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Beyond Ethiopian Intellectual ኡኡታ: The Logic Behind US’s Intervention in Ethiopia

Yonas Biru, PhD

With all due respect, it appears to me that our intellectuals spend an exorbitant amount of time, scavenging quotes from cyberspace. Every utterance by the US Secretary of State and other US officials is scavenged from the cyberspace and analyzed for days until another quotable quote gets our attention. Our failure to see political developments through a strategic lens has made it difficult for our intellectuals to understand and reflect on current geopolitical realities.

In my humble opinion, the problem is that our intellectuals are stuck in a cold-war mindset. It has been over a quarter of a century since the world has been talking about post-cold war geopolitics. Over the last decade, the West’s geopolitical strategy with respect to Africa’s development has changed both in substance and form. When it comes to geopolitics, Ethiopian intellectuals are more like hermits betrayed by time and left behind by the fast-moving geopolitical landscape.

The story that Africa is a continent poised to capitalize on the fourth industrial revolution and the West does not want to see a strong and prosperous Africa is utter crap. To the contrary, in the post-cold war era, the West’s relationship with Africa is governed by two ominous factors. Africa’s population explosion and its perennial poverty.

First, whether it is a natural disaster, pandemic or economic recession triggered by internal or external shocks, African nations depend on external bailout and handout, with no abatement in sight.

Second, Africa’s population explosion and economic situation pose a threat to the global economic order. Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050. By 2100, 50 percent of the world’s children will be born in Africa. See animated graph here. Population Explosion in Africa Demands a Marshall Plan | Flourish.

Africa’s population is expected to account for nine-tenths of the world’s extremely poor population by 2030. Another area of potential catastrophe is Africa’s urbanization rate. The continent is expected to be the fastest urbanizing region in the world until 2050. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) bulletin, 71.8% of urban dwellers in Africa live in slums, the highest proportion in the world. The potential for a region wide health crisis is looming as population growth and urbanization interact with extreme poverty in sprawling slums. This carries with it the seeds of threat to the world’s political, economic and health security.

Forget about Africa being the gold mine that the world is fighting for. The world is more worried about saving Africa from itself and sparing the world from Africa. The West has a vested interest in launching a Marshall Plan for Africa, because the alternative is a metastasizing cancer of poverty, political instability, spread of pandemic and breakdown of the global security order.  Let us put to rest our Pan Africanism fantasy and “Adwa this and Lalibela that” lunacy and look at the reality in the face and deal with it with honesty and intellectual integrity.

Covid left the US $16 trillion in an economic hole, according to a Harvard study. The West now is focused on avoiding: (1) mass exodus from Africa because of population explosion weaponized with extreme poverty, (2) pandemics that results from growing slums and poverty, (3) Africa becoming recruitment heaven for global terrorism.

These are the factors that keep global policy makers sleepless. That is why in 2017, Angela Merkel proposed the Marshall Plan for Africa. That is also why the G-20 is now talking about the Marshall Plan for Africa. This is also why Liberty University is establishing a Global Moral Voice Platform, with a High-Level Roundtable Group, consisting of former African presidents and Prime Ministers, Four of Africa’s most decorated economic professors, former European Prime Ministers and US Senators and former Secretaries. I take pride in being a part of this effort. Read my article in the Washington Times: “Liberty University Emerges as a Moral Voice for Africa.”

The Marshall Plan was first introduced by the US to reconstruct Europe after the WWII devastation. The Marshall Plan for Africa will involve infusing 100s of billions of dollars into Africa. Though this may sound far-fetched for some, it is more than likely to happen. Africa’s development is no longer a moral or humanitarian issue but a strategic imperative for global economic, health and political security and peace.

Some say Africa is home to half of the world’s known supply of rare earth minerals essential to building products from batteries to airplane engines and from household electronic devices to laser-guided missiles and therefore it can finance its own development. This is utter crap.

