By Yilma Bekele
March 13, 2021
There is a history of long friendship between Ethiopia and the United States of America. The relationship started one hundred eighteen years ago when King of Ethiopia Menelik II and U.S. representative Robert P. Skinner signed a treaty of commerce in which the two states agreed to receive representatives “.. in order to perpetuate and strengthen the friendly relations which exist between Ethiopia and the United States of America.” The relationship stayed in hibernation until the advent of World War II. Upon the defeat of Germany and the Axis powers the US emerged as a world power and Ethiopia gravitated towards the West in the new bi-polar world.
To prove loyalty and be taken as a worthy ally Ethiopia was always ready to give a helping hand whenever the US asked for it. In the fifties our country sent soldiers to Korea to fight on the side of the US but under the UN flag. In the sixties we followed the US lead and contributed peacekeepers to Congo (Zaire) under the UN flag. Ethiopia also allowed the US to establish a communication base station in Asmara to intercept signals from the Eastern Bloc or the former Soviet Union. I am sure that facility was targeted by the Russians if conflict arose between the superpowers. We were considered collateral damage.
The law point in the friendship was reached when the US abandoned Ethiopia during its border conflict with Somalia. When they say it is a topsy-turvy world they were thinking of us. The Soviet Union flipped Somalia and became our ally. With the help of our Cuban and Yemeni brothers we were able to repel the invaders. We stayed under the Soviet umbrella for two decades. It did not produce any dividends. There is no Soviet footprint in Ethiopia.
The defeat and expulsion of Mengistu ushered the reentry of the US back into Ethiopian affairs. The US with Herman Cohen as a conductor directed the show that handed our country to the TPLF mafia. Of course the new warlords discarded their Stalinist baggage and pledged allegiance to the West. They were readily accepted as junior partners and assigned to keep the ‘peace’ in the hood. Once again Ethiopian forces served as ‘peacekeepers’ in Darfur, Sudan and Somalia. The old UN flag was replaced with African peacekeepers flag organized, trained and financed by the West. Simply put the rich counties subcontracted out the ugly job and Ethiopia was the unlucky winner. As junior partners the mafia group was allowed to destabilize the neighborhood, borrow from the World Bank and IMF with reckless abandon and were lavished with positive praise on their media regarding the miraculous growth being achieved by the hapless thugs
Right now it is a good time in the story to ask what exactly did Ethiopia get from this friendship? Well as I was writing this I paused for a long time trying to think of the answer to the question. I can only think of Ethiopian Airlines but that is not even true. It was our government in association with TWA, a private American airline that established our crown jewel. There are no large agricultural projects, massive hydroelectric power stations, huge industrial parks or cutting edge higher education institutions to show how much our country has benefited from the alliance with the rich and industrial partner. One would think or hope a one hundred eighteen years old relationship should have something to show, correct? As the American author Gertrude Stein said of my hometown Oakland ‘there is no there there’. Nothing to see here folks.
The so-called ‘close and warm relationship’ as described by the two parties is nothing but an euphemism used to gloss over/hide this unequal and unfair state of affairs between the two parties. Ethiopia has fulfilled its part of the agreement to stand with its partner through thick and thin. On the other hand the US has not acted as a good friend that shows gratitude to an ally that goes out of its way to be a loyal partner. In fact the US was quick to develop close relationships with those in power whether a monarch, a dictator or a tribal warlord and ignore the people. Instead of hospitals or colleges the military was the largest recipient of the foreign aid and up until now the military has always been a negative force in our country. Helping Ethiopia achieve Democracy and the rule of law was not part of the equation. It is not wrong to conclude the average Ethiopian has in fact been negatively affected by the friendship.
Ethiopians found the strength within themselves and were able to remove and isolate those that made our country a sad and miserable place. No outside power lifted a finger to help us clean that garbage off our table. PM Abiy and his associates were able to build on the foundation our people built and declared partial victory three years ago. Ethiopia was born again. The diehard warlords took camp in their enclave and went on overdrive to make Ethiopia implode from inside. They activated every sleeper group they have recruited for two decades and turned Ethiopia into a killing field. With the exception of Tigrai there was a fire burning in every corner of the country. No offensive weapon was spared in their drive to create hopelessness, confusion and anger. And they have plenty of weapons and a fat wallet to do that.
