in

Ethiopia’s Failed Public Diplomacy and Its Implications on its Negotiation With TPLF


 

By- Yonas Biru, PhD

ፍየሏን መስደብ አይሁንብኝ እንጂ የኛን ትውልድ የወለደች ኢትዮጵያየማትረባ ፍየል ዘጠኝ ትወልዳለች ዘጠኙም ያልቃሉ እሷም ትሞታለች በተባለችው ፍየል ትመሰላለች:: ~ Koki Abesolome

 

Ethiopia is sitting on prime geo-strategic real estate. It is like sitting on a vast land of diamond and other precious metals. What the nation makes of this blessing depends on its leaders’ ability (or lack thereof) to leverage the global geopolitical system for its development endeavor. Nations that benefit from geopolitics are those who position their strategic development framework at the nexus of evolving geopolitical realities and ensuing change in international relations paradigm. The so-called Four Asian Tigers (South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan) epitomize success stories of leveraging geopolitical opportunities where they exist without compromising their national sovereignty.

 

Unfortunately, the Ethiopia political market is monopolized by hermitized intellectuals whose mindset is colonized by Ethiopia’s glorious past and its portrayal in the Bible, the Quran and Greek mythology and those who have lost their intellectual virginity and soul to Marx and Lenin. Unfortunate for us, geopolitical realities do not buckle under the weight of romantic mythology or submit to Biblical or Quranic verses. Nor are they governed by nostalgic communist articles of faith. They exist within the contours and perimeters of mundane realism.

 

To say that the Abiy administration has failed to navigate the complex and continually evolving geopolitical sphere would be an understatement. Neither any of the three ministers of foreign affairs nor any of the three ambassadors to the US that the PM appointed had track record in diplomatic mission. None of them have published scholarly articles on geopolitics or diplomacy. In most well-functioning governments high-level officials are appointed either based on their work experience or scholarly contribution in the field.

 

Many Ethiopians including the PM’s ardent supporters have resigned to accepting two hard realities. First, the PM has neither a desire to appoint capable officers with diplomatic pedigree nor interest in seeking the guidance and counsel of subject matter experts. Second, Ethiopia’s foreign policy is run by default, without a well-developed geopolitical strategy or skilled leadership.

 

ነገርን ነገር ያመጣዋል እንደሚባል, let us move to TPLF. TPLF is in a calamitous situation, facing a cliff every which way it turns. The only little wiggle room it has is the international community whom it masterfully manipulates, capitalizing on Ethiopia’s weakness in international relations. Even though it may not ultimately help it to achieve its goal, it will prolong the gridlock and worsen the humanitarian crisis. This will have a negative impact on the PM’s standing in the international community. Even worse, it will delay the PM’s reform agenda, costing the nation enormous economic loss.

 

Whether it is the African Union (as Ethiopia insists) or the government of Kenya (as TPLF wishes), that is hosting and moderating the negotiation between the two, other international bodies including the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), and the United States (US) will be observers, formally or informally. As a practical matter, who is the moderator, where the negotiation happens and who will be sitting on the observers table is an order of second importance. What matters the most is the strategy the Ethiopian government develops and the narrative it puts forth for the international community’s consumption.

 

The Ethiopian government needs a three-pronged stratagem: develop a multi-stage negotiation plan with robust parameters and clear gridlines; prepare a PR strategy to set the negotiation agenda and lead the narrative, explaining the underlying rational for the government’s negotiation blueprint and implementation process; and hire a lobbyist firm and a media influencer to increase the government’s international communication bandwidth.

 

The purpose of this article is to: (1) provide a brief overview of Ethiopia’s strategic geopolitical standing today and yesterday; (2) identify the genesis of Ethiopia’s abysmal performance in international public diplomacy under PM Abiy; (3) examine geopolitical factors that explain US’s intervention in Ethiopian domestic politics; (4) address Ethiopia’s public diplomacy challenges in the negotiation with TPLF and propose a way forward; and (5) build public pressure to make the PM responsive to public outcries.

 

Even though the focus is on the upcoming negotiation with TPLF, it is important to address broader geopolitical issues. In this regard, taking command of the nation’s public diplomacy requires having a nuanced, judicious, and strategic engagement with geostrategic powers. In addressing geostrategic powers, my focus will be on the US for three reasons. First, the US is leading the West’s coalition. Second, the #NoMore ሆያ ሆዬ and አሲዮ ቤሌማ campaign is targeted at it.

