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PM Abiy administration’s foreign relations trajectory

Avatar: Hagos Gebreamlak
Hagos GebreamlakSeptember 20, 2021
City: Addis AbabaAnalysis
PM Abiy administration’s foreign relations trajectory
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Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (Ph.D.) came to power after widespread youth protests against the then ruling party, Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in April 2018. The party was forced to embrace the change and selected the new prime minister in a bid to curb the radicalization of the public discontent and popular uprising due to economic exploitation, political oppression, and cultural suppression, particularly in Oromia and Amhara regional states.

PM Abiy Ahmed came out and promised to reform and democratize the political system of the country. Many hoped that the newly elected Prime Minister would bring political, and socioeconomic improvements, peace, and security. He was optimistically endorsed by many opposition parties and championed with wide public recognition.

Abiy Ahmed embarked on materializing his proposals to unite the country and promote peace and cooperation beginning with neighboring countries.

He managed to end the post-war two-decades-long no-peace-no-war situation with Eritrea. Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for making peace with Eritrea.

Abiy then adopted liberalization and privatization initiatives to transform the country’s political economy. He was then appreciated by western liberal countries and international institutions for his socio-economic reform agendas. He came up with his ambitious reform plans and regional integration.

Due to his political and socio-economic liberalization intentions and peace and cooperation initiatives with neighboring countries, the newly designated Prime Minister won the attention and support from the general public, multinational institutions, and western countries at large.

Abiy Ahmed’s government began to experience diplomatic pressure and later aid cuts from the United States government over the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) dispute with Egypt, a major strategic partner of the US in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

The Ethiopian government rejected the White House’s mediation proposal over the issue of the GERD dispute between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan. Disregarding the advice of the US, the Ethiopian government started the first scheduled filling of the dam before reaching a binding agreement with Sudan and Egypt. The Trump Administration, unusually observed to directly intervene in the internal affairs of African countries, then cut 272 million US dollars in security and development assistance.

The decision of the US government to suspend the aid was the first major diplomatic disapproval by Abiy’s administration.

Ethiopia’s foreign relations with neighboring Sudan have also been in crisis over a border dispute. As the relations between Ethiopia and Sudan deteriorated, the letter demanded the replacement of more than 3,000 Ethiopian peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA).

The post-Abiy story came to a climax when an armed conflict arose between the Ethiopian government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front-loyal forces in the Tigray regional state in November last year. Although the federal government declared military victory after it took control of Mekelle, Tigray’s capital, after three weeks of fighting, the conflict had continued.

The Biden Administration announced the de-linking of its aid assistance due to the GERD dispute between the three countries. In fact, the US government justified the budget suspension by linking it to the armed conflict between TPLF forces and the federal government-led forces. The resumption of the assistance is to be assessed on humanitarian and security improvements regarding the armed conflict.

As the armed conflict in Tigray has continued severely, the pressures from western countries have persisted.

The European Union suspended a 90 million Euro budget support payment to the Ethiopian government in December 2020 due to the conflict in Tigray and following the humanitarian crisis and hostilities in the region.

The EU’s pressure on Abiy’s administration continued and it canceled its Election Observation Mission (EOM) for the sixth Ethiopian General Elections held at the end of last June.

The US Department of State announced a visa restriction policy on higher officials of the four parties; the Ethiopian and Eritrean government, Amhara Regional State, and TPLF-forces, to supposedly conduct wrongful violence and abuses and hinder access to humanitarian assistance to the Tigray region. The State Department stated that the US government would impose Defense Trade Control Policy and will maintain the existing sanctions.

The Ethiopian government then expressed its disappointment with the US Government’s decision to impose a visa restriction policy. The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its stance that Ethiopia will be forced to reassess its relations with the US which might affect the two countries’ bilateral relationship if the US government continues intervening and meddling in Ethiopia’s internal affairs.

PM Abiy speaking at a conference days after the Ethiopian army withdrew from Mekelle and major areas of the Tigray regional state, stated that bank accounts belonging to the Ethiopian government have been frozen in the US and Germany.

The Ethiopian government commenced its ‘Homegrown Economic Reform Program’ to restructure the country’s economy. As part of an initiative by the Abiy administration to liberalize the economy and privatize state-owned enterprises, major international lenders including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) pledged loans and financial assistance to Ethiopia.

Later on, these multinational financial institutions delayed the disbursement of the pledged loans. Although the IMF approved, in December 2019, three billion dollars in loans for Ethiopia aimed at supporting the Homegrown Economic Reform Program and to help the country address foreign exchange shortages, reduce debt vulnerabilities, and enhance domestic revenue mobilizations, it has not yet disbursed the 2.7 billion dollars.

Five days after the sixth Ethiopian General Election in which Abiy Ahmed’s party, Prosperity Party, won a landslide victory, embassies of Austria, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the Delegation of the European Union to Ethiopia called on the Ethiopian Government to start a national dialogue process to pave ways for a peaceful solution to the ongoing crises.

The Ethiopian Government has been accusing western countries and entities of interfering in the country’s domestic affairs and backing the TPLF, a belligerent in the Tigray armed conflict.

Last month Prime Minister Abiy rejected a request to meet in person with Samantha Power, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Ethiopian relations with major European countries such as Germany and France have also deteriorated. Last month, France canceled a military cooperation deal with Ethiopia which was signed in 2019 by Abiy Ahmed and President Emmanuel Macron. The agreement holds France to offer 100 million US dollars in loan to Ethiopia with which the latter can build a navy.

Within less than a month from August 18, 2021, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Turkey, Uganda, Rwanda, Senegal, and Ghana. Recently he made rhetorics on his social media accounts about the necessity of a ‘united Africa’, ‘Pan-Africanism’, and ‘it is time for Africa’. His official visits to the five countries within a short period of time and African unity rhetoric hinted that the PM was seeking support to withstand a diplomatic backlash from the west.

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A PIECE BYHagos Gebreamlak

Hagos has a BA degree in Political Science and International Relations from Addis Ababa University. He worked for Addis Fortune (Independent News & Media Plc) as a reporter. Hagos is currently working as a fact-checker at Addis Zeybe.