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Policy analysts in Washington believe the recent death of
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi will have little effect on the United
States’ largely uncritical support for the ruling elite in the Horn’s most
militarily powerful state.
The Obama administration is signaling that the longstanding
US policy of showering aid dollars on Ethiopia while collaborating closely on
counter-terrorism initiatives will remain intact as the post-Meles era unfolds.
Comments by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton also suggest that the US will continue to refrain from punishing the
Ethiopian government for its repression of dissent and press freedom.

In a recent conversation with Acting Prime Minister
Hailemariam Desalegn, Obama emphasised Meles’ role in promoting security in the
Horn.
The president also “underscored the commitment of the United
States to continuing in our partnership with Ethiopia,” according to a summary
of Obama’s remarks released by the US embassy in Addis Ababa.
The American leader further urged Hailemariam to “enhance”
the Ethiopian government’s support for democracy, the embassy indicated.
But that part of Obama’s message was clearly secondary to
the theme of continuity in a policy that gives precedence to promoting
stability in the Horn.
Ethiopia plays an important role in US spying missions
throughout the Horn. The Washington Post revealed earlier this year
that American drones fly from a secret base made available inside Ethiopia.
In return for Ethiopia’s role as a bulwark against Islamist
inroads, the Obama administration takes no punitive actions in response to its
own findings of systematic repression by Ethiopian authorities.
The State Department’s most recent human rights report
observes that the Ethiopian government last year arrested more than 100
opposition activists, journalists and democracy advocates, charging some of
them with crimes under an anti-terrorism proclamation.
Analysts suggest that security considerations will continue
to take precedence over all other concerns as Washington consolidates its
“partnership” with the Hailemariam regime.
US competition with China for influence in Africa is also
likely to militate against greater American emphasis on democratic reforms in
Ethiopia.
As former Ambassador Shinn notes, Meles had developed “very
close relations” with Beijing.

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