 

Third, and most importantly, no matter how much we wish otherwise, Ethiopia cannot overcome its current economic woes without foreign direct investments (FDI) from the West. China’s focus is on providing loans. Chinese loans for African countries surpass the FDI volume by at least 3 to 4 times. We also need to take note that the overwhelming majority of Chinese loan come with market interest rates. By comparison, Western loans are extended at below-market interest rates and have long grace periods to offer better deals to African countries.

 

  1. Ethiopia’s Geopolitical Policy Yesterday and Today

 

During Emperor Haile Selassie’s era, our international public diplomacy was run by competent foreign ministers and ambassadors. Ethiopia was the Mecca of Africa’s diplomacy. Internationally, the Emperor was treated with dignity fit for an iconic world leader. When he visited Washington, President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy went to the Union Station to greet him upon his arrival from New York city. He was welcomed with full military honors, followed by a formal state dinner at the White House.

 

During his stay in Washington, President Kennedy hosted him at The Blair House, the “world’s most exclusive hotel.” Sitting across the street from the White House, it is the official presidential guest house reserved for honored guests, in the ranks of Queen Elizabeth, Xi Jinping, and the likes. No Sub-Saharan African leader has received such an honor before or since.

 

Our relationship with the US was strategic. The US had an array of radio receivers at Kagnew Station, in the northern province of Ethiopia (present day Eritrea). The station occupied over 3,400 acre that housed parabolic antennas some of whom stood 15-story high. The operation code-named Stonehouse allowed the transmission of clear and secure signals and gather intelligence. It allowed the US to monitor the Middle East and gave it a strategic advantage over the Soviet Union. US’s success in space and missile projects were partly attributed to operation Stonehouse.

 

Our foreign ministers, ambassadors and geopolitical advisors leveraged Ethiopia’s geopolitical advantage to build many development projects, including Haile Selassie (currently Addis Ababa) University, the Ethiopian Airlines, the Ethiopian Communications Authority (ECA), the Ethiopian Road Authority (ERA), the Ethiopian Mapping Authority (EMA), among others. With help from US experts Ethiopia developed an elaborate development strategy, including dams and irrigation projects. In the 1950s, the United States Bureau of Reclamation’s (USBR) prepared over 100 potential sites for hydroelectric power, a fourth of them along the Blue Nile basin. Jan Nyssen, Kiros Hailemariam, and Paolo Billi attribute this to “Haile Selassie’s politically effective demands for speedier and more widespread American support.”

 

Unfortunately, the advent of the satellite technology in the early 1970s made Kagnew Station obsolete. As they say, nations have neither eternal allies nor perpetual enemies, only interests. The Carter administration left Ethiopia hanging high to dry. The Soviet Union jumped in to fill the gap until 1990. After it lost the geopolitical war, it abandoned us in a New York second. The Ethiopian political nomenklatura never forgets US’s betrayal but does not remember Soviet Union’s withdrawal.

 

  1. The Genesis of Ethiopia’s Failed Public Diplomacy Under PM Abiy

 

Since 2001, Ethiopia has regained its geo-strategic importance, owing to a confluence of factors. This was made clear when President Biden declared a state of national emergency on September 17, 2021. Triggered by the civil war in Ethiopia, the national emergency aimed “to deal with threat that constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

 

Following US’s intervention in the current war with TPLF, Ethiopia’s mythologized and theologized national identity was brough to bear both as a firewall and comfort zone. A reclusive strategy that is incompatible with the 21st century geopolitical public diplomacy became the order of the day. The “Axum This, Adwa That, and Don’t Forget Lalibela” mindset that basks in Ethiopia’s victory over a

 

European military power and its architectural marvels from distant centuries became the source from whence the nation drives its diplomatic inspiration and doctrine. The law of self-selection attracted intellectuals whose mindset is aligned to the government’s anti-West sentiment.

