“Ethiopia is a democracy”, says US: A tweak in its principles? Or mere justification to let TPLF further unleash its rights violations?

18 Apr

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

The remarks to the press Thursday April 16, 2015 by US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman at the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry in Addis Abeba attracted my attention for two reasons.

Firstly, it comes as an unmistakable confirmation by the United States of the shakiness of the TPLF regime. If the US is planning to be part of the search for solutions for TPLF’s problems, the starting point, I submit, should be realization that the dangers before the regime do not originate in terrorism, domestic or foreign. I am convinced, as a citizen unaffiliated with any political party at home or abroad, the depth of Ethiopian disaffection, anger and the consequent citizenry disapproval of the regime is the author of the problem.

In that connection, recall the symbolic May 18, 2012 protest by an exiled Ethiopian journalist, who disruptively shouted during the meeting of G-7 in Washington D.C., to get attention with a view to exposing the cruel records of the late prime minister Meles Zenawi and his party (the TPLF). He accused them of being the cause of hunger in Ethiopia and the enormous human rights violations, which includes the heartless dislocation of citizens in rural and urban areas for members of the TPLF to grab their lands.

Both before that Washington protest on the G-7 forum and ever since, the writing on the wall has remained the same.

For over a decade and a half, the TPLF regime has been highly paid US-contractor in Africa. Andy yet, it has been the cause of the tremors within Ethiopia, whose murmurs have now grown louder. The US finding now is that the regime is angling to fall on account of the quiet and mostly unexpected public insubordination and mushrooming armed rebellions in different parts of the country. Because of a choice imposed on most Ethiopians, the moment has made louder the line from Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty, or give me death” in the ears of many Ethiopians.

Secondly, I learn from the deputy secretary state’s briefing to the press that the TPLF regime’s misfortunes have now forced their way to becoming part of the G-7 agenda. This yet is another evidence of the seriousness of the situation. That is why this has now necessitated the United States to shift the action it deems necessary on the sliding scale of its foreign policy. This may possibly entail some changes in the US approaches towards Ethiopia. As it happens, the goal is to help the regime regain lost power, although whatever the input it may not amount to much without credibility.

Readers would, therefore, note that the purpose of this Western solidarity – the United States and its allies – is hardly to facilitate democracy to take root in Ethiopia. The US is determined to do its best to rescue the regime doing its bidding, to borrow the language of the deputy secretary of state, because “Ethiopia is a very strong and growing country” that needs their help and support.

The US message

The last time Ms. Wendy Sherman was in Ethiopia in November 2012, she had somewhat balanced message. Nevertheless, the purport of her talks with officials at the foreign ministry were exploited for TPLF’s purposes, as what happened on the Amharic version of ENA news from that time shows. I recall this blog reacting on November 9, 2012 to the misrepresentation claiming that talks between Ethiopia and the United States had strictly focused on Horn issues.

It was understood, however, that the then fourth person in the State Department had at that time raised issues of the need for respect for fundamental human rights in Ethiopia. I had hoped it would be the case now as well, although none has been heard at the time of this writing. Perhaps US preoccupation this time around is with the regime’s uncertain state.

No doubt as a pro in her business, the deputy secretary of state has successfully conveyed her message now about the possible impending changes in policy or Ethiopians may see in US-Ethiopia relations.

Ms. Sherman was emphatic and clear-worded, when she turned to Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom during her encounter with the press and said the US is “looking forward to a very strong partnership building all the platforms that we need to meet these threats [internationally proscribed terrorists such as Al- Shabab, Boko Haram, Da’esh (ISIL) and Al Qaeda and Ethiopia proscribed terrorist groups such as Ginbot 7 and others], meet these concerns with all of the seriousness they deserve.”

Teddy and WendyI watched the video of her encounter with the press twice. She told the journalists how much pleased she was for the “wide ranging discussions [she had] with the minister”. The pages of the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry make it abundantly clear the discussion was about terrorism and conflicts in the Horn of Africa. Once again, it literally makes it clear that Ethiopia was not the subject of their discussion.

Certainly, this discussion would not at all be about dollars and cents of the aid needed from the US to shore up the regime. It is not possible to imagine that the closing of democratic space in the country and the forthcoming election would not be discussed. Even if Ethiopia is the topic of their discussion, it is difficult to tell, firstly, if the United States would be willing to utilize its influences on the regime and secondly to press to help end TPLF’s suffocation of the nation, or ensure the release political prisoners.

We have been given the impression that the US’s singular preoccupation is the elimination of Al Shabab, Al Qaeda franchise in the Horn of Africa. Even there, the message and language employed by Ms. Sherman is very unfortunate and unlike the United States – a country I have known very well and have enormous respect for its values. That is why I find her words at best insensitive and brash.

