Ethiopia is a long-term ally of the US, and some would argue it has a unique relationship with the global superpower among African countries. US Ambassador to Ethiopia, Michael Raynor elaborates on what makes the US-Ethiopia partnership tick. Interview by James Jeffrey.
Why has there been such a longstanding effort by the US to partner with Ethiopia?
The US has had a special partnership with Ethiopia for over a hundred years. Part of the uniqueness of this partnership has to do with the uniqueness of Ethiopia itself. Its extraordinary history stretching back millennia; its success in fending off colonialism; the extraordinary influence it has had throughout Africa for many decades.
The US has understood for many years that Ethiopia is a country of enormous consequence: a country with a large territory and a large population; a country with huge potential and a rapidly growing economy and a country that has played an outsized role in keeping the peace in Africa – and beyond – for many years.
The breadth of US-Ethiopian relations has also helped build up an Ethiopian diaspora population in the United States that numbers many hundreds of thousands. This is a very dynamic, influential and successful group of people who maintain strong ties to both countries, and I expect they’ll help make sure that US-Ethiopia ties remain strong going forward.
But far more important than the very interesting history of our partnership, are the prospects we now have to build an even stronger relationship going forward.
The selection of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his government’s game-changing reform programmes has opened the door to cooperation on a level that was frankly impossible to contemplate just a year ago.
Our partnership with Ethiopia is growing stronger than ever, thanks both to the deep historical underpinnings and to the extraordinary new opportunities arising from Ethiopia’s stunning political and economic transformation.
The importance of this opportunity can’t be overstated. Ethiopia’s success in building greater political inclusiveness and economic prosperity will have enormous consequence for its own population of nearly 110m people, of course. And the regional implications of Ethiopia’s success could be equally compelling.
Ethiopia is key to fostering security in the Horn of Africa as well as to developing a growing trade hub that can be a multiplier for regional economic growth and prosperity.
Ethiopia’s success in establishing itself as a true democracy can resonate not only in Ethiopia and the surrounding region, but around the world.
All of this is exactly what the US wants for its partners and for ourselves: governments that provide their people with the democratic and economic opportunities they need to thrive.
What role does financial assistance play in the partnership?
We’ve provided about $4bn in development investments and humanitarian assistance over the last five years. The split between development and humanitarian funding has been roughly equal in recent years, though the overall amount varies from year to year because our humanitarian assistance is adjusted to meet actual needs – those numbers rose significantly over 2015-2017 due to severe prolonged drought in parts of the country.
Our development and humanitarian partnerships focus on investing in Ethiopia’s people: in helping them be not only healthier, better fed and better educated, but to be more self-reliant. This last point is key.
Not only do we help Ethiopia provide nutritional support for its people, but we help many recipients of that support to learn work and life skills to help them graduate from reliance on food aid altogether.
Similarly, we’ve had a very successful partnership with Ethiopia for several years to combat HIV/AIDS under our PEPFAR programme (the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).
Not only does this programme help hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians know their HIV status,
receive life-saving treatment, and lead long and productive lives, but it has also helped Ethiopia become one of the first countries in the world to approach overall control of its HIV epidemic.
We invest heavily in areas like education, agricultural productivity, economic growth and youth empowerment – again, not only to meet the immediate needs of the Ethiopian people, but to help the country and its people move beyond the need for such support at all.
But as proud as I am of the results of our partnerships with Ethiopia to date, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s reform efforts have opened the door to a wide range of new opportunities.
We’re fully committed to sustaining our ongoing support for Ethiopia and Ethiopians, and we’re also working to expand the scope of our partnership to support Ethiopia’s reform agenda more directly. This includes strengthening institutions and capacity in areas like law enforcement, elections, media and communications, and market economics. We’re also growing the size of our embassy staff to support these new programmes.
Ethiopia is on an exciting new path toward strong governance, democratic inclusion, and economic opportunity, and – through these steps – toward a more organic and durable stability in the long run. These are outcomes the US believes in, and is prepared to invest in.
What stands out about the US partnership with Ethiopia?
I would cite two things that arguably distinguish the US-Ethiopian partnership. First and foremost, it’s actually a partnership. We come together to truly understand each other’s goals and priorities, to find common cause, to agree upon the best possible courses of action, and to deploy both our nations’ expertise and resources toward common goals.
Second, with us, what you see is what you get. As a nation and a people, we’re very forthright. We’re not good at layers of complexity or hidden agendas. With Ethiopia, our policy is clear: to work together toward shared goals.
And our shared goals are equally clear: to promote democracy, rule of law, greater prosperity, and a world that is free of terrorism and other threats to innocent people. As a result, the US agenda in Ethiopia is equally clear and simple: we want our partner to be as strong as possible, so that we can work together as effectively as possible to achieve our shared goals.
When we invest a billion dollars in Ethiopia, it’s purely and simply to make Ethiopia the strongest possible partner. There are no hidden agendas, no strings attached, and no debts incurred. All we ask is that Ethiopia make the best use of our investments toward the worthwhile outcomes we’ve agreed upon. It’s as simple as that. While the US isn’t unique in approaching its international partnerships this way, it’s true that some other countries’ engagement can come with less transparency and more entanglements.
When it comes to Ethiopia’s rapid and ongoing democratic reforms, what is the US hoping to see and influence in Ethiopia through its partnership?
It’s not about what the US wants to see in Ethiopia. It’s about what the Ethiopian government and people want to see – an Ethiopia that is democratically inclusive, well-governed, prosperous and stable – and how the US can support them. We’re focused on enabling Ethiopia to achieve its own goals. This is an easy position for us to take, because Prime Minister Abiy’s reform plans align so closely with our own values and policies.
So, what we’re focused on is identifying existing resources as well as new ones we can leverage to specifically support the goals that the Prime Minister has laid out. Yes, the US brings more resources to bear than anyone else, but no single country can do everything on its own.
Our coordination and yes, diplomacy – not only with Ethiopia but with other countries and international institutions in support of Ethiopia – is essential to maximising our collective impact.
If anything sets the US apart, it’s the scope and breadth of our cooperation and the fact that we are very intentionally making investments that are consciously designed to make a real difference in the lives of real Ethiopians country-wide.
At the same time, we’re also working hard to expand the role of the US private sector in Ethiopia’s success, and we have a growing flow of US companies coming to explore new opportunities to strengthen Ethiopia’s financial, manufacturing and services sectors.
With a population nearing 110m people, Ethiopia needs to create jobs at a much faster rate than it’s currently doing. The ultimate answer is to expand the participation of private sector investment, whether from abroad or from within Ethiopia itself, because that’s where the jobs come from.
And not just any investment. I’m talking about the kind of high-quality investments that come with true corporate social responsibility, such as strong job creation and labour standards, responsible environmental practices, programmes to build human capital, and commitments to meaningful technology transfer.
These are areas in which US businesses excel, both those already in Ethiopia and those looking to invest here.
Ethiopia is in the midst of a moment unlike anything I’ve seen in my career: the opportunity to reinvent a country of great size and consequence into a true democracy, a place of enormous economic opportunity, and a country whose citizens feel fully invested in their governance and in the extraordinary reforms that Abiy and his government are pursuing.
We believe that Abiy and the Ethiopian government are fully committed to achieving these outcomes, and as a result, we feel strongly that the US has both an opportunity and an obligation to do everything we can to support the success of this moment. Ultimately, it‘ll be up to the Ethiopian people to see it through, but we will absolutely be by their side, every step of the way.