With a Friend Like This – Jonathan Tepperman (NEWSWEEK)

April 11th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

Ethiopia was supposed to help America in the war on terror. But it’s only made matters worse. Few people outside Ethiopia have ever heard of Birtukan Mideksa. (more…)

Ethiopia was supposed to help America in the war on terror. But it’s only made matters worse. Few people outside Ethiopia have ever heard of Birtukan Mideksa. And that’s just how the government wants it. Since December, Birtukan has been kept in solitary confinement, one of hundreds of political prisoners there. Her apparent crime? Organizing a democratic challenge to the increasingly iron-fisted rule of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

In the past year alone, Meles’s ruling party has rigged elections, effectively banned independent human-rights groups, passed a draconian press law and shrugged off calls for an investigation into alleged atrocities in the restive Ogaden region. Yet in the same period, his country has become one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid in sub-Saharan Africa, getting a cool $1 billion in 2008. The Bush administration claimed that Ethiopia was the linch-pin of its regional counterterrorism strategy and a vital beacon of stability. But the evidence increasingly suggests Washington isn’t getting what it pays for, and is supporting a brutal dictator in the process. Candidate Obama pledged to strengthen democracy in Africa; if he’s serious, this is a good place to start.

America’s warm relations with Ethiopia date to the days after 9/11, when the country’s Christian-dominated government came to be seen as a natural U.S. ally in a region targeted by Islamic extremists. After disputed elections in 2005, however, Meles—once hailed by President Bill Clinton as part of a promising “new generation” of African leaders—began clamping down on dissent.

Yet Washington tolerated his lapses because it needed his help fighting Qaeda-linked Islamists in next-door Somalia. In December 2006, Ethiopia’s U.S.-trained Army duly invaded its neighbor, ousting the radical Islamic Courts Union government there. But the adventure hasn’t worked out as planned. No sooner had the ICU been toppled than an even more radical group, Al-Shabab, sprang up to fight the invaders. And although Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopia’s foreign minister, recently told NEWSWEEK that the Islamists have been militarily “shattered,” they now control much of the country’s south and have tightened links with Al Qaeda. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian troops have pulled out, and the country they left behind has been thoroughly devastated. Two years of fighting forced about 3.4 million Somalis, some 40 percent of the population, from their homes. Yet only a few high-ranking terrorists were eliminated, and Russell Howard, a retired general and senior fellow at the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations University, says the occupation only “empowered” the radicals.

Such failures—and Ethiopia’s growing repression—suggest Washington should rethink the relationship. Just what Ethiopia offers the United States today is unclear. Addis Ababa has contributed troops to U.N. peacekeeping forces in Darfur and Burundi and plays a large role in shaping the policies of the African Union. But this shouldn’t earn it unquestioning U.S. support.

To reset ties, the United States should push Ethiopia to democratize. And it must urge it to reconcile with its archnemesis, Eritrea. Resolving the conflict between the two states is key to addressing a whole range of threats to U.S. interests. Tiny Eritrea won independence from Addis Ababa in 1993, but the two countries fought a 1998–2000 border war and relations have remained hostile ever since, in part because Ethiopia, with tacit U.S. support, has ignored an international ruling that redrew their border. Too weak to challenge Ethiopia directly, Eritrea has funneled support to its enemy’s enemies—including Al-Shabab and its America-hating foreign fighters. Eritrea also recently instigated a border conflict with Djibouti, home to an important U.S. military base.

Washington should thus push Ethiopia and Eritrea to make amends; better relations would mean an end to their proxy war in Somalia, which has helped turn that state into a Qaeda haven. Should it choose to use it, the United States has plenty of leverage. Most U.S. spending on Ethiopia goes for health and food aid, which aren’t easy to cut. But the Obama administration could make military aid and weapons sales contingent on Meles’s improving his behavior. The House of Representatives passed a bill in 2007 to do just that, but the measure died in the Senate without White House support.

Much will now depend on the man Obama has nominated for the State Department’s top Africa job, Johnnie Carson. Carson’s record is promising: while ambassador to Kenya from 1999 to 2003, he helped persuade longtime President Daniel Arap Moi to step down, clearing the way for multiparty elections. Should he bring similar pressure to bear on Washington’s new African ally, Birtukan, Ethiopia’s other political prisoners, Africans throughout the Horn and America itself would all benefit.

With Jason Mclure in Addis Ababa

  1. Anonymous
    | #1

    Birtukan never said that she never asked for pardon. She only said that the pardon she asked was not the pardon the government is talking about. She clearly said that the pardon was granted through the elders.

    They can’t never, never justify the rearrest of the opposition leader! She was arrested simply because TPLF was scared of loosing another election.

