By Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam
The United States will stay the course in Ethiopia, and I hope I can count on each of you [Ethiopians] to do the same.” — U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Michael Raynor, in his Facebook outreach message message of February 13, 2018.
I write this open memorandum on the occasion of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Ethiopia and to publicly acknowledge the extraordinary human rights advocacy U.S. Ambassador Michael Raynor has been doing in Ethiopia since his appointment in July 2017.
I recognized Ambassador Raynor’s outstanding contributions to human rights improvements in Ethiopia in my October commentary, “Thanking the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia for Standing and Walking on the Right Side of History”.
I have chosen the “memorandum” style for this commentary in its original Latin semantic signification, “memorandum est” [It must be remembered (that)…).
It must be remembered that Ambassador Michael Raynor’s strong stand on human rights has helped strengthened the resolve of the Ethiopian people in their struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights.
It must be remembered that Secretary Tillerson’s strong stand on human rights, aid accountability and sanctions against gross human rights violators under the Magnitsky Act has contributed to a significant paradigm shift in U.S. human rights policy in Africa.
I aim to address four topics in this open memorandum.
First, I wish to commend Ambassador Raynor for standing his ground for American values given the current “state of emergency “and massive human rights violations in Ethiopia by the regime of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a regime listed as a terrorist organization by the Global Terrorism Database.
Second, I aim to offer my reflection on the world of difference between the Obama and Trump administrations in U.S. human rights policy in Ethiopia and Africa especially in light of an alleged derogatory statement made by President Trump. That is important because so many well-informed Africans, distracted by media circuses, have been blinded to the fact that significant positive human rights policy changes affecting Africa have occurred under the Trump administration.
Third, I aim to name and shame certain Western countries and the African Union for their pusillanimous and spineless responses to the TPLF’s state of emergency, cowardly indifference and hollow diplomatic palaver about the suffering and oppression of the Ethiopian people. In the past few days, irrefutable proof has been presented showing the ruling TPLF regime rigged the votes in its parliament to pass its “state of emergency decree”. Only the U.S. has publicly expressed strong disagreement with that so-called state of emergency decree as other countries have tip-toed around it.
Fourth, in light of Secretary Tillerson visit to Ethiopia in the next few days, I aim to offer my personal views on how to move forward given the increasingly deteriorating situation in Ethiopia.
Commending Ambassador Michael Raynor for doing an outstanding job standing up for American Values First in Ethiopia and Secretary Tillerson for placing human rights as a central elements of “America First” U.S. foreign policy
Even though I have previously recognized Ambassador Raynor’s outstanding job standing for American values in Ethiopia, I want to publicly recognize and commend him again for living up to the promise he made during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In his Statement Ambassador Raynor said, “If confirmed, I will advocate for full respect of the rights guaranteed under Ethiopia’s constitution, as well as for reforms that strengthen democratic institutions.”
It must be remembered that for the past eight months, Ambassador Raynor has been vigorously advocating respect for human rights and promoting the establishment of strong democratic institution in Ethiopia.
Barely eight months into the job, Ambassador Raynor has done exactly what he pledged to do.
I like a man of straight talk. I respect highly a man of his word. I like a man who says what he means and means what he says. If action speaks louder than words, Ambassador Raynor’s words are powerful action that have strengthened the spirit of the Ethiopian people in their struggle for peaceful change, truth and reconciliation.
It is a fact that Ambassador Raynor, Secretary Tillerson and the Trump administration have done more to promote and defend human rights in Ethiopia in eight monthsthan the Obama and his administration in eight years. I challenge anyone to disprove me in this assertion!
There is a saying that “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” In Ambassador Raynor, America has an honest gentleman sent to Ethiopia for the good of his country who proudly stands up for American Values First.
I should like to specifically commend Ambassador Raynor by acknowledging his extraordinarily hopeful Facebook outreach message of February 13, 2018 to all Ethiopians. That message is poignant, powerful, inspiring and forward-looking. It must be remembered that Ambassador Raynor stood up for the democratic rights of the Ethiopian people to the extent maximally possible within the parameters of diplomatic decorum.