 

It is this anachronistic and mystical seduction of geopolitics and recycled and unrecycled communists piggybacking on it that has begotten the #NoMore movement, leading to a confrontational posture toward global superpowers. As a result, American and European streets became the venue where Ethiopia’s erotistic flirtation with a narvanaistic image of itself came in conflict with the 21st century geopolitical realism. The art of diplomacy gave way to the craft of street combat. ወለየ ሲተርትቅኔ ቢያልቅበት: ቀረርቶ ሞላበት ይላል::

 

The PM seems to understand this problem. In a speech before high-brass military officers, he compared the #NoMore movement with the student movement’s “Self-determination” and “land for the tiller” slogans. He said: movement’s like #NoMore have neither concept nor sober analysis behind them. I surmise Professor Al Marriam would take issue with this. The good professor defines #NoMore as follows:

 

“#NoMore translation: NO MORE — USAID, TPLF terrorism, meddling in Ethiopia, humanitarian imperialism, neocolonialism, dissing #Ethiopia sovereignty, ifs & buts, excuses, disinformation, lies & fake news, drama, Mr. & Mrs. Ethiopia nice guy/gal, fighting, hate. No more bull****.”

 

Because of reflexive disposition and nostalgic inertia Ethiopian intellectuals do not feel their analysis is complete unless they sprinkle “imperialism”, “neocolonialism” and some such crap in it. The good professor suggested “The U.S. and E.U. want a weak, famine-stricken, ethnically fragmented vassal state in Ethiopia. That is why they are desperate to restore the TPLF regime.”

 

The #NoMore establishment braved the furies of summer’s heat and the vagaries of winter’s bone-chilling cold to perform their ቀረርቶ on the streets of Washington and avenues of Brussels. In a subversive comical way, underneath our diplomatic ቀረርቶ doctrine resides a rib-tickling presumption that the world is jealous of our past and fearful of our future. Let us summon four examples to make this point.

 

PM Abiy: By 2050, Ethiopia will be one of the two most powerful nations in the world.

 

Professor Mamo Muchie:The world fears time; time fears history; history fears Ethiopia.”

 

Professor Tesfaye Demmellash:Unique in Africa in its abiding national civilization and its fierce resistance against European colonial encroachment, modern Ethiopia can become a much more significant, independent regional power in Africa. The colonial and post-colonial West’s concern for decades has been to constrain Ethiopian development…”

 

Professor Al Mariam: What we are witnessing is “The Clash of Civilizations” between Ethiopia and the US. “Ethiopia will win,” the colorful professor asserted, without an iota of doubt.

 

Such sentiments managed to seep into Ethiopia’s geopolitical and public diplomacy crafting. Pan Africanism became a rallying cry to fend off “humanitarian imperialism and neocolonialism.” When seen from this backdrop, Ethiopia’s #NoMore street diplomacy that is best described by Mehari Degefaw’s ግጠም አለኝ becomes amenable to the “ቅኔ ቢያልቅበት: ቀረርቶ ሞላበት” analysis.

 

The very nations that are feeding Ethiopia, financing its development, and paying for the reconstruction of its schools and clinics became the target of our ጎረድ ጎረድ rage and wrath.

 

In all fairness, when we talk about #NoMore we need to separate the intellectual genesis that gave birth to a stillborn Pan African romanticism and the social media experts who encapsulated it in an enchanting hashtag and propagated it to a global audience. It is an unfortunate marriage between antiquated intellectuals and modern-day social media connoisseurs. We need a divorce, followed by retiring the former and equipping the latter with the art and science of diplomacy. Only then can our capable social media connoisseurs advance Ethiopia’s geopolitical and diplomatic interests.

 

  1. Factors that Explain US’s Intervention in the Ethio-TPLF War

 

Let us start with factors that DO NOT explain the US intervention. Thwarting China’s influence in Ethiopia; doing Egypt’s bidding in the Nile conflict; destabilizing Ethiopia fearing its potential in becoming a black power; and planting TPLF back to power as an agent government to exploit Ethiopia’s resources. None of these explain the Biden administration’s intervention. Not by a mile.

 

3.1 Factors that Do Not Explain the Biden Administration’s Policy

 

Is China the Reason? There are three entry points for China. The first entry point is Africa’s precious minerals. China wants to ensure its monopolistic position in rare earth elements by dominating Africa’s mineral mines, home to half of the world’s known supply of precious minerals. Second, it wants to control Africa’s strategic seaports as part of its goal of world economic domination through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and to meet China’s aspiration for world military domination. Third, China uses predatory loans to make African nations dependent on it.

