WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Africa next week as the administration of President Joe Biden intensifies diplomatic efforts to resolve crises in Ethiopia and Sudan and seeks to boost counterterrorism cooperation, the State Department said.
Blinken will leave on Monday for visits to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as America’s top diplomat. In April, Blinken held online talks with the leaders of Nigeria and Kenya in what the State Department billed at the time as a “virtual trip to Africa.”
Although he does not plan to visit either Ethiopia or Sudan, both countries and neighboring Somalia will be at the top of his agenda on his first stop in Kenya.
Kenya, which is currently a member of the UN Security Council, has played a key role in regional efforts to ease the intensifying conflict in Ethiopia and has long sought to stabilize crisis-torn Somalia.
It has also supported broader attempts to restore civilian-led government in Sudan after a coup there last month.
Blinken and Kenyan officials, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, “will discuss our shared interests as members of the UN Security Council, including addressing regional security issues such as Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan,” the State Department said.
The Biden administration’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa shuttled between Kenya and Ethiopia earlier this week in a bid to boost an African Union-led initiative to end the fighting between the Ethiopian government and ethnic Tigrayans from the country’s north.
In Nigeria and Senegal, the State Department said Blinken will discuss West African security, health, climate, democracy and development issues, including recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and the promotion of a fairer and more inclusive global economy.
He will also press for expanded US trade and commercial ties with the two countries, it said.
In Abuja, he will meet Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and give a speech on the Biden administration’s Africa strategy.
He will close out his travel in Dakar, where he will see Senegalese President Macky Sall, who will soon take over the chairmanship of the African Union.
Meanwhile, rebellious Tigrayan forces have threatened to “hunt down” foreigners they said were supporting the Ethiopian government as mercenaries and technical experts in a year-long war.
Tigray People’s Liberation Front spokesperson Getatchew Reda said the foreigners could be from Turkey, China, Israel or the UAE, without offering evidence or going into any more details.
Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to a request for comment. There have been no independently verified reports of the warring sides using mercenaries to date.
Getachew told Reuters via satellite phone: ““We don’t care (what their nationality is). We will hunt them down. They will be treated like the mercenaries they are.”
The war, which has killed thousands and forced more than two million people from their homes, escalated this month after rebellious forces from the northern region of Tigray and their allies made territorial gains and threatened to march on the capital.