Aklog Birara, Ph.D., Commentator
American and Ethiopian diplomatic relations span more than 118 years, dwarfing US relations with all African colonized nations apart from Liberia. Ethiopian is the only country in Africa that was never colonized. For thousands of years, Ethiopia has welcomed and served as home to Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Its diversity is a source of creativity and potential wealth.
For an Ethiopian American like me who completed high school, college, and graduate school in the US, earning a doctorate at Johns Hopkins University, it saddens me deeply that the Government of the United States led by President Joe Biden lends deaf ears and blind eye to a reliable and trusted ally, Ethiopia. Ethiopian soldiers fought side by side with Americans in the Korean Peninsula. Members of the country’s military continue to serve Western and African interests in the fight against terrorism in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia provides the UN and the African Union with peacekeeping contingents in South and North Sudan.
The purpose of this open letter is to say that the Biden Administration cannot afford to squander America’s steadfast, reliable, and mutually beneficial relationship with Ethiopia. I can tell the American people with full confidence that the Government of Ethiopia and most Ethiopians within and outside the country prefer to preserve, and, in fact, to bolster relations between the USA and Ethiopia. The growing Ethiopian American population in the US (numbering more than one million, at least) contributes its fair share to the economic and cultural vitality of American society. It also serves as a powerful bridge to Ethiopia and the rest of Africa. This is a social capital asset that must not be ignored.
Why the truth matters?
I genuinely believe that, if President Biden as a person with a big heart and especially if all Americans knew the truth on the ground in Ethiopia, they would urge, if not demand, that the Biden Administration refrain from gross interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign and independent Black African country. I am also confident that if they knew the truth, the American people would also challenge the Biden Administration not to squander the remarkable and mutually beneficial relations that the United States and Ethiopia have enjoyed for 118 years. America needs friends and not enemies across the globe. So does Ethiopia that welcomes all countries with an open arm. It is doing just that as I write this open letter.
I shall highlight illustrative facts on the ground that the Biden Administration continues to ignore, and or to dismiss deliberately and systematically for opaque reasons:
1. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a minority ethnic elite that was once designated as “terrorist” by the United States Government ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist for almost three decades. Despite this designation, the US, the EU, the World Bank, and other donors poured in tens of billions of dollars in humanitarian and development assistance to the TPLF dominated Government of Ethiopia. Aid has done very little to transform the structure of the Ethiopian economy and or to erase endemic poverty. Contributing factors are theft, graft, bribery, corruption, and illicit outflow of funds. The TPLF does this with aplomb.
2. During TPLF brutal and corrupt rule of Ethiopia, one third (1/3rd) of the population in the Tigray region relied exclusively on the World Bank-led safety net program. Transparency International, Global Financial Integrity (GFI) and a special task force chaired by the former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, estimated that Ethiopia was among the top African nations that bled from bribery, corruption, and illicit financial flows (IFFS). According to GFI’s estimations, between 2005 and 2014 alone, an estimated average of US$1.3 billion to US$3. 2 billion dollars left Ethiopia as IFFs every year. IFFs in Ethiopia led to an average loss in GDP growth of 2.2% per year, more than it is receiving in development aid. Economists estimated at the time that the amount taken out of Ethiopia is equivalent to 11% to 29% of the country’s total trade (GFI 2017); 40% to 97% of the total aid inflows to the country (OECD 2016); or10% to 30% of the government’s total revenue (IMF) 2016. In short, foreign assistance was diverted by state thieves led by the TPLF for private use and to garner support from foreigners. The average annual loss of this massive capital flight that hurt the poorest of the poor in Ethiopia was 2.2 percent.
3. In March 2017, just one year before the TPLF was removed from power through massive public dissent, Mr. David Steinman of Forbes wrote a compelling Op-ed “Ethiopia’s Cruel Con Game.” Earlier, he authored a novel “Money, Blood and Conscience” that dealt with Ethiopia’s secret genocide perpetrated by the TPLF on the Amhara and Annuak peoples.
4. In his Op-ed Steinman referred to calls to the international community from United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, and UN aid chief, Stephen O’Brien, “to give the Ethiopian government another $948 million to assist a reported 5.6 million people facing starvation.” During a visit to Addis Ababa, Guterres described Ethiopia as a “pillar of stability” in the tumultuous Horn of Africa, praised its government for an effective response to the previous year’s climate change-induced drought that left nearly 20 million people needing food assistance, and asked the world to show “total solidarity” with the regime.” At the time, the regime was led by the TPLF that had served itself and the donor community more than it had served the Ethiopian people. The Secretary General is now chastising Ethiopia for expelling UN civil servants who failed to provide impartial service to victims, and instead took sides with the TPLF against Ethiopia. Their expulsion is not “alarming.” There is no international law or rule that says that states cannot expel persons who undermine their sovereignty and territorial integrity by siding and promoting terrorist and other destabilizing acts.
What is alarming and condemnable is the death and destruction caused by the TPLF since it initiated a treasonous war of destruction and balkanization last November.
