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Africa conflicts top Biden agenda during Ruto visit


Africa’s regional conflicts were top on the agenda on Thursday when US President Joe Biden hosted his Kenyan counterpart William Ruto at the White House. Mr Biden put African conflicts as a key agenda item for discussions with Dr Ruto who arrived in the US capital Wednesday from Atlanta, Georgia.

To allay concerns over the United States’ geopolitical focus being more invested in tackling the Russia-Ukraine and the Israel-Gaza wars, the Special Assistant to President Biden and Senior Director for African Affairs, Dr Frances Brown told the Standard that the US was fully engaged on African affairs.

“The Ukraine and Gaza wars have been high-profile and have significant global implications, consume enormous diplomatic efforts, and have received considerable media coverage but neglecting African conflicts, is not an option,” Dr Brown said.

She was responding to concerns that armed conflict in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan are getting less attention as a result of the global prominent wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

 Special Assistant to US President Biden and Senior Director for African Affairs, Dr Frances Brown. 

The fear being that, while severe, they may not be top of mind in the international community, and have been overtaken in the media because of their complexity, protracted nature, or perceived lower strategic importance.

“I’ll say from the National Security Council Africa directorate, these are front and center for us every day, so we are seized with them,” Dr Brown said.

Kenya, a relatively stable country that is located in a volatile neighbourhood, feels the effects of regional conflicts, making sufficient attention from global powers like the US crucial.

The East African nation has, for instance, seen an influx of refugees and cross-border crime as conflict rages in neighbouring Somalia and South Sudan.

Kenya’s stability is hugely important for the overall regional security and economic development of East Africa, and the world. It is feared that reduced international attention amid shifting global geopolitical priorities could have profound consequences for conflicts that are less in the spotlight, such as those in Africa.

Kenya's geographic location has underscored the interconnectedness of global attention, stability, and security. Dr Brown addressed this perception of imbalance and confirmed that the Biden administration is renewing diplomatic efforts, advocacy, and a re-evaluation of strategic priorities to ensure comprehensive international support for African issues, including resolution of conflict.

Pearl Matibe, the White House Correspondent for the Standard Group, had asked Dr Brown about the perceived decline in US attention on African affairs during Tuesday’s briefing ahead of President Ruto’s Wednesday meeting with President Biden.

More recently there has been an impression that the US’s attention has shifted to the Russia — Ukraine war and Israel’s war in Gaza and is paying less attention to the civil strife in the DRC, in Sudan, Ethiopia, and South Sudan leaving neighbours such as Kenya exposed.

Dr Brown was asked to explain what new frameworks of collaboration the US has in place to help resolve these conflicts and whether such issues were on President Biden’s agenda during his meeting with Dr Ruto.

Dr Brown said she expected the issues to come up during both the bilateral conversation as well as some conversations with the State Department.  “You mentioned Sudan, and you no doubt know that a couple of months ago the US welcomed the new special envoy for Sudan on our side, Tom Perriello.  We think that’s essential to getting to a solution in that conflict which we are very sobered by the amount of suffering that it’s caused.”

She said the US was working closely on those issues and will continue to keep at it. “As you know, these are not quick-fix issues, but I think we do view them as front and center. And I’ll say from the National Security Council Africa directorate, these are front and center for us every day, so we are seized of them,” Dr Brown said. 

Matibe is the Chief White House Correspondent with expertise on defence, foreign policy, and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe

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