able to drive Mr. Abiy into actual concessions. He mentioned the United States should think about extra unilateral steps, together with a potential embargo on arms he mentioned have been being shipped to the federal government by the United Arab Emirates.

Complicating issues, some members of Mr. Abiy’s authorities have accused the United States of attempting to topple him and set up a authorities led by Tigrayan officers, Mr. Feltman mentioned in remarks on the U.S. Institute of Peace this month. He known as these claims false.

Mr. Feltman additionally warned of research exhibiting that “the average modern civil war now lasts 20 years. I repeat: 20 years.”

Others have known as for much more dramatic American motion to stop such an final result. In an opinion essay revealed by Bloomberg final week, James G. Stavridis, a retired four-star Navy admiral, beneficial that the United States think about sending troops to Ethiopia as a part of a United Nations-led peacekeeping drive.

He, too, invoked the Rwandan genocide, including that Ethiopia “is far larger and more geopolitically important than Rwanda.”

A spokesman for the National Security Council mentioned the United States was pursuing a diplomatic resolution and never contemplating the deployment of army forces to Ethiopia.