By Mesfin Tegenu
I recently returned from a 10-day trip to Addis Ababa as part of the Great Homecoming initiative launched by Prime Minister Abiy. I was just one of thousands of Ethiopian diaspora from around the world who had decided to return to their ancestral home to support friends and family as they start to rebuild following the year-long conflict.
It has been many years since I had retuned, and I was overwhelmed by the progress on show in the capital. The ancient city now has a very modern feel with well-kept landscaping and a completely regenerated city centre. It was a timely reminder that not all is lost, in fact the opposite is true, Ethiopia still has immense potential. Before the conflict, economic growth and liberalization, as well as democratic progress, under Prime Minister Abiy, had seen the country enjoy double digit growth and increasing interest from international investors.
I have always tried to be objective during the conflict. I have been critical of both sides at different stages. However, it has both amazed and disappointed me how quickly the United States, Europe and others rallied to support the TPLF, despite its well documented record of human rights abuses, corruption and looting of resources over almost three decades at the helm of government. The conflict has reminded Ethiopians of TPLF’s aggression and dubious machinations and disregard of other ethnic groups. After witnessing the destruction caused by TPLF in Afar and Amhara and by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF-Shene) in Wollega and some parts of Oromia region, it is very clear that the two organizations are the same and their actions criminal. It is important to remember the people in Tigray, Wollega and some parts of Oromia who are currently suffering an immense humanitarian challenge, live under full or partial control of these groups that continue to wage war on Ethiopian people. Unlike the rest of Ethiopia, the people oppressed by these groups do not enjoy the benefits of democracy nor justice. Instead, they are being displaced and exposed to violence, hunger, and starvation. Amnesty International recently documented evidence of Tigray forces killing, raping, and looting in Amhara towns.
I appreciate and acknowledge the United States and the West more generally want to see peace in Ethiopia. Every Ethiopian wants to see that too. But, to facilitate a route to reconciliation, I believe the peace-loving Ethiopians in Tigray and Oromia must start separating themselves from TPLF and OLF-Shene, as well as the leadership that directly or indirectly support these organizations designated as terrorists by the national parliament.
The people of Ethiopia remain deeply suspicious of the TPLF and many can’t forgive the damage they did to the country during their reign. They implemented a political system based on ethnic federalism, the root cause of the recent conflict we have witnessed. That system also allowed them to sow discord and division between regions and suppress the population in order to maintain power for a very small clique who became extraordinarily wealthy whilst in office. According to the UN’s 2015 report on Illicit Financial Outflows chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, TPLF leaders stole $30 billion. Just imagine where Ethiopia would be today if that had been invested in the education system and healthcare of the country.
Then came the insurrection TPLF launched in November 2020 and their destruction of parts of Afar and Amhara regions since June 2021. There are many statistics and reports that highlight the sheer devastation the TPLF forces brought to those regions, but I think the most profound is in relation to healthcare. In some of the poorest communities in the world, the OCHA Situation Report as of the 27th January confirmed: “In Amhara, more than 500 health facilities, and 1,706 health posts damaged and/or looted due to the conflict need rehabilitation and support. In Afar, only 94 health facilities, or 22 per cent of the 414 facilities, are functional, including 2 hospitals and, 31 health centers. The rest needs rehabilitation and support.” This indiscriminate and senseless destruction of the above health facilities translates to denial of health services to over 30 million persons.
Ethiopia, as an independent and sovereign state, expects peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial and complementary transactions with friendly countries globally. Tigray is one of the regions of Ethiopia, living under the constitution of the nation. It’s peaceful development and existence mustn’t be tied to the whims of the TPLF or other rebel groups. The United States needs to stop being duped, to intentionally or unintentionally, blindly protecting the TPLF that desperately portrays itself as the small freedom fighting victim and underdog. Likewise, the TPLF’s partners in crime – the OLF-Shene and the like – must be held accountable for the horrific ethnic-based atrocities they are committing on Amharas living in several localities in Oromia.
Ethiopia has the building blocks to be a real African success story and Prime Minister Abiy, as the elected leader of the country, has the prerogative to work with all peace-loving citizens of the country to restore and promote Ethiopia’s progressive journey. It will be difficult and complex, but I believe it can be done. The United States can help. It should wholeheartedly back the different positive moves the government is taking to give peace a chance, including the national dialogue that is now underway. The US can help to pressure the TPLF-OLF/Shene to disarm, stop their aggressive attacks and be part of the peace process. Only then can the people of Ethiopia, irrespective ethnic differences, will truly be free to rebuild and live in an Ethiopia that is of all, for all, by all.
The United States and supra-national bodies should focus more on the broader humanitarian challenges and respond to urgent needs, equitably, across all impacted areas in the north and west – Afar, Gondar, Showa, Tigray, Wollega, and Wollo.
I believe the new Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa, Ambassador David Satterfield, has the wisdom to transform the ailing US – Horn of Africa relationship to one that is based on democracy, trade and respect to sovereignty.
Advancing aggressive, unhelpful and unthoughtful legislations, such as H.R #6600, must be weighed against the results they, may or may not, impart to achieve the desired policy or other changes. The US Administration and Congress must be very cautious and avoid irreparable damages to century-old ties with Ethiopia and collateral implications with the countries of the horn and the continent.
Ethiopian Americans are doing all we can to support maintain US-Ethiopia relationship and move forward, I hope President Biden and his government will join us.
Mesfin Tegenu, MS, RPh Is Executive Chairman of the American Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee (AEPAC) and CEO of RxParadigm, Inc and a frequent commentator on American Pharmaceutical Benefit management system/policy
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