Wednesday, June 19, 2024
News“Unsolicited, Ill-advised and uninformed”: Ministry blasts US Ambassador’s fiery speech

“Unsolicited, Ill-advised and uninformed”: Ministry blasts US Ambassador’s fiery speech

The past week has been marked by the exchange of inflammatory statements between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and US diplomats as the country’s security issues take center stage during celebrations of the 120th anniversary of American-Ethiopian relations.

The arrival of Mike Hammer, US special envoy to the Horn of Africa, in Addis Ababa this week coincided with the provision of a range of recommendations to the federal government by Ervin Massinga, who was appointed US ambassador to Ethiopia a year ago by the Biden administration.

During his ‘Policy Speech on Human Rights and Dialogue’ on May 15, 2024, Massinga expressed his views on the way forward in the tussles the federal government finds itself in with the Amhara Fano, Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

“Let me be direct,” said the Ambassador. “To those in Oromia, the OLA, you made a genuine effort to reach a deal at the negotiation table in Dar es Salaam. Don’t give up. Make the effort to rebuild trust and seek the peace for which there is overwhelming public support. Too many people are suffering as the fighting continues.”

He was referring to two rounds of negotiations between the federal government and the OLA in Tanzania which took place in March and November last year.

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“To those fighting in Amhara, to those that call themselves the Fano, please know that your rejection of dialogue does not serve you well. As in other parts of Ethiopia, it is innocent civilians who are suffering as a result of the continued fighting. Many in Amhara are passionate that their cause is just – if so, you should make those arguments through dialogue and not violence,” said Massinga.

The Amhara region has been subject to a state of emergency since last August, following violent clashes between regional militias and federal security forces.

The Ambassador’s speech went on to address more recent clashes in the country’s north.

“To those in Tigray, the TPLF, seeking to resolve outstanding issues such as Internally Displaced Persons return, I urge an inclusive, orderly, and dignified process that does not involve retaking territory by force.  Your full participation in national dialogue and transitional justice processes will be crucial to peace and stability not just in your region but throughout Ethiopia,” said Massinga.

The comments came from the premises of the American Gibbi Center in Addis Ababa’s Mercato neighborhood, which currently hosts a Yemeni community. During fascist Italy’s rampage and massacre of 20,000 civilians in Addis Ababa in 1937, the then U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Cornelius Van Engert saved over 700 of the capital’s residents by offering them shelter in the area known today as American Gibbi.

“I am incredibly proud and humbled by the actions of Chargé d’Affaires Van Engert and hope to carry forward his respect for the human right to life, dignity, and respect,” said Massinga. “Regrettably, many people across Ethiopia and across the globe continue to face the same fear that Ethiopians did 87 years ago here. Bandits, armed groups, and at times, government security forces, act with impunity in carrying out violations of these very same rights to life, dignity, and respect, reflecting a disregard for due process and the rule of law.”

The Ambassador went on to criticize both the ruling government and the armed forces.

“To those whose responsibility it is to govern Ethiopia, the government here, the country has far more to gain through peace than on the battlefield. A security-focused approach will not resolve complex political issues. Detaining and harassing those who criticize the government will not resolve those issues that must be addressed. The political dialogue that Ethiopians need could be helped by releasing key political figures,” he stated.

Massinga also had some words for the armed groups on the other side of the violence.

“All armed actors are playing a role in driving human suffering, including new population displacements across the country.  This must end. I call for an end to targeting schools, health facilities, and water infrastructure, and for full and unfettered humanitarian access, which could include as a starting point a temporary nationwide ceasefire. Let me reiterate, there will be no quick wins on the battlefield on any side in Ethiopia. Dragging out the conflict in hopes of achieving one only brings more hurt and suffering on the Ethiopian people with no real result. This is why the time for dialogue is now. All sides should take advantage of the opportunity the National Dialogue mechanism offers, imperfect though it may be.  They are open to having all voices heard, including armed actors. This is a place to start the road to bringing all sides together for the betterment of Ethiopia,” said the Ambassador.

His speech was not very well received by officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which issued a statement the following day harshly rejecting Massinga’s remarks.

“The Ambassador read a statement. . .containing allegations against and unsolicited advice to the government of Ethiopia on how best to run the affairs of the country and mentioned groups bent on overthrowing the elected government by force, and known for blackmailing, kidnapping, and terrorizing civilians,” reads the Ministry’s statement. 

It called Massinga’s remarks ill-fitting for diplomatic decorum and characterized them as going against the long-standing diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and the US.

“The statement was ill-advised and contains uninformed assertions. It is contrary to the historic and friendly relations between Ethiopia and the United States. The two countries have maintained close ties and continue consulting on national, regional, and global issues of common concern. Ethiopia has been open to discussing wide-ranging topics with the United States, including efforts toward peace and security, ensuring respect for human rights, and nurturing democracy in the country. The Ministry will work with the Embassy of the United States in Addis Ababa to correct factual errors and inconsistencies in the statement. It will suggest better ways befitting diplomatic decorum; and that will not undermine democratic processes and peace in the country. Ethiopia remains committed to a mutually respectful bilateral dialogue and relations with the United States,” reads the statement.

Meanwhile, the federal government did not raise any objections towards Special Envoy Hammer’s meetings with leaders of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), and TPLF.

Mulatu Gemechu, OFC deputy secretary, disclosed the discussions revolved around a range of issues.

“Several issues were raised,” Mulatu told The Reporter. “The killing of Bate [Urgessa], OFC members and leaders who’ve been imprisoned for more than three years, and the political situation in the country. There are growing concerns that the developments in the security and political spheres might lead to unnecessary paths. There is war, humanitarian crisis, hunger, drought, inflation, and several other problems.”

The opposition party leaders and Hammer reiterated the importance of sitting down and opening dialogue with all political entities in finding peaceful solutions to the problems. The national dialogue and transitional justice initiatives were also part of the discussions.

“The national dialogue was hoped to bring a venue for consensus. But we do not believe so. From the beginning, we argued the National Dialogue Commission should not be responsible to Parliament, because we believe Parliament is filled with the members of one party, which is the ruling Prosperity Party,” said Mulatu. “The government didn’t listen. So, some eighteen parties, including OFC and OLF, have declined to participate in the dialogue.”

He called for the presence of a neutral third party in the transitional justice initiative.

“Forgiveness and national consensus can happen only when two groups with different perspectives meet and talk in the presence of a neutral third party. The transitional justice initiative also needs to be run by a neutral body, not by a government that has been part of all the conflicts, human rights violations and crises. We do not think transitional justice will ensure justice. It is like expecting justice from the perpetrator,” said Mulatu.

Hammer also met with Ambassador Mesganu Arga, a state minister of Foreign Affairs.

Mesganu reportedly stressed the need for renewing structural engagements between Ethiopia and the US in addition to the need to support the peace process, disarmament of ex-combatants in Ethiopia, and implementation of Pretoria agreement.

Nardos Yoseph contributed to this article.

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