Written testimony of Mesfin Mekonen for the Congressional Hearing on Conflict in Ethiopia
Honorable Chairman Gregory Meeks, Ranking member Congressman Michael McCaul, Subcommittee Chairwoman Karen Bass and Christopher Smith, and distinguished members of House Foreign Relation Committee.
I would like to extend my appreciation to all of you for granting the opportunity to submit my written testimony for this important hearing.
I am the representative of the Ethiopian/American community and have been working closely with Congress, especially with Congressman Christopher Smith and his Staff, Senate and the State Department on Ethiopia on Human Rights issues for the last twenty years.
The Ethiopian-American Community respectfully submits the following testimony for the aptly titled hearing on “The Conflict in Ethiopia.”
Ethiopians realize that the fate of their country rests in the hands of the Ethiopian people, but they also believe that the United States of America can help a great deal, and can serve as an inspiration in Ethiopia’s quest for human rights, democracy, and prosperity. Ethiopia has been an important ally of the United States in Africa. The stability of one of Africa’s most populous nations is critical to American policy, especially in the important Horn of Africa region.
The U.S. relationship with Ethiopia dates back to 1903, when King Menelik II signed a treaty of commerce with a representative of the U.S. government. Ethiopia supported the U.S. during the Cold War and has sacrificed the lives of its soldiers in the war on terrorism.
The U.S. has provided generous support for Ethiopia, on a humanitarian basis and in support of American strategic objectives.
American aid helped Ethiopians overcome drought and famine, even as the country was ruled by a corrupt, violent and repressive dictator, Meles Zenawi.
Meles was a leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and when he came to power, head of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRD). The U.S. government looked away as Meles and his government imposed a constitution on Ethiopia that swept away a centuries-long tradition of ethnic and religious tolerance in favor of a divide-and-rule strategy that pitted neighbor against neighbor in a struggle for access to food, land and security.
Reporting in the U.S. news media about the conflict in Ethiopia has lacked balance, focusing exclusively on the tragedy in Tigray, and has failed to put that tragedy in context.
The lack of balance in reporting about Ethiopia is exemplified by the world’s indifference to the fate of over 1,000 innocent people who were killed by TPLF soldiers and militia on November 12 in Mai-Kadra. The massacre, and the identity of its perpetrators, have been described by Amnesty International and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.
Ethiopian-Americans believe that Eritrean troops must withdraw from Tigray province in order for peace and law and order to be restored in the region. It is no less important for Sudanese troops to withdraw from Ethiopia territory.
The United Nations should be empowered to investigate killings and atrocities committed throughout Ethiopia, not just in Tigray, and all responsible individuals and organizations should must face justice. Violence, against all parties, is wrong and must be stopped.
Ethiopians can only live-in peace again if the root causes of conflict are identified and addressed. First and foremost, this requires replacing the constitution that has torn apart the country with a new charter based on national unity, democracy and respect for human rights.
The government of Ethiopia must carry out its basic responsibility to ensure public safety and security by ending politically motivated violence, especially on the Amahara in the Oromia, Benshangul and Southern regions of the country.
The priority of the U.S. Congress should in the short-term be to provide assistance to those who are suffering. As a matter of human decency and because a stable Ethiopia is in the strategic interests of the U.S., Congress and the Biden administration should help Ethiopia break out of the cycle of poverty, violence and repression. The U.S. should promote democracy and respect for human rights in Ethiopia.
U.S. policy makers should also learn from their past failures, from America’s coddling of Ethiopian dictators who mouthed soothing words about democracy while savagely repressing peaceful opponents and from the U.S. prematurely declaring the current Prime Minister Abiy a savior. The U.S. government has all too often acted on a limited understanding of the reality on the ground in Ethiopia.
Today Congress and the Biden Administration are being counseled to impose sanctions on Ethiopia that will have little effect on government elites or corrupt business leaders but could devastate innocent Ethiopians. Doing so would turn ordinary Ethiopians against the United States. It would also rip holes in fragile safety nets that are preventing the country from becoming a failed state and a haven for terrorists.
Rather than harm and alienate Ethiopians, the U.S. should support the Ethiopian people while pushing Abiy to respect human rights, release political prisoners, stop censoring news media, eradicate corruption and start a process of national reconciliation.
Thank you for your time and consideration, and for your focus and attention on this matter.
Sincerely and Respectfully Yours,