What people do not realize is Africa’s precious metals and fuel are concentrated in a few countries such as Mauritania, Botswana, Sierra Leone, Zambia, South Africa, Nigeria, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea. The rest including Ethiopia are basket cases. They get more from the west than the West gets from them. The “Lalibela this and Axum that and Ethiopia is great” intellectuals need to get over it.

Once you understand this, we can talk about the impetus for the US intervention in Ethiopia. Even what appears to be counter intuitive becomes clear. Understanding this will help us understand the nonsense in the argument that the US does not want to see a prosperous and stable Africa. Even some of the most informed analysts think what the US wants is a regime change. Others go as far as suggesting the US’s aim is to bring TPLF back to power. Sometimes, I wonder if God created Ethiopian intellectuals to make him laugh.

By many measures, Ethiopia has become one of the most geostrategic real estates in the world, thanks to its proximity to the Red Sea, a vital shipping and maritime route linking Europe and Asia and the strategic heartland of US energy security. Now the question is why is the US policy favoring TPLF?

But before that I would like to pose the following questions to shake the deeply entrenched conspiracy theory mongers who believe the US does not want to see a prosperous, united, and strong Ethiopia.

  1. If the US favors TPLF, why were they quiet during the first three weeks of the war, when TPLF was being annihilated?
  2. Eritrea was involved soon after TPLF invaded the Northern Command. Why was the US quite on this for the first month or so?
  3. Though the pressure on Ethiopia was ratcheted up under Biden, the pressure started in full earnest during Trump. The question is why did Biden ratchet up the pressure?
  4. The US has been threatening Ethiopia to block US funds since December 2019. Why has it not done it? In fact, why has it been increasing its aid to Ethiopia? Remember the US DFC $5 billion was approved in April 2020, after Ethiopia rejected US’s foolish order not to start filling the dam.
  5. Why did the US pressure Ethiopia not to conduct its election, including with a stern threat to block funding, but accepted the election results after Ethiopia told it to go to hell and conducted the planned election?

 

  1. If the US’s interest was to avoid a united and strong Ethiopia or to break up Ethiopia, why did it play a significant role in dethroning TPLF in 2018?

Remember what Herman Cohen tweeted in March 2018: “#Ethiopia’s claim that #Eritrea is contributing to violent instability in Ethiopia is false. All instability in Ethiopia is self-inflicted by a minority kleptocratic régime.” And advised the newly minted Prime Minister Abiy via twitter in April 2018: “Do not be reluctant to take bold steps toward democratic reform. TPLF politico-economic monopolists have been revealed as frauds and will not be able to restrain you. International community is with you.”

When the Trump administration earmarked $5 billion for Ethiopia in April 2020, that amounted to 25% of what was appropriated by Congress for Africa.

Ethiopia is one of the most coveted geopolitical real estates on this side of planet Mars.  In June 2018, I wrote to the Prime Minister an open letter stating: “Your administration should proactively leverage Ethiopia’s aggressive development agenda and position its strategic development framework at the nexus of the emerging global geopolitics and the ensuing international development policy.”

Ethiopia, today, is where Korea was in 1950 and 1960. Korea used its geopolitical advantage to milk the West. We look at the West with ጎሪጥ::

Sadly, Ethiopian intellectuals are knee deep into conspiracy theory crap, venting “Lalibela this and Axum that and the world is jealous of Ethiopia” crap. Sadly, also, Ethiopia’s intellectual political class is monopolized by the geeks, the goons and the loons. We are mighty screwed up and plenty-cursed people. Missing an opportunity is an opportunity we never miss.

Government and party officials such as Ambassador Radwan and Taye Dendea Aredo suggest in public that the US wants regime change. This is utter nonsense, reflecting ignorance in understanding the fast-shifting geopolitical landscape. I weep for Ethiopia.

Now to the question: Why is the Biden Administration supporting TPLF?

