A New U.S. Envoy Grabs East Africa Crises by the Horn

Radio Erena: 27 April 2021

On 23 April, the U.S. Department of State announced the appointment of Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman as the U.S. Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa. Feltman, 62, a carrier and a senior U.N diplomat brings to his new mission rich area experience and prolific academic training. A graduate of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, he joined the State Department and served in junior posts in the embassies in Hungary, Israel, and Tunisia before assuming the post of the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon and later served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Feltman fluently speaks Arabic, French, and Hungarian.

His forthcoming mandate is to address the political and humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa. According to the Department of State statement, Feltman will “build on our going efforts to address the escalating conflict in Ethiopia and provide opportunities for reform.”
The Nile Dam impasse and the tension between Sudan and Ethiopia will be central in his barbed mission complicated with the ongoing war in the Tigray region.

Will Eritrea’s perpetual crises be on the work schedule of the new envoy? The urgent question will no doubt be the presence of the Eritrean troops in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray. The Envoy will address this issue from Addis Ababa due to the strained American Eritrean relations. Allowing access to humanitarian aid to Tigray, which is a priority in the envoy’s list, will definitely lead to initial talks about settling the conflict in the northern Ethiopian region.

Feltman will apply brakes to the rising tension between Ethiopia and Sudan, and he will also need to deal delicately with the political standoff in Somalia.
Although his mission will cover the Horn of Africa countries, Eritrea’s internal situation will not be among his top priorities, despite Eritrea’s constant appearance in the annual human rights violations report of the State Department.

From a cosmic strategic view in Washington, Eritrea is a stable country, a country which is not- at least up to the present- a threat to global or regional security. The envoy will deal with the country on that light. But what kind of stability prevails in Eritrea today? Simply, it’s the stability of the iron-fist rule and the repressing of basic freedoms.

The dark stains of human rights violations may not appear on the new envoy’s radar, but they seldom leave the Eritreans’ hearts and minds. To address human rights violations in Eritrea during his mission will be like poking hornets’ nest; a matter the practiced diplomat will avoid in order not to ruin his already complex mission.

Adequately addressing human rights issues in Eritrea will have meant less military involvement in neighboring countries’ affairs. Be it in Ethiopia, Eritrea or Somalia; human rights are simply the underlying cause of (in)stability in the region. Will the new envoy’s mission capture that fact?

By Fathi Osman