As G7 leaders gather in Cornwall, and based on apparent and emergent American policy on Africa, Canada should not blindly follow the U.S. lead. Doing so would undermine our democratic values, our commitment to Black Lives Matter, and the global commitment to anti-oppression, democracy and fairness.
The Biden administration deserves credit for its pledge to seek a more balanced foreign policy, more collaborative and less prone to dismissive approaches to Africa than the erratic and clearly racist Trump approach to Africa, Muslims and Hispanics in general.
But in attempting to rebalance, the U.S. must be particularly vigilant against one-sided, diaspora-driven lobbying and media campaigns, such as those that have been launched by the terrorist Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The TPLF is now out of office, and seeks to destabilize democratic and federal Ethiopia through sporadic violence and a false flag self-portrayal as the victim in an internal conflict, which its own unsolicited military attack on federal forces initiated. At the same time, however, the Ethiopian government has been so circumspect and reticent in its strategic communications that it has practically surrendered the PR high ground to a sophisticated propaganda network. It must now focus its efforts on being open and candid about the remaining deficiencies in aid, medical care and infrastructure, as well as on diligent diplomacy to win back old Western allies.
U.S. policy in Horn of Africa lacks logic
Current U.S. policy in the Horn of Africa lacks logic and, if left unchallenged, will only steer regional countries like Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan back to historic levels of poverty and conflict. These unnecessary results not only fuel destabilization, but also support rebel attacks on sovereign territory that can have disastrous impacts on the Horn of Africa region. This also sets the stage for a far more dangerous proxy battle with China.
After the West declared Sudan a terrorist country and imposed harsh economic sanctions lasting 20 years, the Sudanese economy was badly hurt with the resulting immeasurable human suffering. The justification for this was always a vague finger-pointing toward Osama bin Laden, despite the fact that bin Laden was nowhere near Sudan and turned up later in Pakistan, where, thankfully, SEAL Team 6 assassinated him in 2011.
The U.S. lifted the sanctions in 2020. Months before, Sudan praised Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, for brokering an interim civilian-military transitional government. During the same year, Sudan’s water minister also confirmed that the country was barely using one-third of its legal share of the Nile River. He stressed the need for water regulation to enable Sudan to get greater access to this water.
Meanwhile, to placate Egypt’s concerns over Ethiopia’s development of its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the U.S. urged a closer alliance between Sudan and Egypt, resulting in Sudan’s shift in position on the GERD. Egypt has been bellicose toward Ethiopia since Ahmed unveiled plans to complete the filling of the GERD to help lift its 110 million people out of poverty. In a bizarre move, Egypt – the nation that under Gamal Nasser once tore up its contracts with colonial Britain and France over the Suez Canal – now prefers to wave old colonial treaties in the air. But these granted no rights to Ethiopia for the 85 per cent of Nile waters it hosts.
As an important partner to the U.S. Middle East peace plan, Egypt has benefitted from added American military assistance (US$50 billion) and US$30 billion in economic assistance. No doubt this will be further bolstered following Joe Biden’s recent public thanks to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for his country’s diplomatic response to the recent Palestinian-Israeli violence.
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U.S. moves to isolate Ethiopia
As the GERD fills, the U.S. keeps moving aggressively to isolate Ethiopia.
The State Department seemingly looks away as Sudan supports rebels who spread terror in the western Ethiopian region of Benishangul-Gumuz, ignoring its aggression toward, and displacement of, Ethiopian farming communities along the al-Fashqa border region with Ethiopia’s Amhara regional state. Only five days after the Tigray conflict erupted and made world headlines, Sudan had severely compromised Ethiopian territory. A joint Sudan-Egypt demonstration of air power, dubbed “Nile Eagles I,” was conducted five days later. A second show of joint air power came just before the fresh round of GERD negotiations in April.
So, the U.S. appears to indirectly support rebel incursions in the sovereign territory of Ethiopia, its oldest Cold War African ally, while at the same time calling for a ceasefire and asking Ethiopia to use a different security apparatus in Tigray. It is now treating Ethiopia as if it’s invading a neighbour, instead of responding to a national security crisis involving an unprovoked attack by the TPLF.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also now engaged with the continental heavyweights including South Africa and Nigeria, while U.S. Special Envoy Jeff Feltman has also visited Kenya. This appears to be another bid, months after the first try, to tip the African Union against Ethiopia. U.S. discussions on the GERD have also extended to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, even though they have nothing to do with what by definition is Ethiopia’s internal water infrastructure. One could ask whether this is a bid to garner Arab support for Egypt and further isolate Ethiopia.
Why is the U.S. trying to build a coalition to isolate one of its oldest friends? In addition to appeasing Egypt, and making Ethiopia succumb to pressure by entering an unfair deal, the answer may lie in aspirations to access green metal resources across and around the Arabian-Nubian Shield – and to compete more credibly against China for the consumption of these metals and resources.
We are supposed to be living in the era of Black Lives Matter. Yet they apparently matter little if Washington feels free to break historical alliances, support violent cross-border rebel incursions and work against the food security and GERD use of the Sudanese people, while trying to manipulate the African Union into being an instrument of its foreign policy – all for a resource-exploitation battle with China.
It wasn’t that long ago that Donald Trump in the White House alienated African nations with his casual remark about “shithole countries.” African political and thought leaders are no different than their African-American cousins. They want to know that black lives matter in Africa. They don’t judge America only by words but also by deeds. While the Biden administration isn’t expected any time soon to let Trump-style vulgarities slip from the Oval Office, it released something far more provocative: the promise that its overseas security interests would be indistinguishable from its domestic economic policy. This laudable principle is not reflected in its approach to the Horn of Africa.
It is important that the G7, and Canada in particular, not lose sight of this central strategic reality in Africa. It is also important for the Ethiopian federal government to make its case more effectively through diplomatic and advocacy circles worldwide.