A Response to Dr. Yonas Biru, (PhD)
By Tibebe Samuel Ferenji
In the first part, I answered five of the questions posed by Dr. Yonas in his article titled “What Explains Biden’s Counterintuitive Policy on TPLF’s War on Ethiopia”. Before I respond to his questions, I would like to emphasize the need for Ethiopians to think “out of the box”. There seems to be a vacuum of knowledge in understanding how foreign policy in the US is formed. There is no confusion or misunderstanding of facts in Ethiopia by US policymakers. They have all the information available to them; the policy went through a rigorous review before it is implemented. Let us not have any illusions about how the US policy is made. As Ambassador Shinn said in his interview with Al Jazeera, the US makes a policy decision after gathering the necessary information from the intelligence officers operating on the ground. Therefore, we need to change our naïve approach and understand that US policy is well planned, predesigned, and formed with a concerted effort to primarily protect the interest of the United States.
Now, allow me to respond to Dr. Yonas’s question starting from number 6.
6. “The US knows that TPLF is the most hated party not only in the entire Ethiopia, but also in Kenya, Djibouti, Somalia, and most of all Eritrea. They know TPLF will not be able to govern Ethiopia. If the US wishes a regime change, it will not pick a party that is totally rejected by 100 million people of Ethiopia and by all its neighboring countries in a region that is considered one of the world’s most strategic lands.”
Answer: I really am surprised by some of Dr. Yonas’ questions. Before answering, let me pose my own question. The US knew the TPLF was the most hated party by the people of Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Somalia, and Eritrea, why did the US support the TPLF to stay in power for 27 years despite its brutality? The history of the United States teaches us, they don’t care whether a particular ruler is popular or not.
Dr. Salvador Allende was a popular leader in Chile, he was elected by the majority in the 1970 election as a leader of the socialist party. The US was not happy because it believed Allende would nationalize US companies in Chile and would harm the US economically. According to the US Senate report, Chile had a long-standing democratic tradition dating back to the early 1930s. After Allende’s election, the CIA and NSA spent more than 8 million dollars to undermine and sabotage Allende’s administration.
The US went further and assisted Pinochet. In 1973, one of the most brutal men on the face of the earth, General Pinochet, deposed Allende, the man who won the election and took power. Pinochet ruled Chile brutally with the assistance of the United States because Pinochet was subservient to the United States. He was the most hated person in Chile; however, that did not stop the United States from supporting him. Nixon believed Allende was a danger to the US’s interest. Although Nixon continued a normal relation with Allende, his administration helped General Augusto Pinochet to take power with a bloody coup. So, when Dr. Yonas said “If the US wishes a regime change, it will not pick a party that is totally rejected by 100 million people of Ethiopia and by all its neighboring countries…” (emphasis added), it does not conform with the history of the United States. The answer is, yes, the US would put the most unpopular ruler in power as long as it serves the US’s primary interest.
You can find a similar situation in Egypt. While Egypt was under the Monarchy, the US was its close allies. After the revolution until 1954, the US had no problem with Egypt. However, in 1954, after Gamal Abdel Nasser, became a Prime Minister, and Nasser enacted nationalist policies in Egypt, he was viewed as completely unacceptable by Britain and the US. MI6 and the CIA jointly hatch plans for his assassination.
According to Miles Copeland, a CIA operative based in Egypt, the opposition to Nasser is driven by the commercial community—the oil companies and the banks. Nasser’s Egyptian nationalism and “Pan-Arabism” did not sit well with the west; Nasser “died” in 1970. His replacement was Anwar Sadat, a well-known US puppet. What was the interest of the US in Egypt other than having yes men at the helm of power to protect the interest of its multinational corporations? How can we assume Abiy’s Pan-Africanism and his position to primarily protect the interest of Ethiopia is not in the interest of the United States? Why did the US depose Mohammed Morsi of Egypt, if the US truly wants a stable democratic nation where the people are governed with their consent? Dr. Yonas failed to address these crucial issues.
7. “Though the pressure on Ethiopia was ratcheted up under Biden, the pressure started in full earnest during Trump. The question is why did Biden ratchet up the pressure? Remember Trump was in office for 10 weeks after the TPLF triggered a war. In the last five weeks of his presidency, Trump was pressuring Ethiopia to find a peaceful resolution.”
Answer: Trump was obsessed with his defeat after the November 6 election. US policymakers in the executive branch were pressuring Ethiopia instead of pressuring the TPLF. If what happened in Ethiopia happened in Germany or France, the United States would have been ready to send troops to assist Germany or France. The US did not act as an ally of Ethiopia when it was supposed to act because one way or the other the US needed someone considered a reliable ally as part of the government to protect its interest. Dr. Yonas said “Trump was pressuring Ethiopia to find a peaceful resolution.” This shows the US was putting the Ethiopian government and the TPLF on equal footing from the start. This is not the action of a government that wants to see a stabilized Ethiopia.
8. “The US has been threatening Ethiopia to block US aid since December 2019. Why has it not done it? In fact, why has it been increasing its aid to Ethiopia? Remember the US DFC $5 billion was approved in April 2020, after Ethiopia rejected US’s foolish order not to start filling the dam.”
Answer: As the US foreign policymakers have said repeatedly, they will not stop aid that “helps” the people. Their sanction is to harm the leaders and those “who are obstacles for negotiation”. As of May 2021, the United States had already suspended $23 million in security aid to Ethiopia in addition to putting visa restrictions on many officials. The US also has pressured the IMF and World Bank to use their lending power to deny Ethiopia loans. Thus, the assertion that the US has been increasing its aid to Ethiopia (other than humanitarian aids in the war region) does not hold water. The question we need to ask is why would the United States threaten Ethiopia at all? Isn’t the purpose of the threat for Ethiopia to yield to the interest of the United States?
9. “Obviously, the US would not offer billions to a country whose destruction it seeks. Obviously, also the US would not hesitate to block US aid to a country whose government it seeks to get rid of. How can one explain this if the US’s interest is undermining Ethiopia?”
Answer: What Dr. Yonas is missing here is what is beneath the surface. It is obvious the US does not want a destabilized Ethiopia at this juncture because it is still hoping to bring back the TPLF to power. The US wants to see a stabilized Ethiopia as long as its interest is protected. Why would the US push for negotiation knowing the TPLF wants to use “negotiation” as a springboard to get rid of the current leadership in Ethiopia? The US knows this and the TPLF did not make it a secret either. Why pressure Ethiopia when you can pressure the TPLF by urging its leaders to surrender or else it would be designated as an international terrorist organization. If the US wants to end the war, this would have been the easiest and fastest venue.
10. “Why did the US pressure Ethiopia not to conduct its election, including with a stern threat to block funding, but accepted the election results after Ethiopia conducted its election as planned?”
Answer: Why indeed? The United States knew one of the issues faced by the Abiy administration is the issue of legitimacy. The US should have supported the election; but, it did not; why? The US accepted Ethiopia’s election because it had no choice. The people made it clear, they will choose their own leaders at the time of their choosing. The irony is, the US was pressuring the governments it installed in Iraq and Afghanistan to conduct an election to give them legitimacy while 50% of these countries’ regions were at war. Why? The United States wanted to portray stability and legitimacy in Afghanistan and Iraq, but not in Ethiopia. This is not an act of an ally.
To put it in perspective, this writer strongly believes the US foreign policymakers are not misinformed nor do they misunderstand what is going on in Ethiopia. They know, exactly, what they are doing. They want to protect the interest of the United States at the expense of Ethiopia. How can anyone compete with this interest? What kind of lobbying would change this?
As stated in the first part, you may change some members of congress’ minds using lobbyists; you can’t change the Executive Branch’s policy using lobbyists. The members of congress don’t have that much “teeth” when it comes to foreign policy. In fact, if the Ethiopian Diaspora works hard to work with African Americans, various civic organizations, African American Churches, and get truly involved in American politics flexing their political muscle as a community, at a grass root level, the Diaspora can make a significant dent in the political arena of the United States. The Diaspora has failed in this aspect.
Dr. Yonas, naively argues that the US interest is not a regime change in Ethiopia. Maybe he sees the goodness of others because he is “Wolloye”; most Wolloyes tend to see the goodness of others and believe all men are created with good intentions. If the US and its European allies truly want to end the conflict in Ethiopia, the solution is simple: Designating the TPLF as an international terrorist organization. If the US and EU designate the TPLF as an international terrorist organization. If that is the case, the TPLF criminals will have no choice but to surrender. As we have seen time and again, the US and its allies are breathing life in the corpses of the TPLF instead of holding the TPLF accountable to the atrocities it committed.
