One of the oldest countries in the world, Ethiopia has endured considerable strife and human oppression during its modern history. Prior to World War II, Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia as part of Benito Mussolini’s megalomaniac dreams of establishing an Italian Empire. This turned Ethiopia’s exiled ruler, Haile Selassie, into a renowned figure as he sought international assistance to free his people. Following the conclusion of WWII, Ethiopia was again free, with Haile Selassie in charge. The Ethiopian government forged a military relationship with the US during the early days of the Cold War, allowing American personnel to carry out eavesdropping operations on Soviet-backed regimes in the region. US-Ethiopian relations deteriorated in the 1970s as a military clique overthrew Haile Selassie and began courting the USSR for military assistance. By the 1980s, the US no longer counted Ethiopia as an ally. During this time, the country became embroiled in civil conflicts, famines and human rights violations by the Dergue regime.
With the downfall of the Dergue in the early 1990s, relations with the US began to slowly improve. Also at this time, Ethiopia agreed to allow its province of Eritrea to break away and become independent, taking with it Ethiopia’s access to the Red Sea and turning the country into a land-locked nation. Tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea deteriorated in just a few short years, leading to a bloody border conflict from 1998-2000. Inthe years that followed, the US, under the leadership of President George W. Bush, forged a strong anti-terrorism alliance with the Ethiopian government, led by dictator Meles Zenawi, who has helped American intelligence officials capture and interrogate suspected Islamic terrorists from Somalia. Ethiopians in the United States have lobbied Congress to cutoff aid to the Meles government unless democratic reforms are implemented. The legislation has been the subject of fierce opposition from the Bush administration and lobbyists hired by the Ethiopian government.
Lay of the Land: Located in northern East Africa, Ethiopia is a scenic, rugged land. Below-sea-level deserts contrast with 15,000-foot mountains. The Ethiopian and Somali plateaus are split by the Great Rift Valley; the Blue Nile begins at Lake Tana in the west and hooks northward to Egypt. Although lying just north of the equator, Ethiopia's range of altitudes makes it a region of several different climates. Farmers typically harvest two crops per year.
Population: 78.3 million
Religions: Muslim (Sunni) 45%, Ethiopian Orthodox Church 40%, Christian Evangelical 10%, Ethnoreligious 5%.
Languages: Amharic (official) 25.6%, Oromo language cluster (Borana-Arsi-Guji, Eastern, West Central) 25.0%, Somali 4.9%, Tigrigna (official) 4.8%, Sidamo 2.8%, Wolaytta 1.9%, Gamo-Gofa-Dawro 1.8%, Hadiyya 1.4%, Afar 1.4%, English (official). There are 84 living languages in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia’s history is in some respects the history of mankind. Bones discovered in eastern Ethiopia dated back 3.2 million years, making them some of the earliest ever found. Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the oldest in the world. According to legend, Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, founded the Ethiopian Empire.
The first Ethiopian kingdom, based on documentary evidence, is that of Aksum (Axum), which probably emerged in the 2nd Century. Aksum controlled much of the Red Sea coast and had links with the Mediterranean world. Under King Ezana, Aksum was converted in the 4th Century to Christianity by Frumentius of Tyre. In the 6th Century, Jewish influence penetrated Aksum, and some Ethiopians were converted to Judaism.
With the rise of Islam in the 7th Century, Aksum began to decline, mainly because its land contacts with the Byzantine Empire were severed and its control of the Red Sea trade routes ended. Largely cut off from the outside world, Aksum unraveled, and Ethiopia lapsed into a period of competition among competing groups.
In 1530–31, Ahmad Gran, a Muslim Somali leader, conquered much of Ethiopia. The Ethiopian emperor Lebna Dengel appealed to Portugal for help against the Somalis. The Somali war exhausted Ethiopia, ending a period of cultural revival and exposing the empire to incursions by the Oromo. For the next two centuries, the Ethiopian kingdom was torn apart by civil wars and attacks by the Oromo.
The reunification of Ethiopia in the 19th Century came about under Lij Kasa, who conquered Amhara, Gojjam, Tigray, and Shoa. In 1855 he was crowned emperor as Tewodros II and began to modernize and centralize the legal and administrative systems. Tensions developed with Great Britain, and Tewodros imprisoned several Britons, including the British consul. A British military expedition was sent out, and the emperor’s forces were easily defeated near Magdala (now Amba Mariam) in 1868. To avoid capture, Tewodros committed suicide.
A brief civil war followed, and in 1872 a chieftain of Tigray became emperor as John (Yohannes) IV. John’s attempts to further centralize the government led to revolts by local leaders. His regime was threatened during 1875–76 by Egyptian incursions and, after 1881, by raids by followers of the Mahdi in Sudan. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 increased the strategic importance of Ethiopia, and several European powers (particularly Italy, France, and Great Britain) sought influence in the area. In 1889, John was killed fighting the Mahdists, and, following a short succession crisis, the king of Shoa (who had Italian support) was crowned emperor as Menelik II.