In his message, Ambassador Raynor made it crystal clear that he is going to stand for American Values First in Ethiopia, not merely mouth off lofty rhetoric about freedom and democracy.
He said “there are certain principles that we stand for, and in light of recent events [in Ethiopia] I want to reiterate those now.” Among the principles he mentioned included the right of “people to be free to express themselves peacefully, and to be confident that they can do so.”
Ambassador Raynor underscored the vital need for “constructive political engagement through strengthening institutions rather than destroying them”. He emphasized the “need for accountability through legal mechanisms and constitutional processes.”
Ambassador Raynor talked about his “goal” of “playing a constructive role in Ethiopia” specifically by “supporting the aspirations of those who seek a better future”. He urged extreme care in the use of “lethal force” and “to protect the safety of the public, even in the face of violent protests, must always be a last resort.” He assured the people of Ethiopia, “The United States will stay the course in Ethiopia, and I hope I can count on each of you to do the same.”
No U.S. ambassador in the history of Ethiopian-U.S. relations, spanning over a century, has stood for American Values so publicly and so proudly in Ethiopia!
In May 2017, Secretary Tillerson said the U.S. will make human rights a center piece of America First foreign policy. He told State Department employees: “Guiding all of our foreign policy actions are our fundamental values: our values around freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated. These are our values… not our policies… Policies change… our values never change.”
When others doubted and dismissed Secretary Tillerson’s statements on human rights as political rhetoric and demonized him as the “destroyer” of the State Department, I believed he meant what he said and said what he meant about human rights as core American values. That is why I fully supported Secretary Tillerson’s “house cleaning” at the State Department.
I believe Secretary Tillerson to be a man of principle who follows an American Values First U.S. foreign policy.
Contrasting the human rights policies of the Obama and Trump administrations in Ethiopia and Africa
It must be remembered that President Barack Obama loved talking about “standing on the right side of history” in Africa.
In July 2009, in Accra, Ghana, Obama hectored Africa’s dictators: “History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
In August 2014, Obama stood shoulder to shoulder with the African “strongmen” who used coups, stolen elections, mass arrests, torture and subverted their constitutions to cling to power, including Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe (Ethiopia), Paul Biya (Cameroon), Blaise Compaoré (Burkina Faso), Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (Equatorial Guniea), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Joseph Kabila Kabange (DR Congo), Idris Deby (Chad), King Mswati III (Swaziland), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Denis Sassou-Nguesso (Rep. of Congo) and many others.
U.S. ambassadors are regarded as the “the U.S. President’s representative to the host country.” Ambassador Raynor is the “personal representative” of President Donald Trump in Ethiopia.
Ambassador Raynor has been in his post since July 2017.
It must be remembered that in eight months, Ambassador Raynor, President Trump,’s personal representative in Ethiopia, has demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that he is on the right side of history by standing shoulder to shoulder with the Ethiopian people and assuring them that the U.S. will stay the course and strongly urging them to do the same. . He has stood with the “brave Ethiopians” time and again in their struggle to be free, and not with those strongmen in Ethiopia who trash their constitution, steal elections, abuse their power and declare illegal states of emergency to cling to power.
When President Barack Obama was president of the United States, I was ashamed of U.S. policy in Ethiopia.
When Donald Trump is president of the United States, I am proud of U.S. policy in Ethiopia.
How on earth (or in the solar system) is that possible?
President Donald Trump is vilified for allegedly using the phrase “s**t hole countries” referring to African and other countries.
Senator Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) testified in the court of public opinion (a/k/a CNN) that Trump made a statement using the particular phrase. The White House and other Senators present at the meeting have cast doubt about Durbin’s claims.
Many of my longtime readers have asked me why I did not react to the reported statement.
While I make no excuses for President Trump, I don’t know exactly what he said or did not say. There is no audio or video recording or clip of what Trump said at that meeting. Since the controversy is centered on a single phrase, it is necessary to know exactly what Trump said, in his own words in full context, and not extracted words or phrases reported in public possibly to even political scores. It is true that candidate and President Trump has used intemperate words and phrases in his political communication. I have roundly condemned such expression in my previous commentaries. The question here is what evidence exists other than the “testimony” of Senator Durbin to CNN.
