U.S. Senators’ Call for Postponing Ethiopian Election Is Foolish & Very Dangerous

Ethiopia is scheduled to have parliamentary elections on June 5, 2021. (courtesy of Addis Standard Facebook)

U.S. Senators’ Call for Postponing Ethiopian Election is Foolish and Very Dangerous

May 7, 2021

Lawrence Freeman

On June 5, Ethiopia will conduct national parliamentary elections that will be decisive not only for Ethiopia, but the entire Horn of Africa.  On the eve of Special Envoy, Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman’s first trip to the Horn of Africa, five Democratic U.S. Senators sent him a letter, expressing their concerns about Ethiopia.  29 April 2021 letter to US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman,

Unfortunately, in their letter, Senators Ben Cardin, Tim Kaine, Jacky Rosen, Cory Booker and Ed Markey, displayed a shallow understanding, one might even say ignorance, about the conflict in Ethiopia. Furthermore, their suggestion that Ethiopia’s national elections should not go forward, is downright dangerous.

Putting Western arrogance aside, which believes it has supreme right to tell Ethiopia, a sovereign nation, when it should allow it citizens to vote, the letter displays no knowledge of the unique dynamics of Ethiopian society. One wonders if these senators have any knowledge of the last 125 year intricate history of Ethiopia. A period spans from the March 1, 1896 victory at Adwa by Emperor Menelik II against the Italian colonial army, to the present efforts by Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed to unify the Ethiopian nation through the newly created, non-ethnic based, Prosperity Party.  The senators appeared to have based their opinions about Ethiopia almost exclusively on news reports or from Amnesty International.

De-Legitimize the Election? 

The most egregious section of their letter is the following paragraph, which could be construed as election interference against a sovereign nation.

“The destabilizing potential of these trends should not be underestimated, especially in light of the national elections planned for June 5, 2021. These planned elections are not currently on track to meet international standards for freedom, fairness, and transparency. Already, several opposition political parties in Ethiopia have announced plans to abstain from the elections due to a lack of faith that they will be conducted credibly. This fear is based in part on the government’s detention of thousands of opposition leaders and supporters, some of whom have been deprived of due process, tortured, or even summarily executed, according to Amnesty International’s May 2020 Report. We worry that, if elections move forward without the reforms required to earn the trust of the Ethiopian public, growing ethnic and political tensions across the country will boil over into violence.”  (emphasis added)

It is outrageous for members of the U.S. Senate to suggest that a sovereign nation should  cancel their elections. To my knowledge, only one party, not several, has chosen to abstain. However, these U.S. Senators’ accusations are foolishly giving cover for more parties to withdraw.

Given the current climate of ethnic tension in Ethiopia, to suggest that violence would ensue if the nation proceeds with its election, could in fact, be encouraging more violence.

In response to this call to postpone its upcoming election, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Washington, Fitsum Arega, replied on May 4, in his own letter to Ambassador Feltman:

“The upcoming June parliamentary election will be an historic milestone in the political transformation of Ethiopia. The Ethiopian National Electoral Board, which is [the most] independent electoral body in the history of the nation, has been established and is responsible for organizing, conducting, and oversighting, the election and election related activities. The Ethiopian Government has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the election is free, fair, and transparent.”

Despite the best efforts by the Ethiopian government to conduct its most open and transparent election in the last 26 years, no doubt difficulties will occur in the voting process. However, opposition political parties will now be able to opportunistically claim the election is illegitimate, and contest the results, citing allegations from the U.S. Senator’s letter. This could fuel additional ethnic violence, thus making it more challenging for the government to unify the nation following the election.

Sovereign Obligation

The Ethiopian government, and the Ethiopian people are in full preparation for this critical election, which has already been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It would be irresponsible for the government of Ethiopia to deprive its citizens and all the parties participating, the right to vote. Ethiopia, a sovereign nation, believes it is paramount that its citizens determine the future of their nation by electing its leaders at the ballot box.

The government insists it is vital to conduct these elections, even during these problematic times, striving to emulate the best practices of the U.S. It should be noted that the United States has never postponed a national election, despite severe dislocations of its people. Not during World War II, not during the Great Depression, not during the Spanish Flu, and not during the surge of the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to the largest number of mail-in ballots in U.S. history. Even in 1864, while tens of thousands of Americans were imprisoned or fighting on the battlefield in the midst of the U.S. Civil War, the election was held, and Abraham Lincoln, the unfaltering defender of the Union, was re-elected.

(To the followers of my website. I did not post any articles in the last month because I was traveling Nigeria and Ethiopia.)

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. Mr. Freeman’s stated personal mission is; to eliminate poverty and hunger in Africa by applying the scientific economic principles of Alexander Hamilton

Celebrate Ethiopia’s March 1, 1896 Victory at Adwa- A Victory For Africa and All Nations

I am republishing my article from March 2017, to celebrate Ethiopia’s defeat of the invading Italian imperialist army, on the battlefield of Adwa. Ethiopia’s leadership and vision flow from never allowing their country to be colonized. That same min-set is evident today in Ethiopia’s construction of its Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD). All of Africa, and all true friends of Africa are proud of Ethiopia’s victory

March 1: Celebrate Ethiopia’s Defeat of Italy At Adwa; A Victory Against European Imperialism

March 1: Celebrate Ethiopia’s Defeat of Italy At Adwa; A Victory Against European Imperialism

This article was published in the March 2017 Newsletter of the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington DC. If you read the headlines of  the European press following Italy’s defeat in 1896, you will see that this battle shook the foundations of European Imperialism to its core. 