Menelik signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation with Italy in 1889. Due to a dispute over the meaning of the treaty (Italy claimed it had been given a protectorate over Ethiopia, which Menelik denied), Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1895, but was defeated by Menelik’s forces at Adwa on March 1, 1896. Italy was forced to recognizing the independence of Ethiopia, while retaining its Eritrean colonial base.
During his reign, Menelik greatly expanded the size of Ethiopia, adding the provinces of Harar, Sidamo and Kaffa. In addition, he modernized the military and the government, made Addis Ababa the capital, developed the economy, and promoted the building of the country’s first railroad, with the help of financing from France.
Menelik died in 1913 and was succeeded by his grandson, Lij Iyasu, who alienated his fellow countrymen by favoring Muslims, and antagonized the British, French, and Italians through his support of Germany and Austria-Hungary during World War I. Lij Iyasu was deposed in 1916 and Judith (Zawditu), a daughter of Menelik, was made empress with Ras Tafari Makonnen as regent and heir apparent. During the 1920s, there was tension with Italy and Great Britain, as each tried to extend its influence in Ethiopia. Ras Tafari was given additional powers by the empress in 1928, and upon her death in 1930, he was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie I, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God.
Almost immediately, Haile Selassie faced threats from Italy’s ruler, Benito Mussolini, who was determined to establish an Italian empire and to avenge the defeat at Adwa. A border clash at Welwel, along the border with Italian Somaliland, on Dec. 5, 1934, increased tensions, and on Oct. 3, 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia. The League of Nations (which Ethiopia had joined in 1923) called for mild economic sanctions against Italy, but they had little effect, and an attempt by the British and French governments to arrange a settlement by giving Italy much of Ethiopia failed. The Italians quickly defeated the Ethiopians, and in May, 1936, Addis Ababa was captured and Haile Selassie fled the country. On June 1, 1936, the king of Italy was also made emperor of Ethiopia. The country was combined with Eritrea and Italian Somaliland to form Italian East Africa.
On June 30, 1936, Haile Selassie appeared at the General Assembly of the League of Nations in Geneva and gave a dramatic speech on behalf of the Ethiopian people in which he detailed the atrocities committed by the Italians, including the use of chemical weapons, and appealed to the world community to save his nation, concluding, “What reply shall I take back to my people?” Haile Selassie was instantly transformed into an international celebrity and a symbol of the war against Fascism. After British and Ethiopian troops drove out the Italians, he returned to Ethiopia in 1941 and, after World War II, Ethiopia became a charter member of the United Nations.
Unbeknownst to Haile Selassie, thousands of miles away on the island of Jamaica, four ministers, inspired by his list of titles, created the Rastafarian movement, a religion that worshipped Haile Selassie as God incarnate. In 1961 a delegation of Rastafarians traveled to Ethiopia for the first time and met with the archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, who told them that Haile Selassie considered himself a man just like them and that he would be upset if he learned that they considered him God. Far from being discouraged, the Rastafarians were convinced that this humility on Haile Selassie’s part was proof of his divinity. In 1966, he agreed to visit Jamaica. When Haile Selassie landed at the international airport in Kingston on April 21, more than 100,000 Rastafarians swarmed all over the airfield and the official government welcoming ceremony had to be canceled. Haile Selassie had to be convinced that his life was not in danger before he would deplane. He was unable to persuade the Rastas that he was not God, but as a gesture he donated land in Ethiopia for the Rastafarians to establish a community.
Great Britain had considerable influence in Ethiopian affairs until the end of WWII and administered the small Haud region in the southeast (adjacent to present-day Somalia) until 1955. Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia in 1952, giving Ethiopian access to the Red Sea.
Despite considerable aid from the United States and other countries, Ethiopia remained economically underdeveloped, with its wealth concentrated in the hands of a small number of large landlords and the Ethiopian church. A coup in 1960 lasted only a few days before Haile Selassie was returned to power. Between 1961 and 1967 there were border skirmishes between Ethiopia and Somalia, and in the late 1960s and early 1970s there was considerable fighting between the government and a guerrilla secessionist movement in Eritrea. In 1966, Haile Selassie instituted several reforms, including the granting of more power to the cabinet. But unrest continued among groups seeking more far-reaching reforms.
After a period of civil unrest, which began in February 1974, the aging Haile Selassie was deposed on September 12, 1974, and a provisional administrative council of soldiers, known as the Dergue (“committee”) seized power from the emperor and installed a government, which was socialist in name and military in style. The Dergue summarily executed 59 members of the royal family and ministers and generals of the emperor’s government; Emperor Haile Selassie was strangled in the basement of his palace on August 22, 1975.
Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam assumed power as head of state and Dergue chairman, after having his two predecessors killed. Mengistu’s years in office were marked by a totalitarian-style government and the country’s massive militarization, financed by the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, and assisted by Cuba. From 1977 through early 1978 thousands of suspected enemies of the Dergue were tortured and/or killed in a purge called the “red terror.” Communism was officially adopted during the late 1970s and early 1980s with the promulgation of a Soviet-style constitution, Politburo, and the creation of the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia (WPE).
