By Ifabas Haqasa
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.
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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