Letter form Ethiopia: Election Overview Part 4 – Eskinder Nega ( Addis Ababa. )
The Americans, the British and the 2010 elections (more…)
The Americans, the British and the 2010 elections
The US Embassy in Addis is adrift these days. Moral is down; interagency tension evident (between the State Dept and the Intelligence and Defense duo); leadership, both from Washington and within the embassy itself, plainly lacking; the resultant malice, therefore, a surprise only to few.
Not only have the Embassy’s three top officials been in the country for less than a year, but rather revealingly of the times, are unfamiliar with the intricacies of Ethiopia’s Byzantine history and politics, their area of expertise and interest laying squarely elsewhere.
The Embassy’s top official, John Yates, who assumed the duties of Charge D’Affaires at the beginning of this year, is a likable former career diplomat (he retired in 2002 after several postings as Ambassador), whose academic achievements from the prestigious Fletcher School at Tufts University is impressive, but is at that stage in his life where cultivating expertise and passion for a new country is just not possible. But he is a Somalia expert, whose assignment in Ethiopia positions him to still dabble, if only at the periphery, in his area of interest.
The Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission, Tulinabo Mushingi, an African American alumni of Howard University in DC, is firmly and comfortably entrenched in the administrative track of the Foreign Service; where he is expected to be at his best in Ethiopia, too.
The Embassy’s new third ranking official, Political and Economic Counselor Kirk McBride, replaced Michael Gonzales; who is still at the embassy, at the much lower ranking position of Information Officer and Spokesman, after being demoted by Jendayi Frazer, the Bush administration’s Assistant Secretary of State for Africa.
Gonzales, whose calm exterior masks an intense belief that American foreign policy should overtly promote the core values of American democracy, irked the sensitivities of the much more forceful and well connected Frazer(a rare friend of two antagonist camps: the Rice and Rumsfield groupings) by criticizing (internally) what he appraised to be a lopsided policy towards Ethiopia . Perhaps a bit petrified but certainly not dissuaded when he lost the debate, Gonzales defiantly filed for a continuation of his duties in Ethiopia ; which was not only curtly rejected by Frazer but was also capped with a demotion to his current position. Gonzales is now on his way to Zimbabwe as a Political and Economic Counselor, a restitution to his former position but it will be some time before he forgets Jendayi Frazer.
Things were different when Donald Yamamato was in Addis Ababa. He was the envy of many Ambassadors for his weekly power breakfasts with PM Meles Zenawi, akin to the traditional weekly lunches between an American President and his Vice President. That gave him unprecedented access, but he constantly complained about his lack of influence over Meles; perhaps to protect him from criticism that the arrangement symbolized a co-partnership of the Americans and the EPRDF in running the country. But Yamamato’s departure is subject to much speculation, as his current position, that of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa, does not require a Senate confirmation, unlike his previous Ambassadorial position; raising the question of whether he, too, has been demoted.
By the reckoning of a credible source, the top Obama official intimately involved in running policy towards Ethiopia is Karl Wycoff, a career diplomat and currently one of three Deputy Assistant Secretaries for Africa; who, ever the cautious civil servant, is averse at rocking the boat; which has essentially meant a continuation of Bush administration policies well after a year in to the Obama administration. When he came to Addis Ababa to talk with Meles, he left without giving a press conference, as did his immediate boss, Johnnie Carson; because, so say pundits, both would have been at a loss to defend the continuation of Bush administration policies.
The Ambassador designate to Ethiopia, Donald E. Booth, is not expected to make it to Addis before the elections; but even if he does, and assuming that he favors a change of course, will not have enough time to fundamentally influence policy towards this year’s elections.
The British, on the other hand, are hyper actively engaged, perhaps a bit too ambitiously vying to step in to the vacuum created by American inertia; but they have yet to be taken seriously by an opposition that is convinced that only the US has serious clout with the EPRDF. Two of this election season’s notorious anonymous statements to Reuters; the first, which underplayed the significance of Birtukan’s imprisonment by asserting that aid policy will not be tied to the fate of one individual; and the second, which revealed an alleged preference for Meles Zenawi over the opposition by Western countries, is generally credited to the British Embassy, and more specifically to one of its younger diplomats, Gavin Cook, by knowledgeable sources. But Baroness Kinnock, UK’s Minister of State for Africa , obviously has other ideas, which she eloquently articulated in a press statement that triggered an immediate response from the Ethiopian government.
The government’s response, most probably penned by Patrick Gilkes, a British historian credited with a respected book on Ethiopia, but now a rather unabashed intellectual mercenary in league with despotism, accused the Baroness of being an Eritrean stooge; and in crudely undiplomatic words summed up its response by telling her to “take a
hike to Lima Limo(Gonder)”
The harshness of the response has no doubt been bolstered by the expectation of a Labor defeat in the upcoming British elections, and the certainty that a last minute reversal of policy by an out going government is untenable; whatever the intentions of the Baroness might be.The public posturing of the EPRDF aside, however, foreign aid is detrimental to Ethiopia’s macro-economic stability, and the British contribution is an important, if not indispensable, component. Confronting a British government mandated to govern a full term will have dire consequences for the EPRDF; rest assured that it will tone down its rhetoric after the British elections.
Why Westerners in general, but the British in particular, continue to insist on giving huge amounts of aid to Ethiopia despite the outstanding authoritarian credentials of the EPRDF could best be illustrated by an old story, here recounted by Jacob Akol in the July 2004 issue of New African:
A Minister of Transport from a corrupt African country and a Minister of Transport from a corrupt European country got to know each other very well. The European entertained the African at his lavishly furnished villa on a hill overlooking the capital and the beach. “How can you, a mere Minister, afford such luxury in a relatively poor European country?” asked the African in amazement.
“Simple,” replied the European “Come over here and let me show you something.” He led his guest to a wide window overlooking the countryside around the city.
“Do you see those motorways down there?”
“Yes, yes,” said the African, “I see them wide and beautiful; but what have they got to do with your villa?”
“Ten per cent,” said the European with the smile of a man satisfied with his craftiness, and turned away from the window back to the luxury of his lounge.
A few month after the African’s visit, the European lost his job and went to prison for taking “10 per cent” off contract awarded by his Ministry. Many years later, when he had become relatively poor, the African was not only still doing his old job but had become notoriously rich. The European decided to pay him a visit and he was not disappointed as he was greeted at the door by his old friend with a glass of the best champagne, imported of course from Europe.
With open mouth and popping eyes, the European surveyed his surroundings with amazement. The African watched the European with a smile hovering over his lips. He knew the question was coming, slowly but surely. But the European was struck dumb by the affluence of the African and he was quiet for a long while he went from room to room, sipping the champagne absentmindedly. At last, he breathed: “I can’t imagine how you come about such wealth in a dirt poor country like yours! What is the secret?” “Come here,” said the African, leading his guest to a balcony overlooking the countryside around the city: “ Do you see those motorways down there?”
Look as hard as he could, the European could see nothing resembling anything that could be called a motorway. “ I see nothing,” he said at last, “those are dust tracks!”
“ Precisely,” said the African, “one hundred per cent!”
“Of course!” said the European, “how else? Only in Africa !”(The End)
Of course it’s not only 10 percent in Ethiopia. Everyone knows that. But at least, insist Westerners, its better than elsewhere in the continent. But what is left unsaid is that much of Africa has changed for the better over the past two decades. The time to challenge the cliché is long over due.
News from Ethiopia.
The Red Terror Memorial
The Red Terror memorial finally opened its door to the public last week, over fifteen years after its inception. The museum, the second of its kind in Africa, after the one in Rwanda, shocked its visitors by devoting at least a fourth of its space to a pictorial exhibition about the “tyranny of Haile Selassie”. Mengistu Neway, Tilahun Gizaw, Waleleign Mekonen, the 1974 famine, Haile Selassie’s birthday amongst others were all absurdly deemed fit for prominent display in a museum specifically set up for the victims of Red Terror. But no where was there mention of the cruel end of Haile Selassie at the hands of his murderers, the very architects and executors of Red Terror.
Asked by this writer what Haile Selassie had to do with the extra-judicial killings of the Derg regime, a dumbfounded tour guide was unable to offer an explanation. This rare museum, which has displayed the skeletons of Red Terror ictims recovered from mass graves in Addis, is expected to be a major tourist stop; as well as a must see for high school tudents from around the country. What right does it have to misrepresent history to them?