Blinken wraps up Ethiopia visit, starts ‘historic’ trip to Niger at ‘critical juncture’ for Sahel
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who has just wrapped up his visit to Ethiopia, is historically the first US secretary of state due to arrive in Nigeria this March 16, amid concerns over Sahel security and growing Russian and Chinese influence.
Top diplomat Antony Blinken has embarked on his latest official trip to the African continent this week, with the first stop in Ethiopia where he met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, as well as other government officials and civil society leaders, in Addis Ababa.
Blinken highlighted the importance of democracy and human rights, noting that the United States is committed to promoting human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia. As concerns linger over the implementation of the peace agreement that ended the two-year-long war in the Tigray region, Blinken also took a moment to reflect on the lives lost during the conflict that ended with a cease-fire brokered in November. He commended the peace effort that has taken root in Ethiopia, with the help of mediators from the African Union, Kenya and South Africa, and supported by the US.
Blinken’s historic visit to Niger on Thursday comes as the West African country emerges as an increasingly significant partner to the US and its European partners in the Sahel region, following successive coups in Mali and Burkina Faso and the growing influence of the Russian Wagner mercenary group.
The trip follows the US-Africa Leaders Summit that was hosted by US President Joe Biden in December, part of a pledge to increase US engagement with the continent.
Niger borders Mali and Burkina Faso, where groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) have jockeyed for power through violence. That, in turn, has inflamed communal tensions driven in part by the ravages of climate change. The West African country also borders northern Nigeria, where the government has struggled to contain Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISIS-WA) armed groups. Blinken’s visit ultimately seeks to be a “message of reassurance” to Niger at what experts see as a “critical juncture” for the Sahel.