Alemayehu G. Mariam
March 07, 2021
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger observed, “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was America’s “permanent friend” in Ethiopia for 27 years. Kissinger’s maxim in Ethiopia means, “It is better to deal with the devil you know than the angel you don’t know.”
For nearly two decades, America’s “permanent interest” was finding a friend to join the global war on terrorism. During his 2015 visit, Obama called Ethiopia an “outstanding partner” in the fight against terrorism, a “key partner” in resolving the crises in South Sudan and heaped praised Ethiopia for “contributing more peacekeeping troops than any other country in Africa.”
In March 2021, the Biden administration demonstrated the “outstanding partnership” is dead and Ethiopia has morphed into America’s “permanent foe”.
What exactly are America’s “permanent interests” in Ethiopia?
I shall argue there are five “permanent interests”.
The first is restoration of the ragtag remnants of the TPLF to power. Within days after the attack on the Northern Command Base (NCB) in Tigray region on November 3, 2020, the TPLF’s beat a hasty retreat under withering federal counteroffensive. Beginning in mid-November 2020, the triumvirate of Susan Rice, Antony Blinken and NSC Advisor Jake Sullivan made themselves the drum majors of TPLF-sponsored lies and disinformation which depicted Ethiopia as a land wracked by civil war, “targeted ethnic violence” and a source of regional stability and peace.
As the TPLF retreated into the bush, the triumvirate openly waged a frantic campaign to arm-twist the Ethiopian Government to “negotiate” and “dialogue” with the TPLF. The “dialogue” was intended to secure a power sharing agreement for the TPLF, guarantee them a central role in national government and grant them total immunity from prosecution for crimes they have committed over the past 27 years, including the treasonous attack on the NCB and the Mai Kadra massacres.
Credit is due to the Trump Administration for calling a spade, a spade. On November 4, 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the TPLF attack and declared, “The United States stands with the people of Ethiopia and will work with all who are committed to peace, prosperity, democracy, and the rule of law.”
On November 15, 2020, Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy “strongly condemned the TPLF’s unjustifiable attacks against Eritrea on November 14 and its efforts to internationalize the conflict in Tigray.”
On December 1, 2020, Nagy in a BBC interview said, “It is important to remember here there is not equivalency. You have a sovereign government and a region of Ethiopia the leadership of which basically started a conflict against the government… The Tigrean leadership… wanted to use the opportunity basically to overthrow the prime minister and return to the type of privilege that they had enjoyed within the Ethiopian state for the last 27 years…”
The U.S. knows, to paraphrase President Franklin Roosevelt’s epigram about Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, the TPLF are S.O.Bs, but they are our S.O.B.s. The U.S. seeks to restore the TPLF to power for three reasons: 1) reestablish a comprador (“banda”) regime that will carry out its commands no questions asked; 2) prevent the rise of a nationalist government that gives primacy and defends Ethiopian sovereignty, and 3) ensure Ethiopia will not become a regional power that could in any way undermine American hegemony the in the Horn of Africa.
The second U.S. “permanent interest” is to make Ethiopia China’s graveyard in Africa. The U.S. is itching to pick a fight with China in Ethiopia. China presents a stiff challenge to American global hegemony. The U.S. has ignored Africa as a bunch of “s**t hole” countries and concluded Africa will forever remain a continent of beggars. China has taken a different tack and offers Africans an economic model that not only competes with Western liberal capitalism but promises the explosive growth China has experienced itself. Hillary Clinton and other officials have tried to demonize China as a neocolonial power for offering an alternative to Africans. If the neocolonial charge is true, that would amount to the pot calling the kettle black.
If the U.S. could destroy China’s role and credibility in Ethiopia, that would effectively finish off China’s decades-long efforts, relationships and accomplishments in Africa. The facts show China is building roads, rail lines, bridges and other infrastructures in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa.
