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HomeOpinionTo the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Evin Massinga 

To the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Evin Massinga 

Ambassador Ervin Massinga _ Policy Address
Ambassador Massinga making policy speech on May 15, 2024

Dear Ambassador Massinga: 

I have paid close attention to your policy address on human rights and national dialogue, delivered on May 15 during your visit to the American Gibbi in Addis Ababa. Your reflection on the Yekatit 12 Massacre of 1937 was touching and hopefully, the message you conveyed will be heeded. Your call for a ceasefire is both important and timely, stressing as it does the urgent need for government and armed forces alike to agree to a cessation of hostilities and to engage in meaningful dialogue. 

Your urging all actors in Ethiopia to respect human rights and human dignity, especially during times of conflict, is equally important; as is your deep concern over reports of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, conflict-related sexual violence and other abuses committed by various participants in the conflict in Ethiopia.  Your call for urgent action and accountability through a genuine, transparent transitional justice process will be well received by concerned observers. 

I was deeply moved by your direct address to OLA, TPLF and Fano, urging them to engage in dialogue, rebuild trust and seek peace rather than pursue political objectives through violence. It is also imperative that you, as ambassador, pleaded with the Ethiopian government to prioritize peace and the release of detained politicians over a security-focused approach.  

What is more, your emphasis on the importance of an inclusive, unconditional national dialogue, drawing parallels to challenges faced by other countries, including the US, while reiterating your country’s commitment to supporting Ethiopia in its pursuit of a rights-respecting, stable and prosperous future, is both commendable and reassuring.  

That said, however, I have to point out with respect that much of your speech is marked by misdiagnoses, unwarranted assumptions and false equivalence of responsibilities for the difficulties facing the country that do not reflect the realities on the ground. 

The first of these is the implication that the proposed ‘dialogue’ and ‘transitional justice’ mechanisms are genuine, meaningful, and substantive means of addressing the concerns of different political forces and of the victims of atrocities. You characterize the dialogue process merely as ‘imperfect’, which significantly understates the widespread public perception of these processes as a mere smokescreen for a shortcut to despotism carried out under the guise of constitutional amendments through national dialogue. In your speech there is an overriding assumption that the government of Ethiopia is sincerely committed to solving the country’s problems through dialogue, despite ample evidence to the contrary.  This would evidence includes a refusal to engage before – and during – the war on Tigray and more recently in Oromia; and the government’s readiness to resort to military force to solve political problems. 

As has been underlined repeatedly, however, not least in reports from the UN Human Rights Council, ICHREE and others, there are serious doubts about the impartiality and effectiveness of those processes, given the Ethiopian government’s record of human rights abuses and lack of accountability. As has been stated openly by a significant proportion (if not a majority) of the population and by organized political forces, including those in Tigray, Oromia and Amhara, the processes remain widely discredited. The striking contrast between your cautious, diplomatic understatement and the sharper, more critical public view of the dialogue and transitional process, underscores the importance of acknowledging and addressing the deep skepticism and mistrust that many Ethiopians feel towards the government’s proposals. Characterization of the processes as ‘imperfect’ presumes that they enjoy popular legitimacy, which of course is a vital ingredient for success.  

Second, you opted to concentrate less on the causes of the country’s woes than on symptoms such as armed popular resistance and human rights violations, which many informed observers would see as outcomes of misgovernance. This approach in turn leads to an unfair portrayal of popular resistance movements in Tigray, Amhara and Oromia as the main culprits in the conflict: it is they who need to adapt their strategies, rather than the federal government exercising its primary duty to correct a disastrous political trajectory. It is also disrespectful the way you addressed the spear of the Amhara popular resistance- Fano. 

Moreover, the speech oversimplifies the situation by reducing popular resistance to mere armed groups. It fails to recognize the legitimate grievances and aspirations of many and various communities in Ethiopia that have seen no other option and solution but to take up arms; indeed the argument might be construed from the text that the people have no right to self-defense against the actions of a deeply authoritarian and oppressive government.  

Third, and perhaps the most damaging claim in your speech, is the application to the current Ethiopian situation of the principle that all countries have the right of self-defense, framing today’s wars in Ethiopia as actions to preserve national unity.  In reality the government in Addis Ababa wages war not to ensure national unity but rather as a direct outcome of one specific group’s ambition to maintain power through any means, including genocide. 

Ethiopia’s survival as a country will be ensured only by holding to account all those who have perpetrated injustice and atrocity; true accountability and equitable justice are essential if lasting peace and stability are to be achieved.  ‘National dialogue’ and ‘transitional justice’ that gloss over the realities on the ground will serve only to sow the seeds for future wars, atrocities and human displacements. 

The US and other influential countries and agencies must push for a genuine political overhaul in Ethiopia, rather than turning a blind eye to the government’s present political course.  A foreign policy which seeks short-term stability at the expense of long-term constitutional democracy and accountability is a dangerous gamble that is unlikely to yield either durable stability for global order, or sustained peace in Africa. By sidelining constitutional democracy and accountability, such an approach risks establishing an environment in which conflicts persist, unrest bubbles beneath the surface and a genuine, durable peace remains perpetually out of reach. 

With great respect, sir, my message to you is that Ethiopia’s troubles are deepening and widening; and more than ever, the social fabric that could hold the country together is broken. At the core of the problems that beset the country is a shoddy power struggle in Addis Ababa that has weaponized identity politics into a racket for resource-grabbing. When Addis Ababa’s politics becomes despotic, those politics turn into war in Nekemte, Bahir Dar and Mekelle. But if politics in Addis Ababa can be directed into a new and better path, peace could prevail in the rest of the country. In short, the crude politicking in Addis Ababa must be constrained if Ethiopia is to be at peace with itself and its neighbors. 

In conclusion, Mr. Ambassador, your call for a ceasefire is commendable. The US and its influential international peers must push for a comprehensive and inclusive peace process that addresses the legitimate grievances of all parties in Ethiopia, holds all perpetrators of abuses accountable and helps the people of the country to achieve their legitimate aspirations. Only then can Ethiopia hope to achieve a lasting domestic peace and make its proper contribution to a rules-based world order. 

Yours faithfully,
Emma Louise
Brussles, Norway 

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com

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