I recently returned from three weeks in Ethiopia, an abysmally poor, highly primitive nation of more than 100 million people on the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia is also the cradle of civilization, from which humanoids migrated to Europe and beyond.
It was also probably the first nation to adopt Christianity and boasts ancient ties to Judaism stemming from the liaison between the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. It houses the Ark of the Covenant in a monastery in Axum, as well as extraordinary churches hewn from solid rock.
Ethiopia remains a multicultural nation, comprising Ethiopian Orthodox, Muslim, Catholic and animist populations, which coexist harmoniously. Intermarriage carries no stigma, people accept differences and strife reflects tribal rather than religious divisions.
Ethiopians are not shy about expressing feelings. They show their disdain for the Chinese who are building roads and rail lines (not very well); their hatred of the Eritreans, with whom they have territorial disputes; and their unabashed love for America.
People were genuinely happy to meet us and (literally) embraced us. They see the U.S. as a promised land that welcomes newcomers.
Ethiopia participates in the United Nations peacekeeping force in South Sudan to help prevent the spread of terrorism in the region, and maintains cordial relations with Israel. We have had a long-term Peace Corps operation there, provided them foreign aid and offer humanitarian support through such nonprofits as Federal Way’s World Vision.
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Ethiopians admire America’s openness and the welcome it has offered to refugees and immigrants. Large populations of Ethiopians reside in the Northwest (including the Puget Sound region), Washington, D.C., and the upper Midwest.
They have been made to feel welcome and found jobs that fill important niches. They pay taxes, obey laws and fit into their adopted communities. They feel safe under our system of law.
President Donald Trump has probably neither visited Ethiopia nor given it much thought. While I toured this extraordinary nation, he was taking actions and adopting policies that will alienate Ethiopia and lose America an important ally.
We stand in danger of losing the love and friendship of a country that offers a moderating voice in Africa and a lengthy history of cooperation with the U.S. The ban on Muslim immigration from seven countries was front-page news and under discussion by Ethiopia’s citizens. Even though Ethiopia wasn’t among the disfavored seven countries, they were shocked and disappointed, and America’s standing fell precipitously.
Proposed sharp cuts in foreign aid threaten our long-term policy of using “soft power” to maintain their friendship at a relatively low cost. They appreciate this support and would prefer to maintain these ties rather than accept Chinese investment.
However, budget cuts would leave Ethiopia to rely on aid (and pillaging of commodities) by our Asian rival. While Trump has torn up the Trans-Pacific Partnership and threatens to withdraw aid from Africa, China is working with a 62-nation group to expand its influence.
Ethiopians suddenly see America expressing dislike and disdain for immigrants and foreigners. The nationalist policies of Trump adviser Steve Bannon frighten and confuse Ethiopians
“How could they change this way? Aren’t all Americans immigrants?” one young man asked me.
Retreat from an open, receptive society, a decrease in economic trade and aid, a rejection of multinationalism, and the withdrawal of a welcome mat offered to nations long our friends and allies will not come without cost to the U.S. All undermine the regard that Ethiopia and other African nations hold for us.
They presage the loss of the trust, economic benefits and geopolitical advantages conferred by our historic relationships.
Stuart Grover of Tacoma was a 2016 News Tribune reader columnist. He holds a doctorate in history, has traveled extensively and maintains a strong interest in American foreign policy.