The closure of five AMerican organizations here and the ouster of all resient Western correspondents are only the first moves in a carefully orchestrated campaign aimed at ending Ethiopia's close association with the West and realigning it with the Socialist East.
The next targets of Ethiopia, Marxist military government are likely to be missionaries and Western cultural centers. The American cultural center here was ordered closed last Saturday, together with the American Kagnew Radio Communications Station and Consulate in Asmara and the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit and the 46-man man Military Assistance Advisory Group based in Addis Ababa.
Reports are already reaching the capital that missionaries working in southwestern Ethiopia are being harrassed by elements of the local population who are coming under the influence of Marxist-oriented youth trained at the government's ideological school here.
There are about 500 missionaries, many of them Americans, in Ethiopia. The majority are concentrated in the southern and southwestern provinces here the populatoin is predominantly animist.
The missionaries have come under attack recently in the state-controlled media for a variety of alleged sins - being American "spies," heloping opposition groups, transporting Ethiopians out of the country in their planes, and not contributing anything to the populations welfare.
In fact, the missionaries have long provided the only health services and schooling available in many localities. Particuarly in western Wollega Province, where the Lutheran Church has long been active, thousands of Ethiopians began their education in missionary primary schools.
In addition to expelling missionaries and closing all Western cultural centers, other objectives of the anti-Western campaign are belived to be the isolation of Western embassies from the Ethiopian population and a sharp reduction in the number of Western diplomats, particularly defense attaches, in the country.
The military government has already sent notes to all embassies, teh U.N. Economic Commission for Africa and the organization for African unity informing them that all invitations to Ethiopian government employees, except ministers and permanent secretaries, must be addressed to, and approved by, the Foreign Ministry.
It has also told them that they must inform the government whenever any of their personnel travels outside the capital on any kind of official business.
Ethiopia will not be unique in taking such measures. Most of the other African Marxist regimes, such as Angola, Mozambique and Somalia, have done the same thing, patterning their policies on those of the Eastern bloc countries.
Wrenching Ethiopia from its Western moorings is causing a great deal of pain both for thousands of Ethiopian and for the western countries affected. Indeed, both groups are just beginning to realize the depth of the changes under way in the country and that a new era is dawning in Ethiopia.
On the Ethiopian side, the forced estrangement means a loss of jobs for hundreds of people and a renunciation of friendships and of a general Western orientation for thousands. Generally speaking, it was not until this week that most Ethiopians really began to realize just how serious the Marxist military government is in breaking with the West and aligning itself with the East.
The mood in the capital was almost a state of shock. Not only was there no shouting of "Yankee go Home" and no incidents of harassment of departing Americans, but many Ethiopians expressed deep concern to American acquaintances over the obvious trend of events.
"Where are we going? What is the government doing?" One Ethiopian journalist, a staunch nationalist and at least until recently a strong supporter of the military government, asked this reporter. "What is going to happen to us?"
"Pray for us," said an Ethiopian secretary on the verge of tears.
For Western countries, in particular the United States, that have had close ties with Ethiopia for decades, there is just as much soul-searching and questioning as among western-oriented Ethiopians.
The U.S. embassy still has received no explanation, either official or unofficial, for the military government's sudden decision to close down the five American institutions. A crisis in American-Ethiopian relations had been in the making ever since the late Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed in September. But the timing of the government's announcement last Saturday is believed to relate to a decision recently taken by Washington and conveyed to the Ethiopians about two weeks ago.
The decision was to close down the Kagnew radio communications station before the end of this year and to cut the U.S. military assistance group by half or more by the end of the summer. Ethiopian officials were reported shocked by this news and apparently decided they wanted to have the last word.
Under the 25-year-old mutual defense and assistance agreement signed between the U.S. and Ethiopian governments in 1953, Washington probably had the legal right to continue operating the Kagnew station until at least May of next year. Despite the sharp deterioration in relations between the two countries over the past two years, the military government had never questioned the validity of this agreement.
Now the entire AMerican-Ethiopian relationship, until recently the backbone of Ethiopia's foreign policy, will have to be recast in light of the military government's pre-Moscow orientation. In particular, the question of American arms, and of ammunition and spare parts for them, will have to be examined since the United States still provides about 80 per cent of the Ethiopian armed forces' military equipment.
The country's continuing dependence on American arms - at least during an interim period until Soviet arms can replace them - may explain the military government's sudden change in attitude toward the 350 departing Americans.
At first, the ruling Provisional Military Council gave the U.S. embassy just four days to close the five organizations down and refused to allow American diplomats, or their personnel, to enter the cultural center or the Kagnew station. American doctors working with the medical research unit were blocked inside their compound. Particularly at the Kagnew station in Aamara, the situation was described as extremely tense on Sunday and Monday.
There, American military and civilian employees operating the security-sensitive radio relay facility were only able to destroy some electrical circuits and computers before Ethiopian troops occupied the premises.
But after two days of head-on confrontation, the Ethiopian government not only relented but gave the embassy until this Saturday to complete the evacuation. Access to all five places was assured. The U.S. military was able to freely remove radio equipment from Kagnew station adn any materials it wished from the other four affected organizations. Ethiopian security forces were instructed to provide departing Americans all necessary protection.
"It was be-nice-to-Americans day," said one U.S. embassy official Wednesday referring to the preceding day.
The Ethiopian government was also allowing U.S. Air Force planes to come in and land either in Asmara or Addis Ababa in whatever numbers requested - altogether nearly 20. On Wednesday four military C-141 transport planes were loaded at Addis Ababa's airport with containers of household goods belonging to departing American families and with the unused supplies of the military advisory team.
Beginning next week, the U.S. and Ethiopian governments are to open negotiations to determine the new American role, if any, in Ethiopian government has chosen to make the break with Washington does not seem calculated to facilitate these talks.
Perhaps it was the belated realization of this among Ethiopian officials that led to the change in attitude toward the American evacuation beginning Tuesday. Or perhaps it was a last-minute Ethiopian expression of politeness and at least a small sign of gratitude toward the American armed forces over the past three years of revolution in Ethiopia.