February 1, 2023

Antony Blinken meets with Michael Hammer as he takes on role as Special Envoy to Horn of Africa

Secretary Antony Blinken (Right) meets with Ambassador Michael Hammer in Washington DC as he takes on his new role as U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa
Secretary Antony Blinken (Right) meets with Ambassador Michael Hammer in Washington DC as he takes on his new role as U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa

United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has met with Ambassador Michael Hammer as he takes on his role as Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa to deal with a cornucopia of crises, from Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict to instability in Somalia to a vicious drought affecting millions of people and killing at least one person every minute in the region.

“Appreciated meeting with Ambassador Hammer again as he takes on his role as Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa. His appointment reaffirms our abiding commitment to diplomatic efforts in the region,” Blinken tweeted on Saturday.

Michael Hammer replaced Ambassador David Satterfield as U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa. Satterfield was on the job for a few months after he replaced Jeffrey Feltman last year.

He left his position without any concrete solution to the crisis and the blockade in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. In addition, the Horn of Africa is facing an unprecedented high risk of famine and malnutrition caused by drought and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Today News Africa has previously noted that Ambassador Hammer will have a very busy agenda as the Horn of Africa faces many daunting challenges including severe human rights abuses, political instability, widespread hunger, and a devastating drought.

“[Hammer’s] appointment underscores our abiding commitment to diplomatic efforts in the region, most urgently in support of an inclusive political process towards peace, common security, and prosperity for all people in Ethiopia,” Secretary Blinken said two weeks ago.

In his new position, Ambassador Hammer will have to engage with multiple crises in the region including a bloody conflict in Ethiopia that has consisted of widespread human rights atrocities and a mounting humanitarian crisis.

Conflict involving Ethiopian federal forces,TPLF regional forces, and the Eritrean military has been ongoing since November 2020. The violence has continued to spread and has resulted in thousands of deaths, millions of displacements, and has put hundreds of thousands at risk of famine.

Human rights organizations have reported abuses including indiscrimante attacks on civilians, sexual violence as a weapon of war, arbitrary arrests and detentions, recruitment of child soldiers, and ethnic-based killings.

According to USAID, over 5.2 million people in the Tigray region are in need of humanitarian aid. However, recent reports allege that Oromo and Amhara forces are clashing in western Ethiopia as violence continues to spread throughout the nation.

“This Administration remains firmly focused on a cessation of hostilities, unhindered humanitarian access, transparent investigations into violations and human rights abuses by all actors, and a negotiated resolution to the conflict,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday.

As U.S. Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa, Ambassador Hammer will be entrusted to work with regional leadership to bring about a peaceful end to the conflict and open up the region to humanitarian aid. Despite claims made by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the region is still incredibly difficult to reach with humanitarian assistance as conflict persists.

In addition to the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa faces additional challenges including political instability in Sudan, border disputes, and conflict surrounding the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile River.

Hammer is an experienced diplomat and has been serving as the United States Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo since September of 2018.

“As Ambassador David Satterfield prepares to step down from the role, I am announcing that Ambassador Mike Hammer will succeed him as U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa,” Blinken said in a statement announcing his appointment.

He added, “I am grateful to Ambassador Satterfield for the experience and determination he brought to the role, and I look forward to the energy and vision that Ambassador Hammer will now lend to our efforts in the Horn of Africa. 

“His appointment underscores our abiding commitment to diplomatic efforts in the region, most urgently in support of an inclusive political process towards peace, common security, and prosperity for all people in Ethiopia. 

“This Administration remains firmly focused on a cessation of hostilities, unhindered humanitarian access, transparent investigations into violations and human rights abuses by all actors, and a negotiated resolution to the conflict.”

Hammer’s experience:

Michael Hammer served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo between September of 2018 and now. As the United States’ top diplomat to the repressive DRC, he wrote last month that freedom of expression “ is a foundational component of a vibrant, fully functioning democracy.”

Hammer has had an experienced diplomatic career for decades. He was the U.S. ambassador to Chile from 2014-2016. Ambassador Hammer has also served as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, Special Assistant to the President, Senior Director for Press and Communications, and National Security Council Spokesman.

In addition to his time as Ambassador to Chile and Ambassador to the DRC, Hammer has also served internationally in Bolivia, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark.

Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis and warnings from the WHO:

At his regular press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday, the Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, lamented that the crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region was nowhere near a negotiated solution, even as the region faces famine and malnutrition.

He said, “The Horn of Africa is now experiencing one of its worst droughts in recent history. There is a high risk of famine and malnutrition, severely affecting an estimated 15 to 20 million people in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia. Populations in Djibouti, Eritrea, Uganda, South Sudan and Sudan are also affected.

“Tens of thousands of families are being forced to leave their homes in search of food, water and pasture.  Hunger and under-nutrition greatly increase health risks, especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women, newborns, small children, older people and those living with noncommunicable diseases and disabilities.

“Mass displacement and a lack of access to safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation, means the risk of outbreaks is very real. This is especially worrying in an already under-immunized population with little access to health services.

“Food is not the only shortage. In Tigray, Ethiopia, blockades have caused a shortage of fuel that is crippling the health system. More than 6 million people remain under siege by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, after more than 18 months. Although some food is being delivered, it’s not enough, and basic services remain unavailable, and the region sealed off from the rest of the world.

“The Ayder hospital in Mekelle, the region’s only referral hospital, is at risk of shutting down because of lack of fuel to run generators and ambulances. The hospital is running very low on basic supplies, like IV fluids and antibiotics, even as hospital staff are reportedly collapsing due to hunger.

“This is a hospital serving a population of 6 million people, which is responsible for performing thousands of surgeries and deliveries every year. WHO is doing its best to help, but the only solution to this inhumane situation – as in Ukraine – is peace.”


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