In December 1976, an Ethiopian delegation in Moscow signed a military assistance agreement with the Soviet Union. The following April, Ethiopia abrogated its military assistance agreement with the United States and expelled the American military missions. In July 1977, sensing the disarray in Ethiopia, Somalia attacked across the Ogaden Desert in pursuit of its claims to the ethnic Somali areas of Ethiopia. Ethiopian forces were driven back deep inside their own frontier but, with the assistance of a massive Soviet airlift of arms and Cuban combat forces, they stemmed the attack. The major Somali regular units were forced out of the Ogaden in March 1978.
The rule of the Dergue was weakened by droughts and famine that tormented Ethiopians during the 1980s. Insurrections cropped up, particularly in the northern regions of Tigray and Eritrea. In 1989, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) merged with other opposition movements to form the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). In May 1991, EPRDF forces advanced on Addis Ababa. Mengistu fled the country for asylum in Zimbabwe. As Addis Ababa descended into chaos, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Herman Cohen, encouraged the EPRDF to enter the capital “to stabilize the situation,” which they proceeded to do without hesitation.
The Ethiopians were glad to be rid of Mengistu, but the “situation” was not so simple. Traditionally, the capital, not to mention the central government itself, had been dominated by the Amhara people. But the new “interim” president, Meles Zenawi, was a Tigrayan, an ethnic group from the far north of Ethiopia that made up only 6% of the nation’s population. Protesters threw stones at the US embassy and called the change of government “Cohen’s coup.”
Many Ethiopians were also infuriated when Meles Zenawi gave his blessing to Eritrean independence, which turned Ethiopia into a landlocked nation. Meles, who might have been satisfied to have secured independence for his Tigrayan people, now found himself the leader of the entire nation of Ethiopia (minus Eritrea). Although he pledged to turn Ethiopia into a multi-party democracy, staying in power was too hard to resist. Still, he knew that to keep the financial and military support of Europe and the United States, he needed to create an appearance of a multi-ethnic democracy. In regional elections in 1992, he outlawed the Oromo Liberation Front, which represented Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromos. By 1994, he was ready to put on a better show. Meles proudly bragged that 39 different political organizations, representing all the major ethnic groups, took part in the June 5 election. In fact, what he had done was to create for each ethnic group a puppet party that supported his government. All of the real opposition parties boycotted the election. In the Ogaden region, where ethnic Somalis continued to wage a war of secession, the elections were not held at all.
In 1998 one of the most useless wars in recent history broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea. When Eritrea gained its independence, there were three small areas where the border was left undefined. On May 6, 1998, a few soldiers from Eritrea crossed into the Badme region, one of the disputed zones, and engaged in a brief firefight with local militia in the Tigray Province of Ethiopia. Considering that the leaders of the two countries were once close allies, the incident should have been resolved peacefully and easily. But both Ethiopia’s Meles and Eritrea’s Isaias Afewerki were facing major political problems at home, and both could use a war for their own benefit, even it would prove ruinous for their people. Meles, who was still viewed with resentment by many Ethiopians for giving away Eritrea, saw a chance to prove that he was a true Ethiopian patriot. Isaias whipped up similar patriotic sentiment to distract attention from the miserable state of the Eritrean economy. The fighting quickly escalated into a full-scale war, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and leaving tens of thousands of soldiers dead. In May 2000, Ethiopian troops cut one of the Eritrean army’s main supply lines and occupied a quarter of Eritrea. The Eritreans retreated from the disputed zones and Ethiopia declared victory, ending the war.
However, although the killing ended, the conflict was not over. On December 12, 2000, the two sides, as part of the Algiers Agreement, agreed to binding arbitration in which an Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission would study the claims of both sides and decide the final borders. In April 2002 the Boundary Commission gave each country some of the disputed territory, but it awarded the Badme region to Eritrea. Meles, despite his earlier agreement to binding arbitration, refused to accept the decision and refused to return the territory to Eritrea.
In April 2001, student demonstrations demanding greater academic freedom and the removal of armed police from campuses ignited simmering discontent in Addis Ababa with rising unemployment and deteriorating economic conditions. Soon there was widespread rioting, and security forces killed 130 people and imprisoned hundreds more.
On May 15, 2005, Ethiopia held parliamentary elections. The day of the voting passed peacefully, but when the results were announced, trouble started. Meles’ EPRDF claimed they had won more than 300 of the 527 seats contested, while the leading opposition parties announced that they were leading in most constituencies. The next evening, Meles declared a state of emergency and took control of all security forces. Demonstrations against election fraud grew until June 8, the day that the official results were originally supposed to be announced. That day, police in Addis Ababa shot to death at least 37 protestors and an estimated 4,000 people were arrested. When the final results were finally released on July 8, they showed the EPRDF with 327 seats. Protests continued until November, when police killed another 48 people and again made thousands of arrests. Among the 730 protesters and opposition leaders sent to jail was the mayor-elect of Addis Ababa, Berhanu Nega, who was not released until July 20, 2007.
