Most travelled US Secretary of State Blinken heads to Ethiopia and Niger

630

By 31 January, the United States’ top foreign affairs diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, had clocked well over 68 389 kilometres (42 495 miles) in flying to African countries to engage them. Acting as America’s President Joseph Biden’s representative in face-to-face diplomacy, from March 14-17, he will be in Ethiopia and Niger.

This is his second trip this year alone to Africa, having done more than 9 000 kilometres flying to Cairo, from 29-30 January. Much of the increase in official travel is in fulfilment of diplomatic activity in 2023, which was highlighted by President Biden at his White House-led US-Africa Leaders’ Summit.

While Blinken is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 15 March he will, “discuss implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement to advance peace and promote transitional justice in northern Ethiopia,” disclosed a US Department of State 10 March press statement. This was a landmark peace deal which halted the country’s civil war and was signed in Pretoria on 2 November 2022. The US-Ethiopia partnership was highlighted at the December US-Africa Leaders’ Summit and the US asserts that it played, “a critical role in facilitating the engagement,” said Assistant Secretary in the Africa Bureau, Molly Phee, last week, which included Kenya, South Africa, and the African Union, who helped the parties reach an end to the fighting.

To familiarize himself with events on-the-ground in Niger, on 16 March Blinken will make the first ever visit to Niger by a US Secretary of State. He is expected to meet President Mohamed Bazoum and Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou in Niamey. They will talk about ways to advance the US-Niger partnership on diplomacy, democracy, development, and defence. Secretary Blinken will also engage youths from Niger’s conflict zones, who have completed the Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, and Reconciliation (DDRR) programme, to learn about their contributions to peace in Niger.

“Niger is one of our most important partners on the continent in terms of security cooperation. They deal with a very difficult threat from JNIM and from ISIS-WA, and they are an important leader in the region showing that democracy and having an inclusive political system is an important way forward in confronting that kind of terrorism challenge,” Phee told defenceWeb on Friday. Also, over the last year and at each stop, the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine has been an agenda item, as have security, stability, regional conflicts in Africa.

Historically, the three Secretaries of State in the last six years — Michael Pompeo (2018-2021) and Rex Tillerson (2017-2018), and now Blinken (2021-present) — have each visited Egypt during their tenure. Likewise, Ethiopia has also been visited by these three high-ranking foreign policy leaders. Nigeria has been visited twice in over the same period, by former Secretary of State Tillerson and by Secretary Blinken. All countries now on Secretary Blinken’s travel log to Africa total 11: Algeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, and South Africa, making him the most travelled US Secretary of State in six years.

Previously, Blinken’s reason for selecting Egypt was to include talks on, “shared support for elections in Libya and the ongoing Sudanese-led political process.”

Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent, and media commentator with expertise on US foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe