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Samantha Power’s Press Conference at the Sheratron Addis

Samantha Power visit to Ethiopia and her Press Conference


USAID Administrator, Samantha Power, was on a visit to Ethiopia on Wednesday this week. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia called her visit “successful.”

However, she was not able to meet with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his deputy, Demeke Mekonen. Upon concluding her visit in Ethiopia, she had a press conference at the Sheraton Addis.

The US Embassy in Addis Ababa sent us the transcript of her speech during the press conference. It is shared below : 

Samantha Power
USAID Administrator
August 4, 2021

The Africa Regional Media Hub 

Moderator Sean Jones: Well, good evening, everyone, and thank you for your patience. I want  to provide a very warm welcome to the Addis Ababa press corps, the members who have joined  us this evening. And, again, thank you for your flexibility on the timing of our discussion this  evening.  

I’m very pleased – my name is Sean Jones; I’m the USAID mission director here in  Ethiopia – and, I am very pleased this evening, to welcome our administrator of USAID globally,  USAID Administrator Samantha Power, to Addis Ababa, and to share her thoughts with us this  evening at the end of her robust visit to Ethiopia. 

I also would like to take the opportunity to recognize the attendance this evening of two very  important people: our U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Ambassador Geeta Pasi and then of course,  the U.S. Ambassador to the African Union, Ambassador Jessica Lapenn.  

With that, let me turn it over to our administrator, Samantha Power, for some prepared  remarks. And then we’ll follow with the question-and-answer period. Thank you. 

Ambassador Power: Thank you so much, Sean, and thanks for all you do. Along with our  tremendous USAID staff, especially the beating heart of our mission here, our local Ethiopian staff  to support the humanitarian needs and the development needs of Ethiopian people. Thank you  also to Ambassador Pasi and to Ambassador Lapenn for the great work that they do and the 

dedication that they bring to this country and this region. 

It’s great for me to be back here in Ethiopia, a country that has long been a strong partner and  regional anchor. The last time I was in Ethiopia was in 2016, not long after I had begun a campaign  from my position as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, a campaign to try to free female  political prisoners who were being unjustly imprisoned by countries around the world, including  three political prisoners who were held by the previous Ethiopian Government. 

Today, I return to an Ethiopia that has experienced a wave of change since 2016, an Ethiopia where  those three women are now free, along with many tens of thousands of other political  prisoners. But today is also a grim day. It marks nine months since the start of the conflict  in Tigray, amidst an alarming humanitarian catastrophe where 5.2 million people remain in a state  of dire need. 

Whether the United States is lobbying one government to release political prisoners or another  government to allow greater access to humanitarian aid workers, I want the Ethiopian people to  know that we seek to engage with you, and with your government, on the basis of a set of values,  not to play favorites or to pick sides during a conflict. Values like, there is no military solution to  an internal conflict. Values like, all parties should end hostilities and agree to an immediate  ceasefire and to begin talks about reconciliation and troop and militia withdrawal from neighboring  regions. 

The U.S. is watching with great alarm as a conflict that began in Tigray is now beginning to  spread. We now estimate that there are roughly 76,000 internally displaced persons in Afar and  150,000 internally displaced persons in Amhara after TPLF military expansion into neighboring  provinces.  

Other values – values like, humanitarian aid workers should be free to do their jobs and never be  targeted, attacked, or harassed; and they should have unhindered access to the desperate Ethiopian  people whose lives they are trying to save.  

This morning I visited a local staging center for USAID’s food aid, not far from the  capital. Warehouses were full of wheat and lentils and split peas, and trucks lay idle in the mud  because deliveries had been backed up for weeks due to ongoing blockades. In my conversation  with the Minister of Peace just now, I stressed these values, called yet again for a cessation of  hostilities and unfettered humanitarian access, and reiterated the Unites States’ care and concern  for the people of Ethiopia, no matter their identity or affiliation. 

