US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Ethiopia and Niger next week as President Joe Biden's administration accelerates a push to engage with Africa to counter China’s growing influence, the State Department said on Friday.
Mr Blinken will visit Addis Ababa and Niamey starting on Tuesday to discuss the November peace deal that ended hostilities in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region and counter-terrorism efforts aimed at Islamist extremists in Niger and the Sahel more broadly.
His trip will be the third high-profile visit to Africa this year by top members of the Biden administration. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield and first lady Jill Biden have already visited.
Mr Blinken plans to meet both Ethiopian and Tigrayan officials in Addis Ababa and will be the first secretary of state ever to visit Niger, which has hosted US military operations focused on combating ISIS affiliates in the area.
In discussions with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigrayan officials, the State Department said Mr Blinken would focus on “implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement to advance peace and promote transitional justice in northern Ethiopia”.
The Tigray conflict led the US to suspend some preferential trade agreements with Ethiopia, which the country is eager to have restored.
The conflict in Tigray erupted a year after Mr Abiy received a Nobel Prize for making peace with long-time rival Eritrea. The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments saw the Tigray regional leaders, who had long dominated Ethiopia’s government before Mr Abiy took office, as a common threat.
An estimated 500,000 civilians were killed in the two-year conflict that ended with a peace agreement signed in South Africa in November. US officials helped to mediate that deal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report