 

In 2018, President Trump unveiled a three-pronged plan focused on furthering US interests and countering China in Africa. With this in mind, we need to examine each country’s reality. Though China is on the US Radar screen in resource rich African countries, Ethiopia is not a concern since it is a resource poor nation. A quick Google search for the top 20 natural resource rich countries in Africa does not show Ethiopia. The fact that Ethiopia is a landlocked country means China’s interest in controlling strategic seaports does not apply to Ethiopia.

 

With respect predatory loans, According to Foreign Policy InstituteChinese loan to Africa have stagnated since 2014.” The fact that Chinese loans to African countries are in decline is reaffirmed in Chinese Loans to Africa (CLA) Database. In 2020, Chinese loan to African countries totaled a mere $1.9 billion. The database noted such a low amount has not been seen since the mid-2000s.

 

More importantly, the West believes Ethiopia under PM Abiy is not keen to rely on China. The PM is on the record, stating “Borrowing from the IMF and the World Bank is like borrowing from one’s mother.” Some articles from Western countries follow.

 

A View from Canada: “In a clash of ideological paradigms, Abiy’s administration has embarked on a path of neoliberalism that has placed Ethiopia in direct conflict with the Chinese-backed developmental state initiated by former leader Meles Zenawi.”

 

China was not too pleased with the PM’s neoliberalist reform. According to China Research Center (CRC), “Less than two months after Abiy came to power in April 2018, China announced it was scaling back its investments in Ethiopia.” The report noted: “Far from signaling the end of Chinese involvement in Ethiopia, these recent developments demonstrate Ethiopia’s rising importance in international politics and its increasing ability to find the best deal to further its own development.”

 

A Note from the US: “Abiy, analysts say, is positioning the country to leverage competition between the West and China to attract even greater investment — and reduce the country’s dependence on Beijing. In December, Ethiopia received a $9 billion injection of financial aid from Western donors, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. The influx of cash could upend 15 years of Chinese dominance and spark unprecedented interest from Europe and America, investors, economists and political analysts say.”

 

The West is not only providing billions in new loans to Ethiopia. The G-20 countries has been trying to offer generous debt relief for Ethiopia. Unfortunately, China stood in the way. At the writing of this article, the West is “pushing China and private creditors to accelerate work on debt treatments.”

 

Another Note from the US: “Speaking at a conference in Addis Ababa in December, Abiy went as far as to say the terms of Chinese loans had damaged the Ethiopian economy.” He added: “Ethiopia borrowed to build a railway but was asked to repay the debt before the completion of the construction,” referring to the Chinese-backed railway line to Djibouti.

 

Note from the UK: The PM’s reforms are creating “opportunities for Western businesses to invest in Ethiopia,” even as they are altering Ethiopia’s relationship with China, noted Abdulmena M. Hamza, an economist specializing in banking at the Edinburgh Business School in the UK.

 

In sum, if China was Biden’s main concern, PM Abiy would be his man in Addis, not his concern.

 

If not China, could it be Egypt? Any analyst who thinks the US will take a detrimental action against Ethiopia in favor of Egypt lacks a clear understanding of Ethiopia’s geo-strategic importance. This is not to deny the Trump administration did not favor Egypt. This was a special situation, owing to Trump’s role in advancing US’s peace proposal in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was expecting to win the Nobel Peace Prize for it. But even this did not lead him to jeopardize Ethiopia to appease Egypt.

 

True, the Trump administration tried to use the proverbial carrot and stick approach to get Ethiopia to sign a draft agreement the US prepared that favored Egypt. The carrot was a $5 billion US Development Finance Corporation (DFC) access to promote private sector investment in Ethiopia. The stick was blocking US aid.

 

The US under the Trump administration went as far as threatening Ethiopia not to start filling the dam. The Abiy administration told them to go suck their toes and made its intention to start filling the dam clear. Even better the PM made good of Ethiopia’s commitment to fill the dam. In so doing Ethiopia called Trump’s bluff. Trump blinked. Three months later the US publicly announced plans to invest $5 billion to help promote PM Abiy’s private-sector reform. In the meantime, Trump suspended a $130 million aid to Ethiopia because of “lack of progress” on the Nile negotiations. The money was earmarked for combating women and children trafficking. It was a face-saving action.

 

In February 2021, a month after Biden took office, the U.S. announced to de-link Ethiopian aid pause from dam policy. The $130 million suspension the Trump administration put in place was lifted. Biden’s position on the Nile conflict has been clear to Egypt. Sort your problem out with Ethiopia with the help of the African Union.