A drought in 2000–2001 affected some 10 million Ethiopians, with as many as 50,000 dying from starvation. Another famine threatened the country in 2003. Things improved somewhat by 2004, but several million people were still dependent on food aid. In 2003–2004 ethnic violence erupted in the Gambela region, including accusations that the army was involved in some of the attacks.
In April 2006, Ethiopian soldiers fought with Kenyan forces when the soldiers pursued Oromo rebels across the border into Kenya. Somali Islamists accused Ethiopia of invading Somalia in June after the Islamists secured control of much of South Somalia. Although Ethiopia denied the charge, Meles denounced Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of the Somali Islamists, as a threat to Ethiopia. The sheikh accused Ethiopia of “occupying” the Ogaden.
In July 2006, there were more reports of Ethiopian troops entering Somalia, but the Ethiopian government did not acknowledge this until October, when it claimed that the Ethiopian forces in Somalia were military trainers. In December the Somali Islamists demanded that Ethiopian troops leave or face attack. When fighting erupted, Somali government forces supported by Ethiopian forces drove the Islamists from their Somalia strongholds. Warfare ended in early 2007, but insurgent attacks continued in the subsequent months. Flooding in August–September and again in October damaged several Ethiopian regions, affecting several hundred thousand people.
US-Ethiopian relations were established in 1903 and continued until the Italian occupation in 1935. After World War II, ties between Washington, DC, and Addis Ababa grew stronger after the signing of a September 1951 treaty of amity and economic relations. This was followed in 1953 by a mutual defense assistance agreement, under which the United States agreed to furnish military equipment and training, and an accord regularizing the operations of a US communication facility at Asmara. The defense agreement gave the United States a 25-year lease on the Kagnew Communications Station in Asmara. At the time, Kagnew was one of the largest radio relay and communications monitoring stations in the world. The United States later developed its facilities, which were manned by 4,000 American military personnel, to monitor Soviet radio communications throughout the region.
The Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement required the United States to provide $5 million to equip and train three 6,000-member Ethiopian divisions. A United States Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) was sent to Ethiopia to administer this program. Despite additional increases in US military assistance, the Ethiopian government complained that the aid was insufficient. In early 1956, Addis Ababa appealed to Washington for “a combination of grants and long-term military credits to support the country’s defense needs,” which included the suppression of Eritrean dissenters. In October 1956, the US National Security Council responded to this request by issuing a report that included a recommendation that United States assistance to Ethiopia be increased.
In 1960, Washington officials promised to provide support for a 40,000-member Ethiopian army, leading to further increases in US military aid. In the 1960s, at the peak of United States involvement, more than 300 American personnel were serving in the MAAG. In addition, nearly 23,000 Ethiopian service personnel, including at least twenty who subsequently became members of the Dergue, received advanced training directly from American personnel. About 4,000 of these troops were trained at facilities in the United States, Mengistu Haile Mariam among them. By 1974 Ethiopia’s armed forces had becme completely dependent on the United States for military hardware and spare parts.
US assistance continued after the overthrow of Haile Selassie in 1974, although it was accompanied by proposals for a negotiated settlement in Eritrea. After the execution of a large number of high-ranking officials of the imperial regime in November 1974, the United States postponed the signing of a pending aid agreement, but shipments of aircraft and tanks doubled the dollar value of military assistance in 1975. Citing the “arms imbalance in the region” resulting from Soviet aid to Somalia, Washington proposed to update Ethiopia’s arms inventory over a three-year period by turning over $200 million worth of surplus material originally designated for South Vietnam. The United States also authorized the transfer of an F-5 fighter aircraft squadron from Iran to Ethiopia. Total United States arms sales to Ethiopia in 1974 and 1975 amounted to $35 million.
During 1976, tensions developed between Washington and Addis Ababa over the ongoing Military Assistance Program. The Dergue rejected a new Foreign Military Sales (FMS) credit agreement because Washington had imposed a higher interest rate. The Ethiopian government also complained about delays in arms delivery schedules in the face of growing Soviet military assistance to Somalia. Meanwhile, the United States refused to approve a $60 million program to replace equipment lost in Eritrea. Despite the growing rift, a State Department official testifying before a Congressional committee characterized the Ethiopian government as “not systematically or intrinsically anti-US.”
The first significant shift in relations between the two countries came in December 1976, when a Dergue delegation headed by Mengistu visited Moscow and concluded an arms agreement with the Soviet Union valued at $385 million that was designed to end Washington’s virtual monopoly on arms supplies to Ethiopia. In February 1977, US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance recommended a cessation of grant military assistance to Ethiopia because of Addis Ababa’s human rights violations. The United States also informed the Dergue in February that it intended to reduce the size of the United States military mission and to close the Kagnew Communications Station, where activities already were being phased out, by the end of September 1977.
