By Tsehai Alemayehu, Ph.D.
The Biden administration is misreading or deliberately miscasting the critical developments in Ethiopia. Its concerns about the massive violation of human rights on both sides was/is on point. Nothing else is. Its understanding of how we got here and what comes next seem to be based on self-serving misinformation received without critical evaluation from one of the parties in a fifty year conflict. This is either a grave error by the national security services or a poisonous lie by America’s diplomats. Either way it needs to be corrected quickly, before we repeat what happened in Iraq following George W. Bush’s charge of “weapons of mass destruction”. The Iraqi people and US servicemen and women are still living through the after effects of that disaster. Ethiopia and its 115 million residents have even less resources to come back from the precipice of devastation if we don’t immediately pause and evaluate where we are headed…even though we are unlikely to see American GIs engaged in a firefight in Ethiopia.
I was distressed to read earlier this week statements made by the US Secretary of State forbidding the still sovereign Ethiopian state from managing its internal affairs as any free nation would do. Blinken warns that country that it will not be permitted to even redraw its administrative districts. Ethiopia’s government is sure to fall if it were to subordinate its sovereignty by complying with such a decree.
On November 17, a lame duck president Trump commenting on the disagreement between Ethiopia and Egypt on the filling of a dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile, stated that Egypt should “blow up the dam . . . they have to do something”. Most believed that it was just Trump being Trump and US foreign policy will return to more familiar calm and balanced style of the past. Strangely, for all of President Biden’s pronouncements that “America is back” during the recent G7 gathering, as it relates to US-Ethiopian relations, his leadership looks a lot like Trump 2.0.
The Biden administration is not just insisting on continuing the Trump negotiating roundtable outside of the African Union framework. It seems to be clearly in favor of Egypt’s notion that a colonial treaty between imperial Britain and its colonies, to which the sovereign state of Ethiopia was not a party, should be the starting point for negotiations on the dam. The invitation to invade has not been disavowed or withdrawn by the Biden administration.
History tells us that Ethiopians, including those who often view each other as adversaries, will eventually come together to respond to any foreign military intervention. But history is silent on what Ethiopians are likely to do should the US and the EU strangulate their country and push it into the abys of a failed state.
I have been trying hard to find historical parallels to the current posture of the US and the EU. The only event in modern history that looks like what the west is presently working on was the sounding of the ward drums aimed at post 9-11 Iraq. But Ethiopia is not a big trophy like Iraq.
On the contrary, the administration will pay heavy political price among African Americans if it helps break up Ethiopia as many believe to be the main goal of the administration.
It is not just historical parallels that are scarce. So are legitimate rationales for US belligerence. It has been said governments always seek to advance their national interests. If that maxim holds it means that the US and the west must have significant interests in the breakup of Ethiopia. I struggle with that thought for I cannot understand how the demise and humiliation of Ethiopia advances America’s interests? What is to be gained by engineering the breakup of one of the oldest human civilizations? Haven’t we learned anything from our Iraqi adventure?
I see nothing positive coming from an American engineered chaos in Ethiopia. Certainly, Ethiopia will lose all the momentum it had gained on its effort towards ending poverty. The country which had doubled income per citizen every 5 year over the last 15 years, would be driven back to extreme poverty and hopelessness. Should the worst case scenario materialize, as many as 30 million Ethiopians will become refugees and tens of thousands will perish in the Sahara and Mediterranean.
Strangely, Ethiopians take pride in their centuries long diplomatic relations with the US. But I have always known that the warm feelings Ethiopians harbor about their long relationship is not as valued on the other side. Living 50+ years as a black man in America gives one a unique perspective for understanding just how much a Eurocentric society would or would not value its relations with a nation which considers itself to be the center of Africa and the heart of blackness.
Could that be where the answer to the current puzzle lies? There certainly have been many conspiracy theories shared by Ethiopians as explanations for why non-Africans seem to always be on the lookout for opportunities to put down Ethiopia and her achievements. Yes, I know racism is too simple of a crutch to explain the damaging policy of the US and the west. Yet given the daily stream of abhorrent comments coming from Secretary Anthony Blinken and Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield those conspiracy theories gain momentum by the day, as nothing else seems to fit.
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