 

If China and Egypt are not the reason, could it be a neo-colonialist desire to exploit Ethiopia’s natural resources?

 

The problem with this is that Ethiopia does not have natural resources. According to the World Bank, in terms of export per capita, Ethiopia exports $68 worth of goods and services. This includes revenue from tourism and the Ethiopian Airlines. The corresponding figure for Gabon ($3,800); Botswana ($2,253); South Africa ($1,419); Angola ($787) and Ghana ($718) show we are not what we imagine we are.

 

In 2019, Ethiopia’s major goods exports included coffee (28.7%), cut flowers (14.1%), oil seeds (11.5%), chat (10.9%), pulses (7.9%), gold (6.6%), leather and leather products (2.4%). No precious mineral that is of strategic interest for the West. By region, Ethiopia’s exports consisted of Asia (52%), Europe (24%), Africa (13%), and Americas (11%). Our export to Asia is significantly more than our export to Europe and N. America combined.

 

The claim the US wants to exploit Ethiopia’s natural resources is utterly nonsense. As Americans say, “There is No There There.”

 

Could the reason be the US is afraid of Ethiopia’s potential to become a black power? According to the World Bank Ethiopia’s GDP is 0.05 percent of that of the US. In decimal points, this is 0.0005. This is outside of the realm and radar screen of a rounding error.

 

By any matrix of development, we are far behind Sub-Saharan African countries. According to the World Bank, Ethiopia’s GDP per capita in 2020 was $936. This is 60 percent less than the average for Sub Saharan Africa figure.

 

World Bank data shows, in 2014, per capita electric power consumption for Ethiopia was 69 kwh (kilowatts hour). The figure for Sub Saharan Africa was 487 kwh. To put the figures in perspective, the average for the world is 3,128 kwh and 12,994 kwh for the US. Ethiopia’s number is a mere 14 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa, four percent of Egypt and two percent of the World Average.

 

Access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking is 97.6 percent of the population in Egypt, while the average for Sub Saharan Africa is 14.3 percent. The figure for Ethiopia is a meager 3.5 percent. According to the World Bank latest data, 54 percent of the World Population has access to clean water. The corresponding figure for Sub Saharan Africa is 21 percent. Ethiopia is at a meager 7 percent.

 

According to the World Bank’s latest data, the world average is one doctor for 550 people. The average for Sub Saharan Africa is one doctor for 5000 people. The figure for Ethiopia is 10,000.

 

Prevalence of stunting, height for age (% of children under 5) gives the same grim statistics for Ethiopia.

 

The data for Kenya is 26.2. For Uganda it is 28.9. Ethiopia is at 36.8.

 

The bottom line is that no one is afraid of Ethiopia becoming a superpower. They will be happy to see us be able to feed our children. The sooner we lay to rest PM Abiy’s Ethiopia will be one of the two most powerful nations in the world sermon, Professor Mamo’s the world fears time; time fears history; history fears Ethiopia” crap, and Professor Al Mariam’s “Ethiopia will beat the US” gobbledygook, the better for Ethiopia.

 

3.2. Factors that Explain the Biden Administration’s Policy

 

Let us first put things in perspective. In April 2018, when PM Abiy took office, the nation’s foreign exchange reserve was empty. Two months later, the United Arab Emirates pledged a total of $3 billion in aid and investment. The US had a role in this. Since American financial aid appropriations involve a lengthy process, Trump pushed allies with short appropriation processes to lend a helping hand. As noted above, in 2019, the US approved $5 billion for Ethiopia from its DFC fund.

 

In the same year the IMF’s committed $2.9 billion. That was the first time in over a decade the institution lent money to Ethiopia. The amount represented one of the most generous loans that pushed the organization’s lending rules to a breaking point. The World Bank was just as generous, finding

 

loopholes (and at times bending its rules) to maximize the financial package for Ethiopia, not only in loans but also in grants. Anyone who knows anything about anything related to the World Bank and IMF knows nothing of this magnitude happens without a nudge and a node from the US.

 

The West was ready to bankroll Ethiopia’s development. The PM’s poor public diplomacy squandered the nation’s geopolitical advantage and managed to push its most important geopolitical ally to its adversary column.

 

Those who are not well versed in geopolitics and lack a clear understanding of American policy making process may wonder what explains the Baden’s pro TPLF policy in 2020 and 2021. I have written a long piece on this. I will briefly recap it here. The issue is two layered. To understand Biden’s seemingly counterintuitive policy we need to tease out and separate strategic and tactical factors.