As a result of these actions, the Ethiopian government responded by closing American military installations and kicking MAAG personnel out of the country. A large store of equipment remained behind in the rapid American departure. Ethiopia then abrogated the 1953 United States Ethiopian Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement and terminated the lease on Kagnew Station.
By 1978-1979, the United States had provided Ethiopia with $282 million in military assistance and $366 million in economic assistance in agriculture, education, public health and transportation. A Peace Corps program emphasized education, and US Information Service educational and cultural exchanges were numerous.
Relations between the US and Ethiopia were almost non-existent during the 1980s, as the Dergue moved closer to the Soviet Union. In July 1980, the US ambassador to Ethiopia was recalled at the request of the Ethiopian Government, and the American Embassy in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Embassy in the United States were headed by Charges d’Affaires. The International Security and Development Act of 1985 prohibited all US economic assistance to Ethiopia with the exception of humanitarian disaster and emergency relief.
With the downfall of the Mengistu regime, US-Ethiopian relations improved. Legislative restrictions on assistance to Ethiopia other than humanitarian assistance were lifted. Diplomatic relations were upgraded to the ambassadorial level in 1992. Total US government assistance, including food aid, between 1991 and 2003 was $2.3 billion. The US government provided $474 million in assistance in FY 2007, $264 million of it for combating HIV/AIDS.
According to the State Department, “Ethiopia is a strategic partner of the United States in the Global War on Terrorism.” Translation: Renditions. For the past several years, the Ethiopian government and military have been willing partners in the US crusade to hunt down terrorists and their supporters (see Controversies).
The US provides little information about its military activities inside Ethiopia. Officially, the US contributes only a tiny portion of Ethiopia’s $300 million defense budget. Unofficially, it may have helped pay for much more to cover the rising costs of Ethiopia’s army, one of Africa’s largest. Some say America has a secret base in eastern Ethiopia to move CIA, Special Forces and “friendlies” into next-door Somalia. US officials have denied this.
The focal point of the close military relationship is Somalia, which American officials see as an incubator of Islamist terrorism. This is why the US backed Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia at the end of 2006. The American military has reportedly carried out air raids on alleged terrorist targets in Somalia that have relied on Ethiopian intelligence. American officials praise the Ethiopian troops who are still in Mogadishu, Somalia's battered capital, as peacekeepers; most Somalis see them as occupiers.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Ethiopia receives nearly half a billion dollars in US aid each year, as well as military assistance. When Ethiopian prosecutors jailed more than one hundred opposition politicians and journalists after 2005 parliamentary elections, international donors—including the United States—put $375 million in aid on hold. The Ethiopian government initially showed little inclination to respond to the concerns and strategic ties the United States advanced. “US concerns about terrorism in Somalia led diplomats to accept a status quo they concluded would not change and to get on with business,” reported the CFR.
In addition to military and anti-terrorism activities, American officials carry out a USAID (US Agency for International Development) program for Ethiopia that is focused on reducing famine and poverty and emphasizes economic, governance, and social sector policy reforms. Some military training funds, including training in such issues as the laws of war and observance of human rights, also are provided.
According to US Census data, 86,918 Ethiopians live in the US. The largest community is in Washington DC, but other significant communities exist in Los Angeles, Dallas and New York City.
In 2006, 43,610 Americans visited Ethiopia, 35.1% more than the 32,282 that visited in 2005. The number of Americans traveling to Ethiopia has grown significantly every year since 2002, when 14,972 visits were made.
A total of 6,444 Ethiopians visited the US in 2006, 36.9% more than the 4,707 that visited in 2005. Out of the last five years, 2005 saw the lowest number of visitors, and 2006 saw the most.
Trade is not a major factor in the US-Ethiopian relationship. The only significant imports flowing into the US are green coffee ($45 million) and food oil and oilseeds ($21.8 million), according to numbers for 2007. The largest US export, by far, is wheat ($67.4 million in 2007, down from $99.3 million in 2003). The next largest export is parts for civilian aircraft ($15.9 million).
Military sales, however, are significant between the US and Ethiopia. According to the Congressional Research Service, Ethiopia is a leading African purchaser of US defense materials. The US is such a strong believer in helping arm the Ethiopian army that it has even looked the other way when Ethiopian officials have cut deals with North Korea, a major American antagonist (see Controversies).
Ethiopia received $307.9 million in US aid in 2006. The largest recipient programs were HIV/AIDS ($109.5 million), Agricultural Sector Productivity ($96.9 million), Crisis Assistance and Recovery ($29.1 million), Family Planning and Reproductive Health ($19.8 million), and Basic Education ($10.4 million). The 2008 budget request for US aid to Ethiopia is $506 million, most of which will be directed towards HIV/AIDS ($409.0 million). According to the Foreign Operations Budget, “Funds will also help combat tuberculosis and reduce the incidence of malaria, major sources of morbidity and workforce absenteeism.” Death and missing work are apparently considered of equal importance.
