(Addis Ababa) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived Tuesday evening in Ethiopia, a historic ally of Washington with which ties have been strained by two years of deadly conflict in the north of the country.
He is the highest American official to come to Ethiopia since the war broke out in November 2020 between the federal government and the rebel authorities in the Tigray region.
In addition to the repair of the links damaged by this conflict, marked according to Washington by crimes against humanity, Mr. Blinken also comes to support the peace process initiated four months ago.
The agreement, signed on November 2 in Pretoria (South Africa), was negotiated under the auspices of the African Union (AU), but the United States played a crucial role with the belligerents, underline diplomatic sources.
This visit to Africa’s second most populous country (120 million people) comes amid Washington’s efforts to strengthen an American partnership on the continent, where China and Russia are increasing their influence.
Mr. Blinken is due to meet Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending 20 years of open or hidden war with neighboring Eritrea – on Wednesday, which the conflict in Tigray has made, in the eyes of Washington, symbol of a new generation of progressive African leaders to quasi-pariah.
During the discussions, Ethiopia should ask to return among the beneficiaries of AGOA, an American initiative allowing African countries to be exempt from taxes on certain exports and from which Washington has excluded Addis Ababa since January 2022.
Mr. Abiy sent the federal army to Tigray in November 2020, accusing regional authorities who had challenged his power for several months of attacking military bases.
Tigray was then led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a party that de facto governed Ethiopia from 1991 to 2018, before being gradually marginalized when Mr. Abiy came to power.
The conflict spilled over into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar, whose forces supported the federal army, which also received support from the army of Eritrea, a historical enemy of the TPLF.
“Mr. Blinken must put the need for justice for the atrocities committed at the center of discussions with Prime Minister Abiy,” Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
U.S.-Ethiopian relations are not yet ready to “get back to normal”, warned Molly Phee, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, that the Ethiopian government must take steps “to break the cycle. of ethno-political violence” if he wants to put his relationship with Washington “back on track”.
The conflict “has been marked by terrible atrocities by all sides and has greatly disrupted the stability and economy of the country, which is also facing a historic drought,” she told reporters.
Mr. Abiy’s government has begun to restore essential services – electricity, telecommunications, banks… – which Tigray was largely deprived of during the conflict, but access to the region remains off limits to journalists.
The fighting has stopped in Tigray, but other regions remain plagued by sometimes deadly conflicts, often linked to the awakening of identity and land claims since Mr. Abiy came to power.
While the exact toll is difficult to estimate, the United States estimates that the two years of conflict in Tigray have claimed some 500,000 lives.
Russia is waging an intense diplomatic offensive in Africa, particularly towards Ethiopia – also the seat of the African Union (AU) – to win the support of the countries of the continent and convince them not to support the sanctions efforts. taken after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
China, for its part, has been establishing its influence in Africa for two decades, through essentially commercial relations and without pressure on the respect of human rights.
After Ethiopia, Mr. Blinken will travel to Niger on Thursday. US Vice President Kamala Harris will succeed him on the continent from the end of March, in Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia.