Policy analysts in Washington believe the recent death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi will have little effect on the United States’ largely uncritical support for the ruling elite in the Horn’s most militarily powerful state.
The Obama administration is signaling that the longstanding US policy of showering aid dollars on Ethiopia while collaborating closely on counter-terrorism initiatives will remain intact as the post-Meles era unfolds.
Comments by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also suggest that the US will continue to refrain from punishing the Ethiopian government for its repression of dissent and press freedom.
In a recent conversation with Acting Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Obama emphasised Meles’ role in promoting security in the Horn.
The president also “underscored the commitment of the United States to continuing in our partnership with Ethiopia,” according to a summary of Obama’s remarks released by the US embassy in Addis Ababa.
The American leader further urged Hailemariam to “enhance” the Ethiopian government’s support for democracy, the embassy indicated.
But that part of Obama’s message was clearly secondary to the theme of continuity in a policy that gives precedence to promoting stability in the Horn.
Ethiopia plays an important role in US spying missions throughout the Horn. The Washington Post revealed earlier this year that American drones fly from a secret base made available inside Ethiopia.
In return for Ethiopia’s role as a bulwark against Islamist inroads, the Obama administration takes no punitive actions in response to its own findings of systematic repression by Ethiopian authorities.
The State Department’s most recent human rights report observes that the Ethiopian government last year arrested more than 100 opposition activists, journalists and democracy advocates, charging some of them with crimes under an anti-terrorism proclamation.
Analysts suggest that security considerations will continue to take precedence over all other concerns as Washington consolidates its “partnership” with the Hailemariam regime.
US competition with China for influence in Africa is also likely to militate against greater American emphasis on democratic reforms in Ethiopia.
As former Ambassador Shinn notes, Meles had developed “very close relations” with Beijing.
Source: The East African