Post: The Century-Old USA-Ethiopia Wax and Wane Relationship and the Tigray Region Crisis By Prof. Mesfin Genanaw October 2021

The Century-Old USA-Ethiopia Wax and Wane Relationship and the Tigray Region Crisis By Prof. Mesfin Genanaw October 2021

The Century-Old USA-Ethiopia Wax and Wane Relationship and the Tigray Region Crisis

“One always measures friendships by how they show up in bad weather”
Winston Churchill
By Mesfin Genanaw

The relationship b/n the USA and Ethiopia dates back over hundred years when the two countries signed a Treaty of Commerce in 1903 by Republican US President Theodore Roosevelt and Ethiopia’s emperor Menelik II. The friendship started with President  Roosevelt gifting two guns and a writing machine to the Ethiopian Emperor. The Emperor reciprocated with a gift of two lions and two elephant tusks – the African way. The United States was one of the few powerful countries that refused to recognize Ethiopia’s Italian attempted conquest in 1935.

The relationship blossomed during Ethiopia’s longest-reigning Emperor, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie, to the extent of sending his elite Kagnew Battalion 􀍴 an over 3000 strong military to join the US military during the Korean war. Hundreds of Ethiopians  either died or were wounded along with Americans at the Korean war. That alliance forged by blood reached its climax in His Majesty’s six State visits to the United States from 1954 to 1973.

HIM most colorful appearance with the Democratic President John of Kennedy at the white house in 1963, just days before his unfaithful assassination in Dallas, Texas was memorable. The cordial relationship b/n the two countries seemed cemented with blood until the former Soviet Union armed Somalia with superior and vast military hardware to fulfill its long-standing dream of creating the Greater Somalia by unifying all ethnic Somalis in the region.

In 1969, HIM appealed to the United States about the imminent danger to his country from the heavily armed Soviet-backed Somalia that built a naval base at Berbera, Somalia. Archives of the memo of the man who held both the posts of National Security Adviser and Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, to President Nixon depicted the Emperor’s desperate appeal for help as “an exaggerated threat” and rejected the request. Kissinger’s then “dismissiveness” of Africa’s strategic value and the lessened strategic importance of  the Kagnaw Station in Asmara; the fact that the Emperor assisted, equipped, and trained many African liberation fronts against colonialism and apartheid; his active membership to the “Non Alliance” movement; his unwillingness to make internal reform, and his decision to severe Ethiopia’s relation with Israel in1973 to appease the newly independent Arab countries in Africa did not bode well with some elements in the west.

Once seen as the most towering figure in Africa and beyond, HIM Haile Selassie became so weak internally that he was deposed easily from power by the Armed Forces Coordinating Committee known as the Dergue led by one of the low-ranking Colonels, Mengistu  Hailemariam, in 1974. He used the weak Ethiopian military and the excesses of the feudal system as his rallying cause to depose and kill the Emperor and many highlevel officials mercilessly. However, as the Emperor had feared, Somalia declared war against the  politically unstable and drought-plagued Ethiopia in 1977, with three to five times superiority in tanks, artillery, MiG fighter jets, and other advanced weapons. Led by Soviet military advisors, Somalia occupied almost all Eastern Ethiopia within weeks. Despite the  growing rift b/n the USA and Ethiopia over the human rights issue and Ethiopia’s dropping off America’s most favored list, Ethiopia’s new dictator sent money to the longtime ally United States to buy weapons to defend the nation.

The newly elected Carter Administration withheld the money and rejected the request. President Carter’s decision not to supply arms to Ethiopia when the Soviet-backed aggressor occupied its sovereign territory was considered by Ethiopians not just as a snub to  Mengistu but as a betrayal of the Ethiopian nation-state. Ethiopians rallied behind dictator Mengistu to defeat the invading Somalian army. Angry at the denial, Mengistu Hailemariam, who had a communistic tendency, reversed course and tried hard to woo China  or help. Still, when that did not bring significant support, he headed to the superpower that supplied arms to his enemy – Moscow. Moscow, who was happy with the fall of America’s staunch supporter, HIM, embraced the leader of the bigger fish in the Horn of  frica, gave him a crash course on Soviet communist ideology, and sent him back with more weapons and thousands of Cuba’s militaries. The Soviet Union immediately awarded Ethiopia an estimated $400 million military aid – more than the United States had  estowed Ethiopia in three decades of an alliance. It also provided an estimated 11,000 Cuban troops and hundreds of Soviet military advisors and communist cadres.

