Senate Briefing: Why U.S. Policy toward Ethiopia Matters Now

In junction with Sec. T. Rex’s visit to Ethiopia this month, I attended a senate briefing on U.S. Ethiopia policy entitled “Why Ethiopia Policy Matters Now”. The briefing was intended to educate congressional staff on H.res 128 and its Senate companion S.res 148- measures to hold Ethiopian govt accountable. Sadly, the biggest takeaway for congressional staff and the press in attendance, was most likely the delinquent behavior of the Ethiopian goers. With my forays on Capitol Hill, I’ve attended sensitive hearings- Syrian civil war to Myanmar’s exclusive democracy- and none have required Capitol Hill intervention…then Ethiopian’s came to the Hill.

I was invited offhandedly by a former colleague, an Oromo-Ethiopian American, during the screening of “Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas” – aptly scheduled the day before the “Why Ethiopia Policy Matters Now” hearing. Being my first week in D.C., I took this alignment of Ethiopia oriented events, as a welcome sign. I moved to D.C. to be closer to International Development field. The film and Senate briefing were organized by the Oromo Alliance and Amhara Association.

Groups I never knew existed – passing legislation I’ve never heard of.

I was surprised to see the U.S. Senate room teeming with Ethiopians. Felt proud that their efforts had reached the imposing halls of the U.S. Senate. The coalition group brought together advocacy groups, think tanks and the Congressional Research Expert. Their remarks are summarized here. The advocates, to point out were also at the screening of “Dead Donkey’s Fear No Hyenas”, touched on Ethiopia’s “War of Suppression”. Noteworthy points mentioned: 70% of the clients of the D.C. chapter for violence survivors are from Ethiopia. I highly recommend the objective analysis from Lauren Blanchard the African Affairs Specialist for Congressional offices. She provided a succinct overview of Ethiopia’s interest to the U.S.

Then they opened, dare I say unleashed,  the forum to questions:

The first to be recognized, an Ethiopian women took the floor to decry the panel of experts. Gesticulating at the panel she vaunted dubious Ethiopian development figures to contradict the grim facts presented by the panel. The crowd of Ethiopian’s erupted. In the midst of the Ethiopian diaspora feud, Congressional staffers watched as civility left the U.S. Senate room. Frozen in my seat, I caught mumbles of “Tigre” from the anti-govt crowds behind me. The Senate’s police force were called. The proctor, an Anthropologist, after failing to corral the crowds outbursts ended the forum with “glad we were able to have a civil discourse”.  It was humiliating. Personal mortification aside, this display begs the question- who is the opposition in Ethiopia?

I am not an Ethiopian government supporter. But seeing the oppositions penal reactionary response inspired caution- not hope for Ethiopia’s future.