The visit comes amid a flurry of trips by US delegations to Africa amid concerns about the influence of China and Russian Wagner Group mercenaries on the continent.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken became the latest senior US official to visit Africa as part of a broader push by Washington to re-engage with the continent’s leaders at a time when the region is facing stark security challenges and economic fallout from the war in Ukraine.
Blinken arrived in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa late Tuesday, and is set to meet Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Wednesday to discuss a peace deal struck late last year to end a brutal two-year civil war. He’ll also meet with parties to the cease-fire.
The visit comes amid a flurry of trips by US delegations to Africa amid concerns about the influence of China and Russian Wagner Group mercenaries on the continent. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield and First Lady Jill Biden all recently made multi-nation visits after President Joe Biden hosted African leaders for a summit in December.
Blinken’s delegation — which includes Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee and White House National Security Council Senior Director Judd Devermont — will also discuss humanitarian issues and Ethiopia’s drought crisis, as well as economic relations following the US decision to suspend its duty-free access under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The US has provided more than $3 billion in assistance to Ethiopia since 2020.
“What we’re looking to do is refashion our engagement with Ethiopia,” Phee said in a pre-trip briefing with reporters on Friday. “But to put that relationship in a forward trajectory, we will continue to need steps by Ethiopia to help break the cycle of ethnic political violence that has set the country back for so many decades, including most acutely in this recent conflict.”
The top US diplomat, who will brief the media later on Wednesday, is also set to meet with African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat. The two will discuss how the US and the continental body “can cooperate in strengthening the capability of African countries to resist and overcome the negative consequences of Wagner’s activity,” Phee said.
The sanctioned Russian mercenary group is “compromising African sovereignty, worsening insecurity, harming civilians, and exploiting African mineral wealth,” even amid the broader fallout across Africa of higher commodity and fertilizer prices as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she said.
On Thursday, Blinken will fly to Niger, where he’ll become the first secretary of state to visit the landlocked West African nation. He’ll hold discussions on regional security in the Sahel region, where for almost a decade Islamists militants have waged an insurgency that’s killed thousands of people and displaced millions more.
Terrorist attacks have more than doubled in sub-Saharan Africa since 2016, even as worldwide deaths from terrorism have declined, the UN Development Program said in a January report. Roughly half of all terrorism-related deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa, with just four countries — Niger, Somalia, Burkina Faso and Mali — accounting for more than one-third of the fatalities, it said.