In that context, most disturbing remark by the visiting US official is its description of Ethiopia as ‘democratic’. At this eleventh hour of the election next month and especially after the incumbent has banned more experienced legally-recognized political parties and declared victory, she expressed her expectation for the poll to be “free, fair, credible”, “in which all citizens participate”. This part of her remark flies on the face of reality, coming as it does, after so many lives have been sacrificed, individuals imprisoned and careers destroyed under every pretext the TPLF could concoct to disable its opponents and keep itself in power on a permanent basis.

The question is why should the US be concerned about Ethiopia’s elections or the respect for the fundamental human rights of its people now, in a country where it is unwilling to exercise its influence to help Ethiopians living in fear and gagged? What is the point of such expressions of good wishes especially, if the US at the same time is considering restrictive and punitive measures that gag the Ethiopian opposition groups abroad that have been speaking on behalf of voiceless people at home.

If the new measures the US contemplates are to be realized, it would only be punishing defenseless and helpless people at home under the clutches of the worst repressive state machinery ever to exist, not only in Sub-Saharan Africa, but also in the entire world.

The available signals suggest things have been cooked up and it is likely that forthcoming actions by the US could affect opposition activities against the TPLF and even contemplating direct new and additional support for the regime.

For that matter, the possibility that the US may do this without trying to secure some concessions for respect of civil rights in Ethiopia is not outside the realm of possibility.

As we are exploring what is possible or what would not happen, it should be noted that the remarks by Deputy Secretary of State Sherman are colored with some of the usual qualifiers and restraints diplomats employ in unclear policy situations, especially when their laws scarcely offer explanations or fresh interpretations.

Two examples of that relate to her reference to G-7 discussion of Ethiopia and the threats it is facing, which were conducted from “Ethiopia’s perspective.” The other reference is about the discussion on ‘domestic terrorist groups’, the basis of whose proscription was Ethiopian law. The US has accepted this as sufficient ground for it to initiate further collaboration with Ethiopia on the matter. Whether this requires new law in the US, for instance, such as labeling Ginbot 7 terrorist under US law may not necessarily be priority necessity for American interests.

Examining the US remarks

The US diplomat began her remarks to the press by imparting to her Ethiopian audience that she directly came from Lubeck, Germany. She brought it up not to discuss what she did there. She only used it as sort of chapeau to what she wanted to tell the press in Addis Abeba or to give a sense of weight of her mission to Ethiopia.

As she made it known at the press encounter, at Lubeck she attended the G-7 meeting before she flew to Ethiopia. She must have accompanied Secretary of State John Kerry; as senior political affairs official, she must have overseen the US team’s diplomatic work and engaged in consultations with counterparts.

Since what matters is finding out what transpired at the G-7 meeting in Germany, I have consulted the G-7 communiqué, which shows that the ministers, among others, have separately and extensively discussed “African issues” – Ebola, counter-terrorism, conflict and stability, climate change and fragility of states.

Interestingly, a number of African nations have been mentioned by name in the context of any one of the above issues. Ethiopia’s name does not appear anywhere in the communiqué.

In terms of conclusions, the G-7 discussion of African issues lists, among others, welcoming peaceful, free and fair elections that took place in a number of countries of the region. The ministers praised the outcomes as “testimony to strengthening democratic institutions”. They also expressed their hope that “this will continue throughout this important year for elections across Africa”.

At the same time, the G-7 members have expressed their “disappointment that a genuine National Dialogue has not begun in Sudan and that an environment conducive to participatory and credible elections does not exist.”

Further, the G–7 have also underlined the longstanding principle dealing with “[T]he overall importance of respecting national constitutions and the holding of peaceful, transparent and credible elections that reflect the will of the people and allow for renewal of leadership.”

It is in the context of this longstanding principle that the deputy secretary of state referred Ethiopian opposition groups, especially those the TPLF regime has proscribed as ‘terrorists’. As a topic of discussion at G-7, she said every terrorist group from Al- Shabab to Boko Haram, to Da’esh (ISIL), Al Qaeda to internal threats to Ethiopia, including Ginbot 7 were all discussed, the latter Ethiopian groups identified by the TPLF regime.

It is in that context, the deputy secretary of state emphasized that the G-7 discussed the internal reality of Ethiopia “from Ethiopia’s perspective” and the fact that “Ethiopia considers Ginbot 7 terrorist group as well.” Therefore, she joined regime’s position through the longstanding principle door. She thus made it applicable to all so proscribed groups in Ethiopia to state:

    “US believes that no group, including Ginbot 7, should attempt to overthrow or speak about overthrowing a democratically elected government. We would like to continue our work with the Ethiopian government in very serious and appropriate ways.”


