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John Kerry has just completed his first trip to Africa as Secretary of State.  He briefly touched down in Ethiopia to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity (now known as the African Union).  Kerry’s time in Ethiopia appears to have passed relatively unremarkably and the African part of the trip itself appears to be an afterthought, sandwiched between travels in the Middle East (he also met with the Egyptian president while in Ethiopia).

The press that Kerry did receive has focused on two issues.

  • The Secretary met with key players from both Sudan and South Sudan.   Kerry has been engaged in Sudanese affairs for a while now, so this indicates a willingness to become involved in situations in which there is a preexisting comfort level (this probably bodes ill for high-level US engagement in countries like Zimbabwe, the Central African Republic, Guinea, etc.)
  • The Secretary apparently cautioned Nigerian security forces on the need to refrain from human rights abuses while combatting Boko Haram militants.  While this isn’t as bad as Johnnie Carson’s ‘choices have consequences’ meddling comment, I do think it was unadvised.  Nigeria’s excesses may indeed be fueling Boko Haram’s insurgency, but the AU’s Golden Jubilee is not the proper forum in which to deliver these remarks.  High level US engagement in Africa has been traditionally sparse.  Why criticize a strong ally, one of Africa’s most powerful nations, at a forum that has convened the whole continent?  I’d rather see strong remarks directed to Togo, Chad, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Cameroon or other nations with major governance issues and more explicit authoritarianism.

Do any readers know when Kerry first visited Africa?