The Tigray conflict divides the Ethiopian diaspora, complicating US politics
As if things weren’t complicated enough, many of her Ethiopian-American voters who have long supported the MP’s nearly two-decade political career are no longer on good terms.
These tensions were apparent on a Friday afternoon in late July as the fractured community demanded their say in Bass’s pending resolution condemning the violence.
To avoid a possible shouting match, Bass chose to organize not one but two Zoom sessions: one with supporters of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s response to the conflict, the other with activists who accuse him of having encouraged the genocide in Tigray.
Meanwhile, critical ethnic lobbies against both Abiy and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) have launched their own advocacy campaigns to ensure that attacks against their group are not swept under the rug.
“We were once one community,” lamented lawyer and human rights defender Christina Sara during Bass’s second appeal. “But since the Tigray War, we have drifted apart.”
Allies become rivals
While sincere, the sentiment does not fully capture the complexities of one of America’s largest and most diverse immigrant communities. Ethiopian-Americans are estimated to number from 500,000 to over one million, the second largest immigrant group from Africa after Nigerians.
Politically active and relatively wealthy, they have had a disproportionate impact inside Ethiopia through billions of dollars in annual remittances and the control of TV channels and online media. This includes lobbying policy makers in Washington, which has enjoyed a deep strategic relationship with Addis Ababa for over a century.
As in Ethiopia itself, the diaspora has always had its share of ethnic divisions. The escalation of tensions and violence over the past year, especially since the outbreak of hostilities between the TPLF and the Ethiopian military in November, has only exacerbated these differences.
“Now there really is a division in our community” Tewodrose Tirfe, president of the North Carolina-based Amhara Association of America, recounts The Africa report. “And it is because of a failure of the leadership of the Abiy administration, regional presidents and opposition political parties, allowing armed groups to attack civilians.
Three years ago, the Tirfe Association was one of many groups, including the Northern Virginia Oromo Legacy Leadership & Advocacy Association and the Colorado-based Ethiopian American Civic Council, defending a co-sponsored resolution. by Representative Bass denouncing human rights violations and welcoming the election of Abiy. . Today, the three organizations all have separate agendas.
The Oromo group demands that the Abiy government release the imprisoned activists, including Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba. The Amhara Association is lobbying the United States to recognize the atrocities committed by both the Abiy government and the TPLF, including the November 9 massacre of hundreds of Amhara civilians in Maikadra. As for the pan-ethnic civic council, it insists that most Ethiopians, both at home and in the diaspora, are on Abiy’s side.
“This is where the West is always wrong about Ethiopia – that we [are fighting among each other] like cats and dogs, ”says Yoseph Tafari, deacon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and president of the council. “It does not define the general feeling of the diaspora to save Ethiopia as a country.”
Other groups have also sprouted since the war broke out.
Tigrayans in the diaspora established the Tigray Center for Information and Communications in suburban Washington in December to push for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid.
Meanwhile, advocates of Abiy’s approach launched the American Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee in Pennsylvania earlier this year and quickly hired a leading influencer firm in Washington, Mercury Public Affairs. Two former lawmakers – Republican Senator David Vitter from Louisiana and Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia from Florida – are pushing Bill Bass.
All eyes on the house
The lobbying attack shone the spotlight on Bass and his colleagues in the House after the Senate version of the bill was passed unanimously by the upper house in May.
United States, you are too big a country to choose sides. And we just need you to be balanced and judicious about it.
The House of Representatives has taken a more deliberative approach. Bass presented his resolution in late May and President Gregory Meeks (DN.Y.) called a hearing on Ethiopia a month later. With the House adjourning for a six-week recess on July 30, action on the bill will not take place until September at the earliest.
Ethiopian activists from all walks of life look to her for rectify an American policy which left everyone unsatisfied.
Abiy defenders are furious with the White House and the State Department for cutting off some economic and security aid and announcing visa restrictions for anonymous Ethiopian and Eritrean officials, Tigrayan rebels and Amhara militias. Meanwhile, Tigrayan activists want the United States to declare that Abiy’s government is carrying out genocide.
No child’s play
Bass made it clear to both groups that she was not child’s play.
She told the Tigray community that she has yet to see any evidence that genocide is taking place at this time. She also warned them that if allegations that the Tigrayan forces are using child soldiers materialize, “I will condemn this and other atrocities.”
As for Abiy supporters who accuse the United States of turning against him because he is “too independent,” Bass, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, rejected the idea out of hand. She reminded them that she was thrilled to meet Abiy in 2018 and ‘thrilled’ when he received the Nobel Peace Prize the following year.
“One of the things I would like to ask you that I don’t really understand from your perspective is if you think the Ethiopian government has done something wrong? Bass asked.
During her Zoom calls, Bass told both groups that she applied for permission to travel with colleagues to Ethiopia in mid-September. She said she hoped to be able to enter Tigray on the trip.
“I hope this visit will help take a break from the United States“ and reassess their approach, says Tafari.
“All we ask is to be fair. United States, you are too big a country to choose sides. And we just need you to be balanced and judicious about it. “