Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Laying Ethio-U.S ties on stronger foundation

If there was any doubt that Ethiopia is back in the U.S’ good grace, it has been laid to rest thanks to the events of this week. In a sign that the strained relations between Ethiopia and the U.S. have begun to thaw, a delegation led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) engaged in cordial talks with senior U.S. officials, including President Joe Biden, during its visit to the U.S to attend the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit 2022 in which both sides agreed to ramp up their century-old bilateral ties. The delegation held productive talks with top officials of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group (WBG) on the sidelines of the summit regarding the institutions’ support for the ongoing reform in Ethiopia as well as the need for debt resolution. The meeting came a day after the board of directors of the WBG approved USD 745 Million to Ethiopia in grants. It also undertook conversations with members of the US investment community about the untapped investment opportunities in Ethiopia. The improvement in relations is ascribed to the peace deal signed in November 2022 between the federal government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Revolutionary Front (TPLF), which brought to an end the bloody two-year war the U.S had called for.   

Ethiopia and the U.S. first established diplomatic relations in 1903. These relations cooled during the 1974-1991 rule of the communist Derg regime in Ethiopia. The ties improved substantially after the ouster of the Derg. Prior to the eruption of a civil war following the TPLF’s force attack on the troops of the unsuspecting Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) based in Tigray in November 2020, Ethiopia was the second-largest recipient of American aid in Africa. It was also regarded as a reliable partner in the U.S.’ global war on terrorism and a symbol of peace and stability in a volatile region. The relationship, however, went into the doldrums after President Biden’s administration clearly sided with the TPLF. In fact it accused the Ethiopian government of committing war crimes, ethnic cleansing, denying humanitarian access to Tigray, and using hunger and rape as weapons of war. Since then, Ethiopia has been subjected to unprecedented pressure at the hands of the U.S. and other Western governments, the U.N., mainstream media, think-tanks and self-proclaimed rights groups.

The pressure campaign of the U.S. against Ethiopia was partly aimed at orchestrating the country’s diplomatic isolation. Together with its allies it tried over a dozen times allies to have Ethiopia censured at the U.N. Security Council but failed due to the vote of China and Russia. It also imposed a bevy of punitive measures targeting Ethiopia’s economy, including the withdrawal of its benefits under the United States’ tariff-free African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Moreover, the nation has been at the receiving end of a coordinated a psychological warfare through a disinformation campaign undertaken by the mainstream media, think tanks and so-called rights advocacy organizations. Many Ethiopians believe the U.S. has chosen to meddle in the country’s internal affairs under humanitarian pretext in order to advance its end-game, namely to ensure that the Ethiopian government’s conduct does not imperil its varied interest in the strategic Horn of Africa and beyond.

The U.S.’ consideration driving the actions it has taken against Ethiopia, its long-standing regional ally, are purely self-interested. The Biden administration is peeved by Ethiopia’s pursuit of an independent foreign policy, which it apparently has deemed to be a potential obstacle to the fulfilment of its strategic vision in the Middle East and Africa. Ethiopia’s disinclination to acquiesce to what is demanded of it has been perceived to make it harder to protect the interests of Egypt—the linchpin of the U.S’ Middle East policy. The U.S. is also wary of China’s growing influence on Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. Moreover, it considers controlling the Bab el-Mandeb strait— a vital strategic link in the maritime trade route stretching from Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula to Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa— as a means through which its dominance can be ensured in the region. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult due to competing global powers, including China. This necessitates, in its view, a course of action which “dislodges” Ethiopia from China’s sphere of influence and places it firmly in its orbit.

The recent mending of the bilateral relations between Ethiopia and the U.S is welcome news for both sides. As a nation on whom the two-year civil war has inflicted a staggering economic and humanitarian loss, the loosening of the purse strings by the likes of the World Bank and IMF, which are dominated by the West, cannot have come at a better time. The fact that the improvement in ties came about as a result of the conclusion of a negotiated peace deal serves as an object lesson that the raft of outstanding political challenges confronting Ethiopia can and should be resolved through a similarly peaceful political process as well. The valued partnership of the two nations that had withstood the test of time needs to be strengthened further in a manner that is mutually beneficial. Both must be guided by this principle as they endeavor to lay them on an even stronger foundation.

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