Ethiopia on dangerous territory

Mostafa Ahmady
Wednesday 13 Apr 2022

Ethiopia has accused Egypt of being behind proposed US sanctions against the country, a move that will do nothing to avert the plight it is sinking into, writes Mostafa Ahmady

Wars usually come at a heavy cost, particularly when they are not a last resort after trying each and every means to settle differences in a civilised and peaceful way.

However, for the Ethiopian government this is not the case. The perpetrators of the war on Tigray never thought about the dire consequences it would bring. Or, they may have given them a thought, but they never anticipated the extensive level the war would reach and the implications, humanitarian, economic and political, that the warmongers would be required to confront.

At the end of last year, US Congressmen Tom Malinowski (Democrat) and Young Kim (Republican) drafted an anti-Ethiopia bipartisan bill called the “Ethiopia Stabilisation, Peace, and Democracy Act” (H.R. 6600), which the US House of Representatives passed in February this year.  

The bill would “authorise the [US] president to impose sanctions on individuals who undermine negotiations to end the conflict, commit human rights abuses, exacerbate corruption, or provide weapons to any hostile party.” It would also “suspend certain US foreign assistance to Ethiopia and authorise the Administration to help entities investigate and seek accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in that country.”

Alarmingly, it “requires the Administration to oppose loans or other financial assistance from international agencies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea unless for humanitarian purposes until they take steps to end the war and restore respect for human rights.”

In other words, as some Ethiopian experts have put it, the bill will “send Ethiopia to the level of countries like Zimbabwe,” a reference to the harsh economic sanctions once enforced by the West against the regime of the late Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.    

This bill is another killer blow to the government led by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed after the Biden administration had already removed Ethiopia’s name from the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a move that has landed a heavy blow on Ethiopia’s manufacturing industries, particularly leather and garments.

This move, added to Saudi Arabia’s deportation of 100,000 Ethiopians for illegal residence in the country, foreshadows a rising economic crisis in Ethiopia that will be beyond the government’s control and whose real causes need to be addressed if the Addis Ababa regime wants to mitigate its “side effects” on Africa’s second most populous nation.

However, instead Ethiopia is once again trying to “frame” what the Ethiopian elites love to call their “archenemy” that acts in every possible way to hobble their country’s reform and progress.

“Egyptian lobbyist firms have been behind the draconian H.R. 6600 draft bill against Ethiopia and the cosponsor of it,” read news carried by the official Ethiopian News Agency (ENA). According to Yoseph Teferi, president of the Ethiopian-American Civic Council (EACC), Egypt has been “influencing the US Congress and Senate members to bring collateral damage to Ethiopia in the form of sanctions and isolation.” He added that these lobbyists also push for the interests of both Egypt and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The correlation between Egypt and the TPLF has been a readymade recipe for distraction to which the Ethiopian elites have been steering Ethiopian public opinion since the country’s government triggered the war on Tigray some two years ago.

It is hilarious to connect Egypt with the anticipated sanctions against the Addis Ababa government. It does not consider the root causes of the problem as far as the conflict in Tigray is concerned. The failure to address pressing issues in Ethiopia before the outbreak of the Civil War, namely matters like the future of the federal system in the country and a solution to rising discrepancies among its ethnicities, have always remained the real number one cause behind the unstoppable disturbances in the country.

The ineffective management of the conflict and the subsequent heinous atrocities committed by both parties to the war in the regions of Afar, Amhara, and Tigray fall solely on the shoulders of a single party, the Ethiopian federal government, as it could have sought other viable means to settle differences with Ethiopia’s old guard in the TPLF.

The Ethiopian elites are sweeping their troubles under the carpet. This will not thwart any would-be sanctions, partly because Ethiopian expatriates, who can be counted in their millions in the US, have explicitly spoken up against the Ahmed regime. It seems that the outcry of these expatriates, drawn either from Tigray or even Oromia itself, have been attentively harkened to in the lobbies of US lawmakers.

Satellite images of atrocities committed in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar, as well as authenticated eyewitness reports of crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, burning alive, and rape, among others, could not have been given the cold shoulder. These have nothing to do with the “conspiracy theory” that Addis Ababa has been propagandising for all this time.  

The imposition of a “ruthless” blockade on Tigray to prevent the access of much-needed humanitarian aid and life-saving medicines to the people of the region has been documented by human-rights groups and media reports and above all by the World Health Organisation (WHO), though Ethiopia has officially accused the latter’s director-general, who hails from Tigray, Tedros Adhanom, of “supporting a terrorist organisation” just because he is campaigning for an end to the tragedy.

Though Addis Ababa under huge international pressure has announced a one-sided unconditional and unlimited truce authorising the access of aid to the region, it is still trading accusations with the TPLF on who should be held accountable for the failure to deliver it on time. All the cards in Ethiopia have been intermingled, ushering in the kind of complicated situation that the country did not experience even during its darkest moments under the Communist Derg regime.

Pinpointing Egypt as an accomplice in the proposed US sanctions against the country will further exacerbate the already strained relations between Cairo and Addis Ababa over unsettled issues respecting the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). While Cairo has been striving for years to conclude a binding and legal compromise within a reasonable timeframe on the GERD, Addis Ababa has been keeping busy “demonising” Egypt and blaming it for the plight the Ethiopians are sinking into under the current regime.

This is further testimony that the incumbent government in Ethiopia will not shy away from exercising its endless “blame game,” even when the cost is measured in the lives and livelihoods of its citizens.

The writer is a former press attaché in Ethiopia and an expert on African and international affairs.  

*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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