Today I also had the chance to visit with some of our local health partners, who discussed the  remarkable public health gains Ethiopia has made over several years thanks to the leadership of  this country’s Ministry of Health and thanks to support from USAID. Dramatic improvements in  malaria prevention, diagnosis, and treatment; sustained and affected efforts to prevent and treat  HIV; focused communications campaigns to protect mothers, help them plan their families,  prepare for births, and protect their communities from COVID-19.  

From support for public health, to investments in Ethiopia’s agricultural transformation, to  sustained humanitarian assistance across decades, the United States has deep, deep roots of  partnership with Ethiopia. 

And I am proud to announce new investments to support the health and humanitarian needs of the  Ethiopian people, on top of the more than $149 million in humanitarian assistance to help people  affected by the ongoing conflict in Tigray, which I announced last week, today I’m announcing  more than $45 million in funding to expand and intensify the fight against COVID19: to support  health systems, respond to urgent humanitarian needs, and support vaccinations. 

This is part of $720 million in new funding that the United States, USAID, is providing to fight  the pandemic abroad. Including, $445 million for sub–Saharan Africa to support COVID-19  response and vaccine readiness and urgent humanitarian needs consistent with the African Union’s  Continental COVID Response Strategy. This is itself in addition to the 1.6 million U-S. purchased  Johnson and Johnson vaccine doses that by the end of this week will have been delivered to  Ethiopia on behalf of the American people. And as you know, a delivery of the lion’s share of  those doses is happening just in the next day.

These investments are just a small reflection of our commitment to the people of Ethiopia. As I  said at the beginning, we remain committed to engaging this country based on a set of values,  and working together to secure an immediate and lasting peace for Ethiopia. 

With that, I look forward to taking your questions. 

Corey–Boulet, AFP 

Question: Thank you. Good evening and thank you for the briefing. My name is Robbie Corey– Boulet with AFT. Prime Minister Abiy has been criticized recently for using words like “weeds,”  “cancer,” and “disease” to refer to the TPLF. The U.N. special advisor on the prevention  of genocide last week was concerned about that kind of language and linked it to the possibility of  further atrocity crimes in Tigray and elsewhere. As somebody who is an authority on genocide,  what do you think when you hear that kind of language from the head of the Ethiopian  Government? And what would you have said to Prime Minister Abiy had you been given the  chance to meet with him today? 

Ambassador Power: Well, I did raise in the meeting with the Minister of Peace the points that I  would’ve raised had I seen the Prime Minister. And this was certainly one of them, concern about  inflamed rhetoric, the dehumanizing rhetoric that you referred to, but also increasingly virulent  speech that you find on the internet and in various publications directed at aid workers. And  already, we have seen horrific attacks against aid workers, who are doing nothing more than trying  to provide food and other forms of assistance to people in desperate need.  

So dehumanizing rhetoric of the kind that you refer to only hardens tensions and can – and historically certainly often accompanies ethnically motivated atrocities. And what the United  States has called for is dialogue, is a cessation of hostilities, and when the rhetoric gets ratcheted  up, it also just becomes more and more challenging to come to the table. It also, irrespective of  the intentions behind that rhetoric – and that’s a question that I would urge you to direct to people  who are using that rhetoric – as is evident all around the world, including the United States,  irrespective of what one intends, there are many, many people out there who hear rhetoric, hateful  rhetoric or dehumanizing rhetoric, and take measures into their own hands or can be incited by  that.  

And so I think the goal that I hope we all share is peace. And words matter, and it’s extremely  important that all parties involved in the conflict come to the table and move away from what is  an increasingly ratcheted-up set of accusations and counter-accusations, and focus instead on the  dialogue that is going to be needed for an inclusive peace and an end to the suffering of civilians.  

Brook Abdu -The Reporter Newspaper 

Question: All right. Thank you very much. My first – my question is about the negotiations with  the – among the warring parties in Ethiopia. So did you discuss that issue with  the Ethiopian officials that you’ve met, and the other thing in the meantime with access to Tigray  region to deliver humanitarian aid? So who is really blocking humanitarian aid to reach to Tigray,  according to your assessments? Thank you very much.  

