• Hermela Aregawi

Ethiopia/Eritrea Factsheet

1) Ethiopia has declared a state of emergency. Conditions are dangerous across the country. On Election Day in Virginia, the White House suspended trade benefits with Ethiopia. Is it fair to say this decision was not well received by most Ethiopians living in the United States?


- ETHIOPIAN AMERICANS were shocked and incredibly disappointed that President Biden and his administration made a decision that will directly impoverish thousands of Ethiopians.


- We view removing Ethiopia from the benefits of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) as a counterproductive move, which will weaken the Ethiopian economy and destabilize the entire Horn of Africa. This will not only damage the long-term US-Ethiopia relationship but also embolden the TPLF insurgency and without question prolong the current conflict. In addition, it was the TPLF’s lobbyist in D.C. who was strongly pushing for the delisting and filed paperwork with the USTR.


- The immediate impact will see 200,000 jobs lost with thousands more expected. The majority of those who will lose their employment will be low-income, female workers in the textile industry.


- The fact that innocent civilians are being targeted by this decision has angered the Ethiopian-American population but also the fact that these are sanctions aimed at the government… yet still, there are no sanctions on the TPLF and its leadership. They are currently the sole aggressors continuing this conflict – where is the punishment for them?


2) Can you share something about ETHIOPIAN AMERICANS and the role it plays in the Ethiopian Community in the United States? And, in your estimate, how many Ethiopians live in Virginia and metro Washington, DC?


- It is our mission to strengthen and foster the U.S.-Ethiopia relationship, enhance both countries security interests, as well as advance democracy, respect for human rights and free-market entrepreneurship in Ethiopia.


- It is important to note – that we are an independent, non-partisan body and our focus is on promoting US - Ethiopia relations as leaders of the diaspora. While we don’t want to see Ethiopia go backwards to the days of the TPLF but as an organization, we don’t have any allegiances.


- Our role in the community is uniting the diaspora and bringing together opinions and voices and, as I mentioned already, using this to help advance the US-Ethiopian relationship.


- To answer the second part of your question, the diaspora population in Virginia, and in fact around Washington DC in general is the largest in the country. We estimate there are around 100,000 Ethiopian-Americans living in Virginia. We are really proud of how all our members across the country have come together to advocate for Ethiopians and Democracy during this conflict.


3) Election results in the Virginia Governor’s race continue to be analyzed. One factor is now earning some acknowledgement. Ethiopian-American voters in Virginia who have traditionally voted for Democratic candidates, reportedly turned out in large numbers for the Republican Glenn Youngkin in the race for Governor. (Youngkin is now the Governor-elect in the State of Virginia). It is now evident that the Ethiopian community had an impact in this nationally watched race. How did the community mobilize?


- ETHIOPIAN AMERICANS ran an on the ground operation for 6 weeks, and we can confirm a large protest vote did take place, with thousands of Ethiopians switching from Democrat to Republican for the very first time.


- That operation involved our members canvassing, and handing out pamphlets, and a vast social media campaign encouraging diaspora members to get out and vote.


- Despite attempts by the American-Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee (ETHIOPIAN AMERICANS ), Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe refused to put his support behind challenging President Biden’s approach to Ethiopia, particularly on sanctions. In contrast, Republican candidate and now Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin promised to expand the state’s trading relations with Ethiopia, if he was to take office.


- Other diaspora groups also mobilized around us and communicated with the Virginia voting population.


4) Is the national Ethiopian community mobilizing for the mid-term elections?


- Yes, if the Biden Administration does not change its stance towards Ethiopia, we are planning to use our voices and our votes to show our disappointment with the foreign policy stance to date.


- The Ethiopian diaspora community in the U.S is around half a million strong, contributing to the economy and society. Many vote Democrat. That is now changing, and it could have a big impact on 2022’s mid-term.


- I think it’s also important to note that a recent poll conducted by People to People of 2,500 members of the Ethiopian-American community found while 79% considered themselves Democrats, 61% intended to change their vote to the Republican Party due to the White House’s policy on Ethiopia.


5) Abiy Ahmed is the democratically elected president of Ethiopia. In 2019 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea." What do you want listeners to understand about him and the state of democracy in Ethiopia?


- Firstly, the current government of Ethiopia is legitimate and was democratically elected and therefore should have the support of the U.S. as the country deals with this insurgency at the hands of the TPLF.


- Since Prime Minister Abiy came to power in 2018, the economy has grown rapidly and he has installed many important reforms.


- He also led the country to hold free and fair elections – and on 21st June this year, he was elected. That was an important milestone on the country’s democratic journey. International observers including the African Union have agreed the election was free and transparent.


