US – Amid new sanctions on Eritrea, Blinken to make first visit to Africa

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Friday, 12 November 2021 18:28, updated on Monday, 15 November 2021 12:35

US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with Qatari Deputy Prime Minister
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, DC on November 12 , 2021. Olivier Douliery/Pool via REUTERS

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will make his first official visit to Africa next week as the Joe Biden administration looks to defuse the conflict in Ethiopia and reverse the military coup in Sudan.

The three-nation trip between 15 November and 20 November will take America’s top diplomat to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal on a mission that the State Department says is meant to highlight the “depth and breadth of our relationships with African partners.”

Efforts by President Joe Biden’s administration to revitalise democracy on the continent will be a central focus of the trip, amid a flurry of coups in Sudan, Mali and Guinea this year and inroads that Russia and China are making into Africa. The three countries Blinken will be visiting are among the 17 African nations invited to next month’s Summit for Democracy, according to a leaked list of invitees.

East Africa stop

While the Horn of Africa isn’t on the itinerary, the crises there will be top of mind when Blinken meets with President Uhuru Kenyatta and Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo of Kenya, which is one of three African members of the UN Security Council.

“The Secretary and representatives of the Kenyan government will discuss our shared interests as members of the UN Security Council, including addressing regional security issues such as Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Meanwhile the US Treasury Department on Friday announced its first slate of sanctions under President Biden’s September executive order regarding the violence in Ethiopia.

Four Eritrean entities and two individuals were targeted: The Eritrean Defense Force, the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), Eritrean national security chief Abraha Kassa Nemariam, PFDJ holding company the Hidri Trust and PFDJ adviser Hagos Ghebrehiwet and his Red Sea Trading Corporation.

“We condemn the continued role played by Eritrean actors who are contributing to the violence in northern Ethiopia, which has undermined the stability and integrity of the state and resulted in a humanitarian disaster,” Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Andrea Gacki said in a statement.

This is Blinken’s first in-person trip to the continent, although he met virtually with President Kenyatta and President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria back in April.

On Wednesday, Blinken spoke with the African Union High Representative for the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, during which the pair discussed the “urgent need for a halt to all military operations, negotiations on a cessation of hostilities without preconditions, and unhindered humanitarian access” by all sides of the conflict in Ethiopia.

Ahead of Kenya’s elections

In Nairobi, Blinken is also expected to discuss other shared priorities, such as “ending the Covid-19 pandemic and building back to a more inclusive global economy, combatting the climate crisis, revitalising our democracies, and advancing peace and security.”

Last week, during the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, the State Department announced that Kenya has been selected as a recipient of US assistance to expand access to nuclear energy.

Blinken is also expected to underscore his country’s support for a “peaceful and inclusive Kenyan election in 2022” during his visit. Negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement that began under President Donald Trump, a top priority for the Kenyan government, were however not mentioned in the State Department readout.

‘Revitalising democracy’ in Nigeria

From Nairobi, Blinken heads to Abuja for meetings with President Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama. He will discuss “furthering cooperation on global health security, expanding energy access and economic growth, and revitalising democracy.”

Blinken is expected to deliver a speech on the America-Africa policy as the US National Security Council develops a new strategy expected to be released in the first half of 2022. He will also engage with Nigerian entrepreneurs in the digital sector.

Before Macky Sall takes over the AU

Finally, Blinken will wind up his trip with a visit to Dakar for meetings with President Macky Sall and Foreign Minister Aïssata Tall Sall. With Sall due to take over chairmanship of the African Union from President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo next year, talks will focus on “regional issues and shared values” as well as commercial ties and efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

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