World and Regional Powers Shape the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia Bites the Dust

If the US aspires to protect its long-held vital interests and democratic values in its relations with Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, it is time to reset its ill-consulted policies pushed by the Egyptian and Tigray rebels paid US lobbyists, organizations that are interested in nothing but the destabilization of the Ethiopian State, and anti-Ethiopian forces hoping for the countrys disintegration along ethnic lines. Therefore, US officials should learn a lesson or two from careful approaches adopted by sub-Saharan African states, Eastern African statesown Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), eastern powers such as China and the Russian Federation and other partner countries like Turkey.

The most important lesson for the Biden administration would be to first research and learn about the underlying historical and current challenges and to then stand for the national unity of all Ethiopians. It should not continue with its impartial support of a belligerent rebel group like the TPLF. Moreover, it is also time for a renewed look at what has come to be an anti-black African approach exhibited by the US’s open bias for a regional international actor like Egypt that has always worked to undermine the development aspiration of the Abay (Nile) basin countries in general and the Ethiopian State and its over 110 million citizens hope for anything but domestic instability in particular.

– Yohannes Gedamu, Daily Sabah

What a Mess!

Ethiopia is bordered by Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, Eritrea, and Djibouti, collectively these countries comprise the Horn of Africa.  Ethiopia is a landlocked country located about 310 miles (500 Kilometers) from the Bab-al-Mandeb waterway, a strategic chokepoint that serves as a critical shipping route between the Red Sea, Suez Canal-Mediterranean, Gulf of Aden/Arabian Ocean and the Indian Ocean.

Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed’s (a Nobel Prize winner) government there is likely to be defeated, or forced to capitulate, to the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front led by Debretsion Gebermichael (his children are US citizens) and a dizzying array of allies known as the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces. The United Front consists of the following groups: the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front, Agaw Democratic Movement, the Benishangul People’s Liberation Movement, the Gambella Peoples Liberation Army, the Global Kimant People Right and Justice Movement/ Kimant Democratic Party, the Sidama National Liberation Front, the Somali State Resistance, and the Oromo Liberation Army.

As this article is being written Gebermichael’s forces are on the move to Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa and the Ahmed’s military forces seem to be melting away. In a sure sign of desperation. Ahmed has urged the citizens of Addis Ababa to fight rebel forces “using whatever weapons they have,” according to National Public Radio. Ahmed has declared and State of Emergency and the US State Department has told Americans to leave immediately.

Ethiopian expats I spoke with are astonished at the turn of events in Ethiopia, particularly that Gebermichael’s Tigray forces have garnered so much support, and they are perplexed at the lack of US support for Ahmed. They see Gebermichael as a disgruntled opportunist who encourages propaganda that maligns what they view as the legitimate government in Addis Ababa. Gebermichael “refuses to entertain any proposals by Ahmed’s government for peace and the Tigray’s will stop at nothing but the overthrow of Ahmed’s government,” one Ethiopian expat named Daniel said. “The Tigray leadership have taken all the money that the central government has given them and enriched themselves, sending their children to schools abroad in the United States,” he told me.

Being that the situation in Ethiopia has turned into a civil war, it is hard to know what news coming from both parties constitutes disinformation and what does not. For example, Eritrea (an ally of Ethiopia in the conflict) has been accused of allowing the United Arab Emirates to launch its drones from the Eritrea port town of Assab against the Tigray forces fighting Ahmed’s army. According to the Voice of America:

“The report comes after repeated claims by the Tigrayan side of the use of UAE military drones by the Ethiopian military. Tigrayan politician Getachew Reda tweeted last month that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is now enlisting the support of UAE drones based in Assab in his devastating war against the people of Tigray…drones operated by the UAE are stationed in the Eritrean port city of Assab. The 20-meter wingspan, Chinese-made drones known as the Wing Loong II are capable of dropping bombs or shooting missiles. It’s true that there are Emirati drones based in Eritrea, Wim Zwijnenburg told VOA via Skype. “However, the next question is whether they have been used in Ethiopia. And, in that regard, we couldn’t find any indication that the Emiratis would fly drones in Ethiopia.”

Who knows for sure?

US Foreign Policy Blunder

Meanwhile the crown jewel of Ethiopia, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD– a source of much pride for Ethiopians), has Sudan and Egypt up in arms in fear of the life-giving waters of the Nile River being diverted away from the two countries. It is nonsense of course as blocking the water supply of Sudan and Egypt would lead directly to war. Oddly enough, Gebremichael oversaw construction of the $4 billion dam when he was the State Power Minister within the Ethiopian government until fired by Ahmed in 2018.

When Donald Trump was President, he made an off-hand remark that Egypt would probably blow-up Ethiopia’s dam. According to the Africa Report:

 “Trump chastised Ethiopia for rejecting his proposed deal and suggested that Egypt might eventually have to blow it up…Beyond what they confirmed about the president’s rhetorical rashness, they also revealed what has been wrong about the US approach to the ongoing dispute over the Blue Nile’s waters and why a reset is badly needed. For Ethiopia, Trump’s remarks were the latest in a string of steps that have convinced Addis Ababa that Washington, far from being an honest broker in resolving GERD-related tensions between it and its downstream neighbors, seeks to squeeze it into submission. The other most notable one was the partial cut in US aid following Ethiopia’s decision to impound water in the dam’s reservoir without agreement from Egypt or Sudan, the downstream states. A retaliatory measure Trump was quick to brag about in his call with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and military council leader Fattah al-Burhan.”

