State's Yamamoto Cites U.S. Strategic Partnership with Ethiopia

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – Ethiopia is one of the United States’ most important partners because "it shares and supports many of our strategic goals on the [African] continent," Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Don Yamamoto told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee September 20. The committee is considering his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia.

Yamamoto, a 25-year veteran of the State Department’s Foreign Service, has been the main official in State’s Africa Bureau for Ethiopia/Eritrean border issues and has helped shepherd a Great Lakes peace effort called the Tripartite Process.  He also has been involved in talks with the Chadian government about its relations with Sudan over the Darfur crisis and has helped to facilitate recent elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). (See related article.)

Yamamoto told the Senate panel that at a time when the United States was pressed to furnish troops for the global War on Terror, Ethiopia is "a full participant in the President's East Africa Counter-Terrorism Initiative, and works closely with the United States and other partners in the region to fight terrorism."

It is also "the world’s sixth largest troop contributor to peacekeeping operations, promoting regional stability," he added.

Still, "Ethiopia remains mired in a decadelong border dispute with Eritrea and faces difficult and pressing challenges at home" such as poverty and problems with political openness, Yamamoto said. These are very complex issues to tackle, but at least everyone is listening and dialogue is taking place, he said.

"Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has articulated the need for poverty eradication, job creation, and economic development. Promoting education and expanding access to quality health care are also primary goals of the Ethiopian government, which we share and are committed to supporting," he said.

In light of the Ethiopian government's harsh reaction to demonstrators following the May 2005 parliamentary elections, Yamamoto said, "the United States remains deeply concerned about Ethiopia’s domestic political environment."

If confirmed by the full Senate, Yamamoto said he would work with Ethiopians to promote "an open and transparent electoral process, inclusion of all parts of society in the democratic process, engagement of all opposition parties to ensure full and dynamic participation in political decision-making, tolerance of dissent, an independent judiciary with transparent and accountable judicial processes, the consistent protection of human rights, and a free and responsible press."

An obstacle to progress, he told the Senate panel, was the ongoing trial of more than 100 opposition leaders and their supporters, civil society leaders, and journalists, which "continues to generate concerns about the future of Ethiopia’s democratic development."

On the economic front, Yamamoto said he would continue to press for foreign assistance that already amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian, emergency, and development aid to Ethiopia each year.

"Our assistance aims to spur economic development, improve the availability and quality of health care, prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, bolster education, and promote democratization and good governance in Ethiopia.  We need to carefully coordinate in the interagency process and with other donors, to ensure that we are using these limited funds effectively and productively," he told the lawmakers.

For more information on U.S. policy, see Africa.