The history of Ethiopia is rich and complex. Ethiopia has endured countless regimes of oppression. Ethiopia is a country composed of over eighty ethnic groups who have contributed to form a nation that resisted colonialism and remained independent.
The TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front; also, sometimes referred to as the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front [EPRDF]) rose to power in 1991 following the fall of the Communist Derg regime. For nearly three decades, the TPLF maintained a stronghold dictatorship in Ethiopia, dividing the country amongst imaginary ethnic lines – policy best described as ethnic federalism.
In 2018, there was a transition in power and current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed became the leader of the national government. Following this transition in power, an official election was held in the summer of 2021 with approximately 70-80% voter turnout. A monumental occasion as it marked the country’s first democratic and transparent election with over 100,000 local election monitors and +100 international election observers.
The TPLF refused to acknowledge the democratically elected choice of the Ethiopian people (Abiy Ahmed). Since November 3rd, 2020, beginning with a massacre of the unsuspecting Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), the TPLF has made its aims clear: it will stop at nothing to regain its dictatorship within Ethiopia even if it means killing and permanently destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands to millions of Ethiopians and Eritreans.
Unfortunately, in these current times, Ethiopia is facing both internal and external threats to its sovereignty. The crimes committed by the TPLF coupled with mis-guided foreign policies and rhetoric that does not align with the goals and values of over 100 million Ethiopians are an existential threat to Ethiopia.
Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians have been displaced as a result of unprovoked TPLF advances into regions outside of Tigray (e.g. Amhara and Afar regions - maps included at the conclusion of the recommendations). Thousands of innocent people have been killed solely on the basis of their ethnic background. This is the genocide of the Ethiopian and Eritrean people living in Ethiopia by the TPLF.
The TPLF is also responsible for diverting humanitarian aid to Tigray to fuel its insurgency. For example, hundreds of aid trucks provided by the UN are still unaccounted for and there have been no investigations regarding this by the UN. Pictures and videos circulating through local Tigrayan media show aid trucks outfitted to transport TPLF fighters and weapons to surrounding regions.
Additionally, the TPLF has the backing of large Western media streams that have been absurdly dishonest in their reporting, with notable sources painting the TPLF as underdog rebels with a just cause. Even in the midst of the TPLF continuing to commit atrocities, the Ethiopian national government entered a unilateral ceasefire (the TPLF rejected the ceasefire) on June 28th, 2021. However, the international community (including the U.S.) continues to criticize the national government for blocking aid, although national forces withdrew from the Tigray region in July 2021.
Most concerning, the TPLF has committed war crimes to the highest degree, including the use of child soldiers both in battle and as human shields (a violation of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court).
Direct accounts from IDPs have shared that child prisoners of other ethnicities (e.g. Amhara, Afar) are forced to march in front of advancing Ethiopian National Defense Forces. Children whose innocence is taken from them, meeting an early grave because the equivalent of an oligarchy, a faction that was once deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S., is determined to slaughter its way back into power. It is vital that the U.S. not repeat the crucial mistakes of permitting genocide due to inaction, similar to Rwanda and Uganda.
The U.S. must take into account the best interests of the Ethiopian people in order to find itself standing on the right side of Ethiopian history. It must engage in dialogue with the democratically elected national government and respect its rights to defend the Ethiopian people from the TPLF while recognizing that the TPLF is not an equal partner to the government.
Option 1 – The U.S. officially condemn the actions of the TPLF and designate the TPLF as a terrorist organization. The U.S. encourages the rightfully elected Ethiopian government to protect the Ethiopian people, who have made it clear they do not wish to continue under a rule of ethnic federalism by the TPLF.
The U.S. supports the progress of Ethiopia, allowing Ethiopia to serve as a model of democracy in the Horn of Africa, further motivating neighboring countries to adopt democracy within their politics.