Many thousands of Ethiopians demonstrated recent in Addis Ababa in support of Ahmed, reported National Public Radio, and “death to America” cries were heard. That’s probably because President Joe Biden’s administration is placing its bets on the Tigray’s seizing the day.

The Ethiopian civil war has extended to the halls of the US Congress with Washington, DC lobbying firms getting cash from each side in the conflict. Politico reports that Venable is working for the Ethiopian government at a rate of $35,000 per month. The Tigray Center for Information and Communication based in Virginia has hired Von Batten-Montague-York “to push the Biden administration and Congress for the removal of all Eritrean military personnel and militia from Tigray,” according to Politico.

The Horn of Africa: Dante’s Inferno

Across the Bab-al-Mandeb sits Yemen, the site of a war between Saudi Arabia and Houthi rebels, ostensibly supported by Iran. Yemen is the site of a proxy war that pits the United States and Saudi Arabia against Iran’s proxy the Houthi’s. This conflict has turned Yemen into a failed state.

To Ethiopia’s north lies Sudan, a country disassembling as a military coup has overthrown the elected government there. According to the Atlantic Council, Sudan has become sort of a playground for other nation’s interests and the US could become a bit player:

“A new era for US diplomacy in Africa—one in which the United States is one of many powerful actors vying for influence to shape political outcomes. In a context where Washingtons voice is diluted amid competing powers, Sudan has emerged as the ultimate battleground. Although Sudan has always sat at a strategic crossroads, the revolution has re-shuffled the political deck in the country, and opportunity has emerged for new global players eager to exploit more than just the countrys rich gold deposits or strategic location. Egypt has long looked paternalistically at Sudan, and while its official statements have called for calm, no one expects Cairo to demand a restoration of civilian rule or adherence to the transitional constitution considering the circumstances of General Abdul Fattah al-Sisis own rise to power. Similarly, Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have long seen Sudan as a national-security imperative—not only as a vital security partner across the Red Sea, but as a principal source of the livestock and grain that those desert societies demand in abundance.  Though late to the party, Russia has shrewdly engaged Sudanese security officials through negotiations over a naval basing agreement and growing informal ties between Sudans notorious Rapid Support Forces militia and the Russian mercenary group Wagner. The not-so-hidden hand of Turkey, Qatar, and Kuwait—all in search of bigger military contracts, investment opportunities, or political leverage against larger Gulf states—has only widened the options available to Sudanese leaders searching for a lifeline.”

To the southwest of Ethiopia lies Kenya, a relatively bright star on the African Continent. The World Bank reports that:

“Kenya has the potential to be one of Africas success stories, given its growing youthful population, a dynamic private sector, skilled workforce, improved infrastructure, a new constitution, and its pivotal role in East Africa. Addressing the challenges of poverty, inequality, governance, the skills gap between market requirements and the education curriculum, climate change, low investment and low firm productivity to achieve rapid, sustained growth rates that will transform lives of ordinary citizens, will be a major goal for Kenya.”

Most Americans probably know Somalia (bordering Ethiopia) best from the movie Black Hawk Down which depicts the botched 1993 US military operation in Mogadishu. It appears not much has changed since 1993: Somalia remains one of the poorest and most underdeveloped country in the world since then. It is infested with terrorist groups of all stripes and most all nations on the planet advise their citizens to stay away from the place. Border disputes, internal strife between terrorist factions and the Transitional Federal Government, plus kidnappings and piracy are the norm.

Eritrea sits astride the Red Sea. It waged a vicious war with Ethiopia for independence which finally came in 2018. The country is impoverished, and its people live under autocratic rule. Eritrea has lent fighting forces to Ahmed’s government in Addis Ababa.

What About Djibouti?

Great Power Competition betwixt and between the United States China, Russia, France, Japan, Spain, and Italy is most clearly on display in Djibouti. That country of approximate 1 million people is home to military bases, large and small, for each nation. For example, the US Navy oversees Camp Lemonnier, a jump off point for combat operations deeper into the African Continent to pursue terrorists. Lemonneir also hosts American warships used to protect commercial shipping from pirates or spillover from the fighting in Yemen. Djibouti also plays a key role in China’s One Belt, One Road strategy. China has invested billions not only in Djibouti but also Ethiopia.

The Port of Djibouti is a strategic commercial port and a critical transit point for Ethiopian exports and imports. Its sales pitch is located at portdedjibouti.com.

“The Port of Djibouti is located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, at the intersection of major international shipping lines connecting Asia, Africa and Europe. The Port is a minimal deviation from the principal East-West trade route and provides a secure regional hub for trans-shipment and relay of goods. Since 1998, the Port handled 100% of Ethiopias maritime traffic, which moves to and from Addis Ababa by truck and rail. To accommodate this important business, the Port has made many additional dry yard areas available. The Port of Djibouti is ideally located to serve the COMESA market, linking 19 countries and 380 million peoples.”

Djibouti is a stable nation thanks in part to its ports, and the fact that foreign military powers have bases large and small there, all eagerly welcomed by Djibouti’s government. Djibouti earns most of its cash by charging for military basing rights and providing port services.

It is said Djibouti has lovely beaches.

John Stanton is a Virginia based writer. Reach him at captainkong22@gmail.com