- Under his watch, Ethiopia was on a positive trajectory and now plays a leading political role on the continent. So we feel it is very important for both Ethiopia’s population, the region and the whole of Africa, that the progress continues.


- Compare that to the 27-year Authoritarian reign of the TPLF, who were accused of widespread human rights abuses.


6) A northern region of Ethiopia – Tigray—is the focus of international media coverage and a center of Ethiopia’s civil war. It is extremely challenging to sort through the narratives in news accounts and social media posts. How are you getting your news?


- You’re right, it’s been so hard to find the truth through what has been a very concentrated and deliberate misinformation and propaganda campaign from the TPLF and their supporters.


- Social media has played a massive role in fueling misinformation surrounding the conflict, and as an organization we have made it our mission to try to filter through that, only posting and highlighting facts that are evidenced and from reputable sources.


- Our diaspora members still have many connections on the ground in Ethiopia, so we do get firsthand accounts. We have also been watching closely, reports from the UN and USAID, as well as the recent report from Amnesty International on the TPLFs ongoing human rights abuses.


7) When the hashtag: #TigrayGenocide began trending on Twitter, the broader news media tended to latch onto it. Naturally, there are accusations coming from all sides. As a media analyst, I found trends of over-amplification and obvious misrepresentation. Separately, here is something that shocked me: I found an unexpected agreement in tone about the TPLF militia in Tigray. Amnesty International (Left-leaning organization) and Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma (Conservative) both expressly stated that TPLF has committed crimes against humanity. Let’s discuss this.


- As I touched on there has been a huge misinformation campaign being propelled by the TPLF. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been so thorough in reaching out to journalists and introducing them to voices on the ground or elsewhere who are close to the conflict and have a more balanced view of what is happening.


- We are not denying there have been atrocities committed by all sides, but the surprising fact for us is that so many allegations have been levelled at the government and until very recently the TPLF has almost escaped any sort of reprimand, and in some cases even received sympathy.


- Senator Inhofe has long been a supporter of the democratic process in Ethiopia and from the outset of this conflict. In one of his most impactful comments, he expressed his surprise that the US continues to treat this situation with both sides being equal when clearly, they are not. We’ve also received much-appreciated support from Congressman Chris Smith, who’s publicly spoken about President Biden’s failure in foreign policy on Ethiopia.


- What has been changing since the middle of this year, is that finally organizations like the UN and Amnesty International are publicly denouncing the atrocities being committed by the TPLF. The UN has thanked the Ethiopian Government for its cooperation in a joint human rights investigation, notably there are no thanks for the TPLF. Organizations like USAID have also said that the TPLF are looting aid supplies.


- This conflict is tragic, and no matter what side of politics you’re on here in the United States, the facts are slowly coming out and it’s becoming harder for people and organizations to standby in silence when the TPLF are continuing this conflict and committing so many atrocities.


8) How are members of the Ethiopian community with ties in the Tigray region navigating this crisis?


- There’s no denying this is a very tragic situation for all those impacted in the Tigray region, but also beyond in Amhara and Afar where the TPLF continues its violent campaign.


- We know that the TPLF have been looting aid supplies, which was confirmed by USAID. Those are supplies that should be reaching those people in Tigray who need food and medical help. There are also communication issues in the region, so many are very concerned about the wellbeing of their family and friends.



9) Is there a sense that this is having an impact on friends and family within the diaspora?


- Yes, we are devastated to see what is happening to our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia. Therefore we cannot sit back and just watch; we have to use our voices to prompt action from the international community.


- We had such hope when PM Abiy came to power, and that is being threatened by a terrorist group seemingly intent on overthrowing a legitimate government.


- Remember, many of us lived through TPLF-rule and we do not want a return to that sort of authoritarian dictatorship, where there is no democratic process, and any opposition is quashed. So, it is a very tense and emotional time for the Ethiopian diaspora


10) Finally, what does the Ethiopian community hope the American and global community will consider when observing the state of affairs in Ethiopia?


- Firstly, we are calling on the U.S. to engage with and recognize the legitimate, democratic government of Ethiopia and increase pressure on the TPLF to end the conflict.


- Secondly, we also are calling on the U.S. government to reverse its recent decision to remove Ethiopia from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).


- In addition, ETHIOPIAN AMERICANS is now requesting immediate and targeted sanctions to be implemented against the leadership of the TPLF.


- At this stage in the conflict, the TPLF is the sole aggressor and is responsible for many atrocities and crimes against humanity in recent months. Despite this, neither the United States nor other members of the international community have implemented targeted sanctions against the TPLF leadership.