Trial lawyers know all too well how unreliable eyewitness (and “earwitness”) testimony can be in a court of law. But in the court of public opinion soundbites appear seductively truthful.
If Trump indeed used the alleged phrase, I would imagine he was using it to refer to “s**t hole African regimes” that make life so miserable for ordinary Africans they are forced into exile and become refugee problems in America and elsewhere.
Certainly, that appears to be the clear understanding of the alleged phrase by President Museveni of Uganda.
But I submit President Obama said something a thousand times worse than what President Trump allegedly said!
It must be remembered that when Obama visited Ethiopia in July 2015, he unashamedly and unapologetically declared the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front is “democratically elected”. He said that barely two months after the T-TPLF declared it had won 100 percent of the seats in its rubber stamp parliament.
I don’t bite my tongue too much when it comes to these issues. We are opposed to any group that is promoting the violent overthrow of a government, including the government of Ethiopia, that has been democratically elected. We are very mindful of Ethiopia’s history – the hardships that this country has gone through. It has been relatively recently in which the constitution that was formed and the elections put forward a democratically elected government. (Emphasis added.)
Blunt and plain talk don’t bother me much.
As a staunch defender of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, I believe people have the rights to say whatever they think even if I totally disagree with me.
In my career, I have defended the rights of those with loathsome views. I believe in the maxim, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”
What bothers the hell out of me is hypocrisy and duplicity.
When Barack Obama publicly declared twice at the press conference that the T-TPLF is “democratically elected”, he knew without a doubt it was a lie, a bold-faced lie. But he stood before 100 million Ethiopians and insulted their intelligence by telling them they live under a “democratically elected government”.
Barak Obama, of course, knew better.
It must be remembered that Obama was a constitutional and civil rights lawyer before he became president. He knew all too well about election fraud and irregularities. He was among the lawyers who successfully sued Chicago in the early 1990s to redraw ward boundaries to ensure fair elections districts.
For heaven’s sake, Obama made his home in Chicago, the epicenter of the Democratic machine politics, the city famous for its dear departed voting from the grave and “stealing” the 1960 election for John F. Kennedy. Gov. In 2011, Governor Rod Blagojevich from Chicago tried to sell Obama’s Senate seat and got 14 years in prison.
Obama knows stolen elections. Yet, Obama stood up and told the Ethiopian people and the entire world that the TPLF regime is “democratically elected”. Perhaps Obama was so jetlagged, he thought he was talking about elections in Chicago.
I would take blunt talk any day than intentional, malicious hypocrisy and duplicity.
Contrasting the U.S. Response to human rights abuses and state of emergency decree in Ethiopia with other Western countries and the African Union
It must be remembered that on February 17, 2018, after the TPLF regime declared a state of emergency, the U.S. Embassy issued a statement making clear its “strong disagreement with the Ethiopian government’s decision to impose a state of emergency that includes restrictions on fundamental rights such as assembly and expression.”
That statement further asserted, despite regime claims of “incidents of violence” justifying the state of emergency, the U.S. “firmly believes that the answer is greater freedom, not less.” The statement reiterated the U.S.’s position that “expanding the space for meaningful dialogue and political participation can pave the way to a lasting democracy” and not the “imposition of restrictions will not promote democratic reform, economic growth, or lasting stability. Restrictions on the ability of the Ethiopian people to express themselves peacefully sends a message that they are not being heard.”
If anyone wants to know what standing for American Values First means, they only need to read Ambassador Raynor’s statements.
True to form, the TPLF regime sought to generate disinformation to the effect that Ambassador Raynor had retracted his statement of “strong disagreement” when he met with TPLF officials. According to TPLF disinformation, Ambassador Raynor told TPLF officials he “did not mean to cause any harm and he will commit to closely work with the government in the future.”
The U.S. Embassy categorically dismissed the TPLF disinformation.
It must be remembered that no U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia has ever made such a strong statement of solidarity with the Ethiopian people and taken a bold stand on human rights. None.
