China 'peace plan' for Horn of Africa

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  • Wang Yi
    Chinese diplomat and politician

China is to appoint a special envoy to foster peace in the turbulent Horn of Africa and wants 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 the war in Ethiopia that has been raging since late 2020 between the Tigray People's Liberation Front 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 co-ordinate 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.

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.

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 imposed sanctions on Eritrea for its role in Tigray.

"This is part of a big push to rally countries against the use of sanctions," he said.

"They (China) feel they're gaining momentum against the US."

During Wang's visit 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 also receive a donation of 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from China, part of one 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," Wang said.

The continent's needs were expanding from the building of roads and railways, Wang said, citing the need for vaccines and export opportunities.

China's interests in the Horn include its naval base in Djibouti, overlooking a key global shipping route. Beijing has granted large loans to landlocked Ethiopia, which relies on Djibouti's port for trade.

The region is also threatened by instability in South Sudan, where China has substantial oil investments, and spillover from Somalia that has brought deadly attacks in neighbouring Kenya.

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