The simple answer is to maintain the stability of Ethiopia. How so? The US was happy to see TPLF vanish when the war started. That was why they were quite the first month after the war broke. That was also why they were quiet about Eritrea’s involvement during the first weeks of the war. The US knew when Eritrea joined and how it joined the war on Ethiopian side. Remember they have satellite technology that can see you pee from space, leave alone a military convoy crossing an international border.

Had PM Abiy managed to finish up TPLF, the US would have happily come to attend the funeral process.  Abiy did not. Nor did he give the international community a sense of what the end game was. This is where PR and lobbyists could have played a role.

TPLF not only survived the onslaught but managed to become a threat.  TPLF knows how to play the international community. During the war, it sent missiles to Asmara to create regional instability and get the international community nervous. Now, it is fighting in Afar and Amhara lands at a gross human cost to it to threaten instability in the country. International journals are now writing that the war has been broadened in other regions, risking the stability of Ethiopia. This makes the US and the West in general nervous.

The US wants stability by any means necessary. The US understands that TPLF is a terrorist organization run by criminals (See Cohen’s assessment above). The US knows that TPLF’s strategy is to maximize the humanitarian crisis in Tigray. That is the geopolitical currency they are trading on.  The US has no leverage to influence TPLF. But it has leverage over Ethiopia through international organizations and financial aid. That is why their pressure is focused on Ethiopia.

The bottom line is Ethiopia is a strategic land that the US wants to see stable and prosperous. At policy level, it is doing what policy makers can do to bring about stability and peace even if allowing TPLF to survive is not their first- or second-best option. This is where lobbyists have the most influence. TPLF is spending millions. Our Prime Minister is spending zero. PR and lobbying is not all about getting the US to support us. It is also about exposing the myopic policy that has enormous consequences to Africa. Lobbying is about making it harder for any US administration to settle for the lowest hanging fruit.

Ethiopia needs lobbyists not only to defuse and defeat TPLF’s PR onslaught, but also to get the most out of the US. For example, in April 2020, a prominent American wrote an article titled “US should adopt a Marshall Plan for Ethiopia.”

The article was republished in a number of Newspapers. Our government was nowhere to be seen. Other countries would have followed it with their lobbyists to push the agenda further. That was why in June 2018 I advised the PM in my open letter to “make Ethiopia an active international development aid seeker, not a passive recipient of it.”

I closed my 2018 open letter with: “Let the እምቢልታ trumpet and the እልልታ echo from the top of Ethiopian majestic mountains to the underbelly of her deepest gorges.” Sadly, the እምቢልታ trumpeting comes from Slogan Mongering and Quote Scavenging “Lalibela this and Axum that” community, surfing the waves of conspiracy oceans. I weep for Ethiopia.

As I have written many times, Ethiopia needs to emancipate its intellectual class from itself before it can free herself from her perineal poverty.

 

6 Comments

  1. Two issues are important when discussing US and western policies towards Africa and Ethiopia.
    1.The US was under election when the law enforcement operation started in Tigray in November 2020. The Trump administration was not so preoccupied with the Tigray issue as opposed to the current Biden administration. Some officials in the Biden administration such as Susan Rice and her cliques have connections to the TPLF. This could be the most reasonable explanation for the pro-TPLF position of the administration.
    2. The geopolitical competition between the US and China is the other dimension to be considered in the US and western policy. Africa including Ethiopia is one of the battlefields between the two powers and the Biden administration could have selected the TPLF as one of its loyal servants to serve its interests in Ethiopia.

    2.

  2. With all due respect, I could not understand the arguments in this article. Let us see if there is a plausible logic in it:
    Assertion 1: “The US understands that TPLF is a terrorist organization run by criminals (See Cohen’s assessment above)”. Taking Cohen as the spokesperson of the US or taking his statement as the policy of the US is just flawed.