Ethiopians must show their gratitude and appreciation for the extraordinary solidarity Ambassador Raynor and the Trump administration have shown to them.
A recently released video of the vote tally on the state of emergency decree on March 2, 2018, in “parliament” by the “Speaker of the House” shows beyond a shadow of doubt that the decree indeed failed to pass.
Out of the members of parliament we have, eight are not available in their duty due to death and other reasons. The total number of members of parliament we have is therefore 539. Of these 539, according to the proclamation, two-third of it will be 339. The vote we have got in support of is 346 [for]; against is 88; and 7 have abstained.
Doing the arithmetic produces a different sum: The total votes cast and abstention include: 346 for + 88 against + 7 abstain = 441.
95 (88+7) members either voted against or abstained from voting on the decree.
539-441= 98 members who voted against or abstained.
Assuming 441 votes constitutes a quorum (Art. 58 of the constitution), passage by 2/3 of those present and voting in favor= 0.667 (2/3) x 441= 294 votes.
Did the decree pass by 294 or 346 votes (52 vote difference)?
Did 95 or 98 members of “parliament” vote against/abstain?
The Speaker subsequently said he had reported the vote tally erroneously. But he completely avoided explanation of exactly how he committed the most elementary arithmetic error.
But is the “Speaker’s” claim of tabulation/calculation error credible?
Did Abadula have an axe to grind when he reported the vote tally?
It must also be remembered that “Speaker” Abadula presided over sessions in two previous emergency decrees without make any tabulation/calculation errors.
On October 20, 2016, the “House of Peoples’ Representatives” unanimously endorsed the State of Emergency Declaration of October 15, 2016. There were no tabulation/calculation errors at that time.
On March 30, 2016, “the House unanimously voted to extend the state of emergency” by four months.” “Speaker” Abadula made no calculation errors at that time.
On March 2, 2018, “Speaker” Abadula claimed to have made a mysterious tabulation/calculation error.
Does that mean the TPLF “Speaker” can add and subtract only if the vote is unanimous?
According to a credible report, “Speaker” Abadula holds a graduate degree from “American Century University” and a “BSc degree from ‘Chinese Defense University’ in military leadership”. He obtained these “degrees” after “dropping out of school at 8th grade” and “joining the Derg’s army as a private over three decades ago.”
It is remarkable that a man of such impressive intellectual accomplishments should find simple tabulation/calculation of votes over a highly controversial matter so challenging!
Of course, Abadula did not mis-tabulate or miscalculate. He called it right the first time. He has been used to unanimous votes on everything for so long, he merely assumed the vote on the latest emergency decree would also be unanimous. When he found out the decree had failed to pass, he was stunned and rigged the vote count and declared a tabulation/calculation error.
Stealing votes and election is nothing new for the TPLF.
The TPLF lost the 2005 election and instead of conceding defeat, it jailed nearly all the opposition leaders, leading journalists, civic society leaders and human rights advocates.
The TPLF returned with a vengeance and claimed it had “won” the 2010 election by 99.6 percent and the 2015 election by 100 percent.
That is why I called the TPLF, “The Lords of Living Lies in Ethiopia”.
But unlike the United States which “strongly disagred” with the emergency decree, various Western governments and the African Union were tiptoeing around the issue.
The British Government expressed “concern and disappointment by the decision to impose a new State of Emergency” because it “sends a discouraging signal to the international community and foreign investors.” Casually, the British Government “urged the Government of Ethiopia to ensure that human rights and the constitution are respected.”
The German government also expressed “concern about recent domestic developments and state of emergency proclamation” and “hoped the government will be extremely cautious in exercising its powers.”
The foreign minister of Norway further expressed “concern” and offered the TPLF regime good friendly advice as a strategic partner to “respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms” and stay the course on its “commitment to ongoing reform processes, including multiparty dialogue, release of prisoners and the dialogue with civil society.”
Unlike the U.S. which expressed strong disagreement, the U.K., Norway and Germany expressed hollow “hope” and inconsequential “concern”.
None of them took a stand on principle.
