Ethiopian crisis: China regains grip on Horn of Africa, as the battered US flees




China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left speaks with Kenya's Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo, after a press conference, at the Sarova Whitesands Hotel in, Mombasa, Kenya, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. China has donated an additional ten million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Kenya. (AP Photo//Gideon Maundu)

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — China’s foreign minister says his country will appoint a special envoy to the Horn of Africa region, where Ethiopia and Eritrea have been fighting forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Somalia is in the grip of a political crisis caused by a long-delayed election.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in comments to reporters during his Thursday visit to Kenya, didn’t say when the appointment would be made. He urged countries in the Horn of Africa, a strategic but at times turbulent region, to hold a peace conference and said China’s envoy could provide “necessary support” for that process.

China’s interests in the region include a military base in the tiny nation of Djibouti, tucked between Somalia and Eritrea. China also is the largest foreign direct investor in Ethiopia, whose economy has been suffering from massive spending on the war.

China’s announcement of a new envoy came as the United States’ special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, was again visiting Ethiopia Thursday in the hope of taking advantage of a relative lull in the country’s conflict to press for a cease-fire and path to peace. Washington has seen Kenya as a key partner in the mediation efforts.

But Feltman is ending his appointment “in the coming days,” and Ambassador David Satterfield will take up the post, the U.S. State Department said Thursday in a statement. Satterfield is a veteran diplomat who most recently served as U.S. ambassador to Turkey.

The State Department said the Horn of Africa’s challenges “demand sustained focus by the United States.”

China’s envoy announcement came after Wang visited Eritrea, which neighbors Ethiopia and has been accused of some of the worst atrocities in the Tigray conflict. While there, Wang criticized recent U.S. sanctions against Eritrea’s military and ruling party over their role in the war.

Without naming countries, the Chinese foreign minister Thursday said conflicts in the Horn of Africa hamper the region’s “tremendous potential for development” and “such a situation should not be allowed to continue.”

He also urged Horn of Africa countries to “resolve various ethnic, religious and regional differences in an African way.”

China, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has been blamed in part for blocking action on Ethiopia’s war that some other members have sought.

The war has killed an estimated tens of thousands of people and created a vast humanitarian crisis, with the Tigray region under a government blockade since late June.

Witnesses, lawyers and human rights groups have said ethnic Tigrayans have been detained by the thousands, while Ethiopia’s government says it is targeting people suspected of supporting the Tigray forces,

In neighboring Somalia, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government is under growing pressure as the country’s election nears a year of delay in February.

US says Horn of Africa envoy stepping down

The U.S. State Department said Thursday its special envoy to the Horn of Africa will end his appointment “in the coming days” after a year marked by deadly crises in Ethiopia and Sudan.

Envoy Jeffrey Feltman plans to step down shortly after his current visit to Ethiopia, where more than a year of war in the country’s Tigray region has killed an estimated tens of thousands of people.

Ambassador David Satterfield, a veteran diplomat who most recently served as U.S. ambassador to Turkey, will succeed Feltman, a statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Feltman met Thursday evening with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for “constructive, substantive discussions,” and the envoy formally told Abiy he was leaving his post, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“Any positive momentum from his discussion can be quickly realized,” Price said, adding that Feltman raised issues including an end to fighting and atrocities, humanitarian access and a negotiated end to the war.

FILE - Then U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, center, walks upon arrival at the Pyongyang International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea on Dec. 5, 2017. The U.S. State Department said in a statement Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 that its special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, will end his appointment "in the coming days" after a year marked by deadly crises in Ethiopia and Sudan. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin, File)
The U.S. State Department said in a statement Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 that its special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, will end his appointment “in the coming days” after a year marked by deadly crises in Ethiopia and Sudan. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin, File)

There was no immediate statement from Ethiopia on the meeting.

Leaders in both Ethiopia and Sudan have frustrated Feltman, a longtime career U.S. diplomat who retired in 2012 and joined the United Nations as undersecretary for political affairs, in his current envoy role.

Ethiopian authorities repeatedly assured him and others they would seek a peaceful resolution to the country’s crisis even as conditions deteriorated.

And on the eve of last year’s coup in Sudan, military officials told Feltman during meetings in Khartoum that they did not plan to remove the prime minister by force. Three hours after leaving Sudan, Feltman learned of the coup.

Blinken said the Horn of Africa’s challenges “demand sustained focus by the United States.” He said Feltman would continue to serve the State Department as an adviser.

The news came the same day China’s foreign minister announced that his country would appoint a special envoy to the Horn of Africa.

While there was no immediate statement by Ethiopia’s foreign ministry or prime minister’s office on Feltman’s departure, Ethiopia’s embassy to neighboring Djibouti tweeted that “it would be an excellent opportunity for the United States to ameliorate its misguided foreign policy in the Horn of Africa.”

And the editor of the independent Addis Standard media outlet, Tsedale Lemma, tweeted, in response to Blinken’s statement, that Feltman’s efforts fell short “due mainly to lack of direct engagement by your office from matters in the Horn.”