- I also want to point out that calls for negotiations with the TPLF are completely unwarranted. They have been listed as a terrorist organization and TPLF leaders should never be placed in a position of political or moral equivalency with the elected government.



EXTRA

· About mass detentions of Ethnic Tigrayans in Addis and Ethiopia.

This is a difficult situation as the country is in a high security alert condition dealing mostly with an internal threat. This internal threat operates by hiding in plain sight and attacking at the right moment. This strategy was used in the northern cities of Dessie and Kombolcha. Given that the only distinguishing factor of these operators is the fact that they are from the Tigrayan ethnic group presents an extremely challenging situation for the government and the population. However, it’s very important to remember that not all Tigrayans are working with the TPLF. This is evidenced by the government having ethnic Tigrayans in the highest offices, including the cabinet. For example, the Minister of Defense is Tigrayan. It’s also very important to underscore the fact that this very movement of #NoMore has important contributors who are Tigrayan. We also know that there have been many reports of ethnic Tigrayans, including those who attacked their associates last Nov who are working with the TPLF insurgents against the people of Ethiopia and the elected Govt. The Govt of Ethiopia is only looking for those who are aiding the TPLF terrorist group.


· Who is TPLF? TPLF was created in 1975 as an opposition group against the then communist govt with the goal of liberating Ethnic Tigrayans. Since TPLF came into power in 1991 and overthrew the communist govt with the backing of the West, they have abandoned the Tigray region which remains poor and instead hoarded the country’s wealth. Please refer to a Forbes article which describes how $30 billions of aid was exfiltrated from the country over the same period while nearly 2 million people in Tigray continued to rely on aid. It is also well documented by human rights organizations that the TPLF ruled more than 100 million people for 27 years with brute oppression, torture and killing of opposition. On the struggle of the Ethiopian people, TPLF was sidelined in 2018 and a year ago, the group started a war in hopes of forcing their way back into power against the will of the people.


· We keep hearing that there is a genocide in Tigray and that this government is executing a genocidal war. Is this true?


There are three points to refer to regarding this subject:


1. With little research, it will become abundantly clear to see that the “Tigray genocide” campaign started the day after the TPLF attacked the northern command of the ENDF. So, you must ask yourself, how can it be a genocide right after the first shot was fired.

2. Also refer to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (UNHCHR) joint investigation conducted with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. This investigation, which by the way the UN affirms as being without bias or influence, revealed several important findings:

a. Found no evidence of genocide by the government of Ethiopia.

b. Found no evidence the government of Ethiopia organized, orchestrated, or otherwise provided overt or tacit support for the commission of war crimes.

c. Found no evidence the government of Ethiopia weaponized famine.

d. Found no evidence the government designed, pursued, or implemented any policy or practice to violate the human rights of any individual or group.

3. The last point is to understand the intention behind this claim. Realizing the international community’s inaction during the Rwandan genocide, the goal was to harken back to this terrible time in which the International Community was ineffective. By spurring this regretful moment, the TPLF’s objective was to have the west act under the declaration of Right to Protect and conduct a hybrid warfare on the Ethiopian government.


· Why is the Ethiopian government blocking aid to the Tigray region?


1. When the federal forces were in Tigray, the Ethiopian government spent nearly 10 times the annual budget allocated for the Tigray region to provide aid to the people of Tigray. Meanwhile, the TPLF was destroying and disrupting critical infrastructures, such as Internet access and telephone service, to compound pressure on the Ethiopian government from the international community. When government employees and contractors were trying to restore these essential services the TPLF was attacking and killing these civil servants.

2. It’s also important to refer to the UNHCHR’s joint investigation conducted with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. This investigation, which by the way the UN affirms as being without bias or influence, revealed several important findings:

a. Found no evidence of genocide by the government of Ethiopia.

b. Found no evidence the government of Ethiopia organized, orchestrated, or otherwise provided overt or tacit support for the commission of war crimes.

c. Found no evidence the government of Ethiopia weaponized famine.

3. It’s also important to understand that there are people suffering in Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions. This war, which was imposed upon the Ethiopian people and government is purely based on a selfish agenda by a small group who want to return to power, at any cost, including the lives of children whom they are using as child-soldiers.


· Do you believe the United States is being tricked/misled by the TPLF?

One would expect that the United States is not misled by all of this. Probably not. The assumption is that the U.S. is fully aware and there is some evidence of overt and covert support for the TPLF which seem to indicate the U.S. wants its old puppet government back in the political sphere. There are also geopolitical factors which could be motivating the U.S. such as the Chinese expansion into Africa and the United States’ support for its ally Egypt in its quarrel with Ethiopia over the GERD.



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