Pentagon official says Ethiopia needs to move on – By Abebe Gellaw

December 21st, 2011 Print Print Email Email

Washington DC (ESAT)– Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, Assistant Deputy Secretary of Defense for Africa in the Office of the US Secretary of Defense, has said that Ethiopians have to move beyond the aftermath of elections 2005, which she referred to as a tragic time.

In an exclusive interview she gave to ESAT at the Pentagon, Ambassador Huddleston said that the aftermath of the 2005 elections left people feel excluded and bitter. “Ethiopia has to move beyond that time,” she said adding that both the opposition and the government need to begin “envisioning how they see Ethiopia in the future.” According to Ambassador Huddleston, Ethiopia is a great country but it can only be even greater “with all the people working together for the greatness and goodness of this country.”

She also noted that the U.S. Government had started bilateral talks with the Ethiopian government under the auspices of the State Department. “We are talking with Ethiopia about democracy, human rights, development and security,” she said.

Huddleston pointed out that she recently travelled to Ethiopia along with General Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), and held talks with Mr. Zenawi and other senior government officials. She indicated that issues regarding human rights and democracy were raised during the talks and further revealed that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had set up a joint commission with the government to discuss democracy, economic and security matters.

The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense further pointed out that the United States has two major concerns in Africa, i.e. extremism and humanitarian disaster. According to Huddleston, the U.S. is trying to address security and stability concerns by building the capacity of African military forces. “We believe that it is not the United States or its allies who should be involved in Africa or intervene in Africa. It’s rather up to African nations, governments and militaries to resolve their own problems such as extremism and internal conflict,” she noted.

She added that the United States does not wish to see armies that abuse their own citizens. “All militaries have to understand basic human rights, international military law and how they treat the citizens of their own citizens.”

With regard to security and stability concerns in the Horn of Africa, Huddleston said that the sub-region is a great example of building the capacity of militaries under civilian leadership to deal with problems. “What the Department of Defense has done, along with the Department of State, under the overarching policy of the National Security Council, is to provide assistance to AMISOM, the African Union peacekeeping effort in Somalia,” she said.

She further pointed out that the US is providing training, assistance and equipment to support Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers in Somalia and commended their impressive resolve to stabilize Somalia.

In relation to sanctions imposed on Eritrea by the UN Security Council, Huddleston stated that the sanctions were mainly imposed for Eritrea’s effort to destabilize the Horn of Africa by supporting extremist groups like Al Shabaab, which she described as a threat to the stability of the Horn of Africa.

The Assistant Secretary of Defense also says that despite the problems, Ethiopia has a democracy with a elections, a legislature and judiciary but needs to nurture civil society. But the renowned Ghanaian Prof. George Ayittey, President of the Free Africa Foundation, disagrees with the notion that Ethiopia under Mr. Zenawi is on a path of democracy. “Ethiopia is categorically not a democratic country; never has been for the past 50 years. Elections alone don’t make a country “democratic.” Meles Zenawi held fraudulent elections in May 2005,” he observed.

“When Ethiopians poured into the streets to protest the results, Zenawi’s goons opened fire on them, killing at least 200. He then locked up more than 30,000 opposition leaders and their supporters. This blatant fraud was repeated in the May 2010 elections, when Zenawi’s party, Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), secured 99.6 percent of the seats in Parliament – all but two of the 547 seats, effectively transforming Ethiopia into a de-facto one party state,” Ayittey said.

Prof. Ayittey called upon the US government to review its policy toward Ethiopia and make it more people-centered, rather than leader-centered. “For far too long, the US has invested much capital in the rhetoric of unsavory regimes, such as that of Zenawi. The brutal repression of the Zenawi regime runs counter to the freedom ideals the US espouses. More dangerously, the tyranny of the Zenawi regime may inspire the emergence of a rebel insurgency – exactly the same insurgency Zenawi waged against the dictator, Mengistu Hailemariam.”

Ambassador Huddleston, who served as US chargé d’affaires in Ethiopia during the 2005 election crisis, has told ESAT that she will be retiring at the end of this month and promised to have a more candid interview as a private citizen.

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