The Dilemma of U.S. Policy in Ethiopia -Part I
Introduction to the series…
This rather long and somewhat discursive introduction to the ongoing series I have dubbed “The Dilemma of U.S. Policy in Ethiopia: Policy Options” [hereinafter “policy options series”] is necessary to set the stage for what I hope will be a cyber platform for ongoing discussions and exchange of creative and innovative ideas for a more effective U.S. policy in Ethiopia.
In 1991, the U.S. played the role of power broker effectively delivering Ethiopia into the hands of the TPLF. Ethiopia became one of the last pawns in the Cold War.
Over the past quarter of a century, the U.S. has poured tens of billions of American tax dollars to support the regime of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front.
What has the U.S. received in return?
I would argue not even a heartfelt thank you. The Chinese got all of the “thank you’s”.
What do American taxpayers have to show for the billions of dollars in aid they poured into Ethiopia?
I am afraid, not much!
It is unfortunate that a significant portion of U.S. aid in Ethiopia over the past quarter of a century has been looted, stolen, misused and illicitly transferred out of the country by the leaders of the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF).
I do not discuss specific policy options, proposals or recommendations for U.S. policy in Ethiopia in this commentary. That shall follow in subsequent commentaries in the form of “Policy Options” papers, analyses and documents.
In this commentary, I merely set the stage for the ongoing series by pulling together key foundational questions, issues, facts and critical analyses which will help inform my future policy discussions, analyses and recommendations.
In this series, I aim to achieve several broad objectives: 1) Spark informed debate and robust discussion on the likely outcomes of the current situation in Ethiopia in general, and more specifically focus on what the U.S. can and should do (and must not do) in light of emerging developments in Ethiopia. 2) Generate informed policy analysis and recommendations for consideration and use by American policy makers responsible for formulating policy in Ethiopia. 3) Educate the concerned Ethiopian and American publics on available policy options and risks and opportunities associated with particular policy options in Ethiopia. 4) Directly engage American policy makers in the executive and policy forums and help shape U.S. policy in Ethiopia. 5) Generate a body of cogent policy analyses which will serve to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia.
There has been a dearth of critical, informed and evidence-based analysis on U.S. policy in Ethiopia over the past decade. Yet, there is a considerable body of publicly available data which cries out for mining by Ethiopian and Ethiopian American scholars and policy analysts. What is available in the Ethiopian blogosphere, in large part, simply does not cut the mustard as policy analysis.
I want to state emphatically that the foremost purpose of the series herein is to invite, indeed to vigorously challenge, Ethiopian and Ethiopian American scholars, academics, researchers, policy analysts and other Ethiopianists to come forward and make a contribution to better inform U.S. policy in Ethiopia. This undertaking should not be regarded as something novel. American scholars of diverse national heritage engage American leaders in the executive and legislative branches in a variety of ways every day, including as “experts”, “specialists”, “consultants”, “analysts” and in other professional capacities.
To clarify, I refer to “Ethiopian” and “Ethiopian American” scholars and others herein to signify the fact that Ethiopian Americans as citizens and taxpayers have the constitutional right to make demands on their government. Ethiopian Americans have the right to petition their government for a redress of grievances, which means among other things, they can demand their government change its domestic or foreign policies. Regrettably, Ethiopians have no such right in their country, or in the U.S., obviously. But they do have a right to express themselves under international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
On a number of occasions over the years, particularly during my days of advocacy for passage of H.R. 2003, I have been asked two critical questions by very influential people in the U.S. government (neither of which I have been unable to answer adequately to this day). 1) “What is the consensus of Ethiopian intellectuals about U.S. policy in Ethiopia?” 2) “Why can’t the Ethiopian opposition come as a unified voice and engage in grassroots advocacy in Congress?”
Passage of H.R. 2003 (“Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act”) in the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2007 is compelling evidence that determined collective action can indeed impact the policy making process.
Better late than never! Perhaps this series could help focus the efforts of the Ethiopian democratic opposition in the United States to come together and directly contribute to the policy process.
I believe Ethiopian American intellectuals today have a great opportunity to impact policy in the Trump administration, if only they can compartmentalize their views on Trump as a person and president. I know many of them have disengaged from the policy process over the past couple of years embittered by the monumental betrayal of Barack Obama.
I have previously called on and challenged Ethiopian intellectuals and Ethiopianists to rise to the occasion and engage American policy makers confidently and forthrightly on Ethiopian issues. I have always found it ironic that some non-Ethiopian academics are invited to testify before Congress and provide “expert” analysis to the State Department when able Ethiopians watch from the sidelines. Where some leave a vacuum, others rush to fill it in. Such is the universal law of vacuum.
The fact of the matter is that few Ethiopian scholars and intellectuals have risen to the occasion and stood up and spoken on behalf of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. In June 2010, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Where Have the Ethiopian Intellectuals Gone?”, lamenting this fact.
In 2017, I still feel a little bit like Diogenes the Cynic, the Greek philosopher, who used to walk the streets of ancient Athens carrying a lamp in broad daylight looking for an honest man.
I have “walked” the hallowed grounds of Western academia, searched the cloistered spaces of the arts and scientific professions and traverse the untamed frontiers of cyberspace with torchlight in hand looking for Ethiopian public intellectuals, those willing, able and ready to share their knowledge and expertise with policy makers and the common folk.
I have found very few.
That does not mean they are not “out there”. I personally know of dozens of top flight Ethiopian American scholars, academics and researchers who could play a dynamic role in transforming U.S. policy in Ethiopia in innovative and creative ways. From time to time, a few of them will drop a blog or two and vanish in the fog of the blogosphere. But the vast majority, for reasons known only to them, prefer silence in anonymity. I am hoping my challenge here will encourage them to disavow their vows of silence and join me in the debate and discussions. Indeed, I hope they will accept my challenge now and come out, stand up and be counted on the side of Ethiopia.
