Op-Ed

How Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) got it right on Ethiopia, while Senator Menendez and Booker got it wrong

Although Ethiopia is approximately 7,088 miles away from Trenton, New Jersey, recent events unfolding in the country should also matter to people in the U.S. as taxpayer dollars are being lobbied for yet another military intervention against a democratically elected government.

The Ethiopian government has been at war with the rebel group Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) for the past year after TPLF’s brutal authoritarian reign ended in 2018 as a result of massive uprisings. The relationships that the rebel group amassed during its time in power are evident as it’s able to gain support from the current Biden administration. However, in light of recent events, it just might be a good time for Biden and key democratic leadership to distance themselves from this ruthless rebel group, as unspeakable stories of mass executions, rape, and property destruction (including hospitals, churches, and mosques). The suspicion that the U.S. was supporting the coup attempt gained credibility when the spokesperson of the TPLF stated, the U.S. wanted the rebels “to enter Addis Ababa" (the capital of Ethiopia). This is best described by borrowing a famous Joe Biden quote, “this is a big f****** deal!

The move toward returning back to power for the TPLF began on November 4th, 2020 as it attempted to create regional instability by first attacking a military compound and later firing rockets indiscriminately into neighboring Eritrea, an act which prompted then U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to blast the group for initiating the conflict while praising Eritrea for showing restraint.

You can find similar condemnation of the terror group in a recent video posted by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who also criticizes the US State Department for an uneven response to the conflict. The assessment from Rep. Smith shows the need to understand the facts on the ground before jumping to a conclusion. This is a stark contrast to Sen. Bob Menendez and Sen. Booker, who have called for mounting pressure on the government of Ethiopia including crippling sanctions that aim to crush hundreds of thousands of workers in mainly small-scale manufacturing jobs.

Responding to the conflict, Sen. Menendez goes even further by claiming genocide is occurring in Tigray in a recent NPR interview. The claim of genocide was debunked by a UN human rights report where it found war crimes have been committed on all sides. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we should expect better from Sen. Menedez, and expect the same standard and thought process as Rep. Chris Smith displayed before taking action on a bill that can devastate a growing democracy and hundreds of thousands of families that rely on the small business.

In light of the UN report and recent events coming out of Ethiopia, it is critical to pause and assess the facts on the ground using independent credible investigations. Why is the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is advancing a bill calling for sanctions against Ethiopia and Eritrea not calling for sanctions against the group who initiated the conflict? How much influence does Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice, (who had a close relationship with the founder of TPLF), have on the current policy being drafted by the state department?

Despite the flood of misinformation and high-profile lobbyists coupled with TPLF’s connection working to remove the Ethiopian government, the people are fighting back. Independent voices are rising and calling attention to what is unfolding in Ethiopia, and this time, people across the globe are paying attention and making their voices heard. The #NoMore Pan-African movement is gaining momentum and is reminiscent of when fascist aggression in Ethiopia sparked a movement of Black solidarity and African-Americans in Harlem were volunteering to enlist in Ethiopia’s army to fight Mussolini in the 1930s.

How dare Sen. Menendez and Sen. Booker speak up against a failed insurgency that occurred in Washington DC, while siding with the aggressors of an insurgent group and putting pressure on a democratically elected government? Ethiopia’s experiment toward democracy will not stop, the people in and outside the country know what is at stake.

Seeking truth and supporting a growing democracy should matter, or at the very least, President Biden and his team should pay attention to the recent gubernatorial election in Virginia, in which Ethiopian and Eritrean-Americans came out in droves to help deliver a win for Youngkin. This should especially be a concern in upcoming midterm elections and in swing states like Georgia where there is a large Ethiopian and Eritrean-American population.

What can you do now? Call Senator Menendez and Senator Booker and tell them #NoMore deployment of U.S. servicemen in yet another region under a false pretense. Tell them #NoMore use of our tax dollars on unjust wars. Tell them you don’t support the bill dubbed the "Ethiopia Peace and Democracy Promotion Act of 2021." Tell them you stand with Ethiopia and its fight toward building democracy. Tell them no more special interest, aiming to destroy yet another region!

Berhan Berhanu is an Ethiopian native and a New Jersey resident who volunteers with Ethiopiainfo.org

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