U.S. INTERESTS ILL-SERVED BY ITS AFRICA DIPLOMATS

U.S. INTERESTS ILL-SERVED BY ITS AFRICA DIPLOMATS

A Policy Blunder in the Horn of Africa

Is the United States being served well by its diplomats in
charge of African affairs? Looking at what is going on in one part of
Africa, the Horn of Africa, the answer is a resounding no. The Horn of
Africa team has utterly failed the United States both in fighting
terrorism and winning the country indispensable friends.  Africa, it
seems, is at the bottom of US policymakers’ priority list; but in this
ever shrinking, post 9/11, world of today, the United States cannot
afford to neglect any part of the globe, let alone the Horn of Africa
with its proximity to the volatile Middle East.
However, the incompetence shown by Foggy Bottom towards this
part of the world is unfortunately not new.  During the Cold War, U.S.
policymakers pursued a short-sighted policy of basically blind support
for Emperor Haile Sellassie in Ethiopian and broader Horn of Africa
matters.  What was the result of these policies?  Ethiopia experienced a
violent communist revolution, the likes of which was unprecedented in
the Third World.  Eritrea’s right to self-determination continued to be
trampled and its war for independence entered a new phase.  And all
Somalia had to show for the U.S.’s brief opportunistic alliance in the
late 1970s and 1980s was an unprecedented state collapse in the early
1990s.
Today’s American policy failure has three components: injustice
towards Eritrea, double-standards in Ethiopia and total failure in
Somalia. In the case of Eritrea, it is the continued rejection of a
potential ally, and obstructing Eritrea’s just and legal rights to
appease Ethiopia.  In the case of Ethiopia, it is the recycling of the
old policy toward Emperor Haile Sellassie in Prime Minister Meles
Zenawi’s context and turning a blind eye to every atrocity Ethiopian
regimes commit.  In the case of Somalia, it is the creation of
conditions of chaos and anarchy that will usher the Bush
Administration’s self-fulfilling prophesy of the potential future
radicalization of Somalia.
Eritrea: The U.S. Turning Away Allies
Before Osama Bin Laden made the mountains of Afghanistan his
permanent abode he was in the Sudan. What was he doing there and who was
his target? He was trying to export his terrorism to a one-year old
African nation called Eritrea. To its credit this young nation had
warned the U.S. and the world of the eminent danger of global terrorism
and did all it could in its capacity to fight and expose Bin Laden.
Eritrea’s clarion call was not listened to because U.S. officials
dismissed it saying “our intelligence hasn't reached it!" That was 1994.
While U.S. diplomats were sleeping at the buzzer, Bin Laden turned his
organization against U.S. interests and attacked its embassies in
Nairobi (Kenya) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). The rest is history.
Unfortunately realizing the error of not listening to reliable, credible
and knowledgeable local intelligence sooner couldn’t undo the damage
the American public had suffered since 1994.
Eritrea since the earliest days has sought good relations with
the U.S.  She has been willing for a constructive engagement and
alliance with the United States, despite the gross injustices of the
past. However, it was turned down.  (This can be found from what the
former U.S. Ambassador to Eritrea Robert Houdek relayed to U.S. Army
Colonel David Crawford, who wrote a 2005 Master of Strategic Studies
Thesis for the U.S. Army War College arguing the U.S. needs to engage
with Eritrea.).  There was a repeat of this in the years after 9/11,
during which Eritrea had eagerly offered tangible assistance to and
cooperation with the U.S.  Remember, Eritrea was fighting Al-Qaeda and
other terrorists seeking to destroy the secular government and
multi-religious society of Eritrea before anyone else.  Rather than
enhancing cooperation and learning from Eritrea’s experiences of three
decades of guerrilla warfare, the State Department's response was to
kick Eritrea out of AGOA (The African Growth and Opportunity Act) and
put Eritrea on various religious freedom, human rights and democracy
blacklists.  As can be gleaned from public records, Eritrea has
continued to seek good relations with the U.S., even to the extent of
using scarce resources to hire expensive American consultants to help
(unlike the case of Ethiopia’s extensive use of lobbyists, Eritrea had
very little fungible “development aid” that it could recycle back to
hiring lobbyists in Washington like Ethiopia).
Today we are in the bizarre situation where Jendayi Frazer’s
Bureau of African Affairs is lobbying and threatening to designate
Eritrea as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” for an alleged involvement in
Somalia. What is it that Eritrea has done to the US national interest to
be included in the company of purveyors of nuclear technology? Why is
the reconstitution of the Somali state against U.S. interest?  

