Monday, April 6, 2009

Panel at Howard University on U.S. policy in the Horn of Africa

I participated in a panel hosted by the Oromo Studies Association at Howard University in Washington on April 4 and gave a subsequent interview to the Oromo language service of the Voice of America. The theme of the conference was "U.S. Policy in the Horn of Africa: Opportunities and Prospects for Change under the Obama Administration." Other members of the panel were Terrence Lyons, associate professor at George Mason University, and Ezekiel Gebissa, associate professor at Kettering University. I emphasized during the panel and in the VOA interview that it is important to treat the Horn of Africa as a region as conflicts in any one country inevitably have important implications for one or more neighboring countries. It is also essential that the United States work cooperatively with traditional allies and some of the new non-African countries that have growing influence in the region. I urged the mostly Ethiopian-American audience of Oromo heritage not to accept the commonly-held view that the United States wields enormous control over the Ethiopian government through its assistance program, which consists mostly of funding to combat HIV/AIDS and humanitarian assistance. U.S. influence is important but not uniquely critical to the Ethiopian government. Although the 2005 national elections in Ethiopia ended badly and the 2008 local elections were a missed opportunity to restart a competitive electoral process, I noted that the Eritrean-based Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) also missed an opportunity when it boycotted the 2005 elections. It is difficult to be optimistic about competitive national elections in 2010, but if discussions between the Ethiopian government and the OLF suggest the possibility of good elections on a relatively-level playing field, the OLF should engage politically. Its long-standing armed struggle against the government has not been successful and shows no sign that it will be successful. As for the Obama Administration and the concerns of the Oromo in Ethiopia, I doubted that the new administration will focus on any particular ethnic group in Ethiopia. Although the Oromo constitute by far the largest group in the country, there are some 85 ethnic groups in Ethiopia. It is not realistic to expect the American government to single out the grievances of any particular group. On the other hand, I believe the Obama administration will give greater attention generally to the process of democratization and human rights issues in Ethiopia. This should work to the advantage of the Oromo. UPDATE (4/8): The Yeroo Jimma Times has published this post on its website, as has Ethiopian Review and EthioBlog.


  1. Prof/Ambassador David Shinn,
    I was at the conference and watched you live speaking.It was great. There is a lot to learn from your vast experience in the Horn of Africa region. I hope you will continue to broker peace in the region for the Oromo people and fellow nationalities in Ethiopia.

  2. Thank you for your measured assessment.

  3. That is what the myopic OLF and its blunt sympathizers failed to see, though the reality is close at their nose tip.

  4. When is the good Dr. going to accept reality and stop substituting his own reality ?

    You wrote :
    "I urged the mostly Ethiopian-American audience of Oromo heritage not to accept the commonly-held view that the United States wields enormous control over the Ethiopian government through its assistance program, which consists mostly of funding to combat HIV/AIDS and humanitarian assistance. U.S. influence is important but not uniquely critical to the Ethiopian government. "

    Well what do you call the massive $20million shipment of arms from North Korea to Ethiopia, fully funded by American tax payers contravening all sort of laws including UN sanctions. Adm. Falon in congressional testimony called "Deals with the devil"
    That is one example of what came out to the surface, I dread to think what goes on that we do not know of.
    It is futile and dishonest to try to portray the destructive policies of previous administration as benevolent.
    Here are some more that are adding fuel to the fire in the Horn.

  5. Your record on Ethiopia is dismal. You are a TPLF supporter and this was proven beyond a shadow of doubt when you failed to stand with millions of our people who tossed out TPLF by their vote on May 2005.

    I am praying for you to be alive and witness an uprising by the masses to get their freedom they were denied in 2005.

    You will also be ashamed when Meles Zenawi will be handed to International Criminal Court for genocide and hope you will not testify in support of him.

    It is sad people with abundant knowledge of Ethiopia like that of David Shinn are instrument of tyranny.

    Make no mistake, the days to be expert of Ethiopia is over because we know better and we know what is good for us.

  6. Ambassor Shinn,

    Thanks for your concerns about Horn of Africa, specially to those under political oppression of the Ethiopian dictator. I've been following you for sometime now, I want to hear you talk more about the plight of the Ogaden people in Ethiopia.

    Thanks for your concerns!

  7. Amb. Shinn: As the earlier commentator pointed out, your statements are indeed measured. Conditions in Ethiopia demand a bold vision for American Foreign Policy. You seem to note that the US is marginal in influencing e.g. the creation of a level plain field for all Ethiopians. I beg to disagree. US is restoring its moral and principled global leadership/partnership and its allies are welcoming this "resetting the button". Opinion makers like you should also have equally a moral responibility to advise/educate US policy makers and the public to cease supporting regimes that continue to use their clinched hands on their own people. In the long run, we may all be dead, but think of the legacy you will leave behind by standing for the truth and nothing but the truth. Thank you Sir.

  8. I have said this before and I will say it again: you (Amb. Shinn) are one of the most fairest and objective commentators on Horn of Africa issues. Having said that, if you were a part of the Obama Administration foreign policy team that deals with the Horn of Africa, what would you suggest that the administration should do at a minimum to signal to the Ethiopian regime that they must reverse the course they have been on since the failed elections of 2005?


  9. I am very impressed with your understanding of Oromo people's problems in the Horn of Africa. Proffesor, do you think Obama really have as much understanding as you have about "Oromo crisis" in East Africa. Killings , impresinments , and disaappreanaces of innocent oromo natinalists ?

    University Of Minnesota

  10. I have been following your assessment regarding Ethiopian politics including the statement you gave to the house foreign relation,it looks like you are missing that, unless the united states stands and support those like birtukan midekkssa, who are struggling peacefully, a 1977-78 style anarchism will soon take over ethiopia. The meles administration closed all peaceful avenues, so that those who believe in violence can take the stride. Since EPRDF is determined to rule for the next 50 years by any means necessary, political assassination is inevitable and is the only means to get rid of the radical elements in the EPRDF. Ethiopians WANT A GOVERNMENT THAT THEY CAN ELECT AND IS DEFINED BY EQUALITY AND FREEDOM.

  11. Thankyou for always caring about Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people, particularly Oromo people. We hope that you continue to help us, especially Oromo people. OLF's OLA is weakening but the spirit of Oromo people is always strong. You should know that Oromo people will never accept oppression even though OLA is not strongly attacking the TPLF militarily. America should also know Oromo people are not fools to be tricked by OPDO. You should know Oromo people are peaceful people who practiced Gadaa Democracy. We are both Islam and Christian equally. Historically, we adopt with our surroundings and we respect the principles of co-existence. Oromo people never showed hate to the Semetic people despite the oppression we endured and this is because we love all people of the horn of Africa while we oppose the brutal system of governance in the country. Please recognize that Oromo people's tolerance, natural resources, population strength, democratic heritages and peaceful nature is the best way American policy can be built around for the long-term. It is in the very interest of the US not to settle for short-term benefits by unconditionally financing the minority regimes of Ethiopia.

    Thank you and God bless You

  12. OLF has missed all the Golden opportunities it had got. International Negotiaters including David Shinn have adviced The rebelle leader, Dawud Ibsa, in Norway so that OLF takes part in the election. But Eritrean government advised Dawud the opposite way, since Dawud Ibsa is more dependent, and I can say instrument of the Eritrean Strategy, he undermined the advises of the Renowed Diplomats. Infact, Dawud has no firm and rigid strategy, he oscilates like a pendulum, etc......It's time to decide!!!

  13. Unless otherwise the OLF decides to drop its weapons and refrain from committing egregious crimes against all Ethiopians and engage in a political dialog and participate in a very rapidly developing Ethiopia, and as well in a political dialog, no government of Ethiopia will submit to your savagery and killings of innocent Ethiopians.

  14. From Ethiopian friend who loves my fellow Oromo friends, but disagree with OLF policy.

    Dr Shin,

    I d hope that you try to convince OLF leaders to give-up on violent struggle and come to the negotiation table. OLF has been around 40 years and nothing accomplished through guns. Why do we have to keep doing the same approach which didn't work for almost half-a-century?

    God Bless you, Dr.

