Washington, DC — The government, citizens, and the international community should act now to prevent the promise of a new Ethiopia from slipping away.
As academics, practitioners, former diplomats, and advocates closely following Ethiopia, we are deeply concerned by growing unrest and instability following the killing of Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, a prominent Oromo musician who was gunned down on June 29 and whose death sparked a week of violence. We are equally concerned by the international community’s relative silence in response to this upheaval.
We are alarmed that the Ethiopian government has renewed restrictions on individual rights. The government’s use of repressive tools in its latest crackdown—including arbitrarily arresting citizens and shutting down the internet—echoes tactics employed by previous Ethiopian leaders and directly threatens the progress made over the last two years. Respect for the rule of law is an obligation of the government as well as of citizens and should never be used as a justification to stifle freedom of expression or undermine pluralism.
We are also concerned by the polarizing narratives and threats of violence endorsed by some members of the opposition, and even certain parts of the diaspora. While there are many issues that risk undermining Ethiopia’s transition, we are especially troubled by the increasing frequency and intensity of interethnic and religious violence.
We urge the Ethiopian government to thoroughly investigate Hundeessaa’s assassination, to release on bail prominent opposition leaders arrested in connection with recent unrest, and to ensure they have fair, speedy, and transparent trials. We urge the Ethiopian federal government, the regional state governments, opposition leaders, and political actors across the country and diaspora to temper their divisive rhetoric and enter into dialogue in order to reach a new national consensus on the country’s reform agenda, including a mutually agreed roadmap for elections, that specifies the conditions and a timeline under which national and state elections can take place.
As a key donor and longtime ally, the United States must play a more active and vocal role encouraging an intra-Ethiopian dialogue while also ensuring better coordination and coherence across all US governmental agencies. Similarly, the United States must take a more balanced position and adhere to a “do no harm” principle as negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan over the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) continue. It is imperative to try and move all parties toward a mutually acceptable agreement. Any threats to withhold development assistance to Ethiopia are likely to be counterproductive, deepening the view in Ethiopia that the United States is not impartial in the negotiations, harming US-Ethiopia bilateral relations, and threatening to undermine Ethiopia’s already fragile transition. Any durable diplomatic settlement for the GERD requires a renewed international commitment to support economic development throughout northeast Africa.
Finally, as US companies deepen their presence in the Ethiopian market and new firms consider entering, we urge the private sector to support Ethiopia’s peaceful democratic transition and individual rights, and to raise concerns about how increasing unrest and instability as well as prolonged blocking of electronic communications and the internet, could impact their investments and the country’s economic growth.
Ethiopia’s path to a more stable, free, and democratic future is increasingly at risk. It is incumbent on the country’s government, its citizens, and its friends in the international community to act now to prevent the promise of a new Ethiopia from slipping away.
Yoseph Badwaza, Freedom House
Mark Bellamy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, former US Ambassador to Kenya
Lauren Carruth, American University
Desiree Cormier Smith, Open Society-US
Judd Devermont, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Ethiopia Working Group Co-Chair
Larry Diamond, Stanford University
Steve Feldstein, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
John Harbeson, City University of New York
Temi Ibirogba, Center for International Policy
Payton Knopf, former US diplomat & chair of the UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan
Terrence Lyons, George Mason University
Sarah Margon, Open Society-US, Ethiopia Working Group Co-Chair
David Shinn, former US Ambassador to Ethiopia
Lahra Smith, Georgetown University
Jon Temin, Freedom House, Ethiopia Working Group Co-Chair
Colin Thomas-Jensen, WestExec Advisors
* The Ethiopia Working Group is a nonpartisan group of experts, scholars, and practitioners who come together with a focus on US policy toward Ethiopia.