Ethiopia, China, and the United States

Ethiopia is a major US ally in the Horn of Africa. Western observers watching the campaigning there have said that US backing will be an asset to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi after he (most likely) wins re-election. But a win for Meles may prove more to China’s advantage than the United States’.

In recent months, Meles has shown some frustration with the US and has spoken positively of China’s presence in Africa. Speaking at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Tanzania yesterday, Meles again praised China:

China’s interest in investing in Africa makes sense for both partners and should transform economies long reliant on commodity exports, Ethiopia’s prime minister said on Thursday.

[…]Rising labour costs in China also meant that the Asian giant would want to start relocating some manufacturing industries to countries where wage bills may not be as high.

Meles said that at the same time, African nations needed to shift towards industrialisation and boost skills after a decade of growth that has done little to transform economies driven by exports of natural resources and agricultural commodities.

“At the moment, this is consistent with China’s interests,”


“It’s in their interest to spend tens of billions of dollars in Africa and it’s in our interest to have access to those tens of billions of dollars,” he said.

US Special Envoy Scott Gration arrives in Ethiopia today, if I am not mistaken. Washington is clearly interested in what happens in the elections. But will another term for Meles provide political returns on Washington’s investments of rhetorical and financial support for his regime?

To be clear, I am not passing judgment on China’s presence in Africa, or on Meles. Leaving aside how one feels about the different players involved, I think it’s becoming clear that China’s influence in Ethiopia is rising, that the US’ is declining, and that Meles feels comfortable aligning himself with China and does not believe that will cause a significant backlash in Washington.

7 thoughts on “Ethiopia, China, and the United States

  1. I note that Gration’s agenda in Addis Ababa does not include (a) political repression in Ethiopia or (b) the need for free and fair elections.

    It’s a common theme these days to characterise China’s behaviour toward African states as apolitical – so long as strategic or economic interests are achieved, political matters like respect for human rights or democratic processes are not an issue.

    Given that the US isn’t raising such matters, either, and that Meles doesn’t seem to think a bit of repression won’t hurt his relations with either of these big powers, perhaps we can cast the US approach in the same light.

      • To clarify, I’m not out to bash the US. Well, kinda. But seriously, for me the question is, if the big guys aren’t prepared to speak up or pull Meles into line, who is going to do it?

  2. We Ethiopians ourselves will do it. What we only ask the west is not to be obstacle the cause of freedom by giving political economical support to dictators.

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