From: Biniam Tekle (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Thu May 20 2010 - 09:21:42 EDT
say US Government Walks Fine Line with Ethiopia
Nico Colombant | Washington 19 May 2010
U.S.-Africa experts say the United States has a difficult, but crucial
relationship with Ethiopia, as the Horn of Africa ally struggles with its
Pro-democracy activists in the United States had hopes for democratic
improvement in 2005 in Ethiopia, when parliamentary elections were fiercely
contested, and opposition leaders attracted huge rallies.
But when results were announced, the ruling party was awarded a clear
victory. Opposition leaders cried foul and their supporters spilled onto
the streets of major cities. About 200 people were reported killed in
riots, while their leaders, some of them election winners, were jailed.
Five years later, foreign election observers have described conditions
before Sunday's parliamentary election as anything but fair. Observers
report shortcomings that include ruling party control of the media, the
imprisonment of dozens of opposition leaders and journalists, as well as a
lack of independent election monitors.
Severe criticism is also coming from Congress. Several U.S. lawmakers have
warned that Ethiopia's government is becoming increasingly authoritarian.
Oberlin College foreign policy teacher Eve Sandberg says the recently
appointed U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald Booth, told lawmakers he would
seek progress in terms of democracy and human-rights protection.
"The Ethiopians have heard this before from U.S. ambassadors and the
question is whether or not Mr. Booth will be able to find some leverage with
the Ethiopian government to move them toward a better record on human
rights," she said.
Sandberg, who has worked as a political consultant in Ethiopia, says the
U.S. government faces a dilemma about how much to push in terms of
democracy, since Ethiopia is such an important security ally.
"On the one hand, the Ethiopian military was largely responsible for
establishing and preserving a Somali government that in the West's eyes is
the lesser of many evils, because the opposition to it is an al-Qaida
aligned rebel group. Ethiopia is seen also as an important ally because we
are reliant on their intelligence services to know what is going on in the
Horn [of Africa] and so Ethiopia knows that we need them," she said.
A recent U.S. Embassy deputy chief of mission in Ethiopia, Thomas Hull,
"Ethiopia is in a very key geo-political situation plus it is the host of
the headquarters of the African Union so all those factors make it very
difficult for the United States to exert more than moral force on Ethiopia
to try to improve its practices," he said.
Hull, who is now an international relations professor at Simmons College,
believes competing interests in Africa also make it difficult for the U.S.
government to exert leverage.
"Our business relations are not great in terms of volume," he said. "They
certainly do not compare to what the Chinese, the Indians and Saudis are
doing in Ethiopia. Most of our assistance to the country is humanitarian in
terms of food assistance, HIV/AIDS, and so forth."
But a George Mason University professor, Terrence Lyons, believes the Obama
administration is trying to change the relationship from what it was under
former President Bush.
"Under the prior administration, security concerns, counterterrorism
concerns were overwhelmingly dominant in how the United States approached
Ethiopia," he said. "Now, I think the administration is looking to
re-calibrate this relationship so that the security relationship will
certainly remain, but a greater importance will be placed on democracy,
human rights and some of these other issues that relate to the democracy and
governance side of the ledger."
Lyons says it could take a decade or more to change the relationship. He
says U.S. officials need to engage with the new generation of officials from
Ethiopia's ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic
In 1991, when that group had taken over the capital Addis Ababa during a
rebellion, thousands of supporters stormed the U.S. embassy. They alleged
the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at the time,
Herman Cohen, had facilitated the rebel takeover as well as a referendum for
the breakaway of Eritrea during peace talks in London.
Cohen said he was acting in the interests of restoring stability, but warned
Ethiopia's new leaders they should not expect international cooperation
Experts say 20 years later the same U.S. dilemma of simultaneously trying to
promote democracy and stability in the Horn of Africa remains.
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