In late 2006, the Bush administration backed a full-scale Ethiopian military offensive that ousted the Islamist authorities from Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. The fighting caused thousands of Somalis, including some who were suspected of terrorist links, to flee across the Kenya border. Many of the terrorism suspects have been swept up and held incommunicado in Ethiopian detention centers in Addis Ababa and other parts of Ethiopia, where they effectively disappeared. Denied access to their embassies, their families and international humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the detainees were even denied phone calls home. Several detainees have said that they were housed in solitary cells, some as small as two meters by two meters, with their hands cuffed in painful positions behind their backs and their feet bound together any time they were in their cells.
It is estimated that dozens were questioned byin Addis Ababa by agents of the CIA and FBI. From February to May 2007, Ethiopian security officers daily transported detainees, including several pregnant women, to a villa where US officials interrogated them about suspected terrorist links.
In addition to working with the US, the Ethiopians used the rendition program to quell domestic Ogadeni and Oromo insurgencies that receive support from neighboring countries, such as Eritrea. The multinational rendition program provided a convenient means to continue this internal battle and get their hands, with US support, on those with suspected insurgent links.
US Allows Arms Shipment from North Korea to Ethiopia
Three months after the United States successfully pressed the United Nations to impose strict sanctions on North Korea because of its nuclear test, officials in the Bush administration allowed Ethiopia to complete a secret arms purchase from North Korea in violation of the restrictions. The US allowed the arms delivery to go through in January 2007 in part because Ethiopian troops were in the midst of a military offensive against Islamic militias inside Somalia, a campaign that aided the US policy of combating religious extremists in the Horn of Africa.
US officials said they were still encouraging Ethiopia to wean itself from its longstanding reliance on North Korea for cheap Soviet-era military equipment, and that Ethiopian officials appeared receptive. American intelligence agencies reported in late January that an Ethiopian cargo ship that was probably carrying tank parts and other military equipment had left a North Korean port. The exact value of the shipment was unclear, but Ethiopia purchased $20 million dollars worth of arms from North Korea in 2001, according to US estimates.
Congressional Bill Threatens to Cut Off Aid to Ethiopia
In 2007 legislation passed the US House of Representatives that would shut off assistance to the Ethiopian government unless a series of reforms are implemented in the country. The Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act would withhold aid from Washington’s chief counterterrorism ally in the Horn of Africa unless Ethiopia accepts outside human rights monitoring, builds an independent judiciary, allows freedom of the press and permits $20 million in US assistance to bolster democracy.
Ethiopia’s ambassador to the US, Samuel Assefa, said, “You are telling extremists: ‘This is your day.’ The bill basically sends a chilling message to all those who wish to see society heal.” Assefa said Ethiopia has made huge strides, but also suffered huge setbacks in its attempts to build a democracy.
As of November 2008, the legislation had stalled in the Senate due to a well-funded lobbying campaign financed by the Ethiopian government and opposition from the Bush administration, which has credited Ethiopia with aiding its anti-terrorism efforts. Members of the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ) who now reside in the United States have pushed the bill ever since a controversial presidential election in 2005. The UDJ is the largest political opposition party in Ethiopia. Many of its members were arrested following a series of protests to dispute the election results.
The government of Ethiopia has fought back by retaining DLA Piper for $50,000 a month. Since March 2007, DLA has collected more than $1.3 million from the east African country. Lobbyists for Ethiopia circulated a memo on Capitol Hill stating that the bill could undermine US national security interests. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) was among the DLA lobbyists working on behalf of Ethiopia.
Many archaeologists and Ethiopian-Americans have expressed outrage over the Ethiopian government’s decision to allow the country’s most famous artifact to travel to the US for a six-year tour. Dinkinesh, the 3.2-million-year old fragile skeletal remains that were found in Ethiopia in 1974, is commonly known as “Lucy.” Although the Smithsonian refused to display Lucy, the remains, along with other artifacts, traveled to Houston Museum of Natural Science and will continue to other destinations to demonstrate Ethiopia’s contributions to the world.
The fossil’s departure from Ethiopia created a cloud of suspicion among archaeologists and paleontologists; a quiet rebellion among Ethiopians and has drawn strong criticism from Africans throughout the Diaspora. “Lucy is one of the most important specimens relating to human origins in the world and it is too much of a risk to have it travel for the purpose of public display,” said Randall Kremer, spokesman for the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
Several Ethiopian American organizations claimed the exhibition violates the 1999 UNESCO international resolution on the transport of hominid fossils.
According to the State Department, the May 2005 parliamentary elections in Ethiopia were “generally credible, although irregularities and intimidation of voters and election observers marred polling in many areas.”
The State Department report for 2007 stated that human rights abuses reported included: limitation on citizens’ right to change their government during the most recent elections; unlawful killings, and beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of those suspected of sympathizing with or being members of the opposition or insurgent groups; detention of thousands without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens' privacy rights and frequent refusal to follow the law regarding search warrants; use of excessive force by security services in an internal conflict and counter-insurgency operations; restrictions on freedom of the press; arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists for publishing articles critical of the government; restrictions on freedom of assembly; limitations on freedom of association; violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children; female genital mutilation; exploitation of children for economic and sexual purposes; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities and religious and ethnic minorities; and government interference in union activities, including killing and harassment of union leaders.
