Ethiopia: The diplomacy of defending dictatorship By Alemayehu G Mariam
“It is time to stop hating Ethiopia.”
In November 2006, in her farewell cable to her replacement Donald Yamamoto and the Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Fraser, former Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Vicky Huddleston warned: “It is time to stop hating Ethiopia.”
In November 2007, in a N.Y. Times op-ed piece, Huddleston sternly admonished the U.S. Congress: “Do not turn on Ethiopia.” She lectured Congress that “by singling out Ethiopia for public embarrassment, the bill puts Congress unwittingly on the side of Islamic jihadists and insurgents.” She sought to alarm Congress by raising the specter of “enemies that have besieged Ethiopia from within and without.” She advised Congress to discard H.R. 2003 (Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act) “and instead use creative diplomacy to deal with the combined threat of insurgency and war.” She said if the U.S. does not support the ruling regime in Ethiopia, the U.S. could “lose Ethiopia” and “cede our influence” to China and Russia.
In October 2007, Samuel Assefa, the former ambassador of the ruling regime in Ethiopia to the U.S. complained: “The U.S. House of Representatives today approved irresponsible legislation that, if it becomes law, would create fresh obstacles to Ethiopia’s bold efforts towards comprehensive democratic reforms. The legislation also would undermine regional stability in the Horn of Africa by jeopardizing vital security cooperation between the United States and Ethiopia.” Assefa later told the Washington Post, “We are very disappointed because the House did not pursue an agenda that is recognizably that of the U.S., Ethiopia or friends of democracy.”
If the names of the two ambassadors had been withheld, even the most sophisticated reader would have difficulty recognizing which one of the two ambassadors is the actual representative of the ruling regime in Ethiopia. But Huddleston’s rhetorical pyrotechnics on behalf of a host country is rare for the guileful world of diplomacy, and certainly disproves the old saying is that “An ambassador is an honest man (woman) sent to lie abroad for the good of his (her) country (not the other country).”
But Huddleston’s defense of Zenawi’s regime would put many a silver-tonged American trial lawyer to shame. Reading Huddleston’s farewell cable, one is confused about which country she represents. Her zeal and passion in defending Zenawi’s regime is so bizzare, one has to wonder if she had indeed “gone native” (a phrase sometimes used to describe U.S. diplomats who work so fully inside a foreign culture that their policy recommendations become those of the host country). In her cable, she pleads with her bosses that Zenawi is “the ideal partner” and America’s buffer “from terrorism and radical Islam” in the Horn. She argues that Zenawi is the only one who can keep together the “old and fragile Ethiopian empire”. She paints Zenawi as a man of reason and as evidence of that she claims he has listened to her and dropped “charges against VOA reporters and 14 others.” She says by having “conversations with Meles and the EPRDF”, she has “effectively encouraged Meles and the GOE to deepen their commitment to Ethiopia’s democracy and development.” She believes H.R. 2003 is a “hubristic” manifestation of American arrogance, imperiousness, condescension and disrespect for Zenawi. For all the things temporal Zenawi can do, Huddleston forgot to mention that he can also walk on water.
But Huddleston has no respect or use for Zenawi’s opposition. She advises that the “goal” of the “nay-sayers” who oppose Zenawi “is neither democracy nor development, but regime change.” To help the naysayers is to “unwittingly contribute to the break-up of the nation.” She reserves her special antipathy for the jingoistic and chauvinistic “hard-line supporters [of the CUD] in the Diaspora [who] are unwilling to engage in the democratic process.” She warns that if the U.S. acts “aggressively to appease the Diaspora, some members of Congress and some civil society groups, we will lose Ethiopia.”
In Defense of Zenawi
In her defense of Zenawi, Huddleston pulls out all the stops and uses every trick in the diplomatic pouch to steer the new ambassador to fully support Zenawi. She pleads and coaxes, warns and charges, vilifies and condemns just to sustain unflagging American support for Zenawi.
“We must strengthen our partnership”
“As I prepare to turn over my responsibilities to my good friend and respected colleague, Ambassador Don Yamamoto, I urge the USG to maintain and strengthen our partnership with Ethiopia. Ethiopia is moving in the right direction — despite the nay-sayers — on democracy, development, and protecting the region from terrorism and radical Islam. If we fail to consolidate and support Ethiopia, we could unwittingly contribute to the break-up of the nation, and fuel a Christian – Muslim conflict in the Horn…
CUD leaders could cause Ethiopia’s national disintegration
Ethiopia is an old empire but a fragile one. Political and religious divisions could potentially tear away parts of Oromiya, Gambella, and the Somali region from the uneasy federation. Even Tigray, where the Abyssinian empire began, is at risk because the jailed CUD leaders want a unitary state that includes Eritrea, and Tigrean and Eritreans alike will resist Amahara domination.
The CUD defendants and Diaspora supporters are extremist hardliners
The prosecution has recently argued somewhat more persuasively through ongoing witness testimony that some of the defendants called for armed uprising and protest to overthrow the government. Some of the CUD detained leaders as well as their vocal, hard-line supporters in the Diaspora are unwilling to engage in the democratic process, whether by joining Parliament or by agreeing to disavow street action.
Ethiopia as the “only democratic nation” and “bulwark against radical Islam”
Ethiopia, with its 77 million Christian and Muslims — the second most populus country in Africa — would seem to be the ideal partner… It is the only democratic nation that can project power throughout the Horn. It is also the remaining bulwark against the expansion of radical Islam throughout Somalia and beyond.