Having let go, Ethiopia, an anchor country in the Horn with greater symbolic, geographic, and political influence in Africa, the Carter Administration made a 180 degree turn around and started new relation with Ethiopia’s enemy, Somalia, at the insistence of wealthy Saudis who were willing to give hundreds of millions of dollars to Somalia to buy weapons to deter Soviet influences in the region. It was a dramatic moment in the cold war history for Ethiopia and Somalia to switch the long-lived alliances overnight. The former Soviet ally Somalia became part of the Western bloc, and Ethiopia became part of the Soviet bloc. Many had feared the Horn becoming another cold war flashpoint for a bigger war.


Nonetheless, Ethiopia defeated Somalia and quickly regained its lost territory. The Carter administration warned Ethiopia not to enter the proper Somalia territory to minimize its loss and prestige. The country that had long aspired to become “the Greater Somalia” ended up becoming a great failed state in the Horn for more than two decades. The consequence of this instability eventually produced the al Shabaab militia to power. The USA continues to spend billions of dollars to fight the Alshibab terrorist group in Somalia on top of American men and women in the military who lost their lives during the fight at Mogadishu in the 1990s. Had Presidents Carter and Nixon provided the requested military aid and purchase to Ethiopia, Somalia may not have dared to invade Ethiopia, and the current Alshibab problem would not have arisen in the first place. Incidentally, Sudan should also note this history as it has now embarked on becoming a hub for anti-Ethiopian elements to destabilize Ethiopia.

The Greater Tigray Project
The United States, after briefly supporting moderate but ineffective opposition parties operating outside Ethiopia against Mengistu Hailemariam unsuccessfully, it courted to power the brutal & tribal Albanian style communist, TPLF, that claims to represent a mere 6% of ethnic Tigrayans in Ethiopia, and one that was listed as Tier III terrorist organization under INA section 212(a)(3)(B)(vi)(III) prior to its ascendancy to power in 1991.

Ethiopians were generally happy that the United States is mediating the outgoing government, TPLF, EPLF, and other opposition parties against Mengistu to form an all-inclusive transitional government. To the bewilderment of Ethiopians, the former US Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen recommended that TPLF led EPRDF ethnic parties to enter Addis Ababa at the London conference, ignoring the outgoing government and other pro-Ethiopia opposition parties. They were not even included in the meeting when this decision was made.

TPLF did not waste time to redrew Ethiopia’s historical regions to its advantage along Ethno-linguistic lines (a la Mussolini’s brief occupation of Ethiopia) to pit one ethnic group against another – the only sure way TPLF to stay at the helm of power. The newly formed political parties are constitutionally ethnic, and the redrawn regions are given ethnic names. The new scheme was designed to make people forget their shared Ethiopian identity and embrace only their differences. It made people feel like second-class  citizens if the ethnic name of the ground they step on doesn’t match with their language and ethnic lineage, whether they are born there or not – a sure way to destroy the social fabric of multi-ethnic Ethiopia.

TPLF also forcefully annexed abutting regions from Wollo and Gondar (traditionally ethnic Amara regions) bordering Sudan into Tigray proper to eventually fulfill another pipe dream in the Horn, “The Greater Tigray Republic,” in contravention of the rules and regulations of the African Union. Most ethnic indigenous Amhara landowners in these regions (mostly in Welkait and Humera) were either pushed out or killed to make way for new settlers from Tigray. Those who speak Amharic publicly were harassed or detained. A step-by-step plan was in the works to encroach Gondar’s Ras Dashen Mountain and the UNESCO world heritage Lalibela church in Wollo, Benshangul, and Gambela and a big chunk of Eritrea as part of the Greater Tigray experiment.

A couple of years after TPLF was anointed to national power, it pushed out its partner OLF, which it initially tried to keep as a strategic ally, to become the sole decision-maker in Ethiopia. Widespread atrocities were committed across the country, including Oromia, Amhara, Gambela, Somali, and Addis Ababa. In 2016 at the Oromo Irreecha cultural event alone, hundreds of people were killed following a stampede triggered by security forces’ firing of live bullets against the crowd in response to their vocal opposition against TPLF.

In its heydays, TPLF became invincible. It owned the banks, the tanks, and the ranks (including key domestic and international positions), to do whatever benefits the Tigrayan elites and their allies across the country. But the struggle for freedom became so heated when the Amhara youth in Gondar and Gojam joined the Oromo youth to put the country in a tailspin.

