While the United States has appointed David Satterfield, former US Ambassador to Turkey and new Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, from Kenya, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has announced that China will also appoint a representative for the sub-region.
These are two successive announcements which show the interest shown by foreign powers in the Horn of Africa. Last Thursday, the United States replaced its former special envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman with the now ex-Ambassador to Turkey David Satterfield. China has just announced that it will soon appoint its own representative for the Horn of Africa.
The appointment of David Satterfield, which prematurely ended the mandate of his predecessor - Feltman was appointed last April - sends a clear message: the United States, which has lost control of the Sudanese and Somali files, and antagonized it. Ethiopia, realized that without the support of China or Russia, they could seduce Turkish diplomacy.
Indeed, Turkey is well established diplomatically, commercially and militarily in Somalia, and could even be seen as a strong competitor to Americans in the region.
Turkey, an ally of circumstance
For its part, China is seeking to play a role in the region's politics and security. A role that also includes a military component. Beijing is suspected, like Moscow, of providing military equipment to the Ethiopian state despite the UN embargo. In the annual report of the Pentagon, the Americans assure that China seeks to establish military bases in the Horn of Africa, in particular in Kenya and Tanzania. Information denied by China.
After a year marked by serious crises, in Ethiopia and Sudan, as well as by the Somali fiasco, in which the Americans assume a significant part, Jeffrey Feltman had to hand over. The US military's support for Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Faarmajo, decided during Donald Trump's tenure, has given rise to a diplomatic crisis, especially with Djibouti. Another American official is said to be in Washington's sights: Africom chief General Stephen Townsend.
By appointing David Satterfield, American diplomacy hopes to kill two birds with one stone. First of all, by offering concessions on arms contracts in the Horn of Africa, the United States is seeking to give Ankara more opportunities. Because anti-American sentiment, especially in Ethiopia, is only getting worse, while Turkey enjoys a positive image in Africa. The United States seeks to establish, without clearly stating it, a contingency alliance with Turkey to thwart Chinese expansion in the region.
Ethiopia and Sudan, sensitive issues
The Horn of Africa is a major economic and military stake. Gateway to the Red Sea, a stone's throw from Yemen, it is highly coveted by China and Russia. But the Horn of Africa is also of increasing interest to the United States. Washington seeks, in fact, to strengthen its military presence in the region, to reassure its allies in the Arab Gulf, but also to control the flow of Chinese goods sent to Europe, the Middle East and East Africa. .
It is therefore a real Cold War which is being played out between Washington and Beijing. And although in other parts of Africa, China has already won many battles, the game is only beginning in East Africa. With elections in Somalia and Kenya scheduled for 2022, the United States wants to win, and quickly.
It should also be remembered that the death of John Magufuli, former Tanzanian president, made it possible to relaunch Tanzanian diplomacy with the West. But President Samia Suluhu Hassan openly conditions her relations with the United States on a "more positive role" of the Americans in the Ethiopian conflict, a source of concern for countries in the region.
It remains to be seen what will be the reaction of Europe to a Chinese entry into contention, which suggests major diplomatic upheavals, particularly around the Sudanese issue. A file that interests France, which has invested considerable funds in the Sudanese transition.
Another important question: will Turkey seize the hand that the United States is extending to it, at the risk of finding itself mired in a latent conflict with China?