President Barack Obama’s trip to Africa this month includes a stop in Ethiopia, the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited the Horn of Africa nation.
In late May, Ethiopian voters went to the polls to elect a new parliament. The ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Party (EPRDF), former guerillas, won the majority of the seats and, with allies, reportedly control all the seats. In the 2010 election, the EPRDF and its allies won 99.6 percent of the parliamentary seats.
For the last three election cycles, Ethiopian elections have not been fair, free or credible. Opposition parties did not always contest the elections freely because the regime has been using repressive tactics, including arrest and detention, intimidation and even force to deny the opposition access to the polls.
This election, the only token election observers were from the African Union, an organization with a history of cozy relationships with Africa’s most despotic leaders: Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe; Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni; the late Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, and others.
The ruling EPRDF party uses coercion, like the Chinese Communist Party, but without its deep pockets, discipline and efficiency, to control all aspects of the Ethiopian people’s way of life.
Ethiopia is not a free country, according to Freedom House, an organization that monitors freedom and democracy in the world. The regime restricts press freedom and Internet access and cracks down on journalists. In fact, the state-run media, which promulgate government propaganda, are, for the most part, the only communication outlets available for Ethiopians.
The EPRDF government is not as bloodthirsty as the former Marxist despot Mengistu Haile Mariam, who slaughtered thousands of political opponents in the 1970s and ’80s.
However, the regime’s grip on power is a despotic one. The Ethiopian government’s “most significant human rights problems included restrictions on freedom of expression, including continued restrictions on print media and on the internet, and restrictions on freedom of association, including through arrests; politically motivated trials; and harassment and intimidation of opposition members and journalists,” according to the annual State Department human rights report.
In eastern Ethiopia’s Somali region, the Ethiopian government is waging a counterinsurgency campaign against the Ogaden National Liberation Front, which wants self-determination for the region. An Ethiopian paramilitary force known as the Liyu (Amharic for “special”) police is spearheading that brutal war. The Liyu police have no formal training, but are financed by the Ethiopian regime, which is using the Liyu police as a proxy force. The Liyu police are terrorizing the civilian population with impunity. The Liyu police’s scorched-earth tactics include mass killings, kidnappings, rape, looting livestock, destroying wells, and razing villages to the ground. Human Rights Watch has found evidence of summary executions and other abuses.
A recent Liyu police atrocity against civilians took place in remote villages near Ethiopia’s porous border with central Somalia. The Liyu police attacked local ethnic Somali livestock herders, which left 50 people dead. Video footage showing the aftermath of the gruesome killings shot on a cellphone went viral on Somali news websites: In the video, a group of Liyu police in camouflage uniforms are desecrating dozens of dead bodies, including young children, who were shot in the head. The atrocities constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes.
During a 2009 trip to Africa, while in Accra, Ghana’s capital, Obama told Africans, “You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people… because in this moment, history is on the move.”
But African despots have been using coups, constitutional changes and the rigging of elections to stay power. While the Africans are yearning for freedom and democracy, as demonstrated by the recent peaceful Nigerian election, in which the incumbent government was defeated.
The African people cannot challenge Africa’s despots who are abusing them when America is funneling billions of dollars of military and economic aid to the side of these dictators, under the guise of U.S. counterterrorism efforts, and while China is lavishing on them billions in investment and trade.
For instance, out of U.S. security interests, the Obama administration chose to turn a blind eye on Ethiopia’s recent rigged elections and the blatant repressive tactics of Ethiopia’s regime to deny the Ethiopian people’s rights to choose freely their own leaders and government.
The notion that a government that repeatedly rigs elections, uses systematic repression and persecution to control the population, and embraces the communist Chinese style of governance is still receiving more than $800 million in humanitarian, development, refugee and military aid from U.S. taxpayers’ money is odious. In fact, millions of dollars of that money goes straight to the Ethiopian government’s coffers for “general budgetary support.”
Congress must cut aid to the despotic regime of Ethiopia because the 90 million Ethiopians cannot wait until the next U.S. president takes office in January 2017 for executive action.
The Ethiopian regime’s repression and persecution will only foment more of the political instability that is plaguing the volatile Horn of Africa region, and may sow insurrection and more extremism. This scenario would create more refugees heading to the Mediterranean Sea for Europe, ungovernable territories and safe havens for terrorists — the very disasters America and Europe are trying to eliminate now.
Ali Mohamed is co-founder of the Horn of Africa Freedom Foundation in Lewis Center, Ohio, near Columbus.
To contact Ali Mohamed: email@example.com
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