Support for democracy in Ethiopia has to be Subordinated to US fight against International Terrorism?

Solomon Terfa, PhD

November 14, 2005

   When I heard Mr. Herman Cohen insist emphatically that US support for democracy and freedom in Ethiopia has to be subordinated to its war against international terrorism I was neither shocked nor was intrigued. In fact it confirmed my long standing assessment of the policies of the various Republican administrations. They may give lip service to values like freedom, democracy, justice but rarely are they sincere about them. 

   President Bush, on January 20, 2005, unveiling his foreign policy said “...we will encourage reform in other government by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people” Regarding respect for human rights he said they “...must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed....It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movement and institutions in every nation and culture, wit the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world....” Now, Mr. President, the people of Ethiopia are asking humbly if they are not deserving the same treatment as the people of the Middle East to whom your message is obviously directed at. It is clear that your speech is motivated by your administration’s objective to play a catalytic role in the democratization of the countries of the Middle East.

   It is true that Mr. Cohen, who is a Republican and who had served as midwife to the Meles regime in Ethiopia, does not speak officially for the government of President Bush. However, I would say that his views on the current situation in Ethiopia are not too far from the thinking and sentiment of the administration which has preferred to give the people of Ethiopia its cold-shoulder. And in this connection, the administration’s policies regarding liberation and freedom is consistent with the previous Republican administrations.

    It is my contention that liberation and Republican administration are two mutually exclusive and diametrically opposed concept. This is born out by the repeated stance and positions taken by various Republican administrations. I am hard pressed to remember, from recent political history of the world, when it had ever stood in support of people who had struggled for their freedom, liberation and self-determination except, perhaps, during the 1991 UN led war against Iraqi invading forces in Kuwait. It is an incontrovertible fact that in the 1970s and 1980s most Republican congressmen not only opposed the liberation of South Africa but also the release of Mandela from prison. Mr. Dick Cheney, the current Vice President was, then, one of those congressmen who voted against the release of Mandela.

   Gerald J. Bender and et al in their book African Crisis Areas and US Foreign Policy noted that the Reagan administration early in the 1980s overturned the policy of curtailment of exports to apartheid South Africa imposed by the Carter administration and began to export equipments for its military, and Piper aircraft and Beech craft that could be used for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering for its air force. More stunning and dismaying is its cooperation to expand South Africa’s nuclear program despite the fact that the later had refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Some of these had been used against the liberation and freedom fighters.

The Republicans may consider this to be a chip shot. They may argue that they opposed the liberation of South Africa and Mandela because his party, the African National Congress, was dominated by communists which then would have meant that independent South Africa will have become communist thereby joining the Soviet sphere-of-influence. They could further argue that would also have changed the alliance of forces and the balance of power in the region tilting it in favor of the Soviets. Already, they would say, there were socialists Mozambique, Angola, and Zimbabwe in the region with Namibia waging a war of liberation against apartheid South Africa. Hence, they could claim that their opposition was motivated by fear of Soviet domination which would have threatened US strategic interest. I will say yes to all of their concerns. They are all legitimate concerns. And that is exactly my point . As the opposition to the independence of South Africa and the freeing of Mandela from prison was motivated by US national interest so also is the lukewarm and innocuous criticism of the dastardly and cowardly act of the tyrannous government of Prime Minister Meles which has made Ethiopia a slaughter house.

   In my last article entitled Second Chance For Ethiopia I explored the possibility of US adopting or entertaining different scenario from the EU in Ethiopia. Towards that end I assessed, as now, the views of Mr. Herman Cohen which I thought were interesting and curious. He said ”....Before this election there was virtually no opposition member in the parliament. It was a total monopoly of the TPLF or the EPRDF. This election no matter how flawed it was will have I think 40 percent opposition. I remember in Kenya in 1992 they had an election. They went from one party state to multiparty state. The opposition went from zero to something like 40 percent of the parliament. That changed the whole atmosphere....In Ethiopia they ( the government) allowed the opposition to win a large number of seats. Was it a great election? No. Was it deeply flawed? Yes. Was it progress? Yes. I think it will continue to be that way. I felt that if this views were juxtaposed to the possible report that Ambassador Aurelia E. Brazeal would write about the May election and the recommendations she might make, to help the Bush administration form its policy, the possibility of the Bush administration adopting a different scenario goes with out saying. Ambassador Brazeal said”....Let me tell you what ordinary Ethiopians tell me. They tell me that as parents, they do not want their children to live through the violence and upheavals that they experienced. They tell me politicians should respect one another, talk civilly to one another, and focus on issues important to the people, not focus tearing each other down...they tell me they want the political parties to accept election results, join Parliament, and work from within the system. They value their democratic institutions and the constitution, and they want political parties to do the same. They want peace. They want wise leaders. And in this connection, Congressman Chris Smith’s observation is no different from Ambassador Brazeal’s. He said “...The opposition would be better off voicing its views within the parliamentary system than from the outside...they can play a positive role by actively participating in debates and other mutual  concerns of the country peacefully....”

   Like General Musharaaf, the dictator of Pakistan, serves as US lynchpin in the fight against terrorism in South West Asia, so also Meles is the lynchpin in the latter’s fight against terrorism in the Horn of Africa. Hence democracy, justice, liberty and all the other values for which Ethiopians are dying for and, ironically, the US soldiers are allegedly dying for in Iraq, are not paramount enough for this Republican administration to hold the Meles tyrannical regime accountable. Hypocrisy par excellence!!!!     


Solomon Terfa ( Ph D ): E-mail:

Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations.

Mississippi Valley State University

MediaETHIOPIA @2005