(Addis Ababa) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Wednesday in Addis Ababa to “root” the ongoing peace process in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, during a visit aimed at, among other things, restoring ties distended with this country, historic ally of Washington.
Mr. Blinken is the most senior U.S. official to visit Ethiopia since November 2020 and the start of the war between the Ethiopian federal government and rebel authorities in the Tigray region, which was ended by a peace agreement signed on 2 November in Pretoria, South Africa.
” There is a lot to do. The most important thing is probably to root the peace that is taking hold in the north” of the country, said the head of American diplomacy before a meeting with his Ethiopian counterpart, Demeke Mekonnen, also deputy prime minister.
He also stressed “the goal of strengthening the relationship between the United States and Ethiopia”, while the latter has been excluded since January 2022, due to the conflict and to the chagrin of Addis Ababa, the Agoa, an American initiative exempting exports from certain African countries from taxes.
“We have old relations and it is time to rekindle them and move forward,” Demeke had previously said as he welcomed him to the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry.
After this interview, Mr. Blinken went to the Prime Minister’s office to meet Abiy Ahmed, who has led Ethiopia since 2018.
Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending 20 years of open or hidden war with neighboring Eritrea, Mr. Abiy has, since the conflict, become in the eyes of Washington a symbol of a new generation of modern African leaders. almost pariah.
Abiy Ahmed sent the federal army to Tigray in November 2020, accusing the regional authorities who had contested his power for several months of having attacked military bases there.
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 by Mr. Abiy, who came to power after more than two years. of popular protest.
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.
The war has been marked by multiple abuses by both sides, some of which, according to Washington, constitute crimes against humanity.
While the Pretoria agreement was negotiated and signed under the auspices of the African Union (AU), the United States – and its special envoy to the region, Mike Hammer – played a crucial role with the belligerents, point out diplomatic sources.
US-Ethiopian relations are not yet ready to “return to normal,” Molly Phee, assistant secretary of state for Africa, warned in Washington.
The Ethiopian government must take measures “to break the cycle of ethnic-political violence” that plagues the country, if it wants to put its relationship with Washington “back on track”.
The exact death toll is difficult to assess, but the United States estimates that some 500,000 people have died in two years of conflict in Tigray, more than since the Russian invasion of Ukraine which monopolizes media attention. The AU envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, had advanced for his part in mid-January that up to 600,000 people had been killed.
If the fighting has stopped in Tigray – access to which is still forbidden to the press – other Ethiopian regions remain the scene of bloody conflicts, often linked to the awakening, under the government of Mr. Abiy, of identity and land claims.
Mr. Blinken’s visit, which will then travel to Niger, also comes amid efforts by President Joe Biden to counter growing influences on the mainland from China and – more recently – Russia.
Moscow is currently waging an intense diplomatic offensive in Africa, and in particular in Ethiopia, to enlist the support of the countries of the continent and convince them not to support Western sanctions efforts.
China, for its part, continues to establish its influence in Africa via essentially business relations, without pressure on the respect of human rights.