Security forces committed politically motivated killings during the year. In one instance, two police officers beat, shot, and killed Tesfaye Taddese, who was an organizer for the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) during the 2005 parliamentary elections. An autopsy later revealed that the victim had lost several teeth and one eye from the beating before being shot. The police officers were arrested and an investigation was ongoing.
The opposition United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) party reported that Degaga Gebissa, a party member from Meta-Robi District, Oromiya Region, was taken from his house by police and shot and killed. Police allegedly refused to allow an autopsy or to provide any information to UEDF party officials.
Tsegaye Ayele Yigzaw of Debre Markos town, Gondar Region, died as a result of prolonged beatings and torture while in police custody. Tsegaye, a member of the opposition Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP), was arrested and interrogated initially in late 2006. Reports indicated that he was kept in custody beyond the legal limit, denied food and water, and severely beaten to extract a confession. A court ordered that Yigzaw be released for lack of evidence, but he died before being set free. The victim's family was not given a copy of the autopsy report.
There were reports of politically motivated disappearances. Yohannes Woldu, who was a CUD observer during the 2005 elections, disappeared. Following the elections, Yohannes had reported repeated harassment and threats from security services.
Small business owner Girma Tesfaye Ayana was arrested for allegedly possessing illegal weapons and has not been seen since. Befekadu Bulti Merri, a professor at Jima University, Oromiya Region, was arrested on the same charge and his whereabouts also remained unknown.
A few of the thousands of civilian protestors who were detained and held incommunicado in 2005 remained in prison.
Although the constitution and law prohibit the use of torture and mistreatment, there were numerous credible reports that security officials tortured, beat, or mistreated detainees. Opposition political parties reported frequent and systematic abuse of their supporters by police and regional militias. In Makelawi, the central police investigation headquarters in Addis Ababa, police investigators reportedly commonly used illegal interrogation methods to extract confessions.
During the year, fighting between government forces and the ONLF, an ethnically-based, nationalist movement operating in the Somali Region, resulted in widespread human rights abuses, including targeted killings, torture, rape, abductions, arbitrary arrest, burning of villages, the displacement of thousands of civilians, and a restricted supply of food and medicine. Since it was outlawed in 1994, there have been numerous violent conflicts between the ONLF, which seeks greater autonomy for the Ogadeni people and the Somali Region, and the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and security services.
International NGOs and other aid organizations operating in the region have reported that both the ENDF and the ONLF were responsible for abuses and harsh techniques to intimidate the civilian population. There have been no reports of authorities identifying or punishing the perpetrators of systematic human rights abuses in the Somali Region.
On April 24, 2007, in the largest offensive conducted in several years, the ONLF attacked a Chinese-run oil facility in the Degehabur zone of the Somali Region; 65 civilians and nine Chinese nationals were killed in the attack. Another seven Chinese were taken hostage by the ONLF, but later released. The ONLF acknowledged responsibility for the attack, which they said was in response to government-permitted exploration for resources in the Somali Region.
Several individuals attacked a crowd with automatic weapons and hand grenades during an official public holiday celebration in Jijiga town, Somali Region; six persons were killed and several wounded, including the regional administrator, Abdullahi Hassan. The ONLF denied responsibility for the attack, but the ENDF responded with a massive counterinsurgency campaign.
The government and rebel forces restricted delivery of necessary food aid from donor organizations into the five zones in which military activity was the most intense. Flow of commercial traffic into these zones was also prevented, thereby creating food and supply shortages, a doubling of grain prices, and a 30% reduction in the price of livestock, a principal source of revenue. By year's end, the flow of humanitarian aid had resumed. Substantial improvements in food aid deliveries allowed relief to reach primary destination points, but distribution to secondary towns, rural areas, and to final beneficiaries remained limited.
Appointment: Jul 20, 1908
Presentation of Credentials: Jul 6, 1909
Termination of Mission: Left post, Feb 8, 1910
Addison E. Southard
Appointment: Oct 12, 1927
Presentation of Credentials: Mar 1, 1928
Termination of Mission: Left post, Oct 26, 1934
Cornelius Van H. Engert
Appointment: Feb 7, 1936
Presentation of Credentials: Apr 30, 1936
Termination of Mission: Italian forces occupied Addis Ababa, May 6, 1936. Engert left post, May 4, 1937.
