Unlike popular understanding that the US imposes sanction on state sponsors of terrorism or human rights violators, the United States (US) imposes economic sanctions on supposedly friendly countries as well. At the end of May 2018, President Donald Trump levied tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum. The economic sanctions against Canada were opposed by the European Union and Mexico who retaliated by imposing sanctions against US products.
The US put into power and supported numerous dictators in South America, Africa and Asia. Some scholars view US sanctions as methods of imposing certain course of action than the usual association with terrorism and human rights. In an article entitled ‘Just Sanctions’, Adam Winkler argued that interdependence has made the restriction of trade a more viable method of achieving political obedience. Winkler further argues that the end of the cold war was accompanied by a marked increase in the use of sanctions. The article indicates that the UN Security Council imposed sanctions only in two cases before 1990 while the eight years prior to 1999 saw the international body wield seven sanctions. During the same period of eight years, the article points out, the US used economic sanctions in one form or another on more than 70 occasions. The writes notes that some concluded: “American foreign policy these days is sanctions.”
Investopedia states “as of June 2021, countries or regions subject to U.S. sanctions (either unilaterally or in part) include the Balkans, Belarus, Burma, Burundi, Central African Republic, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Hong Kong, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Nicaragua, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine/Russia, Venezuela, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.” Considering there are more than ten countries within the Balkans, over 33 countries are languishing under US sanctions. That means one in six countries suffer from US sanctions.
As Winkler would say, the “tool of choice for governments bent on bringing international miscreants to heel” is gearing up to make Ethiopia its next destination. US President Joseph Biden signed an executive order last week allowing new sanctions against parties involved in the war in Northern Ethiopia. The US further indicated that the sanctions can only be withdrawn if the parties to the conflict accept the African Union (AU) as a mediator and assign negotiators without any preconditions.
With no tangible signs of abiding by the US ultimatum coming from the Ethiopian government over the past week, Ethiopia seems to be bracing for the incoming sanctions. The experiences of countries that have effectively resisted US sanctions for a long time would could in handy at a time like this.
Iran is among the countries that have long standing sanctions imposed on them by the US. Iran has endured US sanctions since 1979 when the Iranian Revolution overthrew American favored Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and brought in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the country’s supreme leader. The storming of the US Embassy in Tehran is raised as the immediate reason for the sanctions; however, their disappointment at the things that transpired in Iran was there for all to see. A year before the Shah’s demise, US President Jimmy Carter stated: “we personally prefer that the Shah maintain a major role, but that is a decision for the Iranian people to make.” Well, the Iranian people made their decision but the US seems to hang on to its grudges nearly half a century later.
The sanctions imposed on Iran were very wide-ranging. The sanctions restrict trade activities with Iran, clump down on its sale of oil, ban agricultural and medical imports, freeze Iranian accounts abroad and aim to pressurize the Iranian government.
The main thing Ethiopia can learn from Iran’s perseverance against US sanctions is the need to become ‘self-sufficient’, stated the Second Secretary at the Iranian Embassy to Ethiopia, Alireza Sedaghat. He noted that Iran’s manufacturing sector grew tremendously during the sanctions as everything had to be made locally. Apparently, the absence of cheap imports into the country created an incentive for local manufacturers to become more productive.
Towards achieving self-sufficiency, however, the most basic surge in production should be that agricultural products. Global times reported that Iranian agricultural development peaked in the 1960s with industrialization and increasing food imports weighing down on afterwards. It further indicates that Iranian governments have since devoted themselves to developing the sector. As a result, Iran’s 45 year history of importing wheat ended in 2004 when it produced 14 million tons of the crop. The country has also managed to diversify its agricultural production and ensured the local production of food items needed.
With a poorly performing agricultural sector, import dependent supply chain, weak manufacturing sector and high dependence on foreign aid, Ethiopia is a long way off self-sufficiency. On the contrary, it has a huge human resource, large uncultivated arable land and abundant water resources. Therefore, the impending US sanctions might have a silver lining in optimizing the use of these resources and shrugging off the heavy reliance on aid and imports.
Ethiopia and Iran are currently celebrating 50 years of modern diplomatic relations and lessons of self-sufficiency might just be the reminder Iran could present Ethiopia as a gift marking that occasion.