THE MEETING BETWEEN US AND ETHIOPIA By Mankelklot Haile Selassie
The meeting was held on September 25, 2014 between one of the two greatest power on earth, the second one being China, (Brezinski-Politico, Nov. 6, 2014), and, a very small nation namely Ethiopia. Imagine that these two nations, United States of America and Ethiopia seating on a table facing each other. That was the picture I imagined and that was the picture I wanted to be imagined. Nothing else. It was one of the historic moments that took place between Ethiopia and the United States of America. This historic moment will be partially proven by the three points I am going to discuss below. The main purpose of this analysis is specifically to point out the positive aspects of the meeting that were unnoticed by the Ethiopian political pundits.
As a note, let me point out that one of the issues pointed out by President Obama was mentioned in the project I submitted to him on August 5, 2013. The title of the project is, “Ethiopia has the Potential to be an Alternative Ally in the Horn of Africa,” August 5, 2013. It was mailed to him with a cover letter further copied to: the House and the Senate Foreign Relations Committees and sub-Committee’s chairmen, the Speaker of the House, the Minority Leader of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate, the Minority Leader of the Senate, and of course to the Secretary of State, John Kerry. I received a letter dated February 11, 2014 from President Obama. The letter began with: “Thank you for contacting me and sharing material for me to review. I appreciated hearing from you.” In the project to prove that Ethiopia to be a formidable and dependable ally, two very important characteristics of Ethiopia’s people were briefly discussed. One of them was through the history of Ethiopian people, the second one was the stability potential of Ethiopian people. Under the history of Ethiopian people one of the characteristics mentioned was its military fighting potential with historic perspective. Under stability five major issues were pointed out and discussed. One of them was religion. All in favor of Ethiopia’s stability potential. Here is the concluding statement of the project:
In conclusion, provided Ethiopia is well organized and well equipped economically, educationally, and militarily, given the natural resources,
the very intelligent Ethiopian people, and, the presence of highly skilled manpower, that Ethiopia is endowed with, Ethiopia can be a long term alternative ally, that is a strategic partner for the United States of America, comparable to any of the Middle East power, including Egypt and Israel.
The ultimate objective of the campaign was to convince the United States of America to invest, massively, as it did and is doing in Egypt and Israel. In the case of Ethiopia the massive investment is to be channeled towards economic development, the education, and, in the military field. These three have to be linked and go hand-in-hand. The argument in the project is, to put it bluntly, provided massive investment made in Ethiopia, Ethiopia can be an alternative to Egypt and Israel in the Horn of Africa. This individual has an absolute confidence in the people of Ethiopia’s concrete and untapped potential, to be a dependable ally with well targeted and implemented developmental initiatives. There will be mutual benefit that can be garnered in the process.
Professor Tecola Hagos prefers developing strong relationship with Israel. But, when Ethiopia develops an equitable and a full-fledged partnership with the United States of America it is inevitable for Ethiopia to develop strong relationship with Israel. For Ethiopia, by default, it is killing two birds with a stone, so to speak.
The three points President Obama raised
Let me point out from the outset, that, President Obama was an activist before he joined the Senate and finally becoming the President of the United States of America. According to Wikipedea “activism consists of efforts to promote or direct social, political, economic or environmental change.” He worked for Harlem Environmental and Consumer Advocacy in New York city. In Chicago worked with churches to organize workers who had lost their jobs. Joined a civil rights firm and ran a voter registration drive. Given these diversified, profound and humane experiences, therefore, President Obama, I am quite sure with the specific and detailed information he already got about Ethiopia, can easily immerse himself into the political and social situations of Ethiopian people when seating across the delegates. So, one has to look into, and, understand the following three issues, in my opinion the heart of the meeting, through the lenses of these experiences of Barack Obama. I brought up these activism case of President Obama for us to be able to judge him rationally as to how he dealt with in the meeting he issues currently linked to Ethiopia. Coming back to the core issues, President Obama raised the following three issues by his own volition. There were no Ethiopian journalists present in the meeting to ask his position or opinion on the matters raised by the President. I will itemize the issues below and discuss them. I am quite sure President Obama was cognizant of the issues, in detail, before he came to the meeting. Here are the issues as clearly said by President Obama, emphasis are mine:
….Ethiopia will soon be an exporter potentially, …of POWER, because of development that’s been taking place there…
: … And it turns out that Ethiopia one of the best in the world (referring the forces)…. One of the most effective fighting forces…..
