The way forward to Ethiopia-U.S. relations: Collaboration or confrontation? (June 19, 2021)


(FDRE Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Foreign Affairs)

Mutually beneficial relations based on a common understanding and respect are central to further enhancing the Ethio-U.S.A. relations to a higher level with a direct impact on policies and institutions on the ground. In this regard, the US Senate resolution 97 is unhelpful to seek a lasting solution to the instabilities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. Withholding development aid and programmatic support to Ethiopia will hurt ordinary citizens and taint the longstanding relations between the two countries. Efforts to nurture long-term economic, political, and diplomatic relations between the two nations should be based on collaboration, not confrontation.

The U.S.A. needs to avoid being perceived as interfering in the internal affairs of nations or enhancing insecurity and socioeconomic vulnerability in countries such as Ethiopia. Senate resolution 97 is a matter of concern to Ethiopians and the country’s leadership. However, it should be of equal concern to the Whitehouse, State Department, and other executive branches as it hinders opportunities to advance the U.S.A.’s long-term interests in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa.

What is at stake?

Ethiopia is critically important to cement strong, viable and sustainable partnerships and relationships with countries of the world—developed and developing. Stable and vibrant Ethiopia is a key not only for the stability of the otherwise turbulent Horn of Africa but also for the beneficial and mutual relationships with diverse nations and economies. Today, the country boasts a total population of 110 million– the second populous nation in Africa after Nigeria with the median year of 19.5 years. Prior to the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ethiopia has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The robust and dynamic growth performance has improved the country’s capacity to finance its development needs and served as a magnet to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), principally from countries such as China, India, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in 2020 (a midst of COVID-19), Ethiopia was the third-largest recipient of FDI in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), competing with natural resources-rich countries of the region. Interestingly, while most countries of SSA attract FDI to their extractive sectors, Ethiopia’s FDI flows have been destined to the manufacturing and infrastructure sectors of the country. These trends have also redirected international trade away from the traditional developed economies towards newly emerging economies, with China alone absorbing the lion’s share in the country’s imports and exports. These global trends with an increasing shift in economic relations towards the developing South have diminished the role and significance of traditional development partners (USA, UK, and EU). The trends can serve as a signal for these partners to reestablish their relevance and reassert their strategic significance in Ethiopia and the rest of SSA. SSA is the region where developed countries have been ceding their historical significance in FDI and trade flows to China, India, and other emerging economies.

Despite declining trade and investment flows between the U.S.A. and Ethiopia, the U.S.A. has been an important source of Official Development Assistance (ODA) particularly to the social (education and health) sectors of Ethiopia. The U.S.A. also provides preferential investment and trade benefits to Ethiopia and several countries of Africa through the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Diaspora remittances have become important sources of financing mega-projects in Ethiopia in addition to supporting household consumption expenditures. Besides financial sources, the transfer of skills and knowledge of the Ethiopian Diaspora is vital for the country’s development. The largest sources of remittances and specific technical and know-how transfers are from the Ethiopian diaspora in the U.S.A. These show the vital supports of the U.S.A. for Ethiopia’s development endeavours and sustain partnerships of the two nations.

The engagements in and support of the U.S.A. to Ethiopia’s development efforts are also key to ensure and protect U.S.A.’s broader political, security and economic interests in the region. Ethiopia had also been included to benefit from the US Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) in 2018 when the country was deemed eligible to access MCA resources based on a complex set of criteria consisting of governance, economic freedom, policy, and political stability, among others. Despite ample opportunities to solidify and expand Ethio-U.S.A partnership, the U.S.A. has become a marginal player in Ethiopia’s trade, investment, and finance that may have significant ramifications to the long-term economic and strategic interests of the U.S.A. in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa.

The way forward

What seems a political stalemate between the U.S.A. and Ethiopia today requires moving beyond traditional discourses and “outside the box” thinking. This includes continuous efforts on both sides to recognize their mutual interests in the global socio-political situations and geo-political landscapes in the Horn of Africa. They must understand their common but differentiated responsibilities in resolving challenges in the political and humanitarian arenas in Ethiopia and defusing regional tensions. The U.S.A. must be an honest and neutral party in finding lasting solutions to internal conflict in Ethiopia and regional tensions. Threats of sanctions or any punitive measures will seriously harm the US interest and undermine its credibility in the Horn of Africa. Likewise, Ethiopia should continue efforts to open up democratic space and modernize its socioeconomic conditions. Such an approach is needed to build mutual trust and consensus between the two countries on issues of common interest, bilateral relations or in dealing with collective global challenges such as international terrorism or global warming.

