Protests in Oromia, Amhara Regions Present ‘Critical Challenge’ – United States

Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski to Travel to Uganda and Ethiopia

Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski

By Tom Malinowski

The Obama administration’s top official promoting democracy and human rights,Tom Malinowski, says the Ethiopian government’s tactics in response to protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions of the country are “self-defeating”. Writing ahead of the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Nairobi for talks on East African issues, including security, Malinowski says Addis Ababa’s “next great national task is to master the challenge of political openness.”

The United States and Ethiopia have years of strong partnership, based on a recognition that we need each other. Ethiopia is a major contributor to peace and security in Africa, the U.S.’s ally in the fight against violent extremists, and has shown incredible generosity to those escaping violence and repression, admitting more refugees than any country in the world. The United States has meanwhile been the main contributor to Ethiopia’s impressive fight to end poverty, to protect its environment and to develop its economy.

Because of the friendship and common interests our two nations share, the U.S. has a stake in Ethiopia’s prosperity, stability and success. When Ethiopia does well, it is able to inspire and help others. On the other hand, a protracted crisis in Ethiopia would undermine the goals that both nations are trying to achieve together.

The recent protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions present a critical challenge. They appear to be a manifestation of Ethiopian citizens’ expectation of more responsive governance and political pluralism, as laid out in their constitution.

Almost every Ethiopian I have met during my three recent trips to the country, including government officials, has told me that as Ethiopians become more prosperous and educated, they demand a greater political voice, and that such demands must be met. While a few of the protests may have been used as a vehicle for violence, we are convinced that the vast majority of participants were exercising their right under Ethiopia’s constitution to express their views.

Any counsel that the United States might offer is intended to help find solutions, and is given with humility. As President Barack Obama said during his July, 2015 visit to Addis Ababa, the U.S. is not perfect, and we have learned hard lessons from our own experiences in addressing popular grievances.

We also know Ethiopia faces real external threats. Ethiopia has bravely confronted Al-Shabaab, a ruthless terrorist group based on its border. Individuals and groups outside Ethiopia, often backed by countries that have no respect for human rights themselves, sometimes recklessly call for violent change.

Ethiopia rightly condemns such rhetoric, and the United States joins that condemnation. But Ethiopia has made far too much progress to be undone by the jabs of scattered antagonists who have little support among the Ethiopian people. And it is from within that Ethiopia faces the greatest challenges to its stability and unity. When thousands of people, in dozens of locations, in multiple regions come out on the streets to ask for a bigger say in the decisions that affect their lives, this cannot be dismissed as the handiwork of external enemies.

Ethiopian officials have acknowledged that protestors have genuine grievances that deserve sincere answers. They are working to address issues such as corruption and a lack of job opportunities. Yet security forces have continued to use excessive force to prevent Ethiopians from congregating peacefully, killing and injuring many people and arresting thousands. We believe thousands of Ethiopians remain in detention for alleged involvement in the protests – in most cases without having been brought before a court, provided access to legal counsel, or formally charged with a crime.

These are self-defeating tactics. Arresting opposition leaders and restricting civil society will not stop people from protesting, but it can create leaderless movements that leave no one with whom the government can mediate a peaceful way forward. Shutting down the Internet will not silence opposition, but it will scare away foreign investors and tourists. Using force may temporarily deter some protesters, but it will exacerbate their anger and make them more uncompromising when they inevitably return to the streets.

Every government has a duty to protect its citizens; but every legitimate and successful government also listens to its citizens, admits mistakes, and offers redress to those it has unjustly harmed. Responding openly and peacefully to criticism shows confidence and wisdom, not weakness. Ethiopia would also be stronger if it had more independent voices in government, parliament and society, and if civil society organizations could legally channel popular grievances and propose policy solutions. Those who are critical of the government would then have to share responsibility, and accountability, for finding those solutions. Progress in reforming the system would moderate demands to reject it altogether.

