The US Loses Another Policeman in Africa
by Eric Margolis: To
Laugh or Weep: The Crazy Assange Case
It says much
when the long-time rulers of two of Africa’s largest, most important
nations, Egypt’s Husni Mubarak and Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, had
to fly to Europe for critical medical treatment because their own
nations lacked facilities and specialists.
death at 57 last week in a Belgian hospital – probably from cancer
– has left Ethiopia reeling. He and a junta of Tigrayans ruled Ethiopia’s
90.8 million people with an iron first since 1991 after they overthrew
the murderous Communist Derg regime of Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam.
Mengistu’s Red Terror is said to have murdered tens of thousands
and starved to death a million peasants.
rule is difficult. He was one of Africa’s smartest, most sophisticated
leaders. Meles maintained a reputation for financial integrity and
personal austerity that was unusual in Africa, though his government
was accused of widespread corruption.
desperately poor Ethiopia enjoyed a stellar growth rate of 7-10%
per annum, thanks in part to investments of $5 billion apiece from
India and China that incudes major rail projects. Large dams were
built on Ethiopia’s mountain rivers that boosted crops, but brought
threats of war from downstream Sudan and Egypt.
most important boost to Ethiopia’s economy came from annul infusions
of some $1 billion in US military and economic aid. Under Meles,
Ethiopia became America’s policeman of the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia
had played the same role under Emperor Haile Selaisse until his
overthrow and murder in 1975 by Mengistu’s Derg.
rights groups accused the Meles regime of gross human rights violations,
political repression, and silencing media. Washington closed its
eyes to Ethiopia’s repression, as it did with Mubarak’s regime in
Mubarak’s Egypt became the twin pillars of US influence over Africa
and close Israeli allies. Israel blocked criticism of their human
rights records in Washington.
Egypt and Ethiopia
formed an entente with four other close US allies, Uganda, Rwanda,
Kenya and the new, US-engineered state of South Sudan. The first
three are now sending troops into Somalia, financed by Washington.
US drone aircraft now fly from Ethiopia.
138,000-man armed forces, backed by Cuban troops, battled neighboring
Somalia in the 1970’s Ogaden War and then breakaway Eritrea in the
1990’s. In recent years, Ethiopia has twice sent its army into turbulent
Somalia in an attempt to establish a non-Islamic regime aligned
with US policy.
In 2006, a
moderate Somali government, the Islamic Courts Union, was overthrown
by the Bush administration and Ethiopia, resulting in creation of
the extreme Shebab movement against which the US and its allies
are still fighting.
faces a bigger challenge than Somalia’s quagmire. Ethiopia has been
called Africa’s last colonial empire. Its minority Amhara and Tigrayan
mountain tribes – about 32% of the population have long ruled
over a restive majority of lowland Muslim Oromo, 40% of the population,
as well as Sidamo, Somalis in Ogaden, and other minorities.
as one of the cradles of Christianity, Ethiopia is today a majority
Muslim nation. Yet it remains ruled by a Christian, Amhara/Tigrayan-speaking
minority, supported by the western powers.
voiceless majority Oromo have been seething with rebellion for decades.
So are democrats and regional movements. There is a real risk Ethiopia
could unravel, losing some of its lowland territories conquered
by its 19th-Century warrior emperors.
Washington, which is increasingly involved in Africa’s affairs and
energy resources, Ethiopia’s powerful army polices the strategic
Horn of Africa and overlooks America’s new clients in Central Africa.
Equally important, Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most important water
sources and controls the headwaters of the mighty Nile. Its airline,
Ethiopian Airways, is regarded as Africa’s safest and most reliable.
Ethiopian armies have crossed the Red Sea to invade Yemen and Arabia,
and invade Sudan. European powers and the Ottomans have sought to
enlist Ethiopia as an ally since the 1500’s. Though landlocked after
losing Eritrea, Ethiopia remains a major power in the Red Sea region.
try to escape the long era of despotism, as Egypt is doing. But
given its internal instability and foreign power interests, it’s
likely Ethiopia may continue under authoritarian rule.
Too bad. Ethiopians,
one of Africa’s most capable people, deserve much better.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2012 Eric Margolis
Best of Eric Margolis