The Biden administration is weighing plans to ascertain a brand new particular envoy for the Horn of Africa to handle political instability and battle within the East African area, together with a brewing civil conflict and humanitarian disaster in northern Ethiopia, present and former officers acquainted with the matter informed Foreign Policy.
The new particular envoy publish may fill a diplomatic management hole within the administration’s foreign-policy ranks as it really works to put in different senior officers within the State Department, a course of that might take weeks and even months to finish, as they require presidential nomination and Senate affirmation. Special envoy posts don’t require Senate affirmation.
A brand new Horn of Africa envoy would have their work reduce out for them: Sudan is present process a fragile political transition after three a long time below a dictatorship, South Sudan is wracked by persistent instability and corruption, and the delicate authorities of Somalia is grappling with ongoing threats from the al-Shabab terrorist group and political gridlock that has delayed nationwide elections. An ongoing dispute between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan over a significant dam undertaking provides one other layer of complexity to the tensions within the area.
The most urgent disaster within the eyes of many U.S. policymakers, nevertheless, is in Ethiopia. In November 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a army marketing campaign in opposition to the ruling get together within the nation’s northern Tigray area, after accusing it of attacking a authorities army base. Conflict has ravaged the area since then, marked by 1000’s of deaths, tens of millions in want of humanitarian help, and widespread experiences of interethnic violence. U.S. officers worry that the battle may flip right into a full-blown regional disaster, with turmoil spilling over into neighboring Eritrea and Sudan.
While officers cautioned no closing resolution has but been made, one high contender for the potential job is Donald Booth, a seasoned diplomatic troubleshooter within the area who at the moment serves as U.S. particular envoy for Sudan and has beforehand served as U.S. ambassador to Liberia, Zambia, and Ethiopia.
Some specialists welcomed extra consideration to the Horn of Africa however cautioned in opposition to the brand new administration relying too closely on particular envoy posts. “I don’t want us to get back into the practice of throwing special envoys at every problem set. It often saps the State Department’s resources and authorities in ways that aren’t productive,” mentioned Judd Devermont, director of the Africa Program on the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a suppose tank, and a former senior U.S. intelligence analyst. “But in this case, it is urgent, and there aren’t enough senior people in the region.”
With lower than a month in workplace, President Joe Biden doesn’t but have his full cupboard in place, not to mention many senior posts throughout the State Department that require Senate affirmation. Biden has but to call a nominee for the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, and the U.S. ambassador posts in Eritrea and Sudan are unfilled, held in an performing capability by lower-ranking diplomats. The subsequent U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia, Geeta Pasi, is anticipated to reach at her publish shortly.
A State Department spokesperson didn’t verify the administration was set on creating the brand new particular envoy publish when requested for remark. “Africa is a priority for the Biden-Harris administration, and we are committed to re-invigorating our relationships throughout Africa from a position of mutual respect and partnership. This includes deepening our engagement on the challenging issues present in the Horn of Africa,” the spokesperson mentioned. “Senior-level engagement on a consistent basis will be a signal of our commitment. The Administration is actively considering a range of options to ensure that our staffing, including any use of Special Envoys, supports implementation of our strategy.”
One large query could be whether or not the brand new particular envoy publish would report on to the president or secretary of state, or to the assistant secretary of state for African affairs. The former could be considered as extra empowered to barter on behalf of Washington, with a direct line to the president or his cupboard.
Some administration insiders have additionally floated the concept of tapping a former senior U.S. lawmaker for the job, arguing somebody with political clout may interact immediately with senior African leaders, together with Ethiopia’s Abiy. (Biden has eyed former Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake for a senior diplomatic publish, akin to an ambassadorship in South Africa or Europe, in line with Axios.)
There is precedent for such a transfer from the Obama administration: Former Secretary of State John Kerry tapped Russ Feingold, a former U.S. senator from Wisconsin, to function particular envoy to the Great Lakes area of Africa in 2013. Feingold was broadly credited with serving to dealer a peace deal between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and M23 rebels in 2013.