  15. No doubt everyone chuckled when you said, "... OLF also missed an opportunity when it boycotted the 2005 elections." An opportunity for what, to get slaughtered? Do tell what exactly happened to those who participated in and overwhelmingly won the 2005 elections. Please stop pretending as if the current regime is anything other than a rogue, vindictive, blood-thirsty bunch of crooks. People of the Horn know better.

  16. Prof. Shin,
    I have followed you comments sometimes now, and I found most fair and balanced view. What matters me most was your indepth knowledge about the complex geopolitical situation of the horn. Yes, OLF has been there ans will be there perhaps for some few years but I do hope it will melt for ever. Better for them to come to peace and address their agenda on table.

  17. To those who fail to differenciate what is being said here and what they steadfastly desire to see take place in the Ethiopian political process. I believe what the ambasador trys to explain is that America's control over the Ethiopian government's internal issues is none. So, whatever political differnces arise in the process of democratizing Ethiopia, working closely among all Ethiopians is critical. He highlighted the fact the diaspora politics like the OLF has been jumping up and down to impose what is called "modern slavery", Ethiopia to be administered by people in washington by drafting and hoping for the diiferent HRs that came and go. I urge most of you who are grinding their teeth, relax a little bit, things will be ok.

  18. Dr. Shinn, as an American and former Ambassador, will only do and say what is in the best interest of America. And America, happens to just want to sleep with whomever does what it wants, a dictatorship or not.

    So, for you people to expect from the Ambassador opinions that are genuinely meant for the good of your respective people, is beyond naive.

    In my opinion, his opinions are not "measured" or "fair" from the stand point of Ethiopians/Oromos who want justice in their land. They are just measured and fair from the stand point of the old short-sighted American foreign policy.

  19. I read with interest the comments, both positive and negative, about the brief summary I included on the blog concerning my presentation April 4 to the Oromo Studies Association at Howard University. I understand there is a range of views on this important issue and that mine is only one opinion by someone from outside the region who makes a serious effort to follow developments throughout the Horn of Africa. I did note that the vast majority of the comments were anonymous. In the future, I hope you will include your names or, at a minimum, where you are writing from.

  20. I am one of many ethhiopians who admired Dr. Shinn. It is becuase of his fair judgements and the concern for Ethiopians.He proved that
    to many of us in so many ways.
    Many thanks !

  21. Dear Ambassador,

    I am not an Oromo. Besides, I neither belong to any political party in Ethiopia nor work for the Ethiopian government. But I attended the panel discussion, like any ordinary Ethiopian citizen who is interested to hear the diverse political views about Ethiopia. And I found your presentation the most realistic, sound and neutral one among all the presentations hosted by OSA that day. Even though I do not subscribe to any of its political views, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank OSA for its initiate to hear alternative realistic, sound and neutral views such as yours.

    Hannibal Minilik
    Takoma Park, MD.

  22. Dear Ambassador,

    I attended the panel discussion. And I found your presentation the most realistic, sound and neutral one among all the presentations hosted by OSA that day. Therefore, I would like to thank you for that. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank OSA for its initiate to listen to alternative views such as yours.

    Takoma Park, MD

  23. Hello Prof. David Shinn,
    We are very happy for your wise and timely advice. I really appreciate your suggestions. Yes, Violence can not bring Peace, Violence can not bring Democracy, etc. All the opposition parties and Government must denounce violence.
    In 1980s OLF was kidnapping young boys for recruitment in the rebelle, I was kidnapped from my Parents house one night, the man who kidnapped me was Abba Chala Leta/ or Abraham Leta/. I passed my adolescent age in the OLF army base in Damazen/Sudan/. Many of the children have died during the war with Derg. That time they told us that Liberation of Oromia was near their nose. They agitated all the young students with their extremist Nationalist Propaganda. I accepted, my friends too. Twenty years after all these horrible tragedy, they are doing the same thing at the moment. Then, I ask my self What did I profit from the OLF rebelle movement, Nothing nothing nothing. I lost my friends, many became handicapped, millions exiled, etc
    So, yes it's the right to Push OLF to the Democratic struggle than the Stone age way of gorilla warfare.
    God Bless you Prof. David Shinn

  24. Dear Prof. David,
    I know your name while I was a teenager back in Addis. I always read your articles and give due respect for all your hardwork on good-cause that would benefit USA and Ethiopia.

