US names David Satterfield new special envoy for Horn of Africa

Jeffrey Feltman leaves post after less than a year amid unrest in Sudan and Ethiopia.

Ethiopian military parade with national flags attached to their rifles in downtown Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The US is switching envoys in the Horn of Africa with Sudan and Ethiopia the main areas of focus in the region [File: AP Photo]

US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman will step down from his post the role “in the coming days” after a year marked by deadly crises in Ethiopia and Sudan.

Feltman plans to leave his post shortly after his current visit to Ethiopia, where more than a year of war in the country’s Tigray region has killed an estimated tens of thousands of people. The US diplomat met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Thursday, the Department of State said.

David Satterfield, the outgoing US ambassador to Turkey, will take up the role, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Thursday.

Blinken said that the department had intended for Feltman’s appointment as special envoy to be less than a year, adding that he would continue to serve in an advisory role.

Satterfield, a veteran of the US Foreign Service with more than four decades of experience, has had a challenging post as US ambassador in Turkey, where he navigated a strained bilateral relationship between the two NATO allies.

Turkey’s increasing drone exports, most recently to Ethiopia, will be a common thread in Satterfield’s old and new roles. In December, Washington raised the issue of armed drones sales to Ethiopia with Turkey. Sources said there was mounting evidence the government used the Turkish weapons against rebel fighters.

“Ambassador Satterfield’s decades of diplomatic experience and work amidst some of the world’s most challenging conflicts will be instrumental in our continued effort to promote a peaceful and prosperous Horn of Africa and to advance U.S. interests in this strategic region,” Blinken said.

Feltman, a veteran US diplomat, assumed the post in April and quickly found himself in the middle of two major crises – Ethiopia’s deepening civil war between forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the army of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, as well as a military coup in Sudan in October.

Ethiopian authorities repeatedly assured him and others they would seek a peaceful resolution to the country’s crisis even as conditions deteriorated.

And on the eve of last year’s coup in Sudan, military officials told Feltman during meetings in Khartoum that they did not plan to remove the prime minister by force. Three hours after leaving Sudan, Feltman learned of the coup.

The US announcement came on the heels of one by China, saying it would appoint special envoy to foster peace in the turbulent Horn of Africa and wanted to shift focus on the continent to trade over infrastructure.

Chinese 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 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 Abiy 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.

Source: News Agencies