In 2018, nationwide demonstrations and the repudiation of the TPLF and its puppet EPRDF parties forced TPLF to concede power to internal reformers. Dr. Abiy Ahmed was elected by the EPRDF (after so much internal struggle) to become the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia despite enormous resistance by the don of the organization, TPLF. But TPLF conceded power only temporarily with a secretive plan B and C to return to power. An assassination attempt was made against the Prime Minister at a public rally at Meskel Square. It was alleged TPLF planned the attempt using radical OLF operatives (now known as OLA or OLF Shene). However, at that time, no mention was made about TPLF as it was part of the EPRDF coalition, and almost all high-level senior military officers were TPLF commanders. This was followed by several soldiers marching to the national Palace allegedly to kill the prime minister on October 16, 2018. When those attempts failed, TPLF made sure to pack all Tigrayan military officers to the top brass of the Northern Command in Tigray where up to 80% of Ethiopia’s military arsenal is deployed with a hidden motive of executing Plan C – make the country ungovernable by financing ethnic strife around the nation, attack the Northern command, grab all of the heavy military arsenal and conduct insurrection against the Federal government, return to power and use article 39 of TPLF’s constitution and create the Greater Tigray Republic after doing away the Ethiopian nation state.

US Policy to Ethiopia under Trump
The Trump administration arguably supported the easing out of TPLF from power in 2018 following the three-year arrest in the Oromo and Amhara regions. Until such a time, the GERD issue heated up, and his government patently favored Egypt; he was generally supportive of Ethiopia’s transition to Abiy Ahmed’s government. But later, his secretary of Treasury pressured Ethiopia publicly to enter into an agreement that he has drafted and restrict its inviolable right to use the Nile water, which it originates 85% of. Ethiopia rejected the proposal. Angry at the turn of events, just weeks before his election, Trump made a public comment that Egypt would not be able to live with the dam and might “blow up” the construction. It may well be hot air, but that statement from the president pleased Egyptians and geared up many Ethiopian Americans to vote against him in mass during the last presidential election. US Census report shows there are nearly twice Ethiopian Americans in the USA who the former president could have angered than Egyptian Americans who would have been pleased by his statement. The relationship b/n the two governments went south after that comment, including withholding an allocated 130 million aid to Ethiopia. Most Ethiopian Americans were joyed that Biden won the election.

The Obama and Biden Administration
In many ways, the Biden Administration policy was a reset of the Obama administration after four years of intermission. Ethiopians were jubilated when Obama was first elected as President of the United States. However, when he visited Ethiopia in July 2015, after saying and doing all the right things, he made a serious lapse in his speech for a man known for choosing his words very carefully, whether scripted or extemporaneous, that shocked the democracy hungry nation. Ethiopians heard him say in their own capital that the Ethiopian government was “Democratically Elected”. The fact that a sitting US president, leader of the free world, would give such a stamp approval to the TPLF government that jailed, tortured, and killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians, political prisoners, and journalists and terrorized the nation for decades and rigged elections – winning 100% of the seats – was a mockery of what “democracy” is all about. TPLF’s ruthlessness was not unknown to United States, but this event gave a sign of how some of his former associates who now run the Biden’s State Department were so close to the TPLF, to the extent of ditching the will of more than a 100 million democracy famished Ethiopians. Many Ethiopians now believe TPLF would not have conceded power without a bloody fight in 2018 had it been President Obama or President Biden in the white house because of their staff’s close association with the TPLF.

Fast forward to November 4, 2020, TPLF attacked the Northern Command headquarters in Mekelle and bases in Adigrat, Agula, Dansha, and Sero and killed hundreds of unsuspected non-Tigrayan soldiers and commanders in their sleep and reportedly drove heavy truck on many detained non-Tigrayan ENDF soldiers to fulfill its plan C – seizing 80% of Ethiopia’s military hardware and long-range missiles to get back to power. These victims were national military personnel stationed in Tigray for over two decades, some of whom formed families with local Tigrayans. The attack by TPLF was admitted by a former TPLF top spokesman and confirmed publicly by former US Secretary of State Pompeo and former Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy. TPLF also killed 1,564 Amhara
civilians (according to the latest count) in Mai Kadra town just days after their attack on ENDF. The attack was confirmed by Amnesty International and Ethiopian Human Rights Council. UNECEF also reported that the TPLF forces killed 240 civilians, including 107 children by attacking the Afar region – the only corridor through which food aid goes to Tigray.