The goodwill of U.S. policy cultivates stronger relations with Ethiopia and helps create avenues for a mutually beneficial course which includes economic development/trade, collaboration to fight global terrorism, and stability within the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia continues to be a reliable ally for the U.S. and solidifies itself as a leader both regionally and on a continental scale within Africa.
Option 2 – The U.S. continues to be a partial policy maker and treats the TPLF as an equal to the national government. The planned delisting of Ethiopia from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) throws millions of Ethiopians into further poverty.
The Ethiopian government faces immense undeserved pressure from the U.S. to negotiate with the TPLF, allowing the TPLF to gain strength and lead Ethiopia into further chaos. A prolonged civil war leads to millions of lives lost and tens of millions displaced. Ultimately, a refugee crisis ensues and this will likely eclipse the refugee crisis of northern Africa and the Middle East due to Ethiopia’s sizable population.
The collapse of Ethiopia becomes inevitable as the TPLF divides the country amongst ethnic lines. Countries within the Horn of Africa will view democracy as an unfathomable goal and revert to totalitarian/militaristic regimes, ultimately silencing the will of the people.
Option 3 – The U.S. utilize the United Nations Human Rights Council and raise its concerns of genocide and other war related atrocities committed by the TPLF by way of a public written report or tribunal council. This is a necessary step to investigate crimes being committed in accordance with the Geneva Convention. These actions would provide an independent and external perspective on the scale of the inhumane actions of the TPLF.
Option 4 – The U.S. pursues targeted sanctions against the TPLF and TPLF leadership. These sanctions include: an arms embargo (ban on weapons, military vehicles/aid vehicles transformed into military vehicles, protective attire, radio communication devices, etc), along with asset freezes and seizures of the TPLF leadership.
It is much more feasible to directly affect the financial means of support for the TPLF by targeting the financial transactions of the leadership (e.g. Getachew Reda, Debretsion Gebremichael). Engaging with FinCEN (a bureau of the U.S Department of the Treasury) to implement these actionable items would be effective. As stated by FinCEN, its mission is to safeguard the financial system from “illicit use and combat money laundering and promote national security.”
Recommendation: Options 1, 4
Repeatedly, the TPLF has shown its objectives do not include an Ethiopia for all peoples of Ethiopia. The TPLF oscillates between a position of disguising itself as victims and in the same breath terrorizes the Ethiopian people through its killings of innocent civilians.
The U.S. needs to recognize that the TPLF is not an equal participant in the future of Ethiopia. As such, it cannot proceed with its current policy of demanding that the Ethiopian national government negotiate a ceasefire with the TPFL. Too often, accountability for atrocities committed are overlooked in such negotiations. This cannot be the case moving forward. The TPLF leadership needs to be held fully accountable and face justice as outlined by the Ethiopian national law.
A stable Ethiopia is beneficial to the U.S. and to the rest of the Horn of Africa. Favorable relations between the U.S. and Ethiopia will only help further the value of democracy within the region. Noting recent events within Sudan, where a military dictatorship has forcefully taken power from the Sudanese people, the story in Ethiopia cannot afford to have the same conclusion.
Tens of millions of Ethiopians have voted and elected a leader. This should be honored and not punished because it does not fit the interests of Western powers. Support for the TPLF and/or perceiving the TPLF as a vessel of leadership equates to support for the collapse of Ethiopia.
We, Ethiopian and Eritrean Americans, will not stand idle as foreign forces continue to blindly support a regime change that is detrimental for the progress of Ethiopia. It is imperative that the U.S. government recalibrates its approach to the Ethiopian National Government. It cannot expect an honest dialogue with the democratically elected government as long as it continues to recognize the TPLF as anything more than a terrorist group whose sole purpose is to rule over Ethiopia through terror.
Northern Virginia boasts a sizable Ethiopian/Eritrean population, estimated to be upwards of 100,000 people. Ethiopians and Eritreans have been an ally for the Democratic Party for decades, voting for Democratic nominees consistently. We now ask that our concerns regarding the conflict in Ethiopia be seriously considered.