By Mulugeta Zerabruk
The US State Department is presently sponsoring a non transparent political maneuver aimed at bringing together a certain number of Ethiopian political forces deemed “reformist and moderate” to chart a working relationship with the ruling EPRDF led by dictator Meles Zenawi. It is a double pronged policy–on the one hand to strike a deal between groups that hardly love one another and on the other to isolate what US ambassador to Addis Ababa, Donald Yamamoto, refers to as “hardliners. The “moderates” now being assembled by the State Department are, on the one hand, those already in the EPRDF dominated parliament, namely Lidetu Ayalew of EDP-Medhin, Dr. Beyene Petros of the SEPDC, Dr. Merera Gudina of ONC, Dr. Bulcha Demeksa of the OFDM, Ayele Chamiso of the CUDP and Dr. Negaso Gidada, an independent MP and former president of the country. On the other hand, there are Dr. Berhanu Nega, Dr. Hailu Araya and Ms Birtukan Midiksa, all recently released from prison after they asked pardon from the dictator and who head a faction of the CUDP. The hardliners to be isolated are reportedly the CUDP faction led by Engineer Hailu Shawel and former Ethiopian Teachers’ Association president Dr. Taye Wolde Semayat and the longstanding nemesis of the ruling EPRDF, that is to say the EPRP.
That this venture is bound to fail does not need much foresight to predict. What is at the base of the new American policy if not the continuing triumph of incoherence at the level of foreign policy as regards Ethiopia? Official American policy towards Ethiopia has often failed to be well informed and comprehensive. Numerous diplomats and so called experts have rather opted to cling to facile conclusions and ready made formulas to deal with the complex reality of the ancient country. Former president Bill Clinton was duped by Meles Zenawi and called the ordinary tyrant a young and promising democrat. Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who now admits his mistakes, also saw in the tyrant and the ethnic chauvinist group le led (the TPLF) a democratic promise that was to remain an illusion up to today. American foreign policy has been narrow minded by focusing on what is perceived as American interest of the hour which is this time the so called war against terrorism in the Horn. This myopic approach has hindered Washington from having a broader vision of the serious and fundamental problems of Ethiopia within the context of the Horn so as to seek a strategic solution that champions democratic governance as a source of stability and a safeguard against terrorism. In other words, the official American policy has been motivated by a “seek the most pliant puppet” mentality that ignores the people and their deep felt yearning for democracy. The whole situation is also complicated by the infamous and negative role of the lobbying firms that those in power have fielded in Washington.
A brief overview of American stance and policy as regards Ethiopia shows the incoherence and the damage done to Ethiopian interests. During the Emperor’s time, the US maintained a military base/listening post in Kagnew/Asmara and was fully aligned with the imperial regime. American CIA officials (Paul Henze was one at the time) and teachers at the university kept a vigil against “communist” influence on the youth. The student movement that wanted change became radicalized because there was no possibility of reform and change. The winds of the time blew for the Revolution at the world wide level and, let us admit it, America was on the side of the colonialists, the racists in South Africa and the shameful puppets like Mobutu and the coup makers all over the world. When the revolution broke out and the Derg took over power Jimmy Carter aligned America with aggressive Somalia and once again the campaigning was against the pro Soviet Derg and America, as usual, threw the baby out with the dirty bath water, that is to say the hostility to the Derg was also against Ethiopia. During the Derg period, America practically set up the EPDA group under Dereje Deresa and Commodore Tassew, which achieved little but was used by the Reagan administration for various destabilization efforts. In the end, America used the Sudan and the TPLF and EPLF to achieve its goals and the secession of Eritrea was also promoted. We all know the end result. The transition process was also botched, the OLF was used as a wallpaper as Lencho Letta the OLF leader at the time admitted. The rush to replace the Derg with the TPLF, never mind the wishes of the Ethiopian people, and the rush to assure the transport of the Bette Israelis out of Ethiopia left no time for serious consideration on a strategic and long term level. Immediate and pressing considerations or interests once again shaped American policy and Ethiopian had to pay the price. That many years later, officials like Herman Cohen did admit their mistakes did little to help Ethiopia. An opportunity towards a democratic and broader transition was lost, Eritrea was separated from Ethiopia, and ethnic chauvinist thugs had assumed power.
The prejudiced and even lazy conclusion on the reality of Ethiopia led to disastrous conclusions and policies vis a vis Ethiopia. Here is how two Americans who still claim to be experts on Ethiopia, Paul Henze and John Pendergast, analyzed the situation in December 1993 in the now defunct Ethiopian Review magazine:
“Heated rhetoric is raising the political temperature in Addis Ababa. Through the deceptively named All Amhara Peoples Organization and the Coalition for Ethiopian Democratic Forces, this possessed elements who have vested interests in the maintenance of the Mengistu regime, are baiting the new government with racially and religiously divisive rhetoric. They are being funded and encouraged by exiles abroad, some of whom were collaborators with Mengistu. They hope to provoke violent reactions which will lead donor governments and agencies to cut off aid to the Transitional Government and isolate it diplomatically. If the government and its donors fall prey to this trap, war will ensue and these same donors will be relegated to yet another cycle of humanitarian intervention, this time for the south instead of the north. But, if they want to prevent conflict and help move Ethiopia from are life dependent economy, donors should increase their aid commitments…. to assisting and encouraging the nascent democratic process.”
