This week was busy for the diplomats working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and its higher officials, mainly due to the visit made by two high level international diplomats engaged in the areas of humanitarian assistance and aid. The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, and USAID administrator, Samantha Power, visited the country and held discussions with officials of the government.
Griffiths arrived in Ethiopia on Thursday on his first trip since becoming the new UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs. In his six-day visit, he met Ethiopian officials and traveled to Tigray.
He also held meetings with the Federal Government officials, the Amhara Regional President, the African Union (AU) and the humanitarian and diplomatic community. During his meeting with the Prime Minister and other key interlocutors, including the Deputy Prime Minister/MoFA and the Minister of Peace, Griffiths used the opportunity to discuss the humanitarian situation in the country and the challenges faced by aid organizations in getting assistance to Ethiopians.
Samantha Power, administrator of the USAID, also visited two Eastern Africa countries namely Ethiopia and Sudan from July 31-August 4, 2021. However, contrary to Griffith’s visit, Power’s visit ended up being an epicenter of debate and discussion among Ethiopians, mainly over the social media.
Right after the USAID revealed that its administrator is going to visit Ethiopia within the aforementioned timeframe, Samantha Power was trending the whole week on social media, where the visit by the administrator entertained a heated and polarized debate between and among active participants on social media.
This was mainly due to the statement that came out from her Office which clearly stated that the purpose of her visit was to push for a fresh diplomatic pressure by the US government on the Ethiopian government. “Administrator Samantha Power will travel to Sudan and Ethiopia July 31–August 4 to strengthen the U.S. Government’s partnership with Sudan’s transitional leaders and citizens, explore how to expand USAID’s support for Sudan’s transition to a civilian-led democracy, and continue to press the Government of Ethiopia to allow full and unhindered humanitarian access to prevent famine in Ethiopia’s Tigray region,” the statement read.
Furthermore, it indicated that while in Addis Ababa, she will meet with humanitarian assistance partners and observe how USAID-provided food aid is stored and prepared for delivery throughout Ethiopia, including to the Tigray region, to feed families who need it most, and meet with Ethiopian government officials to press for unimpeded humanitarian access to prevent famine in Tigray and meet urgent needs in other conflict-affected regions of the country.
Nevertheless, the statement has not been received well and views shared on social media were mainly directed at the part of the statement that claimed her visit was to press the Ethiopian government. A large number of people took offense as they considered the matter to be a violation of Ethiopia’s sovereignty and urged the government to defend its sovereignty. Those who shared such views further argued that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister should not meet her.
To the contrary, others argued that since she is a senior official working on aid to Ethiopians, she needs a proper welcoming and the government should also use the opportunity to explain itself to the rest of the world about the ongoing war in Tigray, the humanitarian needs and its assessment of the matter and other related issues.
Ministers, including the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, joined the campaign before the administrator arrived in Ethiopia. “Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen were destroyed based on pretexts. “Tigray famine” is the new false narrative to destabilize Ethiopia & HOA. STOP this dangerous trend! Ergogie Tesfaye (PhD) tweeted on July 31, 2021.
That same day, Minister of Transport, Dagmawit Moges tweeted: “Ethiopia has voted and elected! Any backdoor attempt for a regime change is conspiracy and contempt to the voters.”
With the two cabinet members tweeting bold remarks that insinuated the presence of a hidden agenda behind the USAID administrator’s visit to Ethiopia, people felt that Power would present the Abiy administration with a US ultimatum that favored TPLF.
Such rhetoric before the arrival of Power in Ethiopia was also accentuated by the release of an article on geopolitics, which claimed that Western powers are working to non-violently break up Ethiopia and ensure the trial of Abiy in an international court. The article entitled “From Basma to Ethiopia – How C2FC is using lethal journalism to conduct information warfare and lawfare against Ethiopia,” states: “C2FC is using project Basma’s scheme to attack Ethiopia’s will for survival as a sovereign nation state, besides priming it for either regime attenuation or regime change. Upcoming narratives will call on rebel coalition to execute regime change so as to stabilize Ethiopia as a federal republic, or non-belligerently break it up, while enabling the trial of Abiy Ahmed Ali in an international court.”
