Blinken visits Ethiopia's Abiy in bid to renew ties, bolster peace
Wednesday March 15 2023
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to meet Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Wednesday in a visit aimed at reviving ties and bolstering a fragile peace process after a two-year civil war in the country.
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 Tigray rebels, fraying US relations with its long-time ally as Washington alleged crimes against humanity.
Blinken's trip is part of a push by US administration to step up engagement with Africa, where China and increasingly Russia have been moving to deepen their influence.
Read: Inside the Russian mercenary machine in Africa
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 country 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 (AU) with US participation.
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 Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen as well as the head of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat.
Inroads by Russia, China
During the war, the US suspended Ethiopia's participation in an accord that offered duty-free access for most of its exports, an issue definitely 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.
Read: Ethiopians still blocked from social media
US estimates the two-year conflict 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.