On Honoring Ethiopia and the Lost Art of Diplomacy

By IndepthAfrica
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Sep 5th, 2012
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By Tecola W. Hagos
Having political and economic power and maintaining diplomatic skill are not mutually exclusive qualities of a great nation. Too often, especially from the end of the Second World War to date, the art of diplomacy has suffered immensely and was replaced by crude and plebian methods of diplomatic relationships. The Cold War era, which was ended only some fifteen years ago, could be considered as one clear period in diplomatic history as an illustrative period of poor diplomatic relationships in world history.

Given the undeniable fact that the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, was a loyal friend of the People and Government of the United States, I am not happy with the low level delegation of the United States sent to the burial ceremony of September 2, 2012. This article is not an endorsement of Meles Zenawi per se, but about our Ethiopian pride and rightful place in history. Meles Zenawi carried out several of the strategic demands of the United States in the region, at times even against the national security interest of Ethiopia (for example, the signing of the 2000 Algiers Agreement). Most notable in such activities helpful to the United States was Meles Zenawi’s anti terrorism policies in furthering mainly the security interest of the United States, at the cost of Ethiopia’s own national security interest in maintaining peaceful relationships with aspiring powers in the region.

I believe that the United States Government lost one singular opportunity by failing to send high level delegation to the funeral ceremony of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, which would have helped the United States to demonstrate its appreciation for real services rendered by the Government of Meles Zenawi and also a chance to extend further the national security strategy of the United States. No matter how I feel about Meles Zenawi because in my eyes he failed to serve Ethiopia’s national security interest in very many areas, he was an extremely effective friend of the United States in carrying out the biddings of the several Governments of the United States from the time of President Bill Clinton to date.

It is my sincere hope that people reading this essay will not misunderstand the essence of this brief commentary. I am not in any way denigrating the Honorable Ambassador Susan Rice that the United States Government sent as its delegation head to the burial ceremony of Meles Zenawi. Ambassador Susan Rice in her own right is a great diplomat and above all a sister that I greatly honor and greatly admire. My point is that President Barak Obama himself should have attended the funeral ceremony for Meles Zenawi. Period. At the very least he should have sent his Vice President.

I am not just mouthing off criticism on the United States just for the sake of beating on the Obama Administration. I believe they are the best team, but they do make mistakes now and then, in case of Ethiopia following a pattern long established by several administrations from the time of President Truman. In studying the diplomatic history between the United States’ governments/administrations and that of Ethiopia’s, I am puzzled and also felt insulted by the low regard that the United States governments/administrations seem to have for Ethiopia over the period of several decades. As far as I am concerned the beginning of all good diplomatic relations between states starts and ends with one element that of respect. No matter how I admire and honor Susan Rice, she is not a head of state or of a government. In fact, in the scheme of things, she is fifth or sixth on the hierarchical ladder of the bureaucratic structure of the Government of the United States. One rational for such low level choice of Delegation by the Obama Administration, maybe due to an honest desire on the part of the Administration to send someone who was a close family friend to the late Prime Minister, and it seems that there was very endearing working relationship between Susan Rice with Meles Zenawi. Especially after listening to the heart touching speech given by Rice at the Ceremony, it is obvious to me the depth of the personal sorrow of Ambassador Rice.

There are certain important points I need to make in connection with the question of respecting Ethiopia and Ethiopians. This is not the first time that Western Governments missed opportunities to honor Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people. When Emperor Haile Selassie’s formal reburial was carried out in Addis Ababa on 5 November 2000, no foreign states sent any representative to that funeral. The fact that the Government of Meles Zenawi refused to allow a “State” funeral might have discouraged such foreign governments from sending delegations; however, I have not found any evidence that any state tried to send delegation and was refused by the Ethiopian Government. Great nations should find ways to show their appreciation and gratitude for not so great leaders of other nations but had been of great service to them.

A national leader should not be hemmed in or be defined by short term events, but must see the larger picture and transcend mere skills for greater wisdom in pursuing truly great diplomatic relationship. Would it not have been sublime for the United States Government to send its representatives to honor its long time loyal friend Emperor Haile Selassie at his funeral in 2000? I would say the same to the Government of the United Kingdom. After all, Emperor Haile Selassie other than the fact of being long time friend of Great Britain and its people was also invested with the highest honor that the Queen of England could bestow—Emperor Haile Selassie was the Knight of the Order of the Garter (1954), the only African in the seven hundred history of the Order founded by Edward III in 1344. Queen Elizabeth II is a member of that Order, and as such she should have sent a delegation to honor Emperor Haile Selassie at his reburial in 2000, if not for anything else, but for his membership in that ancient and great Order of the Garter.

Diplomacy need not be limited to deceptions, manipulations, out right lies, et cetera, it can be also a vehicle to ennoble the human soul. It can lift us above the cacophony of ordinary lives. It can endear people from different parts of the world to each other in far more solid and meaningful manner. I do hope the Honorable Ambassador Susan Rice, and the Government of President Barack Obama will read this brief comment in good light. God Bless the people of Ethiopia and the people of the United States.

Tecola W. Hagos

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