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Who lost Ethiopia? The unmaking of an African anchor state and U.S. foreign policy

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In November 2020, Ethiopia descended into full-scale civil war which, owing to mass atrocities and regional intervention, metastasized into among the most acute humanitarian emergencies in the world. The violent fragmentation of state authority tarnished Ethiopia’s internationally sanctioned role as regional peacekeeper and developmental leader—an “anchor state” of the Pax Americana in the Horn of Africa. While acknowledging the complex, multi-dimensional origins of the conflict, this article examines how efforts by the U.S. government to reinvent the strategic relationship during the 2018–2020 political transition in Addis Ababa helped pave the road to war. We argue that U.S. policymakers provided largely unconditional support to Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, creating problems of moral hazard that encouraged confrontation between rival political forces. The story of U.S. engagement in Ethiopia in this period illustrates the perils of Washington’s efforts to rebalance fraught relations with its most important regional anchors.

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