US’s policy towards Ethiopia is never to protect the interest of Ethiopia but the United States’. No amount of lobbying will change that.
A Response to Dr. Yonas Biru, PhD
Tibebe Samuel Ferenji
Twitter : @tibebesamuel
This is a response to Dr. Yonas Biru’s article titled “What Explains Biden’s Counterintuitive Policy on TPLF’s War on Ethiopia” published on various websites in July and August 2021. Dr. Yonas, also known as “Koki Abesolome” in the Social Media circle, has provided many useful suggestions and is one of the outspoken Ethiopians about the need for “robust Public relations” for Ethiopia to make its case against the TPLF’s intensified propaganda. Dr. Yonas often raises thought-provoking issues to make us see beyond the obvious. I often agree with the position that he takes and have learned a great deal from his postings and articles. In his aforementioned article, he has raised important and essential questions we all need to answer and think about.
I completely agree Ethiopia needs a “robust public relation” to get the support of the international community and to counter the fabricated news stories and TPLF led propaganda. Where I disagree with Dr. Yonas is on his assessment of what the US and EU’s interests are, his advocacy for lobbyists to make Ethiopia’s case, and his understanding or lack thereof of what the “international community” is. With all due respect, his assertion the US strategic interest is the betterment of Ethiopia is destitute in facts and short in his analysis. As I was preparing this for publication, the world has learned how the United States betrayed one of its most important allies, the French. This betrayal of France clearly shows the length the US goes for its self-interest. The message here is clear; whether you are a friend or foe, the US interest comes first at any cost.
Dr. Yonas raised 10 questions for his readers to answer in his attempt to convince us the United States has “a goodwill” towards Ethiopia for the “sake of Ethiopia” and save Ethiopia from “itself”. I am reminded of a story told by Africans about the missionaries who came to Africa. ‘The missionaries told them they came to Africa in “goodwill”; they brought a bible with them; they told them to close their eyes and pray; while they were praying their eyes closed, they robbed them their land and left them with the bible on their hands.’ We lived in an era where we were robbed of our resources and dignity because we believed in the goodwill of others. Did that approach change since? I am not certain. Dr. Yonas accuses the Ethiopian Diaspora of being stuck in the cold war era and as a community that has not changed its understanding of what the US’s strategic interest is at this juncture. Although the cold war is over, Dr. Yonas failed to address how the US policy or strategic interest has changed since the end of the cold war; how the US policy and strategic interests are any different today vis-a-vis Russia or China? Are the US approach and interest in Africa any different from countering the Soviet’s influence during the cold war and China’s influence in the current climate of “warm war” with China? These are crucial issues Dr, Yonas did not address as he debunked the Diaspora community. In this part, I will respond to the first five questions raised in the aforementioned article to clearly show the points he raised don’t give us a clear picture if the US interest is the same as the interest of Ethiopia. In my humble opinion, it shows the opposite. I will reflect on the US government’s, particularly the Biden administration’s interest in Ethiopia. In the following parts I will answer the remaining questions and address why hiring lobbyists is not a must for Ethiopia to force Biden to change its policy; doing so, will be in conflict with the current strategic interest of the Biden administration. I will also point out the impact of lobbyists in the legislative branch of the US, and why it is not effective in the Executive Branch. Since the executive branch foreign policy focuses solely on “what is for the US in it”, no amount of lobbying will compete with the interest of the United States. It is important to answer what really is the US interest in Ethiopia and how different it is from the cold war. Let me begin by answering the 10 questions posed by Dr. Yonas:
1. “In February 2020, an article appeared on the Atlantic Council website under the headline “The US Should Adopt a Marshall Plan for Ethiopia.” Atlantic Council is one of America’s top think tanks focused on international security and global economic prosperity. It was created by “moderate internationalist wings of both the Democratic and Republican parties.” The article on Ethiopia was republished in major American newspapers including the Hill (widely read at “the Hill” – also known as the US Congress) and the World News. The question is: If the US is bent on destroying Ethiopia how does Ethiopia get such positive attention?”
The Answer to this question is simple; the “positive attention Ethiopia got in this article has nothing to do with the US government policy. The article was produced by Atlantic Council, an influential lobbyist group. This was not “a planned policy for Ethiopia by the US government.” This was an article published to give US corporations a foothold in Ethiopia when Ethiopia opens up its financial and airlines industry for foreign investors as it was announced by Dr. Abiy’s administration. What Dr. Yonas failed to mention the purpose of this article and the suggestion for Marshal Plan type economic assistance was to establish a conducive business atmosphere and build infrastructure so US multinational corporations can do business and protect their interest. The idea was presented in part to point out how to counter China’s influence in Africa. We may assume such investment will help Ethiopia; the question is at what cost.
2. “If the US favors TPLF, why was it quiet during the first three weeks of the war, when TPLF was being demolished and annihilated? Eritrea was involved soon after TPLF invaded the Northern Command. Why was the US quiet on this for the first month or so?”
The answer is, it was not quite; in fact, secretary Pompeo issued a statement. According to reports “In a statement on Wednesday evening, [November 5, a day after the attack] Pompeo said the U.S. is “deeply concerned” over reports that the Ethiopian military was attacked by regional forces of the Tigray government stationed in that territory, in the north of the country on the border with Eritrea.” There was no strong condemnation or a demand to bring the preparators of such crimes to justice. On November 17, Secretary Pompeo said “We urge the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) and the Ethiopian authorities to take immediate steps to de-escalate the conflict, restore peace, and protect civilians,”. It was on this day, he said “U.S. condemns Tigrayan leaders for attacking Eritrea”. There was no condemnation of the TPLF for massacring Ethiopian soldiers. Is this the type of action expected from a country that has no desire to see destabilized Ethiopia? The assertion that the US was quiet for three weeks is not true. In fact, by treating both sides as “equal” the US gave “legitimacy” to the TPLF.
