The Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn claims Al-Shabab is diminishing with Ethiopian support to the Somali government. He also told BBC Africa editor, Mary Harper, that “Ethiopians are satisfied with the system of government in the country.”
During the interview, PM Desalegn painted a very rosy picture of the situation in Ethiopia and its dealings with the region. The regime seems to be on a charm offensive with the Western media. According to Mary Harper, PM Desalegn requested for the interview, which was conducted impromptu. After listening to the interview, I wished Ms. Harper had scrutinized the PM a bit more on Eritrea and Somalia as she did with his domestic human rights violations. For example, the PM was never confronted on the important issue of the boundary demarcation with Eritrea. He freely pontificated on the issue of refugees without being challenged about the role of the Ethiopian regime in refugee production.
One can easily make a case that in fact Ethiopia is destabilizing the region through its interventions in Somalia and its insidious refusal to implement the verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Ethiopia has chosen to blackmail Eritrea with impunity through a “no war, no peace” strategy assisted by successive U.S. administrations. As a result, Eritrean survival as a state is increasingly threatened, exacerbating the acute issue of refugee flows.
The Eritrean regime’s response of indefinite conscription of its population into the military is having disastrous consequences. Eritrea is hemorrhaging and experiencing unsustainable brain drain. A whole generation is being wasted in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Sudan, and those who made it farther are suffering all the tragic consequences of life-in-exile. The Ethiopian regime, while claiming the moral high ground, appears to be enjoying humiliating Eritreans by every means available.
Mr. Girma Asmerom, who is the Eritrean envoy to the UN, dubiously claims that the reason for the exodus is economic and that the pull factor from Europe exerts a “pull factor” when it “freely” grants asylum to Eritreans. He also blames Eritrea’s suffering on a conspiracy by Western countries to weaken the regime. It is true, as Mr. Asmerom also asserts, that many African countries in addition to Ethiopia are experiencing unprecedented migrations of their own; neverthelsss, the Eritrean exodus is numerically more alarming and qualitatively different from other migrations in Africa.
To dismiss it as motivated primariy by economics is to wallow in a dangerous self-serving denial. Indeed, there can be no doubt that a major cause of the refugee exodus is the indefinite military conscription by the Eritrean regime and by the loss of even basic freedoms for the people. The Eritrean government has declared a self-defeating war on the Eritrean people while deceptively affording the same Ethiopian government the opportunity to play the magnanimity game.
It is also true that the U.S. continues to reward the Ethiopian government despite its intransigence in the face of accusations of human rights abuses and other flagrant violations of international law. The U.S. wrongly and stubbornly assumes that Ethiopia is a stabilizing force for the region.
Faced with isolation from the world community as well as by UN sanctions and Ethiopian belligerence, the Eritrean regime appears to be looking to strengthen its alliances with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. There are reports that Eritrea is “making available…its land, territorial waters and airspace to conduct military operations” against the Houthis in Yemen in exchange for fuel and monetary compensation. About 400 Eritreans are also said to be embedded with troops from the UAE/Saudi campaign in the Yemeni civil war.
If true, this is a dramatic turnaround after the rumors that Eritrea was serving as an Iranian conduit for the transfer of weapons to the Houthis. It appears that the latent Ethiopian ambition to snatch and annex the port of Assab, its refusal to demarcate the border between the two countries, and the effectiveness of Ethiopian campaign to isolate the Eritrean regime may have driven it to entangle itself in the Yemeni conflict. The Yemeni conflict started out as a local civil war but is increasingly a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The Ethiopian regime has been able to get away with its belligerent policies partially because it has powerful friends within the Clinton and Obama administrations in the person of Dr. Susan Rice. Her influence is quite depressing for any self-respecting African: Dr. Rice actually advised “the Clinton White House…to avoid any public recognition that actual genocide was being committed [in Rwanda], because to do so would legally require the United States to take action.”
According to Howard French, a keen observer of Africa, writing in The Atlantic and quoting Samantha Power, says that Rice has a “Cold War” approach to African politics, who supports African strong men whom she approves of — regardless of their human rights track record and complete disregard for international law. Salem Solomon, writing an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times articulates the destructive role that Susan Rice has played with the Eritrea Ethiopia dispute.
Decisions by the likes of Susan Rice impact the lives of so many like we witness with the youth exodus from Eritrea. It should be noted that Ethiopia has a population approaching 100 million while Eritrea’s population is approximately 5-6 million. I fear that increasing Ethiopian bravado over U.S. support may cause more states to collapse in the Horn of Africa.
U.S. military involvement in Africa is much deeper than is generally acknowledged. The U.S. has a base in Arba Minch, Ethiopia, which it uses to unleash drone operations in Somalia, in addition to camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.
The U.S. encouraged Ethiopian intervention in Somalia in 2006 with disastrous implications. Any one with a cursory understanding of the region knows that Ethiopian intervention only strengthened the extremists in Somalia, resulting in the emergence of Al-Shabab. Even as PM Desalegn was claiming in his interview that Al Shabab is “diminished,” it struck with a suicide attack in Mogadishu against a well-fortified hotel which hosts foreign journalists and important Somali political and military figures. The violence shows no sign of abating. If anything, it has expanded into the neighboring countries of Kenya and Uganda.
Ethiopia and Somalia have a long history of mutual distrust and acrimony roughly similar to the history of India and Pakistan. Somalia has border dispute with both Ethiopia and Kenya whose roots are in colonial impositions. It would be just as cynical and foolish for Ethiopia to send troops to Somalia as for India to send troops to Waziristan intending to stabilize its relation with Pakistan.
Regarding democratic elections in Ethiopia, Susan Rice could not contain herself from chuckling cynically about the regime’s 100% claim of victory. How she could reconcile her sarcasm with her impassioned speech during the mourning for the late Prime Minster, Meles Zenawi, is puzzling. She called those who oppose Meles fools and idiots. After the violence and rigged election of 2005, hopes for any democratic transfer of power in the country have been dashed.
There are also questions raised on the sustainability of the much publicized double- digit economic
growth of Ethiopia, despite the current dramatic makeover of Addis Ababa: the government seems oblivious to the fact that 80% of Ethiopians are peasants even as famine now threatens 15 million Ethiopians. The impact on the country of the foreign land grab, with its environmental cost and human displacement and the destruction of the pastoralist life style, has received wide coverage. A fertile area the size of Belgium has been leased cheaply to Indian and Saudi investors in the name of development. Along with the environmental costs, the displacement of indigenous pastoralists is enormous.
Mary Harper in her report says that inequality gap in Ethiopia is one of the narrowest in the world. However, a quick search shows that inequality in Ethiopia is one of the highest in the world. Ethiopia’s positioning in UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) is 173rd of 187 countries for the 2013 data. Transparency index ranks Ethiopia 111th of 177 countries for corruption, “with a score of 33 on a scale where 100 means very clean and 0 means highly corrupt.” The country suffers from high levels of bribery and those with access to state power act in brutally self-interested and exploitative ways. By most accounts, polarized ethnic divisions in the country have led to winner-take-all situations.
In an ideal scenario, the brotherly people of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia, whose fates are intertwined by geography and history, need cooperation and trade between and within themselves based on mutual respect for basic human rights and due regard for the health of the environment. Increased militarization and fragmentation will only entrench existing cycles of violence, death, displacement, environmental degradation and famine. As it stands, the egoistic leaders are making the region dangerous and vulnerable to intensive neocolonialist extractive exploitation by the U.S., China, Canada, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others.