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Monday, January 16, 2006

US to Sacrifice Democracy in Ethiopia?

EthioLion -- Jendayi Frazer, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, is on a crucial mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea. Her mission may be a turning point and a very bad news for those fighting for democracy in Ethiopia.

Here is why: According to a January 15, 2005 Reuters dispatch, quoting Princeton Lyman, former US ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria, Washington appears ready to help out Meles with his internal troubles in exchange for relinquishing Badme.

" Washington's leverage over Ethiopia is a promise to help Meles deal with a turbulent political situation at home and to persuade European donors to give back $375 million in aid they withheld over an opposition crackdown last year," writes Reuters.

That's precisely what the US appears to be doing. Ambassadors Frazer and Yamamoto have adamantly refused to pressure Meles to release jailed CUD leaders. Instead, the State Department calls for a fair and transparent trial.

This is laughable because there has been no independent judiciary in the last 14 years. The State Department knows this. The State Department's own human rights reports have documented egregious human rights violations and the lack of an independent judiciary.

The US has thrown its lot with Meles and the official position is that he is running a democracy, albeit a flawed one. Hence, the US plays down the stealing of elections, the killings and the mass arrests - including that of elected opposition leaders. All this is done in the name of fighting terrorism.

Ironically, the US wants to have it both ways: appearing to support democracy while backing a tyrant. Keeping Meles in power is at the core of US policy. Pro-regime lobbyists such as Paul Henze, mid and low-level State Department officials seem to have the sway when it comes to US Ethiopia policy. (Ambassador Frazer has had close relationship with the Ethiopian embassy in Washington and is reportedly favorably disposed to the current government.)

The backers of Meles use fear as the main weapon. Meles may be bad, but he is a known quantity. "He may be a tyrant; but he's our tyrant," appears to be the reasoning. Remember Teddy Roosevelt's famous utterance about Somoza? ""[He] may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

A disinformation campaign also appears to be underway. The campaign is to make it look like the US is doing something. So we see occasional, carefully crafted statements that appear to rebuke Meles. The object is to confuse the Diaspora and anyone else who may be critical of US policy.

Meles and his friends have also used the border situation with Eritrea to divert attention from the unprecedented domestic repressions and regime's fight for survival.

What does all this mean in the short-term?

1. The United States has decided to sacrifice the CUD leaders and thousands of others who are in jail to appease Meles. They may be in prison for a long time under one pretext or another.

2. The US may very well reverse the European decision to withhold $375 in economic assistance. One subterfuge currently under discussion and reportedly pushed by the US is to direct the money to regional "killil" governments. That way, the regime still gets the money and the West appears to have done something.

3. The regime has bought expensive lobbyists and friends in high places in Washington. But Meles is discredited; he has no domestic legitimacy or support. The US cannot continue to support an unpopular regime indefinitely.

4. The avenue for a peaceful struggle has been closed by the ruling party. This appears to be forcing Ethiopians at home to explore alternatives to fight for their liberty.

5. There are tough times ahead for those fighting for democracy in Ethiopia. We should be aware of the reality but WE SHOULD NOT BE DISCOURAGED. We should be prepared for a long-term fight, not a quick brawl.

6. Ethiopians in the Diaspora have a special responsibility under these circumstances: unite on the basis of opposition to the Meles regime andto pull our money and intellect together to make a difference. Above all, we have a special obligation not to remain silent.

The writer may be reached at mesfin10@aol.com

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