Earlier this month, the Washington Post confirmed that the US military had closed its drone base in Arba Minch, in Southern Ethiopia. While there was at least some mention of the closure in the corporate media, none of the coverage provided the much needed geopolitical and strategic context necessary to understand the true significance of the shuttering of the US base. Instead, most of the coverage focused on the redeployment of US assets to other parts of Africa, or indeed beyond the African continent.
However, the real story has gone completely untold. And what exactly is “the real story” one might ask? In a nutshell, the closure of the US base is merely the latest chapter in an ongoing geopolitical chess match between the US and China, one which has seen Africa become by far the most hotly contested ground. And while the story of China’s economic and political penetration of Africa has been told and retold countless times by many analysts, very few express the issue in terms of move and countermove between the US and China (see my 2014 article here for further exploration of this theme).
But this is precisely how the issue must be framed and, seen in that light, it is entirely reasonable to interpret the US move to close its Ethiopian drone base as motivated less by tactical and military needs than by political considerations.
China and Ethiopia: A Blossoming Partnership
As China has expanded its African footprint, Ethiopia has grown increasingly significant from Beijing’s perspective. Seen as a source of both cheap exports and massive investment potential, Ethiopia now figures centrally in China’s plans for the Horn of Africa, and for the continent generally. Indeed, the statistics show just how important Ethiopia has become.
According to the World Bank, Ethiopia is the world’s fastest growing economy as measured by GDP. While it should be noted that GDP is not a measure of actual economic improvement for the majority of citizens who still live in the most abject poverty by and large, it does indicate the growth of the economy as a whole. And it is precisely that GDP growth (2014-2017 GDP compounded annual growth rate of +9.70%), and potential for future growth, that has lured Chinese investors and the Chinese state.