We all ask: Why is the US [the West] so much in love with TPLF?
Editor’s note : the content was first shared on Ethiopian p2p forum on Thursday. It is shared on borkena to see the audience would engage with the questions. Share your views in the comment section.
Truth be told, these types of questions are irrelevant and counterproductive.
We should instead frame questions, even if only rhetorically, that would eventually help us think through the mess our country is going through. I would like to start with the following premises (assumptions, if you please) in a bid to provoke explanation for US/Western stance on the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia and then propose “workable” solution options. You are free to agree or disagree with them in so long as you provide reasonable, persuasive arguments, in which case we might be compelled to start all over again. Here I go:
1. The US /West is not planning and working toward the fragmentation or dissolution of Ethiopia or otherwise making Ethiopia a failed state. It would be a strategic folly to pursue such policy for the simple reason that it would harm the US and its regional and European allies first and foremost. It is simply playing its classic Superpower role in its competition to dislodge Ethiopia from any potential or actual rival (e.g. Chinese, Russia, etc.) influence and to exercise its hegemony in the HoA (Horn of Africa), no matter what it costs Ethiopia.
2. The US/West recognizes that the TPLF is hated by the majority of Ethiopians. The US therefore is not working to reinstate the TPLF regime as such. True, the US/West is actively supporting the TPLF fight against the current Abiy-led Prosperity regime. This is so because the US/West finds it a convenient opportunity to exert leverage on PM Abiy.
3. The US/West has benefited from the 27-year TPLF/EPRDF rule because the TPLF regime had provided proven services and as such has been a pivotal, reliable US security-anchor/partner/service-provider in its fight against terrorism in the strategic Horn of Africa [HoA] and other US/West interests in the HOA and still has loyal agents in its service it intends to retain in circulation.
4. The US/West, recognizing the growing repression, institutionalized corruption and hence alienation of the TPLF regime from the Ethiopian society, and taking into account the ever-escalating popular resistance against the TPLF regime that reached its peak in 2018, was interested to facilitate a smooth exit for the TPLF regime, while at the same time maintaining its geo-strategic-security interests and continuing the TPLF-era geo-strategic and security priorities in the HoA unaltered by the new regime.
5. The US/West supported the coming to power of PM Abiy with the assumption it would be more acceptable to put in place a new leader with a new face, from a new and large, ambitious Oromo constituency who nevertheless would maintain the status quo, i.e. the security architecture/partnership built during the TPLF-led regime. The US assumption was that PM Abiy’s regime would be as compliant as TPLF’s – sort of TPLF Version 2, which failed to materialize.
6. As it stands, however, PM Abiy seems not to follow that playbook. Abiy’s independent policy is considered dangerous in that it would create a sort of “coalition of the defiant” threat in the HoA (possibly consisting of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti) thus opening the region to unwanted influence/presence for actual or potential US adversaries (e.g., China, Russia, etc.). Hence the need to compel PM Abiy to change course, and failing that, to put in place a new compliant regime (Version 3) that would continue providing the security anchor/service to the US command that controls the HoA region.
To summarize: the foregoing premises lead us to conclude that US/West strategic interest in the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia is:
A. Not about reinstating to power (or power-sharing) or otherwise saving TPLF from its demise as such, but using the TPLF resistance as leverage to compel PM Abiy to be compliant. In other words, provided PM Abiy submits, TPLF is dispensable.
B. About the installation of US/West -friendly, compliant post-TPLF regime capable of holding the country together while providing the “usual, expected” security services that would spare the US from having to deploy US-manned fighting force in the HoA, which, particularly given the fiasco in Iraq and Afghanistan, is likely to exact huge domestic political costs. The US/West is in search of an Ethiopian partner regime that would provide critical “anchor-security” services (e.g., in peace-keeping, peace making operations and, as needed, unilateral rapid deployment/military intervention in the region, to check other superpower influence and beyond).
Assuming the arguments above hold, what then would be the implications? What alternatives i.e. response options are available for Ethiopia?
I can think of the following four scenarios.
A. Pursue a “non-aligned” policy: The government would be pursuing a foreign policy strictly adhering to the principle of “non-alignment”, not unlike the policy Haile Selassie’s regime followed after WW II. Haile Selassie’s astute technocrats were able to outmaneuver the British, aligning with the emerging global power, the US, while maintaining an equally friendly relationship with USSR and China and playing an active role in the “non-aligned” movement. Unfortunately, the opportunity created by this brilliant policy was wasted and was not leveraged to develop the country and instead was spent on pageantry to build the cult of HIM. Of course, it is debatable whether the current international context and alignment of forces permits the pursuit of nonaligned policies by poor countries such as Ethiopia.
B. Pursue a “pan-Africanist/anti-colonial policy”: The only continent [and populace therein] that has not made a dent into development since the end of WW II is Africa, more so Sub-Saharan Africa. Post-WW II Africa has been the arena where colonial policies were perpetuated albeit with African figureheads. With time the youth of Africa has grown fed up with the neo-colonial African state and the leaders heading them. The emergence and wide appeal of leaders like Thomas Sankara is a testimony and an early indicator of such reorientations. HoA could possibly be one such region where a genuine pan-African, savvy, results-focused and capable coalition of nations emerges. Building such a bloc to face any unwarranted exploitative influence from the US/West/East could be one option. Again, one can raise a number of doubts and questions about the feasibility of such an option.
C. Pursue “strategic partnership and alliance” with the US/West: If you cannot fight them, join them. Stoop to conquer, as the Chinese say. Make strategic, unwavering security commitment and partisanship with the West (such as S. Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and to a lesser extent Indonesia and Malaysia did) in return for shelter, protection and tangible economic results, scientific-technological knowledge transfer, and institution building. This again assumes political elite consensus, professionalized, honest government institutions that deliver and committed, thinking, nimble “entrepreneurial” political leadership capable of navigating the Ethiopian state through the turbulent waters of an ever-complex evolving international waters of diplomacy and geostrategic rivalry.
D. Pursue “strategic partnership and alliance” with rival powers: Similar to the above [C] but this time with China, Russia, etc. China did it post WW II. It made a strategic partnership with USSR until it built its industrial and technological base with massive Soviet assistance, then pivoted and switched sides in 1978 and allied with the US/West opening itself up and arrived to where it is now. The Vietnamese followed a similar path. N. Korea as well. For these countries, their policy was China first, Vietnam first, Korea first … ideology second. Here too, one can ask many troubling questions. Is Ethiopia’s social/cultural structure similar to that of the named countries? Does the requisite political elite consensus exist in Ethiopia now? Is it possible to build that consensus expeditiously? Such questions and doubts are legitimate and the comparison with other countries should be subjected to stern tests.
E. Muddle along: In the absence of any clarity, avoid strategic thinking and keep on stumbling from one point to another like a drunkard, hoping a big fall will not break us apart!
Whatever option is chosen, the underlying assumption for execution [options A-through D] would be “consensus”, almost unanimity, at least on this single issue of foreign policy, among the Ethiopian “political class”, however that is defined. For execution, whatever option is chosen, further assumption is that there would be competent, clean, dedicated professionalized institutions that plan, execute, follow up and deliver results at every tier in most critical sectors. This is a tall order.
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