Ambassador Power: Thank you. So as you know, Special Envoy Jeff Feltman is working  tirelessly around the clock, along with other international partners and in constant dialogue with  the parties here on the ground, to promote the cause of peace. And my objective in  meeting, especially with the Minister of Peace, given her jurisdiction, was to discuss the desperate 

humanitarian needs that are growing even more acute with every passing day. So that was – our  discussions were focused on that.  

And yes, of course, I stressed the U.S. position, which is our support for an immediate cessation  of hostilities, our appeal and demand to the parties to remove themselves from territory along the  lines of what you saw me and the State Department and others speak to yesterday.  

So again, we have been very public about those requirements. And it has to happen. You have  to see those conditions met; those are going to be very, very important for dialogue to be effective.  

But my focus has really been on the second part of your question here, given, again, our special  envoy’s role on the political track. And the access remains deeply worrying. And I would just  offer this statistic, which is that, as you probably heard in mid-July, the UN said that between 500  and 600 trucks with relief items needed to enter Tigray each week to meet current assessed  needs. As of two days ago – because I want to make sure I have the latest information, so I can’t  tell you I have today’s information – but as of two days ago, 153 trucks with relief items have been  able to enter Tigray.  

So in that period between mid-July and August 2nd, according to the UN, what were needed was  1,500 trucks, and the number of trucks that rolled in and were able to pass was 153. That’s  10 percent of needs. And so I think that we have seen systems change and, for example, paperwork  requirements adjusted and time frames compressed for the granting of permissions. Those are – we’ve seen those things change on paper. But the delays and the inability to move precious food  and other items to people in need, we are just not seeing the changes that we had hoped for.  

So again, that was a very important discussion with the Minister. So, too, was all the important  work that USAID does in the health sector on COVID, on agriculture. So even as we appeal to  the government to expedite access, to make it easier, not harder, to allow these convoys that are  ready and are filled with food, ready to go, ready to reach mothers, parents who are looking at their  kids and just not – imagine your kid looking up at you and not having eaten. I mean, we can feed  those kids through our partners, but not if the food can’t get into Tigray. So I really hope that  we’re going to see the access we need.  

Now, what I also want to say is that the TPLF moving militarily, particularly if it is in proximity  to roads that the convoys need to pass on, that is going to obstruct access. I mean, the roads have  to be secure. And so this is an appeal to all parties to allow unhindered humanitarian access, to  put the needs of civilians in desperate need first.  

Getnet Shenkute – Ethiopian News Agency 

Question: Okay. Thank you so much for this opportunity. You have a well-deserved reputation for fighting injustice in your entire lifetime. But many argue, especially Ethiopians,  there is a worrisome feeling here in Ethiopia that you have you have closed your eyes to atrocities  perpetrated by TPLF. Is that a valid criticism? What do you say to that accusation?  

And also, the U.S. Government was among first to recognize and condemn the TPLF’s treacherous  attack against the northern command of Ethiopian National Defense Force in early  November. And Ethiopians are told that the U.S. administration is once again on the side of  the truth, peace, and justice. 

However, now many people have felt, feel, to be betrayed by Biden administration, which took  such a biased position on the whole thing and terror of TPLF. So what’s your  response on this regard? So do you believe also – do you recognize the belligerence of – the  belligerent act of TPLF against some regions and neighboring regions, especially the Amhara and  Afar regional states? Thanks so much.  

Ambassador Power: Thank you. On your last question, again, I have already stated in my  opening remarks and in the comments I’ve just made how concerned we are about the TPLF – this  was in my opening statement – about the TPLF military movements that have caused significant  displacement in Afar – now, again, tens of thousands of civilians – and Amharans as well  displaced. It is extremely important that the conflict stop, and that military offenses of that nature  stop, and that the parties turn to dialogue.  

With regard to your – what I took to be your first question, let me first just talk about the agency  that I am privileged to run, USAID. USAID is every single day in this country working with  Ethiopians without asking questions about ethnicity or politics; actually, asking lots of questions  about education needs, agricultural planning, digitization, governance and the rule of law and civil  society now that all of that space has opened up; about drug regimens to fight TB and malaria and  what people need in order to meet disease. I’m incredibly – I feel so privileged to be even part of  an organization that has the chance to support the people of Ethiopia, with whom I’ve had deep  friendships my whole life.  

