The resignation of US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa David Satterfield after less than six months in the role and at a time of persistent political turmoil has prompted concern about Washington's commitment to the region. Satterfield will step down from his role before summer, sources familiar with the matter were quoted as saying by Reuters.
Satterfield, a long-time career diplomat with decades of experience, had replaced Jeffrey Feltman, another veteran US diplomat who stepped down at the end of last year after about nine months in the job. Feltman continues to serve in an advisory capacity. The frequent change of personnel raises questions about the Biden administration's commitment to the region, particularly at a time when it is grappling with pressing foreign policy crises elsewhere, primarily the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
There are multiple crises in the region and neighbouring countries. A more than year-long conflict in Ethiopia has sparked accusations of atrocities on both sides, while Sudan is in economic and political turmoil following an October coup. The military takeover derailed a transition that had raised hopes of an end to decades of autocracy, civil conflict and economic isolation after former president Omar Al-Bashir was overthrown in a 2019 uprising.
Two leading human rights groups last week accused armed forces from Ethiopia's Amhara region of waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against ethnic Tigrayans during a war that has killed thousands of civilians and displaced more than a million. Figures released last September confirmed that UNHCR with the Commission for Refugees (COR) in Khartoum and partners were responding to the needs of about 55,000 Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers from Tigray who had crossed the border into neighbouring Sudan.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a joint report that abuses by Amhara officials and regional Special Forces and militias during fighting in western Tigray amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity. They also accused Ethiopia's military of complicity in those acts.
Ethiopia's government said last week that it was committed to holding all those responsible for violations of human rights and humanitarian law accountable.
The US State Department had no official comment when asked about Satterfield's departure. However, a senior State Department official said that the region remains an "absolute priority" for the Biden administration, but did not elaborate further.