The appointment of diplomat Sarah Montgomery was announced Tuesday just as Beijing’s special envoy to the Horn of Africa was in Ethiopia seeking to play a greater role in the region.
“From a humanitarian crisis enveloping the Horn of Africa to our deepening ties across the Gulf, the UK’s relationship with the Red Sea region is at a critical juncture,” Britain’s Minister for Africa Vicky Ford said in a statement.
The Horn of Africa has a strategic position opposite the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf of Aden.
Montgomery was previously at the British embassy in Washington and also held senior roles in the Gulf, Yemen and Iran section at the UK’s National Security Secretariat, the statement said.
“Her experience on security issues in the Gulf indicates that the Red Sea will be her focus,” Ben Hunter, East Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.
“Saudi Arabia and the UAE have become major security and economic players in the Horn.”
Three countries in the region – Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – are in the grip of a punishing drought, with warnings that Somalia is at risk of famine.
Northern Ethiopia has been engulfed in a war that erupted in November 2020 between government forces and Tigrayan rebels, and the country is also being shaken by several local conflicts of varying intensity.
China’s special envoy Xue Bing, who was appointed to the role in February, said Tuesday after a two-day regional conference in Addis Ababa that Beijing wanted to play a “more important role” in promoting peace and security in the Horn.
The United States earlier this month named veteran diplomat Mike Hammer as its latest envoy for the Horn with the delicate task of building on Ethiopia’s fragile efforts towards peace.