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Can a U.S. rebuke lead to real and lasting peace for Ethiopia?

U.S. _ Ethiopia
U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Ervin Massinga (Photo : file)

      

By Mesfin Tegenu

        Ervin Massinga, the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, returned last month to a building that holds a special place in the long history of good relations between America and Africa’s second-most populous nation. Surely the ambassador understood that the backdrop – the site of the former U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa where American diplomats sheltered and saved 750 Ethiopians during the 1937 massacre by Italian fascists known as Yekatit 12 – would offer a reservoir of goodwill for the difficult words he was about to speak.

      In a blunt address that marked America’s strongest statement yet on the growing unrest in Ethiopia, Massinga made clear that violence in key regions such as Amhara, Oromia and Tigray, as well as blatant human rights violations, is reaching intolerable levels. And while the key U.S. diplomat called on all parties to choose negotiation over warfare, Massinga’s harshest words were aimed at the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

      “A security-focused approach will not resolve complex political issues,” Massinga said. “Detaining and harassing those who criticize the government will not resolve those issues that must be addressed. The political dialogue that Ethiopians need could be helped by releasing key political figures.”

        The ambassador was not done with his truth-telling. He then added that “I call for an end to targeting schools, health facilities, and water infrastructure, and for full and unfettered humanitarian access, which could include as a starting point a temporary nationwide ceasefire.”

  Massinga’s honest message was a breath of fresh air in the crowded Ethiopian capital, and exactly in line with what critics of the Abiy regime, human-rights groups, and leaders of the Ethiopian diaspora have been saying for months. This acknowledgement of widespread and often outrageous abuses by the government – even if the prime minister and his party were never mentioned by name – was a critical first step toward ending an ethnostate and moving toward an Ethiopia where all people have rights and liberty.

      But it is only a first step.

      That was made clear when the ambassador’s speech drew a sharp and immediate rebuke from the foreign ministry for the Abiy government, which called it “unsolicited advice,” adding: “The statement is ill-advised and contains uninformed assertions. It is contrary to the historic and friendly relations between Ethiopia and the United States.”

       Despite that statement, there are signs that the regime is starting to feel some of the heat from growing condemnation of its human-rights abuses. In recent weeks, the Abiy government has launched a half-baked and widely criticized kickstarting of the moribund Ethiopian National Dialogue Commission. Although peace talks and reconciliation are critical for the future of Ethiopia, some key players including major churches have been left out, and some key regional groups do not plan to cooperate. The Amhara region people’s resistance leaders known as the Fano urged more time to establish a structure that can press the region’s case against the ongoing genocide there.

        But one writer correctly described the government’s plans for national dialogue as actually a “national monologue” – in other words, a highly cynical ploy to attempt to establish legitimacy for Abiy’s faltering government and allow him to cling to power. Furthermore, Ethiopia’s fundamental problems have devolved under the current regime well past the point of this self-serving proposal.  Simply put, the current process is a sham, meant to postpone the actual negotiations that can bring stability to this vital African nation.

        Several opposition parties and groups have strongly urged the government to agree to sweeping peace talks aimed at establishing this keystone of the Horn of Africa as a true democracy, which means acknowledging the rights and liberty of those in the embattled regions of Amhara and Oromia – not flattening them under one ethnostate. Indeed, a legitimate peace process should include all options including formation of a transitional government, if consensus of the dialogue is to do so until fair elections can be held. The United States and its western allies, whose loans and humanitarian aid are desperately needed to keep Ethiopia afloat, have leverage to make this happen.

      The world – which has been distracted over the last year by war in the Middle East and humanitarian crises in Sudan and the Congo – is suddenly taking notice of the chaos in Ethiopia, and not a moment too soon. The escalating conflicts in Amhara has been marked by government abuses such as drone strikes on civilians, violent door-to-door searches and several confirmed massacres that have left scores of civilians dead and damaged world historic sites. What’s more, the fighting has destroyed grain supplies (by government forces) and – coupled with a long drought exacerbated by climate change – threatens to tip Ethiopia into its most severe famine since the 1980s.

      The government has been internationally criticized for this behavior as well as the jailing in recent months of prominent journalists and opposition political leaders. And yet evidence is mounting that its recent talk of national dialogue is nothing more than hot air. 

        That’s why Massinga’s speech was a bracing slap of reality. Now let’s seize the momentum to press for real change. Ethiopia’s warring parties can be brought to the negotiating table, but only if actual reform is on the agenda. In the spirit of 1937 that Massinga invoked, the United States can and must be a critical ally in helping a great nation survive and prosper once again.

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


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