November 29, 2010

Africa & US Policy - Ethiopia on the Frontline of a "Clash of Civilizations"?

UPDATE - ETHIOPIA: Government arrests hundreds of opposition supporters March 20, 2011

Here is what the US State Department says about the current government of Ethiopia treatment of political opponents:

"In June 2008, former CUD vice-chairman Birtukan Mideksa was elected the party chairman of the new Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party at its inaugural session in Addis Ababa. In October 2008 the Ethiopian Government arrested over 100 Oromo leaders, accusing some of being members of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). At the end of December 2008, after detaining Birtukan several times briefly during the month, the government re-arrested her, saying that she had violated the conditions of her pardon (she was one of the prominent opposition leaders pardoned by the government in the summer of 2007). Her original sentence of life imprisonment was reinstated and she remained in prison until she was pardoned and released on October 6, 2010.

"In April 2009 the Ethiopian Government arrested 40 individuals, mostly Amhara military or ex-military members allegedly affiliated with Ginbot 7, an external opposition party, for their suspected involvement in a terrorist assassination plot of government leaders. This party was founded in May 2008 in the United States by Berhanu Nega, one of the opposition leaders in the 2005 elections, and advocates for change in the government "by any means." In August 2009, the Federal High Court found 13 of the defendants guilty in absentia and one not guilty in absentia. In November 2009, the court found another 27 guilty.

"In simultaneous national and regional parliamentary elections in May 2010, the ruling EPRDF received approximately 70 percent of total votes cast but won more than 99 percent of all legislative seats in the country. Election Day was peaceful as 93 percent of registered voters cast ballots, but independent observation of the vote was severely limited. Only European Union and African Union observers were permitted, and they were restricted to the capital and barred from proximity to polling places. Although those few independent observers allowed access to the process did not question the EPRDF victory, there was ample evidence that unsavory government tactics -- including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters -- influenced the extent of the victory.

"Overall, the 2010 elections were not up to international standards because the environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place. The EPRDF used the advantages of incumbency to restrict political space for opposition candidates and activists. At the local level, thousands of opposition activists complained of EPRDF sponsored mistreatment ranging from harassment in submitting candidacy forms to beatings by local militia members – and complained further that there was no non-EPRDF dominated forum to which to present those complaints."

Yet here is State's description of the US relationship with Ethiopia:

"Total U.S. Government assistance, including food aid, between 1999 and 2009 was $4.7 billion. The U.S. Government provided $862 million in assistance in FY 2009, $345 million of it for combating HIV/AIDS. In addition, the U.S. Government donated more than $374 million in food assistance in 2009 to help the government cope with a severe drought.

"Today, Ethiopia is an important regional security partner of the United States. U.S. development assistance to Ethiopia is focused on reducing famine vulnerability, hunger, and poverty and emphasizes economic, governance, and social sector policy reforms. Some military training funds, including training in such issues as the laws of war and observance of human rights, also are provided but are explicitly limited to non-lethal assistance and training."

Not a single mention of any concerns about the heavy hand of the Government of Ethiopia in keeping political opposition in jail and quiet....

Original Post:  Why Are We (the US) Supporting Repression in Ethiopia? by William Easterly and Laura Freschi

Short answer:  US efforts to support and maintain political stability and maximize the US's influence in the Great Horn sub-region trump the Ethiopian government's persecution of its own people when distributing or withholding the aid the US and international donors provide.  The US gives the Ethiopians aid to keep the government strong and the populace from revolting, and to keep Ethiopia relatively stable in an otherwise unstable sub-region.  At the same time, the US chastises the government of Ethiopia for its treatment of its political opposition.  The Ethiopian government accepts being chastised without too much protestation, keeps getting aid and the US has absolved itself of supporting a corrupt and repressive regime.  The US sees itself as working for the long-term greater good of the sub-region at the expense of the short-term good of the Ethiopian people.
Discussion:  Is this US foreign policy good for the people of Ethiopia?  Within Ethiopia currently, probably not.  As for the future of Ethiopia, probably.  Ethiopia being a predominantly Christian nation a strong central government is more likely to protect the nation from fundamentalist Islamic incursions.  Could Ethiopia be better served by a democratically elected government that is not as corrupt and oppressive as the current government of Meles Zenawi?  Possibly.

Is the US justified in making this decision to support the greater good of the sub-region to the detriment of democratic processes in Ethiopia?  It is clearly in the US's best interest to act in this way and to use its resources - money, material aid and other assistance - to enact its vision for the Greater Horn.  What is in the best interest of Ethiopia?  It depends on whether you are an American official in Washington or an oppressed member of the Ethiopian opposition.  In our present world, answers to such moral questions provided by the wealthy and powerful are the ones that matter.

Overall, the US government aid and international donor relationship with Ethiopia is an effort on the part of the US and its global "partners," including those in the Greater Horn, to contain Islamic fundamentalism in Somalia and its spread elsewhere in the Greater Horn and beyond.  The fates of Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are, in large part, viewed by the US as jeopardized by Islamic fundamentalism in Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and elsewhere.  Rightly so.  If these "frontline" states become unstable or collapse there is little else of equal or greater strength behind them - Congo, Malawi, Rwanda, Burundi, Chad, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and beyond - to stop the spread of Islam in East-Central-Southern Africa.