China does not interfere in Ethiopian politics, disrespect Ethiopian sovereignty or treat the Ethiopian Government as a vassal state to be disciplined by cut off of aid, denial of loans and threats to bomb the apogee of its national achievement, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The inescapable truth is that the U.S. believes by delivering a knockout punch to China in Ethiopia, it can impose a new Pax Americana on Africa. But China seems to be practicing the old adage. “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”
The third U.S. “permanent interest” in Ethiopia is thwarting a democratic election in Ethiopia in 2021. If a free and fair election is held in Ethiopia in June 2021, as I am sure it will be, that will throw a monkey wrench in America’s overall strategy in Ethiopia.
A popularly elected government in Ethiopia will be the final nail in the TPLF’s coffin. A successful democratic transition in Ethiopia will raise the bar for all African countries withering under all forms of dictatorships. If the younger generation of Ethiopian of Ethiopians could create a truly democratic government, so can the younger generation of all African countries. Ethiopia could be the cradle of an African Spring, not just of mankind.
The fourth U.S. “permanent interest” is maintaining its birthright to be the ultimate “kingmaker” for the Ethiopian throne. The U.S. wants to call the shots in Ethiopian politics. Only leaders approved by the U.S. can ascend and remain in power. That is exactly what the U.S. did in 1991 when then Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Herman Cohen staged a phony “dialogue” and “negotiation” in London and swiftly enthroned the TPLF in Ethiopia.
In the ensuing 27 years, the U.S. supported the TPLF with billions in aid and turned a blind eye to their massacres, mass detentions, tortures and gross abuses of human rights as documented extensively in the annual U.S. Human Rights Reports.
Today, the U.S. coordinates, with a nod and a wink, the Western old guard media, the so-called international human rights organizations, think tanks and others to delegitimize the current Ethiopian Government by accusing it of committing “war crimes” and human rights violations.
The U.S. has sought to use the leverage of aid, blocking of multilateral loans, restrictions on U.S. investments, U.N. and its own sanctions to bring the Ethiopian Government to its knees begging, “Please uncle… Uncle Sam.”
The fifth U.S. “permanent interest” is making sure Ethiopia will not rise and shine as a regional power which could challenge American hegemony. Ethiopia is building its GERD, the largest in Africa. That could make Ethiopia literally the power house of Africa.
Seventy percent of Ethiopia’s population today has no access to electricity. In contrast, one hundred percent of the Egyptian population has access. Ethiopia’s large youth population could propel Ethiopia into becoming an economic powerhouse.
Covid-19 and Trump have the shown the world America is a failed state. Over one-half million Americans have died because of a dysfunctional government that is indifferent to the suffering of its citizens. In 2019, 34 million Americans lived in poverty and more than 35 million battled hunger. Today, millions of Americans stand cue at food banks and millions more are living lives of quiet desperation in the “greatest country on earth”.
Yet, Blinken and crew swagger on the world stage filled with hubris barking out orders while shedding crocodile tears for thousands of Ethiopians who could die from starvation. Doesn’t charity begin at home?
What can Ethiopians do to withstand American bullying, intimidation, vilification and disinformation?
First, they must insist the U.S. deal with them as a sovereign nation. After all, Ethiopia existed long before 1787. The U.S. must respect Ethiopia and not treat it as a “s**t hole African country that takes orders. Second, Ethiopians must demand respect. They must not allow the U.S to treat them as beggars and send a clear message: “Take your aid and shove it.” Third, Ethiopia-U.S. relations can go forward only on the basis of Art. 2 (nonintervention) of the U.N. Charter. Fourth, all Ethiopians must fight the Biden Administration’s lies with Ethiopia’s truths.
One hundred twenty-five years to the week, Ethiopians, with muskets, swords, bows and arrows faced an existential challenge when they met the mighty Italian colonial army in the Battle of Adwa. In less than 24 hours, the Italians were vanquished. They learned a hard lesson: It is not the size of the dog in the fight that determines the winner but the size of the fight in the dog.
In other words, Ethiopians united can never be defeated!
Ed.’s note: Alemayehu (Al) Gebre Mariam, M.A., Ph.D., J.D., is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at California State University, San Bernardino and Attorney at Law.