Ethiopia is sometimes described as the ‘gateway to Africa.’ The expression works both literally and metaphorically. In its literal sense, Ethiopia became the gateway to Africa since the end of 2018 as Ethiopian Airlines overtook Dubai as the transfer hub for long-haul travel to Africa. An article posted by the Ethiopian Embassy in London in 2019 indicates that the number of long-haul transfers to Africa via Addis Ababa Bole International Airport grew by 85 percent in the five years between 2013 and 2017. Apparently, Addis Ababa’s traffic as a gateway to Africa was busier than that of Dubai.
The metaphoric sense of the expression, however, has to do with Ethiopia’s immense influence on the continent. As a result, convincing Ethiopia was taken by foreign actors as a key step in garnering the support of the African continent. Its status as the pride of black people, its role as the seat of the African Union (AU) headquarters and its assertiveness in the face of supremacist approaches from the most powerful states molded Ethiopia as a charismatic state actor continentally and globally.
Some Ethiopian agricultural experts argue that Westerners used the country as Genetically Modified Organism’s (GMO’s) gateway into Africa. After spearheading the continent’s fight against the adoption of GMO for quite a long time through experts such as Tewoldebirhan Gebregziabher (PhD), Western companies such as Monsanto have allegedly waited for an opportune moment to pounce back. Once the internally acclaimed Ethiopian scientist Gebregziabher died, Monsanto approached Ethiopian members of parliament, invited them on a visit to some GMO farms in India and presented its case. As the MPs are not well conversed on the issue, they easily fell into the company’s trap and initiated policy to adopt GMOs. The result, some Ethiopian agricultural experts state, is that the country endorsed GMO silently. Once the country that served as the beacon of anti-GMO struggle in Africa was conquered, it was easy to address the rest separately.
After ignoring Africa for as long as it has been a leading global power, the US has progressively raised its engagement with the continent during the new millennium. Generally regarded as the ‘dark continent’ especially until the end of the twentieth century, Africa stood on the margins of international relations. However, the new millennium brought something new for Africa. At one point, seven of the ten fastest growing economies in the world were in Africa. The changes led to its improved importance in the international stage. Africom website states that “the decision (to create the US Africa Command) was the culmination of several years of deliberation within the Department of Defense (DoD) acknowledging the growing strategic importance of Africa.” As clearly indicated in Africom’s website, the growing strategic importance of Africa led to the establishment of a US Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany in 2007. The continental command by the US DoD was preceded by the US military base in Djibouti, Camp Lemonnier, in 2003.
It was not just Africa’s new found hope that attracted more of America’s attention though. China started to engage with the African continent a few years earlier and its popularity in the continent was noticeably growing. Following the end of the cold war, the lack of willingness from the US to constructively engage with Africa on trade and other aspects of state relations left Africa sidelined from international relations. The heightened attention states received from the two superpowers during the cold war were suddenly non-existent. Well on its march to industrialization, China used the opportunity to provide much needed construction, telecommunications, mining and other services to African countries. An article entitled “Grand Strategy and China’s Soft Power Push in Africa” states that “China’s soft power push in Africa has been spreading since the founding of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000.”
The US woke up to the developing story in Africa late. When it did, it responded through the establishment of US military camps that could only be taken as a threat to Africa. It took the US quite a while to understand that African states demanded to be treated as ‘equals’ and as trade partners. The American approach to dictate policies and change governments in the name of democracy and human rights was quickly hated by the developing world in general. That made China a much better alternative.
A couple of decades into the new millennium, China has become the second largest economy in the world. There are predictions that it will take over the US as the biggest economy as recently as 2028. China’s military capabilities have grown exponentially over the years that China now boasts one of the strongest armies in the world.
More importantly, China has become the global manufacturing hub for quite a while now. The COVID-19 pandemic has especially showcased the world’s reliance on China’s manufacturing as the US itself had to wait for ventilators to be sent to it from the Asian giant. The US has been having trade deficits in its trade relations with China and that has prompted a trade war between the two in recent years. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace pointed out that “U.S.-China bilateral relations took a nosedive in 2018 when then U.S. president Donald Trump’s obsession with trade deficits led him to impose punitive tariffs on China. The tariffs were followed by restrictions on both China’s access to high-tech U.S. products and foreign investments involving security concerns and by allegations of unfair Chinese commercial practices.”
The intensifying trade war between the two biggest economies in the world has increasingly come to be pronounced as the ‘new cold war.’ With the rivalry between the two attaining heightened levels that mimic the cold war, no frontier and sector would be left alone. Viewed as the biggest quarry in the world by global superpowers, Africa is one of the places where their war rages in.
As the ‘gateway to Africa’, assuming control of Ethiopia is a priority for the US. Experience teaches us that the US does this through direct military control, indirect control through a puppet government or through a lingering period of statelessness. The Western orchestrated assault on Ethiopia could well be an effort to use the internal problems of the country to advance US and Western interests.