Veni, vidi, vici – I came, I saw, I conquered.
Legend has it, Julius Caesar, following his quick victory – five days- at the Battle of Zela in 47 BC, informed the Roman Senate, “Veni, vidi, vici.” “I came. I saw. I conquered.”
Caesar conquered by the sword!
In mid-December 2022, Abiy Ahmed came to America to attend the Second US-Africa Summit, and he too is entitled to declare, “Veni, vidi, vici.”
Abiy Ahmed conquered by the word! In 72 hours flat!
Abiy Ahmed came, saw and conquered with nothing more than integrity, sincerity, probity, positivity, humility, reason, logic, common sense, candor, confidence, fair- and open-mindedness, good faith, good will and love.
Indeed, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Matthew 22:39
How difficult it must be to practice the precept, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
For the past two years, Ethiopian-US relations have been at their lowest point.
I describe the bilateral relations over the past two as hostile to the point of being mortal enemies. (But that is likely a view shaded by my own obdurate pessimism, skepticism and cynicism.)
There is no need to get into the details that have dominated the rancorous relations between the two countries.
It was a relationship that produced the Apocalypse of the Three “Ds” (Death. Destruction. Displacement.) in Ethiopia.
There is no public record what the two leaders talked about formally or chit-chatted informally.
Contrary to my tale of doom and gloom, the body language of the two leaders spoke volumes.
Those familiar with the forensic analysis of body language can make important conclusions from the two leaders’ facial expressions, gestures, stances and use of personal space depicted in the various photographs.
In various pictures, the two leaders are seen smiling and laughing without any trace of tension in their facial expressions. They maintained eye contact at all times. PM Abiy is seen listening attentively (one of his fortes.)
President Biden is seen gesturing, touching, tapping and holding PM Abiy’s arm as they sat talking to each other. President Biden holds PM Abiy’s arms as they spoke standing up.
As they stood and sat down, their personal space was very close, probably half an arm’s length, something that can be described as being within “intimate personal space.” Their posture showed confidence and warmth in each other’s presence.
Both leaders were relaxed and mirrored each other’s body language.
Based on a forensic analysis of their body language, we may reasonably conclude they shared feelings of friendship, comfort in each other’s presence, common understanding, trust, good will, rapport, and appreciation.
The fact of the matter is that PM Abiy’s successful diplomacy in the US adds honor, dignity and grandeur to Ethiopia!
2022 World Cup- Politics and diplomacy are football games
If there is one thing that truly unites the world, it is football (soccer for Americans).
It is estimated one-half billion people play it and four billion watch it.
Kings, presidents and prime ministers as well as paupers, children, men and women, watch football.
Football transcends age, race, gender, culture, or nationality.
If there is such a thing as a universal religion, it is football.
Football brings people together, competitively and cooperatively.
Football is not all fun and games.
The Football War was fought in 1969 with tanks and planes between Honduras and El Salvador resulting in mass casualties and displacement.
“Football hooliganism” has been a plague as fans engage in criminal acts and destructive behavior at football events.
I would argue the 2022 World Cup brought Ethiopia and America together after two years of strained relations, to put it mildly.
PM Abiy Ahmed and President Joe Biden watched the game between Morocco and France and chit-chatted.
The only thing missing was the popcorn.
A scientific study shows there is “tribal love” among football fans.
I guess we all belong to the original tribe from the “Cradle of Humankind.”
Power of conversation (Power of the Word)
There is the art of conversation and the art of the BS.
For PM Abiy, everything is discussable and negotiable except Ethiopian unity, Ethiopian territorial integrity and Ethiopian sovereignty.
In my experience, the vast majority of people love to talk but have a woefully underdeveloped sense of listening.
The power of conversation is that it almost always improves understanding and helps build relationships.
People talking with goodwill and in good faith can do a lot of good.
They are able to see new and better opportunities and explore mutually beneficial possibilities.
They bring out and discuss hidden problems and issues and resolve them in a give and take exchange.
They can come up with new ideas, share knowledge and narrow their differences.
PM Abiy has proven beyond a shadow of doubt the irresistible power of conversation and dialogue in solving problems.
In 2022, PM Abiy brought about a peace agreement resolving the conflict in Northern Ethiopia and ensuring all differences going forward will be resolved by conversation and dialogue.
PM Abiy and the Ethiopian Parliament set up a National Dialogue Commission to resolve problems in Ethiopia through conversation and dialogue.
In 2019, PM Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for initiating a conversation and dialogue with President Isaias Afeworki and together ending the no peace, no war situation between the two countries.
In 2019, PM Abiy Ahmed played a key role in the Sudan during negotiations (conversation and dialogue) between protestors and the provisional military council which currently rules Sudan.
In 2019, PM Abiy Ahmed also played a key role in helping during negotiations (conversation and dialogue) the contending parties in South Sudan achieve a peace deal.
Ethiopia and Kenya have been key allies in Somalia’s peace and security matters particularly in fighting terrorism and supporting the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and strengthening regional security.
