China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi has announced that Beijing will soon appoint a special envoy for the Horn of Africa. Wang's announcement during a visit to Kenya on Thursday comes as the U.S. envoy to the Horn heads to Ethiopia, which has been struggling with over a year of war. The region has also seen setbacks from a coup in Sudan and an election stand-off in Somalia.
The visiting Chinese top diplomat said his country will appoint a special envoy to lead the peace process in the Horn of Africa.
Speaking in the coastal Kenyan city of Mombasa, Wang said his country will support the people of the Horn of Africa in finding peace.
He said it was important to have a consultation on equal footing and to put the destiny of this region firmly in its own people’s hands. He suggested countries in the region might convene a conference on the peace of the Horn of Africa. He added that in order to discuss this matter in depth, to share political consensus and to coordinate actions, China will appoint a special envoy to provide the necessary support for this process.
The plan to appoint a special envoy for a war-torn region is seen as part of China’s ambitious plan to play a role in the region’s politics and security.
The announcement comes as U.S. special envoy for the region Jeffrey Feltman is expected to visit Ethiopia in a renewed effort to end that country’s conflict.
China is among the countries suspected of supplying military hardware to the Ethiopian government, including drones.
Nasong’o Muliro, an international relations lecturer at the Technical University in Kenya, said China is turning from economic issues to military matters.
“Special representatives are not purely for trade. They do a lot of peace and security matters… But once China starts flexing its military power and having bases, then we may go to proxy wars," Muliro said.
The U.S. Department of Defense, in its annual report to Congress on China's military activities, said Beijing wants to establish military bases in Kenya and Tanzania, a claim denied by China.
Ethiopia is facing political instability after the government launched an offensive against rebels in the Tigray region in November 2020. The conflict has led to millions of people being displaced and tens of thousands dead. The 14-month-old war threatens to split the country.
Kenya’s Foreign Minister Raychelle Omamo said Wang and Kenyan officials also discussed trade issues during the foreign minister’s two-day visit.
“We signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) and the establishment of a working group will look into the issues of tariff and non-tariff barriers to Kenya-China trade and to fast-track and increase exports from Kenya to China. Both sides also concluded and signed two protocols to facilitate bilateral trade, particularly in the export of avocados and aquatic products from Kenya to China,” Omamo said.
The Chinese delegation visited the Kipevu oil terminal in Mombasa, which cost $400 million to build.
Chinese money accounts for 67% of Kenya’s bilateral debt, and many Kenyans fear the country may lose control of key facilities like the Mombasa port if Kenya fails to repay the loans.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that debts to China account for 67% of Kenya's bilateral debt, not external debt, as previously reported.