3. “If US’s strategic policy is to undermine Ethiopia’s interest vis a vis Egypt and to bring TPLF back to power, why do Egypt and TPLF spend millions on lobbyists? Why not sit and observe as the US implements its strategic goal?”
The answer is to undermine Ethiopia’s interest. What Dr. Yonas could not tell us was whether the absence of lobbying by the TPLF and Egypt would have made any difference. He presented no evidence it is the lobbying that influenced Biden’s policy. There are certain marketing strategies that make entities spend money for lobbying whether it works or not. Because we believe it does not mean it will. Whether the TPLF and Egypt spent their money or not, the executive branch strategy towards Ethiopia would not be any different from what we are witnessing today. We have seen this play out publicly in the brutal murder of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
According to the CIA, there is strong evidence the Saudi Crown prince was involved in this heinous crime. Many PR firms and influential newspaper owners lobbied congress and Trump to punish Saudi and the Crown Prince. Saudi was spending about 30 million dollars per year for lobbying before this incident. After this incident, the lobbying expenditure was reduced to 17 million per year and eventually went down to 6 million. The Saudi’s learned how ineffective lobbying the executive branch is. Those who relied heavily on lobbying the white house got a blunt answer from the White House. Trump said “…his [Khashoggi’s] death has already been investigated and a Saudi pledge to spend billions of dollars on U.S. military equipment “means something to me.” This speaks volumes about the strategic interest of the United States. Do you think you will change the US’s policy towards Israel or Saudi by lobbying the Executive Branch? obviously not. So, you can influence the White House by PR firms that are devoid of facts.
4. “If the US’s interest was to avoid the creation of a united and strong Ethiopia or to break up Ethiopia into tribal components, why did it play a significant role in dethroning TPLF in 2018? There is no party that could have happily worked with the US to dismantle Ethiopia other than TPLF.”
Answer: When Dr. Yonas asked this question, he did not tell us where the United States was when the TPLF was working hard “to break up Ethiopia into tribal components”. I don’t know where Dr. Yonas got “his facts from”. Where did the US play any significant role in dethroning TPLF in 2018”? Where was the United States for 27 years when the TPLF divided the country along ethnic lines and destroyed Ethiopianism? I am very surprised by this statement. The US protected the TPLF. Every State Department official I spoke with gave me similar answers when I asked how the US could continue to support the TPLF while ignoring the suffering of the Ethiopian people. They said, “if the EPRDF is removed, Ethiopia would be unstable; our concern is stability, not democracy”. The US was giving lip service to the Ethiopian people while it provided weapons, funds, and training to the TPLF led brutal regime and subjugated them for ethnic Apartheid rule. What was the “significant role the US played?” Dr. Yonas did not tell us. It is with the blood and sacrifice of Ethiopians the TPLF was removed from power not because of the US. The pretentious posturing of the United States has nothing to do with dethroning the TPLF. In fact, the US is responsible for the suffering that we were subjected under the brutality of the TPLF for 27 years.
5. “From the time he took power, PM Abiy has been promoting Pan Ethiopianism. It is within the first three months after he took office that he attributed Ethiopia’s political problem to the nation’s tribal constitution. Why did the US support him for two years without any equivocation? Remember what Herman Cohen advised the PM via Twitter in April 2018: “Do not be reluctant to take bold steps toward democratic reform. TPLF politico-economic monopolists have been revealed as frauds and will not be able to restrain you. [The] international community is with you.” Remember also that Cohen was one of the people who nominated the PM for the Nobel Prize.”
Answer: First, we must understand who was in power at that time. It was Donald Trump. Donald Trump did not care about Africa; he considered us as S-holes. He did not pay attention to what was going on in Ethiopia until he thought interfering in the GERD would bring him a “Nobel Prize”. This was a president who did not even read his “daily intelligence briefing report”. He did not want to do anything with Africa. Second, the US and many Europeans expected Abiy to be like any other African leader; they did not expect a Pan-Africanist that cannot be persuaded with blackmail or bribe. Third, As Dr. Abiy explained to the public, all his moves were controlled by the TPLF for many months after he took power; the US knew this but did not do anything about it. Dr. Yonas tells us what Herman Cohen said in his Twitter “Remember what Herman Cohen advised the PM via Twitter in April 2018: “Do not be reluctant to take bold steps toward democratic reform. TPLF politico-economic monopolists have been revealed as frauds and will not be able to restrain you. [The] international community is with you.” Are we supposed to take Cohen’s statement on its face value as if he did not have any evil intent behind it? I am not going into detail about the crimes Herman Cohen committed against the people of Ethiopia. I am sorry to say, I find such a statement offensive and an insult to our intelligence. There is no question the US and EU want “a friendly government” in Ethiopia and they want that “friendly government” to serve their interest. They did not know how Dr. Abiy was going to govern when he came to power. Now they know and can’t stand him. Why do you think the media always raises his Nobel Prize? They are saying “we bribed you in advance but you are not serving us as we expected you”. (will continue)
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