And so just to put some facts in this, in the last year alone the United States, with USAID at the  forefront, we have provided more than $1 billion in support to our Ethiopian friends, including  more than $720 million in humanitarian assistance and more than $340 million in bilateral  development and health assistance. We are the largest donor of humanitarian assistance, and not  just in Tigray but throughout Ethiopia. And I just talked to the Minister of Peace about how we  can meet the needs of these new displaced that we have been talking about, who have been  displaced again by TPLF’s military moves.  

That’s what USAID and our partners do. We want to support Ethiopian civilians in need, and of  course, ideally, we want to focus on Ethiopia’s development so that the day comes as soon as  possible where you don’t – your people don’t need assistance. I mean, you have the dynamism  and the talent and the young people to move out of an aid relationship to a trade- and investment 

only kind of relationship. I mean, that is the horizon that we see. But conflict gets in the way. And  conflict also pulls resources to humanitarian assistance instead of to the kind of economic  development and agricultural programs. We would like all of our funding to be oriented around  sustainable investments that your people can carry forward, again, in partnership. 

To your question about the TPLF, I think it’s also important to state that we in the United States  have made it very clear to the TPLF leadership that a ceasefire and political negotiations are the  only way to end this conflict. We’ve also reminded them that the mistrust and animosity that many  Ethiopians feel toward the TPLF is rooted in their actions during their 27-year rule. And as I said  at the beginning of my statement, those were actions that I engaged on when I was in the prior  Obama administration publicly and privately, consistently, on the basis of support for individual  dignity and human rights, and pushing and urging greater liberalization and free and fair elections  and space for civil society organizations to operate in, which they didn’t have.  

So I have been consistent over my career and what I do any place I’m privileged to visit, and I’m  very grateful to have been welcomed here today by so many Ethiopians. I’ve had to chance to 

meet with many of our partners but also government officials, and I am – I’m glad that I’ve had  the chance to come and have the kind of dialogue that I think is really important, especially in an  era of social media and of – where there is a lot of disinformation out there, it’s very good to talk  face-to-face. And it was, I think, a constructive dialogue that we have had.  

But I will continue, as will my colleagues here and in Washington, not to pick sides or take any  one side of any conflict but to look at the principles in human rights law, in international  humanitarian law, and to appeal to parties who are ignoring or violating those principles to meet  those standards. I think to do otherwise, if you see that people are at risk of unnecessary suffering  and to stay silent about that, it’s not something that the people of this country would have wished  me to do when there was different leadership in this country. And I hope – and especially in  coming here and in engaging directly – I hope they can understand that this is – our statements are  based on our trusted partners on the ground who are providing us with the facts on where the  blockages are coming from.  

And we have a responsibility – if the TPLF is doing something that is blocking humanitarian  access, we have a responsibility to say that. And so too, if Amharan militias are doing things that  are harming civilians or that are blocking access, we have a responsibility to say it. If Eritrean  forces are present on the ground and committing abuses and restricting convoys of their positions,  we should say it. And if the Ethiopian Government is not allowing those convoys to move and it  is safe for them to move, I believe that a neutral and objective and independent position would  demand, again, that we state the facts as we know them to be.  

Thank you

Moderator: We have time for one more question.  

Dawit Endeshaw – Reuters 

Question: Thank you very much. Dawit from Reuters. Just a couple of questions. Was there  any chance to discuss with probably Tigrayan officials or someone from Tigray there? 

Second question is: In terms of rhetoric, not just the rhetoric, but also there have been harassment  against Tigrayans. Some were illegally arrested. Have you also raised this concern with – during  your discussion with Ethiopian officials?  

And my third question is: Prior to your visit to Ethiopia, I think there was a plan to meet Prime  Minister Abiy. Have you managed to meet him? If you managed, what was the point of  discussion? Thank you.  