    I always see this gap(we may call it political deficit) of democracy versus awareness of democracy not thorougly analysed(researched) by any expert on the region.

    In my humble opinion experts of huge credibilty , such as yours, should focus on the real problem that hinder the functioning of democracy in Ethiopia rather than the manifestaion of the obstacles.
    The real problem is the afore-mentioned deficit.Awareness of the democratic process!

    I would describe awareness as follows:
    (1)majority voters are voting by taking teritiary information(mom from her son, individual from his friend...). So many vote not weighing the policies but based on sentiment to emotions in the "vicinity" .
    The lack of full-fledged democracy apparatus that directly inform the constituents about policies of the parties involved is one issue.

    (2)Lack of nationwide-consensus to pinpoint and handover those who disrupt the democratic process by radicalizing ethnic sentiment, those who divert the democratic process into chaotic scene....
    (3)Ambitious unrealistic expectation of some political leaders that democracy would come in one election rather than a societal-task that would be tackled through time is another issue that require awareness(it took more about 3 hundred years to bring about this great democracy in USA)
    (4)The dependent nature of some political leaders on foreign powers rather than doing their homework.
    (5) the hatred mixed voice(that of disgrunted Ethiopian opposition , some Egyptians, some Eritreans and Somalis) of vocal diaspora that emanates anywhere else in the world and enters the heart of Ethiopia, Addis is another issue. This voice is not healthy. They don't consider their difference with goverment(ruling party) is a a matter of choosing different approach to solve the same problem of their common country. Rather they consider the ruling party as their dogmatic foe(anti-Ethiopia) that should only be overthrown ....alternating leadership is out of their solution list.

    In summary I would say these "awareness issue" are the main problems. All the remaining chaotic scene is just the manifestaion.


  25. Dr. Shinn Change Your Attitude about the Situation in The Ogaden

    Dear Dr. David Shinn,

    In the Ogaden, Extrajudicial killings, detention, gang rape, looting and burning down of villages are normal. Human rights organizations do not have access to record all these crimes that are taking place in the Ogaden. As a member of the civil society of the Somalis in Ogaden, I am offended by your claim on Al-Jazeera that Ogaden region cannot be compared to Darfur. Dr. Shinn, if the above mentioned human sufferings against Somalis in Ogaden do not count as human rights violations, then I’m not sure your interpretation of crimes against humanity.
    The current upraise, let by civil societies, that gained support among the ordinary citizen of the Somalis in and out of Ogaden has nothing to do with armed movements, it is simple opposition to the way the Somalis in Ogaden are treated day in and out, the oppression and unprecedented marginalization.

    As an intellectual, who is well informed about the current situation in the Ogaden, we never expected you to reject the plight of the Somalis in Ogaden. It is unfortunate that time and again, you refused to acknowledge the sufferings of the Somalis in Ogaden.

    The way to restore peace in this region is to move forward not backwards, rejection and denial of the sufferings of Somalis in the Ogaden will not help. We demand our rights to self-determination. We seek a future in which Somalis in the Ogaden can enjoy the benefits of equality, democracy, human rights, freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression.

    We are Ogaden civilians demanding their rights!

  26. It was unfair for David Shin to say that Ogaden is not like Darfur, because similarities of human sufferings, the senseless deaths and starvations are there. The rights Somalis in Ogaden have been denied by Ethiopian highlander’s governments for more than century. The so called Ethiopian federal charter declares that all the nation and nationalities have the right to self-rules including up to separation, but instead our people are oppressed by this TPLF regime and supported by us government.

    Our women are rapped every day and night and our children are starved to death by Ethiopian government and supported your government Mr. Shin. Perhaps the events in Ogaden are not painful to you but, for us is a grave and very painful. We are just demanding the god given rights for freedom and dignity for our people to choose their destiny

    Hassan Mallon

  27. I want to remind Dr Shinn about the peace caravan project that we gave to his office when he was the USA ambassador to Ethiopia in 1996.we wanted him to understand the real situation of the Ogaden region and to take his part in solving the political situation in the region to get peace and stability in the horn generally.on the other hand denyiny the truth will not help neiher the dictator nor the victom.
    pls take an accademic position instead supporting the injustice for only .......