Friday, September 12, 2008

Senator Feingold's Lack of Knowledge

A Week in the Horn

12 September 2008

Addis Ababa

Inevitably, it comes as a considerable surprise when a US Senator, and one who is Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Sub-Committee on African Affairs, sees fit to equate the democratic credentials of a prime minister duly elected in a successful multi-party election with a president who seized power by military force. It suggests a frightening level of misunderstanding at best; at worst....Senator Feingold’s speech this week at Georgetown University, like his remarks introducing his recent bill on Ethiopia in the Senate, displays a serious level of ignorance.

There are two serious issues here. One, of course, is whether any government, whether the US or any other one, has the right to legislate in an attempt to dictate policies to another government. Senator Feingold’s S3457, like Congressman Payne’s HR2003 previously, is a deliberate attempt to allow US interference in Ethiopia’s judiciary, media, electoral processes, economy, national security and foreign affairs. It will seriously affect the currently close relations between Ethiopia and the US. Indeed, whatever Senator Feingold’s intentions, and he praises Ethiopia for being a good friend of the US, there’s no doubt, as he must be very well aware, his bill will pose a very real threat to US-Ethiopia relations. This was heavily underlined in his speech casting aspersions on the Ethiopian leadership in what virtually amounted to a call to subvert the democratic process in Ethiopia.

The other issue here is that many of the claims made in the bill, and in Senator Feingold’s speeches, are quite simply wrong, in many cases out of date, in others just inaccurate. The reasons for this appear to be that Senator Feingold, like Representative Payne before him, has relied on the allegations and claims all too often repeated by Eritrea, whose approach is dedicated to bringing down this government for its own ends. Eritrea, of course, has no need to take into account what has been achieved in Ethiopia in recent years. One wonders, however, what might be the common objective of Eritrea and members of the US Congress. This, incidentally, raises the issue of what US Congressmen are doing, trying to legislate in the US Congress on behalf of externally based Ethiopian opposition groups, a number of which are openly committed to armed struggle and employ terrorist tactics. The most egregious error is to ignore the undeniable fact that the EPRDF convincingly won a multi-party election in 2005. It wasn't perfect, any more than the US elections of 2000 and 2004 were perfect, but even discounting all irregularities there is no doubt the EPRDF won. All serious observers and analysts would agree. Similarly to suggest that it is only “Ethiopian reformers” who try to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law, demonstrates that Senator Feingold has been almost totally mislead about the way the political situation has developed in Ethiopia.

In fact, Senator Feingold’s comments suggest he has been listening far too much to the more extreme elements of the US-based Ethiopian opposition, some of whom are in cahoots with Eritrea actively determined to destabilize the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. It is equally surprising that Senator Feingold and others are prepared to give credence to these complaints without looking a little more closely into the background and the reality on the ground. The same is true of Senator Feingold’s understanding of the democratic process in Ethiopia, of what happened in 2005, of the operation of the judiciary and of events in the Somali Regional State. The reality in every case is seriously different from his allegations as the briefest of investigations would demonstrate. Senator Feingold should look more carefully at the reality of what has been achieved in Ethiopia in recent years, at the progress made in the democratic process, in the economy, in progress towards the MDGs, and in human rights, including the reform of the National Electoral Board, the creation of the Office of the Ombudsman and the creation of a Human Rights Commission, the provision of proper training for riot police, major improvements in the judicial system and extensive training for security forces and the military in international human rights legislation.

One cannot avoid being surprised at the paradox contained in the major theme of Senator Feingold’s speech. The Senator is apparently unhappy with the way in which the current US administration has attempted to introduce “democracy and freedom” in the Middle East. The Senator believes that the challenge that the US faces in Iraq is a result of that particular approach. In short, Senator Feingold in the first part of his speech is vehemently opposed to meddling by the US in the internal affairs of other countries. Then, in the second part, where he begins to focus on Ethiopia, and his bill, the principled approach expounded earlier is abandoned and a blatantly hubristic call for political intervention in Ethiopia’s affairs takes its place. What a paradox! It might be appropriate here to remind the Senator that Ethiopia is a sovereign and independent country. One might also wonder just how the interests of the United States can be promoted by Senator Feingold’s proposals.

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