Ethiopian Regime: Liability to U.S. Interests or Asset?

Amanuel Biedemariam News Opinions
US policy makers knows Ethiopia is a tinderbox ready to explode at any moment
US policy makers knows Ethiopia is a tinderbox ready to explode at any moment. Yet, the US administration keeps supporting this failing regime at the expense of the people of the horn of 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 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 because it makes Eritrea the biggest prize for Ethiopian leaders and that means without Eritrea, Ethiopia’s role will be minimized. For this reason, historically, all Ethiopian leaders have waged wars against Eritrea.

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

The alliance with the US made Ethiopia the epicenter of African politics, the powerhouse of the region and significant world presence until 1974-when unexpectedly, power fell onto the hands of low-ranking Ethiopian officer, a brutal dictator, Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam. Soon thereafter, Hailemariam established 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 super power standing, the US immediately reasserted its position and attempted to control the agendas of the HoA.

Immediately thereafter, the US restarted the old Eritrea policy that was initiated in 1952. Ethiopia was again chosen to play the anchor state role, and within that framework, the late war-monger dictator Meles Zenawi received the green light to play the hegemon and aimed to bring Eritrea down.

US Eritrea policy was and remains to undermine Eritrean independence and allow Ethiopia to control Eritrea as it did during the reigns of Haile Selassie. To that end, the late Meles Zenawi was tasked to defeat the leadership in Eritrea and create a mechanism to control Eritrea. This failed policy lead to wars that took the lives of over 20,000 Eritreans and 120,000 Ethiopian soldiers needlessly. When that failed, immediately, the No-War-No-Peace agenda was initiated with a goal to render Eritrea a failed state.

Hence, the common link of US policies since 1952 has been Eritrea. The goal is to control Eritrea which in turn will enable the US to control the entire Red Sea basin. With the Mediterranean Sea firmly under control of NATO countries, assuming control of the Red Sea will allow the US to control a-vast-waterway of the world. This agenda is transparent by US presence in Djibouti and Yemen’s Socotra Islands amongst other areas in the region. This 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. When it was discovered, shocking pictures of starved Ethiopian children was distributed around the world. To this day these pictures remain seared in the memories of the world.
The feudal Emperor Haile Selassie failed to ensure democratic governance, equal distribution of land and wealth which ultimately lead to his ouster.

The brutal dictator Mengistu Hailemariam’s failed-social-experiment was defeated by Eritrea 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 in pursuit of Western interest at the expense of the people of Ethiopia and region.

His successor Hailemariam Desalegn is on the same path openly declaring himself as 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 on 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 is openly declaring war, regime change in Eritrea and pursuing a federal system in Somalia ignoring international norms and laws as if there are no consequences.

Be it domestic or international, it matters-not what the transgressions are as long as the regime is on-leash in pursuit of US agendas. The Obama administration could have learned from history and readjusted US policies. To the contrary, it is pursuing the same policy. In 1974, failure to foster broad based governance, and propping an emperor for life became futile for US interests. Millions were made to suffer under the brutal hands of Mengistu Hailemariam as a result.

Today Ethiopia is at the same place it was in 1974 when Haile Selassie was ousted and US presence replaced by that of the USSR. The US has now placed all its eggs on 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 as well as Mengistu Hailemariam placed the needs of a united Ethiopia first and foremost. To 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 forced to pick up arms. Now Ethiopia is mired by armed rebellion and fire is raging throughout as there exist no other option.

US policy makers 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, in Africa, important historic consideration for a black president. However, the aim is to mitigate China’s advances in the continent, to bolster the regime and to assure all that Hailemariam Desalegn has the confidence of 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 completely particularly after the deportation of thousands of Ethiopians from Saudi Arabia and the beheading of by ISIS.

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

Absent of hope for democratic transition, Ethiopians have concluded change can only come with 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. The question is 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 that is 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 as its vital organ.

US administrations could claim that Ethiopia is a sovereign nation and that Ethiopia’s decisions are independent. However, as history proves; to bolster successive oppressive client regimes, the US may have lost the best ally in the people of the region.