 

At a strategic level, the US sees Ethiopia as one of the most important global allays. The US wants Ethiopia to be stable and prosperous because its geopolitical interest depends on it. That is why the US has been bluffing to impose sanction but has not done so on a scale that can create pressure on Ethiopia. General Tsadqan, the head of Tigray Defense Forces, is on the record acknowledging this. On December 26, 2021, he wrote:

 

“Regrettably, Western nations’ actions did not go beyond rhetoric. They appealed for a cessation of hostilities and for humanitarian access, but in practice these were empty gestures. They did not use the diplomatic and economic tools in their hands.”

 

Now let us go to the technical. Let us keep two things in mind. During the first 5 weeks of the war, when TPLF was being demolished by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, the US was quiet. Again, the US has been reasonably quiet, since TPLF was defeated for the second time and pushed back to Tigray. The US wants a stable Ethiopia. Its intervention was more pronounced when TPLF got momentum and posed an existential risk for a civil war.

 

The question is why did the US lean towards TPLF in 2020 and 2021? How the US goes about leveraging its influence and geopolitical power requires a closer examination. Two factors played in the Biden administration’s myopic intervention that was some areas favored TPLF.

 

First, at the policy implementation phase, officials from the State Department to the White House have some leeway. It happened so that there was a fifth column within the Biden administration that sympathized with TPLF and pushed its agenda. A fifth column is any group of people who use their positions to influence to the extent possible the government’s policy instruments. Such people made the case that pressuring Ethiopia was the most viable and the only option for the US to achieve its strategic goal of maintaining Ethiopia’s political stability.

This is partly why we see a policy that favors TPLF in terms of creating pressure on Ethiopia, without doing anything to undermine US’s strategic interest. The US knows imposing the kind of sanction it levied on Sudan can damage the Ethiopian economy and trigger political chaos. That was why its sanctions were symbolic.

 

In 2021, when the US’s threat about sanctioning Ethiopia was at its peak, the top three US aid recipient countries were Ethiopia ($1.13 billion), Jordan ($1.03 billion) and Afghanistan ($860 million). Despite Biden’s saber rattling, Ethiopia remained the fifth largest aid recipient from the West, following India, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Syria.

 

The second factor is that the policy implementation phase also happened to be the entry point for lobbyists and media influencers. Lobbyists and media influencers cannot change the US’s strategic position, but they can influence how the policy is implemented. Troops of TPLF lobbyists marched on Capitol Hill meetings with influential Senators and House Representatives armed with TPLF propaganda documents.

 

A bunch of Senators and House Representatives became advocates for TPLF, pressuring the Biden administration to sanction Ethiopia. The AGOA was the result of this concerted pressure. This is a $250 million to $300 million sanction. Even though it is not a small amount for a poor country such as ours, Ethiopia was still getting billions of dollars from the US and US aligned international agencies. It was a sanction to appease powerful Senators, not to punish Ethiopia with a debilitating sanction.

 

The Ethiopian government and the diaspora used Biden’s policy as “material evidence” for US’s regime change conspiracy. Rather than hiring lobbying powerhouses to marshal pro-Ethiopian Senators, the Ethiopian government retreated into a virtual reclusion, leaving the international public diplomacy to the #NoMore አሲዮ ቤሌማ colony.

 

Evidently, it is not only the Ethiopian government that failed to decipher the strategic and tactical factors. TPLF failed to realize that its success in lobbying and media was NOT a strategic success. This failure led it to hope for what its leaders saw as a best-case and second-best case scenario.

 

The best-case scenario was marching to Addis and forming a new coalition government. They believed the US would take the collapse of the Ethiopian government as a fait accompli and accept a TPLF led coalition government. The US reacted strongly against TPLF’s plan.

 

On November 13, 2021, US Congresswoman Karen Bass issued a statement, stating: “I denounce the threat to ‘oust Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – through political negotiation or military force if necessary – and install a transitional government’ made by the alliance of the

 

Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front with the Oromo Liberation Army and other opposition groups throughout Ethiopia.”

 

General Tsadqan took note of this in his above-note piece:

 

“The U.S. government expressed its serious concern over the maintenance and continuity of the Ethiopian state. Washington DC openly opposed the advance of the TDF to Addis Ababa, threatening the government of Tigray with sanctions if our forces approached the city…

 

The second-best scenario was that as TPLF gets closer to Addis, the US will push the Ethiopian government to accept a power-sharing government. But the US rejected this as well.

