Jeffrey Feltman appointed US special envoy to Horn of Africa

Position created to help mitigate the crisis in Ethiopia's Tigray region and the Nile dam dispute

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - July 1, 2009: Jeffrey D Feltman, acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs with the United States government speaks about America's current areas of focus in the region. Seen at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi. 
( Ryan Carter / The National ) *** Local Caption ***  RC008-JeffreyFeltman.JPG
Powered by automated translation

Former US diplomat and UN undersecretary general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman was on Friday named as special envoy to the Horn of Africa.

The position is one created by President Joe Biden's team to help mitigate the crisis in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and the Nile dam dispute between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

“Today, I am announcing that Jeffrey Feltman will serve as the US special envoy for the Horn of Africa,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Highlighting Mr Feltman’s long service record in US government as former ambassador to Lebanon and former assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, Mr Blinken said he hoped his appointment would ease tension in the Horn of Africa.

“Of particular concern are the volatile situation in Ethiopia, including the conflict in Tigray; escalating tension between Ethiopia and Sudan; and the dispute around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.”

The appointment also highlights renewed attention to that region, providing high-level US engagement to the Horn of Africa in both mitigating conflicts and countering China’s growing influence.

The Biden administration has increased focus on the conflict in Tigray but has yet to bring forth a solution.

The conflict broke out in the Ethiopian region last November when Ethiopian and Eritrean troops alongside allied militias launched an offensive against the Tigray’s People Liberation Front (TPLF).

The fighting has already displaced about one million civilians and left 4.5 million in need, according to the UN.

The administration dispatched Chris Coons, a US senator, in March to pressure Addis Ababa to reach a ceasefire and withdraw Eritrean forces.

Mr Blinken also called Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to end the fighting and has described what is happening in Tigray as “ethnic cleansing".

Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council's Africa Centre, saw the appointment of Mr Feltman as critical to filling in the void in US diplomacy in the Horn of Africa.

"The appointment comes not a moment too soon, given increasingly dire conditions in Tigray, intransigence in the GERD [Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam] negotiations from all sides and a continued military standoff between Sudan and Ethiopia," Mr Hudson told The National.

“He has his work cut out for him but has the experience and the clout to be able to hit the ground running,” he said on Mr Feltman’s experience.

Mr Hudson, a former US official, said the appointment will help the Biden administration develop a strategy in addressing the region.

“Washington has been at a disadvantage diplomatically for many months, trying to engage on these growing crises from afar,” he observed.

Developing a strategy towards the region will enable Washington “to pursue our security interest while at the same time promoting the values of democracy and human rights,” Mr Hudson argued.

Mr Feltman, 62, served for about six years as the under-secretary general for political affairs at the UN where he worked directly with former secretary-general Ban Ki-moon on mitigating conflicts. He also brings 26 years of experience in the US foreign service.