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The Danger of Rewarding Dictatorship and Subsequent Emasculation of Democratic Political Culture: What President Biden Should be Cautious of

Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD                          February 6, 2021

Before I delve into the main thesis of this article that intends to systematically analyze the danger of rewarding dictatorship, I like to first state a passing remark on the promise and oath of President Joe Biden to the American people. Soon after inauguration on January 20, 2021, when Joe Biden entered the White House, he made a pledge in a manner of invoking a divine witness and expressed them in simple terms such as ‘I will be president for all Americans’; ‘we will get through this together’; ‘politics does not have to be a raging fire’; ‘we must end this uncivil war’. These are great phrases and full of promise, affirmation, and hope, and I am gratified that Biden assumed executive power and became president of the United States.

However, long before Biden became president, I campaigned for him and even contributed a brief article entitled “Diaspora Africans, in particular Ethiopians, Must Vote for Joe Biden in order to Remove Donald Trump”, and interested subscribers can read the whole article via the following link: www.africanidea.org/Vote_for_Biden.html

But Joe Biden must bear in mind two things at the very outset of his presidency: 1) he must understand that he is not president for all Americans only, but he is also a world leader by virtue of American global stature; for good or for bad, American presidents have had a major clout on world politics and consequently their foreign policies (US policies implemented by the State Department) have had a tremendous impact on the world at large. Unfortunately, however, developing countries and marginalized states were impacted negatively by American policies, because the latter, in most instances, were designed to promote US national interest by supporting dictatorships that violate human rights and trample over nascent and fledgling democratic cultures.

The US is a number one economic power in the world and via its wealth and by exporting democracy, it could make developing countries, particularly African nations, gravitate toward its orbit. I am suggesting here that America should completely overhaul its foreign policy and abandon the idea of ‘promoting US interests by rewarding dictators around the world’.

I am hoping that Biden will be a uniquely different American president and world leader and he would be the first to pave the road of sharing wealth-cum-democracy with the rest of world as opposed to the old-fashioned coercive diplomacy and extending unnecessary financial and political support to dictators who suppress basic democratic rights and traumatize their own people. If this hope of mine bears fruit, we will label this new American foreign policy the ‘Biden Doctrine’.

But if America continues to pursue its traditional foreign policy of rewarding autocratic regimes, such as the one we have in Ethiopia, developing countries around the world will encounter great danger and altogether suffer from maladministration and ill-governance, bad governance that has been recognized and justified by a Superpower, so to speak.

I have no doubt that by now the United States has a clear picture of the devastating war in Tigray that left close to two million people internally displaced; an estimated 50,000 killed; and some 61,000 became refugees and sought asylum in neighboring Sudan. The destructive war in Tigray is a combined operation of four forces, namely the Ethiopian Defense Forces (EDF), Eritrean troops, Amhara militia, and United Arab Emirates drones; these combined forces have inflicted a huge toll on the people of Tigray, not to mention the immeasurable looting and destruction of industries, farms, institutions of higher learning, churches, mosques, and historical and UNESCO heritage sites.

So, what is the purpose of rewarding dictators like Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia and Isaias Afeworki of Eritrea? Since Abiy came to power in 2018, Ethiopia was devastated, its social fabric dismantled, millions internally displaced, and as explained above, the dictator has conducted an extremely violent war not only on the TPLF but also on the people of Tigray. Is America ready to embrace such a dictator and a ‘war-like king’ akin of the medieval period?

While I appreciate Antony Blinken’s assertion about ending the war in Tigray, I am perplexed by the fact that he said, “the US will support Ethiopian election and reform”, which, in my opinion, is tantamount to rewarding a dictator responsible for heinous crimes. Incidentally, what Blinken and Biden should be cautious of is the bizarre behavior of the impressionist hypocritical regime that clamors for ‘reform and change’, and as aptly put by the French historian Alex de Tocqueville so long ago, “the most dangerous time is when a bad government begins to reform itself.” To be sure, a bad government does not reform itself; on the contrary, it serves as an impediment to genuine reforms and changes.

A bold and committed leadership would encourage, first and foremost, a plural and participatory democracy in which citizens will have access to the political process. At this juncture in Ethiopian history, let alone the average Ethiopian, even the registered contending political parties led by astute politicians, are now blocked from participating in the political process. Recently, eleven political parties were expelled from the Board of Elections simply because they were perceived as robust challengers to Abiy’s Prosperity Party, and other parties like the Ethiopian Democratic Party of Lidetu Ayalew are eliminated from the Ethiopian power politics, and the Oromo Federalist Congress leaders like Bekele Gerba are behind bars.

In all probability, the parties that will have an upper hand in the forthcoming fake or rigged election are the Prosperity Party (PP) of Abiy Ahmed, the EZEMA or Ethiopian Citizen’s Party of Berhanu Nega, the Tigray Democratic Party (TDP) of Aregawi Berhe. To a lesser extent, other parties that will participate in this election are PP-affiliated regional parties of the Somali and Afar and supporting parties such as the EPRP. The likelihood is these parties will form a new government under the tutelage of the PP and their immediate task could be to restructure the federal structure under what they call multi-national federal system, and it will no longer accommodate the various Ethiopian nationalities and sub-nationalities of yesteryear during the EPRDF government; actually, it will reflect more of a unitary state under a heavily centralized government in Addis Ababa and effectively eradicate the federal structure.

President Biden and Secretary Blinken should also be extra cautious in their assessment of the Ethiopian reality on the ground and the behavior of the current Prime Minister; here are some tips:

·      The Abiy regime has now effectively undermined the four important component parts of the Ethiopian nation-state (territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence, and legitimacy); Abiy has surreptitiously dealt with the Sudanese top officials and told them to go ahead and grab Ethiopian territory that they claim it is theirs by the 1902 Treaty; he once said, ‘Ethiopia is not sovereign’ and by extension ‘it is not independent’, and for these apparent reasons, Eritrea and the UAE were invited to intervene in Ethiopian politics and also encouraged to massacre Ethiopians in the Tigray Regional State. As a result, the legitimacy of Ethiopia as a state and an independent nation-state has now become questionable; for all practical purposes, Ethiopia is heading toward a vanishing point; it may survive as a very weak and fragmented nation, but it is also possible that it could implode.

·         Abiy as a leader is expected to set the moral tone for Ethiopia and all Ethiopians; on the contrary, he has demoralized Ethiopians and plunged the country into a deep morass and quagmire, sort of entanglement from which it may never uplift itself.

·         Abiy as a leader should have been in a better position to promptly respond to the Ethiopian crisis and conflict (Tigray, Oromia, Benishangul Gumuz etc.); quite the contrary, in many instances he was numb and cold vis-à-vis the violence and wars that have disturbed the entire of Ethiopia, and like a weird political beast, he seems to justify the pain and sufferings of his own people