PM Abiy was the first responder in resolving the decades of animosity between Somalia and Eritrea helping the two countries establish diplomatic ties.
PM Abiy was the first responder in the easing of tensions between Eritrea and Djibouti.
PM Abiy was the first responder in mediating a maritime border issue on the Indian Ocean between Kenya and Somalia.
PM Abiy has been Africa’s first responder for peace.
Unfortunately, those blinded by ambition for power and those willfully blind to facts refuse to acknowledge PM Abiy’s role as an African, indeed global, peacemaker extraordinaire.
The TPLF leaders thought they were the masters of negotiation and the art of the deal.
They failed because they always negotiated in bad faith, were clever by half and could never be trusted.
Contrary to my wildest expectations, PM Abiy has changed the dynamics of US-Ethiopia relations during the three days of the US-Africa Summit.
I don’t exactly know how to characterize the state of relations between the two countries.
Is it rapprochement? Detente? Peace? Accord?
Whatever it is, I will never understand how he did it!
But I give him all the credit.
More than that, I thank him for persistently and incorrigibly, come hell or high water, choosing the path of peace.
Nelson Mandela said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
I say, before you work with him, you must talk to him/her; engage him/her in an honest conversation.
For PM Abiy football is indeed a contact sport.
There is video evidence PM Abiy is more than a football aficionado.
For him, football is a contact sport. (Move over Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.)
President Biden (wink, wink) told African leaders at the Business Forum, “Folks, I want to thank you all for being here, particularly since I said Morocco is about to play as the first African nation in the semi-finals of the World Cup. (Applause.)
I guess Biden’s team lost to France.
President Biden and PM Abiy watching the game together defused the tensions that had built up over the past couple of years.
The two leaders did not talk to each other until they spoke for the first time by phone on January 12, 2022.
Their discussions were outwardly cordial, but there was no question the two leaders did not agree on the nature or resolution of the conflict in northern Ethiopia.
On November 2, 2022, a peace agreement was reached which changed the bilateral playing field for the two countries.
Ethiopia and the US now seem to be on track to rekindle their century and quarter long relations in earnest.
Blinken “welcomed progress made on the implementation of the November 2 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement” and “commended steps taken by the Ethiopian government to improve humanitarian access and begin restoration of essential services.”
Blinken reiterated, “The United States remains committed to supporting the African Union-led peace process, including the AU monitoring and verification mechanism.
PM Abiy met with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
The national security advisor plays a critical role in advising the president on national security issues and is expected to be an honest broker sifting through the mass of interagency information related to national security and accurately providing it to the president.
Although Sullivan towed the party line at the beginning of the conflict in Ethiopia in November 2020, he was not as vocally condemnatory of Ethiopia as the others.
It is likely that he had a comparatively accurate (not blind support for TPLF) and balanced understanding of US interests in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa.
PM Abiy tweeted:
We held a constructive discussion with US National Security Advisor over a host of issues including implementation of cessation of hostilities, political & economic reform initiatives of the GOE and on revitalizing the bilateral relationship.
I like the emphasis on “revitalizing the bilateral relationship” as I would like to see a strong Ethiopian-American alliance against terrorism and for increased investments in Ethiopia. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”
The U.S. will commit $55 billion to Africa over the course of the next three years, across a wide range of sectors, to tackle the core challenges of our time. These commitments build on the United States’ long-standing leadership and partnership in development, economic growth, health and security in Africa. We will shower you with details about those deliverables. We’re not putting a gun to anyone’s head. We will make the case with passion and persistence to every country in the world that they should speak out against these flagrant violations of the U.N. Charter. We’re not imposing conditionality from the point of view of this summit on decisions.
PM Abiy managed to secure USD$745 million to meet “basic needs and provide basic services to the vulnerable” from the World Bank.
World Bank Group President David Malpass announced the World Bank Board of Executive Directors approval, which would bring total WBG commitments to Ethiopia to $2.9 billion over FY22-FY23.
The money will be spent in two projects.
The Ethiopia Program for Results for Strengthening Primary Health Care Services Project “aims to improve essential and equitable health care services such as key reproductive, maternal and child health as well as nutrition services nationwide for the people of Ethiopia, including in conflict affected areas, and especially for women and children, who are the most vulnerable.”
The Flood Management Project “is geared towards urgently enhancing Ethiopia’s resilience to climate-related shocks, as well as improve its ability to better respond to and manage disasters and flood risks.”
PM Abiy tweeted he “had a good meeting with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and discussed ways of expanding US-Ethiopia trade relations.”
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative “is responsible for developing and coordinating U.S. international trade, commodity, and direct investment policy, and overseeing negotiations with other countries. The head of USTR is the U.S. Trade Representative, a Cabinet member who serves as the president’s principal trade advisor, negotiator, and spokesperson on trade issues.”
Ethiopia was the United States’ 77th largest goods export market in 2019. U.S. goods exports to Ethiopia in 2019 were $1.0 billion, down 22.5% ($295 million)
The U.S. goods trade surplus with Ethiopia was $442 million in 2019, a 48.8% decrease ($422 million) over 2018.