We are part of Zenawi’s “inner circle”
Because we built a relationship of trust with the Prime Minister and his inner circle as well as with the opposition… Our conversations with Meles and the EPRDF hierarchy have effectively encouraged Meles and the GOE to deepen their commitment to Ethiopia’s democracy and development. Dialogue between the ruling EPRDF party and all the opposition parties resulted in the overwhelming adoption of modified Parliamentary rules that reflect international standards and permit the opposition to question Minister and propose laws. The on-going dialogue among the ruling party and opposition has already addressed rule of law issues in the Oromia and Amhara regions and will now publicly review a new media law and capacity building at the National Electoral Board.
Ethiopian Democracy and Accountability Act HR 2003) is Bad
The democratic trend is positive. But the partnership will not be strengthened if we bend to demands to pass legislation that puts Ethiopia in the same category as countries on our terrorist list, or make public our private concerns about human rights and governance. Ethiopia — as I have learned — will not act from weakness or because of public threats or even loss of aid. If we stay the course — continue the partnership, and build the trust — not only do we stand a good chance of getting the prisoners pardons, but we will reinforce good governance, economic reform and defense against terrorism in the Horn.
“The right and wrong way to persuade” Zenawi
If we aggressively and publicly press Meles in order to appease the Diaspora, some members of Congress and some civil society groups, we will lose Ethiopia. We will cede our influence, leaving the field to China, Russia and others who have little interest in helping to create a multi-party democracy.
Putting pressure on Zenawi is helping the enemies of “democracy and development”
Ethiopia is neither — as its critics like to claim — a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship, nor is it a multi-party democracy that strictly adheres to open market principles. But if hubris demands that partnership be based on our standards, then we will find ourselves helping those whose principal goal is neither democracy nor development, but regime change.
“Meles will turn to China as a more reliable partner”
Meles has already turned to China as a more reliable partner than Europe, even though EU assistance levels have been restored. Today we have a strong relationship with Meles and the inner circle, but it is a wary one. It is not yet a full partnership because Washington remains hesitant over Ethiopia’s human rights record, despite significant improvements over last year. As Ethiopia faces – almost alone — a radical Islamist challenge to its existence and the region’s stability, it is time to put aside our hesitations and make Ethiopia a full partner of the US.
The Enemies of Ethiopia
At the same time, insurgents from Oromiya (the OLF) and the Ogaden (the ONLF), backed by Eritrea, will move east into Ethiopia. The ONLF intends to break off Ethiopia’s Somali region, uniting it with a Greater Somali state. The OLF will either ensure that there is regime change in Addis Ababa or separate Oromiya from Ethiopia. In the end, Ethiopia’s enemies — most notably Eritrea — would be successful in breaking up Ethiopia and ousting Meles.
“A Plan of action for Ethiopia”
I have met with Meles biweekly on average and I have never had a meeting with him in which I did not raise the issues of governance and human rights. As a result, I have been able to visit the prisoners three times and am working with concerned Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans on a process that may lead to pardons. The point here is that Meles — and the inner circle — listen to our advice if it is given in private and as a partner. Therefore I would suggest that we lay out a series of bench marks which can be used by Washington to gauge Ethiopia’s progress…
Huddleston’s “series of bench marks to gauge Ethiopia’s progress”
Parliament passes a media law and anti-terrorism laws that meet international standards;
The opposition is consulted on the appointment of a new, neutral National Electoral Board;
Parliament approves public financing for political parties;
GOE engages successfully with donors on the governance matrix;
The Government pursues the investigations recommended by the Independent Inquiry Commission;
Offices of legal opposition parties that have not been reopened are opened;
All legal parties are permitted to participate in the Spring elections;
The judicial process is completed and a verdict determined for all CUD detainees [and pardon given to those] who agree not to engage in illegal activities or civil disobedience are pardoned;
Preparations for local elections are done in consultation with the opposition; and local elections are successfully held.
The Evidence of Huddleston’s “Benchmarks”
The so-called anti-terrorism proclamation, with its vague and broad definition of terrorist acts, is now the principal tool of crushing all dissent in the country. It has been condemned by international rights groups as one of the most repressive laws of its kind in the world. There is no neutral “National Electoral Board”. In 2010, the largest coalition of opposition parties received the equivalent of USD$176 (3,000 birr) according to one major opposition leader. Human Rights Watch reported in 2010 that “donor-supported programs” have been used to “control the population, punish dissent, and undermine political opponents.” Zenawi’s handpicked Inquiry Commission determined after a meticulous investigation that 193 unarmed demonstrators were massacred in 2005 and 763 wounded. 237 of the killers still roam the streets free. In the past few weeks, leaders and members of opposition political parties, journalists and others have been jailed and many others continue to face intimidation, harassment and persecution. The first female leader of a political party in the history of Ethiopia, Birtukan Midekssa, was jailed for nearly two years on bogus charges of denying a pardon. The 2010 U.S. Human Rights report stated, “criminal courts remained weak, overburdened, and subject to significant political intervention and influence.” In the 2008 local elections, Zenawi’s party “won all but a handful of 3.6 million seats.” In May 2010, Zenawi’s party won the election by 99.6 percent.
It is regrettable that Huddleston did not read or ignored the findings and evidence in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Ethiopia for the years 2005 and 2006.
It is time to love Ethiopia!
FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA!