Experts say US Government Walks Fine Line with Ethiopia – Nico Colomban (VOA)

May 19th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

A woman carrying the Ethiopian flag during a recent protest by Ethiopian-Americans in Washington. (more…)

A woman carrying the Ethiopian flag during a recent protest by Ethiopian-Americans in Washington.

U.S.-Africa experts say the United States has a difficult, but crucial relationship with Ethiopia, as the Horn of Africa ally struggles with its democratic credentials.

Pro-democracy activists in the United States had hopes for democratic improvement in 2005 in Ethiopia, when parliamentary elections were fiercely contested, and opposition leaders attracted huge rallies.

But when results were announced, the ruling party was awarded a clear victory. Opposition leaders cried foul and their supporters spilled onto the streets of major cities. About 200 people were reported killed in riots, while their leaders, some of them election winners, were jailed.

Five years later, foreign election observers have described conditions before Sunday’s parliamentary election as anything but fair. Observers report shortcomings that include ruling party control of the media, the imprisonment of dozens of opposition leaders and journalists, as well as a lack of independent election monitors.

Severe criticism is also coming from Congress. Several U.S. lawmakers have warned that Ethiopia’s government is becoming increasingly authoritarian.

Oberlin College foreign policy teacher Eve Sandberg says the recently appointed U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald Booth, told lawmakers he would seek progress in terms of democracy and human-rights protection.

“The Ethiopians have heard this before from U.S. ambassadors and the question is whether or not Mr. Booth will be able to find some leverage with the Ethiopian government to move them toward a better record on human rights,” she said.

Sandberg, who has worked as a political consultant in Ethiopia, says the U.S. government faces a dilemma about how much to push in terms of democracy, since Ethiopia is such an important security ally.

“On the one hand, the Ethiopian military was largely responsible for establishing and preserving a Somali government that in the West’s eyes is the lesser of many evils, because the opposition to it is an al-Qaida aligned rebel group. Ethiopia is seen also as an important ally because we are reliant on their intelligence services to know what is going on in the Horn [of Africa] and so Ethiopia knows that we need them,” she said.

A recent U.S. Embassy deputy chief of mission in Ethiopia, Thomas Hull, agrees.

“Ethiopia is in a very key geo-political situation plus it is the host of the headquarters of the African Union so all those factors make it very difficult for the United States to exert more than moral force on Ethiopia to try to improve its practices,” he said.

Hull, who is now an international relations professor at Simmons College, believes competing interests in Africa also make it difficult for the U.S. government to exert leverage.

“Our business relations are not great in terms of volume,” he said. “They certainly do not compare to what the Chinese, the Indians and Saudis are doing in Ethiopia. Most of our assistance to the country is humanitarian in terms of food assistance, HIV/AIDS, and so forth.”

But a George Mason University professor, Terrence Lyons, believes the Obama administration is trying to change the relationship from what it was under former President Bush.

“Under the prior administration, security concerns, counterterrorism concerns were overwhelmingly dominant in how the United States approached Ethiopia,” he said. “Now, I think the administration is looking to re-calibrate this relationship so that the security relationship will certainly remain, but a greater importance will be placed on democracy, human rights and some of these other issues that relate to the democracy and governance side of the ledger.”

Lyons says it could take a decade or more to change the relationship. He says U.S. officials need to engage with the new generation of officials from Ethiopia’s ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.

In 1991, when that group had taken over the capital Addis Ababa during a rebellion, thousands of supporters stormed the U.S. embassy. They alleged the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at the time, Herman Cohen, had facilitated the rebel takeover as well as a referendum for the breakaway of Eritrea during peace talks in London.

Cohen said he was acting in the interests of restoring stability, but warned Ethiopia’s new leaders they should not expect international cooperation without democracy.

Experts say 20 years later the same U.S. dilemma of simultaneously trying to promote democracy and stability in the Horn of Africa remains.

  1. aha!
    | #1

    US government is walking a tight line because it has not changed its foreign policy directives with a legislative process since the 2005 election through HR 2003 and SR-3457, I presume, which would enhanced the implementatation of freedom, democracy and human right and accountatbilty with the TPLF/eprdf regime to advance the implementation for a pre-conditions for a fair and free elections, as a balance with its alliance for Terrorism with Ethiopia, with respect to its national inteest. That ledger the the Expert talks about will not be implemented without it being signed into law.

  2. MENGISTU TOLESA
    | #2

    It’s about time to do something about leadership behavior,repression,un democratic and autocratic behavior of the Ethiopian Governoment.I’M confidant that The United States will take appropriate actions if the May election is violated again.
    GOD BLESS ETHIOPIA AND EVERY DEMOCRATIC COUNTRIES.

  3. melese
    | #3

    US is playing doublestandard,which is not good .Us has to support the Majority of the Ethiopian people, not the dictator. They must think twice now and then,The Ethiopian has got pacincey up to now beginning from now enough is enough.

  4. Ferenj Lebaw
    | #4

    Who are these so called Horn of Africa experts? EPRDF or foreigners that claim they know Ethiopia more than Ethiopians? Who did Sandberg conduct political consulting for in Ethiopia anyway? EPRDF? EPRDF or Ferenj do not understand the Ethiopian behavior.
    Terrence Lyons believes that the Obama administration is actually trying to change US relations to Ethiopia. He must know something we don’t know. He said it takes ten years to have people get along. What does getting along have to do with democratic governance? The elected officials should go into parliament and cast their votes. That is when they need to get along to pass Laws. Just like Republicans and Democrats. Why ten years? I think that is absurd. Another ten years? What are we? Slaves in prison waiting to be bailed out by Slave drivers? Life sentence with ten years perole! If this is how the Obama Ad. wants to handle it, it is all regression again. Is this 10 year program used to belittle AEUP? We know what is up. An african american professor or president should not come out to Ethiopian People with such negotiation process. The US has tried several failing negotiation methods since 1991. This doesn’t sound better than the past, actually it sounds worse. There is another election this weekend and a renouned professor says this? The future is today, Mr. Professor or keep on supporting a dictator. We thought the US had supported Meles for anti terrorist purposes in the 2005 elections, what is the reason this time? Anti-AEUP? That is what our people want to know. With an African American president sitting in the White House, it should be easy for the people to find out this time if the US is with us or not. Period. Just like the US says it. We already have the hideous actions of Wester medias about AEUP. If AEUP (Real Kinijit) wins this election, hide it through the theatre of MEDREK and buy another ten years until all the good Ethiopian people voices and sentiments are erroded. Then Ethiopia’s resources will be vulnerable to the Ferenj. We know the game Mr. Lyons, stop playing us and get to work. Our people will collaborate with you the right way. If you want to do the bailing, the future is now.

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