The US’ policy in the Horn of Africa is untenable

A Direct Plea to Secretary Blinken, House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations

A fighter from the Tigray People's Liberation Front near the town of Hawzen, a part of the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia.

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The Horn, home to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia and has been at the center of global attention for several decades. Unfortunately, the attention has not translated into coherent policies for the peoples of the region. It has instead entailed great suffering on the peoples of the region who have to bear the brunt of successive reckless and inhumane policies. The Achilles Heel of US policy in the Horn of Africa (HoA) for the past 70 years is its failure to approach the region from a position of symmetry and perspectives that advance US strategic interests, as well as those of individual countries in the region and the HoA as a whole. 


The spiral of apparent hostility that characterizes US policy towards Eritrea boiled down to one overriding reason. This was true in the 1950s, and it is also true today. It has nothing to do with principles of international law or with values of justice, democracy and human rights. The United States, it seems, has all along believed that its perceived strategies in the region can be better served by Ethiopia; irrespective of the philosophical persuasions of the regime in power in Addis Ababa. This consistent and overriding policy was couched in Cold War terms in the 1950s; now, articulated in terms of the regional “Anchor States,” as spelt out in the US National Security Strategy of 2002. 

In the 1950s, the US subordinated Eritrea’s inalienable right to decolonization to its singular objective of securing an intelligence-gathering/eavesdropping military Station in Asmara/Eritrea by making the latter an appendage of Ethiopia. Through UN resolution 390(A), Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia and when Ethiopia violated the terms of the federation, the US prevented any action against it. Eritrea was forced to launch the armed struggle in 1961. But US hostility towards the people of Eritrea continued throughout Eritrea’s national liberation struggle. 

Eritrea gained independence in 1991 and set out to establish relations with the US. The Government of Eritrea chose to forgive and forget, to close the dark chapter, and, to begin on a new slate by fostering a new relationship of cooperation and friendship. 

When Ethiopia under the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) rule declared war on May 14, 1998, and as Ethiopian jet fighters attacked Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, on June 5, 1998, however, the then-US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa broke diplomatic precedence to directly address the OAU Summit in Ouagadougou in support of Ethiopia and to lobby the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to adopt a resolution against Eritrea. US bias cost the lives of thousands of Eritreans and Ethiopians, as the emboldened TPLF regime continued with its war of aggression and occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories, including Badme. 

When the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) delivered its final and binding delimitation and demarcation decisions in 2002 and 2007 respectively and “unequivocally” awarded Badme to Eritrea, the TPLF regime rejected the decision and the US, despite being witness and guarantor to the Algiers Agreements signed by Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2000, chose instead to appease TPLF and prevent the implementation of the EEBC’s decisions. 

In 2009, TPLF and Susan Rice, the then US Ambassador to the UN, engineered sanctions against Eritrea. Eritrea, a victim of terrorism was accused of supporting Al-Shabaab terrorists of Somalia. The UN’s Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group was unable to find a single piece of evidence to substantiate those false and defamatory allegations. The unjust sanctions were finally lifted in November of 2018. 

The US also encouraged the migration of Eritrea’s youth in order to degrade its defense capabilities, and issued executive orders to sully the image of Eritrea’s leadership. A sordid story for another day.


Washington relied on the TPLFs self-serving and “faulty intelligence” in 2006 when it prodded Ethiopia to invade Somalia and remove the Union of Islamic Courts. That invasion caused the greatest humanitarian disaster in Somalia’s history and ironically contributed to the growth of Al Shabbab. Leveraging this faulty policy and using “war on terror” as a convenient basis, the US provided TPLF diplomatic, political and military shield and support, while it stifled the Ethiopian people and violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighboring states. It also prolonged the Eritrea Ethiopia conflict and unlawful occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories 

Eritrean Foreign Policy Towards the US: Forgive and Befriend

Eritrea’s foreign policy is anchored on cultivating warm ties of friendship, cooperation and partnership with all countries on the basis of mutual respect, established norms of international law and that do not comprise or subordinate its national interests and political independence. In the region, Eritrea’s policy is based on enhancing a conducive climate for a good neighborhood. 

Eritrea has never spared efforts to cultivate good ties with the US, irrespective of historical and contemporary adversarial policies by successive US Administrations. But, with the exception of the brief interlude from 1991-1998, in the immediate aftermath of Eritrea’s independence and when ties between EPRDF and TPLF were good, the United States’ position has remained consistently negative, and even hostile without just cause. 

