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Blinken Should Focus on Human Rights, Security in Africa: Analysts

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., Dec. 13, 2022.
FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., Dec. 13, 2022.

WASHINGTON — Analysts say U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to Ethiopia and Niger must not lose sight of reports of human rights abuses in the East African nation and the fight against jihadist threats in West Africa.

Blinken will travel to Ethiopia Tuesday to cement a fragile peace process reached by warring parties before heading to Niger to discuss security cooperation in the Sahel.

Mulatu Alemayehu Moges with the Addis Ababa University told VOA that while Blinken's trip is coming at a “critical time” with implications on diplomatic relations, the U.S. diplomat should focus on human rights issues documented by aid agencies during Ethiopia's two-year war.

“The human rights violations are widely executed by either the government, armed forces or some other informal groups,” he said.

“Human rights issues [are] very critical and should be focused on....unless the government come under pressure from the outside and the inside, then the extent of the human violations would be increased.”

Ethiopia's federal government and regional Tigray forces signed a peace agreement in November that ended the conflict.

On Friday, Amnesty USA urged Blinken not to disappoint “victims of gross human rights abuses” by using “the trip as an venue to call for independent investigation, prosecution and judicial process.”

“Secretary Blinken’s trip will miss a crucial opportunity if he does not put human rights at the heart of his conversation with Prime Minister Abiy.”

Michael Shurkin, senior fellow at Atlantic Council's Africa Center, told VOA that the U.S. sees Niger as an important ally as the country battles Islamic extremists.

“Niger has emerged as a very good partner in the Sahel. President Mohamed Bazoum is democratically elected, there haven't been any military coups and so that alone makes him a good partner,” Shurkin said.

“Niger [has a] growing population. It's sort of the security key in the Sahel, and it's also sort of the last man standing in terms of having an actual democracy and constitutional government. And so, the U.S. government is in a position to offer various forms of assistance — economic and security assistance,” he said.

Shurkin said that the uptick in visits by senior U.S. administration officials is “positive” and affirms an interest in sub-Saharan African countries, adding that Blinken's visits “make sense” due to the countries' large population, economy size and democratic governments.

Last week, assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee described 2023 as “the year of travel of U.S. officials to Africa” during a press conference to preview Blinken's trip. Phee said the trip will also be an avenue for Blinken to “continue the dialogue on how to raise the African voice in international institutions.”

Later this month, Vice President Kamala Harris is also expected in Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia, according to her office.

“Ghana has certainly emerged as a sort of a bastion of constitutional democracy, and it has a good economy. It has its ups and downs, but its a country that America has always been interested in and has always wanted to invest in,” Shurkin said.

That visit will make Harris the first Black U.S. vice president and first woman in that capacity to visit the continent. It follows similar trips by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. representative to the U.N. and first lady Jill Biden.

The U.S. State Department said President Joe Biden is expected to visit the continent later this year. It did not mention which countries he will be visiting and when.