Opinion / The Diaspora / The Homeland

An open letter to Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman

By ABEL HABTE    APRIL 25, 2015

In your press briefing in Addis Ababa on April 16th, you accredited the Ethiopian government with bringing about “tremendous success in Ethiopia” and sustaining democracy in the region; claims which strike anger, frustration, and fear into the hearts and minds of Ethiopians across the globe, especially coming from a high-ranking U.S government official such as yourself. Your comments severely downplay the gruesome barbarity with which the EPRDF maintains their grip on power.

As a representative of the State Department, your omission of the EPRDF’s crimes against humanity and your excessive praise of this murderous regime do not fool, comfort nor reassure the millions of concerned Ethiopians who are bewildered at how anyone, much less an official of your ranking, could defend such reprehensible acts of cruelty. Rather, your statement further exposes the true nature of U.S relations with Ethiopia for what it is: a parasitic, amoral relationship in which human rights are dismissed in the interest of furthering both governments’ selfish political aims thinly veiled by inconsistent humanitarian rhetoric.

Your press briefing is representative of the lengths the U.S government will go to in order to maintain political influence in the Horn of Africa. Essentially, U.S relations with Ethiopia is foundationally based on the U.S government’s perception of Ethiopia as nothing more than a means to a political end; a perception which only engages the government and excludes the Ethiopian people. So, paradoxically, as U.S officials like yourself repeatedly emphasize the importance of having Ethiopia as an ally in the “War on Terror”, you casually overlook the state-sponsored terrorism being waged on the Ethiopian people by the very same government you praise as tolerant and democratic. We who thoroughly detest and denounce the tyranny under which the Ethiopian people suffer, unlike you, have no underlying political motives in our search for justice. Our only motivation is the vision of a truly free, democratic, and prosperous Ethiopia which, to us, is an end in and of itself.

Your statement succinctly illustrates the fundamentally inherent hypocrisy embedded in U.S foreign policy towards Ethiopia, as every word of your statement was diametrically opposed against the scathing rhetoric found in your very own State Department’s human rights report on Ethiopia. You stated that you “discussed all of the threats and concerns in the region” but made absolutely no mention of the following, which is an excerpt from that report:

Arbitrary killings; allegations of torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees by security forces; reports of harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; a weak, overburdened judiciary subject to political influence.

Infringement on citizens’ privacy rights, including illegal searches; allegations of abuses in the implementation of the government’s “villagization” program; restrictions on academic freedom; restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and movement; alleged interference in religious affairs; limits on citizens’ ability to change their government; police, administrative, and judicial corruption.

With Ethiopian elections set for May 24th, your press briefing leads us to believe that the U.S will continue to overlook human rights abuses as long as the EPRDF remains in power and cooperates. My purpose in writing this open letter is two-pronged and is addressed to two audiences.

Firstly, I believe I speak for the millions left voiceless by this U.S backed reign of terror when I declare you, Secretary Kerry, and all other government officials responsible for orchestrating this foreign policy are complicit in perpetuating the state-sponsored terrorism which has wreaked havoc in small villages across the countryside, eradicated freedom of expression in urban sites, and obliterated any semblance of democratic process. While you are entitled to your opinion and may view these heinous crimes as ineffectual to our country’s growth, you are by no means entitled to falsify, misrepresent, or manipulate the political narrative of Ethiopia to further your own objectives. Your omission of the exploitation and struggles of millions of Ethiopians while simultaneously exalting the very same regime responsible for these atrocious acts makes you personally responsible and makes the government you represent collectively responsible for keeping Ethiopia in a state of perpetual turmoil and conflict.

Secondly, to the Ethiopians living in the homeland and abroad who are reading this open letter, I hope that this audacious manipulation of the truth by Mrs. Sherman has led you to the same conclusion to which it has led me: we cannot allow our country’s narrative to be controlled by parties whose stance towards Ethiopian welfare are fueled by ulterior motives. I implore you to use any means at your disposal to ensure that the venomous rhetoric of U.S officials such as that of Secretary Sherman’s press briefing does not permeate into the public’s understanding of the human rights situation in Ethiopia. It is our duty to protect our narrative through collective organization backed by individual initiative. We must work to counteract this deliberate falsification by superseding it with our own narrative through independent research, creating forums and other platforms to discuss the issue, and facilitating communication between Ethiopian diaspora communities, organizations, and networks.

Secretary Sherman, you are indefensible. You have the audacity to blatantly lie without hesitation to the Ethiopian and to the American people and convince them that the country with the 2nd most political prisoners on the African continent and a regime which has killed and tortured innocent families is a “democracy”? Your statement is an insult to any Ethiopian concerned about the welfare of their country. You may be an ally of the Ethiopian government but you are no friend of the Ethiopian people.

________

Abel Habte  is the president of Young Ethiopians for Peace, a non-profit organization of Ethiopian youth that advocates for the human rights of Ethiopians across the globe. 

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