US names Jeffrey Feltman its first ever Horn of Africa special envoy

Veteran diplomat Jeffrey Feltman

A file photo of veteran US diplomat Jeffrey Feltman.

Photo credit: AFP

The US government on Friday named veteran diplomat Jeffrey Feltman as the new special envoy for the Horn of Africa, indicating a special attention to a region currently facing various threats to security.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Mr Feltman’s appointment is indicative of President Joe Biden’s commitment to lead international efforts in addressing issues in the Horn, such as political instability, security, humanitarian crises.

“Of particular concern are the volatile situation in Ethiopia, including the conflict in Tigray; escalating tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan; and the dispute around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD),” Mr Blinken said in a statement.

“At a moment of profound change for this strategic region, high-level US engagement is vital to mitigate the risks posed by escalating conflict while providing support to once-in-a-generation opportunities for reform.”

The appointment means the US will now have a dedicated office addressing Somalia’s political impasse, Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict and the unending tiff over the GERD.

Sudan and Egypt say the mega dam could hurt their own water needs and flood controls.

On Friday, Sudan warned it could sue if Ethiopia goes ahead with unilateral decisions on the dam, without an agreement on its operation and filling.

Ethiopia and Sudan are also bickering over the border while Addis Ababa has received stick over its handling of humanitarian situation in Tigray region, where it has been pursuing remnants of the erstwhile ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Mr Feltman has held various senior positions in the Department of State and the UN. Mr Blinken said  he “is uniquely suited to bring decades of experience in Africa and the Middle East, in multilateral diplomacy, and in negotiation and mediation, to develop and execute an integrated US strategy to address these complex regional issues”.

Born 62 years ago in Ohio, Mr Feltman served as US ambassador to Lebanon and as the assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs during the George W Bush and Barack Obama presidencies.

He has been serving as the UN under-secretary for political affairs, directly charged with programmes for mitigating conflict.