Title: The United States and Ethiopia: The Tragedy of Human Rights
Author: Kadiro Amae Elemo
Publication Date: 2013
Publisher: The East African Press
This book focuses on a subject that is not sufficiently researched: a close relationship between the United States of America, the greatest democracy, and Ethiopia, a totalitarian state since its creation a century ago. The author’s approach to the subject is a groundbreaking and praiseworthy. He goes through diplomacy, history, myths, and geopolitics to uncover root causes of the predicament of human rights in the bilateral relationships of these two nations. The book is well-researched, very instructive and well argued. It is a potent addition to Oromo studies and Ethiopian studies, as well.
Professor Mekuria Bulcha
This interesting and informative book deals with the United States Foreign Policy towards Ethiopia going back to the beginning of the last century. It was Robert Skinner, who established U.S. diplomatic relation with Abyssinia in 1903. Ethiopia was then known as Abyssinia up to the 1930s. For Mr. Skinner, the Abyssinians (Amharas and Tigrayans) were “Caucasians” or non-blacks, with superior “civilization,” who were involved in their own civilizing mission of their African neighbors through brutal conquest, expropriation of resources of the conquered people. The conquerors did not hesitate reducing their victims to landless, right less serfs in the land of their birth. Mr. Skinner idealized Abyssinia, betraying his utterly ignorance about the Ethiopian reality of his time. Emperor Menelik, whom Mr. Skinner elevated to the status of a “Bismarck of Africa,” and his wife at that time owned 70,000 human beings (mostly prisoners of war) as their domestic slaves, demonstrating that his empire was the bastion of slavery. As late as 1983, Ernest Gellner, one of the foremost scholars on nationalism aptly described Ethiopia “as a prison- house of nations if ever there was one.” The United States, whose foreign policy was based on the rhetoric of democracy and human rights established diplomatic relationship with the country where even the concept of democracy and human rights were totally unknown. This shows that the U.S. foreign policy towards Ethiopia has always been based on its own national interest and not its rhetoric of democracy and human rights. Emperor Menelik’s victory over the Italians in 1896 and the US diplomatic relationship with Ethiopia in 1903 boosted the morale and the stature of Emperor Menelik on the world scale, which cemented the mythical image of Ethiopia among the Americans, especially African Americans in the United States. The author of this very readable book ably demonstrates that the United States foreign policy towards Ethiopia was based on myths, ignorance and racism. The diplomatic relationship between the two countries mainly benefited the rulers of Ethiopia. Anyone who wants to understand how successive Ethiopian leaders used the mythical image of their country for enhancing their own tyrannical power while hiding their atrocities against their own subjects, who were and still are exposed to abject poverty, must read this book. The book makes a very useful contribution to the growing literature on the gulf of inequality between the Abyssinian ruling elites and their subjects, who have been exploited economically, dominated politically, dehumanized socially, with tacit approval and military and financial support of successive US administrations, all of which strengthened the strangle hold of the minority over the Ethiopian political landscape to this day.
Associate Professor Mohammed Hassen, Georgia State University
Excerpt from The United States and Ethiopia: The Tragedy of Human Rights by Kadiro A. Elemo
This book is about the what, the how, and the why of the United States foreign policy towards Ethiopia, from the vantage point of promotion and protection of human rights. It studies factors that shaped it, and, it draws how it impacted political dynamism of the nation with diverse cultural and religious landscape. It unravels its deficiency in promotion and protection of human rights in the ages of imperialism, Cold War antagonisms and fighting terrorism. It argues that the U.S had-and-has wrong diagnoses of human right problems in Ethiopia and hence applied wrong prescriptions. Based on the wrong prescriptions and myopia in the foreign policy, the U.S. offered carte blanche for the discrimination of the ruling class of Ethiopia instead of playing positive roles on promoting the rights of diverse linguistic and ethnic groups in Ethiopia. The wrong prescriptions perpetuate and exacerbate human rights violations and damage the reputation of the U.S. as the champion of freedom around the world.
