Ever since the conflict in Northern Ethiopia began in November 2020, the American Ethiopian community has felt perplexed and frustrated. We had to watch the conflict unfold with a sense of helplessness at not being able to save our friends and family. Our repeated attempts to clarify the situation and secure attention and support from political leaders in the United States have fallen on deaf ears.
However, the diaspora has shown remarkable unity and resilience. We are largely united around our collective desire to see the motherland, Ethiopia, succeed. We have impacted policy changes, we have highlighted the atrocities being committed by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and we have robustly made the case for strengthening U.S.–Ethiopia relations, not weakening them as some would like.
As a community we have been able to put our political differences aside in the pursuit of peace for Ethiopia. I am the VP of an organization called the Global Ethiopian Advocacy Nexus (GLEAN) and I am a leading member of the American Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee (AEPAC). The two organizations have outlined how we believe the U.S. can help secure peace in Ethiopia: disarm the TPLF, stop the TPLF from blocking aid to the people of Afar, Amhara and Tigray, and support the Ethiopian government’s efforts for an inclusive national dialogue.
The proposed national dialogue deserves special attention as a possible way of creating understanding and ending the ongoing and devastating conflict. The prospect of the national dialogue has ushered in a new era of real hope and peace. The process announced late last year began just a few weeks ago with the confirmation of 11 commissioners who will lead the dialogue and reconciliation efforts. The Commission has been given a clear mandate to bring about an end to the political polarization in the country on a range of issues, including the ethnic divisions that plague Ethiopia, the constitution, the type of federalism the country needs to implement, the rights of the individual citizen, the control of the means of production particularly the use and ownership of land, respect for universal human rights, and the implementation of the rule of law, among others.
More importantly Ethiopians at home and American Ethiopians in the diaspora expect the national dialogue to emancipate the nation from a colonialist crafted and TPLF implemented ethnic federalism. The Ethiopian diaspora across the world must closely monitor and get involved in this national dialogue constructively.
The TPLF is yet to see the writing on the wall. Its advance on Addis Ababa failed and their withdrawal, defeated, back to Tigray should have been the start of their surrender. However, despite goodwill from the Ethiopian government including an amnesty of TPLF leaders and halting operations on the borders of Tigray, the TPLF has continued its aggression, most recently against the people of Afar.
The journey to peace and the rebuilding of the Amhara, Afar and Tigray regions can’t wait for the TPLF to lay down its arms. Ten million internally displaced people need aid and the health and education systems of the northern regions have been looted and decimated by retreating TPLF forces. The work to secure peace needs to start now to restore stability and rebuild the devastated region. A clear plan and appropriate communication with all stakeholders and the Ethiopian people about reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts is essential.
It is also worth noting that Prime Minister Abiy, when he first came to power in 2018, set up a national dialogue to end the ethnic tensions. He did so in partnership with religious, civic, and business leaders. This attempt failed, primarily because the TPLF refused to acknowledge the government’s authority.
For Ethiopians, at home and abroad, this national dialogue is yet another, albeit rare, opportunity to start a new path for peace, dialogue, further economic reform and strengthening of respect for human rights and democracy. There are some concerns on the dialogue and reconciliation effort, among the wider Ethiopian population and diaspora around political impartiality and the Commission’s independence. I am confident those points will be addressed. It is also important for the people of Tigray to have a voice, but that cannot be through the TPLF which is still terrorizing the people of Ethiopia.
Many of the Ethiopian community living in the United States came here to flee the previous TPLF government that was in power for nearly three decades. Many of the diaspora were members of opposition parties, some had loved ones that were arrested or killed without access to justice and others were forced into exile. That is why it has been so painful to watch the United States government and members of Congress blindly attack Ethiopia as if the TPLF are an innocent freedom fighting group. They are not, history has shown they are authoritarian and have little time for peace and dialogue. The TPLF was also once on the U.S. list of terrororist organizations.
Right now, members of Congress are pursuing a new bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Malinowski, called the Ethiopia Stabilization, Peace, and Democracy Act (HR6600). It is a sanctions-first bill that will seek to force ‘peace’ by implementing punitive measures to cripple Ethiopia’s economy. It instructs the U.S. to stop investment in Ethiopia and seeks to block loans and support from the World Bank, IMF and others. There is no question in my mind, if this bill is passed, it will directly impoverish thousands in Ethiopia. And it will happen just months after President Biden de-listed Ethiopia from the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) costing 200,000 jobs, most of whom were females previously employed in the textile industry.
This bill is also not rooted in the realities of the conflict and the Horn of Africa region. Today the Ethiopian people are desperate for peace, stability, and democracy. The pain the conflict has inflicted on innocent and impoverished communities is heart-breaking and the impact on the economy has stolen vital and hard-earned years of Ethiopia’s development. Instead of exacerbating the pain, the U.S. should rally behind the friendly people of Ethiopia and support an appropriate national dialogue and reconciliation effort.
That is what the one-million strong Ethiopian American community is fighting for. We hope our representatives listen.
Wassy Tesfa, board member of the American Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee (AEPAC), (@WassyTesfa)