Eritrea is a secular state, worthy of international applause, with a population evenly divided between Christians and Moslems. It has been in the front line fighting all types of well-financed radical individuals and groups who sought to impose their extreme version of Christianity/Islam. Because of the determination and vigilance of the Government and the people of Eritrea, they were not able to penetrate Eritrean society and destabilize the country. But instead of recognizing and supporting Eritrea’s efforts, Washington chose to demonize and portray the country as a pariah. Eritrea’s exemplary and harmonious culture of ethnic and religious tolerance with respect should have been applauded. Instead, United States Commission on International Religious (USCIRF) put Eritrea on its list of “Countries of Concern.” 

Current Situation in Ethiopia

The lawless TPLF clique launched the War of Insurrection in November 2020, in order to bring about regime change in Ethiopia and Eritrea. The TPLF’s subversive acts intended to reverse the reforms in Ethiopia and sabotage the 2018 Eritrea-Ethiopia Peace Agreement, and respect of EEBC decision and end the occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories, including Badme. The TPLFs year-long rampage through several Ethiopian regions has left tens of thousands of dead and vital infrastructures, such as schools, health facilities, airports etc., destroyed. The dire humanitarian situation created must be addressed, but not through absolving the TPLF of its crimes, and falsely portraying it as a victim. 

Ethiopians from all regions, including Tigray, have lived together in peace for centuries. There is no genocide or ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia. It is the TPLF that has been attacking other ethnic groups and destroying their livelihoods. The emboldened TPLF and its surrogates made genocide the rallying cry, as it conducted its marauding War of Insurrection. 

The US’ latest shenanigans at the UN Human Rights Council, after 12 similar sessions at the UN Security Council in the last year, is a last-ditch effort to divert attention, punish the victims – Eritrean and Ethiopians – while providing diplomatic, media and political shield and support to the culprits: the TPLF. Ignoring and totally misreading Horn sentiments, while defending and shielding the TPLF, its mercenary, has damaged US-Horn relations. The people are saying #NoMore. 

Going Forward

A situation analysis of the Horn must be anchored in the peculiarity of each country, context, and accommodation of independent domestic policy choices by the concerned governments. Prevalent tendency to see the Horn – collectively or individually states – through the prism of the US’ rivalry with its global competitors must be discarded. Such policies did not serve the interests of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia or the region, and even the United States, when we look in retrospect at what has transpired in the second half of the last century. It is unfortunate to note that the follies of the past century are not being redressed even today. 

2018 was a watershed moment in the Horn. The Peace Treaty between Eritrea and Ethiopia, with huge positive ramifications to the region, was signed and a Noble Peace prize justly awarded to Abiy Ahmed Ali in 2019. In addition, the Tripartite Agreement between Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia is the building block for renewed, reinvigorated HOA cooperation. The US is said to be, inexplicably, worried by these positive developments, and its support for the TPLF is therefore seen by the region, as a counter-move to scuttle the new, positive trajectory. 

Washington should not see the Horn of Africa, with its dynamic and fast-changing demographics, as a pawn or pliable tool in its competition and rivalry with China, India or Russia. The region must have the latitude to work with all its global partners on the basis of mutual benefits without compromising the political independence of the regional partners. The US should appreciate fully the HoA’s potential, strategic importance and linkage with the Middle East.

Here again, the American tendency to perceive local players as mere subordinates to major global and Middle Eastern countries is flawed and untenable, and its archaic policies of regime change remain misguided and dangerous as refugee-making. 

An approach that centers on the welfare of Horn populations could position the United States as a friend of the Horn. Resetting US Policy for the Horn requires unbiased contextual knowledge, in order to address strategic issues of interest to all sides. The relegation of policy-making to subordinates, with wrongly entrenched views and bias, has been costly and so many innocent lives lost.

The Horn yearns for a just and coherent US policy, based upon true actual facts, and then the United States will have more loyal friends everywhere. 

The following two-page open letter from Ethiopia’s 2019 Noble Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali to U.S. President Joe Biden, which was received by Amb. Tesfamariam on September 17, 2021, is an undeniable predicate to her above Op-Ed. 

An Open Letter to President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Dear Mr. President, 

As I write this open letter to you, it comes at a time when innocent civilians including women, children and other vulnerable groups in the Afar and Amhara regions have been violently displaced, their livelihoods disrupted, their family members killed, and their properties as well as service giving institutions intentionally destroyed by the TPLF. 

This letter comes at a time when our children in the Tigray region are being used as cannon fodder by remnants of an organization recently designated as ‘terrorist’ by our House of People’s Representatives, Children of a post-war generation that have held high hopes in the possibility that their lives would be distinctly different from that of their parents, whose lives have been marred by the terror of war with the DERG regime and a cross border conflict with Eritrea in the late 1990s instigated by the TPLF. 

