For the record, the official diplomatic relations between the United States and Ethiopia began on December 27, 1903, when the then Emperor Menelik signed a commercial treaty with the US Representative Robert P. Skinner. Since then a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. Emperor Haile Selassie who ruled Ethiopia for more than forty years is reported to be the first African leader to be invited to the White House and set the record for the most visits to the White House than any African leader. Through those years he managed to keep very close relations with the US especially in the military, education, health and other fields. Ethiopia has always been a huge recipient of US assistance and benefited from programs such as the Peace Corps and Point Four. USAID is very active in and its contribution to various development ventures currently underway in the country is remarkable.
Besides, Ethiopians never detached themselves from the American dream and the preferred destination. Obviously, the long standing relations between the two countries were so deep that people never lost hope for continued relations even when the regime fell under the spell of the Soviet Union. There were speculations that when official doors seemed to have been closed, behind-the-curtain contacts kept the flame alive. The huge Ethiopian community in the US acted as a common link. We vividly remember the radio programs that supported the resistance movement against the military junta.
So noone would be surprised to see that an agreement is sealed in anti -terrorism efforts. Ethiopia has been fighting terrorism for years as it is itself exposed to the risk. Its porous border with neighbouring Somalia is evident. As a founding member of the UN and the African Union, it deserves the support. Admitting that the tentacles of al-Qaida and Isis are very long, an extension to Ethiopia cannot be overruled. Al-Shabaab is a constant threat.
The volatility of the entire Horn of Africa region is such that even Ethiopia cannot be considered totally insulated from the spillover effect. And if we cross the Bab-el-Mandeb strait we find Yemen engulfed in warfare; another source of instability in the sub-region.
The fact that Ethiopia made an intelligent decision to seal an agreement that would guarantee her some support in such campaign should not be a surprise as Ethiopia is a key ally to the West and a ‘guarantor of stability’ in the region. Now that it is in a ‘transition’ with a relatively new government, it might need even more support from strong allies. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is very much reminiscent of Ethiopia’s past diplomatic ventures and keeps good company with practically every neighbour and ally.
His peace talks with Eritrea have been lauded; as well as his efforts to mediate in Sudan. But at the same time, he realises that the threats of terrorism are not so distant. His government needs to be vigilant. Would anyone blame him if he seeks the collaboration of the US?
Critics may have slightly different views but as a government in power, collaboration with an ally should not be a point of condemnation. The close links between Ethiopia which has direct stake in the region and a world power such as the US with multiple interests in the Gulf and the region in general (with pointed focus on the efforts to curb international terrorism) would not be misplaced.
Once this new federal government was installed, support from the US government was vital. The partnership has intensified to an unprecedented level. This however does not mean that there are not some who see the country’s sovereignty threatened by such moves.
Ethiopia’s close association with many Middle Eastern countries including Palestine and Iran may put it at loggerheads with US policies. And Ethiopia’s tradition is one of good relations with these forces.
History records that at one time Ethiopia was one of the members/leaders of the non-aligned movement (despite the close ties with both the US and the USSR). It was with leaders such as Nehru of India and Tito of Yugoslavia that Ethiopia was noted as a member.
Some critics were prompt to say that henceforward the incumbent may have a strong ally in the FBI. Such official announcements may be done intentionally to remind and warn them that those who are working day and night to undo constitutional arrangements will not be tolerated. The last time the prime minister made a remark on this issue, he was dead serious in stating that there was ‘no compromise of any sort on the unity and integrity of the country’. He said he would ‘drop the pen and take firm hold of a gun’ to fight such threats.
The question is: how far does Ethio-US cooperation stretch? Can it be a guarantee to the integrity of the country against several of the centrifugal forces? Only time will tell, because soon enough there are bound to be elections and that should be very indicative of what sort of government and system the country will entertain for the coming years.
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