A US diplomat accused of favoring the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) criticized Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s “dehumanizing rhetoric” as she made a flying visit to Addis Ababa on August 4.
Samantha Power, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), did not meet Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed - who was said to be unavailable - and held talks instead with Minister of Peace Muffriat Kamil and Minister of Health Dr. Liya Tadesse regarding the ongoing conflict in Tigray.
Referring to Abiy's previous use of words like “weeds” and “cancer” to describe the TPLF, the US aid chief said: “Such language only hardens tensions and often accompanies ethnically-motivated atrocities.” Her comments were a push back against criticism from Ethiopian officials that Western leaders had overlooked abuses committed by the TPLF.
The comments are likely to go down badly with top officials in Ethiopia.
In a separate statement, she called on the Ethiopian government to open humanitarian access to the region, saying the ongoing internal conflict in Tigray could only be resolved through peaceful means. The aid chief also said that the US government’s proposals were related to the search for a solution and that military action was not an option for internal conflict. All parties should immediately end the conflict and start a national dialogue, she added.
Power, whose visit was viewed with apprehension by the government in Addis Ababa, has been the focal point of a fierce debate within Ethiopia. Many have claimed that the US intervention into the country’s internal affairs was biased towards the TPLF and failed to take into account the position of the Ethiopian government.
However, others expressed disappointment that Abiy had not taken up the opportunity to speak with one of the US’s leading aid chiefs, labeling it “a diplomatic failure”.
Power has been criticized by many Ethiopians for not condemning TPLF for the crimes it committed, which many seem to see as an act of condoning terror.
Government officials appeared very cautious about her visit to Ethiopia. Just before her arrival in Addis Ababa, messages from high-ranking officials circulated on social media platforms to this effect.
Redwan Hussien, State Minister of Political Affairs at Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted: “A push to open a Corridor via West is a sheer decoy. It's open in the south and east. Dare to denounce one who hindered Trend? Geo/pol interests-Conflict- humanitarian aid - disguised arms flow- concerted intn'l pressure-fueling z conflict. Hence? Multiple and perpetual national jeopardy.”
Taye Dendea, an official of the Oromo Prosperity Party, spoke of her past record ahead of her Ethiopian visit: “Now Samantha Power is in Sudan. A plan to come to Ethiopia. Maybe for a good purpose, but for her unlucky history. She reported the disintegration of Yugoslavia. She also took part in the creation and expansion of the crisis in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. In fact, Ethiopia is different!” he tweeted.
Samantha Power appeared to address some of these concerns in her statement when she spoke of “TPLF attacks”. "As the conflict escalates, more and more people may be displaced if no peaceful solution is found.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by TPLF attacks in Afar and Amhara regions. International law must be respected, innocent people must not be harmed unnecessarily, and humanitarian aid workers must be protected.”
Power added: "I want the Ethiopian people to know that we seek to engage with you and with your government on the basis of a set of values, not to play favorites or to pick sides during a conflict."
Power said she had been unsuccessful in meeting Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed after being told that he was out of town.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for its part, said that Power has been told that officials could not be available due to tight schedules. "When she arrived in Addis Ababa, she realized that she would not be meeting with the Prime Minister or the Minister of Foreign Affairs," said Dina Mufti, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry during a press conference held in Addis Ababa. "Since Samantha Power is not a political leader but a charitable organization, she has been contacted by stakeholders of her position" he added.
The main purpose of Power’s visit was to press the government to increase access to humanitarian assistance in the Tigray region, according to her statements.
“In Addis today, I once again called for a cessation of hostilities and unfettered humanitarian access, and reiterated the United States’ care and concern for the people of Ethiopia, no matter their identity or affiliation.” Samant tweeted yesterday night, after concluding her visit in Ethiopia.
There has been an ongoing war in Tigray since last November. This started when Abiy sent troops to topple the ruling TPLF in response to what he said were attacks by the group on the army camps. Seven months later in June, the Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire and said the army had mostly pulled out of Tigray.
However, the war took a stunning turn in late June when TPLF forces rejected the ceasefire and rebels launched new offensive forays into the Amhara and Afar regions which border Tigray, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.