On January 1, 2022, the United States terminated Ethiopia from the AGOA trade preference program allegedly because of human rights violations.
I have described the termination as “Joe Biden’s dirty bomb/weapon of mass destruction in Ethiopia.”
I have written Joe Biden an open letter on behalf of the “wailing women factory workers of Ethiopia” thrown out of work as a result of Ethiopia’s AGOA termination.
PM Abiy’s tweet gives me hope for optimism AGOA privileges could be restored.
But I won’t lose sleep over it. I will believe it when I see it.
PM Abiy met with Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund and tweeted:
A productive discussion on Ethiopia’s transformative economic reform agenda with the Managing Director of IMF including the need for debt resolutions. I express our resolve to preserve past gains and deepen our reforms further.
The June 2022 IMF Staff Report noted Ethiopia’s Covid pandemic and conflict challenges and made some encouraging observations:
Delivery of a debt treatment for Ethiopia under the G20 Common Framework, as part of a package supported by an IMF program, is essential to reduce debt vulnerabilities.
Continued progress on reforms to shift from public to private sector-led growth as laid out in the Homegrown Economic Reform Plan will contribute to high and sustainable growth over the long term.
Exports and Foreign Direct Investment have held up well despite the difficult economic environment.
PM Abiy met Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, US Senate Minority Leader.
McConnell is reviled by liberals.
McConnell has never said an unkind word about Ethiopia.
He has been lobbied to do so, but he chose not to join the Ethiopia-bashing lunatic fringe in the US Senate.
I remember McConnel from 2017 when he stepped in to help a Kentucky family adopt an Ethiopian child. At the time, they had been working through the Ethiopian adoption process for seven years.
McConnel made it happen.
PM Abiy tweeted:
Terrific conversations with members of the US investment community about the untapped investment opportunities in Ethiopia. With Ethiopia’s historic reform and openings, I encouraged them to step up efforts to invest in our people and economy for shared prosperity.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced:
All U.S. businesses should take note of new opportunities for trade, investment, and commerce in Africa, spurred by improvements in the business environment, a continent-wide free trade area, and a new generation of entrepreneurs on the move.
PM Abiy was the recipient of the American Academy of Achievement and Global Hope Coalition’s “Outstanding African Leadership Award” for his Green Legacy initiative to reforest the country Ethiopia. In his acceptance speech, he said:
Indeed, our continent is filled with many success stories – past, present and future. The perspective that African countries are net producers of problems that always require external assistance is an outdated one. Therefore, great appreciation to the organizers for lighting a torch on the continent’s net production of solutions.
As the global community continues to be confronted with the adverse effects of climate change, in Ethiopia we chose to undertake bold and practical solutions to address the issue. When in 2019 we launched the Green Legacy initiative as a proudly African nation and as a government navigating turbulent times, Ethiopians from corner to corner rose up armed with seedlings to cover the nation green.
Previous Academy awardees, in a variety of fields, include Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush I, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Other recipients include John Lewis, Rosa Parks, Elie Wiesel, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Sidney Poitier, Shimon Perez, Mikhail Gorbachev.
“God bless Africa, Guard her people, Guide her leaders, And give her peace.”
Those were the words of Trevor Huddleston, of whom Nelson Mandela said, “No white person has done more for South Africa than Trevor Huddleston.”
“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” –Henry Ford.
“The time is always right to do what is right.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On the last day of the Summit, Secretary Blinken provided a list of US financial commitment and investment in Africa over the past couple of years.
There are many who suggest the US-Africa Summit 2022 is a repeat of US-Africa Summit 2014.
They point to several factors to demonstrate similarities between the two Summits:
No real agenda. No roadmap to get things done.
No change in the interventionary orientation of US policy in Africa.
No real commitments, at best grandiose verbal commitment to spend $55 billion in three years. They point out the fact that Ukraine got almost the same amount in a year or so with a population of 40 million.
No real plan to increase private US investments in Africa.
No real plan to ensure African representation on the G-20.
No mention of an African seat on the UN Security Council.
They say it is all a public relations stunt/offensive against China.
These critical observations reflect the objective conditions on the ground.
With deep skepticism and cynicism, I had expressed similar criticisms in my December 12, 2022 open letter to Secretary Blinken.
But as Ben Franklin quipped, “I’d rather be a pessimist because then I can only be pleasantly surprised.” Sir, I eagerly await to be pleasantly surprised!
I wrote those words with a tinge of sarcasm and mockery.
I grudgingly admit now, I am pleasantly surprised, at least with the outcome for Ethiopia.
George Santayana observation on the march of history is true: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
But so is Arnold Toynbee. “We are not doomed to make history repeat itself; it is open to us, through our own efforts, to give history, in our case, some new and unprecedented turn.”
US-Africa relations is a complicated affair.
Borrowing the words of Donald Rumsfeld, former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld:
As we know [about Africa and the US], there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns.
In other words, “Que sera sera! Whatever will be, will be.”