Two decades ago, Ethiopia was a Cold War battlefield. On the ideological map of the world, it was Soviet territory, a land of famine, dictatorship, and civil war. But, with the overthrow of Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Marxist-Leninist dictatorship in 1991, Ethiopia began to transform itself. Today, it ranks among the five fastest-growing economies in the world, and is a bastion of regional stability.

That stability matters, because the Horn of Africa is becoming a security headache once again. If the region is to be stabilized, Ethiopia will need to play a key role in this. Indeed, it should be considered an indispensable strategic partner for those in the international community who want to prevent the entirety of East Africa from slipping into chaos.

Besides the never-ending anarchy of neighboring Somalia, the regional challenges facing Ethiopia and its long-serving prime minister, Meles Zenawi, are daunting. The country remains on a war footing with Eritrea over the disputed border village of Badme. The peace deal between the government and the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement is unraveling fast in neighboring Sudan, where a scheduled referendum in the South in January 2011 on secession and independence – part of the 2005 peace deal – may provoke a return to all-out war.

Further south, Kenya remains scarred by the aftermath of post-election violence, and its constitutional review process could lead to yet more bloodshed. Moreover, Ethiopia’s proximity to strife-torn Yemen (where violent jihadists are congregating) just across the Red Sea, is complicating the country’s foreign policy because of its role in working to keep Somalia out of Islamist control.

Despite these myriad problems – or perhaps because of them – Ethiopia has an opportunity to emerge as the undisputed regional leader. Rapid population growth is projected to put it among the world’s ten most populous states by mid-century. Though landlocked, Ethiopia is comparatively well endowed with natural resources, not least its fertile farmland, which has attracted significant investment from Saudi Arabia, among others. A final settlement of the lengthy dispute with Egypt over the waters of the Blue Nile – which rises in Ethiopia – appears to be in sight, and could have a powerful impact on economic growth.

But despite Ethiopia’s progress, the international community (particularly the West) has been reluctant to view it as a strategic partner. Of course, Ethiopia has its problems, but these should be seen in an African context. The human-rights situation could undoubtedly be improved – especially the treatment of the political opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa – but Isaias Afwerki’s regime in neighboring Eritrea is worse by orders of magnitude.

The country’s ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, dominates the political landscape – but who can blame Ethiopians, surrounded by potential enemies, for giving priority to stability and order over Western-style democratic development? Western leaders can hardly denounce Zenawi while lauding Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for bringing a focus on modernization to Russia’s governance.

Furthermore, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has created what amounts to a one-party state during his 24 years in power, yet he is feted in the West as one of Africa’s visionary leaders. It seems that Ethiopia, more often than not, is the victim of diplomatic double standards.
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If Zenawi consolidates his hold on power in the parliamentary elections due this May, the world should expect the stability that he has brought to take deeper root. Whether it will ripple throughout the region is another question. That is why, regardless of the electoral result, Ethiopia needs international backing.

It is interesting to contrast the likely consequences of the election in Ethiopia with the expected fallout from the presidential election scheduled in Sudan at around the same time. If Omar al-Bashir retains Sudan’s presidency, as expected, he will be emboldened to step up his hostility to the country’s restless regions. His bloody campaign in Darfur, the world should need no reminding, has already led to his indictment by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Bashir will also no doubt try to stop the oil-rich devolved region of South Sudan from declaring independence. The people of South Sudan, most of whom are Christian or animists, are likely to favor secession – not least because of the memory of decades of war and the deeply resented imposition of Sharia law by Bashir’s government in Khartoum.

Many now believe that Bashir will seek to prevent the referendum from taking place, or to use its result as a pretext to return to war with the South – with devastating consequences across the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia’s diplomacy will be vital to minimizing the potential for such violence to spread, but Ethiopia can fulfill this role only if it receives strong strategic backing from the West.

Regional rivalries and past history mean that Ethiopia has few natural allies in the region. One such ally could be Somaliland, the former British protectorate, which broke away from Somalia in 1991 and lies to the northeast of Ethiopia.

Somaliland is, like Ethiopia, relatively stable, economically improving, and secure. It also has a lengthy coastline and a deepwater port, Berbera, which could help land-locked Ethiopia unlock even more economic growth. The moderate Islam practiced in Somaliland could not be farther removed from the barbarity of the Al-Shabab in Somalia. If Ethiopia were to recognize Somaliland as sovereign, other African Union countries would likely follow – and so, perhaps, would the United States and European Union member states, which increasingly despair of patching Somalia together.

Ethiopia’s leadership throughout the Horn of Africa could bring lasting change in a part of the world that has largely been written off. It is time to give Ethiopia the diplomatic tools that it needs.

By Charles Tannock

Source: THE DAILY STAR, 31st March 2010

publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate © (

Charles Tannock is the European Conservatives and Reformists foreign affairs spokesman in the European Parliament.


  1. What a crab!.
    Mr.Tannock, take your nonsense somewhere else. The people of the Horn are better placed to know what and who is good for their future and that of their children.

