U.S. Interventions and Conflict in Multinational Ethiopia




Dugo, Habtamu Tesfaye

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By combining the case study approach with in-depth historical and political analyses, this study examined U.S. intervention in multi-ethnic Ethiopia. Most studies of U.S. intervention in Ethiopia and the Horn have exclusively focused on the benevolent humanitarian aid aspect of intervention involving food aid and emergency assistance during and after civil wars. This research not only problematizes the traditional notion of intervention in Ethiopia, but most importantly it makes fundamental departures from traditional perspectives and examines the various forms of intervention as justifications for choosing narrowly-based authoritarian elites from Ethiopia‘s north. The objective of the study was to understand and describe why the United States has chosen the elites-led Ethiopian state as a linchpin in checking, containing or stamping out communism during the Cold War and terrorism during the era of the Global War on Terrorism. Multi-layered issues relating to the international aspect of U.S.-Ethiopia relations were examined using Morgenthau‘s and Mearsheimer‘s theory of realism. It applied Johan Galtung‘s theory of structural and direct violence theoretical lens and investigated the local structural and direct violence dimensions of U.S.-Ethiopia relations, which spans over a century and is probably the longest-running of U.S. ties with any countries in the sub-Saharan Africa. The study finds that during the eras of the Cold War and the Global War on Terrorism, the U.S. has militarized its foreign policy-driven interventions towards Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. The priority of this militarized relationship has focused on strengthening the military capabilities of known repressive Horn/Ethiopian regimes. As the U.S. militarized its relations with its communist and Islamic extremist rivals in the region, Ethiopia‘s northern elites also militarized their relationship with internal ethno-nationalist arch rivals and challengers, which the study confirms has contributed to massive human rights violations with impunity. As can be extrapolated from the study, U.S. foreign policy elites have starkly failed to analyze exactly whom they are entering into alliance and what the long-term impact of that would be among local groups in Ethiopia and the Horn. In the case of Ethiopia, America has chosen and legitimated narrowly-based unelected authoritarian leaders who oppress ethnic ―Others‖ and whose terms of office go from two decades to four decades at times. The approach has alienated peoples of the political and power periphery who seek reform and representation in the state system privately owned by the centrist (northern) elites. If this trend is not addressed, the popular perception of the U.S. as a major benefactor of a brutal dictatorship is likely to further fuel legitimate popular resentments and threaten U.S. interests in Ethiopia and the Horn. It is recommended that present approaches need to be revised in order to ensure the sustainability of stability and counter-terrorism by empowering the majority who have long suffered massive human rights violations and structural injustices. The problem of U.S. intervention in Ethiopia is largely a problem of power politics. The U.S. has long sought to maximize its power in order to counter or defeat its ideological and Islamic extremist rivals in the broader Horn of Africa region. The study found that America‘s pursuit of stability has indirectly abetted pre-existing protracted ethno-nationalist conflicts by tacitly choosing to be on one side of the conflict because it wrongly perceives that its interest are best served that way. U.S. policy elites have been in denial about America‘s leverage in inducing positive change in Ethiopia although empirical evidence suggests the U.S. is one of the largest donors to Ethiopia. Thus, the main U.S. objectives have been achieving security and stability even when those objectives are expressed rhetorically/morally in terms of humanitarian assistance, the promotion of human rights and democratization. On the domestic front, the study finds that the new Ethiopia‘s anti-terrorism law, the legislation of which is inspired by America‘s counter-terrorism campaigns in the Horn, has served as a tool for legitimizing massive human rights violations. The law has effectively institutionalized structural and direct violence against opposition parties and members of the non-ruling ethnic groups such as the Oromo and the Ogaden-Somali peoples. The use of the law has taken on a whole new trajectory that even the United States did not anticipate as its victims are so far mainly civilian opponents as opposed to proven terrorists. This study finds that the law has systematically contributed to dismantling dissent and freedom of speech, which are structural issues. The mono-ethnic state ownership itself is proof of the power imbalances in favor of one group in a fundamentally multiethnic state where the majority are systematically silenced and disadvantaged. The study reviewed negotiation theory and practice and pinpointed that the application of negotiation as a method of conflict resolution in Ethiopia has been precarious thus far. The study recommended that viable formal and informal negotiations must begin with a view to altering the power asymmetry between northern elites and south Ethiopian peoples. Attempts at negotiated settlements that do not take into account ways of addressing the entrenched problem of mono-ethnic state ownership is bound to face rejections from armed and peaceful opposition in the periphery. It proposed comprehensive negotiations that can lead to the creation of innovative sustainable social contracts in the interests of all local and international stakeholders in the conflict.



Intervention, Intrastate conflict, Counter-terrorism, U.S. and Ethiopia, Protracted ethnonational conflict, Horn of Africa