Ethiopia: US Lawmakers, Scholars, and Rights Groups Say Time for a Change in US Policy

Politics News Opinions Sophia Tesfamariam
The Trump Administration must listen to lawmakers who have kept tally of the regime’s excesses for the last 15 years
The new U.S. Administration must listen to lawmakers who have kept tally of the regime’s excesses for the last 15 years and are seeking the construction of a more coherent US policy for Africa in general, and Ethiopia in particular.


Ethiopia is once again in deep crisis, threatening to implode under the weight of the regime’s diplomatic, economic, political and military corruption. After nationwide protests that lasted over a year, the regime imposed a draconian State of Emergency Declaration and imprisoned over 20,000 Ethiopians for protesting its rule, after hundreds were killed by its forces.

The regime refuses to take responsibility for its actions and insists on blaming others for its problems. It has labeled Ethiopians, including journalists and lawmakers as “terrorists” – insulting the intelligence of the Ethiopian people and undermining their gallant fight against its repressive rule.

For the regime in Ethiopia, as with most despicable dictators across the globe, they believe that the best way to get Western attention and assistance these days is to shout “terrorism” and call your enemy a “terrorist.”

Under the minority regime in Ethiopia, millions are on the brink of starvation, as the regime boasts of “double digit economic growth” and robs the country blind. The recent death of over 113 people who died while scavenging for food in a dumpsite – is yet another incident that exposes the regime’s incompetence and negligence – not to mention utter contempt for its own people. It is a wake up call for the Donald Trump Administration – a call ignored by successive US Administrations, most notably the Obama Administration where the regime’s “skirted friends” – Susan Rice, Gayle Smith and Samantha Powers, who influenced US Policy for Ethiopia… negatively.

>> READ MORE :  Ethiopia boasts about its economic progress. The body count at a garbage dump tells another story

It has taken time and cost the people of Ethiopia in particular, and the peoples of the Horn region in general, opportunities for development and progress. But today, things seem to have come to a head and it has become increasingly difficult to hide its crimes, and even more difficult for its international partners to justify continued support and shield, at great risk to their own international reputations, which are coming under greater scrutiny at home.

No self respecting state wants to be associated with an embarrassing regime – least of all the United States. It can no longer afford to look the other way as the minority regime in Ethiopia stands in stark contrast against what it has championed around the world – the rule of law and human rights. The regime in Ethiopia compromises the reputation of its handlers (the US and its allies), international and regional institutions, such as the Intergovernmental Agency for Development (IGAD), the African Union and the United Nations.

Over the last decade, despite several attempts by US lawmakers to take punitive actions against the lawless regime, their efforts were blocked by the US State Department and the White House. Lawmakers have been voicing their concerns and introducing Bills, but have been prevented from taking punitive actions against the regime, which employs powerful lobbyists and has the support of some lawmakers, such as Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), who frequents the country and has personal interests there.

Despite this, there have been lawmakers who did not feel there needed to be hiding the Ethiopian regime’s crimes in order to advance US policy interests in the Horn region. One such lawmaker is Representative Chris Smith (NJ) who has been outspoken about the human rights abuses taking place under the current government in Ethiopia. On 5 October 2007, US Congressman Chris Smith highlighted the minority regime’s crimes against the Ethiopian people and the shield and support it received from the United States, under the guise of fighting terrorism. He said:

“…The Ethiopian Government has put the region under effective commercial blockade, prevented humanitarian assistance from reaching the suffering population, and expelled humanitarian NGOs. We have reports that troops have also raped women, burned villages, and confiscated livestock on a large scale… the moral imperative is not complicated. A good end cannot be justified by a bad means. While we want to deny jihadist terrorists any “platform” in the Horn of Africa, we must not protect ourselves–and our Allies–from terrorists by enabling the Ethiopian government to visit terror on the Ogaden region or Somalia…”

In 2016 at a Press Conference to introduce another Bill on Ethiopia. He said:

“…It is an abomination when any country tortures its own citizens…The post-traumatic stress disorder that is suffered by those, not to mention the physical injuries that they endure, but the psychological consequences usually go on for a lifetime…This legislation calls for credible investigations into the government in the Oromia and Amhara regions, as well as the recent fire and shootings at Qilinto Prison…House Resolution 861 also urges the government of Ethiopia to allow a United Nations human rights rapporteur to conduct an independent examination of the state of human rights in Ethiopia…Enough is enough…Friends don’t let friends commit human rights abuses…”