As a matter of fact, these countries were manifestly following the Obama administration’s policy of “concern” over election thefts and human rights violation in Ethiopia. “Concern” has been the hallmark of the Obama administration’s human rights policy in Ethiopia.
In 2010 when the TPLF regime declared victory by “winning” 99.6 percent of the seats in parliament, Obama’s White House released a statement which said, “We are concerned that international observers found that the elections fell short of international commitments.” Mere concern over an election stolen by 99.6 percent!
Truth be told, I never understood why the Obama administration was ever “concerned” about the TPLF’s 99.6 victory. Obama himself had no concerns when he said the TPLF was “democratically elected” by winning 100 percent of the seats in “parliament”. Obviously, Obama must have been concerned about the 4/10 of 100 percent the TPLF missed.
The European Union’s statement is laughable. It noted the “opening of a period of uncertainty after the resignation by Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn” and urged “constructive dialogue among all stakeholders”. It advised the “state of emergency [should] be limited in time as possible”.
Ana Gomes, a member of the European Parliament described the EU statement with contempt. “The statement made by the European Union is a shame compared namely by the one that was put out by the Americans condemning the reinstatement of the state of emergency.”
The African Union statement is simply embarrassing and hypocritical. The AU chairperson lauded the “remarkable progress made in the socio-economic development of Ethiopia” and “welcomed the steps taken by the Ethiopian authorities to widen the political and democratic space.” He encouraged “all concerned stakeholders to display a spirit of responsibility and refrain from any acts likely to undermine peace and stability.”
The AU statement made no mention of human rights violations or the state of emergency.
It must be remembered who stood by the Ethiopian people and worked hard to lift the boots of tyranny from their necks.
Shame on the Governments of the U.K, Germany and Norway!
Shame of the EU!
Shame on the African Union!
Personal reflection: Why I believe the Trump administration by standing for America First Values is standing on the right side of history in Ethiopia/Africa
In my December 18, 2016 commentary, “Trump Out of Africa”, I made certain hard and fast predictions about what the Trump administration will do in Africa in general and in Ethiopia in particular. I predicted Trump will be just another Obama pushing the age-old aid welfare mentality in Africa.
I confess I was among those who blindly condemned Trump confident in my conclusion that he will be just another Obama clone on Africa policy. I proclaimed I will eat crow if Trump did not follow in Obama’s footsteps in Africa. Suffice it to say that I have been feasting on crow (vegan style) for the past year.
In August 2014, I wrote a commentary entitled, “What is the Value of American Values in Africa?” reflecting on the meaning and value of American values in
It must be remembered that President Obama loved talking about American values. Talk. Just talk.
In his book, “The Audacity of Hope”, then-Senator Obama wrote:
We hang on to our values, even if they seem at times tarnished and worn; even if, as a nation and in our own lives, we have betrayed them more often that we care to remember. What else is there to guide us? Those values are our inheritance, what makes us who we are as a people. If we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren’t willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all.” (Emphasis added.)
Condemning Bush-era torture interrogation techniques , Obama said, “The character of our country has to be measured in part, not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard.”
After he became president, Obama invited to the White House the “finest” practitioners of torture, corruption experts and master criminals against humanity from Africa to talk business and American investments (not human rights or American values).
Incredibly, Obama called these murderous African criminals against humanity America’s “partners”.
If we measure the character of our country by the thing is does when things are hard, how do we “measure the character” of a U.S. President? By the lofty words and catchy phrases or his inactions “when things are hard”? If the old saying that “one can judge a man by the quality of friends he keeps” is true, does it necessarily follow that one can also judge a man by the quality of the “partners” he keeps?
President Trump has been criticized for his “America First” foreign policy.
Trump’s critics say his “America First” has been harmful because it is isolationist and allows Russia and China to take a greater international role while diminishing U.S. global stature. They say he runs an “ill-defined and sometimes chaotic U.S. foreign policy broadcast by tweets.” They say he has made America “strikingly unpopular in many nations” resulting in “a significant drop in support for U.S. leadership in the world”. They claim he has “weakened America’s role and moral standing”.
