Nov 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

First day of Blinken's Africa tour marred by crackdown on protesters in Sudan

Photo of Antony Blinken shaking hands with Workneh Gebeyehu

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) greets Intergovernmental Authority on Development Executive Secretary Workneh Gebeyehu in Nairobi, Kenya, on Nov. 17. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

On the first day of his trip to Africa, Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the recent string of violent conflicts roiling the continent, even as the Sudanese government cracked down on pro-democracy protesters and Ethiopia's prime minister claimed a "sophisticated narrative war."

Why it matters: "Despite the grand gesture of American support for the continent signaled by ... Blinken’s trip, the developments illustrated the frustrating limits of U.S. diplomacy in a tumultuous region," the New York Times writes.

State of play: In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has faced accusations of government-sanctioned ethnic cleansing and mass sexual violence against the Tigrayan people. Some State Department officials have pushed to declare the actions a genocide.

  • In Sudan, a recent coup wiped out hopes of moving toward democratic elections. Abdalla Hamdok, the country’s civilian leader, has remained under house arrest for more than three weeks.
  • In Somalia, disputes over a long-awaited election erupted into violence in the capital. Meanwhile, the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab has wrested control of most rural regions and attacked cities almost daily.
  • In Kenya, locals duel with fear of both al-Shabab and the country's military, who residents say commit extrajudicial killings against ethnic Somalis, according to the Washington Post.
  • And in Nigeria, human rights groups say authorities continue to intimidate and harass people who organized against SARS, a police unit with a long record of abuses that was finally disbanded after years of protests, BBC reports.

What he's saying: "We are deeply concerned about escalating violence, the expansion of fighting throughout the country and what we see as a growing risk to the unity of and integrity of the state," Blinken said about Ethiopia at a news conference on Wednesday. "Regardless of what we call it, it needs to stop."

  • "There needs to be accountability, and we are determined there will be," he added.
  • Warning of a global "democratic recession," he noted that "even vibrant democracies like Kenya are experiencing these pressures, especially around election time."
  • "The United States is hardly immune from this challenge,” Blinken said. "We’ve seen how fragile our own democracy can be."

Worth noting: The U.S. has imposed sanctions on some Ethiopian officials and withdrawn security assistance, per the Post.

Don't forget: The Biden administration's top foreign policy officials skipped Africa and prioritized Asia in early trips.

What to watch: Blinken is expected to travel to Nigeria later this week, where he. will give a speech on U.S.-Africa relations. He'll also visit Senegal during the five-day trip.

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