The US lawmaker also said:

“…The war on terror is very, very important; but no regime that terrorizes people can be a reliable ally in the war on terror. Terrorism isn’t just a military issue, it’s also a human rights issue. Terrorists come from countries where governments failed to respect their human rights. In promoting human rights in Ethiopia, we are attacking terrorism at its roots…”

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is another lawmaker that has been calling for a change in US policy that has emboldened the regime. Recalling that the US was one of the guarantors and witnesses of the Algiers Agreements signed in 2000 between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Rohrabacher spoke out against US’ silence as Ethiopia violated the terms of the Agreements. n 2014, he spoke very candidly about US Policy vis a vis the regime in Ethiopia:

“…I thought the behavior of our government in that whole episode [the Eritrea-Ethiopia border dispute] was disgraceful, and has undermined our ability to arbitrate other disputes…Let’s just note that, we did convince the Ethiopians at one point to agree to arbitration of a major dispute that they were in with Eritrea,” the congressman said. Then when “the decision of the arbiters went against Ethiopia in their border dispute with Eritrea…and we extracted some kind of other deal with them to help us with some sort of defense related deal…and let them off the hook, basically said they didn’t have to follow their arbitration…”

Successive US Administrations have provided the minority regime in Ethiopia diplomatic, political and military shield and support as it violated international law, committed genocides (Gambela, Ogaden, Oromia ) and threatened to destabilize the region with its wars of aggression and occupation in Eritrea (1997) and Somalia (2006) creating humanitarian disasters and destruction of vital infrastructures such as homes, hospitals and clinics. Ethiopia’s marauding forces raped and tortured innocent civilians and looted private properties. The US provided the diplomatic and political cover for the invasion of Somalia.

Such actions by US Administrations have emboldened the minority regime in Ethiopia to violate international law, the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s final and binding delimitation (2002) and demarcation (2007) decisions and continue to occupy sovereign Eritrean territories, including Badme, the casus belli for the 1998-2000 Eritrea Ethiopia “border conflict”. The minority regime in Ethiopia presents itself as a law abiding peace seeking entity and is heard feigning concern for Eritreans as it fleeces donors for its many “refugee camps” in Ethiopia today, is the same bigoted regime that deported over 80,000 Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin and confiscated their lives earning at the height of the Eritrea Ethiopia border conflict in 1998.

Despite efforts by certain lawmakers, interest groups, NGOs and even UN agencies to cover up for the regime in Ethiopia, the US public and more US lawmakers are coming to terms with the regime’s true colors, as more of its crimes get exposed, making it even harder to justify the billions that are given to the regime touted as the US’ “staunch ally”in the war against terrorism.

On 9 March 2017, the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations had yet another hearing as lawmakers collected more information in preparation of yet another Bill on Ethiopia. The presenters included Ethiopians who risk being labeled as “terrorists” and “anti peace agents” by the regime, as well as US scholars and rights activists. At the hearing, Felix Horne of Human Rights Watch, put the reality in Ethiopia quite succinctly. He said:

  • Ethiopia is a country of dual realities-visitors and diplomats impressed with double digit growth, progress on development, and apparent political stability-in many ways this is a smokescreen
  • Ethiopians live in fear
  • The current government – the only one since 1991 – runs the country with an almost complete grip on power, controlling almost all aspects of political, public, and even much private life.
  • Pervasive telephone and online surveillance-intricate network of informants-allows govt to quickly curb any threats to its control
  • The state controls media landscape-jams radio and television, journalists choose between self-censorship & arrest-hard to get information outside governments perspectives
  • Latest anti-government protests belie assertion of 100% win-free and fair elections
  • Grip on the people: Ensures that 90 million Ethiopians are dependent on govt for livelihood-food security and economic future-govt controls benefits to development-including access to fertilizers, jobs, humanitarian assistance-US assistance adds to repressive capacity of the government by bolstering Ethiopians reliance on govt for their livelihood
  • No evidence of rigged elections because they don’t need to-no choice but to choose the ruling party as all the people depend on it for their livelihood-Ethiopians say, “If we don’t vote for them, we don’t eat”.
  • Emergency Declaration was a militarized response to the protests-the government says all the rights things publicly about making reforms and that changes are just cosmetic
  • Crimes against humanity on Gambela and Oromia (2003-2204) regions-no credible independent investigations conducted-2007 in the Ogaden (Somali regions)
  • Despite abundance of evidence-US govt response has been muted-quiet diplomacy has proved ineffectual

