Speaking at the U.S.- Africa Leaders Summit, President Joe Biden declared, “the United States is all in on Africa and all in with Africa.” Biden continued, “The choices that we make today and the remainder of this decade and how we tackle these challenges, in my view, will determine the direction the entire world takes in the decades to come.”
Alas, the choices Biden’s team now makes do not bode well for the future.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken departs for Ethiopia . His visit rehabilitates Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a man responsible for the Tigray genocide . In November 2020, Abiy suspended elections and ordered Ethiopia’s army to take over the Tigray state. Tigrayans preempted the attack and then fought back. Ultimately, Abiy besieged the region to cause a famine that killed hundreds of thousands of people. He meanwhile rounded up Tigrayans in Ethiopia’s capital. Ethiopian and their Eritrean allies looted, raped, and stole. Abiy’s war laid infrastructure to waste and cost the Ethiopian economy tens of billions of dollars.
To rehabilitate Abiy now is a choice by Biden to sweep Abiy’s actions under the rug. It is a choice to reward the Ethiopian despot for genocide. It is a choice to allow him to outsource murder to Eritrea without consequence. It is a choice to greenlight Abiy’s willingness to repeat the Tigray playbook against any other group that questions his messiah complex and leadership.
Freedom House ranks Ethiopia as among the world’s least free countries, not much better off than Russia and less free than the Persian Gulf’s absolute monarchies. Niger, the second and final stop on his swing through Africa, is more democratic — it sits alongside El Salvador and Tunisia in the rankings — but Blinken goes mostly because Niger is home to the chief U.S. drone base in Africa.
What is curious is Blinken’s top omission: While Biden’s team says it will compete against China, Blinken studiously avoids any visit to Somaliland, the most democratic country in the Horn of Africa and a country that, unlike Ethiopia and Niger, cast its lot with Taiwan and Western democracies.
If Biden and Blinken are serious about countering China, they should not treat China’s partisans better than they treat America’s allies. Rather, it seems Blinken deliberately and irrationally seeks to throw Somaliland under the bus in deference to State Department’s bureaucratic interests. Too many African hands in Foggy Bottom worry more about antagonizing Somalia’s entrenched interests than they do about advancing America’s strategic position in the region. The State Department also seeks figuratively to give a middle finger to Congress that incorporated provisions in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act that called for a greater U.S. partnership with Somaliland. The icing on the cake is Somaliland’s potential with rare earths , something to which both Biden and Blinken now turn their backs.
I have flown from Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa to Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa. It takes 45 minutes. To get to the center of town is another 15 minutes. Figure an hour meeting and then a return to Ethiopia. For Blinken to say he does not have three hours to celebrate African democracy and reward countries who say no to Beijing shows just how unserious Biden and Blinken are when it comes to countering China’s inroads in Africa.
Biden promised to make choices for the future. Unfortunately, he now makes all the wrong ones.
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Africa | ethiopia | Somalia | Somaliland