As the election approaches in Ethiopia on 23 May, the BBC Focus on Africa program asked on May 17 for my views on why the United States and Western countries generally consider Ethiopia to be the "darling" of Africa.
While I acknowledged that Ethiopia has cordial relations with most Western countries and has a privileged relationship with the United States, I would not describe it as the "darling." U.S. officials, in their dialogue with Ethiopian officials, regularly express their concern over Ethiopian human rights practices, the slow pace of democratization and even a few economic policies that it finds wanting.
At the same time, the United States must balance these concerns with Ethiopia's success in achieving a respectable GDP growth rate, significantly improving infrastructure and support for United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa and cooperation with the United States on counter-terrorism.
Ethiopia is the world’s 12th largest supplier of troops for UN peacekeeping operations. Its policy in Somalia in late 2006 and 2007 generally coincided with U.S. policy towards Somalia at the time. In my view, this policy was misguided, but the fact remains that the United States and Ethiopia worked together in Somalia.
The BBC asked why the United States does not pressure Ethiopia to improve its human rights practices. While it is true that the United States provides a considerable amount of aid to Ethiopia, about 90 percent of it is designed to counter HIV/AIDS or provide emergency food aid. This does not provide political leverage. The United States would make this kind of assistance available irrespective of the government in Addis Ababa.
The interviewer suggested there is a double standard when it comes to assistance to Ethiopia as compared to Kenya. But the United States has not eliminated aid to Kenya. While it may be less on a proportional basis, it still continues. If you move one country further south to Tanzania, you have an aid relationship that underscores U.S. support for a country that is in some ways more positive than the U.S. aid relationship with Ethiopia. Tanzania qualified for a half billion dollar grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Ethiopia does not even qualify for funding from the MCC.