Peace envoy for conflict-riven Horn of Africa

China said on Thursday it would appoint a special envoy to foster peace in the turbulent Horn of Africa and wanted to shift focus on the continent to trade over infrastructure.

Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, made the comments in Kenya which has been active in diplomatic efforts to halt war in Ethiopia since late 2020 between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal government.

He also visited Eritrea, which borders the northern Tigray region and has been an ally of Prime Minister Ahmed in a conflict that has killed thousands of people, uprooted hundreds of thousands, and spread hunger. 

“To share political consensus and to coordinate actions, China will appoint a special envoy of the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs for the Horn of Africa,” Wang told a news conference in the port city of Mombasa, via an interpreter.

Horn of Africa nations should decide their own destiny and convene a peace conference, Wang added. The region’s other major war is in Somalia where Islamist militants al-Shabab are battling a Western-backed government.

China has traditionally been more focused on economic development and trade in Africa than politics and diplomacy, and Wang gave no further details of the envoy’s role.

Beijing wants to help develop Eritrea’s Red Sea coastline, he added, without elaborating on that either.

Eric Olander, managing editor of The China Africa Project website and podcast, saw the visit to Eritrea as strategic in China’s rivalry with the United States, which has sanctioned Eritrea for its role in Tigray. 

“This is part of a big push to rally countries against the use of sanctions,” he said. “I think they (China) feel they’re gaining momentum against the U.S.”

Chinese officials signed six agreements with Kenyan counterparts, including one allowing Kenyan farmers to export fresh avocados to China. That will enable Kenya to narrow its considerable trade imbalance with China, said Rachel Omamo, Kenya’s foreign minister.

Kenya will receive a donation of 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from China, both sides said, part of 1 billion extra doses pledged to Africa by China late last year.

China has been shifting from offering African nations hard infrastructure loans towards increasing trade. “It is never about what China wants to do, it is about what Africa wants to do,” he said. -Reuters

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