Ethiopia faces a rebel movement in its dry and dirt-poor southeastern province. These rebels from the Ogaden clan have been strengthened by Muslim fundamentalists in neighboring Somalia and by Eritrea, a country that exists today only because the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi granted a wish for independence.
Muslim fundamentalists, Ogaden rebels, and Eritrea now share a common objective and a common enemy. Their goal is nothing short of the breakup of Ethiopia, one of the oldest countries in the world and a strong American ally in our struggle against terrorism.
Why then did the House of Representatives vote to punish Ethiopia by passing H.R. 2003?
Members of the House say they are concerned about the manner in which Ethiopia has dealt with the Ogaden insurgency. By all reports they should be concerned. The Ethiopian military campaign against the rebels has been brutal and little has been done by the government to stop the abuse and help the people of the region build new lives.
But voting for H.R. 2003 was wrong. It won’t end the abuses or the insurgency. Rather, it will weaken a friend and an ally.
The Ethiopian government will reject H.R. 2003 as a naive and unhelpful interference in its internal affairs. They will rightly complain that it fails to recognize the considerable progress they have made in growing political space and opening the economy. They will correctly point out that H.R. 2003 is not evenhanded because it sides with leaders of Ethiopia’s opposition, whom the government recently pardoned and released from prison at the behest of the international community.
Worse, H.R. 2003 will be used by Ethiopia’s enemies to fan intolerance in this nation of 77 million Christians and Muslims who until recently lived together peacefully.”
If our goal is to help a friend build democracy and improve its human rights, then Congress will not vote H.R. 2003 into law because it is the type of legislation that would more appropriately be reserved for our enemies.
By prioritizing security and cutting back on aid and trade, the United States may weaken its long-term strategic position on the continent.