I am aware that some of my readers have difficulty comprehending my views expressed in numerous commentaries on my blog and in The Hill supporting Trump’s penetrating questions on U.S. policy in Africa, which has special relevance to Ethiopia. “How could I even mention Trump’s name…?” they ask me.
The answer is simple. Henry Kissinger said, “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”
I could say the same thing about Ethiopia!
Take Barack Obama, for instance. Obama ain’t no friend of Ethiopians. No doubt, he is a bosom friend of the TPLF thugs.
By the same token, Donald Trump who has said and done nothing to harm Ethiopia is no enemy of Ethiopia, or Africa. I believe Trump’s questions about U.S. aid accountability and corruption, use of counterterrorism cooperation as a meal ticket for dictatorial regimes, bogus trade deals and the double standard benefiting Chinese businesses is in any way harmful to Ethiopia or Africa.
Obama’s sins of commission are very different from Trump’s anticipated sins of omission.
Suffice it to say that Ethiopian Americans must “by nature be a fox but a hedgehog by conviction” in dealing with the Trump administration.
The dilemma of U.S. policy in Ethiopia
The dilemma of U.S. policy in Ethiopia is simply this: The T-TPLF is driving the country over the cliff into a cataclysmic civil war at breakneck speed. The Ethiopian opposition is fragmented, splintered, ineffective and disorganized.
The country is in a massive state of quiet riot.
The people of Ethiopia are engaged in mass acts of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance throughout the country. They refuse to pay the T-TPLF’s outrageous taxes and are resisting expropriation of their land. Every day the people are standing up defiantly and proclaiming to the T-TPLF, “Enough is enough! We ain’t gonna take it no more.”
The quiet riot is getting louder and louder by the day.
Two days ago, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa reported that it
is aware of reports that the main road from Addis Ababa to Jijiga has been blocked by security forces between the cities of Babile and Harar due to intense fighting including gunfire. Ethiopian Defense Force troops are arriving in the area, and the road is not passable.
The Voice of America, Amharic program also reported a few days ago that massive boycotts and strikes against the T-TPLF are taking place in the Amhara region.
The quiet riot is morphing into a creeping civil war slowly enveloping Ethiopia.
Is Ethiopia doomed to share the fate of Rwanda, as Meles Zenawi, the late thugmaster of the T-TPLF, once predicted?
Could the U.S. play a role to avert a civil war in Ethiopia?
The U.S. has always played a decisive role in Ethiopia.
Over the past eight years, the Obama administration has been the best friend for life of African dictators.
The U.S. poured billions of American tax dollars to keep the T-TPLF afloat despite its horrendous corruption and human rights record. Obama even declared the T-TPLF is democratically elected after the T-TPLF claimed one hundred percent control of the “parliament”, and a police state which pretty much every other aspect of the society.
In 1997, President Bill Clinton imposed a comprehensive trade embargo against Sudan and blocked the assets of the Sudanese government for the genocide in Darfur and sponsorship of terrorism.
On January 13, 2017, a week before the end of his term, signed an executive order removing Clinton’s trade embargo on the government of Omar al-Bashir, a dictatorship that has been in power since seizing power in a military coup in 1989. Bashir is today an indicted fugitive from justice at the International Criminal Court and listed on the Red Notice of Interpol for directing genocide in Darfur and other places in the Sudan.
Barack Obama never met an dictator or thugtator he did not love.
Trump has manifested very little interest in Africa.
For his apparent lack of expressed interest, he has been criticized for ignoring (and being ignorant) and neglecting Africa.
Indeed, the positions of National Security Council Africa director, assistant secretary and principal deputy assistant secretary for African affairs at the State Department remain vacant.
Trump has only spoken to the presidents of Nigeria and South Africa. Trump completely ignored Obama’s darlings and the biggest mooches of American tax dollars in Ethiopia. This past May, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited the Middle East and Africa to “reaffirm key U.S. military alliances” and engage with strategic partners.” Mattis only visited the tiny nation of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa where the U.S. maintains its largest military base.
Ethiopia was conspicuously absent from the “strategic partner” lineup. Does that signal a basic shift in U.S. policy in Ethiopia?
Trump’s critics argue that he simply fails “to realize the importance of Africa to U.S. national security interests, and America’s indispensable role in continuing to shape the democratic evolution of the continent.” They say he is callously turning his back on “more than 20 million people facing starvation and famine” in Africa. Their preferred solution is for Trump to appoint “moderate and experienced Africa experts” and old hands who perambulate through the revolving door of government, think tanks and consultancies and continue with business as usual.
I am not concerned about, and give little credit to, allegations that Trump is “ignoring” Africa.
I believe Obama has done much greater damage to the people of Africa by pouring billions of American tax dollars to support their oppressive dictators.
Perhaps Trump is “ignoring” Africa because he believes Africa’s dictators are not worth a damn. Not a dime of American tax dollars should be used to support their corruption and lavish life styles.
Perhaps Trump thinks Africa under the rule of thugtators and dictators is a rabbit hole for American tax dollars with no accountability. Maybe he does not want to throw good money after bad. I do not know.
But after examining Trump’s transitions team’s questions on Africa, all I can say is that they asked the same exact questions I have been asking for the past eleven years.
What more can I say!?
Where Trump’s critics see danger in “ignoring” Africa, I see great opportunity to engage and influence the Trump administration in its emerging Africa policy.
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