Trump’s critics complain he has “downgraded such traditional U.S. priorities as promoting human rights, democracy and international development.” They have accused Secretary Tillerson of destroying the state department.
The fact of the matter is that there is nothing wrong with an “America First” foreign policy.
Focusing on Africa, without aiming broadly at other global issues, “America First” foreign policy has meant accountability, resistance to human rights violations globally and no more business as usual.
Let us look at the record:
In February 2018, the Trump administration imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan reflecting “growing frustration over that nation’s grinding civil war.”
On December 21, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13818 extending the targeted sanctions provision of the Magnitsky Act to all nations. The order contained the unprecedented declaration that “serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world” threaten the “national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States.”
In December 2017, the United States announced it was “suspending food and fuel aid for most of Somalia’s armed forces over corruption concerns” and because Somalia “failed to meet the standards for accountability for U.S. assistance.”
In November 2017, Secretary Tillerson condemned the persecution of Rohingya minority in Myanmar as “ethnic cleansing”.
In October 2017, the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia issued an extraordinary statementdeclaring “peaceful demonstrations as a legitimate means of expression and political participation,” and “encouraging all Ethiopians to continue to express their views peacefully.”
In September 2017, the U.S. imposed sanctions on certain senior current and former South Sudan government officials and South Sudanese companies responsible for undermining peace, security and stability in that violence-wracked country.
In August 2017, the United States notified Egypt that $95.7 million in military and economic aid will be withheld, and $195 million in additional military aid released only after Egypt “makes progress in its human rights record.”
Americans have many great cultural values that I value highly and “truly believe in”. A strong work ethic, altruism and giving a hand up to those who are down are definitely signature American values. Americans place a high value on individual freedom and individualism, which simply means they believe in the uniqueness and paramountcy of the individual person. They value highly individual initiative, individual expression and individual privacy. They value equality and an open society. They value science and technology. They believe in competition (they have a “USA #1 mentality”). They value and practice volunteerism and philanthropy. They believe in pragmatism and are achievement-oriented. They are frank, open, and direct in their dealings.
However, there are other American values I believe in even more and am “willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them.” The most important one is the rule of law. It simply means that law should govern a nation, not politicians, dictators or thugs. To paraphrase President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “The clearest way to show what the rule of law means to Americans in everyday life is to recall what is happening in much of Africa today where there is no rule of law.”
I became a constitutional lawyer because I have an unshakable belief in the rule of law.
I truly believe in due process, the principle that before government takes a person’s life, liberty or property, it must comply with fair procedures and be guided by fundamental American values of fairness.
I am proud to say that I have stood up and defended one of the greatest of all American values: the right against self-incrimination in the California Supreme Court.
In People v. Peevy (1998) 17 Cal.4th 1184, the California Supreme Court warned that the practice of “outside Miranda interrogation” practice becomes widespread or pursuant to an official police department practice, a new exclusionary rule may be developed to resolve the problem.
The Peevy case opened the door to stopping police interrogation abuse with additional incentive of the threat of civil rights liability in 1999. Today, all of the police training sources for California law enforcement officers advise officers that they should no longer violate Miranda intentionally.
In Dickerson v. U.S. (2000), the U.S. Supreme Court held, “Miranda announced a constitutional rule that Congress may not supersede legislatively.” In Dickerson, the Court rejected the core claim of those practicing outside Miranda interrogation that the Miranda rule is a non-constitutional judge made rule.
In 2004, in Missouri v. Seibert, the U.S. Supreme Court expressly disapproved of outside-Miranda interrogation tactics to obtain admission from suspects. The court held that allowing the police to achieve an “end run” around Miranda would encourage Miranda violations and diminish Miranda’s role in protecting the privilege against self-incrimination.
I believe in “American Values First” and I am comforted by the fact that what Ambassador Raynor is doing by standing for American values in Ethiopia is not much different than what I am doing standing for American values in America.
Back to the future: What should be the trajectory of U.S. foreign policy in Ethiopia under the Trump administration
As Secretary Tillerson visits Ethiopia, I wish to share with him the “prophetic” words of Ambassador, now Assistant Secretary of African Affairs, Donald Yamamoto.