G-7’s contradictory position regarding Ethiopia

The claim by G-7 of loyalty to the importance of respecting national constitutions and the holding of peaceful, transparent and credible elections” is contradicted by the choice it has made to embrace Ethiopia as democratic state. They encourage respect for the constitution. They have not pronounced themselves about the TPLF not respecting the constitution it has written. All the same, in the eyes of the United States, possibly its allies in G-7 too, “Ethiopia is a democratic country.”

Similarly, the G-7 communiqué on one hand shows the members welcoming the peaceful, free and fair elections held recently in a number of African countries “as testimony to strengthening democratic institutions”. They also express the “hope this will continue throughout this important year for elections across Africa.”

On the other hand, the policy posture the US and its allies portray to the Ethiopian people that have borne the brunt of the sufferings in the hands of TPLF killers and torturers, the US position once again is seen consciously consigning Ethiopians to continued repression and subjugation, violation of their human rights and dignities, so long as Western interests are protected with TPLF’s help.

Whatever the US intentions, a few things are very readable. Ms. Sherman’s remarks on one hand reflect the growing concerns of the United States and its allies about the dicey situation in Ethiopia. These filtered out, when she alluded the need for their action – to borrow her words – “The world [is] facing a lot these days… We want to make sure [Ethiopia’s] stability, the peace and security and growing prosperity continue”.

This is very wrong of the United States and its allies. This would only force retreat of those that have all along embraced the United States with Ethiopia’s hands of friendship.

Needless to reiterate the heaps of praises Ms. Sherman has showered the Ethiopian regime, Ethiopians strongly believe that the US sees and understands that Ethiopia’s situation is headed in the direction of instability and increased violence. This is merely because of TPLF’s arrogance and greed for power and the consequent repression these have entailed.

The G-7 members also realize that, Ethiopians have been pushed all the time and badly mistreated, anger within the nation is at work at the moment and its dynamics are a reaction of a helpless people in chains rising against the repressive TPLF regime that has left them no other option.

It is understood that, beyond condemnation of terrorist groups, the G-7 members have expressed their readiness to reach out to those countries engaged in combating terrorism.

What the United States and its allies plan to do is enhance capabilities of the Ethiopian state to enable it “counter terrorism and violent extremism while respecting and promoting human rights and the rule of law…” In that regard, the G7 members are said to be “ready to support capacity‑building measures as appropriate.”

The problem with the G-7 position regarding Ethiopia

The West seems has once again to choosen to hit the same faulty policy path of forcing on whole population a regime that knows no other language than perpetration of violence against ordinary citizens. Therefore, its action is no different from imposing on the Ethiopian people the regime they despise – so far known to be most friendly to the United States and the West in general.

This in no way is intended to be apologetic for real terrorists or offer them escape route. But I happen to be concerned that this latest action comes at the risk of alienating Ethiopians.

That said, I should also point out that there would be a price to pay for ignoring the costly lessons afforded the West, when powerful nations choose to impose here and there their clowns on peaceful people that want peace, family life and daily bread. It is sad to note that the lessons since the end of the Cold War to the present from Algeria to Yemen, Iraq to Gaza, Mubarak’s Cairo to etc., have been ignored.

As it stands now, the US objective is to ensure that the status quo is maintained in Ethiopia. This means that there are no indications that show any change in US foreign policy in this regard.

However, it should not be lost on any one – especially if at all it matters to the West – the majority of Ethiopian population would not view favorably increased US and its G-7 allies’ support to save the dictatorial regime, which to them means allowing perpetuation of deceptiveness and arrogance of power.

In all these years, note that in addition to the much-drummed about double-digit growths since 2004 and two decades of substantial Western aid flows, the rising level of investments of late, consistent Western political and diplomatic supports, training and intelligence the TPLF regime has been receiving have only emboldened it to become more arrogant and rude to citizens.

If at all there has been success in the economic fields, priority beneficiaries have been the ethnic oligarchy of the TPLF, the rest being used for purposes of the Front prevailing over all others, both at home and abroad, citizens it views with suspicion and as adversaries.

It is in the light of this, i.e., Ethiopia under the TPLF being a repressive state, where ethnic discrimination is practiced and a few ethnic oligarchs in power monopolize opportunities, any actions to be taken by the United States should not affect open political activities and expressions of opinion that may contribute to meaningful changes among Ethiopians. I am referring to legal activist Ethiopians in residence in the United States or anywhere within the jurisdictions of the G-7 states.

Outside this, the United States must look inside itself to understand that no people on earth would like repression and denial of freedoms. Many times I have hoped that the United States is a nation that is capable of encouraging the freedom of others.

I had thus hoped for long that it would use its enormous influences to do good by the people of Ethiopia.

It has not happened so far.

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