 

On November 17, 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the need to recognize Prime Minister Abiy and his administration as “the duly elected leaders of the country.” This was Feltman’s earlier statement: “the PM indeed has a mandate he can draw upon, and a new cabinet composed of hand-picked, trusted allies and partners.” The US focused on providing access to humanitarian aid to Tigray.

 

The US position did not sit well with TPLF spokesperson, Getachew Reda, who reacted it with anger: “Most ‘peace initiatives’ are mainly about saving Abiy, not about addressing the most critical political challenges in the country.”

 

Having been rejected by the US and EU and defeated by the Ethiopian fighters, on December 20, 2021, TPLF announced its decision to withdraw from the Amhara and Afar tribal lands. “In a spirit of brotherhood and solidarity” General Tsadqan turned to “African brothers” to “reach out their hand” for peacekeeping.

 

  1. Ethiopia’s Public Diplomacy Challenges in the Negotiation with TPLF and a Way Forward

 

TPLF and its international mercenary ninjas such as Alex de Waal are already framing the agenda and rolling out their narratives. On the Ethiopian side there is no sign of life. If the past is prologue, TPLF’s PR machinery will run circles around Ethiopia’s PR officials, flipping and flapping and throwing them like a rag doll. They will win the battle in international public diplomacy and the West will start to pressure the Ethiopian government to accommodate TPLF. #NoMore 2.0 will take the streets again with an even louder ቀረርቶ. To avoid this predictable rerun of the past, the Ethiopian government needs a three-pronged strategy with a sense of urgency:

 

  1. Develop a multi-stage negotiation strategy with robust parameters and clear gridlines. Having expert inputs is as essential as is keeping the public abreast to the extent possible. The strategy should not be to weaken TPLF, but to reach a common agenda without

 

allowing TPLF win a concession using war or the humanitarian crisis in Tigray as a political tool.

 

  1. Prepare a PR strategy, set the agenda, and lead the narrative, explaining the underlying rational and the implementation process. This, too, requires expert inputs. The PR strategy cannot be effective without a swell-deliberated negotiation strategy with reasonably flexible parameters and gridlines. We just cannot sugarcoat it or glaze it over for the sake of political correctness. The Ethiopian PR officials leave much to be desired. Getting outside experts is essential.

 

  1. Hire a lobbyist firm and a media influencer to increase the government’s international communication bandwidth. There are two important matters the government must understand in hiring a lobbyist. First, a lobbyist cannot be effective without a clear strategy. “Help us get a favorable policy” is not a winnable strategy. It is a goal. What the lobbyist delivers is influenced by the robustness and efficacy of Ethiopia’s geopolitical strategy. Second, budget should not be an issue. Ethiopia cannot win with a $50,000 a month lobbyist when TPLF marshals multiple lobbying powerhouses at $200,000 rate per month. Nickeling-and-diming to save a few thousand dollars is not prudent when the potential cost exceeds billions in lost foreign aid, potential war (if peace remains elusive), and war related destruction and the disruption of economic activities. This is not to say anything about ensuing humanitarian crisis.

 

Part of the PR strategy should focus on restoring the PM’s brand as an economic reformer. This is critical to win the support and confidence of the international community. Two years ago, his brand was a strategic reformer, peace seeker and a hope for Ethiopia and Africa at large. Today, his brand has been tarnished by TPLF hired media influencers and lobbyists.

 

In retrospect, The Washington Post describes the decision to bestow the Peace Prize on him as “the tarnishing of the world’s most famous prize.” CNN wondered how the world fell for a “global pariah.” The Guardian upped the ante, demanding the Nobel Committee “should resign over the atrocities in Tigray,” which PM Ahmed has allegedly committed.

 

Internationally, restoring the PM’s brand and credibility requires not only PR but also administrative changes. The government needs to reflect and do some soul searching to examine the nation’s priorities, fill existing gaps, and strengthen weak areas.

 

I believe the PM is a visionary, but an oceanic gap exists between his vision and his administration’s ability to understand its disruptive novelty and transformative utility. Vision alone is not enough. It needs to be distilled down to manageable elements with clear strategies, road maps, goalposts, policies and implementation and monitoring plans. I have addressed this issue in my article titled “The PM’s Vision is Like a Ferrari Driven by a Volkswagen Engine.”

