U.S.-Ethiopian relations were established in 1903 and were good throughout the period prior to the Italian occupation in 1935. After World War II, these ties strengthened on the basis of a September 1951 treaty of amity and economic relations. In 1953, two agreements were signed: 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 U.S. communication facility at Asmara. Through fiscal year 1978, the United States 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 U.S. Information Service educational and cultural exchanges were numerous.
After Ethiopia's revolution, the bilateral relationship began to cool due to the Derg's linking with international communism and US revulsion at the Derg's human rights abuses. The United States rebuffed Ethiopia's request for increased military assistance to intensify its fight against the Eritrean secessionist movement and to repel the Somali invasion. The International Security and Development Act of 1985 prohibited all US economic assistance to Ethiopia with the exception of humanitarian disaster and emergency relief. In July 1980, the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia was recalled at the request of the Ethiopian Government, and the US Embassy in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Embassy in the United States were headed by Charges d'Affaires.
With the downfall of the Mengistu regime, US-Ethiopian relations improved dramatically. 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 $455 million in assistance in FY 2008, $337 million of it for combating HIV/AIDS. In addition, the U.S. Government donated more than $550 million in food assistance in 2008 to help the government cope with a severe drought.
Prime Minister Meles publicly announced on 18 March 2010 that he would authorize the jamming of VOA Amharic service broadcasts and compared the VOA to Radio Milles Collines, the Rwandan radio station that helped incite genocidal violence in 1994. VOA's Amharic services experienced jamming throughout the country from March until October.
US criticism of Ethiopia was muted, because of the country's importance in combating Islamist militants in the region, especially Somalia's al-Shabab. In 2006, Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia and ousted an Islamist movement that had seized most of the country. The troops stayed another two years and have returned periodically since to fight al-Shabab in areas near the Somali-Ethiopian border.
Today, Ethiopia is an important partner of the United States in regional security and counterterrorism efforts. U.S. development assistance to Ethiopia is focused on reducing famine vulnerability, hunger, 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 but are explicitly limited to non-lethal assistance and training.
The United States remains committed to supporting Ethiopia’s growing prosperity. It is in the interest of the United States to promote sustainable economic development and liberalization of the economy in Ethiopia. Prosperity and economic freedom go hand-in-hand with good governance, rule of law, and respect for human rights.
Politically motivated trials, ongoing tensions between some in the Muslim community and the government, and restrictions on non-governmental organizations cause serious concern for the US. Domestic violence, especially spousal rape and the lack of legal remedy or support for survivors, are challenging problems of critical focus.
In late July 2015, President Obama travelled to Ethiopia for bilateral meetings with the Government of Ethiopia and with the leadership of the African Union. This visit, which would follow the President’s travel to Kenya, built on the success of the August 2014 US-Africa Leaders Summit by strengthening ties with African partners and highlighted America’s longstanding commitment to investing in Africa. This would be the first visit of a sitting US President to Ethiopia and to the African Union headquarters, underscoring efforts to work with the countries and citizens of sub-Saharan Africa to accelerate economic growth, strengthen democratic institutions, and improve security.
The United States had displayed a kind of split personality when it comes to Ethiopia, working closely with its government to fight designated terrorist groups like al-Shabab, while denouncing the same government for arresting journalists, suppressing dissent and making it impossible for opponents to win even a single seat in parliament. Human rights and democracy advocates wanted President Barack Obama to focus on the second set of issues when he visits Ethiopia.
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