Considering what is at stake for Ethiopian immigrants and their home country, the question warrants a fresh look. Five central commitments by Senator Barack Obama play out for Ethiopians in the U.S. and at home: Economic relief; medical care; energy development; respect for law; and dialogue with opponents.
Obama promises an all-out effort to address needs of middle and lower-income families. This means tax cuts for those earning under 250,000 dollars a year; broad infrastructural improvements; fiscal reform; and trade policies to benefit American workers and increase the export of American goods.
Such targets address needs of struggling first and second-generation immigrants. He plans also to modernize school systems, add resources for poor school districts; double federal support for after school programmes; provide grants for students seeking credits at community colleges; and invest one billion dollars over five years in transitional jobs and career pathway programmes.
Aiding middle-class Americans financially helps Ethiopians find more funds to send home, a big source of revenue. Under Obama, Ethiopia will expectably receive more and smarter economic assistance, targeted toward development and not an endless blank cheque for food aid.
His administration will commit to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), for cutting extreme poverty in half by 2015; and to strengthen the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), to give African producers access to the U.S. market and encourage American companies to invest in the continent. His approach encourages honest research on such issues, including whether or not collective land ownership benefits the poor.
The campaigns by Obama’s team highlighted a huge and growing number of Americans who lack health insurance and the crippling effect of medical costs on family budgets. Ethiopian Americans suffer from this along with other American families. The Obama-Biden platform continues Obama’s core commitment to provide affordable, accessible health care for all Americans.
Apart from having so few trained health workers, Ethiopia has two vast areas of health care deficits: chronic food insecurity and epidemics. The first produces disease, stunted growth, and famine victims in the millions. The second concerns recurrent malaria, once thought wiped out; glaucoma, now eliminable thanks to discoveries of a UCSF-based research team in Wolkite; and the ever-growing menace of AIDS.
The economy is itself held back by so many undernourished and diseased workers.
HIV/Aids and food insecurity form convergent miseries. To combat poverty, Ethiopian economists urge for immediate steps to curb the country’s exponential population growth. And yet, despite the Bush administration’s outstanding work to treat HIV/Aids victims in Africa through the PEPFAR programme, it worsened things by ordering USAID missions in six African countries to ensure that no U.S.-financed condoms, birth control pills, I.U.D.’s or other contraceptives are furnished to Marie Stopes International, which operates clinics in Ethiopia.
Senator Obama supports family planning; Senator McCain aligns with President Bush on this as on so many other matters.
Obama has long sought to rid U.S. of energy dependence on imported oil, for two reasons: security and environment. Instead, he envisions a transformation brought by utilizing free energy from wind, sun, water, and geothermal sources. This transforming initiative supports both goals above, by creating so many energy-related jobs and by reducing carbon emissions.
The cost and scarcity of energy and water resources that Ethiopia needs means that sustainable solutions are essential. What did not work in the 1990s, when the World Bank offered ineffective renewable energy to Ethiopia, can work now because new technologies are cheaper and more efficient. A plan developed by a research unit called Green Energy Technology shows how Ethiopia could have energy independence by 2012, through policies that let rural populations to deploy their own renewable power and sell it to the EEPCo, and that create a carbon-free economy based on renewable technologies and ecologically sound and efficient management of resources.
Setbacks under President Bush include dismissal of justice department employees for political reasons; illegal buying of news by Bush’s aides; illegal wiretapping; failures to enforce labour laws regarding minimum wage, overtime, child labour, and wage theft; and breaches both of the UN Charter and the US Constitution in unilaterally invading Iraq.
Obama has pledged to review all administrative directives issued by Bush in order to take action against any that violate the law. This manifests his statement that, “I not only have read the constitution, I have taught it, and I believe in it.” It is a statement readily endorsed by his many students over a dozen years at the University of Chicago Law School.
However controversial its policy of ethnic federalism, the 1995 Constitution of Ethiopia offers sound principles for democratic procedure and human rights. Since its promulgation, however, the Ethiopian regime has been continuously faulted for illegal violation of human rights, political interference with the judiciary, and suppression of freedom of the press. Progressive changes were set back by reactions to the May 2005 election, and prison conditions remain abominable, but changes that the regime espouses have been registered by the NGO Justice for All.
As he did forcefully in Darfur and Zimbabwe, Obama can be expected to pursue his commitment to expanding freedom, which, he maintains, “requires a society that is supported by the pillars of a sustainable democracy – a strong legislature, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, a vibrant civil society, a free press, and an honest police force. It requires building the capacity of the world’s weakest states.”
It was not by luck that Obama issued those prescient words about the futility of invading Iraq the year before it happened. He understood the complexities of the world and rather agreed with John F. Kennedy: “We should never fear to negotiate.”
As Nicholas Kristof wrote in the New York Times two months ago, “the United States is hugely over investing in military tools and under investing in diplomatic tools.”
Everything about the Obama candidacy promises to redress this imbalance.
Ethiopia has not had a peaceful regime change for centuries. Although many of its local traditions manifest exemplary customs of civil discourse and mutual respect, and although traditions of shimgilena have been useful, for Emperor Haile Selassie and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who both effectively mediated conflicts between other countries, they could not prevail against historic dispositions to resort to arms to solve problems – first against Eritrea, then Somalia – or indeed so often against internal critics.