In recent months, diplomatic relations between the US and Ethiopia passed through a series of turbulences in relation with the war in Tigray. Especially since the coming to power of the democrats in the US, American approach towards the war in Tigray has changed completely.
When the war in Tigray began in November 2020, Michael Raynor was the US ambassador in Ethiopia and Tibor Nagy was Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. In a joint media briefing they had with American media on November 19, 2020, Tibor Nagy began his opening remarks by referring to the November 3rd attacks of the TPLF against the Ethiopian National Defense Forces. He pointed out repeatedly throughout the media briefing that TPLF sought to internationalize the conflict. He stated: “The TPLF leadership has admitted responsibility for the November 13 missile launches at airports in Bahir Dar and Gondar, in the Amhara region, and the November 14 attack in Eritrea. These unacceptable attacks make the situation more dangerous, and the Secretary condemned them in his most recent statement.”
His remarks about the Ethiopian government, on the other hand, were a bit mild. For instance, he stated: “We continue to press the Ethiopian Government to restore communication in the region as an act of accountability and transparency and to enable greater contact with civilians, including American citizens in the region.”
Those were, however, the last days of cordial relations between the Ethiopian government and the US as the US Republican officials were soon replaced by democrats. With the change in policy and personnel, the narratives coming out of the US government soured and that was followed by increased international pressure on Abiy Ahmed’s (PhD) administration.
With wider responsibility and criticisms forwarded for not doing enough, the US announced that Jeffrey Feltman, a veteran diplomat, had been assigned to serve as the US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa. His main task was to provide a solution for the ongoing war between the federal government and the TPLF.
Even though the statement from the State Department revealed the administration’s commitment to lead an international diplomatic effort to address the interlinked political, security and humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa, Feltman was tasked to deal with the interests of the US in the Horn, with particular concerns to the volatile situation in Ethiopia, escalating tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan; and the dispute around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, according to Anthony Blinken.
It is in-line with this assignment that Feltman had set out on tour recently for more than a week, where he visited and discussed with higher officials of Ethiopia, Djibouti and the UAE.
As part of his mission, his latest tour is his second in Ethiopia, a third in the UAE and a first in Djibouti.
In the three countries since August 15, Feltman has met senior officials to discuss opportunities for the US to promote peace and support the stability and prosperity of the Horn of Africa.
Feltman met Deputy PM and Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), Demeke Mekonnnen. Following his discussions with Feltman, Demeke tweeted that he asked for the US to officially denounce the TPLF for the ongoing problems it has created in parts of the country. He tweeted: “Met with US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman and discussed the overwhelming humanitarian, economic and social crisis the TPLF has created in invading Afar and Amhara regions. I expressed Ethiopia’s expectations from the US to officially condemn the outlawed and criminal force.”
Apart from this, with the hashtag “#FetlmanGoBacktoKabul” trending on twitter, pro-government social media activists have been advising Feltman that he should stay away from Ethiopia and divert his diplomatic efforts to help the US in Afghanistan.
According to Getachew Metaferya, author of a book titled: Ethiopia and the United States, the history, diplomacy and analysis of the relation between the two has had its own ups and downs.
The US was a strong ally of Emperor Haile Selassie I, and the relation between the two was at its peak, when Ethiopian soldiers fought with the allies during World War II and alongside Americans during the Korean War. However, the relation deteriorated after the king was overthrown by a military coup in 1974, which culminated in Ethiopia turning to Russia for arms, financial and ideological sustenance.
Following the 1991 regime change, their relation revived and Ethiopia became a key ally of the US in its war on terrorism, where Ethiopia was viewed as a vital guardian against the spread of radical Islam and terrorism in the Horn of Africa.
Some analysts state that the coming into power of the Biden administration and a new foreign policy orientation towards Africa has shifted the focus beyond the issues of terrorism to the influence of China and Russia, as the biggest threat.
Following his appointment, From May 4 to 13, 2021, Feltman visited and discussed with the leaders of Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea and Egypt, as well as representatives of the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and other political and humanitarian stakeholders. Similarly, from May 31 – June 6, 2021, he traveled to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kenya.
With no official statements from the US government and the respective countries that have been hosting the special envoy, the upcoming statement by the US State Department remains highly anticipated as it might give some hint towards what the future of Ethio-US relations would look like.