It is well known that following the visit by the US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, the US had imposed aid cuts and visa restrictions on Ethiopian officials over the Tigray crisis. The move angered many Ethiopians. Since then, the relation between the two has deteriorated and the visit by Power was seen as an incessant attempt by the US to force Ethiopia to submit to its demands.
Once in Ethiopia, Power only met the Ministers of Health and Peace. Power seems to have been informed of the perceived hype of US favoritism as she repeatedly made efforts to depict the US as a non-partisan partner to Ethiopia during a press conference held on August 4, 2021 at the Sheraton Addis. During her speech, she stated: “I want the Ethiopian people to know that we seek to engage with you, and with your government, on the basis of a set of values, not to play favorites or to pick sides during a conflict.”
She further indicated that these values include: “…there is no military solution to an internal conflict. Values like, all parties should end hostilities and agree to an immediate ceasefire and to begin talks about reconciliation and troop and militia withdrawal from neighboring regions… Other values – values like, humanitarian aid workers should be free to do their jobs and never be targeted, attacked, or harassed; and they should have unhindered access to the desperate Ethiopian people whose lives they are trying to save.”
In her attempt to depict the US as a major partner of Ethiopia, she spoke of US support in advancing Ethiopia’s public health, agricultural transformation and humanitarian assistance. She then followed that up with announcements of fresh financial donations of USD 45 million to fight the spread of COVID-19, reminding attendees that she announced assistance of USD 149 million to “people affected by the ongoing conflict in Tigray.”
On the political front, Power indicated that special envoy Feltman is working to promote the cause of peace. She also stated that she spoke about steps that should be taken to advance humanitarian causes with the Minister of Peace, Mufariat Khamil. She further spoke of stressing the US position of immediate cessation of hostilities and the appeal and demand for TPLF forces to withdraw from the Amhara region and the forces of the Amhara region to withdraw ‘Western Tigray.” Regarding the demands, she said: “So again, we have been very public about those requirements. And it has to happen. You have to see those conditions met; those are going to be very, very important for dialogue to be effective.”
Responding to The Reporter’s question of who is really blocking humanitarian assistance to Tigray, she implicated both the Ethiopian government and the TPLF as having roles but gave a large chunk of it to the former. She stated: “So in that period between mid-July and August 2nd, according to the UN, what were needed was 1,500 trucks, and the number of trucks that rolled in and were able to pass was 153. That’s 10 percent of needs. And so I think that we have seen systems change and, for example, paperwork requirements adjusted and time frames compressed for the granting of permissions. We’ve seen those things change on paper. But the delays and the inability to move precious food and other items to people in need, we are just not seeing the changes that we had hoped for… So again, that was a very important discussion with the Minister. … So even as we appeal to the government to expedite access, to make it easier, not harder, to allow these convoys that are ready and are filled with food…”
However, she also allotted some of the responsibility to the TPLF as well when she stated: “what I also want to say is that the TPLF moving militarily, particularly if it is in proximity to roads that the convoys need to pass on, that is going to obstruct access. I mean, the roads have to be secure. And so this is an appeal to all parties to allow unhindered humanitarian access, to put the needs of civilians in desperate need first.”
As Power left without meeting Prime Minister Abiy, opinions are once again split on whether it would have been better had he talked to her. Some are pleased that the PM did not talk to her, depicting him as a hero who defended Ethiopian sovereignty while others argue that he could have used the chance to show her of the other side of the rhetoric she supposedly subscribes to.
Samantha Power was, however, less diplomatic after she concluded her visit to Sudan and Ethiopia as she slammed both the TPLF and the government for being reluctant to settle their differences through dialogue. All the talks of regime change that she was allegedly here to push down the incumbent’s throat suddenly vanished once she arrived in Ethiopia. As has been the case for a long time, Ethiopians are once again left uninformed about developments that have a huge bearing on the fate of their country. They are once again reduced to rumors of what had taken place because the responsible bodies of government are not communicating the issue clearly.