The Hypocrisy of Western Powers and the Media
Despite the stated reports of genocide and massacre by TPLF, at no point has the Biden administration or any western power condemned the attacked or called for the TPLF to lay down its arms nor any of the popular liberal media reported it. However, after the federal government gathered an army from around the nation and went on the offensive to subvert the insurrection and capture the leaders of TPLF, and defeated TPLF and controlled Mekele (the seat of the regional government) in three weeks, all hell broke loose to stop the advance of the federal army by the USA, European powers, aid organizations and many liberal media outlets accusing the Abiy government of genocide and large-scale sexual violence with no solid evidence on hand. While attacks on civilians by all should be condemned, building a tendentious case against the Ethiopian military and Amhara militia based on unsupported “evidence”, half-truths, speculation, and subjective claims quoting “eyewitnesses” from a TPLFites or territory fully controlled by TPLF or Ethiopian avowed enemies is not judicious. A recently Leaked audio recording of a March 26 United Nations agencies meeting reveals how the investigators feel the media sensationalizes the situation and even spreads misinformation and lack of evidence on allegations of mass sexual violence in Tigray except for anecdotal references. To the extent these crimes have been committed by the Ethiopian army, the Abiy government should investigate the matter and take swift and decisive action against the perpetrators. The attempt by the US and some allies to repudiate the Ethiopian government at the UN security council of genocide and widespread violations was foiled by Russia, China, India, and some other countries. The western media and governments have muddled supporting the Tigrayan people during this very challenging time with supporting the criminal TPLF that caused their sufferings.

The west’s selective outrage and call for negotiation when the Abiy government takes the upper hand to defend the insurrection and the complete stillness when TPLF commits egregious crimes on civilians and children has become too frequent. Ethiopians now feel the well-coordinated call for “human rights,” and denunciation of the federal government has a different agenda just as the “civilizing mission” was used as justification during the colonization of Africa. Even though it might have worked to isolate Ethiopia from the west and some of its neighbors, it has backfired and awakened the always cautious Ethiopian public from within to fall in line with the prime minister like never since the start of the Tigray conflict. President Biden is repeating President Carter’s mistake of pushing Ethiopia to the East after almost five decades.

In fairness, the US and other partners in Europe have provided a huge amount of development and food aid to needy Ethiopians for many years. But in the current crises, they have totally lost credibility to mediate the dispute. By shaming and bombarding the Abiy government and his military by well-funded media outlets in a coordinated fashion framing the narrative, the west has indeed emboldened TPLF and resuscitated the TPLF from the dead, and provided moral support to expand deep into the Afar and Amhara  territory using child soldiers to execute its scorched-earth warfare against innocent Amhara and Afar farmers and their children.

Is Abiy going against the western interest?
PM Abiy Ahmed continues the neo-liberal philosophy of his predecessor TPLF and still supports the US security umbrella provided by AFRICOM and AMISOM. In May 2021, Abiy’s government awarded its first big project and first telecom license to the US and Europe-funded consortium of Safaricom, Vodafone, and Vodacom to build an $8bn network in the country over the next decade. These facts show his commitment to expanding private investment and Ethiopia’s outsized participation in the anti-terrorist operation in Africa. TPLF itself spearheaded the much-talked-about expansion of Chinese investment in Ethiopia. No visible Chinese investment was made since Abiy came to power. Given those facts, one wonders why the Biden administration and the western governments are so animated to support the criminal TPLF in this conflict ignoring their strategic alliances with Ethiopia? It may well be (1) TPLF’s strong and long personal association with the US and European governments, the international media, donors, and aid agencies (2) Egypt and powerful Arabs lobby of the US administration to weaken Ethiopia and push her to sign unfair Nile water agreement with Egypt and Sudan (3) Ethiopia’s inability to match the well-funded campaign to discredit its government and its development goals (4) to deflate this proud and unyielding Nobel laureate African leader or replace him by a more malleable leader to western interest. Or it could be some combination of the above reasons. But western governments should know that had TPLF won in its  insurrection in November 2020 in its desire to create the Republic of Tigray and disintegrate this ancient, proud nation, Europe and neighboring countries would have millions of displaced refugees at their doorsteps. The west can support victims in Tigray and other places without supporting the criminal TPLF to destabilize the Horn of Africa.