The Prime Minister and the government is going to be organizing ELECTIONS in Ethiopia this year. I know something about that. And so we will have an opportunity to talk about civil society and governances…,
Let me discuss them one-by-one:
….Ethiopia will soon be an exporter potentially, …of POWER, because of development that’s been taking place there…
Exporting POWER as a means of economic development was, for a given period of time, a hot issue at least in the Horn of Africa and in the Middle East, particularly when the construction of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) started to breath life into the environment surrounding it as it rises from the ground up. So, when President Obama mentioned POWER importation he was directly or indirectly referring to GERD. Therefore, the self-responding follow up question to be asked are: a) did President Obama knew the tension between Ethiopia and Egypt? b) when President Obama mentioned POWER importing, was and is, there the intention of siding with Ethiopia’s right to build the Dam? Go figure. Now, the question is, shouldn’t this have been taken as a positive outcome of the meeting? Yes, for those who support the construction of GERD it should have been taken as a positive outcome.
: … And it turns out that Ethiopia one of the best in the world (referring to the forces)…. He further said, “One of the most effective
In the project I submitted to President Obama I mentioned Ethiopia’s formidable historic fighting capacity. I think I am proven right by the President of the United States of America. Note. President Obama did not say “one of the best in Africa.” He said “one of the best in the world.” The Ethiopian people should be proud when one of its nature endowed characteristics is recognized by the current leader of the world, openly, so that every body around the world can hear and see. To me, it showed, beyond any doubt, the respect and admiration President Obama has for the people of Ethiopia, first by inviting the delegates from Ethiopia, hence Ethiopia, to have an open meeting. Mind you not an invitation to be held behind a closed door. Secondly, to publicly recognize the time-honored attributes of Ethiopian people. In my opinion this meeting of September 25, 2014 should be noted as one of the historic and memorable moment for the people of Ethiopia for a long time to come. It is on the record in the 21st century. Shouldn’t this be taken as a positive outcome of the meeting?
He said: “The Prime Minister and the government is going to be organizing ELECTIONS in Ethiopia this year. He further confirmed by a unambiguous follow up statement, “I know something about that. And he further follow it up with specific buildup statement by saying, so we will have an opportunity to talk about civil society and governances,” … These two statements are very impact-full and deeply embedded statements in the election of 2015.
When President Obama said “I know something about that,” that is about the ELECTION, it is the tip of the iceberg. Based on this statement the follow up question to be, is, “does President Obama know about the successive elections in Ethiopia? The answer is unequivocally yes. President Obama would have not raised the election issue in the middle of the discussion, if he was not knowledgeable about the processes that took place in the successive elections in Ethiopia, in the first place. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it kind of saying. He was telling the delegates it was broke therefore you have to fix it. Go back and refer to the nature of his activism. One can safely assume that a social activist President was looking at the eyes of the delegates and telling them I know what exactly happened in the past successive lections and I can guess what potentially could happen in the coming elections. He would probably know for the fact, not guessing. Even here in the United States of America cheating and bending rules before and during elections are routinely done. So he is not unfamiliar with this chronic perhaps universal problems. He underlined the point he was trying to get across by adding, “so, we will have an opportunity to talk about civil society and governances. He was diplomatically and in a round about way warning the delegates seating across him that his administration would be watching the things that would be done, before, during, and, after the election when counting the ballots. The delegates seating across him who did what they did in the past successive elections would have gotten the very subtle move and message of President Obama. It would be undiplomatic for the President of the United States, in public, to ask specific questions about the elections processes that took place in the past. It would have been counted as a deliberate embarrassment. Behind the closed door in a private meeting, may be.
