The recent death of Ethiopian strongman Meles Zenawi after 21 years in power raises issues of succession and the future of U.S. relations with the nation.
Before Mr. Meles came to power, Ethiopian leaders who followed Emperor Haile Selassie after his overthrow in 1974 had taken the African country through a difficult period, including a flirtation with the Soviet Union. Through Mr. Meles' regime, the United States resumed its traditional close relationship with Ethiopia in a Cold War context.
Mr. Meles put the members of his own minority ethnic group, which represents only 6 percent of Ethiopians, firmly in power. Ethiopia, with a relatively large area and population but few resources, has been plagued by drought, starvation, poverty, and warfare.
Before the split last year of Sudan and South Sudan, Ethiopia was the only African country to have lost part of its territory to secession. The independence of Eritrea in 1991 made Ethiopia landlocked, and launched a border war between the countries that continues despite international efforts to end it.
The United States found Mr. Meles' Ethiopia a partner in attempted military solutions in Somalia, providing it $800 million in annual aid, much of it military. U.S. forces aided Ethiopian invasions of Somalia in 2006 and 2011 with air, drone, and other support. These interventions have not brought order to Somalia, the ostensible U.S. goal.
Ethiopia faces challenges in naming a successor to Mr. Meles and maintaining unity after that choice. It also confronts starvation, as it pursues economic development in tandem with high military spending. A U.S. role in Ethiopia that focuses less on the military and more on development would be beneficial to the nation and its people.