Remind you of the US Vietnam strategy of the 1960s?  The Cold War?  The struggle for Africa, as it is seen in Washington, is no longer a contest between political ideologies, e.g., capitalist, democratic, godly US vs. communistic, dictatorial, atheistic, Russia.  Essentially it is a struggle between an increasingly Christian-influenced governance in the US and Islamic-influenced nations in the Middle East.  "Islamic fundamentalism" and "terrorism" are stated as the focus.  But there is also a larger geopolitic at work in Washington - one that is publicly unspoken but aggressively pursued by both sides of the US political divide and in the bureaucratic trenches at Foggy Bottom.  The stakes could not be higher in terms of strategic mineral resources, geopolitics, economic markets and, perhaps, US national security.

Think I'll take another look at the late Samuel P. Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations and The Remaking of World Order (1996).  From Publisher's Weekly review posted on

"Huntington here extends the provocative thesis he laid out in a recent (and influential) Foreign Affairs essay: we should view the world not as bipolar, or as a collection of states, but as a set of seven or eight cultural 'civilizations' - one in the West, several outside it - fated to link and conflict in terms of that civilizational identity. Thus, in sweeping but dry style, he makes several vital points: modernization does not mean Westernization; economic progress has come with a revival of religion; post-Cold War politics emphasize ethnic nationalism over ideology; the lack of leading 'core states' hampers the growth of Latin America and the world of Islam. Most controversial will be Huntington's tough-minded view of Islam. Not only does he point out that Muslim countries are involved in far more intergroup violence than others, he argues that the West should worry not about Islamic fundamentalism but about Islam itself, 'a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.'"

Following is the US Department of State's rationale for its policy toward Ethiopia:

Department of State Press Briefing, May 26, 2010  Regarding US-Ethiopia relations....

"Turning to Ethiopia, preliminary results announced by the National Election Board indicate that the ruling party secured an overwhelming victory. It is our assessment that throughout the electoral process, freedom of choice for voters was constrained by the actions and inactions of Ethiopian Government officials, the National Elections Board of Ethiopia, and the ruling political party and its cadres. A number of laws, regulations, and procedures implemented since the previous parliamentary elections in 2005 created a clear and decisive advantage for the ruling party throughout the electoral process.

"We have a broad and comprehensive relationship with Ethiopia, but we have expressed our concerns on democracy and governance directly to the government. Measures the Ethiopian Government takes following these elections will influence the future direction of US-Ethiopian relations. It is important that Ethiopia move forward in strengthening its democratic institutions, and when elections are held, that it offer a level playing field to give everyone a free opportunity to participate without fear or favor."

Briefing on the African Union Summit, July 27, 2010 - Regarding Ethiopia in the Context of the Greater Horn of Africa....

"Somalia is a problem that can be looked at on three different levels – a state which has imploded, which is barely functioning, which is suffering from a humanitarian crisis with tens of thousands of internally displaced people. It is also a regional problem, sending hundreds of thousands of refugees into Kenya, into Ethiopia, Djibouti, Tanzania, Uganda, and also Yemen. The country most impacted, of course, has been Kenya, which receives between five and six thousand refugees from Somalia each month. It is also a problem of illegal arms moving across the border and illegal contraband. All of these things undermine stability and undermine the economies of Somalia’s regional neighbors.
"The bombings in Kampala on July 11th demonstrate a growing capacity by Al-Shabaab to employ suicide bombers not only in the Mogadishu area, but some – several hundred miles away around the region. If Al-Shabaab can strike Kampala, it also is a threat to all of Somalia’s regional neighbors, from Djibouti and Ethiopia and Kenya, all the way down to Tanzania. This is the first time that we have seen Shabaab use suicide tactics outside of the south central area of the country. This constitutes a threat, and I think the regional states are genuinely concerned about the capacity of Shabaab to do this, its ability to move in the region to do it and its willingness. I think it is also a wake-up call for the international community as well.

I think we all have to take this threat seriously, knowing full well that there are also in the Mogadishu area and in southern Somalia individuals who have been associated and affiliated with al-Qaida and who have also demonstrated both the will and the capacity to strike, as they did in August of 1998 against the American Embassy in both Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, and in November of 2002 when al-Qaida elements blew up the Israel-owned Paradise Hotel in Mombasa and shot MANPADS at an Israeli aircraft.

This is – the capacity of Shabaab to engage in the region is one that the African states see as a growing concern, and it is one of the reasons why they are determined to do as much as they can to help the TFG to strengthen its capacity to govern in order to stabilize the south. It is important that the TFG be strengthened, for if it is not, Shabaab will continue to emerge as a significant political threat not only in the south, but also throughout the region."

Further Reading
Denying Terrorists Safe Havens, Remarks by Shari Villarosa, Deputy Coordinator Regional Affairs, House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management, Washington, DC, June 3, 2011

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