The pandemic complicated their timeline. The wonderful work by the Election Board led by the most able Judge Bertukan Mideksa and the smart leadership by PM Abiy that was able to schedule the general elections completely bedaffled the pea brain warlords. They were forced to act in haste, which compounded their feeble plans to take power, by force. Three months back Tigrai Army (militia) attacked our border defense forces in the middle of the night while they were in bed. It is a nightmare situation for any country to have a State in a Federal system that trains and arms its own militia and declares war on the country. That is what happened in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has to create an alliance with its neighbor Eritrea because the threat by the Woyane mafia group was an existential threat. We will always be grateful to our Eritrean brothers that came to our help and sacrificed their dear sons on our behalf. If Eritrea was not willing to help, today the picture will be very very different and it will be extremely ugly for the rest of Ethiopia.
We won over the mafia group. Our military performed its duty in a very exemplary manner. Ethiopians are walking tall because our Army proved once again they are the true lions of the jungle and proud inheritors of Adwa. There is no question the major Woyane force has been decimated. The head has been cut. There still are remnants in the various caves and they have what’s called ‘the fifth column’ that work to undermine the newly formed administration from within. Their propaganda weapon in the Diaspora has not suffered much damage. It has been very active in painting a completely dark picture of the conflict that started by their parents and cousins. It is an eye opener to see the activation of their sleeper agent that made news by resigning. There are many like Berhane Kidanemariam, our Diplomat in DC.
To say Ethiopia is standing on pins and needles is not an exaggeration. The Oromo leaders and their bad intention, the Abay Dam impasse with Egypt and Sudan, the crisis in Tigrai and the most important elections in our current history have everybody worried. It is a time you need friends to lean on. It is at this critical point in our struggle for a better future that the new Secretary of State Mr. Anthony Blinken actually blinked and threw good old Ethiopia under the bus. Why he did that is not clear at the moment. Secretaries of State speak in a measured tone but also send messages regarding what they would like to see. His testimony in the US Congress was breathtaking in its scope and troubling in its assumptions. There is no need to refute what he said. I doubt anyone can give him any new information that he does not have thanks to the hundreds of ways the US collects intelligence some times as it happens in real time. There is no radio signal and digital raw data that is not vacuumed and swept by the many intelligence outfits that are interested in the Horn. They know about us more than we do. Judging by what he said I do not think his intentions bode well for Ethiopia. Let us pray he is not another Cohen.
He has mentioned a few things that are not commonly said between friends or allies in public. The Secretary mentioned three important points that seem to have bothered him and they need to be addressed. The Eritrean question, Human Rights in Tigrai and Amhara Forces. Of course we are serious and we say we really would like to know who has been whispering Woyane fairy tales to our Secretary of State. Is it a coincidence that his complaints mirror Woyane press releases? It has put our government in a very unfortunate situation. He has asked matters that cannot be addressed without compromising Ethiopia’s sovereignty. Two of them are outright strange demands. He is actually telling another sovereign power with whom it can form an alliance.
If I am not mistaken we went to war on an issue similar to this one. It is the treaty of Wuchale deja vu. The misunderstanding at Wuchale resulted with the war at Adwa. In the treaty between Italy and Ethiopia a dispute arose over Article 17 where the Italian and Ethiopian versions did not match. Italy wanted to be the sole conduit for Ethiopia’s foreign affairs and Menelik and Tayetu said no way Jussepe. You know the rest.
The US Secretary said “We have, as you know, forces from Eritrea over there, and we have forces from an adjoining [Ethiopian] region, Amhara, that are there. They need to come out.” A very troubling statement whichever way you look at it. Eritrean forces are in Ethiopia by the invitation and acknowledgement of the Ethiopian government. What right does the US have to tell Ethiopia whom to create an alliance with? Is this current US policy or something he said without much thought?
