June 1, 2019
In a letter to United States Senators and Representatives, we wrote that “the present situation in Ethiopia is at critical junction. Armed groups like OLF are harassing the entire population and robbing 18 banks to date to one has been accounted for. Ethnic cleansing is occurring both in Southern and Northern Ethiopia. Ethiopians are concerned that their government has not taken any action to avoid further bloodshed. The situation is very dangerous and attention from the United States is needed to prevent Ethiopia from becoming a breeding ground for extremist groups such as al shebab and al qaeda. Ethiopia is an ally in the war on terror with the United States.”
House resolution 128 that was passed last year identifies a long list of crimes committed by the Ethiopian government against the Ethiopian people, notes that it has held sham elections, and has stifled dissent and free speech by outlawing non-governmental organizations and blocking Internet access. Importantly, the resolution states that the Ethiopian government’s cooperation with the U.S. in battling terrorism does not justify its abuses.
The political situation in Ethiopia is volatile.
The resolution seeks to put teeth into its calls for the Ethiopian government to adhere to basic standards of decency. It calls on the Secretary of State to conduct a review of security assistance to Ethiopia in light of recent developments and to improve transparency with respect to the purposes of such assistance to the people of Ethiopia. It also calls on the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development to immediately lead efforts to develop a comprehensive strategy to support improved democracy and governance in Ethiopia. It seeks to have the U.S. government apply appropriate sanctions on foreign persons or entities responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against any nationals in Ethiopia.
Representative Chris Smith, the House Subcommittee on Africa, said that the hearing was not “one not of condemnation, but of commendation for the great strides Ethiopia has made since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed assumed authority in April of last year.” The Ethiopian government must not falter now, Smith said. “The reforms begun by Prime Minister Abiy represent a once-in-a generation opportunity for Ethiopia. It is thus absolutely crucial that this opportunity not be squandered.”
The government of Ethiopia lead by Prime Minister Abiy must maintain peace and the rule of law for all Ethiopians. It is very important for the survival of the country.
The system of ethnic federalism was troubled with internal inconsistencies because ethnic groups do not live only in a discrete “homeland” territory but are dispersed across the country. Nonnative ethnic minorities live within every ethnic homeland.
Prime Minister Abiy can achieve real progress if Ethiopia embrace a different kind of federation territorial and not ethnic — where rights in a federal unit are dispensed not on the basis of ethnicity but on residence. Such a federal arrangement will give Ethiopians a chance to avoid authoritarian dictatorship.
In a recent briefing to Rep. Smith, we made the following points:
- The root cause is Ethiopia’s constitution which is based on divide-and-rule ethnic federalism. This was put in place by former PM Meles. It will be impossible to create a stable political or social environment until this is reformed. Ethnic divisions are artificial and do not have deep roots in Ethiopian history.
- The scale of displacement of innocent civilians in Ethiopia is enormous and constitutes a humanitarian crisis. The world is unaware of the scale of the crisis. Over two million people have been displaced, putting their lives and future at risk. This tragedy is the result of the government’s failure to control ethnic tensions.
- Oromo Liberation Front is killing, robbing, kidnapping people with impunity. The government of PM Abiy is either uninterested or incapable of controlling the situation. Huge portions of the country, especially in rural areas, are completely out of the government’s control. In addition to enormous suffering, the OLF’s activities threaten the stability of the government.
- The Ethiopian government has taken no action to prevent the OLF from committing crimes, but it has prevented peaceful opposition groups from meeting in Addis Ababa. The disparity between allowing groups of thugs to rob and kill and suppressing the activities of legitimate political groups illustrates the problems Ethiopia faces today.
- Congress must investigate and publicize the situation in Ethiopia. The suffering of millions of Ethiopians should be known. The U.S. government should take urgent actions to attempt to steer Ethiopia in the direction of rule of law, democracy and human rights. There is grave danger that failure to act will open Ethiopia to terrorist groups that can destabilize the horn of Africa, turning it into a base for terrorism against the U.S. and Europe.