Biden blocks Eritrea and Somaliland from US-Africa summit


WASHINGTON - The United States has sidelined Eritrea and Somaliland from the much anticipated US-Africa summit in which President Joe Biden is set to hold dozens of leaders from the continent to discuss on deepening relationship between America and Africa.

In a statement, officials said Eritrea was sidelined due to strained diplomatic relations with Washington while Somaliland was left out because it is yet to be recognized. The breakaway region of Somalia has been fighting for recognition which is not forthcoming.

"We’ve decided to be as inclusive as possible and consistent with the African Union and our own recognition of governments," Judd Devermont, the National Security Council's senior director for African Affairs, said in response to a VOA question about the exclusions of some African states.

Already invited are 49 heads of state and governments according to Dana Banks, the senior advisor to President Joe Biden, who noted that African Union Commission boss Moussa Faki was also notified. This just comes a few hours after Somalia President Hassan Sheikh said he's ready for talks with Somaliland.

"Invitations were sent to countries who are in good standing with the Africa Union,’’ she said. "Currently, there’re four countries that have been suspended by the AU, and so they were not extended invitations" in addition to "two countries – one which we do not recognize and one with whom we do not share full diplomatic relations," Banks said.

Mali, Sudan, Guinea, and Burkina Faso have been suspended from the 54-nation African bloc because of political instability. Eritrea on its part is accused of gross violation of human rights, including the alleged participation in the Tigray war.

"We continue to work separately with those countries to encourage a return to democratic transition, so we’re in a better position to have a strong partnership with [them]," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee.

"We want to make sure that our vision aligns with the vision that Africans have for their continent," Phee said adding that she hopes leaders leave the summit "feeling that the partnership with the U.S. makes a concrete difference in the daily lives of African people."

The U.S. Statement Department says it does not provide bilateral assistance to Eritrea at its government’s request, but "maintains an enduring desire to build relationships with the Eritrean people, including through cultural exchange and other programs."

But Marisa Lourenço, a Johannesburg-based political and economic risk analyst, told VOA that the decision to exclude some African states from the summit is unjustified, noting that it’s not entirely "surprising" considering bilateral tensions between the U.S. and the excluded countries.

The U.S. may be using the countries as "scapegoats," she said, due to their strong alliances with states like Russia and China — and to signal that political instability and coups are not justified transitions in government.

"We don't live in a bipolar world anymore," she said. "We live in an increasingly multipolar world, and African countries know this. They know that they can effectively engage with a lot of governments, whereas before it was kind of picking a side, and that's not really the case anymore."

For two years, Eritrea was accused of perpetuating extrajudicial killings in Tigray, in a two-year-old war that left thousands of ethnic Tigrayans dead, and to date, her troops are yet to leave the region even after the signing of a peace deal in South Africa and Kenya under the sponsorship of African Union.


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