The U.S. alliance with Ethiopia entertains irony of the U.S. strong pledge to put its weight in a global arena to promote human rights on one hand, and its silence to the atrocities committed by the Ethiopian government, on the other hand. Perhaps, it is not an exaggeration, if I may say that only a few countries match Ethiopia in demonstrating a discrepancy between the rhetoric and reality of human rights in the U.S. foreign policy. Ethiopia symbolizes a mecca of contradictions between human rights and national security within the foreign policy. It provided footing for U.S. adventurism into Africa during the inauguration of diplomatic relationship during the Minilik era; it became a robust partner in halting the spread of communism by providing a spy base of Kagnew during the Hayla Sillase period, and it turned into a headache for U.S. policy makers by defecting to the communist bloc during the Darg era. Today, Ethiopia is all about its status as a regional ally in a fight against terrorism and hub for predatory drones, a U.S. weapon of choice in the fight against terrorists. In this national security driven diplomacy, the human rights causes are forsaken, naturally lost in the gray and often offered as the sacrificial lamb.
The modern concept of human rights postulates that states have a responsibility to respect and protect natural and inalienable rights of individuals. Accordingly, states have to undertake preventive measures to discourage occurrence of violations of human rights and take remedial measures, on the event of breach, to redress the wrongs. From its formation, Ethiopia was-and-is a textbook example of “predatory state” with all connotations and denotations the phrase implies. Accordingly, Ethiopia is a police state and antithesis to the concept of human rights itself. Naked tyranny and a culture of impunity are everyday experiences. Its government is hardly accountable to its own people; power comes from bullet, not from ballot. If there is a ballot, a ballot is not a bullet proof for the ballot justifies the bullet. Often, the ballot process lends itself to the bullet process as the former lacks credibility and transparency.
The U.S is the most powerful nation on the face of the earth. She has an enormous influence in the international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Her cultural [soft] power captivates the imagination of the world, for good or bad. She lures us not only with her flamboyant rhetoric, but also with her voracious consumption, and she even exports her “craziness” as Ethan Watters’ Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche vividly showed. In Ethiopia, except some unfortunate times, we covet the U.S. for her power, economy, strong media, for everything, but especially for its democracy and human rights protections. It is imagined as a land of “dollar tree,” a land where one kisses miseries goodbye. In short, it is a Heaven on earth. I will explain this with my personal experience.
Believing myself that I was well-informed, I did not expect for surprises in the U.S., such as collecting dollars from a “dollar tree” and remitting to my unhappy kinsmen. My sub-conscious (unconscious) fooled me; it abruptly awakened me from a deep sleep, one night. In my dream, I got the chance to go to the U.S.; I looked through the window; I saw a radiant light of the Chicago skylines; poor-me-one. Perhaps, the America my subconscious expected was greater than the one I saw. Alas! My teacher once told me, in high school, he would have rather preferred being a cow in the U.S. than being a man in Ethiopia. “How about India, you would be worshiped,” I interjected. He told me that the noble America is all about animal welfare, and, a subsidy for a ‘happy’ cow is greater than our per capital income. He would have rather preferred being a tree in America because it is watered daily and protected from cutting, a ‘tree right’. Being a pet in Americans would have been the finest thing because he would have lived the luxurious life of our prime minister, a dictator of comfort.
“The Ethiopian coffee gives a drinker gastritis; the American coffee gives the drinker happiness,” he told me. Come on, are not we the home of the world premium coffee, I impolitely interrupted him. I wondered; Are you telling me about a hot pepper or coffee? “Our coffee is good; America makes it better,” he replied. “Thus, Americanized coffee is drinkable; one can drink a liter of coffee in the U.S., but only few small cups in Ethiopia,” he explained. He even told me that citizens have the right to insult their president, the most influential person on the face of the earth. Perhaps, he wanted to say that citizens have the right to criticize the president because the culture of criticizing rulers in Ethiopia is unknown and intolerable. In the middle of the hot conversation, he stumbled on a rock; he enchanted with America more because, in the innocent America, there are no such mean stones because technology had destroyed them, meaning roads are asphalted. Wow, the magic of America!! An America in the mind of my teacher, a land of happy cows and happy trees, is different from a real America.
Seriously, America is a powerful, influential and prosperous country. Why are her leverages compromised on the aid-hungry-nation like Ethiopia? Why is the U.S. end up buttressing the perpetrators of fragrant violators of human rights? Why did a noble America provide weapons for dictators, with which they kill, petrify, traumatize, terrorize, and rule their people? What is wrong with the U.S. human rights policy on Ethiopia? This book addresses that dilemma by investigating the foundations of American policy toward Ethiopia.
All rights reserved. Copyright © 2013. Kadiro Elemo. This excerpt can be redistributed for noncommercial.