 

Once again, rebranding the PM requires more than developing a PR scheme and generating a geopolitical strategy paper. We cannot deny the undisputable fact that our ministers and ambassadors are out of their elements, lacking expertise, and intellectual bandwidth to navigate through a complex and fast-evolving geopolitical dynamics. Some of them are not even conversant in the English language, let alone in diplomatic lexicon. Therefore, upgrading the government is a critical first step.

 

It is also important to empower key ministries and embassies. Currently their occupants are treated as the PM’s dignified secretaries. To put it in the vernacular, the PM must come to terms that he cannot and should not run the country as his pet project with minion appointees who are serving as gofers. Let me use one example to drive this point home.

 

In January 2021, a small group of diaspora experts of which I was a part met with high-level officials of the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the need to help fill the gap in Ethiopias international public diplomacy work. We were asked to prepare a strategy paper. The strategy included a $5 million budget for lobbying. Foreign Minister officials liked he proposal, but they needed the PM’s approval. The PM rejected it.

 

The question is why did the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who also happened to be the Deputy Prime Minister need approval from the PM to do his job? The fact that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, by far the most powerful line minister, does not have a $5 million discretionary budget to discharge his duty, shows all decision are made by the Prime Minister.

  1. Save the PM From Himself to Save Ethiopia from Him

 

I have done several articles on the possible sources of the PM’s refusal to rely on experienced government officials and seek the advice and counsel of subject matter experts. The most relevant one is titled “Prime Minister Abiy’s Problem is Partly Rooted in Religion.” After the war, my expectation was that it would humble him, and that he will take corrective actions and start relying on expert advice. My hope was dashed after hearing a speech he gave at a diaspora dinner. He stated:

 

እኔ እንዴት [ጦርነቱን] እንዳሸነፍኩ አውቀዋለሁ ፈጣሪየ ከኔ ጋር ባይሆን ኖሮ አይሆንም እኛ ብቻ ታግለን የምትሉ ሰዎች እውነት ነው ታግላችኋል ከናንተ በላይ ግን ከኔ ጋር የታገለውን ስለማውቀው እናንተን ብቻ አላደምጥም ለማለት ነው::”

 

One thing that I hear from many Ethiopians both within the PM’s administration and outside is “እሱ በፍጹም ሰው አይሰማም”. The line “ከናንተ በላይ ግን ከኔ ጋር የታገለውን ስለማውቀው እናንተን ብቻ አላደምጥም” gives us a glimpse of his governance guiding principles. Put bluntly, his statement makes clear he believes he gets more policy advice from God than from subject line experts and the people of Ethiopia.

 

The is a far more serious problem than people realize. The nation is in the hand of one person who is making all decisions by himself, presumably in consultation with God. The Constitution provides for a secular PM not a sovereign King or for an evangelical equivalent of an Afghanistan Mullah or Iranian

Ayatollah. Ethiopians at home and abroad and within the government and outside of it have moral obligation and the call of country to call for change in his governing style.

 

The President of Ethiopia and the Deputy Prime Minister must encourage the PM to change his governing style. They must be ready to resign if he stonewalls them. The same is true with members of the parliament, particular members of opposition parties who have joined the PM’s administration. History will judge them rather harshly for failing to live up to their oath to uphold the duties and obligations of their offices.

 

The diaspora also has a voice if it cares to use it. My problem with the #NoMore group from the start was: (1) its anti-west sentiment and rhetoric are misguided; (2) it cannot fill the diplomatic gap the government has created; and (3) its efforts to hire a lobbyist firm was unsustainable. In an open letter I pleaded with its leaders to use their energy and resources to pressure the PM to change course.

 

The #NoMore movement needs to be recreated and christened in the political sense and become a constructive pressure group. Similarly, civic societies, professional associations, and political groups both on the home front and in the diaspora need to join the chorus of voices for change.

 

The focus should be change in governing style, not for change in government. The people have spoken and chosen the Prosperity Party to run the government and the party has chosen the PM to lead the nation.



Source link

What do you think?

Aggregated by Ethiopian News Digest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings

Ethiopia, Namibia Sign MoU to Scale Up Bilateral Ties | Satenaw: Ethiopian News

House of Federation Approves Regulations | Satenaw: Ethiopian News