Influx of military personnel overwhelms U.S. embassy in Ethiopia

By Carl LeVan

According to a “sensitive but unclassified” report from the U.S. State Department’s Inspector General on the US Embassy in Ethiopia just released, the Embassy suffered high staff turnover in the wake of unpopular decisions pushed through by the Bush Administration.  As a result, it is struggling to cope with important changes, including a pending facility move and a massive influx of Department of Defense staff.

The report describes the Embassy as “akin to a forward military base” and raises concerns about civilian staff being overwhelmed by DOD personnel who need to be more closely controlled by the diplomats.  According to the IG, the Embassy staff is “somewhat underpowered in terms of dealing with other agencies within the mission, including a dozen or so Department of Defense elements, some not entirely under chief of mission authority and/or prone to resist the chargé’s authority almost to the point of insubordination” (emphasis added).

This elaborates upon a problem documented in a 2006 Minority Staff report prepared by Senator Richard Lugar’s staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Embassies as Command Posts in the Anti-Terror Campaign.  It is also important because DOD emphasized partnerships with civilian authority in order to sell its Africa Command (AFRICOM) to the American and African publics.  The IG report offers troubling evidence that three years after the controversies slipped from the public view, lines of authority remained blurred and the diplomatic ingredient of the “3 D’s” remains overshadowed by defense.   The DOD staff embedded in the Embassy also includes a media relations team, suggesting involvement in the “phase zero” operations designed to shape potential conflict environments.  As numerous former diplomats have told me over the last year, U.S. ambassadors have very limited control over these operations so they often work at odds with U.S. diplomatic strategies.

Training and Foreign Aid Despite Human Rights Violations?

A December 2009 visit by a senior Department of Defense official (reportedly the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Africa Vicki Huddleston) increased the likelihood that Ethiopia will regain its eligibility for Section 1206 military assistance.   Unless strict conditions have been satisfied, the Leahy Amendment prohibits assistance furnished under the Foreign Assistance Act or the Arms Export Control Act to any foreign security forces if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights.  Ethiopia was originally de-qualified for this aid following the 2005 elections.  Today, evidence of such violations is abundant, notwithstanding the relative calm on Election Day this year.  As Human Rights Watch pointed out last week in Congressional testimony, “voters were intimidated at almost every stage” of the process.  Repression remains widespread, thanks in no small part to a sweeping Anti-Terrorism Proclamation issued last year.  (For some solid and balanced comparative research on the effects of exporting American counter-terror legislation, check out the work of political scientist Beth Whitaker at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.)

Thus the likely resumption of military training and financing is surprising, and in my opinion threatens to bring the U.S. back to the bad old Cold War days of choosing security over democracy.  Remember El Salvador?  Apparently not.  Even though the Embassy staff is managing well in a number of areas, the Inspector General further suggests that an increase in government repression will not alter the U.S. reliance on Ethiopia to provide stability for the region.


6 thoughts on “Influx of military personnel overwhelms U.S. embassy in Ethiopia

  1. Tesfa on

    The single most debilitating factor in the vast majority of analysis, critical or not, of the role of the U.S in different situations is the premise that peace is a goal of the U.S. While it was perfectly reasonably to have thought so initially one century of evidence well and truly buries this premise. Once any observer frees themselves of this assumption we they find that conflict and a state of war fit perfectly as the underlying spring that animates all of America engagements. This is why we should all call for AFRICOM to be removed from African soil and all american soldiers to go home.


  2. Anonymous on

    this is good news

    the Inspector General further suggests that an increase in government repression will not alter the U.S. reliance on Ethiopia to provide stability for the region.

    the fight is on go EPPF go

  3. bliss on

    Very worrisome. The point is, what are we the Diaspora going to do about this?

  4. Kitaba Ragasso on

    That is, broad based unity within diversity of all Ethiopians both in the diaspora as well as at home inorder to take the business of Ethiopia in to the Ethiopian hands and bring about broad based self reliant changes and justice for all.

    Always doing the same things and acting in the same ways will only offer us exactly what we have always been getting. That is to say, slavery and helplesseness at the hands of minority dictator wayane and its supporters.

    Reconciliations, reconciliations, reconciliations, mediations, mediations, mediations and organizing from the ground up. The diaspora can play as intiator, reconciliation agent,trust building engine, mediation power house, financial source, knowledge base, networking and empowering agent, etc.

    Only the sky is the limit as to what the dispora can do. Even the sky may not be a limit nowdays but an opportunity for the promotion of change for the better. And make no mistake about the fact that both the sky and the planet earth are our nature given common resources down to the last person on earth.

    With regard to the military build up, it seems that the US and the west are worried about the increasing influences of the Chines bent on controlling scarce and virgine African resources with whom the Ethiopian dictator is flurting every now and then inorder to make the West jeleouse and milk them like a cow as long as they can be milked and then turn over to the Chinese for his retailing and milking practices.

    Otherwise why should the Ethiopian dictator sits and eats with the good US president Obama while at the same time conducting military cooperation agreements with the Chinese leadership.

    Cheap and primitive divide and rule policy excatly similar to that of Israel’s Natanyahu who did announce massive jewish settlement building projects on Palestinian lands while sitting, eating and negotiating with the US vice Presdident Biden for the advancements of peace and justice for all.

    At least the US military may act as a deterence against dictator Meles’s teen age filertations with the Chinese lightening expansions in the HORN. :)

  5. bisrat on

    Once again, it become evident that we are the grass on which the elephants fight and which the greedy kebts selfishly graze. But are also the ground; both the elephants and the greedy kebts are on us. We support them, and should we realize how powerful we are, we can OVERTURN and SWALLOW them!…. pitty that we are the ever-sleeping giant!

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