    Certainly, you are not speaking for those who have been at the receiving end of the ruthlessness and murder squad of TPLF terrorists eversince they come to the seat of power in Addis Abeba.

  2. Time to support Somaliland and Ethiopia if the world wants to see changes in the Horn for better. Somaliland can be a role model for the fanatic and extremist south (Somalia) and the world needs to send them a strong message that; if you are democratic and peace loving like Somaliland, they will be rewarded.

    The EU and US need to stop pouring millions into Somali warlords, thugs and pirates – they need a new strategy in the Horn.

    Otherwise very soon conflicts will be out off control, from Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti to even Uganda.

    If Sudan invades the south, Eritrea invades Djibouti, Yemen and Eritrea go to war, Somalia still at war with it self or even with Kenya (Al Shabab), Kenyan election could spark new rifts again at any time.

    The world can use Ethiopia (Africa's second most populous nation) and Somaliland (the power broker between Ethio vs Somalia, thus eliminating another conflict) the Horn has better future.

    In the mean time Somaliland forces should be trained in Ethiopia by US and European military experts and Commandos, they could contain Somalia's pirates and extremists in Somalia.

  3. In a nutshell, Charles ignores that the fact Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in Africa. For every 10 people, 6 depend on aid.

    All Charles is interested in is arming Ethiopia’s brutal army which has committed the worst human rights abuses but the author doesn’t even mentions Ethiopia brutality against Ogadnes and Oromo. Instead, the author wants to give more killing machines and economic aid to Melez Zenawi.

    From what I can tell, as long as Melez Zenawi is not murdering Europeans who cares whether kills 1 millions Ethiopian, Oromo’s, or Ogadens

    Charles got it all wrong. Instead of promoting democracy and upholding human rights values, he promotes empowering Ethiopia’s dictator.
    Well, for the West as long as the dictator is dancing to their tunes: who cares the bloody starving Africans: that is the attitude.

  4. The neo fakash elements are mad lol. Relax guys Charles Tannock is right on the money not only is Ethiopia a major power broker in the horn of Africa it is in fact the largest in terms of population and resources. Ethiopia ia the fifth fastest growing economy in the world. Somaliland has something Ethiopia lacks and that is Berbera port, if only our selfish ignorant leaders bargain with them we in Somaliland could economically benefit from this.

  5. what a load of bull**** if he said Uganda would have been more realistic then Ethiopia,….self serving European politician who is nothing but an American tissue, ..America invades Afghanistan, Europe is there to wash there a**, Iraq same, before all of them there is the king of UN resolutions killer, ISRAEL….and now that that is impossible to mingle in Somali affairs whilst maintaining peace in the Islamic world, they have to use Europe to arm Ethiopia, ………………………….and use Somaliland as a horse and independence as a wishful carrot, ….ETHIOPIA WILL never recognize Somaliland if they do, they are signing for the balkanization of Ethiopia..

  6. I must say Meles has the intelligence equivalent to a hundred Somali men!

    The Tigray (TPLF) ruling elite has a masterful game-plan of rule, rob and steal whilst at the same time – divide, rebuild and develop but ONLY two regions of Ethiopia. The city state of Addis and the ethnic region of Tigray.

    I am advising you readers to travel to all parts of Ethiopia and see where the developments are taking place?

    It is very intriguing to see how Meles is hated by Somalis but yet his regime is the only that offers the regional states of Ethiopia the right to self-determination and session (article No#39 of Ethio constitution).

  7. The game-play of Meles and the ethnic Tigray elite who bitterly hate the former ruling elite of Amhara is that once Meles regime is removed he shall declare the Ethiopian federal state of Tigray independent and by doing so create a dominio effect in which the Somalis in Somali regional state, Oromos in Oromo state, Afar and others declare independence…leaving the Amhara landlocked, without resources and poor.

    Please understand that it is the Amhara people who are against this current federal states of Ethiopia, federalism and the constitution and in particular article No#39…..

    Remember Eritrea in 1993? and how did they gained their independence….? the Ethiopian constitution of article No#39!

    …..and has the constitution changed since then…….NO!

  8. Most of you you guys are right on piont that this article is baseless and an Ethiopian propoganda aimed at distracting the world from their genocide on Somalis inside and outside of Ethiopia. Zenawi must step down and face criminal charges against hummanity!

  9. I agree with all of the commenter's, specially mr. Nas, it is absolutely true that melez bastardi, is developing tigray region up to European standards in all ways, whilst maintaining division, hatred and ignorance amongst all other nations and tribes,
    he is preparing Tigray for secessionist path,

    as a somali, its the greatest news since the 90's, tigray independence is blessing for Oromiya and Somali region to finally regain control of there land wealth resources and its population, the sooner tigray gets its way the better, …..GO ZENAWI,

  10. Elmi,
    What is wrong with you anyway? Do you call faqash to anyone who has dignity and pride and doesn’t kiss Ethiopian a** as you do.

    Don’t you yourself have an existence and an identity of your own? And if you are so fond of Ethiopia and are prepared to pimp for them then why don’t you move to Adwa where you will met by few primative Tigreans and you will have an ample time to please them as you wish.