The Decline of Western Influence on the Woyane Regime in Ethiopia

Editor’s Note: We published this article on June 26, 2010. The only major difference now and 2010 is that now the people of Ethiopia have spoken and no one  can stop them.

The verdict is in. While the people of Ethiopia have not spoken, the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) regime currently in power in Ethiopia certainly has. The message from TPLF to those Western democracies that have been coddling and cajoling it is this: any leverage they thought they might have had on the TPLF regime no longer exists.

For nearly two decades, Meles Zenawi, the TPLF head, has been on a deliberate, and sometimes provocative, strategic path to get to where he and his junta are today. His goal whether stated explicitly or implied has all along been to reach a point where it, the junta, would effectively be immune to any pressures that could be brought to bear by Western democracies.

An astute student of African politics, Meles knew he took over an Ethiopia heavily dependent on foreign aid and that reality meant that the providers of that aid, mainly the West, had considerable leverage which could be brought to bear should they choose to exercise that power. The global war on terror came as a timely gift to Meles’s TPLF regime. It bought him time; time he used wisely to consolidate power while forging new relationships with undemocratic powers that would have no incentive in using their aid to pressure his regime to institute democratic reforms or respect human rights.

The elections of 2005 happened before the complete implementation of this strategy and the violence that followed was a test for Western democracies. They did nothing and to Meles that was a clear signal that security cooperation gave his regime a carte blanche to continue consolidating his power and to squash any form of dissent while pursuing a genocidal campaigns in places such as Ogaden, Oromia et al.

Five years later, Ethiopia is still heavily dependent on foreign aid from the West. However, the type of aid Ethiopia receives from the West is primarily humanitarian- the type of aid that is politically and morally problematic to cut given that the people of Ethiopia continue to be impoverished. Meles knows full well this undeniable fact.

It is the other type of aid such as military and economic investments that could have true leverage on the TPLF regime; the type that supports oil exploration and infrastructure development. This is the type of aid that yields high level exchanges between TPLF party loyalists and their counterparts in the West, for example. It is the type that trains engineers, doctors and civil servants. However, that aid comes mainly from undemocratic nations such as China without any strings attached.

Meles knows this as well. It is why his regime had the audacity to claim that an election resulting in the ruling party obtaining 99% of the votes cast is free and fair. It is also why Meles and his TPLF cronies such as Seyoum Mesfin, the foreign minister, expect no consequences from their usurping of the Ethiopian democratic throne.

This assumption may sound irrational to the outside world. However, it is quite a political masterstroke for the TPLF junta. Given the events that followed the 2005 sham elections, and given the fact that no Western powers have put any pressure on Meles and his junta in 2005, he and his cronies have simply gone one step further from their 2005 election fiasco by simply stuffing the ballot boxes with their votes hence claiming their 99 % margin of victory in record time.

There are those who believe that it may be too late; that the West squandered the best opportunity to pressure Meles and his junta in 2005. From the TPLF’s current democratic pretentions and obscene behavior, it is quite clear that the regime inherently believes the West neither has the leverage nor the political will to reform the wayward TPLF regime in Addis Ababa. The belief is that the West simply waited too long. Even a foreign policy reform towards Ethiopia today from the current security focused framework to one that elevates development and democracy will do little because the window of opportunity has long passed. Meles fully knows this as well.

What is left is in Ethiopia today is a one party TPLF state that is heavily dependent on Western aid that is politically and morally problematic to cut. This one party, TPLF regime is continually forging new and deeper economic and military relations with undemocratic powers who have no interest in using their new found influence to promote human rights and democracy in Ethiopia. What is left is a strategic country taking full advantage of the time and favor the war on terrorism offered it to render itself practically immune to outside pressures to reform.

This is why the TPLF regime can have the audacity to not only jam the Voice of America Amharic broadcasts, but compare the broadcasts to those broadcast in Rwanda during the genocide without any consequences from America. It is the very same reasons why the TPLF regime can blatantly refuse to implement the findings of the United Nations boundary commission on its border with Eritrea. It is also along the same reasoning why this regime can commit war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ogaden while kicking out reputable international humanitarian groups without any fear of a global backlash per se.

