Ethiopia: Droning Politics

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia- The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa has confirmed this week to The Reporter, Ethiopian news site that a drone base in Ethiopia is closed. The latest development has East African politicos speculating.

The statement from the spokesperson of the United States Embassy, David Kennedy to The Reporter via email says, “ we reached a mutual decision that our presence in Arba Minch is not required at this time,” he continued, “ our mutual needs change over time and a determination was made that our use of facilities in Arba Minch is no longer necessary.”

Recently, Ethiopia has been mired in a protracted mass protest which involved people from every walks of life — farmers to university students who have been demanding the government stop its ambitious plan to expand the capital to the surrounding towns at the expense of farmers in the area. Opposition groups and human rights activists say, more than 120 civilians were killed by Ethiopian security forces. They also claim the government detained thousands of protesters.

The sudden departure of the U.S. personnel operating the drone base in Arba Minch, about 300 miles south of Addis Ababa got analysts speculating that the United States might abandon the dictatorial Ethiopian regime. Ethiopia has been a staunch ally of the United States on war on terrorism. The U.S. spent millions of dollars to build the drone base in Arba Minch, and the base became operational in 2011, according to Washington Post report. Since then, the drone known as Reaper has been flying to Somalia targeting Al-Shabaab.

From the recent reports, Al-Shabaab, Somalia’s Islamist group which used a clip a clip of Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump is believed to be getting stronger.

The decision by United States to close the drone base in Ethiopia surprised analysts like Zerihun Tesfaye, journalist and human rights activist who spoke to Ethiopia Satellite Television based in The Netherlands. A possible frustration with African Union Mission in Somalia and other alternative drone bases could be the reasons America decided to leave Arba Minch, says Tesfaye. He continued, “there were many reports that accuse Ethiopia of using Al-Shabaab as a wild card to get military aid from the United States.” He emphasized the fact the recent mass protests could have been the determining factor for the United States to abandon the base in Arba Minch.

There were other signs pointing to the U.S. getting cold feet about the unholy marriage to Hailemariam Desalegn’s government in Addis Ababa. On Dec. 18, 2015, U.S. Department of State Deputy Spokesperson Mark C. Toner issued a statement saying, “the United States is deeply concerned by the recent clashes in the Oromia region of Ethiopia that reportedly have resulted in the deaths of numerous protestors.” Smantha Power, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted a warning to Ethiopian government saying, it must use restraint in responding to protesters in Oromia, the most populous regional state in Ethiopia.

As originally published on January 4, 2016.