The US needs Eritrea’s assistance as the current regime in Ethiopia is losing its legitimacy so fast. The fast-paced developments in the region, including Yemen, leave the US with no option but to show flexibility on its Eritrea position.
By Amanuel Biedemariam,
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) violated Ethiopian human rights, committing genocides, ethnic cleansing, rigging elections, and jailing Ethiopians en mass. The TPLF is corrupt, selling the interests of Ethiopia for temporary gains. The TPLF is a human trafficking ring connected around the world. It is abusing power and mismanaging Ethiopia.
In 2010, after the TPLF, claiming to have won 99% of the votes, declared itself winner, former Ambassador to Ethiopia Ambassador David Shinn said,
“How do you win 99% of the vote? That’s un-American, and yet, Ethiopia remains a darling of the donor community.”
It is un-American to support the outcomes of rigged elections no matter where it may take place. The reality, however, successive US administrations have been in bed, immersed in everything TPLF.
In 2005, after demonstrations broke out to protest against the TPLF rigging the election, Meles Zenawi unleashed his troops to quash the demonstrators, which led to mass killings. At the time, Ethiopian authorities used US Humvees to control the streets. Ironically, what got the attention of US diplomats and lawmakers was that the TPLF troops used US Humvees. Sadly, the Humvee is more than the death of innocent unarmed demonstrators was
US-built Humvees on the streets of Ethiopia associated with killing became a concern for fear that it could damage the Humvee brand. Consequently, this became an important topic in US congressional hearings, and the regime did not use the Humvees again. The nation’s founders’ values and ideals mean nothing when Ethiopians get killed by the TPLF forces.
Today, US national interests in Ethiopia and the region are at crossroads. The US faces imminent geostrategic challenges in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East, and other areas. These changes are taking place outside US control, and they are likely to influence US strategic approaches and present significant challenges for US policymakers for years to come.
The latest developments in Yemen are amongst events that are stirring the pot to influence the national security interests of Saudi Arabia, Israel, and others. And if it is not dealt with correctly, these developments can ultimately impair US national interests in the region.
Publicly US officials appear unfazed. Israel and Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, are concerned that recent developments in Yemen could escalate and pose national security threats. In a recent article in the Al Monitor of the Middle East publication, Mr. Ephraim Sneh, a retired Israeli general, wrote,
“For Saudi Arabia, a Houthi takeover of western Yemen, while al-Qaeda controls the country’s center and eastern areas, constitute a clear and present danger. Israel also cannot remain indifferent to the new Iranian stronghold on the seaway that connects it to Africa and Asia.”
The seaway Mr. Sneh is referring to is the Red Sea. The Red Sea is a critical strategic seaway of the world and countries in the region. Hence, threats on the Red Sea amount to threats to their national interests.
The US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have long felt that they have firm control of the Red Sea mainly because the countries in the region are US allies and coordinate their security efforts.
That stability is gone and shaken because Yemen and Saudi Arabia have a long history of conflicts. These countries share borders, and war could potentially become a source of instability in the Red Sea. A strong Yemen that controls Baab El Mendeb is a source of concern for Saudi Arabia because it could pose uncertainties for the oil exports flowing through the Red Sea to Asia and beyond.
For Israel, the main concern is the Yemen Iranian alliance. In this scenario, the domino effects on US interests in the region are dire. It is a critical stage.
The unipolar world the US expected to dominate has alternatives. The US dominated the region’s political direction for some time. Today, however, Russia, China, and India are amongst key players changing the geopolitical dynamics of the area. These countries are willing to invest and compete with the US forcefully.
The only countries that the US has no control over in the region are Eritrea and Sudan. And the strategy for dealing with them has been and remains regime change. The US pursues its regime change agenda overtly and covertly. The depth of US involvement was recently exposed by a letter that showed coordination of activities and funding between the US State Department, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. Ethiopia, however, remains the critical ally that the US funnels its regime change agenda.
Ethiopia at Crossroads
Since World War II, the US strategy divided Africa into four regions and assigned each region an anchor nation to control the region. For the Horn and East of Africa, the US funneled its strategies through Ethiopia.
The war on terror, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, and South Sudan are some of the agendas pursued through Ethiopia. The Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) and the AU are the African faces used to legitimize US actions through the UN or directly. They call it African initiative. The US initiated an agenda to push through at the UN as if it is what Africa wants. This approach was used in 2009 and 2011 when the US and Ethiopia pursued and passed UN sanctions on Eritrea as part of the regime change agenda.
However, today the NATO and US allies are increasingly at odds with Russia and China. Their interests are often clashing. It means that the US can no longer use the UN to pass punitive measures against nations like it did in the past. It also means previous sanctions and decisions passed through the UN will be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.
As a designated anchor state, Ethiopia was used extensively in pursuit of US agendas. However, the US’s strategies in the region are mainly failing because the TPLF is not delivering. The regime change plan of Eritrea and South Sudan are amongst the key pieces of US strategies that failed.