It is why the Ethiopian regime could kill thousands of innocent civilians following the 2005 election while awarding itself 99% of the vote in the 2010 election without any fear whatsoever of any consequences. This is why all independent media in Ethiopia can effectively be shut down while human rights groups are denied entry without the slightest worry of any international ramifications for such despicable actions. Furthermore, this is why even as Kenyan officials are individually threatened with sanctions for their roles in inciting violence in their country, the TPLF regime officials continue to operate with impunity with the certainty that they will not be similarly targeted.

The regime currently in power in Ethiopia has learned a valuable lesson throughout the years; a lesson on how to do what you want while you are not held accountable for it by the world’s major democracies. Now, it may be too late to bring to an end to this regime’s murderous reign. Too much time may have gone by. We fear that the consolidation of power is now complete. This regime will not be reformed through the ballot box or through the courts because both have little real meaning in present day Ethiopia.

There is a lesson the Ethiopian opposition must also learn from this predicament. The years of lobbying, protesting and holding expensive meetings in  he Diaspora have yielded no results and are likely to be even less fruitful given that those who they lobbied no longer have the leverage they once did on this TPLF regime. The opposition has been infiltrated, manipulated, divided and otherwise out smarted by this regime.

Given that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, the events leading up to and immediately after this so-called 2010 election in Ethiopia should be cause for the opposition to reflect, self examine, and, most importantly, to look elsewhere for answers.

The people of Ogaden have maintained a long held view that this regime cannot be reformed and thus, the only true leverage is for forces opposed to this regime to develop the capacity to militarily change the facts on the ground. It is facts on the ground that will dictate the course of events in Ethiopia in the future and not outside leverage or pressures to reform. It is the ability to militarily impact facts on the ground that will stop this regime’s deliberate and clear march towards complete domination over all peoples and all politics in Ethiopia.

It is important for foreign powers to know that an armed movement seeking to impact facts on the ground is not inherently a threat to their interests. A true movement, having widespread support and a true capacity to impact facts on the ground, can rather be a more sustainable partner in the Horn of Africa. It is this reality that diplomats of vision need to consider.

The current political dispensation in Ethiopia is simply not sustainable over the long run. It will collapse, and most likely, it will collapse violently. Cleaning up the mess will prove to not only be more difficult and more costly, but such a collapse will create a window of opportunity for radical elements, inspired by alien ideologies and misinterpretations of faith, to gain a foot hold in the country.

There are clearly two paths for the world’s democracies to choose from; there are also two clear paths for Ethiopia’s opposition forces to choose from. Both can maintain the current methods of engagement and be guaranteed a continuing slide in their respective standings and abilities to impact Ethiopia, or they can both choose a more deliberate and systematic approach, informed by past experiences and mistakes and still be completely in line with their own interests.

Meles Zenawi and his ruling TPLF junta are hoping for more of the same from their Western allies and members of the opposition, because they know that in the long run, they will prevail if they continue to be engaged in the current manner. What they are not hoping for from the opposition is an adoption of the strategies and methods of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) as that would clearly
lead to the demise of the ruling junta. It is why they are now talking to the former Al Itihad members as a diversionary tactic. They are also not hoping for a true reform of Western policy toward Ethiopia such that it holds the regime, and in particular its key officials, to account for its gross violations of human rights and war crimes in Ogaden, Oromia et al as that would also constitute an exercise of true leverage on this regime.

There are times when strategic long term interests coincide with what is simply the right thing to do. As it relates to the current Ethiopian regime, that fact is now self-evident. It is no longer a question of what Western democracies and members of the opposition should do, but whether they have the will to do it. The TPLF regime is betting that they do not. It remains to be seen whether the TPLF regime will be proven right or wrong.

An Ogaden nomad was once asked by a nomad boy what the best way to defeat a lion was. He replied simply,” don’t let it grow beyond a cub.” He was then asked by the boy “what to do if it grows beyond a cub into a full grown lion?” He simply replied “then grow into a man yourself.” It is time for all the Ethiopian stakeholders who have interests in Ethiopia and who engage with Ethiopia to realize that their policies need to mature and develop if there is to be any hope for one of Africa’s most populous

Ogaden Online Editorial
June 26, 2010

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