US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Ethiopia on a bid to support the peace process after a brutal two-year civil war and renew ties with the longtime ally.
Blinken’s trip to Africa’s second most populous nation comes as part of a push by President Joe Biden’s administration to step up engagement with Africa, where China and Russia have been stepping up influence.
The visit on Tuesday is the highest-ranking US visit to the country since war broke out in late 2020 between Ethiopia’s federal government and Tigrayan rebels, fraying the US relationship with Addis Ababa as Washington alleged crimes against humanity.
Blinken is expected to meet on Wednesday in Addis Ababa with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The violence broke out when the Tigray People’s Liberation Front [TPLF], which once dominated Ethiopian politics, attacked military installations, setting off a major offensive by Abiy’s government with backing from the country’s erstwhile adversary Eritrea.
The TPLF briefly came close to marching on the capital but, beaten back by pro-Abiy forces, agreed to disarm under a November 2 accord negotiated in South Africa’s capital Pretoria by the African Union with US participation.
Molly Phee, the top US diplomat for Africa, said that Blinken’s visit would aim to “help consolidate that peace” but cautioned that the US-Ethiopian relationship was not ready to go “back to normal.”
She said that Ethiopia needed to take steps “to help break the cycle of ethnic political violence” if it wants to put the US relationship back on a “forward trajectory”.
“The conflict that Ethiopia just endured was earth-shattering,” she told reporters before departure.
“It involved terrible atrocities by all parties and was extremely disruptive to the country’s stability and to its economy, which is also facing historic drought conditions.”
US estimates 500,000 died in civil war
The United States during the war suspended Ethiopia’s participation in an accord that offered duty-free access for most of its exports, an issue sure to be raised by Abiy’s government.
Abiy has pledged to restore basic services in Tigray, which has seen dire shortages during the war, although it is impossible to assess the situation on the ground due to restrictions on media access.
Sarah Yager, Washington director at Human Rights Watch, said that Blinken’s visit was “a crucial opportunity to put the warring parties on notice that the US will press for all sides to be held accountable for their crimes.”
“Without justice, the cycle of violence and impunity will undermine efforts to promote the human rights of the Ethiopian people,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.
The United States has estimated that the two-year conflict has claimed 500,000 lives — higher than the death toll in Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, which has drawn far more global attention.
Soon after Blinken’s visit — his third to sub-Saharan Africa — Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia.