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Challenges To The American Road To Peace In Ethiopia


By Ifabas Haqasa 

INTRODUCTION 

Ethiopia is already in an ‘international war’, misleadingly defined as a civil war only. But it is a war that  engages different internal, regional and international powers with different interests, means and scale.  USA along with some European countries is among interests profoundly involved in Ethiopia’s  conflict, primarily but controversially in the name of humanitarian aid. However, for some observers and  for most Ethiopians, too, the US and its Western allies are rather active in conflict production and  expansion in Ethiopia and the Horn in general. Much is said and written about the involvements of the US (and the Western world in general) in conflict production in developing countries including Ethiopia.  However, a more recent development with regard to the US involvement in Ethiopia’s conflict and hence  is worth examining is the rambling of US officials across Africa and the Horn as ‘peace finder’. This  piece is a reflection on the challenges and viability of the US road to peace in Ethiopia.  

USA IN ETHIOPIA: THE GOOD AND THE BAD RECORDS 

The USA as a state is much younger than Ethiopia. The two countries have different roots in statehood. USA  was a colonial-making and the land of migrants; whereas, Ethiopia is an ancient and autochthonous state.  The US is a developed nation and a global power, but Ethiopia belongs to the economically poor countries of  the world. With these contradictory historical trajectories and asymmetric power relations the two  countries have established diplomatic relations for more than a century.  

All along, the US has played both credible and galling roles in Ethiopia. To mention just a few, in the first  place there is credit to the US for its contribution to the development of air force and civil aviation in  Ethiopia. And this is Ethiopia’s national pride. The US has also contributed to the expansion of modern  education in Ethiopia.USA remains in Ethiopians hearts in expediting the British withdrawal from  Ethiopia after the end of WWII. There was also a US role in the unification of Eritrea to Ethiopia in the  1950s, though not of much importance to the country for it turned into conflict and secession. 

On the other hand, there are a number of cases in which most Ethiopians are disappointed with the US  actions and/or inactions in Ethiopia’s affairs. For example, the US was not willing to help Ethiopia to  avert the Italian invasion (1933-1941). Moreover, the US committed betrayal against Ethiopia in denying the deliverance of military armaments to the country bought by Emperor Hailesellassie. Most Ethiopians even damn the US for arming the Siad Barre’s government of Somalia to invade Ethiopia in late 1970s. 

There is also a widely held view among Ethiopians that the USA had been involved in corrupting  Ethiopia’s chance for transition to democracy following the regime change in the country in  1991. In this case the critic goes to the deliberate exclusion of different political interests in  negotiating for the reconstitution of state and government following the end of the Derge regime,  in which the US played active roles through Herman Cohen, the then American diplomat who  served as United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Especially, the Oromo  and the Amhara, the two big nations in the country, regret about the US political sabotage of the  time. The US also had roles in weakening and ousting the OLF from the Transitional Charter following  which the Oromo people in all walks of life had suffered under the EPRDF rule. In these and many other  ways, the US has left behind incurable wounds with many Ethiopians.  

It is with these mixed records that the US reappears now as a peace finder to the conflict in Ethiopia,  obviously with effects on the outcome of the peace effort.  

SOME CHALLENGES TO THE US WAY TO PEACE IN ETHIOPIA 

1. THE US INTEREST IN THE ETHIOPIA’S CONFLICT 

Officially and on the surface the US justifies its intervention in Ethiopia’s conflict for humanitarian aid.  I hope Ethiopians as usual do thank them for their generosity. However, as the aid politics dominate its  ethics, the Western effort fails to win trust and to serve the humanitarian purpose in the country. 

One of the Western political interests in Ethiopia is related to geo-political dominance. The Horn of  Africa has always been the center of conflict between global powers. Still the Horn is one of the hubs of  competition among various regional and international powers, where all vie for supremacy in the area.  Djibouti is burdened with international military bases, as a result. As the strategy to control the area, the  Western powers are determined to ensure winning the loyalty of regional states and powers. And the  current conflict in Ethiopia is a big opportunity for the US to intervene and shape the course and outcome  of the war towards their best interests. This might include removing actual or potential forces against the  western interests, and that is at any cost including the security and wellbeing of peoples of the region.  Motivated this way, it is less likely for the US to succeed in its effort for peace in Ethiopia and the Horn. 

THE REGIONAL INTERESTS (SUDAN, EGYPT AND ERITREA)  

Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea are among the regional interests having deep interest and involvement in Ethiopia’s conflict. Sudan is a confused and confusing country in its relations with Ethiopia, especially  over the Nile River case. It seems that the country fails to understand, frame and express its national interests in the Horn, specifically with regard to the GERD. The Sudanese policy towards the GERD seems to be guided by short term group interests rather than a long term national interest, for which the  country could pay dearly. 

Rather Egyptians interest is vivid enough that they expect Ethiopia to negotiate the GERD for peace so  self-centered. But as the demand from Egypt lacks fairness and rationality, and also as the GERD case  develops into a high national security matter for Ethiopia, it is likely for the disagreement to continue. 

Of much concern in this disagreement is the US open bias in siding with the downstream countries. Suffice is to remind Donald Trump’s statement who during his presidency officially and shamelessly  advised Egyptians to bomb the dam. The tragedy is there is no change of policy by the incumbent US government toward the GERD, which even worsened in developing to a direct US involvement to  silence Ethiopia.  

The US and the Western countries in general value Egypt more than Ethiopia mainly due to the Egyptians influence in the Arab world – the economically and geopolitically sensitive part of the earth. Via Egypt  the Western world has controlled the African continent, in a similar way England ruled over Sudan during  the colonial era. In relative terms, Ethiopia is less important to the western interests as its influence is  limited to Africa and the Horn. The Western powers value Arabs more than Africa not because Africa is  less important but less vibrant.  

When it comes to Eritrea, its treatment by the Western counties is the opposite. Orchestrated by the USA  and the US allies, Eritrea has for long been isolated in the international arena including in the Horn. Many  believe that there is Western hand in the long year hostility between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Following the  regime change in Ethiopia in 2018, these sisterly countries have attempted to improve their relations. But 

That is without the will and recognition of the USA, and it is of no surprise to see the US standing against the improvements of relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea. But understandably, Ethiopia and Eritrea have  no independent (separable) security and development paths, for which they couldn’t ignore each other at  all. Hence, it is less likely for the US to succeed in the peace process in Ethiopia and the Horn before or  unless understanding the inseparable nature of the two countries. 

THE US POOR RECORDS IN PEACE PROCESSES ACROSS THE WORLD 

The US poor image or reputation and negative records in peace processes in Africa and in the world in  general can pose a challenge to the US way to peace in Ethiopia. Some of these include Yemen,  Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and other cases where the US has played more of an adverse role. To further worsen the matter, the American Democratic Party regimes have no good name in Africa including the  Rwandan genocide and the Libyan destruction.  

THE US APPROACH TO END THE CONFLICT IN ETHIOPIA 

Primarily the US government believes that the war in Ethiopia would come to an end by  unseating the incumbent government of Ethiopia. And this is at the cost of searching for  consensus between the warring groups in the country. But experiences show that where the US was involved in overthrowing governments the security conditions of the victim countries developed  to worse. Secondly, the US attempt to end Ethiopia’s conflict is by provoking regional  powers and states to intimidate Ethiopia. So far it is Egypt and Sudan who positively responded  to the US plan. As part of the plan Sudan moved to the level of invading Ethiopian territory.  Thirdly, and perhaps more seriously, the US and its Western allies are pushing the warring to reach a mutually hurting stalemate (MHS), rather than helping them to seek a mutually beneficial conflict  settlement. Obviously this is aimed to weaken the country in totality rather than serving peace. This is to  the benefit of no peace and no Ethiopians at all. 

CONCLUSION 

The US interests and approaches to end conflict in Ethiopia seem to be defined by its opposite. Therefore, in conditions whereby both the means and the end are questionable, and also where the so-called ‘peace maker’ lacks trust and leverage, it is unlikely for peace to prevail.  

Instead, the US involvement in Ethiopia evolves to produce opposite effects. Among others, it tends to  militarize the Ethiopian public, so dangerous for peace in the country and the region. The US knows very  well what public war means from its experiences in Cuba, Vietnam, Somalia, Venezuela and recently  Afghanistan. Even there is strong fear among many that the US approach to Ethiopia’s conflict could lead  to the development of extremism and Western phobia in Ethiopia as in many other places. It is not clear  what the US and the western governments are going to benefit from it.  

Finally, if there is a will to, especially from the US side, there is ZOPA (Zone of Possible Agreement)  between the USA and Ethiopia. Admittedly, a formidable challenge for agreement between the two countries is the GERD case where the US suffers to play a fair role. But that couldn’t be a reason for which  Ethiopia’s peace and development are to be sacrificed. Rather, the US could seize the current conflict in  Ethiopia as an opportunity to rebuild its international image by playing constructive roles in peace making  processes; and it is this way that Ethiopians could benefit also. 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. United States has made a historic error. Policy towards Ethiopia appears to have been steered by a handful of highly placed individuals sympathetic to the TPLF after long years of close and corrupting contact with the previous TPLF regime. This has led to them losing the powerful voice they formerly had in Ethiopia, and has exposed the true motivation of their so-called “aid”.

    The US is about as confused in following its own national interests as Sudan. Even TPLF have lost confidence in them. Other countries around the world no longer feel obliged to follow American schemes. Other countries have intelligible and consistent foreign policies; for the United States it’s some kind of game, played by elements in a thoroughly corrupt political establishment.

  2. in nyc
    award winning international playwright dr larry myers
    who is executive/artistic director of dramatic workshop II
    has penned “ETHIOPIA PLAY”
    HE AND 400 ETHIPIANS HAD A MEMORABLE STREET SHOWING
    ONLY COVERED BY ONE LOCAL PAPER.
    myers is african activist and also wrote

    “aFRICA : MICRON sOUTH aFRICA & 8 LOCKED DOWN NATIONS.”

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