There is an urgent need to seek the best way forward to advance mutually beneficial and collaborative relations. Forward-looking strategies based on mutual respect, interests and common understandings are necessary to foster genuine and mutually beneficial partnerships. Confrontational relationships and punitive measures will dampen opportunities for fostering mutual relationships and legitimize warlords at the expense of state-to-state relations.

In this context, the US Senate resolution 97 is misplaced, unwarranted and unhelpful to seek a lasting solution to the instabilities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The resolution instead of addressing the root causes of the crisis has unnecessarily focused on the consequences of the crisis. After all, the U.S.A. is fully aware of the ongoing efforts of the Ethiopian Government, the United Nations, and the broader international community to stabilize the Tigray administrative region, rehabilitate the victims and resettle displaced people. Core issues contained in the resolution such as, “protection of human rights” and “undertaking independent investigation for all allegations” requires expanded support and genuine partnership by the U.S.A. Improving overall governance and resolving conflicts need collaborative relationships not punitive measures or threats of sanctions-targeted or otherwise.

The U.S.A. should recognize that what Ethiopia needs more today than ever before is peace and stability as well as sustained improvement in socioeconomic conditions. When these translate into improved aggregate national income and investment in infrastructure and economic transformation, no doubt, Ethiopia offers increased opportunities for market expansion for goods and services and can be an ideal location for investors from across the world, including the U.S.A. The U.S.A. should also recognize that Ethiopia has been the source of a global peacekeeping force through the United Nations. It has been among the few nations contributing to regional peace and stability, including in the global fight against international terrorism in a historically turbulent region of the Horn of Africa. Moreover, Ethiopia is also a diplomatic hub of Africa with its capital-Addis Ababa-hosting several international and regional organizations, including the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). The African Union (AU) is the regional organization, which is the pulse of Africa’s economic, political, and diplomatic relations with the rest of the world. For any nation – superpower or otherwise-forging  collaborative relationships with Ethiopia is vital to pursue their respective strategic interest in the African continent. The U.S.A. is not an exception in this.


The current hiccupsin relationships between the U.S.A. and Ethiopia should not put their mutual, beneficial, and vital economic and strategic interests in Africa on a rocky road. Vibrant and stable Ethiopia is vital for the stability of the Horn of Africa and for the protection and promotion of strategic interests of its development partners, including the U.S.A. Therefore, what Ethiopia needs from its traditional development partners such as the U.S.A. is enhanced, expanded and robust financial, technical, diplomatic, and political supports. As much as Ethiopia needs the continued and expanded support of development partners, the country’s principal partners (particularly the USA) also need the progress and stability of Ethiopia as a regional partner.

Despite the numerous short-term and medium-term challenges facing Ethiopia, history has shown us that the country can and will bounce back and re-emerge as a viable and dependable partner. The current political and socioeconomic challenges including those related to COVID-19 are temporary stumbles or hurdles, but these are not insurmountable. Therefore, it is vital that the U.S.A. stands by Ethiopia instead of brandishing its economic and strategic might against the country. It is critically important for the U.S.A. to recognize that its relations with Ethiopia are one of the oldest in the African continent not only in terms of diplomatic or state-to-state ties but also people-to-people relations. The ties between the two countries have overcome or withstood the tests of time. They have seen their shares of ups and downs as well as tensions over the last decades.

Despite all storms in state-to-state relations, ties between the peoples of Ethiopia and the U.S.A remain solid and beneficial for the two countries. In sum, in spite of the asymmetrical economic, strategic and development paths of the two countries, the relationships between the U.S.A. and Ethiopia have equally been beneficial to both parties. Admittedly, the moral of the US trade and economic supports to Ethiopia has been pro-poor and pro-development. Likewise, Ethiopia is a credible and principled partner of the U.S.A. in the turbulent Horn of Africa. The two countries should revitalize their mutually beneficial engagements and partnerships as they could not afford to ignore or undermine one another.

 Editor’s Note: The views entertained in this article do not necessarily reflect the stance of The Ethiopian Herald

The Ethiopian Herald June 19/2021

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