Ethiopian Americans
Like Ethiopians in the homeland, the Biden administration’s Ethiopia policy has turned off many Ethiopian Americans around the United States. An estimated one million three-generation Ethiopian Americans are in the United States though the official census shows lower than this number. The overwhelming majority of Ethiopians support the democratic efforts underway in Ethiopia over the TPLF that ruled the country for 27 years with brute force using a divide and conquer strategy. Ethiopian Americans are currently re-thinking the support they have lavishly given to Democrats for decades. Like Cuban Americans, Jewish Americans, and many others, most Ethiopians are single-issue voters regarding homeland matters. Ethiopia-policy trumps everything. Their votes could make a significant difference in battleground states like Georgia, Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia in the coming elections in the United States.

Recent television images of how the US-backed Afghanistan government collapsed within days and how the USA was caught off-guard despite staying there for decades and spending trillions of dollars show the intelligence failure of the highest order. In the same vein, the Biden Administration’s desire to form a transitional type of government of hodgepodge self-appointed ethnic elites led by criminal TPLF by ignoring the votes of 38 million Ethiopians who participated in the recent election shows its lack of understanding of the country and its intelligence failure.

To judge the heartlessness of TPLF against its own people, one must look at how a disproportionate third of Tigrayans, close to two million people, lived under a safety net aid program from the international community for decades. At the same time, it was the sole decision-maker in the country for twenty-seven solid years, and its elites owned most of Ethiopia’s modern economy through the Relief Society of Tigray (REST), EFFORT, Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT) and hundreds of its parastatal companies exempted from taxes. They were used to embezzle billions of dollars in the name of the suffering poor Tigrayans. According to Transparency International, an estimated average of US$1.3 billion to US$3.2 billion dollars left Ethiopia as IFFs every year when they were at the helm of power for nearly three decades. They are now forcing poor Tigrayans under their safety net program (maybe intentionally kept there to be used someday), under-age children, and those who got poorer due to the conflict to fight their war against their fellow countrymen to the south. This is a scammer organization that some western governments now provide unwarranted moral, diplomatic, and media support in the name of protecting the “human rights” of the Tigrayan people.

Stopping the madness
War destroys communities and families and disrupts the fabric of a nation. The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry by this war. But TPLF started this war by attacking the northern command of the federal army (violating what many would consider the eleventh commandment) after preparing for it for three years. No nation on the planet would tolerate this action. TPLF can’t stand being equal, let alone live as a junior partner proportionate to its representation. Three generations of Ethiopians have suffered from the civil war started by TPLF, and negotiation is not in TPLF’s DNA. Many elders and religious leaders, including the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox T. Church, had begged them to negotiate with the government before the war started. Some mothers have cried on
the leaders􀍛 feet. But their ignorance is only exceeded by their enormous hubris. From its inception, TPLF only used negotiation to buy time for the opportune moment to strike back. It did it with TLF, OLF, Shabia, and many others. Tens of thousands of young men and women, including children, may have died with TPLF’s reckless adventure.

Currently, Ethiopia has been pushed by the USA, EU, and international organizations beyond a point where it doesn’t care anymore. After all, a country develops only when it is self-reliant, peaceful, and not become susceptible to outside interference. For this war to end, TPLF must somehow stand down, and the surviving leaders of this organization may be allowed to leave the country for the sake of saving innocent lives. Dialogue must start b/n civilian elders on both sides to deescalate the tensions and begin healing the bloody wounds. The people of Tigray should be free to elect whoever leads them. I am of the opinion no free man or woman elects his/her oppressor if the fear of retaliation is lifted from their heads.

Looking back into history, the 16th American president, Abraham Lincoln, ordered his militia and federal army to suppress the Confederate army that opened fire on the federal garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay on April 12, 1861, to stop the insurrection. This event triggered the civil war b/n American people over differences in the moral and economic value of slavery. President Lincoln􀍛s administration and most of the Northern American people refused to recognize the legitimacy of secession for fear that it  would discredit democracy and would eventually fragment the United States into several small, squabbling countries. Ethiopia is facing a similar situation after 160 years. But the administration of the 46th American president is siding with the TPLF confederate army that openly vowed to destroy a nation that existed for thousands of years and an ally of the United States for decades. This would make President Lincoln roll over in his grave.