Horne also explained why the regime in Ethiopia was incapable of fulfilling its international obligations:

“…International scrutiny of Ethiopia’s rights record has also been lacking despite its June election to the UN Security Council, and its membership on the UN Human Rights Council – which requires it to uphold the “highest standards of human rights” and cooperate with UN monitors. Ethiopia has refused entry to all UN special rapporteurs since 2007…There are outstanding requests from the special rapporteurs on torture, freedom of opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly, among others. In total, 11 UN Special Rapporteurs have outstanding requests for access to Ethiopia…”

Horne reflected the views of many US and European lawmakers, rights groups, and Ethiopians who have been calling on successive US Administrations to rein in the minority regime in Ethiopia and stop its violations of international and human rights laws. He said:

“…Despite abundant evidence of serious and growing repression by the Ethiopian government, particularly since the 2005 election, the US government has been a muted critic. Quiet diplomacy proven ineffectual and has coincided with the dramatic downward spiral in human rights and a serious constriction of political space that has led to the crisis Ethiopia is in today. It is time for a new US approach to Ethiopia in which Congress can play a leadership role in seeking a more balanced policy and requiring more deliberate oversight as it has done in other countries in crisis…”

At the 9 March hearing on Ethiopia, Representative Chris Smith spoke of the contradictions in US policy and Ethiopia. He said that the last two Administrations have not gotten it right in Ethiopia – he called it unwitting complicity – looking the other way . US provided over 800 million for food , health – questioned if there was response to the government refusing to give it to its people (using it as a political tool), Smith said that the crimes of the regime were “hiding in plain sight of the African Union – “crimes against humanity” and serious human rights abuses – “Show case city ought to have a showcase government”.

Dana Rohrabacher, who warned in 2005 of the regime’s “arrogance” and the “smell of corruption at the highest levels of the Ethiopian government”, dismissed the excuse that successive US Administrations have used to stop lawmakers from taking punitive actions. One such excuse is that the regime was the US’ ally on the war against terrorism in the region. He said:

“…Any honestly elected government would be against radical Islam…The Ethiopian regime represents a small minority in Ethiopia. We are helping that small clique which is corrupt and brutal. It’s time for the U.S. to say we made a mistake by going down that road with a small group of people. We should be friends with the overall people of Ethiopia, not just with a clique. That will serve the interest of the U.S. and the interest of the people of Ethiopia…”

The Congressman who recalled the attack by security forces against protesters in the post 2005 election and that the regime used American military aid to oppress the people. Rohrabacher said:

“…It is time to eliminate Ethiopian regime from its ability to purchase and obtain U.S. weapons. It is disgraceful that after the 2005 election, the military attacked the people. The worst part is that this military has American weapon that was used to repress the people…”

Rohrabacher said 20 percent of the people of Ethiopia were starving as a direct result of a corrupt and brutal regime:

“…The problem with a brutal regime is not only repression but also misery and hunger…”

At the same hearing, Terrence Lyons, a scholar and policy adviser, called for a change in US policy for Ethiopia and urged lawmakers to stop the cuddling of the minority regime in Ethiopia, which refuses to take responsibility for its actions. He said:

“…Pattern in Ethiopia has been to deny that there is a problem, to blame the opposition, the Diaspora, or Eritrea for fomenting the dissent… arrest lots of people, particularly young men in sweeps and using live fire to clear the streets… when they perceived it to be necessary… US should speak clearly, loudly and publicly about human rights concerns – Time to shift emphasis from counter terrorism – but a long term agenda of participation in the rule of law…”

Ethiopian regimes have enjoyed preferential treatment by the United States and its allies for over 70 years at the expense of the peoples of the Horn, especially the Eritrean and Ethiopian people. If the United States and its allies are serious about restoring peace, stability and security in the region, it is time to call a spade a spade and rein in the belligerent, reckless, and lawless minority regime in that is wrecking havoc, not just in Ethiopia, but in the entire Horn region.

The Trump Administration should not be rewarded for its aggressive and violent domestic and international policies and it should not allow US tax payers funds to be used to subsidize the national budget of a belligerent minority regime which is killing its own people. The Administration must listen to lawmakers who have kept tally of the regime’s excesses for the last 15 years and are seeking a construction of a more coherent US policy for Africa in general, and Ethiopia in particular.

As Felix Horne stated:

“…Long term partnership with US cannot rely on Ethiopia’s governance model marked by repression is incapable of ensuring stability needed…”