In any case if Assistant Secretary Frazer makes good on her
threat, then we will have the unprecedented situation of branding as
terrorist a nation that is itself an active target of Al-Qaeda, has been
a “Coalition Partner” to the U.S. and still maintains good relations
with U.S. allies like Israel. This is why the proposed designation is
bereft of common sense, and proportionality.
The fundamental reason is that U.S. policy on Africa is
designed on a lazy approach of focusing resources on the so-called
“Anchor States” – defined as Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia. 
What a reductionist policy, a complex continent of over fifty states
and home to hundreds of ethnic groups is to be anchored to five
“unrepresentative” countries. Pity particularly the states like Eritrea
that may have problems – regardless of their merit or justice– with one
of these anchor states. Imagine in this post 9/11 era, when winning the
global war on terrorism is a top priority, the U.S. is not interested in
multi-ethnic, multi-religious, internal conflict-free nations in the
very near periphery of the Middle East that has experience fighting
terrorists, for the simple reason that Eritrea is at odds with one of
the “Anchor States”, Ethiopia!
Ethiopia:  U.S. Comfort with Mirage of the Status Quo
The U.S.’s Cold War strategy for Ethiopia was to bet all of the
U.S.’s diplomatic, economic and military capital in the Horn on Emperor
Haile Sellassie.  The State Department policy today is to do the same
(with some window-dressing pushback by Washington here and there) with
the minority regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
Reporters from the New York Times and the Washington Post are
gradually awakening to the reality that all is not well in the Federal
Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, particularly the Ogaden. There is no
question that U.S. intelligence on the region is gathered by many
unscrupulous and non-accountable NGOs, and intelligence ‘contractors’
people that are motivated by self-interest no matter what. This
intelligence can easily fool officials and diplomats “who do not have
first hand knowledge of the regions they work in.” As it relates to the
broader Horn, U.S. diplomats in the region are too dependent on the
self-serving analysis of the intelligence agents of Ethiopia. American
diplomats have chosen to be taken in by Ethiopian duplicity and
misleading politeness rather than soberly and carefully analyzing
intelligence regarding the Horn of Africa. Ethiopian leaders have much
to gain from feeding dubious to outright false information to the U.S.
in order to further endear themselves to Washington. As a result the
global war on terrorism is suffering as Ethiopia cries wolf over and
over and devalues the seriousness of the real war against terrorism.
Former U.S. Assistant secretary of state for African Affairs
Herman Cohen (no friend of Eritrea) admitted in June 2006 to PBS that he
believes Ethiopia has been “feeding false intelligence about terrorists
being hidden and that sort of thing” to the U.S. government. Why? 
Cohen explained “Because the Ethiopians are deadly afraid of Moslem
control and also they have their own Moslem problem among the Oromo
ethnic group in Ethiopia. So they want to keep the Islamists out of
power, and they will bring the U.S. into it, if they can.” (PBS June 6,
2006).  Even David Shin, a former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, had
admitted six years ago that the intelligence on Somalia is based on
disinformation. Here are his words: “I would only note that there is
also a lot of disinformation floating around Somalia. It has been a
country where disinformation has been a parlor game for many years, and I
hope that whatever information does exist on these linkages [between
al-Ithad and al-Qaeda] is looked at pretty carefully and we try to
ferret out the good from the bad." (VOA, January 19, 2001). U.S. Africa
Diplomats should know that the outsourcing of important intelligence
work is a dereliction of duty that will have a negative consequence to
the real interests of the United States.
To add insult to injury, there is plenty of evidence that
Ethiopia in its continued effort to topple the government of Eritrea is
actually supporting the Eritrean Islamic Jihad Movement (EIJM) in its
war on Eritrea.  EIJM was formed and trained by Bin Laden in the Sudan. 
This group is officially listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S,
and one of their training videos was found in Afghanistan.  Assistant
Secretary Frazer should ask herself about the state sponsorship of
terror by her intelligence collaborator Ethiopia.
The other failure in United States diplomacy is in Somalia.
United States policy in Somalia for the large part is being shaped by
Ethiopia’s intelligence. The minority regime of Prime Minister Meles
Zenawi in Ethiopia was and is still responsible for the anarchy in
Somalia.
Somalia:  Creating Chaos and Self-Fulfilling Prophesies
The truth is that the current crisis in Somalia is a struggle
for the very life of Somalia, the nation and its people.  On the one had
were those who had attempted to resuscitate life into the nation and
had, with support of the Somali people, managed to bring about peace and
order – for the first time in over sixteen years . On the other side
are the warlords that were created and supported by Ethiopia, an
aggressively belligerent neighbor that doesn’t want to see a united
Somalia and was primarily responsible for the chaos that reigned the
past decade and half. Add to these a misguided United States foreign
policy and the situation has become dangerously explosive.  If the
U.S.-supported Ethiopian invasion was to prevent the potential for a
radicalized Somalia, then it has failed miserably.  In fact, the chaos
and violence that exists in Somalia today may actually create the
conditions for the very radicalization that Dr. Frazer and team feared.
There is another historical dimension to this.  In the early
1990s the United States was fighting against the warlords (or at least
some of them); now it is fighting to install some of the very same type
of warlords whose actions led to the death of American soldiers in the
1990s.  None of these warlords has been brought to justice. Such is the
tragedy of policymakers who do not want to see beyond their noses and
want to fight the battle of today only.
It is time for U.S. diplomats to really serve American
interests rather than simply following what is familiar, convenient or
“just the way things are done”.  There is too much at risk for America’s
long-term interests and for the lives of people who live in the regions
for which these diplomats help set U.S. policy.