It must be remembered that in June 2009, Ambassador Yamamoto, assessing the political and human rights situation in Ethiopia gave insightful advice and counselDeputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew.
I believe that advice and counsel is as fresh and relevant today for Secretary Tillerson as it was for Jacob Lew in 2009.
Ambassador Yamamoto advised:
Your visit to Ethiopia comes at a time when the Ethiopian Government’s (GoE) growing authoritarianism, intolerance of dissent, and ideological dominance over the economy since 2005 poses a serious threat to domestic stability and U.S. interests.
The GoE has come to believe its own anxieties about a fundamental shift in U.S. policy against it. This self-induced crisis of confidence has exacerbated the GoE’s natural tendency of government control over politics, the economy and personal freedoms.
To pre-empt retaliation, the GoE has increasingly purged ethnic Oromos, Amharas, and others perceived as not supporting the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) from the military, civil service, and security services. Such moves only add to the already growing deep public frustration and have led to a vicious cycle. The public is increasingly upset over double-digit inflation, anxiety over their economic future, the GoE’s denial of the drought, growing public inability to feed their families, and narrowing of political space highlighted by the prominent arrest of opposition leader, Birtukan Midekssa.
Without significant policy reform to liberalize the economy and allow mounting political dissent to be vented, the national elections in 2010, another season of failed rains, increasing inflation, or a terrorist attack could spark major civil unrest.
The United States can induce such a change, but we must act decisively, laying out explicitly our concerns and urging swift action. Because the GoE has enjoyed only growing international assistance and recognition despite its recent record, it currently has no incentive to veer from the current trajectory to which the EPRDF is so committed. If we are to move the GoE, we must be willing to use USG resources (diplomatic, development, and public recognition) to shift the EPRDF’s incentives away from the status quo trajectory.
Your Role in Ethiopia. For USG leadership in moving the GoE to be successful
We need to deliver an explicit and direct (yet private) message that does not glad-hand them. We must convey forcefully that we are not convinced by their rhetoric, but rather that we see their actions for what they are, and that we see their actions as potentially destabilizing and undercutting Ethiopia’s own interests.
We should then explicitly allay their anxiety by affirming that we value what they have done in terms of economic growth and institution building since 1991 in turning Ethiopia around, that we are not trying to promote regime change, and that we are delivering a similarly explicit message of the need for change to opposition groups.
As one of the most senior U.S. officials in the new administration to visit Addis Ababa, Prime Minister Meles and his senior officials are anxious to hear what you have to say, and they will scrutinize your every word for indicators of any change in U.S. policy toward Ethiopia…
Understanding Ethiopia’s domestic political and economic actions, and developing a strategy for moving the ruling party forward democratically and developmentally, requires understanding the ruling Tigrean People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) prevailing political ideology: Revolutionary Democracy. Hard-line TPLF politburo ideologues explain the concept in antiquated Marxist terms reminiscent of the TPLF’s precursor Marxist-Leninist League of Tigray. Western-leaning TPLF members and more distant central committee members from non-TPLF parties within the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition generally shed the Marxist rhetoric of the hard-liners…
To the ruling party, development is their gift to Ethiopia, and their first priority. While they accept assistance from the international community, they resent attempts by donors to tell them how development should be done. The leadership believes that only they can know what is best for Ethiopia, and if given enough time, Ethiopia will transform itself into a developed nation. (Emphasis added.)
I urge Secretary Tillerson to heed Ambassador Yamamoto’s insightful advice and counsel on Ethiopia to Jacob Lew.
Ambassador Yamamoto knows all about the TPLF and their wicked ways.
Ambassador Yamamoto recently said the U.S. will be “very aggressive” on human rights in Africa.
Secretary Tillerson told State Department employees: “Guiding all of our foreign policy actions are our fundamental values: our values around freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated. These are our values… not our policies… Policies change… our values never change.”
I support Secretary Tillerson, Asst. Sec. Yamamoto and Ambassador Raynor 100 percent in being very aggressive in Ethiopia on American values around freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated.