By Kidane Alemayehu
Senator Obama’s basic electioneering slogan during his first presidential campaign was “change”. The battle-cry for his second term election is “move forward.” What “change”? And “move forward” to what? Unfortunately, U.S. policy towards Ethiopia continues to perpetuate dictatorship and poverty in Ethiopia, with negative results for both countries. It is, therefore, time that Ethiopian-Americans wake up and utilize their voting rights for the benefit of the American and Ethiopian people!
With a population of over 90 million, vast water (supplies 86% of the water that cascades to Egypt), agricultural and mineral resources as well as having a significant geo-political importance, Ethiopia could generate huge benefits for the United States instead of being a dependent nation costing the American taxpayer at least a billion dollars annually mainly due to poor governance by the Ethiopian regime and an inappropriate U.S. policy.
For the hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian-American voters, what the U.S. President, Barack Obama, meant by “change” in the context of Ethiopia, is completely unclear. His policy statement on Africa, although predicated on America’s principles of democracy and respect for human rights, does not seem to go beyond the usual diplomatic rhetoric. It must, therefore, be noted, with great regret, that during President Obama’s first term as President, his policy towards Ethiopia was simply a continuation of the Bush policy of being complicit with the oppressive regime which continues to operate with total impunity, afflicting the Ethiopian people with desperate poverty and gross abuse of human rights.
Consequently, Ethiopian-Americans have been calling repeatedly for an effective change in U.S. policy towards Ethiopia. Through public meetings, demonstrations, and petitions, they have been expressing their objections to the Obama administration’s foreign policy that appears focused solely on the usual myopic U.S. self-interest. Even ardent Ethiopian-American supporters of the U.S. President are still at a loss as to what he means by “change” and “move forward” in regards to Ethiopia. It appears that they supported him in good faith but were rudely surprised by the President’s total lack of interest in Ethiopia’s desperate situation. There is a pervasive perception that without any commitment at this stage, the good President is unlikely to give any priority to the desperate situation in Ethiopia marked by a lack of democracy, abuse of human rights, patent corruption, poverty, famine, and the prevalence of endemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB.
It is well known that the U.S. government policy towards Ethiopia has had disastrous consequences for the Ethiopian people. Just like the George W. Bush administration, the Obama administration continues to support a brutal regime that mandates a communist land use policy which has resulted in a famine that afflicted over 12 million people. According to the U.S. State Department, the Ethiopian regime is one of the world’s worst perpetrators of human rights abuses. It is also one of the most corrupt governments in the world with the governing party owning and operating over 40 companies. In the corruption index, Ethiopia is 138th out of 177 countries. In the UNDP human development index, Ethiopia ranks 170th out of 177 nations.
By facilitating the Ethiopian regime’s invasion of Southern Somalia, despite the UN Security Council’s resolution to the contrary, the Bush administration set neighbor against neighbor in the Horn of Africa with dangerous consequences for generations to come in that region. The ostensible rational for Ethiopia’s incursion into Somalia was supposed to be to wage a war against international terrorism. However, the real result is likely to be to breed even more terrorists in the region. It is important to note that the Ethiopian regime has been unable to extricate itself from Somalia’s quagmire although Prime Minister Melles Zenawi had declared to the world, years ago, that his invasion of Somalia would last only a few weeks!
It is realized that change can be achieved in Ethiopia only through an integrated struggle comprising an internal, hopefully peaceful campaign, as well as, equally (if not more importantly), the support of the international community. The role of the U.S. government which provides an average $1 billion annually to the corrupt and despotic Ethiopian regime is obviously immense. Fortunately, there is an effective force in the United States to bring about the required policy change towards Ethiopia: the Ethiopian-American voters. The organizing and marshaling of the hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian-American votes on the federal, state, and local levels could no doubt bring about the desperately needed change in U.S. policy towards the achievement of democracy and respect for the rule of law and human rights in Ethiopia. This, however, requires Ethiopian-Americans to wake up and utilize their organizational skills and voting rights effectively with the clear understanding that U.S. policy will “move forward” to meeting the interests of the United States and of Ethiopia only with a relentless, sustained, and a united struggle by the diaspora.
The big question that needs President Obama’s immediate attention and response is whether he is going to bring about a “changed” U.S. policy towards Ethiopia by “moving forward” in bringing effective pressure to bear on the despotic Ethiopian regime to give way to democracy and to a sustainable economic development for the mutual interests of Ethiopia and the United States.
It is important to learn from President Obama whether the 90 million Ethiopians who suffered untold miseries perpetrated by a brutal regime with the support of the Bush administration, can expect a respite as a result of a new U.S. policy predicated on the fundamental values of democracy and respect for human rights—fundamental values repeatedly voiced by President Obama. If such a change is not forthcoming, it should be made clear to the President that the Democratic Party will not receive the votes of Ethiopian-Americans in future elections. Knowing the exact number of votes the President will be losing makes the case far stronger!
Will Ethiopian-Americans wake up and use their organizational skills and voting rights in the upcoming elections? Will President Obama rise to the challenge?