Secretary Blinken’s travel to Ethiopia could strengthen ties.

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Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s recent trip to Ethiopia bodes well for the renewal of relations between the United States and Ethiopia. The long-standing diplomatic and political relationship between the two was recently disrupted by Ethiopia’s political transition, which was mired in conflict. Nonetheless, the latest peace agreement and cessation of hostilities in northern Ethiopia as well as the relative calm in other parts of the country has opened doors to restoration of full and unhindered partnership between the two countries.

Ethiopia officially established diplomatic and political relations with the United States in 1903, following nine days of meetings in Ethiopia between Emperor Menelik II and Robert P. Skinner, an emissary of President Theodore Roosevelt. Despite the distance between the two nations, the early period of relations also saw connections made between their peoples as well. In the late 1920s  and early 1930s a number of African Americans traveled to Ethiopia, such as John Robinson who became the commander of the Ethiopian Air Force, where they played a number of roles in the modernization of the country before the Italian attempted conquest in 1935. In fact up until this point, Ethiopia enjoyed the most favored nation status in Africa until 1935. 

Again, the United States alongside Great Britain helped insure Ethiopia’s independence and freedom from occupation once more by providing support to the patriots who fought Mussolini’s occupying force. Emperor Haile Selassie appreciated the United States as one of five countries who refused to recognize the Italian occupation.

Following the expulsion of the fascists, the United States qualified Ethiopia for the Lend-Lease economic assistance Program. President Roosevelt and Emperor Haile Selassie officially met in person on the USS Quincy in 1944, an event which further sealed the strategic partnership between the two nations. Throughout the emperor’s time as leader the relationship continued to strengthen. Ethiopia was America’s strongest partner in Africa. 

The violent overthrow of the emperor by revolutionary forces led by students of the early 1970s brought about a dark period in U.S/Ethiopia relations. Thousands of the former elite who held strong ties with the United States were purged with hundreds murdered. The revolution and the coupe sparked several civil wars. During this period Cold War tensions, the United States rescinded its long held support, and provided lethal military aid to neighboring Somalia, precipitating the bloody Ogaden war.

After the fall of the Derg regime in 1991, relationships between Ethiopia and the United States improved. Having been devastated by years of conflict, Ethiopia greatly benefited in its recovery from humanitarian and financial assistance facilitated by the U.S. In this period Ethiopia was known as the aid darling of the international community. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the preeminence of the United States, Africa welcomed respite from great power competition which had been destabilizing to the continent. This provided a stable environment for Ethiopia to develop economically.

Most Recently, Ethiopia once again went through another tumultuous transition. U.S officials went from supporting the transition to condemning it when war broke out between the old guards, who dominated politics in Ethiopia and the new guards led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Ethiopia’s intense ethnic and political rivalry threatened to tear this nation of 120 million apart. Holding multiple competing interests together while maintaining a functioning state has indeed been difficult. The political crisis in Ethiopia threatened to disrupt diplomatic relations between the two. Missed opportunities to collaborate on common interests of peace, stability, democracy and development deserve a reexamining.

Today we stand at a moment in history where once again past mistakes can be corrected. Ethiopia’s vibrant and young population is hopeful and looking forward to a peaceful country that is on a path towards economic development. In this regard, the U.S can support by reinstating AGOA, and facilitating needed debt restructuring efforts by the IMF. For its part Ethiopia will have to strengthen the peace agreement and pursue a framework of transitional justice for crimes committed during conflict. The long standing partnership with the United States can greatly help Ethiopia’s developing economy, while enhancing the security and stability of the region as a whole.

Ethiopia/US relations are at a crossroad. As implementation of the Pretoria Peace Agreement progresses in earnest, low intensity conflict persists in other parts of the country. The region is also experiencing an assortment of challenges and threats. These call for sound leadership and strong partnerships based on shared values and principles. Threats of economic sanctions & political isolation are not effective foreign policy tools. Ethiopia embraces transparent and accountable governance and respect for human rights, because these are organic values & core principles. These are also the shared values that bind  democracies everywhere. As the Secretary gets ready to visit Addis Ababa, these are the same values he must underscore to the leadership there; in his effort to strengthen Ethio/US partnership that has endured the test of time and politics for a century. 
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