Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Softening at home, hardening abroad

Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi has reportedly provided a full presidential pardon to 38 people, alternately described as "opposition political activists" or "terrorists" depending on who was asked and when. The move came as something of a surprise to foreign observers, especially since the Ethiopian government had originally sought the death penalty for the 38, before sentencing 35 of them to life in prison.

Meles Zenawi's pardon could be read as a peace offering to his political allies in Washington, who appear willing to overlook Ethiopia's rotten political climate as long as their strategic ally in the war on terror doesn't do anything too repressive to embarrass the United States. After all, political unrest at home at home is but of one of Meles Zenawi's concerns, and he's got bigger fish to fry. I speak, of course, of Ethiopia's bitter enemy Eritrea, and his increasingly personal duel with its dictator, Isaias Afewerki.

Whether Meles Zenawi's pardon was due to magnanimity or expedience, the escalating border tensions with Eritrea, along with Ethiopia's proxy war in Somalia, have insured that keeping the flow of American cash, weaponry and good will are essential to keeping Afewerki in check. His strategy appears to have borne fruit; the flow of American aid has continued unimpeded, a new $140 million dollar embassy is in the works, and best of all, his hold on power appears to be unassailable. With rewards like these, pardoning political prisoners hardly seems like a risk at all, does it?

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