At a recent event hosted by a mission organization one of its leaders shared passionately how their efforts to train local leaders “saved” the Democratic Republic of Congo. This leader briefly shared how at the end of its second civil war Congo had been on the brink of economic independence from the West, but had fallen apart and into the same hands it wished to be free of. Congo is widely considered the wealthiest country in the world due its diamonds, gold, copper, and other natural resources but hasn’t been able to use its resources to enrich its own people.
Congo’s brutal conflict (1997-2003) was not, in fact, a civil war, according to some scholars. It was, they insist, a war between the U.S. and Russia, known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) at the time. According to Erik M. Davis:
“The Congo Crisis of the early 1960s served as a satellite conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Scholars have argued about U.S. motivations and interests involved in the Congo Crisis. The major division between scholars is between those who contend the United States acted for national security reasons and those scholars who argue the United States desired to establish a neocolonial regime to protect economic interests pertaining to vast Congolese mineral wealth.”
The question is not if the U.S. was involved, but why it was involved in the Congo conflict. We must ask the same question today of America’s involvement in the Ethiopian conflict.
On November 6, thousands of Ethiopians marched on the streets of capital Addis Ababa in support of their elected government. They denounced the U.S.’s acute interest and meddling in Ethiopia’s affairs and denounced Western media outlets like CNN for distributing what they view as “fake news” about the country’s year-long conflict. Ethiopians also called out Facebook for aiding the spread of false information that fueled local violence, and Twitter for shutting down its Trends section in Ethiopia. On November 8, members of the Ethiopian diaspora in the U.S. marched on the streets of Washington, D.C. and demanded the Biden administration stop interfering with the Ethiopian government. Such interference, they believe, undermines Ethiopia’s very new democracy, and negates the U.S.’s proclaimed desire to see democracy around the world. By ignoring the will of the people, the Biden administration would essentially be vetoing the votes of Ethiopians and positioning itself as acting head of state to a sovereign state. Asserting its will on the situation only bolsters Ethiopians’ suspicion that the U.S. has something to gain by allegedly destabilizing one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield acknowledged during an August 2020 panel discussion on U.S.-Africa relations that, historically and across administrations, U.S. policies toward the continent “have been prescriptive. We tell Africans what they should look like, what they should be doing, what they should focus on and what their priorities should be” (27:30). Thomas-Greenfield also admitted that the U.S. has “taken [from] but not given back” to the continent in terms of economy-building resources. “We have generally identified our interest in Africa as it relates to other foreign policy priorities,” she added, noting how U.S. relations with Africa have been steered by its concerns about Russian and Chinese influences on the continent.
Although the project drew punitive action from the prior U.S. administration, some view Egypt’s and Sudan’s demands for decision-making powers regarding Ethiopia’s unilateral development of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) as a factor in the current administration’s approach to the ongoing civil war. President Joe Biden announced in early November that he was dropping Ethiopia from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a U.S. trade program that “provides sub-Saharan African nations duty-free access to the United States on the condition they meet certain requirements, including eliminating barriers to U.S. trade and investment and making progress toward political pluralism.” The U.S. has criticized Ethiopia’s “failure to end a nearly yearlong war in the Tigray region that has led to ‘gross violations’ of human rights,” presumably the cause for its recent sanctions.
Several devastating massacres have taken place in Northern Ethiopia since conflict broke out between the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) last November. Much of the media attention has focused on Amnesty International’s reports on Eritrean and Ethiopian troops killing hundreds of Tigrayans, while minimizing the TPLF’s role in the war. The atrocities in Tigray led to accusations of “genocide” and women’s reports of being raped, while sexual violence committed by Tigrayan rebels against Amhara women and mass killing of civilians have not been as widely reported. The U.S. has called for negotiations and a ceasefire to end the war, which has displaced millions from their homes and created famine-like conditions in the North.
Despite their concerns about the severity of the conflict, Ethiopians’ suspicions of U.S. interests in the region persist. They question if the need for humanitarian aid could morph into humanitarian intervention and, thus, a regime change. Already, there are calls for U.S. troops to get involved, the argument being that inter-ethnic fighting in Ethiopia could escalate to levels comparable to the Rwandan genocide.
Americans must demand that an independent investigation be conducted before the U.S., or any Western power, involves its military in Ethiopia. We must demand just foreign policies and reject dangerous diplomacy motivated by greed or simply a desire to intimidate rivals — or, as suspected in the case of Ethiopia’s Nile River dam, that disregards a nation’s right to self-reliance.
When an initial ceasefire was requested by the U.S. in June, the Ethiopian government complied, and eventually left the region. However, the TPLF advanced to Amhara and Afar regions and now threatens to invade Addis Ababa. Negotiations must hold both the Ethiopian government and the TPLF accountable if the U.S. is to maintain integrity and avoid further compromising an already volatile situation.
As Christians, we must seek the truth so that we can stand with our government or hold it accountable, especially when innocent lives are on the line. We must engage in our country’s foreign policy agenda, an agenda with far-reaching repercussions for a majority of the world, especially Africa. Despite the era of postcolonialism as we know it, parts of Africa remain vulnerable to the West’s economic and political manipulations, and Ethiopia is no exception.
Edited by: Nicola A. Menzie