By Ali Mohamed
Posted Mar 12, 2018
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is wrapping up a visit to Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria to talk with African leaders about counterterrorism, trade and investment on a continent rich in oil and natural resources, according to the State Department.
Absent from his agenda were human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Most African countries Tillerson was to visit, especially Ethiopia, are rife with human-rights abuses, despotism and corruption.
Ethiopia is slowly imploding. For the past two years, the Ethiopian people in Amahara and Oromia regions have waged massive anti-government demonstrations to challenge the stranglehold on power by the ruling Ethiopia People Revolutionary Democratic Party Front party, dominated by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front. Some of these demonstrations have resulted in bloodshed.
The TPLF draws support from Tigrayan people, who make up 6 percent of the population, but the faction controls most of the country’s economy, land and top military and intelligence-service posts.
After disagreement with top TPLF leadership over how to handle the discontent of the masses, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn recently resigned. In a televised speech to the nation, Desalegn said that his resignation would allow for the reforms the country needs. He also added, “People’s demands and questions should be met and answered.”
Opposition groups are demanding a free and credible election, closely monitored by international observers, and the establishment of an independent electoral commission. Although thousands of prisoners in Amharas and Oromos have been released, opposition leaders also want the remaining political prisoners, including Canadian Bashir Makhtal, who are still locked up in federal and regional state prisons to be freed.
The human consequences of allowing this regime’s reign of terror to continue unchecked can be measured by the death toll and the displacement of civilians in the Amhara, Oromia and Somali regional states.
The federal security forces and the Liyu police, a paramilitary force controlled by the thug Abdi Mohamed Omar (aka Abdi Iley), president of the Somali regional state, were accused of crimes against humanity. These include “mass killing, kidnappings, systematic use of rape, torture, arbitrary arrest, looting livestock, destroying wells and razing villages to the ground,” according to the Human Rights Watch
Despite the massive human-rights abuses, America has kept a blind eye to the regime’s depravity in order to pursue a narrow counterterrorism interest. The U.S. has foolishly provided the Ethiopian government with billions in aid, including humanitarian and development help, plus training and supplying weapons to the Ethiopian security forces.
Millions of dollars of that money go straight to the Ethiopian government’s coffers. There is no chance of fighting poverty while Ethiopia is rife with rampant corruption, human-rights abuse and injustice. In fact, America’s aid has the inadvertent effect of helping TPLF cling to power. The regime also diverted some of the aid money to stifle freedom and dissent, to incite ethnic divisions and to rig elections repeatedly.
The Ethiopian people had made their choice clear in a 2005 election. They voted for a regime change, but the regime stole the election. Since then it has eliminated any credible political opposition or dissent. Today, Ethiopia is de-facto dictatorship.
Ethiopia requires concerted international action. America has a moral responsibility to aid Ethiopians who are yearning for freedom from oppression and misrule. America, Britain and the European Union have the power to bring an end to the regime in Addis Ababa. The United States could use its diplomatic muscle and leverage to assist a peaceful regime change through negotiated political settlement. That settlement should include a transitional government and, eventually, a free and credible election.
Congress also has the power of the purse to suspend all nonhumanitarian assistance and military-to-military relationship with this vile regime until it allows real reforms, respect for human rights and inclusive governance in Ethiopia.
Allowing a country with an estimated 90 million people to implode is dangerous. This scenario not only would deny the beleaguered Ethiopians the right to decide their own future but would also ignite ethnic strife, spreading extremism in a volatile region.
Ali Mohamed of Lewis Center is the editor and founder Gubanmedia.com, an online source of news and commentary about the Horn of Africa region. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.