There was of course no nascent democratic process but a pro American dictatorship, Washington’ own “son of a bitch” as America’s representative to the UN Kirkpatrick famously put it. But, tale due note how the lie was peddled and the misinformation passed. The opposition was identified as elements trying to bring back the Mengistu regime while the Coalition mentioned above was made up of fierce anti Mengistu forces like the EPRP which was the main target of the brutal Red Terror. Henze and Pendergast are taking the chance that many readers will not know who is who in the Coalition of Ethiopian Democratic Force and the AAPO. They even went as far as alleging “racial and religious” agitation though the secular opposition was beyond religious fervor and the racial tag could not stick amidst Ethiopians. Just for the record, Paul Henze is still the firebrand in defense of the repressive regime while Pendergast is in the International Crisis Group and has formed a body called E?OUGH with Gayle Smith a well known Meles fan and TPLF groupie who was once national security advisor on Africa for Clinton. With such experts and advisors taking the front seat no wonder American policy remains incoherent and pathetic. No wonder from 1991 up to 2007 the same tattered analysis is brought forth and we hear Ambassador Yamamoto clinging to the notion even now that so long as “hard line Amharas and the EPRP” are sidelined and neutralized all will go well for America’s principal puppet in the Horn. Henze, Pendergast, Gayle Smith and the well paid lobbyists who “put a happy face on murder and mayhem in Africa” have all tried and are still trying to beautify the ugly face of the Meles Zenawi regime. Money matters and Meles Zenawi and Sheikh Alamoudi are spending millions of dollars for the lobby parlor make up.
The foreign policy of America to Africa in general and to Ethiopia in particular is an example of utter disaster if we take up the issues of debt, trade, oil, HIV-Aids, war on terror, human rights and democratic governance. In the Ethiopian context, the overriding consideration is the so called war on terror in which Meles has signed on as a loyal foot soldier. Hence, the disastrous invasion of Somalia. Hence, the training at Blattein of anti guerrilla forces for Meles by American special forces. Hence, the financial and political backing to Meles by Washington. Hence, the attempt to pressurize a section of the Opposition to bend for Meles and to come in from the “cold”. America’s rhetoric about democracy and human rights remains just that– empty words. Meles Zenawi knows that his violation of human rights will receive no approbation from the West so along as he toes the line drawn by Washington. There is no doubt that every Ethiopian worth his “Habesha” salt would tell the regime that any invasion of Somalia will end in a disaster given the enmity between Ethiopia and Somalia and that such an invasion will mobilize all Somalis against Ethiopia with grave consequences. Even if the Al Qaida threat was true, the best possible way to confront it would never be by provoking an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. Meles Zenawi knows this for sure but he went ahead with the invasion because he wanted to please Washington and get its political and all round support. The myopic American policy that limits itself to finding the best possible puppet in the region has thus been hampered from seeking a broader regional vision and solution. Yamamoto may bee smarter than his predecessors but his vision is till the same and he has already fallen into the traps set by the Meles regime. That American officials arrogantly believe that they are inherently smarter than Africans has not helped to redress the situation.
American foreign policy is not people friendly. Actually, it ignores the people and deals with regimes. The inhuman regime in Equatorial Guinea is tolerated by America because that country has oil being pumped out by America. Meles is “ok” because he does the bidding of America in the region. Djibouti’s Gelleh is an “ally” because America has Camp Lemonier base on his soil. Beshir of Khartoum is evil not because of Darfur but because is considered as an “Islamic radical” refusing to toe the American line. American foreign policy is dictated by American real politik, by the interest of America as perceived by the administration in place. Unfortunately, the Bush group is made up of people who stood in defense of apartheid like Dick Cheney, who backed and still support dictators deemed pro American like Meles Zenawi and there seems no hope in the near future that this will change. The ongoing attempt to divide the Ethiopian opposition and to make it bend for the dictatorial regime is a vintage American move. The Carter center is as usual mobilized to help the plot reach its conclusion. Once again we observe that official America fails to see the precipice as it rushes to “eat the grass”. The people matter but America realizes it not and fails to understand why the group it champions is detested and rejected by the people. Remember EPDA, Kifle Wedajo, Abdul Aba Bora, TPLF… Too much intelligence information can be confusing. America does get too much information but the sources are, sadly, prejudiced not well informed. The ongoing attempt to derail the democratic struggle of the people and to prolong the life of the Meles regime will not succeed not because the Osama gang is doing its work but mainly because the American officials have once against chosen to grope in the dark and move like a blind bull in a china shop. If we Ethiopians all stand against the American policy as regards Ethiopia it is not because we hate Americans but because we love Ethiopia more and we cannot be traitors whatever the price.
American policy as regards Ethiopia goes against the interest of Ethiopia and her people. Will America stop being arrogant, reject double standards and correct this? Doubtful. Should America correct it? Definitely. Will Ethiopians accept the American diktat? Not ever. Will the attempts to make the dictatorship of Meles prevail succeed? In their dreams. Will the meeting of traitors and cowards produce any result to sustain the tyrannical regime? Not at all. In short, the writing on the wall should not be Geez to Yamamoto and his superiors: American policy in support of the dictatorial regime of Meles Zenawi will be defeated. The best policy is to support the struggle for democracy and the respect of human rights in Ethiopia. This is the best way to preempt extremism in the region as a whole. Those who betray the country like Bandas during the Italian invasion will get the judgment of History. Their footprint in the sand will be ephemeral. No superpower can impede this.
ETHIOPIA SHALL PREVIAL OVER ALL HER ENEMIES!!!