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Letter to CSIS Rep. Meeks on controversial Ethiopian participant

January 29, 2021
NY/NJ Ethiopian Task Force

To: US Congressman Gregory Meeks Chairman, House Foreign Affairs Committee and Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) 

As proponents of democracy and human rights in Ethiopia, our organization is concerned with CSIS Africa Program’s decision to invite a controversial Ethiopian politician Tsedale Lemma to discuss foreign policy with Representative Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY).

For many years, our Ethiopian-American community in New York & New Jersey has been working with US House Foreign Affairs Committees in a bipartisan manner, including with Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) and the late Representative Donald Payne (D-NJ) who was a major defender of democracy in Africa. We are however disturbed that the honorable Representative Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY) has now been invited to an event on February 1, 2021 that included the controversial figure Ms Tsedale Lemma. 

The politician Ms. Lemma started out as a writer (for “Addis Standard”) under the rule of the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) dictatorship in Ethiopia. She quickly got notoriety, due to the lack of alternative options, since all other newspapers in Ethiopia were closed down by the previous TPLF regime and many independent journalists put in prison or disappeared. She was viewed as an apologist to the Marxist TPLF regime, disseminating cooked up “economic growth” statistics by that one-party dictatorship, while her writings downplayed widespread human rights abuses and mass killings by the TPLF junta.

After serving the TPLF regime, in the 2018 transition period, she became a propagandist for ethnic based nativist movements in Oromia that were indirectly inspired by TPLF’s dogma of narrow nationalism. In 2019, the new reformist Prime Minister Dr Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize and abandoned the divisive agenda of the ruling party. Despite being Oromo politician himself, Dr Abiy chose to transform his own party and transcend ethnic barriers to unite Ethiopians by building bridges. In addition, after decades of media censorship under TPLF rule, the new Prime Minister Abiy also opened up the media environment in Addis Ababa, which suddenly hurt Ms. Lemma’s media monopoly because her website became just one of hundreds of new media outlets inside the country today.

Since then, Ms Lemma has become a radical outspoken supporter of extremist Oromo nationalist Jawar Mohammed, the equivalent of white nationalist David Duke. Unfortunately, Mr Mohammed is accused of instigating xenophobic movements in Oromia that led to mass killings of ethnic minorities in Oromia during 2019 & 2020. At the time, the Associated Press reported that Oromo nativist mobs inspired by Jawar Mohammed were “checking identity cards and targeting Amhara residents” during gruesome massacres.

Despite these nativist killings reported by international media outlets, Ms. Tsedale Lemma downplayed these mass killings in her writings in order to whitewash the crimes by the hate groups as well as defend the hate speeches by the nationalist Jawar Mohammed. 

On top of this, Ethiopia recently faced an insurrection more deadly than the violence we faced here in US capitol, as hundreds of federal forces were slaughtered by a rebellion of the TPLF junta in the province of Tigray. Despite the Ethiopian government’s success in bringing these insurrectionists to justice, the conflict has led to a humanitarian crisis as TPLF has went underground, reportedly blocking interstate roads and ambushing food aid delivery transport in rural Tigray. 

Unfortunately, Ms. Lemma has become a leading advocate of insurrectionists like TPLF, who seek to overthrow the federal government and delegitimize our upcoming 2021 election in Ethiopia. Instead of entertaining fringe voices like Ms Lemma who justify the insurrection, we ask that the United States government support nonviolent opposition parties in Ethiopia, like the Ezema Citizens for Social Justice Party (CFSJ), who are peacefully competing against the ruling party. Ethiopia must pursue progressive reforms and peaceful democratic change of government as a foundation to stability in the region. 

In addition to her fringe views in support of the TPLF insurrectionists, Ms Lemma has also personally wrote nativist commentaries on social media, intellectualizing and justifying ethnic cleansing of Amhara and other minorities living inside Oromia (including persecuted Orthodox Christians living in Muslim areas.) She has also posted degrading comments against multiethnic Ethiopians who object to the proliferation of tribalism in Ethiopia. Just like biracial or multiracial Americans, millions of multiethnic Ethiopians in the urban (who do not ascribe to the one-ethnic identification of the hate groups) have been a major obstacle to the ethno-nationalist hate groups in Ethiopia, who advocate for ethnic segregation/federalism and ethnic cleansings. The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) should not be associated with such a controversial individual who peddles deadly nativism against minorities and hatespeechagainst multiethnic Ethiopians.

Our Ethiopian-American community of NY/NJ categorically rejects hate groups and nativism both inside the United States and Ethiopia. We must condemn ethnic nativism and xenophobic violence in Ethiopia. Thus, the NY/NJ Ethiopian Task Forces opposes the decision by the CSIS Africa Program to invite the nativist Ms Tsedale Lemma to this important forum discussing US foreign policy with Congressman Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY). Doing so will be a major disservice to the new administration of US President Joe Biden and its foreign policy in Africa. It also clashes with the progressive values, ideals or strong principles that we all hold dear in the United States. We advise the CSIS to invite nonpartisan and independent pro-democracy Ethiopian analysts and members of civil society, so that President Biden’s US foreign policy will not be misguided and tarnished.

Sincerely,

NY/NJ Ethiopian Task Force

To contact NY-NJ TaskForce Ethionynj@gmail.com

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1 COMMENT

  1. I am amazed by this lengthy diatribe to stifle the voice of Ms. Lemma. They talk of democracy but their request is anti-democratic. They want CSIS to follow their dictate. They also accuse individuals without providing evidence. They forgot over 80% Ethiopians live outside of the urban center. Their voice also matters and need representation.

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