Ambassador Power: Thank you. Again, this was a short, kind of compressed visit. I do want to  state that this is only the second trip that I have taken as USAID administrator, and it was very  important for me to get to Ethiopia on my first trip. I mean, that is how important our relationship  with this country and the Ethiopian people is. And I really want to underscore that. 

But by its nature, this was a short trip. And so many of – I can take, I think, your questions in one  piece. We did not get, of course, to Tigray on this trip. We were able to get to the – at least one  of the areas where we stockpile our provisions to talk to the people who drive the trucks and fill  the trucks and want to move those convoys in – as quickly as possible. And I thought it was very  important, given my role in supporting with this funding assistance with Sean and the mission,  very important to hear from these organizations who are not able to communicate right now out of 

Tigray, at least most of them, who many of them are unable to pay their local staff. They’re very  severely restricted in whether they can bring cash into the area.  

They’re – in early July, as you probably know, the Ethiopian Government said that it was  authorizing the UN to resume humanitarian flights from Addis to Mekelle starting on July  8th. This was a very, very important agreement, we thought, as a kind of supplement to the land  access. But unfortunately, the UN assesses that daily flights are needed to facilitate humanitarian  operations, to bring personnel and other things in. And since this authorization of this  humanitarian air service, unfortunately, UNHAS, as it’s called, has received permission for two  flights with passengers. So we – again, July 8th is now a while ago, unfortunately, and two flights  and two convoys since July 8th is not sufficient. 

So really to your questions, the sum of your questions, my emphasis was really on these urgent  humanitarian needs. And again, the assurance that I got was that the Ethiopian Government is  committed to the welfare of civilians in Tigray, and I think the point – which is the point that I  would have conveyed to Prime Minister Abiy and which the Minister assured me that she would  convey – but is that this – humanitarian actors have been warning of severe malnutrition risks in  Tigray now for many months. I even personally – and I’m relatively new to my job – have been  warning for several months.  

The organizations that we support are on fumes, literally. I mean, they have had to ration their fuel. They have had to think: Which programs do we maintain, which do we cut? For example, we  heard today that they can maintain maybe educational programs because their staff are in there,  and maybe they can walk to the local school – these organizations. And by staff, I mean this is  Ethiopian staff who are doing the lion’s share of this lifesaving work. But if it requires too much  fuel and you have to drive too far, you think to yourself, “Well, I could get to two communities if  I use this much fuel in this way. But if I go those extra miles, that will eat into my fuel ration for  the day.” I mean, this is not how aid workers can function with so little supplies. They are running  out. And the only people who will be hurt by that are the civilians, are the parents, are the elderly,  are the people who haven’t been able – who would love maybe even to leave and haven’t been  able to get out. 

So that really has – was my message. I also asked the Minister to convey to Prime Minister Abiy,  who I’m sure I will have the chance to meet soon – and as you know, he was not in the capital  today on my day here – but we are really worried about humanitarian aid workers, given the  killings that have occurred and the number of aid workers who have been killed already in  Tigray. And it is extremely important that there be independent investigations into the murders  that have occurred, a point which the Minister assured me that she would convey.  

But also, it is really important that government officials and all parties use their voices to affirm  the good that humanitarian aid workers are doing for the Ethiopian people. I think in this polarized  time of escalating rhetoric, and even it looks like escalating violence on the ground, it becomes so  much more important that leaders use their platform to de-escalate the rhetoric. And I made an  appeal that Ethiopian officials stress publicly again their support for those who are sacrificing so  much to try to continue to get food and nutrition and health supplies to people who would like  nothing more than to be able to fend for themselves and to have planted and be sowing their crops,  but because that by and large did not happen, now find themselves – many for the first time in their  lives – dependent on aid from the outside; and so again, for all parties to state publicly often and  always that all people in this country should respect the impartiality and the independence of these  aid workers. I think this is very, very important to do. 

Thank you so much, and thank you for your patience this evening. Thank you. 

Moderator: Thank you. That concludes this evening’s press conference. I want to thank all the  members of the Addis press corps for joining us here. Thank you. 

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