Victory at Adwa- A Victory for Africa

Ethiopia’s victory against Italy at Adwa on March 1, 1896, profoundly shaped the future of Ethiopia.

Lawrence Freeman

March 1, 2017

The battle of Adwa is probably the most renowned and historic battle in Ethiopian history. This celebrated victory by the Ethiopian army helped define the future of their nation, as one of only two non-colonized countries in Africa. The defeat of a European colonial empire by an African country, following the “Scramble for Africa” after the 1884-1885 Berlin conference a decade earlier, is not only a source of enduring pride and nationalism for Ethiopians, but also an inspiration to other Africans, who took up the fight for independence six decades later. Some historians suggest that this victory also led to the idea for the Pan-African movement. As a result, it is no surprise that on May 25 1963, Ethiopia under the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie was a founding member of the Organization of African States-OAS.

Adwa, also known as Adowa, and in Italian Adua, was the capital of the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia. A late comer to grabbing territory in Africa, Italy began colonizing Somaliland and Eritrea in the 1880s. It was from the vantage point of Eritrea from where Italy launched its campaign against Ethiopia. The immediate pretext of the invasion was a dispute of Article 17 of the 1889 Treaty of Wuchale. Italy insisted that the treaty stated that Ethiopia had to submit to its imperial authority, thus effectively making Ethiopia a colony of the Kingdom of Italy. The Ethiopians resisted Italy’s military enforcement of its version of the treaty, leading to the outbreak of war in December 1894, with the Italian imperialists occupying Adwa and moving further south into Ethiopian territory. On March 1, 1896, King Menelik II, who, commanded a force of over 70,000, defeated the Italian army, killing 7,000 of their soldiers, wounding 1,500, and capturing  3,000 prisoners, routing their enemy, and forcing them to retreat back to their colony of Eritrea. It has been speculated that, if Menelik had pursued the retreating Italian troops, and driven them off of the continent, it might have prevented a second Italian invasion. On October 3, 1935, Italy led by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, launched its second military incursion into sovereign Ethiopia territory. Five years later in 1941, Ethiopia once again drove the Italian invaders out of their country. The 1896 defeat of a European nation, considered an advanced country, by Ethiopia, viewed as a backward Africa country, led to riots on the streets of Italy and well deserved consternation in the capitals of European powers.

Without taking the time now to review the ninety years of Ethiopian history following this famous battle, the military defeat of Ethiopia’s dictatorial Derg Regime in 1991 brings us to the beginning of contemporary Ethiopia. When the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front-EPRDF assumed control of the government in 1991, it was led by the now deceased, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who initiated the economic policies that have guided Ethiopia for over 25 years. It was Meles Zenawi’s intellectual leadership, in particular his understanding of the indispensable role of the state in fostering economic development that distinguishes Ethiopia today from all other sub-Saharan African nations. For him the state was not “a night watchman,” but rather an active participant promoting economic growth for the benefit of its people. Ethiopia is a poor country. with a population approaching one hundred million, not endowed with rich mineral or hydrocarbon resources, and repeatedly struck by drought. Yet it has emerged in recent years with a rapidly growing economy. This is the result of Zenawi’s legacy that created a leadership with a self-conscious commitment to use the powers of the state to build an integrated infrastructure platform, which has served to drive the economy forward. This is clearly evident in Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plans I and II, which set ambitious economic goals five years into the future, along with its proposed thirty year road construction plan. Since the EPRDF took over the responsibility of governing the nation, more than thirty new universities have been created, graduating more students that can be easily employed.

In collaboration with China, Ethiopia operates the first electrified train in sub-Saharan Africa, traveling 750 kilometers in seven hours from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, establishing a port to export Ethiopia’s products. Their highway system consisting of toll roads, highways, and all weather roads will connect their light manufacturing industries to the port in Djibouti via their new rail line.   As a result of coherent policy planning in energy infrastructure, the Gibe III hydroelectric power plant has now added 1,872 of megawatts to the country’s electricity grid, and over the next two years, the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) will add an additional 6,000 megawatts, making Ethiopia the second largest producer of power in sub-Saharan Africa, behind South Africa.  The next step to develop the Horn of Africa is for Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya to extend their rail lines to become the eastern leg of an East-West railroad. Thus would transform Africa by connecting the Gulf of Eden/Indian Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean , creating an economic corridor that would literally revolutionize the economic power of the continent; contributing to the ending of poverty, hunger, and war.

One cannot deny the success of Ethiopia’s unique path of development, nor can one omit the important role contributed to this process by Ethiopia’s successful resistance to foreign occupation; thus never having to suffer the dehumanizing effects of colonialism.