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Western Policy Towards Ethiopia

By Fikru Helebo

After listening to Herman Cohen interview on VOA last week, I thought that a letter writing campaign to educate Western policy makers on Ethiopia, particularly to those in the US, was in order. So, I was pleased to read an article that addressed this issue on Ethiomedia web site by Solomon Terfa titled “Support to Democracy in Ethiopia has to be Subordinated to U.S. Fight Against Terrorism.”

While I do wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Terfa about the urgent need for the US to adjust its policy towards Ethiopia in favor of supporting the aspirations of Ethiopians for freedom and democracy, I do not think that asking the US to give less priority to its national interests in the Horn of Africa region and linking the US policy to partisan rhetoric will serve our common interest of advancing the cause of freedom and democracy in Ethiopia. Therefore, I respectfully diagree with the partisan approach Dr. Terfa took in addressing the issue.Ā Refering to Mr. Cohen’s interview, Dr. Terfa said the following:

it [Herman Cohen’ view] confirmed my long standing assessment of the policies of the the various Republican administrations. They may give lip service to values like freedom, democracy, justice but rarely are they sincere about them.

I do believe that such a partisan approach (Democrat vs. Republican) is the wrong approach to looking at Western (especially US) policy towards Ethiopia. In point of fact, the above statement of Dr. Solomon could have been just as valid if the word ‘Republican’ is replaced with ‘Democrat’.Ā No one should forget that the biggest American policy mistake ever towards Africa in the last century was commited by a Democratic administration. There is now wide consensus among both Democrats and Republicans alike that the Clinton adminisration did absolutely nothing to stop the horrificĀ genocideĀ in Rwanda in 1994.

When it comes to US policy towards Ethiopia, one can reasonably argue that, historically Republicans policy makers have been more friendly to Ethiopia and Ethiopians. But this is beside the point. I am of the view that United States’s policy towards the Horn of Africa in general, and Ethiopia in particular, is better understood if it is seen from United State’s geopolitical interest in the region, and this geopolitical interest does not lend itself very well to a Democrat vs. Republican or liberal vs. concervative diachotomy since it is largely made by career diplomats. The political affiliations of these career diplomats, who for the most part determine US policy towards Ethiopia, could be with the party that is not in White House as we have seen many times in the last decade.

So, my suggestion to Dr. Terfa and all the rest of us who do believe it is worth our efforts to reach out to Western policy makers towards Ethiopia, within and outside of governments, is to stay clear of domestic partisan considerations and to concentrate on educating them that the interest of Western countries in the Horn of Africa region, especially that of the US and the UK, is best served if they are seen standing on the side of the Ethiopian people at this critical period in Ethiopian history. When seen from this point of view, Mr. Cohen’s interview with VOA is a welcome one, considering the destructive role he played in 1991 when he helped to install a regime that has since proved itself antithetical to the interest of Ethiopia. I do believe that Ethiopia has good friends in the West across the political spectrum, and the best way we can influence the West’s foreign policy towards Ethiopia is by taking a non-partisan approach.

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