President Joe Biden continues to play the cluelessly racist and paternalistic Ugly American in the Horn of Africa.
Under his leadership, the US has been at war with Ethiopia since last November, when its former puppet, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, attacked a federal Ethiopian army base in Mekelle, the capital of the country’s Tigray Region. Tigrayans are only 6% of Ethiopia’s population, but the TPLF ruled the whole nation with an iron fist from 1991 to 2018, when popular uprisings forced them from power.
This is hybrid warfare, which may include official censure, mass media disinformation campaigns, sanctions, financial strangulation by the IMF and World Bank, proxy war, special military operations, covert operations, state-of-the-art satellite intelligence, and/or drone bombing. We shouldn’t hesitate to call it war because this is how US wars will be waged going forward. It’s unlikely that the US will ever again make large troop commitments like those made in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it remains committed to perpetual war for global hegemony. In this war on Ethiopia, as in all others, the US demands unconditional surrender. In a statement on his executive order threatening Ethiopia and its ally Eritrea with new sanctions, Biden calls on the sovereign Ethiopian government to stop fighting the armed TPLF insurrection within its borders and come to the negotiating table "without preconditions.”
The US has already sanctioned individuals, including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and Eritrean Defense Minister General Filipos Woldeyohannes, but neither have foreign assets to seize. Since mid-September, Biden has threatened more sweeping sanctions that will punish the Ethiopian people, even as he equivocates that “these sanctions are not directed at the people of Ethiopia or Eritrea, but rather the individuals and entities perpetrating the violence and driving a humanitarian disaster.”
Most Western press about the Ethiopian conflict has disparaged the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and blamed him for the war, even though it began when the TPLF attacked a federal army base nearly a year ago. Last week, however, the journal Foreign Policy published “Don’t Remove Ethiopia’s AGOA Trade Privileges,” an essay by Mamo Mihretu, a senior policy advisor to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Ethiopia’s chief trade negotiator.
Mihretu argued that, if Biden removes preferential trade arrangements under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), then ordinary Ethiopians, most of all rural women who work in the country’s fledgling manufacturing sector, will be those who suffer. The act, signed by Bill Clinton in 2000, gave tariff free access to the US market to goods manufactured in Sub-Saharan African nations, including Ethiopia. Ethiopian exports then rose from $28 million to $300 million between 2000 and 2020. Thirty-four to 40 African nations have benefited annually from AGOA since its inception.
This week, during a Web conference with People to People, an Ethiopian diaspora NGO founded to improve life in Ethiopia, Ethiopian Ambassador to the US Fitsum Arega said that he had turned to African ambassadors in the US, the African Union, and their trade experts for support.
“We are at the moment in the middle of reviewing the AGOA midterm, and today we had a meeting with African Union leaders in Addis, and the senior trade experts of the 38 African countries eligible for AGOA, along with African Ambassadors in D.C. I moderated two sessions, and I also mentioned the threat by the US Administration to sanction Ethiopia. I asked the solidarity of all African countries to support Ethiopia.
“The Biden administration’s deadline for deciding is October 30, so we are left with a few days. On the 20th and 21st, there will be the last sessions with the different US agencies, including the State Department. So, with these remaining days, we are really focused on saving AGOA.
“October 30 is the deadline for the administration to send their final recommendation to the Congress. I don’t know of any case in which Congress has failed to approve such a decision, but they will have 60 more days to come to a conclusion.”
The Ambassador also said that some of those who place orders with manufacturers in Ethiopia have already put them on hold, waiting to see what will happen. On his Twitter page, he suggested that the African Union learn from the European Union and negotiate AGOA agreements as a block.
Ethiopia has made it clear that it will not sit down to negotiate with the TPLF, or the US, “without preconditions.” To many Ethiopians, that would be tantamount to surrender, not only to the US but also to a rebel army representing six percent of the nation’s population.
So, will the US accept anything less?
Ann Garrison is a Black Agenda Report Contributing Editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace through her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes Region. Please support her independent journalism on Patreon . She can be reached on Twitter @AnnGarrison and at ann(at)anngarrison(dot)com.