By Mesfin Tegenu*
As we enter 2022, the conflict in Ethiopia has reached a critical moment. The TPLF facing defeat has withdrawn deep into Tigray. The destruction, pain and fear they have left behind in Afar, Amhara and parts of Tigray is shocking, and it will take many years for Ethiopia to rebuild.As Ethiopian-Americans return to Ethiopia as part of the Great Homecoming initiative, it is lovely to see friends and family, yet it is clear the conflict will leave a deep scar. The humanitarian challenge now extends across all the Northern regions and there are millions in need. Schools and hospitals in Afar and Amhara were destroyed and looted by fleeing TPLF fighters, farms have been destroyed and aid stolen. It has been heartening to see some schools re-open in Dessie and Hayq in recent weeks and to see Lalibela’s International Airport back up and running. They are, however, the exception. It will take a huge effort to rebuild, but it is a challenge I know Ethiopia can meet.
As Ethiopia and the International community look forward, the next steps must be to unite the country. United States Envoy Jeffrey Feltman is visiting Ethiopia this week to meet government officials and discuss peace talks. It is inevitable given the United States’ policy so far, that he will push the government to allow the TPLF to come to the table. This would be a mistake for Ethiopia and for the U.S. The TPLF made a choice to initiate a violent insurrection, to march on Addis Ababa, to rape and kill innocent civilians on the way and to loot humanitarian aid. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and USAID have all highlighted the TPLF’s crimes. They tried to steal back power and the people of Ethiopia said “no”. That is why there is no future in Ethiopia for the TPLF. The leadership must now face justice for their insurrection and the crimes that have been committed. The Ethiopian Government must start, with haste, the proposed national dialogue and intensify its work with the African Union’s mediation team. While there is no future for the TPLF, Tigray as a region needs leadership more than ever and there are numerous other Tigrayan groups who now have the opportunity to step up and help unite the country. Mr Feltman and the United States can support Ethiopia in that endeavour. There is no question they failed to support Ethiopia in a time of conflict, but they do have the opportunity to support Ethiopia in its recovery. The TPLF have lost, their forces are overstretched and now in disarray. They miscalculated and misunderstood the strength of the Ethiopian people and their desire for democracy, freedom and reform. The U.S. should now join calls for the remaining forces to lay down their arms and surrender to the Ethiopian authorities. And the U.S. should wholeheartedly support the national dialogue process. The ethnic divides that fracture our great country must be put in the past. It is my hope this process will help bring all communities together so that we can be one Ethiopia, finding strength in our diversity. Most pressing, Mr Feltman should pledge to reverse the delisting of Ethiopia from the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), a decision that is costing jobs in Ethiopia and the U.S. By promising to cease punitive sanctions and work with the Ethiopian Government to secure access to humanitarian aid, Mr Feltman’s visit could be a significant step toward reigniting relations. The U.S. can still be a friend to Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian Americans and friends of Ethiopia will continue to work hard to get this message to our elected representatives, and leaders, though time is running out.
* Mesfin Tegenu is the Executive Chairman of the American-Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee (AEPAC)