Ethiopia: Intransience in Ethio-U.S. Relations - Prospects for the Future

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his visit to Ethiopia.

Ethiopia and the U.S. have been working on various areas of mutual interests including health, education and agriculture as well as cooperation on regional peace and security.

The recent official visit paid to Ethiopia by the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicates that both countries are interested to foster mutual cooperation both on bilateral and regional issues.

Twenty six years after the American Declaration of Independence, Ethiopia was the only country in Africa to get into the first people to people relations, which consequently turned out to be the establishment of a diplomatic relation between the two countries in December 27, 1903 with official signature of Emperor Menelik II and Robert P.Skinner , who was a special envoy of the US in Paris, came to Ethiopia and co signed with the emperor a "Treaty of Amity, Reciprocal Establishments and Commerce".

On January 6, 1909 a US legation was established in Addis Ababa only to be closed in 1913 as the result of the death of Emperor Menelik II, which triggered a palace feud. The same US legation was closed on March 4, 1937 with a pretext of the Italian aggression on Ethiopia. On November 9, 1949 an Ethiopian legation was commissioned in Washington and was later upgraded into an embassy with full capacity.

The establishment of an Ethiopian Embassy not only strengthened the relations between the two countries but also further triggered the spirit of pan-Africansim and Afro-American sympathy on the aggression committed on Ethiopia. For instance, John C. Robertson, an Afro-American pilot came to Ethiopia in 1935 to personally support Ethiopian patriot's resistance against the Italian Fascist forces who invaded Ethiopia.

One of the most significant events in the relations between Ethiopia and the US was the signing of the Point Four Program, which was signed in 1951 (later restructured into USAID) to promote technical and economic cooperation between the two countries. The program focused on education, agricultural development and providing research and defense capacity of Ethiopia.

Based on the Point Four agreement the US funded the construction of Haromaya College of Agriculture as and Mechanical Arts with the vision of making Ethiopia "the Bread Basket of Africa". The first Institute of Agricultural Research was established in Holeta with US support to be followed by the establishment of similar institutions in Ambo, Jimma, Debre Zeit, Bako, Melka Werer, Kulumsa and Pawe.

In 1952, the US supported the establishment of the former University College of Addis Ababa and the Law School (1963) and the construction of Kennedy Library.

As a strategy of modernizing the Ethiopian educational system of those days, a new capacity building program called "American Peace Corps" was initiated by the American government in 1962. The Ethiopian Airlines was also established in 1945 as a joint venture with the Trans-World Airlines (TWA). The US also financed the establishment of the Ethio-US Mapping Mission in 1963 followed by the commissioning of the former Ethiopian Highway Authority.

The United States set up a Military Advisory and Assistance Group (MAAG) which supported the modernization of the Ethiopian Military forces. It is to be recalled that an information center was also established under the auspices of the US embassy to provide bilateral information exchange system between the US and the government of Ethiopia.

Between 1909 and 1973, the US used foreign aid as a tool for pursuing the countries diplomacy and national interest. In the context of the Cold War, the US established a ground based satellite information system in Asmara commonly known as Kagnew Station to monitor the activities of the socialist countries particularly the former USSR and used Ethiopia as a listening post.

Pre-1974 Ethiopia's foreign policy was based on the emperor's personal charismatic diplomacy and was never institutional and lacked any consolidated foreign policy and diplomacy strategic document.

The fall of the defunct feudal order in 1974 left a political vacuum that was used by the military to usurp power. This led to a traumatic situation between the two countries, which were triggered by the closure of major US facilities in Ethiopia, as the US did not assist Ethiopia when the country was invaded by Said Barre regime of Somalia. The Derg, a military junta, was confronted with an irredentist war by Somalia in 1977 and demanded to purchase arms from the US with 20 million USD prepaid fund. In retaliation the Carter Administration refused to sell arms to Ethiopia paving the way for Ethiopia's request to the socialist countries. Later on the former USSR urgently dumped a military hardware worth about 2 billion USD at Bole International Airport within a period of two weeks.

Although the US was a major supplier of humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia from 1982 up to 1994, the diplomatic relations between the two countries was at its lowest level during the period of the military regime.

With the downfall of Derg, in 1991 and the establishment of a Transitional Government and later on the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, A new democratic constitution was put in place with massive public participation and support.

This led to a total shift in Ethiopia's foreign policy. Article 86 of the constitution provided for the promotion of national interest of the country, mutual respect for national sovereignty of states, promotion of mutual interest and mutual benefit, observance of international agreements which ensure the interest of the Ethiopian people, promoting economic and fraternal relations between the neighboring countries and peaceful settlement of disputes

Ethiopia's Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy, which was issued in 2004, devotes a special part to the restoration of the foreign relations and diplomatic cooperation between Ethiopia and the US ( pages 147- 150 ). Ethiopia's foreign relations with the US are based on the promotion of national development, democracy and peace building, investment promotion. This has been tested on Ethio-US cooperation in the struggle against terrorism, promotion of regional and global peace.

Ethiopia's economic relation with the US is based on mutual partnership on Ethiopia's development programs and possible expansion of partnership in trade and investment.

In terms of peace keeping, Ethiopia has been actively partnering with the US on promoting peace and mutual security in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia was also benefiting from the AGOA tax free trade between Ethiopia and markets in the US.

The Ethiopia and the US had conducted commendable projects in the prevention and control of HIV and AIDS through the PEPFAR (US President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) program and through supports in the Global Fund Program.

Ethiopia and the US had continued to cooperate in the areas of government efforts to promote quality education. The Ministry of Education and the US cooperated in providing numerous trainings for teachers and also by preparing and publishing various educational books for intermediate and secondary schools in the country with a particular focus on science and the English language.

In terms of support on maintaining justice and democracy in Ethiopia, the Addis Ababa University Law School has been supported by US in providing legal services for poor persons who were not able to acquire justice by taking their cases to the courts of law.

In assisting the government programs in the conservation of the country's cultural heritages, the US is now supporting the renovation of some of the rock hewn churches of Lalibella.

In his visit to Ethiopia a couple of days back, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States would support Ethiopia's efforts to maintain peace and security in the country. He also appreciated Ethiopia for its role in keeping peace in the region, especially in Somalia through AMISOM as well as the efforts in Sudan and South Sudan. He noted that Ethiopia and the US had diplomatic ties that exceeded hundred years.

The fact that the Secretary of State mentioned about economic, trade and investment opportunities between the two countries will help to open up wider opportunities to mutual economic cooperation. In this regard there is a consonance between foreign policy objectives of Ethiopia and the US. Ethiopia shoulders national responsibilities of becoming a mid level developed country by 2025 and the growing relations between the two countries is expected to foster mutual respect, cooperation and partnership for mutual economic development.

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