Two pieces of legislation entailing catastrophic consequences for Ethiopia and its people are meandering through the United States Congress. The first, whose official moniker is H.R. 6600: Ethiopia Stabilization, Peace, and Democracy Act, is pending before House floor after it moved out House Foreign Relations Committee in mid-February. Entitled S. 3199: the Ethiopia Peace and Stabilization Act, the second was approved this week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for consideration by the full Senate. The bills require the President of the U.S. to impose sanctions on foreign persons the Administration determines to have “threatened peace and stability, undermined progress toward a ceasefire, obstructed humanitarian assistance, or violated human rights in Ethiopia.” They would also would suspend certain U.S. foreign assistance to Ethiopia and authorize the Administration to help entities investigate and seek accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in that country. Furthermore, the bill would require the Administration to “develop and implement a strategy to promote peace, reconciliation, and human rights in Ethiopia and to report to the Congress on its actions under the bill and on other related matters.”
Ever since the forces of the Tigray People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (TPLF) launched an unprovoked attack on the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF), the bilateral relationship between Ethiopia and U.S. have broken down following the U.S.’ adoption a series of measures intended to arm-twist Ethiopia into choosing its side over China in the new cold war. Although the two countries have recently shown signs of improvements in their relations with the allocation of additional U.S. funds in support of different regional states and institutions in Ethiopia, the U.S. is still bent on applying more sticks than carrots to accomplish its strategic goal in Ethiopia and the wider region. The passage of these blatantly biased bills is sure to negatively impact Ethio-U.S. relations for they erode the trust, predictability and mutual cooperation on which they should be based.
What makes the contents of H.R. 6600 and S. 3199 more galling is the fact that they place no sanctions or threats of one against the TPLF despite its instigation, expansion and prolonging of the civil war as well as the commission of crimes of atrocities. In addition they fail to give due recognition to the steps the Ethiopian government has taken to bring a peaceful resolution to the civil war. Chief among these measures are the withdrawal of the ENDF from the Tigray region in June 2021 following the unilateral declaration of a ceasefire; the streamlining of aid delivery to the regions affected by the war; ordering the ENDF to not cross into Tigray after TPLF forces were routed from the positions they held in the adjoining regions they had invaded in December 2021; releasing several politicians, including TPLF leaders, from prison in January; lifting the six-month State of Emergency declared after three months; and declaring a humanitarian truce to facilitate the delivery of aid to the conflict-affected people of Tigray. Such inequity only serves to deepen Ethiopians’ distrust of the U.S. and its allies.
Punitive sanctions do more harm than good and seldom achieve their intended outcome. The US has not secured democracy, peace and stability by imposing debilitating sanctions on any country in the world. It is the poorest of the poor, low- and middle-income Ethiopians who will suffer the most by the passage of H.R. 6600 and S. 3199, not the government officials they target. The sanctions will adversely affect regions which have already been hit very hard by the war, including Tigray, Afar and Amhara given they make it very difficult to source the materials needed to reconstruct the health, educational infrastructure the war has ravaged as well as the resumption of other critical services. Moreover, by calling for an independent investigation into conflict-related human rights violations, the bills signal lack of confidence in the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, whose report on a joint investigation undertaken with the U.N. Human Rights Commission on the war in Tigray, was endorsed and applauded. The debilitating impacts of the bills on a poor nation like Ethiopia will be devastating and apt to linger for years. This would lead to the very instability and fragility of Ethiopia that the U.S. ostensibly wants to prevent.
As some U.S. lawmakers and lobbyists engage in a concerted endeavor to force Ethiopia into kowtowing to the demands of the West, it is incumbent on the government, people and friends of Ethiopia to do everything possible to foil their sinister design. While efforts are underway both at home and in the U.S. to stop H.R. 6600 and S. 3199 from seeing the light of day, they should be ramped up until the bills are defeated. It’s disheartening though to see some citizens and members of the diaspora community side with the sponsors of the bills. Ethiopians should not despair just because the bills have advanced to the House and Senate floors. In order for them to become law they will need a full vote of both chambers and the signature of President Joe Biden. There are several things that can be done in the meantime to ensure that even if the bills pass they are defanged and unrecognizable from their current form. It’s imperative that we keep up the fight to the death and resolutely defend our national interest.