AFRICANGLOBE – On his return voyage from the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the then United States president, Franklin Roosevelt, held a successive one hour port-side chat with three kings. Aboard the heavy cruiser, USS Quincy, docked off the Great Bitter Lake of the Egyptian coast, the President discussed with King Farouk of Egypt, King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, and the king of kings, Emperor Haileselassie of Ethiopia. This was the first face to face encounter between the leaders of Ethiopia and the United States.
Subsequently, the Emperor was able to meet with four US presidents in his six official visits to the United States, making him the leader with the highest number of official visits to Washington in the 20th century.
Of course, the Ethio-American relation goes way back to the time of Emperor Menelik and President Theodore Roosevelt. The United States was one of the pioneer countries to send a mission to Addis Abeba, after the victory of Adwa. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has seen highs and lows.
From the military communication post of Kagnew Station (Radio Marina) and the massive military and economic aid to Ethiopia (Ethiopia used to receive more than 80pc of all military aid to Africa, even though it was less than 0.5pc from the world’s share) to Point Four Program and the coming of peace corps, the emperor era was the high point for relations between the two countries.
The picture completely changed after the emergence of the Dergue. Its intimacy with the eastern bloc, accompanied by the United State’s support to the then Somalian government, forced relations between the two countries to hit rock bottom.
After 17 years of strained relations, however, the two countries resumed a rather wary relationship once the EPRDF took power in 1991. After passing through some difficult times, most notably during the Ethio-Eritrea war and the post-election crisis of 2005, the relationship now seems to be standing on solid ground. This is further strengthened by Ethiopia’s stabilising role in the chaotic Horn of Africa.
Besides military and diplomatic assistance,Ethiopia receives billions of dollars in development aid from the people of the US. Africom, the new US mission in Africa, is using Ethiopian military facilities, like the drone base at Arbaminch, for its missions in the horn and beyond. Acceleration is on the side of the relationship.
But there is still room for further improvement, not only in scale but also in scope and focus. For this to happen, though, the Obama Administration must take into consideration the changing dynamics of Ethiopia and the region at large.
Administrations look for a strong, reliable and consistent state that will protect their investment, as a prerequisite, before forging a long-term relationship with another country. And the United States Department of State has a lot of bad experiences on this particular subject.
Yet, it is definitely not the case for Ethiopia, at least this time around. Ethiopia has started to enjoy political maturity. And this was manifested in the peaceful power transition, albeit intra-party, that it was able to achieve for the first time in its modern history. This achievement is even greater, when seen in the backdrop of the instability-ridden Horn of Africa.
Surely, Ethiopia still has some length to go before becoming a functioning democracy. But the country is moving forward. It has finally finished defining itself. And its state formation process, a concept that is still illusive for most African nations, seems coming to a close.
Ethiopia has one of the most democratic and secular constitutions in the world. And the country has established a strong and efficient government, at least by African standards, and enjoys policy freedom that is unthinkable in most developing nations. And it has a clear vision of where it wants to go.
Ethiopia is home to one of the largest Black population in the world, second only next to Nigeria, and it holds the second biggest market in the continent. Its economy, which is one of the fastest growing in the world, will be one of the four biggest in the continent, in a decade or so.
The country is also claiming its rightful place in African politics, asserting itself as a force to be reckoned with in the region and beyond. All this will make Ethiopia an ideal candidate for partnership in this multi-polar world. And the United States can take advantage and further strengthen its relation with this ‘roaring lion of Africa’.
Therefore,Ethiopia’s relation with the US should look beyond short-term benefits or missions. It rather ought to capitalise on the shared ideals and values and mutual long-term interests in the region and beyond. And this truth upholds whatever government takes the power in Ethiopia because there could not be inherent clashes between the values and interests of the people of the two countries.
And now is the right time for the Obama Administration to take this strong relation to the next level and give Ethiopia its proper place in the United States foreign policy equation.
In 1971, the Nixon administration was courteous enough to inform Emperor Haileselassie, in advance, about its decision to recognise the Peoples Republic of China; this clearly shows the place Ethiopia used to hold in the foreign policy matrix of the United States.
In the recent past, however, the United States has left Ethiopia out of the loop. The Obama Administration should start to take Ethiopia’s interest into consideration when getting involved in the Middle East, especially with Egypt. After all,America’s short-sighted strategies are the main reasons behind the unbalanced military and diplomatic capabilities of the upper and lower basins of the Nile River.
The US should no more take Ethiopia for granted. And this should be corrected through different balancing acts as a strong and stable Ethiopia is in the interest of the United States.
The US government should help the people of Ethiopia achieve their economic aspirations and enjoy the fruits of prosperity and live in dignity. It should give its political and diplomatic assistance for the equitable use of the Nile River.
It also should work on strengthening economic ties between the two countries. As Ethiopia’s economy is on the rise, there is and will be enough space for US companies to take part in it. In addition to development aid, technological assistance, military and civil service, should be scaled-up.
Last but not least, the United States government should work with the people and government of Ethiopia for the realisation of a more democratic society. A state visit by President Obama will have a tremendous effect on all of these.
It is certain that a stable and economically prosperous Ethiopia is very much in the interest of the US. And that is why the Obama Administration should rethink its relation with Ethiopia and upgrade its investment and engagement, and assist with ‘the peaceful rise of ‘Ethiopia so that the country realises its full potential. Only then could the United States have a reliable and strong regional ally to rely on for years to come.
Mikias Merhatsidk Is an Economist By Training