  2. Tamira Menigesha
    | #2

    Daniel arap Moi was dictator like any other dictator of the world. He was not Genocideer like Meles Zenawi and Omar Al Bashir. It is not fair to say the least to compare him with these guys and it is silly to think these guys will go the way Arap moi did. If they do, that not going to be justice.
    Although the historical circumstances are entirely different, Meles Zenawi gave us a clue that his and Al Bashir crime is tantamount to apartheid and he suggested the same solution to bring an end to his and Al Bashir government.

    He does not mean to negotiate with the opposition but just testing the water using Al basher if in case things going wrong to him as well.

    Frederik Willem de Klerk inherited a partied. He had not created it. He should be credited what he had done for South Africa. Here Meles Mixes apple and oranges and do not know who mixed it. I hope professor Al Mariam and others will slice and dice what Mr.Meles told to BBC, hard talk program.
    Well, Slobodan Milosevic and charless Taylor are dictators Meles and his friend Al Bashir should identify themselves with and expect the same justice service them

    The Justice Train
    Oh, ICC the justice train
    Please go through Ethiopia before you get to Sudan
    Carry away first the heavy stone
    The perennially divisive guilty man
    his weight sore my shoulder
    I cannot bear it any more
    He devours our flesh and tired our soul
    Made my blood tributary to Nile
    Icc the justice train
    Please take these sinful to hell
    Heavy stone tyranny leashed fear and depression
    beaten to death countless gentle men
    it reined to the whole land
    Uncertainty and hatred
    ICC the justice train
    Please go through Ethiopia before you get to Sudan
    It feels like the Justice train is on the mission
    Genocide and deception on the run
    The criminals are crapping on the stage
    desperately acting strange
    Rambling around as if they do not scared
    Only God and they know
    How fast their heart is pounding
    certainly our broken heart is thrilling
    Please come soon ICC the justice train
    We have been waiting for so long
    For you to take away the criminal
    Who are always profane and do wrong
    Day and night, we pray to God
    So that injustice and misery will come to an end
    Oh, ICC the justice train
    Please go through Ethiopia to Sudan

  3. Tamira Menigesha
    | #3

    To be more clear on my comment;
    Daniel arap Moi was a dictator like any other dictator of the world. He was not a Genocideer like Meles Zenawi and Omar Al Bashir. It is not fair to compare Arap Moi to these extra ordinary dictators and it is silly to think that these guys will go away the way Arap moi did. If they do, that is not going to be justice done.
    Although the historical circumstances are entirely different, Meles Zenawi gave us a clue that the extent of his and Al Bashir crime is tantamount to apartheid and he suggested that solution to bring an end to his and Al Bashir apartheid government would be reconciliation. What a smart move! Chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno-Ocampo loves Meles’s analogy of darfur to apartheid
    Mr. Meles does not mean that he is interested in negotiating with his own opposition groups but just testing the ICC water using Al basher if in case things going wrong to him as well.
    Frederik Willem de Klerk inherited a partied. He had not created it. He should be credited for what he had done for South Africa. Here Meles Mixes apples and oranges and does not know who mixed it. I hope professor Al Mariam and others will slice and dice what Mr.Meles told to BBC, hard talk program.
    By the way, previously Mr. Meles had been asked by the BBC hard talk if he was interested to seek another term and he said that he was not interested to seek another term and this time he said, “ That is what I proposed to my party”. Here he goes “The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present”. Niccolo Machiavelli
    Well, Slobodan Milosevic and charless Taylor are dictators Meles and his friend Mr.Al Bashir should identify themselves with and expect the same justice serve them.

  4. Sami
    | #4

    Well, well, well what is going to happen to evil Meles and his stupid followers? For anyone that watched Meles’s interview, with one of the British tv shows, would know that Meles’s days are numbered now. What happened in that interview is something that I never seen before. The journalist that conducted the interview did her home work very well. She knows how Meles Zenawi is. I think she sees him as a murderer and she was trying to get in his head as a Psychiatrist instead. Her follow up questions made Meles to be meaning less and foolish. Meles, Meles you need the western money to just survive, but it seems that you just run out of lies. Now, the whole world knows that you are a fucked up layer and evil man.

  5. ካናዳዊው
    | #5

    በዚሕ አጋጣሚ ኒዊስ ውክን አመስግነን በብርቱካን ስም ትልቅ ሰልፍ ማድረግ ይገባናል። ዋይት ሃውስ ፍት ለፊት ለብርቱካንና እንዲሁም ለሌሎችም ጭምር የእነሱን ስቃይ እና ችግር ማሳወቅ ሃላፊነታችን ነው።

    ዝም ብለን የምንቀመጥ ከሆነ የአለውን ሁኔታ ብዙም እንደምንቃወም ነው የሚያሳየው። ወይንም ከአንድ ቀን ነጻንት የዘላለም ባርነትን መርጠናል ማልት ነው።

    በጣም እናመሰግናለን ኒዊስ ዊክ።

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