The Biden government is considering plans to establish a new Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa to address political instability and conflict in the East African region, including a worsening civil war and humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia Foreign policy.
The new special envoy could close a diplomatic leadership void in the government's foreign policy ranks as other senior officials are deployed to the Foreign Office. This process can take weeks or even months as it requires the President's appointment and Senate approval. Special envoy posts do not require confirmation by the Senate.
A new envoy to the Horn of Africa would have his work cut out for them: Sudan is in delicate political transition after three decades of dictatorship, South Sudan is plagued by chronic instability and corruption, and Somalia's fragile government is putting its footing with ongoing Threats apart from the al-Shabab terrorist group and political standstill that delayed the national elections. An ongoing dispute between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over a major dam project adds to the complexity of tensions in the region.
However, the most pressing crisis in the eyes of many US policy makers is in Ethiopia. In November 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military campaign against the ruling party in the country's northern Tigray region after accusing them of attacking a government military base. Conflict has ravaged the region since then, marked by thousands of deaths, millions of people in need of humanitarian aid, and widespread reports of interethnic violence. US officials fear the conflict could turn into a full-blown regional crisis, with turmoil in neighboring Eritrea and Sudan.
While officials indicated that a final decision has not yet been made, Donald Booth, a seasoned diplomatic problem solver in the region who currently serves as the U.S. special envoy to Sudan and previously served as U.S. ambassador to Liberia, Zambia, is one Top candidate for the potential job. and Ethiopia.
Some experts welcomed the attention paid to the Horn of Africa, but warned that the new government was too dependent on special envoy posts. "I don't want us to throw special envoys on every problem again. Often the State Department's resources and agencies are used up in ways that are not productive," said Judd Devermont, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies , a think tank and former senior US intelligence analyst, "But in this case, it's urgent and there aren't enough elderly people in the area."
After less than a month in office, President Joe Biden still lacks his full cabinet, let alone many senior State Department positions that require Senate approval. Biden has not yet nominated a candidate for Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and the posts of US ambassador to Eritrea and Sudan are vacant as they are occupied by low-ranking diplomats as actors. The next US ambassador to Ethiopia, Geeta Pasi, is expected to arrive at her post shortly.
A State Department spokesman did not confirm that the administration was in charge of creating the new special adviser post when asked for comment. “Africa is a priority for the Biden Harris administration and we are determined to strengthen our relationships across Africa from a position of mutual respect and partnership. This includes deepening our commitment to the challenging issues in the Horn of Africa, ”said the spokesman. “A consistent commitment at the highest level will be a signal for our commitment. The administration is actively considering a number of options to ensure that our staff, including the use of special officers, support the execution of our strategy. "
A big question would be whether the new Special Representative would report directly to the President or Secretary of State or the Deputy Secretary of State for African Affairs. The former would be seen as more capable of negotiating on behalf of Washington, with a direct line to the president or his cabinet.
Some government insiders have also advocated the idea of recruiting a former senior US lawmaker for the job, arguing that someone with political clout could connect directly with high-ranking African leaders, including Abiy from Ethiopia. (Biden eyed former Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake for a high-level diplomatic post like an embassy in South Africa or Europe Axios.)
There is a precedent for such a move by the Obama administration: Former Secretary of State John Kerry tapped into Russ Feingold, a former US Senator from Wisconsin, as special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa in 2013. Feingold has been widely credited with helping broker a peace agreement between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and M23 rebels in 2013.