Vicki Huddleston, a senior American diplomat said to be instrumental over the recent years in formulating the policies of the United States Government towards Ethiopia,
has submitted her resignation letter and is retiring from public service at the end of this month, Capital has learnt.
Ambassador Huddleston’s resignation confirmed by multiple, impeccable sources in Washington D.C., is due to personal reasons and will be effective on December 31st.
Appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 to her current post as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Ambassador Huddleston had served as the Acting American Ambassador to Ethiopia during the troubled May 2005 election period and remains a heavily controversial figure in the Ethiopian political sphere.
Huddleston’s recommendation that Washington not emulate Europe’s decision to cut aid to Addis Ababa following violence in the post 2005 election period has made her unpopular in the opposition camp.
Huddleston and Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations, coming on board Obama’s team in 2009 placed “old friends” of the Ethiopian government in the Obama administration, as once Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has put it. The opposition camp pundits however expressed dissatisfaction with Huddleston’s post and her policy recommendations which are reportedly influential in Washington has at times resulted in strong criticism.
“As I prepare to turn over my responsibilities to my good friend and respected colleague, Ambassador Donald Yamamoto, I urge the United States Government to maintain and strengthen our partnership with Ethiopia. Ethiopia is moving in the right direction – despite the nay-sayers – on democracy, development, and protecting the region from terrorism and radical Islam,” Huddleston said in one of US embassy secret cables released in the public domain by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.
While even publicly soft spoken diplomats like her successor Ambassador Donald Yamamoto recommended a tougher US stance considering the State Department’s annual human reports that often accuse the Ethiopian government of multiple accounts of human rights violations, Huddleston’s apparent recommendation to go soft on Ethiopia has further made her the target of repeated criticism by opposition pundits.
“Huddleston’s defense of [Meles] Zenawi’s regime would put many a silver-tongued American trial lawyer to shame. Reading Huddleston’s farewell cable, one is confused about which country she represents. Her zeal and passion in defending [Meles] Zenawi’s regime is so bizzare, one has to wonder if she had indeed “gone native” (a phrase sometimes used to describe U.S. diplomats who work so fully inside a foreign culture that their policy recommendations become those of the host country),” wrote one of opposition commentators, Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam, in September in an article entitled The Diplomacy of Defending Dictatorship.
Despite critics Huddleston has remained consistent and even before being appointed to her current senior position in the US Department of Defense, came in support of the Ethiopian government against ‘H.R. 2003: Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007’- a US legislation that tried to introduce sanctions including travel bans on senior government officials.
“Ethiopia is a nation where 77 million Orthodox Christians and Muslims live in peace, engaged in building a democracy while besieged from within and without by enemies of democracy,” Huddleston said in the 2007 opinion piece which called on Congress to drop the legislation.
Huddleston has shared some opinions of the critics of the government; she however rejected punitive measures against Ethiopia stating that they would not “help to stop the abuse but weaken a friend and an ally.”
Since 2009 under her current post in the US Department of Defense, Huddleston made multiple visits to Ethiopia and has met senior government officials including PM Meles.
During the period officials from both countries say the two countries have strengthened their military cooperation more than ever. Reportedly, at “ first reluctant” Ethiopia has even allowed the US to open a military facility in Arba Minch to serve as the US Air Force airfield for secret drones.
In mid November Huddleston paid a visit to Ethiopia and met Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. In what now proved to be her last official tour in the region, Huddleston praised Ethiopia and the African Union for their efforts to create a stable and democratic Somalia.
Though one of the two “old friends” in the Obama administration is retiring American foreign policy advisor and Ambassador Rice remains in office.
“With the speculated departure of Secretary Hillary Clinton by next year, Rice who I know to have political ambitions could replace her in an event President Obama wins a second term,” a veteran UN based correspondent commented to Capital of Rice’s future.