New Biden envoy for Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman faces plethora of crises and opportunities in Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and rest of region

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Friday the appointment of veteran diplomat Jeffrey Feltman as Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, the latest United States effort to improve diplomatic relations in a region that faces immense instability and a multitude of crises ranging from the Tigray conflict to mounting Ethiopia-Sudan tensions.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken participates in a roundtable discussion with Executive Women@State via video teleconference from the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 2021. [State Department photo by Freddie Everett 
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken participates in a roundtable discussion with Executive Women@State via video teleconference from the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 2021. [State Department photo by Freddie Everett

In a statement issued Friday regarding Feltman’s appointment, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called for the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces from the Tigray region and urged Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan to work to resolve the disputes around the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam and their shared water sources.

President Joe Biden passes blooming magnolia trees as he walks through the Rose Garden of the White House Friday, March 26, 2021, to the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz) 
President Joe Biden passes blooming magnolia trees as he walks through the Rose Garden of the White House Friday, March 26, 2021, to the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

The U.N. Security Council expressed concerns Thursday over the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, particularly about “allegations of human rights violations and abuses, including reports of sexual violence against women and girls.”

In an April 8 statement, USAID reported that approximately 4.5 million people across the Tigray region are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Jake Sullivan 
Jake Sullivan

The crisis in Tigray has been ongoing for six months now, and there is no clear end in sight according to U.N. Children’s Fund spokesperson James Elder.

Fighting continues as hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes as a result of the military offensive launched in the region starting in November of last year that has led to countless casualties and fatalities.

“Ambassador Feltman’s work will build on our ongoing efforts to address the urgent crises in Ethiopia, where we continue to urge the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces, the cessation of hostilities by all parties, and unimpeded humanitarian access,” said U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.”

A region that faces many humanitarian challenges, the crises of the Horn of Africa are not limited to Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict. A multitude of compounding factors have combined to exacerbate instability in the region.

Tensions between Ethiopia and neighboring Sudan have continued to rise amid prolonged territorial disputes regarding the border as well as mounting disagreements over the management of water sources and Ethiopia’s construction of a dam on the Blue Nile River.

Børge Brende President; Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum and Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia during the Session "A Conversation with Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia" at the Annual Meeting 2019 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 23, 2019 Copyright by World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell 
Børge Brende President; Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum and Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia during the Session “A Conversation with Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia” at the Annual Meeting 2019 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 23, 2019 Copyright by World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell

In addition to diplomatic challenges, the Horn of Africa faces many other complex regional issues in the form of food shortages, insecurity, and economic instability.

Estimates vary dramatically but it is clear that millions upon millions of people throughout Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, and much of Eastern Africa have been suffering from serious food shortages and famine.

The coronavirus pandemic has imposed problematic complications in a region already facing immense instability. Additionally, much of Africa has recently been subject to drought and plagues of locust which have worsened the existing food crisis.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sits with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, on April 20, 2016, at the outset of a bilateral meeting preceding an onward flight by the Secretary to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to accompany President Obama during a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council. [State Department photo/ 
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sits with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, on April 20, 2016, at the outset of a bilateral meeting preceding an onward flight by the Secretary to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to accompany President Obama during a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council. [State Department photo/

A complex and diverse region, the Horn of Africa has incredible potential but is struggling to overcome the many issues that it faces, ranging from human rights abuses to economic instability.

Currently, the Horn of Africa is in a unique situation where there is opportunity to promote profound change and administer strategic reform to build toward a better future and establish the region as an increasingly positive contributor to global matters.

Diplomatic and humanitarian assistance from the international community is vital in ensuring the prosperous future of the Horn of Africa- which has shown hope of moving toward democratization and social progress.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (R) attends the opening session of the "Friends of Sudan" conference in the capital Khartoum on December 11, 2019, which aims to provide economic and political support for the transitional government in the country. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP) (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP via Getty Images) 
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (R) attends the opening session of the “Friends of Sudan” conference in the capital Khartoum on December 11, 2019, which aims to provide economic and political support for the transitional government in the country. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP) (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP via Getty Images)

As the U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman will be tasked with working to establish the United States’ role in assisting with the complicated issues facing these African countries as well as facilitating diplomatic relations with these nations.

The new Special Envoy will have the opportunity to engage with African leaders in a way that lives up to President Biden’s promise of establishing the United States as a diplomatic force for good in the world.

Noah Pitcher is a global politics correspondent for Today News Africa covering the U.S. government, United Nations, African Union, and other actors involved in international developments, political controversies, and humanitarian issues.

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