U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo Travels to  Ethiopia, February 17-19, 2020

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(Africa News) — The Secretary will travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from February 17-19. He will meet with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Sahle-Work Zewde to discuss joint efforts to promote regional security and to support Ethiopia’s historic political and economic reform agenda. Secretary Pompeo will also meet with African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat and deliver remarks.

Ethiopia, a key U.S. security ally in the Horn of Africa, has undergone dramatic political reforms since Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018.

The loosening of repressive measures has been exploited by some with long-held grievances, leading to sometimes violent ethnic tensions that threaten a national election later this year. Even Abiy’s close advisers acknowledge the challenges ahead.

“This election is not just a normal election, it’s actually a referendum on whether to live together or not,” Lencho Bati, a senior foreign policy adviser, told an audience at the United States Institute of Peace on Thursday.

He noted that Ethiopia, a country of more than 80 ethnic groups, is a “fragmented society” and “highly politicized,” and he called on the opposition to practice civil politics.

“Ethiopia, I would argue, is the most important country on the continent today,” Witney Schneidman, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told a Brookings Institution briefing this week.

Schneidman views Pompeo’s Africa visit as an effort to “establish a positive tone on the continent,” albeit a belated one. Trump has yet to visit Africa, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross was his last cabinet official to do so in 2018.

Pompeo needs to convey that the continent is a priority for the U.S., and that America remains committed to economic development and security, Schneidman said. “If he can cut through and promote those messages clearly, then I think his trip will be successful.”

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