When it is an election season the issues for discussion should be the election of 2015. In principle, raising the issue of human rights violations, for that matter dictatorship, or, corruption issues, should not be precondition for not to participate in the coming election of 2015. Nor should they be the litmus tests as to how President Obama should have treated the delegates from Ethiopia. I am quite sure President Obama who was an activist and an organizer of elections was fully aware of. But if these three issues, human rights violation, dictatorship, and corruption were expounded to strengthen what President Obama already knew about, then it would be very productive. That is, given what the regime did in the past, if these issues are used as the warning, and, to vigorously campaign and appeal to the President to be watchful of the processes of this coming election of 2015 so that it would be free and fair then it would be very beneficial. It would be a direct campaign. It is important to note that one of the purposes for the opposition forces to participate and win in the coming election is to hold power and then take care of the three issues, which are the release of political prisoners, eradication of corruptions, and establish democratic governance by empowering the people. Don’t mix issues. Don’t disrupt the logically sequential process of the issues at hand. First to hold power. Secondly to take care of these and other burning issues such as poverty. One cannot change the system without by any means necessary first hold the power. Period. So, don’t waste time by talking.
The Interest of the United States of America
What we have to come in grippes with is a blunt reality that the interests of
the United States of America, particularly when it comes to its foreign policy, trumps up the interests and the campaigns of any political or social groups of any country. The meeting held between the dictator regime of Ethiopia and President Obama was in line with this foreign relation’s policy principle. When it comes to foreign relations policy the primary job of President Barack Obama is to cultivate, protect, and, defend the interests of the United States of America. Period. This was true for those presidents before him and it will also be true for those presidents who will come after him. We cannot argue with the President for seating across a dictator regime. If so, it would be a fallacious argument. How many dictators are: in the African continent, in the Middle East, in the far east, in South America, etc. with whom the United States of America has diplomatic relationship? It is very easy to count non-dictators in these places. If the Ethiopian intellectuals insist on shunning by the President the dictator regime in Ethiopia, which inevitably assumes hence dictators all over the world by the United States of America. That is why the argument becomes fallacious.
Here, I am not condoning the protection of US’s interests at the expense of Ethiopian people’s interests. I am sharing this argument in order for us to be able to tackle the issues in a very rational way. We can say yes to the protection of US interests, but no, not at the expense of the interests of the people of Ethiopia. Then provide a middle ground alternative(s). It is to insist on building issues in a proportional way. Not on one sided way. Instead of outright saying how dare President Obama is seating with this ruthless dictator regime, one would react to the situation very rationally.
Another very important point to note is that when we speak of the interest of
the United States of America it is very important to realize that we are included in it too. Protecting the interests of the United States of America means protecting the interests of both citizens and non citizens, by default the illegal ones, residing in the United States of America. For example, when United States of America fights terrorism wherever it is found, both inside and outside of the United States of America, it is to protect its people and their properties from current and/or future potential harm. The “people” includes myself and those who would be reading this article if residing in the United States of America. I mentioned the security aspect of it only. There is economic aspect to it too, which I will not discuss in here. If I did it would be an insult to your intelligence. Further more, one could further argue it is also to protect the interests of those countries who solely depend on the United States of America. Global interdependence becomes one of the factors to be considered too. To protect the chain of link from breaking. Why? Go figure.
What move to make next
Here the emphasis is on the coming election. I will share actionable suggestions. President Obama did not approach the issue of the elections by asking questions such as what is your plan for the coming election of 2015. His approach was very subtle. In fact, for those who followed his very few, yet fundamental statements he uttered, he did open the door directly of the White House and indirectly of the House and the Senate, widely, for persistent and vigorous campaign particularly for those interested Diaspora opposition forces. The campaigning to both the Executive and the Legislative branches would be, of course including the President personally, for these branches of the United States government to put pressure on the regime to have unfettered, free and fair, elections. For example, the persistent and the vigorous campaign could include: a) for the opposition forces inside Ethiopia to have an equitable access to social media, and to resources such as finance, public gathering auditoriums, etc., b) the freedom of having peaceful demonstrations and public meetings, anywhere, and whenever one planned to do so, and, c) security protections for those who do the campaigning amongst the society up to and including at the local level. By the very fact that President Obama raised the issue of the coming 2015 election, in my opinion, it shows that it has become an issue of concern of the Executive branch of the United States government. It is up to us to take advantage of the concern demonstrated by the President himself hence the Executive branch and push it further, in fact run with it, to the Legislative branch too.
Mankelklot Haile Selassie (PhD)