As the rest of their peers in the country pursue their studies and lives, our children of Tigray have been held hostage by a terrorist organization that attacked the State on November 3, 2020, exposing them to various vulnerabilities. While the use of children as soldiers and participation in active combat is a violation of international law, the terrorist organization TPLF has proceeded unabated in waging its aggression through the use of children and other civilians. The cries of women and children in the Amhan and Afar regions that are displaced and suffering at the hands of the TPLF’s enduring ruthlessness continues under the deafening silence of the international community. 

Unfortunately, while the entire world has turned its eyes onto Ethiopia and the Government for all the wrong reasons, it has failed to openly and sternly reprimand the terrorist group in the same manner It has been chastising my Government. The many efforts the Ethiopian Government has undertaken to stabilize the region and address humanitarian needs amidst a hostile environment created by the TPLF have been continuously misrepresented.

The mounting and undue pressure on a developing African country, with limitless potential for prosperity, has been building up over the past months. This unwarranted pressure, characterized by double standards, has been rooted in an orchestrated distortion of events and facts on the ground as it pertains to Ethiopia’s rule of law operations in the Tigray region. As a long-time friend, strategic ally and partner in security, the United States’ recent policy against my country comes not only as a surprise to our proud nation but evidently surpasses humanitarian concerns. 

For almost three decades, Ethiopians in all corners have been subjected to pervasive human rights, civil and political rights violations under the TPLF regime. Various identities under the Ethiopian flag were exploited by a small clique that appropriated the power to benefit its small circle at the expense of millions, Including the impoverished of the Tigray region. The suppression of political dissent, egregious human rights violations, displacements, suffocation of democratic rights and capture of State machinery and institutions for the aggrandizement of a small group that ran a country of millions with no accountability for 27 years has been met with little to no resistance by various Western nations, including the US. 

The period 2015-2018 that marked Ethiopia’s awakening where the TPLF was deposed from power in a popular uprising, is telling of the stance that millions throughout this great country took against a criminal enterprise that subjugated Ethiopians to oppression and stripped citizens of the agency. The TPLF’s track record of pitting one ethnic group against the other for its own political survival did not end in 2018 when my administration took over the helm of power. It rather mutated and intensified, putting on the robe of victimhood, while financing elements of instability throughout the country. 

Now, the destructive criminal clique, adept at propaganda and spinning international human rights and democracy machinations to its favor, cries wolf while it leaves no stone unturned in its mission to destroy a nation of more than 3,000-year history. Although this hallucination will not come to pass, history will record that the orchestrated turbulent period Ethiopia is going through at the moment is being justified by some Western policymakers and global institutions under the guise of humanitarian assistance and advancing democracy. 

In a demonstration of my people’s aspiration to democratize and unprecedented In Ethiopia’s modern history, close to 40 million of my country folk went out to vote on June 21, 2021, In this country’s first attempt at a free and fair election. In spite of the many challenges and shortcomings the 6th National Election may have been faced with, the resolute determination of the Ethiopian people for the democratic process was displayed in their commitment to a peaceful electoral period. Against the backdrop of previous electoral periods in which the choice of the people was snatched through rigged processes by the former regime, the 2021 elections came on the heels of the democratic reforms processes we embarked upon three years ago. The significance of our 2021 elections is in its peaceful conclusion, demonstrating Ethiopia’s new trajectory amidst the global warnings that the elections would be violent. 

With the Ethiopian people having spoken and affirmed their faith in the Prosperity Party to lead them through the next five years in a landslide Matory, my Party and administration with this responsibility at hand, are ever more determined to unleash the potential for equitable development these lands are blessed with. We are even more resolutè in granting our people the dignity, security and development they deserve within the means we have and without succumbing to various competing interests and pressures. And we will do this by confronting the threats to democracy and stability posed by any belligerent criminal enterprise. 

While threats to national, regional and global security continue to be a key component of US Interests in many parts of the world, It remains unanswered why your administration has not taken a strong position against the TPLF – the very organization the US Homeland Security categorized as qualifying as Tier 3 terrorist organization for their violent activities in the 1980s. 

in the same manner that your predecessors led the global ‘war on terror, my administration supported by the millions of Ethiopians thirsty and hungry for their right to peace, development and prosperity, are also leading our national ‘war on terror against a destructive criminal enterprise, which poses a threat to both national and Horn region stability. Ethiopia has remained the US’ staunch ally in fighting the terrorism threat of Al Shabab in the Horn. It is our expectation that the US would stand by Ethiopia as a similar terrorist organization with hostility towards the region that threatens to destabilize the Horn.

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