Ethiopian Regime: Liability to US Interests or Asset?

JULY 23, 2015 

US administration keeps supporting this failing regime at the expense of the people of the horn of US policy makers knows Ethiopia is a tinderbox ready to explode at any moment. Yet, the Africa. However, as history proves, by bolstering such oppressive client regimes, the US always risked guaranteeing its security and national interest

By Amanuel Biedemariam,

By design, the US Horn of Africa policy could only be effective if Ethiopia controls Eritrea. If that succeeds, the US can run regional affairs through that channel effectively. However, this policy has been a recipe for wars.

Ethiopian authorities know Eritrea is the biggest prize for the US. That means without Eritrea, Ethiopia’s role is minimal. Coupled with the fact that they want to control the Red Sea, all Ethiopian leaders have historically waged wars against Eritrea.

After World War II, the US handed Eritrea to Ethiopia, anointed Emperor Haile Selassie led Ethiopia as the “Anchor State” of the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea basin. In exchange, the US took Kagnew Station, a base in Asmara Eritrea, and assumed control of one of the world’s most strategic locations and waterways.

The alliance with the US-made Ethiopia the epicenter of African politics, the region’s powerhouse, and gave it a significant global presence until 1974-when unexpectedly, power fell onto the hands of a low-ranking Ethiopian officer, a brutal dictator, Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam.

Soon after that, Mengistu Hailemariam established an alliance with the then Soviet Union (USSR) and ejected the US from Ethiopia and Eritrea. This power transition fostered a new era of geopolitical juxtaposition between the US and the then USSR.

In 1991, as the USSR fell, Eritrea won independence and ushered a renewed geopolitical outlook in the Horn of Africa (HoA). As the only superpower standing, the US immediately reasserted its position and attempted to control the agendas of the HOA.

Immediately after that, the US restarted the old Eritrea policy that started after 1941. The US chose  Ethiopia again to play the anchor state role. They designed the US Eritrea policy to undermine Eritrean independence and allow Ethiopia to control Eritrea as it did during the reigns of Haile Selassie.

Within that framework, the late war-monger dictator Meles Zenawi received the green light to bring Eritrea down. The late Meles Zenawi waged war to defeat the leadership and create a mechanism to control Eritrea. The war failed after it took the lives of over 20,000 Eritreans and 120,000 Ethiopian soldiers needlessly. However, to continue the hostilities, the TPLF started a hybrid war called No-War-No-Peace to render Eritrea a failed state.

Hence, the common link between Ethiopia and the US policies since 1941 has been Eritrea. The goal is to control Eritrea, which will enable the US to control the entire Red Sea basin. With the Mediterranean Sea firmly under the control of NATO countries, assuming control of the Red Sea will allow the US to control a vast world waterway.

This plan is transparent by US presence in Djibouti and Yemen’s Socotra Islands, amongst other areas in the region. It has been a longstanding US policy.

The above policy failed in 1974-75 with the ouster of Emperor Haile Sellasie. The policy failed in large part because it ignored the needs of the people of Ethiopia. At the time, Ethiopia faced severe droughts that Emperor Haile Sellasie’s regime ignored the people’s suffering. The pictures remain seared in the memories of the world. The feudal Emperor Haile Selassie failed to ensure democratic governance and equal land distribution and wealth, ultimately leading to his ouster.

From 1974, Ethiopia faced a military dictatorship in the hands of a brutal dictator, Mengistu Hailemariam. Eritrea defeated the Military dictatorship during the time fall of the Soviet Union. As the funding from the USSR dried, the regime died along with it because it was only able to stand with massive military and financial infusion by USSR.

The late dictator Meles Zenawi was a master of the art of deception, lies and divided Ethiopia along ethnic, regional, and religious lines to rule. Meles used brute force to control Ethiopia while receiving massive aid from the US, UK, EU, and other foreign donors to pursue Western interest at the expense of the people of Ethiopia and the region.

His successor Hailemariam Desalegn is on the same path, openly declaring himself as the uncontested winner of a rigged election with 100 % of the votes going for the ruling EPRDF. While Desalegn is considered weak and baseless, the US appears intent on keeping him at the helm. President Barack Obama’s visit could bolster his stance in the eyes of the EPRDF cronies because they will definitively know that Desalegn is America’s man.

Like Meles, Desalegn’s regime openly declares war, regime change in Eritrea, and pursues a federal system in Somalia, ignoring international norms and laws as if there are no consequences. It does not matter what the transgressions are as long as the regime is on leash pursuing US agendas.

The Obama administration could have learned from history and re-adjusted US policies. On the contrary, it is following the same policy. In 1974, failure to foster broad-based governance led to the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie. Millions suffered under the brutal hands of Mengistu Hailemariam as a result. It ultimately led to the US losing its interests not only in Ethiopia but the region.

Today Ethiopia is at the same place as in 1974 when Haile Selassie was ousted and the US presence replaced by that of the USSR. The US has now placed all its eggs on the EPRDF’s basket and allowed the minority mafia regime to handle Ethiopian and regional matters as it pleased. According to Professor Terrence Lyons,

“Ethiopia’s ruling EPRDF is getting increasingly authoritarian but for the policy makers in Washington, the EPRDF is known instead as a ‘friendly authoritarian’ regime.”

The difference, however, in 1974, Ethiopia was more united than it is today. Despite its misgivings, the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie and Mengistu Hailemariam placed the needs of a united Ethiopia first and foremost. On the contrary, today, Ethiopia is fragmented due to the Ethnic Federalism introduced by Meles Zenawi and his ethnic minority clique ruling Ethiopia.

After four rigged elections, the people of Ethiopia have given up on the notion of free and fair democratic transition, and as a result, are forced to pick up arms. Now Ethiopia is mired by armed rebellion, and fire is raging throughout as no other option exists.

The US policymakers know that Ethiopia is a tinderbox ready to explode at any moment. The discontentment of people is palpable. Former US Ambassadors Vicki J. Huddleston and Donald Yamamato are first-hand witnesses to the frustration and suffering of the people. Yet, the US administration keeps supporting this failing regime to the point of a presidential visit.

President Barack Obama is the first sitting US president to visit Ethiopia. His visit will have implications for the future. Some consider it a legacy visit as he will be the first American President to address the African Union, important historic consideration for a black president in Africa. However, the aim is to mitigate China’s advances in the continent, bolster the regime, and assure all that Hailemariam Desalegn has the confidence of the American President.


The EPRDF regime’s relationship with Ethiopians is irreparable. Genocides in Gambella, in the Ogaden, Oromo, and torture of citizens all over, illegal seizures of land, deliberate confrontation with religious communities, corruption, land grab, and the atrocities are endless. The people of Ethiopia have lost confidence entirely, particularly after the recent deportation of thousands of Ethiopians from Saudi Arabia and the beheading of an Ethiopian by ISIS while the government remained quiet.

President Obama’s visit will likely achieve two things: encourage Ethiopian resolve and loss of confidence in US Ethiopian policy.

Absent of hope for democratic transition, Ethiopians have concluded change can only come with a credible threat of force. As a result, Ethiopians are picking arms in record numbers. That means change will come in Ethiopia, and history will repeat itself. How will the emerging multi-polar world influence the future and whether the US can regain its favored special relationship status with the people of Ethiopia again?

No government that poorly manages a nation, overburdened by debt and mired by conflicts from within and out, can be an asset. No government can be an asset when it could only govern by fear with propaganda. US administrations could claim that Ethiopia is a sovereign nation and that Ethiopia’s decisions are independent. However, as history proves, the US may have lost the best ally to bolster successive oppressive client regimes. The region’s people.

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