Shakespear Feyissa confronted Frazer
By Muluneh Yohannes – 01 June 2008 Seattle, WA — Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs delivered a lecture on “The Future of Africa and U.S. Foreign Policy” at the Seattle based University of Washington Campus.
The Bureau of African Affairs and its involvement in Africa
Under the U.S. Department of State, the Bureau of African Affairs is in charge of the broader Sub-Saharan Africa region. The Bureau identified three key challenges to African leaders in the years ahead: consolidating democratic gains, expanding economic growth, and stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS. According to the information from the State Department, American Foreign Policy towards Africa focuses on the following fields of cooperation: African Education Initiative, African Growth and Opportunity Act, Malaria Initiative, HIV/AIDS Initiative, Women’s Justice and Empowerment Initiative, Confidence and Security Building Measures.
Ambassador Frazer’s speech
The Assistant Secretary delivered a 15 to 20 minutes speech. The Ambassador highlighted that the U.S. is committed in building institutions and further strengthening strategic partnership with Africa. She specifically identified four major U.S. Foreign Policy priorities in Africa.
The second priority is Expansion of Economic Growth. The Ambassador stressed that the Bush Administration is committed for Debt Cancellation; pending endorsement from congress, 3.8 billion loans signed for health and education investment; 90 % duty free for African products of the AGOA agreement (African Growth and Opportunity Act) with fourteen Nations resulted in the current 11 trillion dollars trade exchange between the U.S. and Africa. Moreover, America targets to help the African Financial Market in the form of 100% Debt Relief amounting 42 billion dollars.
Challenge surfaced on the question and answer session
There were about 200 attendees of the lecture comprising students and staff members of the campus. However, the majority of the audience was the Diaspora community from Africa, specifically from Horn of Africa. Ambassador Frazer was bombarded with emotional pleas and questions from Ethiopians, Somalis, Eritreans, Sudanese, and from the self proclaimed Independent Somali Landers. The long time friend and old classmate of Dr. Jendayi, Dr. Sanjeev Khagram moderated the Q&A session with huge difficulty and in a protective way of his guest. Two days before the event, Ethiomedia requested to have an interview with the Assistant Secretary. Our request was pushed away and communicated to us through the same Dr. Sanjeev. The following are some of the highlights of the Q&A period.
When asked about the U.S. role in the Horn of Africa crisis engulfing Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, the Ambassador explained the region as a “very, very, very hot region for current and future U.S. administrations”. The majority of the audience was from the Horn of Africa region and undoubtedly, brought burning questions. Shakespear Feyissa, an Ethiopian-American Lawyer confronted Frazer on why the U.S. has done little or nothing about the mass killings and arrests of innocent civilians, imprisonment of elected opposition officials and civic society leaders following the 2005 controversial Ethiopian election. The lawyer specifically asked why the Assistant Secretary herself and her administration ignored the dictatorial actions of Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia. As soon as Shakespear finished his high-toned question, the room was erupted with an overwhelming noise of support. The moderator seemed to panic and ordered the house not ask questions about Ethiopia. Frazer attempted to address the question and differed with Shakespear on the level of American response. She argued that they pressured Meles on the release of the prisoners and related matters.
Dr. Frazer was also asked about the policy of the U.S. on the Ethio-Eritrea border conflict. The Ambassador was frank to argue that her personal belief and stand was not to involve in this matter. However, she said that she had to do the job as instructed by her boss. According to Dr. Jendayi, President Issayas of Eritrea further complicated the matter when he chose not to deal with America. She clarified that her office and Secretary Rice have been attempting to reach Issayas with no success at all simply because the “President of Eritrea does not return our phone calls”. When she gave reasons on why President Issayas is unfriendly towards the U.S. she indicated one turning point. According to the Ambassador, President Issayas was offended when the U.S. put Ethiopia along Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya as one of the four major Strategic Countries to America. Eritrea directly asked America to remove Ethiopia from the list and Eritrea itself to take the place. Frazer mentioned that Eritrea offered an Island base for the U.S. military and it was declined because it was not needed. That also angered Issayas Afeworki. Subsequently, there is no meaningful diplomatic relationship and the Ambassador stressed that the U.S. has limited leverage over Eritrea. However, she was not short of warning the tiny Horn of Africa Nation for serving as a base for Islamic extremists. Dr. Jendayi believes that Eritrea’s support to extremists is not because of Ideological conformity, but rather Issayas is focused so much in deposing the Meles Zenawi regime in Ethiopia.
On the Somali crisis, she made it clear that the U.S. expects Ethiopia to leave Somali after making sure of the uncertainty of power vacuum. She expressed her concern on the slow African Union response. Dr. Jendayi was also asked how America handles the different Somali faction groups. She argued that the U.S. has no enemy in Africa and openly or otherwise we dialogue with all Somali Faction leaders including the extremists.
Dr. Jendayi recognized the fast paced China involvement in Africa and she mentioned that Africa would become one of the new power centers because of the hugely untapped human and natural resources. The Ambassador confessed that her African Bureau is full of junior diplomats with limited or no experience to deal with high stake issues in Africa.
Another audience asked if there is a chance for the U.S. to settle the Ethio-Eritrea dispute. Jendayi Frazer, with a tone of frustration, labeled Meles and Isayas as the twin “stubborn leaders”.
Note: information from the U.S. Department of State used for this report.
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