By Dr. Minale Tibebu
On November 30, 2023, the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs held an open hearing titled “Ethiopia: Promise or Perils, The State of U.S. Policy.” The focal point of the hearing was U.S. policy towards Ethiopia, with testimonies expected from Ambassador Mike Hammer, Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa, and Tyler Beckelman, Deputy Assistant Administrator Bureau for Africa, at the U.S. Agency for International Development. The hearing was a formal one and focused solely on U.S. interests. Nothing more and nothing less. Having said that, it is possible to reflect on the lessons learned from the hearing. In this short piece, a critical reflection on it is presented.
1. Ambassador Mike Hammer, Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa, was successful in his mission to save TPLFites from extinction. One of his key objectives was to bring peace to Tigray and restore a sense of normalcy for its people, which he achieved to some extent. However, it is essential to note that the TPLF remains untouched and unaccountable for their role in the destructive war that killed many. Mike Hammer managed to travel to Mekele in the middle of an active war to take SELFIE with the TPLFites” to “Mike Hammer even traveled to Mekele during an active war to engage with the TPLF. Subsequently, he facilitated a peace deal in Pretoria between the TPLF and the government led by the PP. Surprisingly, instead of taking the TPLF members to a third country for asylum, they were brought back to Mekele, where they are gaining momentum to discreetly influence the country. Another objective of the special envoy was to ease tensions caused by the GERD issue in the Horn region. Unfortunately, the diplomatic pressure exerted by Ethiopians on this matter has significantly diminished as the Ethiopian prime minister succumbed to the pressure. This can be seen as another success for Mike Hammer.
2. The USA is not happy with Abiy Ahmed’s style of leadership. During the hearing, it was evident that the Ethiopian government is not actively seeking peace. Despite the deadliest war in the country occurring two years ago, the government continues to engage in warfare in the Amhara and Oromia regions. Additionally, the government’s aspiration to go to war with Eritrea in order to gain a port and a Red Sea presence is concerning. This should be a blow to the Nobel laureate, as he was awarded the prize for his contribution to building peace between the two neighboring countries. The US also appears dissatisfied with the diversion of aid in the country. In the opening, it is also said that the government has become closer to Russia. The Ethiopian government only looked to the West when they wanted to relieve their 30 billion deficit economy. “The American taxpayers are tired of it,” said the Chairman of the hearing.
3. FANO’s fight for freedom, justice, and equality is ignored or undermined during the hearing. This seems to be a deliberate act by those who gave the testimony. Currently, the US policy in Ethiopia is to unite PP and TPLF leaders and govern the country together. How did they come to this decision? Let’s provide some context. The US has been supporting the TPLF for many decades, as the TPLF was protecting US interests in the region. After the TPLF lost central power, the US helped them again to come to power because Abiy Ahmed’s engagement in the region with Eritrea and Somalia was not aligned with US interests. It was only during the second round of war when the TPLF was almost on the outskirts of Addis Ababa that the Americans decided on another partnership in the country. Even if the TPLF managed to control Addis Ababa, it would be difficult for them to lead the country. That’s why the US engaged with the PP and other Oromo elites. This is when Abiy Ahmed abandoned the #NoMore movement for the benefit of the US. This is also when prisoners were released. During the process of uniting the TPLF and PP, the Amhara, Afar, and even Eritreans were ignored. This has created a huge rift in the region. To make matters worse, the government engaged in a destructive and unnecessary war in the name of disarming Fano. The main reason for the Oromo politicians is to break the resistance within the Amhara people so that they can dominate the country as they want. But they gave it a pretext. They are trying to implement the Pretoria agreement, and Fano forces will not allow this to happen. So, they want to disarm them before giving Raya and Wolakit to the TPLF. Despite that, the government could not defeat Fano. Furthermore, Fano has become even stronger in many respects, to the surprise of US foreign politicians. This means that soon their engagement will have to change due to the new force that is making history. As usual, they are going to follow after things happen. They thought the government defeated the TPLF due to its strength. The three times defeat of the TPLF was due to the help of Amhara, Afar, and even Eritrean forces, not just the military. Proof? The military is disarming itself for Fano at an alarming rate. This is a crisis for US interests unless they change their approach: bring Fano to power. Which might create a more stable country in the region together with all ethnicities in the country.
4. The US seems to be suffering from a lack of a deeper understanding of the context on the ground. In general, Americans seem to lack the sharpness and quality they used to enjoy in their foreign policy. They are proactively reacting after things happen. To provide clear evidence, they were not able to detect the pattern of economic dominance China was gaining in Ethiopia and across Africa for years. They wake up from their slumber after things happen. TPLFites, though they were US partners for decades, were in bed with the Chinese, facilitating their free reign in the continent of Africa. They have realized the consequences of their negligence very late. Similarly, at present, Middle Eastern countries like UAE and Saudi Arabia are competing to dominate the Red Sea arena in order to gain regional hegemony. Both of these countries are heavily engaging with Eastern African countries. Additionally, these countries are members of BRICS. The consequences of their current engagement in Ethiopia and beyond might damage US interests in the long run. To provide a specific example, it is becoming clear that Abiy Ahmed is highly dependent on the UAE rather than the USA on many levels. If this pattern continues, the Sheikh of UAE will have more influence than the US in the long run when it comes to Ethiopia. If the Sheikh asks the Prime Minister of Ethiopia to go to war with Eritrea, he will do so against the interests of the US.
The US foreign policy people and the US government should develop a deeper understanding of the situation. Otherwise, a hearing like this one seems out of context or one-sided. You cannot deliberately ignore the facts on the ground. Ethiopians are aspiring for Fano to win so that this ethnic-based madness will disappear from the country. If the US wants Ethiopia to be a strong partner in the Horn of Africa, it is better to invest in real causes. Who is the real partner of the US? Did they see genuine bilateral relationships with this government led by Abiy Ahmed? Why are they abandoning the Amhara people, who are one of the most prominent ethnic groups that have a profound influence in the country? Following the old theory of colonialist division along ethnic lines will not help protect US interests in the region. Unless the hidden purpose of US engagement in the country is to destroy it, which we do not think so. it is much more sustainable and productive for the US to encourage Ethiopians to emphasize building their country by minimizing ethnic divides. The US is the most diverse nation on the planet. That should have been an example for countries like Ethiopia. Why not capitalize on that? Only US interest, US interest, and US interest should not be the rule of the game. It is a bi-lateral relationship, after all!
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