Originally posted on Aug.3,2009
The seemingly never-ending election saga and the historical inauguration of the first African-American president are behind us now. The dust is finally settling. And the question looms: where is the direction of the president regarding Africa in general, and Ethiopia in particular.
First things first. The Administration has appointed a veteran diplomat with a vast experience in African diplomacy, who started working as early as the 1970s. Serving in a dozen of African countries, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Mr. Johnnie Carson, is expected to have a good understanding of the facts on the ground than his predecessor. After a couple of visits to various capitals, indications are the administration needs to do a lot to convince us it is different from earlier US administrations when it comes to Africa.
Early this month the Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe referred to the Assistant Secretary as ‘little fellows like Carson’. As a former ambassador to Zimbabwe himself, Carson should have known better how to deal with Mugabe. Does that cast a doubt on his diplomatic skills? Anybody’s guess.
Be that as it may, Ethiopia was among the first countries in Johnnie Carson’s itinerary. At the end of his visit to the country, he didn’t come up with an idea. He simply decided to continue as business as usual. In what seemed like a quotation from the government media, Carson told the VOA : “the United States supports the current Ethiopian government because they overthrew the worst dictator in Africa, Mengistu Haile Mariam, and enacted political reforms allowing opposition parties and civil liberties.”
May be his informants didn’t keep him in the loop about the laws governing NGOs, the anti-terror laws and the likes. Besides, almost two decades after the expiration of the Mengistu administration, a veteran diplomat is still dwelling on those demerits to heap praises on current leaders. The US policy towards Ethiopia will be implemented based on the analysis of Mr. Johnnie Carson and co.
Democrats have a history of showering praises of their hosts at the first sight. When Bill Clinton was in office, he coined the infamous cliché: African renaissance leaders. It is amazing to see how long after his departure, some of his former counterparts are haunting the United States. The guys Clinton called renaissance leaders make a mockery of democracy. They look rather like the reincarnation of the big men of Africa who came to power with the birth of their nations in the second half of the 20th century. They are typically characterized as rulers who either die in office or toppled by their rivals, no peaceful transition of power.
Paul Kagame of Rwanda has been in office for 15 years. His brother-in-arms Yoweri Museveni is already the longest-serving in Ugandan history with 23 years to his credit. Meles of Ethiopia and Isayas Afeworki of Eritrea each 18 years, actually more than the regime they overthrew and got praise from Mr. Carson. And what surprises most, it is the then first lady running the show at the State Department.
A couple of months back the State Department released the state of human rights in Ethiopia. It was one of the boldest moves the Department had ever taken as far as concerns go. Following the report, the US Ambassador to Addis Ababa, Donald Yamamato had to incur the wrath of the government orchestrated media attack. He stood by the reports. One last moment of bravery in Yamamato’s otherwise shabby tenure.
A new ambassador is in the making. Pundits have been claiming he will be tough on human rights issues. So far, nothing has been said from the US authorities regarding a number of political prisoners, the top of which being the lawyer turned politician Birtukan Mideksa.
For all the talking of human rights and corruption, the US, until this time, has been rather a friend of the most corrupt and totalitarian leaders anywhere in the world. The US has relentlessly supported the former Zairian (Now DRC) leader Mobutu Sese Seko who is dubbed the third most corrupt leader of all time by the anti corruption watchdog Transparency International. Mobutu is alleged to have pocketed half of the 12 billion dollar the country received from the International Monetary Fund1. The story is not different when it comes to the first and second most corrupt leaders of the century . The former Indonesian and Philippines leaders whom the US staunchly supported.
Coming to Ethiopia, the US is reluctant to attach aid with good governance. Corruption is rampant in the country. The ruling Tigrai People Liberation Front has controlled all business in the country through its business conglomerate, Endowment Fund For the Rehabilitation of Tigray. By its own former head testimony, EFFORT is by far the largest and the strongest business empire the country has ever known. And this business empire is led by none other than the first lady of the country Mrs Azeb Mesfin.
A memoire that has been penned by a former member of TPLF reveals a shocking fact. The long time ambassador of Ethiopia to Washington, who has since been posted to Brussels, had $250 million dollars in his bank account. And when he had issues with his wife, the latter had to part with half of the money2. Does it take to be a detective to know how that money was acquired?
Kleptocracy was a political science jargon used to describe the situation in Mobutu’s Zaire. That is the order of the day in Ethiopia now. “I have directed my administration to give greater attention to corruption in our human-rights reports,” Obama told the parliament in Accra during his first visit to the continent as president of the United States. Without delving into analysis of his speech, that surly is the last thing Washington will be interested to deal with.
So much for human rights and corruption. It is naïve to think the United States cares about promoting social advancement in the continent than advancing its own national interests. That is what Realpolitik dictates. Reading from the lists of the seven African countries where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to tour, the priority lies in oil and other important minerals.
It is not good governance that Angola, Nigeria or DRC are known for. Matter of fact, Angola’s president Eduardo Dos Santos has seen six American presidents come and go. When it comes to Nigeria, citizens are already debating whether their country is not a failed state. And according to the Economist, Washington probably will get about a quarter of its oil consumption from these nations3. The US will surely pursue its national interests than worry about the lots of everyday Africans. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if Washington buys oil from Sudan whom they have been accusing of 1001 sins.
So far the personal connections to Africa speeches are adoring state banquets and receptions in the palaces and five-star hotels, but that is hardly enough for the change we believe in.
2.Yegazetegnaw Mastawesha p 378