The prime minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed forged a peace deal with Eritrea last year in and won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. The award recognized Abiy’s efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.
One of Abiy’s biggest achievements since coming to power was the peace deal signed three months later which ended a nearly 20-year military stalemate with Eritrea following their 1998-2000 border war.
However, Ethiopia’s recent history is deeply complex, from being a darling to the world to becoming the most humiliating and human rights abuse state.
The country’s multifaceted challenges require a nuanced understanding, particularly of the last 30 years of political developments.
Those three decades were dominated by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which engaged in a divide and rule policy, pitting one ethnic group against the other, sowing division and discord among various faith groups. Its leadership embezzled public funds, violated human rights, and jailed journalists and opposition party leaders.
The U.S. has taken a significant interest in the situation, but we fear this interest doesn’t fully understand the context we have just outlined. The U.S. has been intensely critical of the government of Ethiopia while being overtly sympathetic to the TPLF. There have been crimes committed by both sides, and both sides have many questions to answer.
However, in failing to call out the TPLF, the U.S. has empowered its leadership. The violence has escalated to neighboring provinces, killing civilians and destroying homes in Amhara and Afar.
When Abiy Ahmed rose to power and became prime minister in 2018, the TPLF abandoned its privileged position and refused a peaceful dialogue to settle differences with the federal government. Then on Nov. 4, 2020, the organization attacked the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, triggering the current conflict.
In June, the Abiy government made a positive step toward peace, declaring a unilateral ceasefire to allow the flow of humanitarian aid to civilians and enable farmers to ensure a successful crop during the rainy season.
The religious leaders however say they are conscious of stepping into the political arena. We know there are diverse views and opinions on the conflict within the Ethiopian diaspora community and outside it. But the rhetoric of the government and the TPLF is one thing; the aggression is another. And it is clear the TPLF is on the charge and committing atrocities on the way.
The religious leaders have however warned that there is no escaping the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Ethiopia. All parties must ensure aid and resources reach vulnerable civilians in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar. But, we feel that is only possible if there is peace. As leaders of Ethiopia’s ancient faiths, we pray peace will come.
Additionally, the religious leader are further deeply concerned by the TPLF’s occupation of Lalibela in the Amhara region, which houses the historic Rock-Hewn Churches on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. These sites are part of who we are as a nation and part of human ingenuity. They have to be revered and kept safe. We believe UNESCO should seek to protect these in every way it can.
We appeal to the U.S. government to recognize and appreciate Ethiopia’s recent election outcome. The fairness of the election has been recognized by international third parties, most notably the African Union. Furthermore, the U.S. should use every lever to force the TPLF back to Tigray and end its insurrection.
The collapse of Ethiopia would usher in an era of death and displacement, warlords, and instability. This would be a disaster for Ethiopia, the region, and Africa, and it would present a significant national security challenge for the U.S.
The Ethiopian economy has suffered greatly from the pandemic and the cost of war. Sanctions, or removal from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, would devastate the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians, pushing many into abject poverty. That would be unforgivable and its important the US government remove these economic sanctions.
Leaders of Ethiopia’s faith communities in the U.S have appealed to President Biden and his government to reconsider their current policy stance and enter a more constructive period with the Ethiopian government. If it stands for anything, the U.S. must choose democracy over authoritarianism and peace over conflict.
Share the news