December 5, 2022

Biden and Africa, Ethiopia and Sudan – perspective by Simon Ateba

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris observe a moment of reflection, Thursday, October 21, 2021, at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Erin Scott)
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris observe a moment of reflection, Thursday, October 21, 2021, at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Erin Scott)

In his first year in office, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. declared that “America is back” and “diplomacy is back” at the center of U.S. foreign policy agenda. Of all the countries in Africa, Ethiopia and Sudan dominated the headlines and consumed most of the resources of the U.S. government in Africa as the Biden administration sought to strengthen ties with the continent.

The U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman flew to Ethiopia and Sudan many times. Ambassador Mary Catherine Phee, the highest ranking United States official for Africa in the Biden administration and USAID Administrator Samantha Power have also visited the Horn of Africa to find solutions to the lingering crises in Ethiopia and Sudan.

U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman addresses the conflict in Ethiopia at the U.s. Institute of Peace in Washington DC on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.

The United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken have also been personally involved, with Blinken visiting Kenya, Ethiopia’s neighbor late last year, to find peace and stability in Ethiopia and Sudan as well as in the Horn of Africa as a whole.

In the end, little progress seems to have been achieved. The Prime Minister of Sudan Abdalla Hamdok was deposed and reinstated before resigning days ago. On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch reported that Ethiopian authorities have arbitrarily detained, mistreated, and forcibly disappeared thousands of ethnic Tigrayans recently deported from Saudi Arabia.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken departs Dakar, Senegal, on November 20, 2021. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/

The human rights organization called on Saudi Arabia to stop holding Tigrayans in abhorrent conditions and deporting them to Ethiopia, and instead help the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide them with international protection.

In essence, after one year of diplomacy and millions of dollars spent on Ethiopia and Sudan, the result is a clear failure. Many have blamed other actors, including Turkey, the UAE, China among others, for helping the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali with cash and weapons to fight the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) who recently retreated to Tigray.

Abdalla Hamdok

But not all was bad. The successful distribution of vaccines to the continent is one area the Biden administration can look at and express some level of satisfaction. Still, with low vaccination rate on the continent, new variants, beyond the Omicron variant, are likely to emerge and the current pandemic would likely be prolonged.

On Tuesday, US aid chief Samantha Power and Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong met and agreed to escalate the fight against COVID-19 with more vaccines.

I hope they would follow through and that the United States would go beyond claims that “We have given more vaccines with no strings attached than any other country in the world, including China and Russia.”

Ethiopians rally at the White House in Washington DC, on November 8, 2021, in support of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali in the ongoing conflict in Tigray. Photo: TODAY NEWS AFRICA/Simon Ateba

In the end, all that would amount to nothing if very few people remain vaccinated in developing countries, including in Africa, and new strains continue to emerge, affecting the United States and the rest of the world. On Tuesday, the United States recorded roughly one million new cases of COVID-19, another reminder that fighting the pandemic mainly at home and not everywhere is a waste of time. And that’s our take today.

Simon Ateba, Publisher and White House Correspondent for Today News Africa in Washington D.C.

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