Why? Because the Tigray People’s Liberation Front regime is falling and ready to take Ethiopia down with it. Unless urgent steps are taken, Ethiopia is at crossroads facing imminent instability.
Realities in Ethiopia are dire. In 2008, while the US, the TPLF, and EU lied 11-13% growth in Ethiopia, the country stood as one of the world’s poorest countries. Out of a population of around 80 million people, 35 million people were living in abject poverty. In 2014, according to The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), published by Oxford University, “Ethiopia ranked as the second poorest country in the world just ahead of Niger where 87.3% of Ethiopians are classified as poor, while 58.1% are considered destitute.”
The US is beginning to express concerns. On the 2014 Trafficking of Persons Report, The State Department stated,
“The central market in Addis Ababa is home to the largest collection of brothels in Africa, with girls as young as 8-years-old in prostitution in these establishments.”
Object poverty, mismanagement, lack of political space, ethnic division, and armed insurgency are time-bombs that will likely incinerate Ethiopia if urgent steps are not taken.
The TPLF has no legitimacy, and the resistance is growing. Recent defections of eight Ethiopian Air force pilots within two weeks are indications of a much larger problem. Amongst the latest defections, out of the four that took MI-35 Air Force helicopter to Eritrea, two are from Tigray, home-region of the TPLF. These developments will create suspicions within the ranks of the institution and damage readiness.
However, the most important implication is that the TPLF hardliners are abandoning ship ahead of the storm, a sign of disintegrating core.
Moreover, Ethiopians, including those from Tigray, are joining the armed struggle against the regime in large numbers. The Oromo, Ogaden, and Afar regions have been waging an armed struggle for a long time. The struggle for land and resources in central Ethiopia’s Amhara region, especially Gondar, has intensified.
The lines the TPLF drew to divide and rule have become the fault lines that can tear the nation apart. Land-lease policy exacerbates these challenges because the TPLF gave away vast chunks of the country while displacing indigenous communities in the Gambella and other regions.
US in the Middle
Failure of the TPLF is a reflection of failed US policies in the region. The TPLF was in no way capable of standing on its own. Ethiopia survives solely based on the enormous assistance it receives from the UK, EU, and others. The US provides the most significant financial, material, military, political, and diplomatic support that sustains the regime. And bolstered by these covers, the TPLF has managed to stave off the opposition using brute force thus far.
Ethiopians have tried to participate in the political process peacefully for a long time. However, as a minority, democracy is not a process that the TPLF can survive. Therefore, it resorts to brute force and criminal manipulations to maintain its grip on power. As a result, frustrated and left without choices, an increasing number of Ethiopians are lifting arms to struggle against the TPLF.
Before 1991, American policy for Eritrea was to ensure that Eritrea remained Ethiopian province. That changed when Eritrea defeated Mengistu Hailemariam-led Ethiopia and escorted the current regime into Addis Ababa, forcing the US to re-evaluate its policy and accepting Eritrea’s hard-won independence.
The US had no choice because Eritrea was in a position and capable of destabilizing Ethiopia. Eritrea’s priority, however, was to ensure independence recognized by the world.
These developments took place during the breakup of the Soviet Union that left the US as the sole superpower. The US accepted Eritrea’s independence because there was no other choice. The US was forced to accept Eritrean independence to save Ethiopia,
Today the US finds itself in the same position. The current regime in Ethiopia has no legitimacy. The people of Ethiopia have managed to create armed forces capable of challenging the regime. And these fast developments are taking shape outside US control which presents the US with a significant challenge because there is no viable alternative to the current government inside Ethiopia.
The people of Eritrea and Ethiopia have seen little respite from conflicts for years. After 16 years of hostility, the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia have learned a valuable and lasting lesson. The most important lesson is the importance of peace. For a long time, many Ethiopians took peace with Eritrea as surrendering their Eritrean ambitions.
However, extreme suppression and lack of alternatives have led Ethiopians to embrace Eritrea as the only hope. Today, the people of Tigray, Amhara, Oromo, Ogaden, and every region in Ethiopia see Eritrea as the only country they can depend on in bad and good times. For Eritrea, peace has always been the goal and critical ingredient for successful coexistence.
The only thing that stands in the way of peace is the TPLF. Today, change in Ethiopia is eminent, and Ethiopians have taken ownership. That realization is sinking in the minds of the region’s people while sending shockwaves into the psyche of the ruling minority clique. As a result, many are abandoning the sinking ship.
These are the current realities, and the US is faced with tough choices. To continue supporting the regime can lead to abrupt change that could destabilize Ethiopia. And to have any voice on the future of the region and particularly Ethiopia, the US needs Eritrea’s assistance. The US position on Eritrea has so far been counterproductive. However, recent developments in the region, notably Yemen, add to the need to work with Eritrea. The fast-paced developments in the region are leaving the US with no option, which means it is time for a change.