December 7, 2022

Human rights will be ‘front and center’ during Blinken’s first in-person trip to Africa as Secretary of State and Ethiopia will come up a lot, says top Biden official Ervin Massinga

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with President Joseph R. Biden
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with President Joseph R. Biden

President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs Ervin Massinga told reporters on Friday that human rights will be ‘front and center’ during Antony Blinken’s first in-person trip to Africa as Secretary of State next week, while the worsening conflict in Ethiopia will come up a lot in the discussions with Kenyan, Nigerian and Senegalese leaders.

Blinken will depart Washington D.C. on Monday evening for his first in-person trip to Africa as Secretary of State with Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal his first stops. Last April, Blinken made his first virtual trip to Africa with Nigeria and Kenya his first stops.

“Concerning human rights overall, absolutely, this issue is front and center for our engagement across the continent, and certainly in this trip, in each one of the stops. And there will be a human rights component in – built into everything we’re doing,” Massinga told reporters during a telephonic press briefing from Washington. “Again, we are investing in partnerships with our African partners in the leadership level as well as the peoples of Africa, and of course underscoring our shared values.  And faith in democracy, faith in human rights is a bedrock element of all of that.  That’s why you’ll see so many engagements of the Secretary and his traveling party with civil society, and those discussions with government leaders will certainly be front and center of those agendas.”

Ervin Massinga is a Foreign Service Minister Counselor and is the State Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs.

On the raging war in Ethiopia between government forces and fighters from the the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Massinga said Secretary Blinken will have a ‘range of discussions’ with African leaders about that crisis which threatens peace and security in the Horn of Africa as whole.

“Obviously, the issues going on in the Horn of Africa are going to be in the backdrop of particularly the bilateral discussions. It’s clear that the Secretary will have a range of important discussions with his counterparts and African leader – or Kenyan leaders and African leaders throughout the trip on all relevant topics. I think it’s safe to say that Horn issues will come up. Let me underscore here that the United States is firmly supportive of the role of the African Union mediator, former President Obasanjo for Nigeria, to lead African efforts to find creative and useful solutions to ending the terrible tragedy in Ethiopia,” Massinga said.

He added, “Our intensive diplomacy there is ongoing, and – but we – through the trip we would like to demonstrate that our commitment to African partnerships and African solutions to African challenges is enduring and will continue while we continue our intensive efforts with our African partners and likemindeds to address the difficult challenges in Ethiopia and certainly Sudan. 

“And on Ethiopia, let me underscore that it is the very firm position of the Department of State and the U.S. Government that American citizens in Ethiopia should avail themselves of all opportunities to leave now.  The situation, as has been indicated in our messaging to American citizens directly on the ground, is such that we urge all American citizens to avail themselves of opportunities to leave now.  Our embassy stands ready using a variety of means to assist and facilitate that movement, and the time is now on that.”

Muhammadu Buhari at the Chatham House in London in April 2015. Image Courtesy: Chatham House

Massinga also provided highlights for Secretary Blinken’s trip to Africa including that the question on military to Nigeria would likely come up during the trip.

He said the Secretary Blinken’s visit comes at a critical time for U.S. relationships across the African continent as the United States and its partners work together on shared global priorities, including ending COVID-19, building back to a more inclusive global economy, combating climate change, revitalizing our democracies, and advancing peace and security in the region. 

“The Secretary will look to advance U.S.-African partnerships and underscore the common values we share with Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal and use those as platforms to really talk to the entirety of the continent but certainly the publics and leaders in those three countries,” he said.

Massinga added, “Secretary Blinken will begin his trip in Nairobi, where he will meet with President Kenyatta and Foreign Minister Omamo to discuss our shared interests as members of the UN Security Council, our collaboration on renewable energy as Kenya works to fully transition to clean energy by 2030, and our common desire to improve stability in East Africa, including by addressing regional security issues in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia.  The Secretary will also meet with civil society leaders essential to Kenya’s vibrant democracy and participate in events related to climate and environmental protection. 

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets virtually with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ambassador Raychelle Omamo

“The Secretary will then move to Abuja, where he will meet with President Buhari, Vice President Osinbajo  and the Foreign Minister Onyeama to discuss expanding energy access, democracy, civilian protection, security and human rights, economic growth, and improving our cooperation on global health security.  Additionally, the Secretary will host a roundtable of entrepreneurs in the digital sector and meet with religious leaders. While in Abuja, Secretary Blinken will deliver a speech on U.S. Africa policy in the capital of Africa’s largest democracy. 

“Secretary Blinken will conclude his trip in Dakar with a meet with President Macky Sall and Foreign Minister Tall Sall.  He looks forward to discussing President Sall’s upcoming African Union chairmanship and Senegal’s role as a democratic, economic, and security leader in West Africa.  The Secretary also will participate in a roundtable with female Senegalese entrepreneurs and leaders in the (inaudible) economy.  He will underscore our partnership with Senegal to combat the COVID-19 epidemic. 

“In all three countries, Secretary Blinken will advance U.S.-African collaboration to end COVID-19 and that epidemic.  The United States is the single largest donor to COVAX and has provided over 56 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to 43 countries in Africa in close coordination with the African Union and COVAX.  These are facts you already know, but I just wanted to underscore those here. 

“The U.S. has also provided more than 1.9 billion in COVID-19 assistance to prevent virus transmission, case management, emergency food, and critical humanitarian services and supplies, vaccine delivery and support to sub-Saharan Africa.  We’re investing in the solutions of the future, including clean energy that drives growth, African vaccine manufacturing capabilities, public-private partnerships to tackle vaccine distribution challenges, multilateral agreements to protect our oceans, sustainable infrastructure and technology that will help democracies deliver and make our citizens’ lives better. 

“This visit is in support of amplifying U.S.-African relations and, again, partnerships.  That’s really the key theme that underscores everything we’re doing in the continent and certainly the Secretary’s travel. That partnership is based on increasing democracy and cooperation and that builds on people-to-people connections, fosters new economic engagements, and reinforces our shared values grounded in renewed commitment to democracy and human rights. 

President Macky Sall of Senegal

“The Secretary’s travel follows an intensive round of in-person diplomacy by senior members of the administration, including our Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and the very recent travel of our Assistant Secretary to Africa Molly Phee.”

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