Magazine article New African

Eritrea-Ethiopia Tensions: As Eritrean-Ethiopian Tensions Rise Again, the Need for a Comprehensive US Foreign Policy towards the Horn of Africa, with Less Emphasis on Counter-Terrorism and Security and More on Promoting Democracy Is Vital

Magazine article New African

Eritrea-Ethiopia Tensions: As Eritrean-Ethiopian Tensions Rise Again, the Need for a Comprehensive US Foreign Policy towards the Horn of Africa, with Less Emphasis on Counter-Terrorism and Security and More on Promoting Democracy Is Vital

Article excerpt

Fighting broke out in June in Ethiopia and Eritrea's disputed border region. There are unconfirmed reports of "significant casualties" on both sides. The 1998-2000 conflict, over the exact location of the border, led to the deaths of an estimated 80,000 people. In 2000, the fighting halted following the Algiers peace deal, a deal never fully implemented. The two neighbours have been in a state of "neither war nor peace".

Both sides have been hurling vitriolic accusations against the other. Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki, at celebrations to mark 25 years of the country's independence in May, accused Ethiopia of being hostile to Eritrea's sovereignty. Earlier this year, Ethiopia s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said his country was ready to take "proportionate military action against Eritrea" for what he described as "continuous acts of provocation and destabilisation of Ethiopia".

This recent flare-up not only illustrates ongoing regional strategic disputes in the Horn of Africa, but also the need for a comprehensive US foreign policy towards the Horn of Africa with less emphasis on counter-terrorism and security and more on promoting democracy, human rights, good governance, press freedom, ethnic minority rights and so forth.

The Bush Jr. and Obama administration's obsession with there being a terrorist under every bed has only led to a Cold Warlike situation where undemocratic leaders in the Horn are left to their own devices as long as they cooperate with counter-terrorism effort.

Whichever political party wins the next US presidential election, there is a need to formulate a regional diplomatic strategy, to include Somalia and Kenya, promoting conflict resolution, human rights, democracy and good governance. This would help to keep terrorism and extremism at bay. One of the main tensions is the US's unabashed bias towards Ethiopia, at the expense of Eritrea. In 1953, for example, the US and Ethiopia signed agreements that gave Washington a 25-year lease on bases in Eritrea (when the country was part and parcel of Ethiopia through a UN-backed federation), and the US pledged military aid and training to Ethiopia.

Between 1953 and 1960 US military advisors built sub-Saharan Africa's first modern army, with three divisions of 6,000 men each. US military aid to Ethiopia from 1946 to 1975 totalled over $286m, two thirds of Washington's annual military assistance to all of Africa. At its peak, there were more than 6,000 US citizens working in the country in one capacity or another, including 925 Peace Corps volunteers, almost twice as many as in the rest of the continent. The US also provided Ethiopia with more than $350m in economic assistance, and became its largest trading partner.

US support for Ethiopia waned during the 1970s, due partly to the increased significance of other regions, and the Derg overthrew Haile Selassie and realigned itself with the USSR.

The 9-11 attacks on the US saw relations with Ethiopia warm, as the US established a close counterterrorism partnership with Addis Ababa. In 2001, Washington declared Ethiopia the US's principal counter-terrorism ally and USAid, which contributed $460m to Ethiopia in food aid assistance in 2005, boasted of the country being "of strategic importance to the United States because of its geographic position".

This cuts little ice in Asmara, the Eritrean capital, irked at Ethiopia's refusal to recognise the neutral five-man boundary commission's ruling of 2002, which awarded the disputed border town of Badme to them.

Most analysts agree Washington's lethargy in pressurising the Ethiopian government to once and for all accept the commission's findings is unacceptable. Eritrea's relationship with the West in general and the US in particular has been centred around US military, security and surveillance interests and far less on the concerns of the people of Eritrea.

Not long after the end of WWII, the US began working with the British to develop a communications facility in Asmara known as Radio Marina. …

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