Ethiopia in African Politics, 1956-1991

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Addis Ababa University


The nature of Ethiopia’s involvement in the affairs of the continent has elicited various interpretations. There have been rather polarized positions on the issue. For one group, consisting largely of expatriate scholars, the country remained aloof from and indifferent to developments related to the Pan-African Movement in general and the African struggle for independence in particular. The other side, on the contrary, upholds the enduring commitment of the country to the cause well before fellow Africans themselves came to the realization of their predicament. The complex realities of African politics, and hence inter-state relations, provide ample justifications for the positions of each group. In this regard, the effort to unravel the level of the country’s achievements and failures in concrete terms remains at a rudimentary stage. Ethiopia’s approaches to regional as well as continental issues and the way successive regimes designed and implemented their African policies still awaits comprehensive investigation. The thesis attempts to assess the nature of Ethiopia’s involvement in African politics between 1956 and 1991. In the process, the root causes of these divergent attitudes are scrutinized. More importantly, efforts are made to present the evolution of Ethiopia’s foreign policy directives on immediate security matters as well as general continental ix affairs. The archival sources extensively employed in the process of reconstruction have shed a new light on our understanding of the issue. The thesis argues that there is a much wider dimension to the nature of Ethiopia’s involvement in African affairs other than securing immediate interests related to Eritrean secessionism and Somali irredentism. In the mean time, though, the struggle to maintain these interests at times forced successive Ethiopian governments to violate the principles of non-intervention in the affairs of others and the territorial integrity of a nation state, the two main principles the country has steadfastly championed. Similarly, Ethiopia’s role in regional as well as continental activities reflects not only the country’s objectives but also existing realities of inter-state relations between and among Africans. The thesis clearly demonstrates that the inter-African contact entertained diverse issues other than the ideals of a Pan-African solidarity and African consciousness. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the findings of this research establish that Ethiopia’s relations with its immediate neighbors and regional entities was much more complicated; its involvement in regional and continental affairs was fraught with confusion and controversy; and the achievements in the African field that were so much publicized were not that much impressive. In spite of this, however, the fact remains that the nature and extent of Ethiopia’s involvement in African affairs goes deeper than the customary dismissal of the matter as off-hand and occasional contacts with regional and continental actors



African Politics