Ethiopia's ambassador to the United States, Samuel Assefa, said his goodbyes last week at a reception at the Ethiopian embassy. Today is his last official day in Washington.
"Farewell," said the former professor of philosophy and Addis Ababa University vice president, who took the hot seat when Ethiopia was suffering the aftermath of the 2005 election crisis. The diaspora was carrying the green-yellow-red national flag to protest the government arrest of members of the opposition in Addis.
The former academic also had to face Congress on a bill that would strong-arm his government into sweeping democratic reforms. "I thought it would be difficult, I had no idea what difficult meant," he recalls. Speakers at his reception said the ambassador did a good job in a tough situation, but reports are that a replacement is not coming anytime soon.
Five months after Yamamoto left Addis to become principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department Bureau of African Affairs, there is no new ambassador in Addis.
"It is a mistake," says former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn, "that Washington has not assigned a full-time ambassador to Ethiopia. "The administration should have named someone several months ago.
"They are behind the curve already and the longer this drags out, the more difficult it is going to be for the United States to play the role it should be playing in Addis Ababa in the run-up to the election," said Shinn. The embassy is currently headed by Ambassador Roger Meece, who is retired from a lengthy career as a foreign service officer in embassies in central and western Africa. He is on temporary assignment to Addis as charge' d'affaires.
Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, who is now deputy assistant secretary of defense at thePentagon, served as charge' in Addis in the aftermath of the 2005 elections. She said Meece has the confident of the State Department. "So, I think he can do whatever a full-time ambassador can do."
Shinn said unless the White House names a candidate in the coming two weeks, the process of Senate confirmation will not come in time to place a new ambassador in Addis before the May 2010 elections.