John K. Caldwell
Appointment: Apr 14, 1943
Presentation of Credentials: Aug 31, 1943
Termination of Mission: Left post, Aug 26, 1945
Appointment: Feb 20, 1945
Presentation of Credentials: Oct 5, 1945
Termination of Mission: Left post, Oct 8, 1947
George R. Merrell
Appointment: May 15, 1947
Presentation of Credentials: Jan 1, 1948
Termination of Mission: Left post, Mar 17, 1951
J. Rives Childs
Appointment: Apr 19, 1951
Presentation of Credentials: May 14, 1951
Termination of Mission: Left post, Jan 19, 1953
Appointment: Jul 22, 1953
Presentation of Credentials: Oct 6, 1953
Termination of Mission: Left post, May 1, 1957
Don C. Bliss
Appointment: May 20, 1957
Presentation of Credentials: Jun 22, 1957
Termination of Mission: Left post, Jun 4, 1960
Arthur L. Richards
Appointment: Jun 24, 1960
Presentation of Credentials: Aug 26, 1960
Termination of Mission: Left Ethiopia, Nov 25, 1962
Edward M. Korry
Appointment: Mar 9, 1963
Presentation of Credentials: Apr 20, 1963
Termination of Mission: Left post, Sep 22, 1967
William O. Hall
Appointment: Sep 13, 1967
Presentation of Credentials: Oct 27, 1967
Termination of Mission: Left post, May 15, 1971
E. Ross Adair
Appointment: May 11, 1971
Presentation of Credentials: Jul 8, 1971
Termination of Mission: Left post, Feb 12, 1974
Thomas W. McElhiney
Appointment: Feb 11, 1974
Note: Declined appointment.
Arthur W. Hummel, Jr.
Appointment: Feb 20, 1975
Presentation of Credentials: Apr 3, 1975
Termination of Mission: Left post, Jul 6, 1976
Frederic L. Chapin
Appointment: Jun 27, 1978
Presentation of Credentials: Jul 21, 1978
Termination of Mission: Left post, Jul 29, 1980
Note: Owen W. Roberts served as Charge d'Affaires ad interim Jul 1980–May 1982. The following officers have since served as Chargés d'Affaires: David A. Korn (Jun 1982–Jul 1985), James Cheek (Jul 1985–Aug 1988), Robert G. Houdek (Aug 1988–Jun 1991), and Marc A. Baas (Jun 1991–Jun 1992).
Marc Allen Baas
Appointment: Jun 15, 1982
Presentation of Credentials: June 24, 1992
Termination of Mission: Left post, July 8, 1994
Appointment: May 9, 1994
Presentation of Credentials: July 22, 1994
Termination of Mission: Left post, Jun 26, 1996
David H. Shinn
Appointment: Jun 6, 1996
Presentation of Credentials: Jul 2, 1996
Termination of Mission: Left post Aug 14, 1999
Tibor P. Nagy, Jr.
Appointment: Aug 9, 1999
Presentation of Credentials: Oct 12, 1999
Termination of Mission: Left post Jul 19, 2002
Aurelia E. Brazeal
Appointment: Oct 3, 2002
Presentation of Credentials: Nov 20, 2002
Termination of Mission: Left post, Sep 2, 2005
Note: The following officers served as Charges d'Affaires ad interim: Vikki Huddleston (Sep 2005–Aug 2006) and Janet Wilgus (Aug–Nov 2005).
Samuel Assefa has served as Ethiopia’s ambassador to the US since May 2006. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, Assefa earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and economics from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. After earning his doctorate in political science at Princeton University, Assefa taught at Princeton, Williams College and Rutgers University.
He most recently served as vice president of Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia’s leading institution of higher education.
Assefa’s father was also an Ethiopian diplomat, serving as ambassador to West Germany from 1961 to 1964 and again from 1970 to 1974.
Donald E. Booth began serving as the United States Ambassador to Ethiopia on March 11, 2010.
Booth earned a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, a master’s degree in business administration from Boston University, and a master’s degree in national security studies from the National War College.
A member of the Senior Foreign Service, Booth was stationed at embassies in Bucharest, Brussels and Libreville, and has served as a desk officer in the Office of Egyptian Affairs and the Office of East African Affairs.
Previously, he was deputy director of the Office of Southern African Affairs, the economic counselor in Athens, Division Chief for Bilateral Trade Affairs at the State Department, director of the Office of West African Affairs, and director of the Office of Technical and Specialized Agencies at the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs.
Booth served three years as ambassador to Liberia and then took over as ambassador to Zambia on June 6, 2008.
A native of Seattle, Washington, Donald Yamamoto was sworn in as the US ambassador to Ethiopia on November 9, 2006. Yamamoto is a graduate of Columbia College and received a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University. He received a Congressional Fellowship in 1991 and he attended the National War College in 1996 for senior training. He has studied Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and French.
Yamamoto entered the Foreign Service in 1980. His assignments have included the US Embassy in Beijing as staff aide to the ambassador and human rights officer during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989; as principal officer of the Fukuoka Consulate in Japan; and as Chargé d’Affaires at US Embassy Asmara in Eritrea.
He was the deputy director for East African Affairs from 1998 to 2000, served as US ambassador to the Republic of Djibouti from 2000 to 2003 and as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of African Affairs from 2003 to 2006, where he was responsible for coordinating US policy toward over 20 countries in east and central Africa.