As in the example of Chile stated above, the US supports rulers or leaders of a country only when these leaders or rulers say yes to everything that the US demands. When they refuse, regime change becomes the policy of the United States. Manuel Noriega was a “golden child” of the United States until he was not. When Noriega refused to bend over for the US’s interest, suddenly, he became a pariah and was labeled as an “international drug trafficker” and arrested by the US forces in his own country. The Sudanese leader Jaffar Nimeiri was toppled by the US after he was invited to visit the US for a meeting with the US officials; while he was on his way to Khartoum, a regime change took place. Nimeiri, who was considered an ally of the United States became a target after he imposed Islamic sharia law in 1983. Two years later, he was replaced. The common denominator of these heads of State is their refusal to bend over to please the United States. Ethiopia is no different.
I absolutely agree with Dr. Yonas’ assessment regarding the failure of the Ethiopian government in the Public Relations (PR) field. On his Facebook posting, at one point, Dr. Yonas eloquently wrote the dereliction of duty of the Ethiopian government and its failure to communicate Ethiopia’s case to the world effectively not to governments but the people of the world. In my article titled “የጠቅላይ ሚኒስትሩ አደንቋሪው ዝምታና መዘዙ” published about a month ago, I expressed my frustration about the deafening silence of the Prime Minister. To date, The Prime Minister has not held any meaningful press conferences with the international media. More than anything, including hiring lobbyists as advocated by Dr. Yonas, what would help Ethiopia in the PR campaign is using the Prime Minister’s bully pulpit to effectively make Ethiopia’s case and condemn the international media and aid agencies’ unfair characterization of events in Ethiopia related to the conflict. When the lobbyists speak officials may listen, when the Prime Minister publicly speaks, the entire world listens. We have seen this with the “Open Letter” the PM wrote to Biden. I admire and support Dr. Abiy’s hard work and effective leadership in many aspects of his policies. However, he has failed miserably to communicate to the world effectively using his bully pulpit.
As Dr. Yonas put it, having the truth on our side alone will not help in PR; that truth must be communicated to the world effectively. Until recently, the PM’s office press secretary held news conferences occasionally; now she is giving news conferences every week. As a result, we are witnessing some changes in the way the conflict is viewed by the rest of the world. Can you imagine how our PR could be effective if the Prime Minister held a news conference with the international media at least every two months and answer questions honestly and forcefully about the conflict?
The cold war is over, however, the US war with Russia and China has continued. At this juncture the US is very much concerned about China’s influence in Africa and planning a counter measure. The US wants stability as long as it has a subservient government. History teaches us US’s approach is “ለእኔ ያልሆነ ቀሚስ ይበጣጠስ”. Dr. Yonas, tells us about the US interest in general terms but never defines what the US interest really is. Does the US want a stable country or does it want leaders that are subservient to the US’s interest? The examples of Noriega, Nimeiri, Allende, and others clearly indicate, US’s interest is not a stable nation. In my humble opinion, Dr. Yonas needs to revisit our history to understand where the US’s interest lay. Our own history shows, in the 1970s, the US assisted Somalia to destabilize Ethiopia in its proxy war with the Soviet Union. This is not the action of a country that wants a stable Ethiopia.
As much as I despise Issaias Afeworki, the United States has no business meddling in Eritrea’s internal affairs. The United States made enormous efforts for a regime change in Eritrea accusing Issaias of being a brutal dictator because Issaias refused to submit to the will of the US and EU. If the US makes Issaias a pariah because he is a deceitful dictator, why doesn’t the US take the same approach with one of the most brutal nations on the face of the Earth, the Saudis? Iran is more democratic and liberal than Saudi Arabia, yet, the US is in bed with the Saudi royal while planning the destruction of Iran. Once again, the lingering question is what is the US’s interest? Obviously, it is neither human right nor democracy, it simply is creating an opportunity for its multinational corporations to get raw materials, cheap labor, and access to the market. A country that is interested in human rights or democracy would not allow the assassination of Patrick Lumumba and “get in bed” with the likes of Mobutu Sese Seko.
The US policy on Ethiopia is not any different. Like any other country, the US would like to see a stable Ethiopia as long as the leadership submits to the US demand at all times. The US put Meles Zenawi in power because he was subservient to the United States’ interests. Mind you, the US made it clear it will not recognize the Taliban government unless it is inclusive of all stakeholders. In Ethiopia’s case, the US recognized a TPLF led and controlled “government” that alienated major stakeholders. From the start, the US knew it found its submissive yes man and assisted Meles and its brutal organization financially, materially, and by training its brutal security force. Neither human rights nor good governance was an issue for the US other than giving lip service to the people of Ethiopia who suffered enormously under the TPLF for 27 years. Susan Rice was mocking the Ethiopian people when she claimed, with a smirk of laughter, the TPLF won 100% in the 2015 election. How is that for the US’ interest?
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