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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.

Go deeper

Nov 24, 2021 - Podcasts

Escalating war in Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed — a Nobel Peace Prize-winning politician — has said he’ll lead troops who are fighting rebels from the Tigray region of the country in what he’s calling "the final fight" to save Ethopia. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is warning of a potential humanitarian crisis there that could destabilize the entire region.

  • Plus, the rise of vegan Thanksgiving.
  • And, the story of the first Thanksgiving - 1200 miles south of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Guests: Axios' Zach Basu, Ben Montgomery and Russell Contreras.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, David Toledo and Jayk Cherry. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:

Updated 15 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."