5. Steinman underscored the dire situation on the ground that was covered up deliberately by Western policy and decision-makers as well as by UN specialized agencies. “Ethiopia is aflame with rebellions against its unpopular dictatorship, which tried to cover up the extent of last year’s famine. But even if the secretary general’s encouraging narrative were true, it still begs the question: Why, despite ever-increasing amounts of foreign support, can’t this nation of 100 million clever, enterprising people feed itself? Other resource-poor countries facing difficult environmental challenges manage to do so.”
Therefore, I opined in a previous commentary that it is time for Ethiopia to rely more heavily on its own resources.
I want to draw the attention of American taxpayers to the following facts disclosed by Steinman.
• “Two numbers tell the story in a nutshell: a) The amount of American financial aid received by Ethiopia’s government since it took power: $30 billion; and b) The amount stolen by Ethiopia’s leaders since it took power: $30 billion. The rate of return to the Ethiopian poor is zero. Had the TPLF invested aid into productive enterprises in Tigray alone, the region’s poor population would have been free from poverty and destitution.
• The latter figure is based on the UN’s own 2015 report on Illicit Financial Outflows by a panel chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki and another from Global Financial Integrity, an American think tank. These document $2-3 billion—an amount roughly equaling Ethiopia’s annual foreign aid and investment—being drained from the country every year, mostly through over- and under-invoicing of imports and exports.
• Ethiopia’s far-left economy is centrally controlled by a small ruling clique that has grown fantastically wealthy. Only they could be responsible for this enormous crime. In other words, the same Ethiopian leadership that’s begging the world for yet another billion for its hungry people is stealing several times that amount every year.”
In summary, it is these “cruel” and cunning thieves among the elite led by the TPLF and its foreign supporters that siphoned off tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid intended to alleviate poverty and destitution in Ethiopia that the Biden Administration is emboldening and supporting either tacitly or directly. This is immoral and unethical.
It is therefore fair and necessary to urge the Biden Administration to condemn the TPLF and to hold it accountable for the current humanitarian crisis, for the illicit outflow of funds from Ethiopia and for transforming Ethiopia from its status as a “pillar of stability” to that of a center of civil conflict with ripple effects on the entire Horn of Africa?
I find it distressing, immoral and unethical that the Biden Administration, members of the EU and the UN have turned deaf ears and a blind eye not only to the humanitarian crisis but also to the massive theft of American taxpayer money for which the TPLF has not yet been held accountable or for genocide in Mai Kadra and numerous Mai Kadra-like killings since June 2021 alone. Current information in Northern Gondar, Wollo and Afar regions show a level of savagery and barbarism unprecedented in modern Ethiopian history that is being perpetrated by the TPLF. This should have enraged, alarmed, and outraged the Government of the United States and the UN Secretary General. This should have led to outright condemnation of the TPLF.
Also imagine the millions of lives and investment property destroyed because of the war started by the TPLF. Think of the children in the Afar, Amhara and Tigray regions who lost their fathers or mothers, properties, schools, health facilities and sources of sustenance. Since June 28, 2021, when the Government of Ethiopia declared a unilateral cease fire without reciprocity, the TPLF has spared no one. It even massacred cattle, with the sole intent of depriving poor Afar and Amhara farmers of the primary source of their livelihood. Is the slaughter of oxen, cows, chicken, and another animal heroic or barbaric? It is barbaric and insane.
The attached video clip shows the catastrophic picture of broken hearts, amputated legs of children, agonizing mothers and, lost hopes that is emerging and that encapsulates the barbaric nature of the TPLF that the US and the UN has, thus far, failed to condemn and hold accountable.
How much crueler and more barbaric does the Biden Administration want the TPLF to become before it takes action to condemn its actions?
It is my considered opinion that US policy towards Ethiopia is guided narrowly by inaccurate reporting and propaganda; by the misrepresentations of facts on the ground; by the misapplication of such principles as “the responsibility to protect” that were tried and failed in Libya; and by private and group self-interests. Rightly or wrongly, many thousands of Ethiopian observers (in fact, I would venture to say most Ethiopian observers) believe that a few decision makers in the Biden Administration seem to have a love affair with the TPLF. Moreover, these Ethiopian observers cannot understand why this is so.
I believe strongly that the TPLF ideology and the structure that it crafted to divide and rule Ethiopia was never viable or attainable.
Finally, I strongly urge the American people to demand that President Biden retract his Executive Order of September 17, 2021. Among other things, the unintended consequence is that the Ethiopian public, especially youth lose faith and confidence in the USA.
US and Ethiopian relations must continue uninterrupted. The mutual benefits for both countries are huge. Squandering time-tested relations is a disservice to both the American and Ethiopian people.
October 4, 2021
References and citations
(The face of catastrophe in Ethiopia) https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2017/03/03/ethiopias-cruel-con-game/?sh=3d37ccf129d0#:~:text=Mar%203%2C%202017%2C11,Conscience%E2%80%9D%20about%20Ethiopia%E2%80%99s
Steinman’s article that I urge you to read in its entirety