America’s top diplomat in his final Africa stop on Tuesday discussed reforms with Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister as well as regional issues that likely included Ethiopia’s dispute with Egypt over a massive dam project.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was expected to speak to reporters later in the day. A brief statement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said the two discussed strengthening relationships and “continued areas of cooperation.” His country is a key U.S. security ally in the Horn of Africa.
Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous nation with well over 100 million people, and Abiy is under growing pressure to uphold the dramatic political reforms that won him the Nobel last year. He took office in 2018 and quickly ended a state of emergency, freed political prisoners and welcomed opposition groups home from exile.
But a major test looms in August with an election that the prime minister has repeatedly vowed will be free and fair. Analysts warn that his loosening of repressive measures has unleashed long-held grievances among some of the country’s more than 80 ethnic groups. Clashes at times have turned deadly.
The U.S. has encouraged Ethiopia to uphold its reforms. Separately, the Trump administration has pressed Abiy and his government to find a peaceful resolution to its dispute with Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is nearing completion.
Ethiopia says the dam is crucial in helping to pull many of its people out of poverty, while Egypt warns that too-rapid filling of the dam’s reservoir in the coming years will imperil its share of Nile River waters.
Washington has stepped in to help host several rounds of talks after Abiy warned that his country could muster millions to fight over the dam issue but preferred to negotiate a peaceful solution.
Pompeo is the first Cabinet official to visit Africa in 18 months. He also stopped in Senegal and Angola on a visit that seeks to reassert U.S. interests on a continent that many have accused the Trump administration of largely neglecting. China, Africa’s top trading partner for a decade now, is a major concern for the U.S.
Analysts have said Pompeo’s task is countering the recent messaging out of Washington as the Pentagon considers cutting U.S. military presence in Africa and new visa restrictions target Nigerians, Sudanese, Tanzanians and Eritreans.