Ethiopia’s next great national task is to master the challenge of political openness, just as it has been mastering the challenge of economic development. Given how far Ethiopia has traveled since the days of terror and famine, the United States is confident that its people can meet this challenge – not to satisfy any foreign country, but to fulfill their own aspirations. The U.S. and all of Ethiopia’s friends are ready to help.

Tom Malinowski is the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

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Posted by on August 22, 2016. Filed under FEATURED. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

6 Responses to Protests in Oromia, Amhara Regions Present ‘Critical Challenge’ – United States

  1. Jony

    August 22, 2016 at 11:19 AM

    Yes Mr. Malinowski, You are doing your job in protecting the short term interest of the U.S at any cost. Long run? not by a long shot.

    For the last 25 years our people have suffered from torture, imprisonment, killings and untold crimes against the state of Ethiopia and its people. Kids as little as 8 years or pregnant mothers were legitimate sniper target. Talk about violence? That is violence beyond comprehension.

    In fact the US stood with ‘Aremenes’ – literal meaning barbaric. Yes the US have been turning blinding eye to all these crimes for years…not only turning blinding eye but also arming , training and providing financial and diplomatic support to the despot and criminal regime of Ethiopia (Woyane). President Obama went all the way to endorsing a 100% sham electoral victory, and called Ethiopia a Democratic governance. But history will judge.

    Mr Malinowski With all due respect, Ethiopians have all the right to defend themselves against tyranny with all means they have at their disposal including but not limited to armed struggle.

    We are the People, it’s our duty to protect or land, our children and our lives.


  2. bangda abera

    August 22, 2016 at 9:06 PM

    i think the usa goverment knows about tegrea tribe there dna is a mercenery blood like arabe like italy the usa use tegra merceney tribe for it’s interst

  3. bangda abera

    August 22, 2016 at 9:14 PM

    tegrea tribs are known around the globe a mercenery tribe like arabe; italy ; usa use them as mercenery every enemy of ethiopia they came with tgrea why god make us to live with them they fought 17 years the landlocked of ethiopia when i see tegrea what kind of dna got to be a mercenery and proudof it

  4. samuel

    August 23, 2016 at 12:41 AM

    Mr. Assistant Secretary, with all the show off the government of Ethiopia progress in economy and war on terror, the majority of Ethiopians are terrorized by their government. The 6% minority ruling EPRDF controls all the key position and the rest of the majority are forced to accept minority tribe ordered. This is not democracy. The Oromo and the Amhara tribe are converged to oppose the unjust government policy, and inequality in Ethiopia. Those two majority group are working hard to include the Tigrean people to join them to create a multi-party government, which is inclusive to form democratically elected government. The current government misinform you,hide from you, and show you a rosy picture of the condition of Ethiopia. I did my research, and found that the current government punished the Amhara and the Oromo people for standing and speaking about democracy. About 800 people lost their precious life in their peaceful demonstration. So, you are listening too much on the dictator side. Please find out the fact from the opposition side.

  5. Jony

    August 23, 2016 at 10:34 AM

    dear moderator; why did u eat my commentary? too harsh or too light ::)

  6. Zewdu

    August 24, 2016 at 5:32 PM

    Mr Secretary,
    1) Would USA accept for itself a dictatorial and Apartheid rule by a minority of 6% of your population?
    That is what the population of Ethiopia is rising up against. If USA supports this government hence on, it means you are siding with a murderous government which is bent on exterminating Amharas according to their manifesto (paragraph 18). Be warned of this impending genocide. They have been committing murders all over the country in the last 25 years. These are the people your and UK’s governments brought upon us and are propping them up.
    You western countries talk of fabricated 11% growth for the last 10 years. Your measurement of growth seems to be different what you use for your country. Empty tall buildings don’t mean anything for the citizens. The vast majority of the Ethiopian population don’t eat even two meals a day; water and electricity are rationed. 11 million people are famine stricken. You talk of growth? Give me a break.