    Assertion 2: The simple answer why the Biden Administration supports TPLF… “is to maintain the stability of Ethiopia”. A country [US] that understands how TPLF is a terrorist organization supports the same terrorist organization in order to maintain the stability of Ethiopia? Really?

    Assertion 3: Ethiopia is losing on the PR front. I get it! But how does we reconcile this with this bold assertion which states that “the bottom line is Ethiopia is a strategic land that the US wants to see stable and prosperous.” If that was US’ policy towards Ethiopia, why do we really need to lobby the US or undertake a PR work? I am not saying PR is not needed. I am in fact in favour of better communication and PR by the Ethiopian Government. But I could not understand why the US which has allegedly a policy to see a stable and prosperous Ethiopia, is currently undermining Ethiopia at every step of the way? Why do we see a highly coordinated and persistent campaign against Ethiopia by all major Western media outlets and Think tank groups since the beginning of the conflict?

    Do I really know why the US is doing what it is doing to Ethiopia since the Biden Administration took office? I do not! What I know is the act by the US is highly hostile; it is harassment and bullying of the highest order. But why? we still need to deeply examine the geopolitical dynamics and identify the factors behind such unprecedented interference. I do not think the answer is as simplistic as saying Ethiopia has failed big time in PR and TPLF has outmaneuvered everyone.

    Respectfully,

  3. While the West in general retains geopolitical interests in Africa (such as checking the rising the influence of China and Russia and curtaining trans-Mediterranean migration), most of its intentions are focused on humanitarian and development initiatives. Africa receives Western aid that support important national programs. This also includes Ethiopia. I agree with the author that the geopolitical argument vs Western intervention in Africa has become irrelevant.

  4. In every article posted here or on other similar websites have had substance to ponder with and also they may have issues. If we cry rivers for lack of freedom of expression in the old country then opinions no matter how they don’t mesh well with our personal convictions must be encouraged. That is the only way good ideas will eventually shake up. We will also be able to notice what is afoot out there. For these reasons I encourage well read countrymen/women like Obbo Yonas to keep writing. You just need to take civil criticism in strides. The issues facing Africa in general and the old country in particular are so complex that there is no magic wand or silver bullet that will make they go away.

    Yes Africa has past glories and they have their own way telling their stories. Most of them had fallen victims of legends due to the fact that majority of past empires lacked written language for documentation’s. They did not leave massive engineering marvels like colosseums and aqueducts behind for us to savor. When a strange looking rock is discovered it becomes a reason for wild celebration. It’s history includes the uplifting victory at Adwa and the depressing slave holding forts on the shorelines of both eastern and western African coasts. Yes, when the story of the victory of Adwa is told it gives me a rash of goosebumps in pride but that is all past history that took place in a different geopolitical environment. They will never be another Italian general marching on the old country. In fact what the Italians are doing these days is building the largest dam in Africa there in the old country. Yes we should be very proud of them and can have good times during their celebrations. But they will never be another Minelik! There will never be another Alexander the Great! They will never be other Cleopatra and Julius Caesar or Mark Anthony making annexation plans under the bed sheets.

    Keep writing, sir!

  5. Yonas Biru
    I was going to call you professor but I don’t know if you are or not. In any case I do like the article here and it is a wonderful analysis of the situation. As much as I like what you are saying, please refrain from insulting people who have a different point of view. I see you use words like “crap” too many times to describe other Ethiopians who you call “intellectuals” Even when I agree with your well made points… it always scares me when I hear ” I know it all” So you are doing the same thing that you are accusing others of. Every time, I read or listen to Ethiopian “intellectuals” including you I am; reminded of my childhood when too many kids died because of very stubborn “intellectuals”. EPRP and MAISON comes to mind. So, let everyone express their opinion without insulting each other.

    I do appreciate the article however… I have lived in the US almost 30 yrs… I am not sure if the US has the best intention or not… US is a very arrogant and condescending country as are most of the people who live here.

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