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Awramba Times interview with Amb. David H. Shinn

Awramba Times interview with Amb. David H. Shinn

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Published by David Shinn
Amb. David H. Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso and adjunct professor of international affairs at George Washington University, interviews with the Awramba Times (Ethiopia)
Amb. David H. Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso and adjunct professor of international affairs at George Washington University, interviews with the Awramba Times (Ethiopia)

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Published by: David Shinn on Dec 04, 2010
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1Awramba Times Interview(Amharic-language private paper in Addis Ababa)Questions for David ShinnU.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia 1996-1999Adjunct Professor, George Washington University1 December 2010
Awramba Times
: As we all know, you are a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia. At that time,what was the focus of Ethio-American diplomatic relations? Is there anything new whencomparing the diplomatic relationship at this time?
: During my three years in Ethiopia from 1996 through 1999, there were both constantfeatures in the relationship and an evolution in U.S. policy towards Ethiopia. The mostimportant constant aspect of the relationship was an effort to remain a helpful development partner and to provide emergency food aid whenever it was needed. There was also a consistenteffort to work closely with the Ethiopian government on crises in neighboring Sudan andSomalia. Another constant feature, from a personal point of view, was to travel throughoutEthiopia and learn as much about all regions of the country as I could.At the beginning of my assignment, there was an effort to support both local and internationalnon-governmental organizations, encourage freedom of the press and strengthen the judiciary.To some extent, new priorities intervened. The attack by Eritrea on Badme in May 1998significantly changed the nature of the U.S. relationship with Ethiopia. The United Statesdecided at the beginning of the crisis to pursue a balanced policy towards both Ethiopia andEritrea. For example, Washington ended all military training and assistance to Ethiopia andEritrea. Washington removed the Peace Corps from both countries. Not surprisingly, U.S. policy pleased neither country as they both expected support from Washington. My position andthat of my counterpart in Asmara became much more difficult.Following the al-Qaeda attack on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in thesummer of 1998, just months after the outbreak of conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, U.S. policy throughout the region emphasized the security of American personnel. Washingtoninsisted on a drawdown of American personnel at the embassy. This made it more difficult toconduct relations with Ethiopia. The Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict largely consumed the bilateraldialogue until my departure from Addis Ababa in August 1999. After the outbreak of conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, I decided to emphasize the HIV/AIDS question, an apolitical issuethat I thought needed more attention from the United States as a partner government and fromreligious groups and the government of Ethiopia, which faced a growing problem. In somerespects, this was the most productive part of my assignment to Ethiopia.
2Comparing U.S. policy to Ethiopia during my time with the situation today, there are bothconstants and changes. The United States continues to be an important partner in Ethiopia¶seconomic development and remains ready to provide emergency food aid when needed.Cooperation on conflicts in Somalia and Sudan also remain an important part of the policyagenda. The attacks on the United States in 2001 altered the foreign policy relationship withEthiopia and other countries around the world. Cooperation on counterterrorism became a moreimportant part of the dialogue. Regional stability also increased somewhat in importance.Although I am no longer part of the policy process, I have the impression that U.S. concernsabout democratization in Ethiopia have become more important in the policy dialogue during theObama administration.
Awramba Times:
The Ethiopian government is the best U.S. ally on the war against terrorism.These deep relationships in the war on terror have raised many questions. How do you evaluatethe partnership between the U.S. and Ethiopia in the fight against terrorism?
Ethiopia is a strong U.S. ally in the effort to counter extremism but I would not agreethat it is the ³best´ ally. There are other candidates for that title in Europe and perhaps even afew in Africa. Putting aside who is the ³best´ ally, however, the point of your question seems tosuggest that the heavy U.S. emphasis on countering extremism in the region impacted other aspects of the Ethio-American relationship. I agree with that suggestion. There are numerous parts to the U.S-Ethiopian relationship. Washington looks at all of the policy issues as part of a package. It is impossible to isolate one part of the package, for example a U.S. desire for astronger and freer private press in Ethiopia, and the support of the Ethiopian government incountering extremism in the region and promoting political stability. Conducting foreign policyis always a balancing act.In addition, the United States is not the only major international player in Ethiopia. Other countries and organizations such as the United Nations, African Union, Ethiopia¶s neighbors,European Union, China, Russia, just to name a few, impact the bilateral interaction between theUnited States and Ethiopia. No country or organization operates in a vacuum in its bilateralrelationship with Ethiopia or any other country.
Awramba Times:
Many people believe that the Ethiopian government is violating human rightsand press freedom in Ethiopia. What¶s your take on this issue and how much are you concerned?
Ethiopia has a long way to go in improving its human rights record and increasing pressfreedom before they reach an acceptable level. On the positive side, I am pleased that it is possible for papers such as
 Awramba Times
to exist. Although the press is much freer incountries such as Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, at least Ethiopia allows newspapers that donot reflect the positions of the government. This is more than I can say for at least one of Ethiopia¶s neighbors.
 Having said that, I am disappointed there has not been more positive movement on pressfreedom in Ethiopia since the period that I was ambassador to Ethiopia. The situation seems to be about the same and in some respects has moved backwards. It is my understanding, for example, that there is no opposition paper today published in Afan Oromo. There were severalin the late 1990s. Some of the opposition press during that period was neither professional nor responsible. I assume that is not the situation today.
Awramba Times
: Many people participated in the 2005 election and expected that there was a possibility to change a government through democratic ways. However, certain groups believedthat democracy is a process and has taken hundreds of years in America. Hence, it may eventake more or the same in Ethiopia. What¶s your comment on this topic?
Democracy does take time to develop and it is a constantly evolving process toaccommodate changing times. It does not, however, take hundreds of years to accept andimplement the basic concepts such as free and fair elections, a responsible and strong private press, an independent judiciary, an active civil society and checks and balances on governance. No country, including the United States, has a monopoly on the best way to create democraticgovernance. To some extent, every country must adapt democracy to its own situation. But I believe it is hard to dismiss the advantages to society of the basic precepts of democracy, and itis just wrong to suggest that it takes hundreds of years to install them.
Awramba Times
: How do you describe Prime Minister Meles Zenawi?
: He is exceptionally intelligent and reads widely, especially on economic issues. He can be a good listener. He marshals his own arguments clearly and effectively. He does not mincewords when he is angry or disagrees with your position. He means what he says and says whathe means. His command of colloquial English, even in the late 1990s, was amazing and it hasimproved over time. Elements of his guerrilla experience in the bush remain to the present day.He is tenacious and remains acutely conscious of security. Perhaps this latter concern has prevented him from travelling more frequently and widely around Ethiopia. He holdsinformation closely and puts a premium on secrecy, which I concluded was a characteristic of highland Ethiopian society generally.
Awramba Times
: If you were to go back to your previous position as ambassador to Ethiopia,what do you think would be the best way to strengthen the relationship between the United Statesand Ethiopia?
Fortunately, no one needs to be concerned about my return to Ethiopia as ambassador.For the sake of discussion, however, I think the most important consideration is the need to move beyond the day-to-day and month-to-month issues that both countries must address. The UnitedStates should focus increasingly on the long-term nature of the ties. Where do the United Statesand Ethiopia see the relationship ten or twenty years from now and what do they want it to look 

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