“Democracy is Not Easy”: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Ethiopia

“We encourage the Ethiopian people as well to maintain patience, maintain support for your government through this change or this transition but also through this journey of pursuing democracy which takes time and effort. Democracy is not easy, it takes a lot of work.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

This week U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, sending a strong signal about the importance of Ethiopia to U.S. national interests. Make no mistake about it. The U.S. Secretary of State gave tacit approval to the Ethiopian Government’s attempts to maintain peace and security for the Ethiopian people.

The editorial team at Strathink believes that Secretary Tillerson, in his meetings and remarks to the press, struck the right note between acknowledging the threats posed to the country by lawlessness and violence and encouraging opening political space to include a wide array of views in the governing process. This is what makes democracy hard.

Acknowledging the current State of Emergency, Secretary Tillerson said, “…it is important that the country moves on past the state of emergency as quickly as possible.”

The narrative that dominates external actors, including political actors and the press, is a country suffocating under a blanket of marginalization and oppression. However, this false narrative belies the facts where the move towards political reform is coming from not just those who oppose but by those who govern.

Secretary Tillerson said, “We do firmly believe the answer is greater freedom for people, not less. We recognize the transition that is underway in Ethiopia, the first-ever voluntary transfer of power. And I view this as a very positive symbol of the strength of this very young democracy in Ethiopia, a peaceful transition of power.”

The governing parties are engaging in a process of reform, perhaps even transformation. This is happening under conditions of potential instability—a situation marked by the same kind of zero-sum political game encouraged by certain leaders of the opposition.

Democracy is hard work not only for the government but also for the people. Secretary Tillerson “encourage[d] the Ethiopian people as well to maintain patience, maintain support for [their] government through this change or this transition but also through this journey of pursuing democracy.”

The role of citizens in supporting the efforts of the government to keep them safe and to widen the playing field for opposition is the key to success. We know that the Ethiopian people recognize the threat violence holds to their own security and support constitutional means to protect their safety from those who advocate violence. We also know that the people must allow the government some space to rights the wrongs that threaten the progress Ethiopia has made in the political, economic and social spheres of Ethiopian life.

Secretary Tillerson was direct in his discussions with the Ethiopian government because today Ethiopia is “a friend and a partner”—not a beneficiary.

U.S. security interests and Ethiopia’s security interests exist in a region inhabited by rogue governments and extremists.

U.S. economic interest and Ethiopia’s economic interests exist in a global market where investment opportunities and capital need pairing for mutual benefit.

Consistent in Secretary Tillerson’s engagement with Ethiopia was his tone, a critical indicator of political discourse. Just over twenty-five years ago, U.S. engagement with Ethiopia took place over sacks of grain. Ethiopia was simply a beneficiary of America’s generosity in feeding millions of starving people. Today, the United States engages with Ethiopia as a key partner in global peace, an economic powerhouse and a country dealing with the challenges of advancing democratic reform.

Democracy is not easy, it takes a lot of work. The recent visit of Secretary Tillerson shows how hard Ethiopia has worked to get to this point. It also shows us that the United States, as a friend and a partner, supports the efforts of the Ethiopian Government in its continued journey towards democratic reform.

No one really wants a State of Emergency—it takes time, attention and resources away from fixing a broken system. Secretary Tillerson got it right—it is important that the country moves on past the state of emergency as quickly as possible. It is the timeline he was referring to, not the action itself.


3 Responses to ““Democracy is Not Easy”: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Ethiopia”

  1. SYSPRICE says:

    The Secretary has sided with the the Ethiopian people, especially with the Oromo people! This will ceremonially drive the system who pushed the SoE down the throat of Ethiopians. It is time for peaceful transition of power to the people. Short of that, I”m afraid ain”t going to cut it. All opposition groups and parties, important personality, civic societies, etc should start working together to build conciseness to effectively take part in the transition. It is a new day in Ethiopia and the rest of the region. Ethiopia is such an important country that all in the region have interest in. Ethiopia not Somalia, God forbid, chaos in Ethiopia will reverberate far and beyond!

  2. Addis says:

    Why are we in the current state in the first place? Lack of vision, complacency, genuine grievance, blind hatred and so forth. The ruling party needs a deep soul searching to get out of this mess. It takes though two to tango. Don’t expect any magic from the current rulers if no one wants to engage or choose the path of destruction. By the way, China went for ‘President for life’ (banter intended). It is very easy to end up like the former Yugoslavia and there is nothing to suggest here immunity from that route. SoE will end at one point or another. The question then becomes, do all stakeholders want a win-win coexistence or go down the dark tunnel only to regret it at a certain point in the future for a belated national reconciliation? Myopic actors deliberately and incessantly targeting civilians from specific ethics groups may enjoy a sense of self fulfilment in the short term but it will ultimately backfire and spread to all regions – make no mistake. History will not be very kind to the instigators of where we head next.

  3. Great people like Taye Dendea should have been a treasure of Ethiopia and allowed to aim high, shoot for the stars, be a great role model and elevate Ethiopia and Ethiopians to a civilized form of existence with great constitution, freedom, liberty, democracy, meritocracy and free market capitalism INSTEAD of wasting their talent for innovation, ingenuity, civility by keeping them in shit hole jail, FOR SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER, for extended period of time while torturing/starving them to break their will power, moral. Mr. Dendea is a fighter and an Ethiopian hero. As a non Oromo person, I admire the fighting spirit/bravery of Oromo people such as one of the greatest human being that ever lived Abebe Bikila who chose to run brave foot and won at world record time the 1960 marathon in Italy during Olympics and broke his world record 4 years later in Tokyo during olympics and became the first African to win an Olympic medal. I am going to bet on Mr. Dendea winning his fight with the impotent/prostitute/devil TPLF/EPRDF. There is no doubt in my mind that he will knock them out cold and unconscious very very soon.


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