August 27, 2012 · 0 Comments
Above: Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who took office as part of the “new generation” of pro-democracy African leaders, stifled dissent by cracking down on journalists and political rivals. Cris Bouroncle/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images
By Michael McGehee:
Ethiopia’s “repressive prime minister,” Meles Zenawi, died last week from a “secondary infection,” reported New York Times journalist Jeffrey Gettleman.
Most notable in Gettleman’s article is that Zenawai “worked closely with Washington,” and had a “penchant for violence in quashing dissent.” Gettleman also writes that, “Ethiopia is widely considered one of Africa’s most repressive governments, though it continues to receive more than $800 million in American aid each year.”
Last year the leftist media source CounterPunch published the article “Funding Genocide in the Horn of Africa” by Eritrean journalist, Thomas C. Mountain, wherein the journalist noted how “For the past four years all aid agencies, including the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and UN relief agencies have been blocked by the Ethiopian military from feeding starving people in Ogadenia.” Mountain wrote that this was made possible by “the western countries and their puppets in the U.N. who pump billions of dollars a year into propping up the Meles Zenawi regime in Ethiopia,” and that, “While the exact amount is hidden deep inside the opaque reports gathering dust in the offices of the international financial cartels, the IMF reported that in 2010 Ethiopia’s import bill was $8.7 billion while it exported only $1.7 billion.” Mountain says this is ”$7 billion a year, in direct cash grants, loans that are inevitably forgiven (the bulk of so called African debt relief) or various methods involving financial chicanery, the bill has to be paid or the west knows all to well how quickly their East African henchman Meles Zenawi’s followers will abandon him.”
It would seem “more than $800 million” is a bit of an understatement, because it is highly unlikely that Europe (primarily Germany and UK) and Japan are not making up the remaining $6.2 billion that are given to Ethiopia each year.
In another New York Times article, “Death of a Strongman,” this time by journalist Dayo Olopade, we are informed how the “strongman” was rewarded by “major donor countries like the United States and Britain, which bankrolled Ethiopia’s development efforts in exchange for Meles’s strong hand in regional security policy.” This was later referred to as “Meles’s diplomatic dexterity [that] kept aid coming” even while “Meles’s self-centered reign has left Ethiopian prisons ‘packed to the seams with suspected political opponents,’ ” as Olopade quotes Amnesty International.
These two articles contrast starkly with a NYT op-ed by Abdul Mohammed and Alex de Waal—the former being Ethiopia’s chief of staff for the African Union High Level Implementation Panel on Sudan, and the latter being a notable expert on Sudan—who refer to Zenawai as an “exceptional leader” whose “ascendancy was due to force of intellect,” and not the power of his guns provided by his foreign backers. The two gush over Zenawai, though they do acknowledge that “Ethiopia’s democratic deficit is undeniable.”
While the language discrepancy between the first two articles and the third op-ed are peculiar, to put it mildly, all three articles shy away from explaining Washington’s support of the “repressive prime minister,” the “strongman,” who oversaw “Ethiopia’s democratic deficit” beyond the unchallenged notions of America’s War on Terror, as was the line provided by Gettleman and Mohammed and de Wall: Gettleman referred to Zenawai’s help “to combat Muslim extremism in the Horn of Africa,” while Mohammed and de Waal noted Zenawai’s “cooperation against terrorism.”
None of the articles bother to mention Zenawai’s genocidal policies that Mountain note above, even though NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote on it earlier this year: “Families and entire areas of the country are deliberately starved unless they back the government.” While Gettleman does note that “the Ethiopian government has been accused of killing and displacing members of traditional groups who live in the Omo River valley in southern Ethiopia so that the government can build a large hydroelectric dam and lease land to foreign sugar companies,” the scale, the fact that these kinds of policies were not limited to Omo River valley, and are not mere “accusations” goes unmentioned. In fact, most of the criticisms provided are about imprisoning dissidents, probably the least severe of Zenawai’s crimes.
Another interesting item that the articles are silent on is the strategic value of Ethiopia in global politics, though it has perhaps hinted at with Olopade’s passing comment on the prime ministers “strong hand in regional security policy.”
Ethiopia is located near the Bab el-Mandeb, an important world oil checkpoint that sees nearly one-third of the world’s oil travel each day from the Persian Gulf “toward Europe, the United States, and Asia,” as the U.S. Energy Information Agency notes on their website. Having a “strong hand in regional security policy” serves Washington’s strategic interests. This also may help understand U.S. policies in regards to the Horn of Africa as a whole.
And with Newsweek having reported nearly two years ago that ”Europe has quietly overtaken America as China’s No. 1 trade partner,” control over the flow of so much oil provides an important political tool over the economies of China, Europe and Japan.
This strategy is nothing new to American politics. In a 1996 study, on why the U.S. must maintain its stockpile of nuclear weapons in a post-Cold War era, published by the federally-funded research company known for its studies to justify U.S. foreign policies, the RAND Corporation, we see that it is because, “The dependence of the West and Japan on Persian Gulf oil and the power and wealth that come from controlling that oil guarantee U.S. interest in that part of the world for as far into the future as anyone can see.”
At the end of his article, Gettleman writes that “Mr. Meles played an outsize role in the region,” but the problem with his article, and the other two articles referred above, is that what exactly Zenawai’s “role” was went largely unexplored.