His description of deployment of forces inside Ethiopia defies all logic and state-to-state relationship. He is actually telling us where to post peacekeepers and militia aiding the federal government in its law and order effort. We Ethiopians find such talk offensive and a meddle in the internal affairs of a sovereign country that is actually much much older than the US. This kind of statement puts our government in a difficult situation.
He also said he wanted security forces in the region “that will not abuse the human rights of the people of Tigrai, or commit acts of ethnic cleansing which we’ve seen in western Tigray.” Again the statement is not true because nothing he said happened. The region went through war using modern weapons of destruction and it is understandable that many have been traumatized. It will take a while to stabilize and return life to normal. The Federal government with its limited resources and a pandemic on top is doing its best to establish order. Unsubstantiated charges like ‘human right abuse’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ are loaded terms and it is callous to throw that around at times like this. It is the same as shouting fire in a crowded theatre and that is considered a criminal act.
What’s most troubling today is the assumption that war is a game and no one gets hurt and there is a beginning and an end. Real life is not that neat. The Tigrai campaign must be very costly. Unfortunately the Ethiopian government up until today has not adequately explained the horrible nature of the conflict and the sacrifice by our soldiers. According to the Ethiopian side the war has all been a picnic with nothing to write home about except the spectacular victories with no casualties. That is wrong and that is why we are trailing in the communication and propaganda field. Our government failed to bring us face to face with what civil war means and how bloody it is. The massacre at the Northern Front, the Mai Cadra ethnic cleansing and the fight for every mountain and hill and the many Ethiopians that died paving the road to Makele must have been told as it happened so we all experience our soldiers’ agony. We won the war but bungled the public relations aspect. We have time to set the record straight.
We did not ask others to help us get rid of the termites. When it became necessary we stepped up and did the job. There are some countries that are making noise about Human Rights, Ethnic cleansing and other issues occurring during a military conflict. It puzzles us a lot. Where were they during those dark years when so much atrocity was committed? It is not that they did not know. All one has to read is the US State Department yearly report on the situation in our country. It is a book of horror. They knew and looked away. The master race has a cute term for going to bed with murderers; it is called ‘constructive engagement’ meaning as long as you serve my purpose I will look away when you misbehave. Now they are trying to lecture us about how we should punish our errant children that were playing with fire. Some uncles are too much.
Anyway they are going to raise hell trying to rearrange the naturally evolving situation in our country. They want to play the king maker and the referee and the adult in the room. They will stir the pot till it fits their taste. What they want us to do has to be weighed against what is good for our motherland. The fact that we are trying to repair what was shuttered by their close ally and friend is not lost on us. What they are trying to do with the TPLF children in the West is draw attention away from the cause and focus on implementation. Naturally a few mistakes might have occurred during the heat of war. Of course no one is happy but it is also not a good idea to try to replay what happened in actual battles during peacetime.
We can roar like Minilik or bend like Meles. It is our choice. We can tell the west politely in a diplomatic manner to bugger off or sell our country, our pride and our untarnished history for recognition and money. How we respond will make a big difference in the next few years. They will leave no stone unturned to make us confirm. They will shame us in international settings, spread vicious unsubstantiated news about us in their media and try to isolate us. No question they will tighten the economic lever under their control. We will definitely lose some aid money and financing will cost us more, requiring some sacrifice. To accede to their demands will on the other hand take us places where we have never gone before.
Maybe the hundred years we followed others and lived on welfare should be looked at closely. What better time than now to chart the road leading to the new independent Ethiopia. What better time than now to circle the wagon and start the work of building the new Ethiopia all by ourselves. We can do it now because we got the experience of what a government should not be like, our travels have introduced us to a new way of thinking and working that we can take back home and our remittances if channeled properly will replace the foreign aid they hold over our head.
It is never good to rain on someone’s parade and that is exactly what the distinguished Secretary of State did. He spoiled our victory over a sadist, immoral, cowardly enemy and what’s more he told us in public how we could maintain law and order in our country. All I know is that no one has dared addressed our Ethiopia that way and I am most baffled. This is a slippery slope that will not end well.