Hundreds of demonstrators from the Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somalian diasporas gathered outside the White House to demand an end to U.S. intervention in the Horn of Africa. Many attendees expressed disapproval of Congress’ Peace and Stabilization Act of 2022, which placed sanctions on the democratically-elected government of Ethiopia amidst an ongoing insurgency by the U.S.-backed Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front. The TPLF, which held dictatorial power for nearly three decades and was a servant to U.S. interests in the region, launched their insurrection in 2018 against Ethiopia’s current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has advocated a foreign policy which prioritizes peace and cooperation in the Horn of Africa.
These sanctions follow a historic trend for the U.S. government to disregard other countries’ right to self-determination. Hermela Aregawi, an independent Ethiopian-American journalist, noted that despite pleas for the United States to honor the current government’s unity efforts, U.S. special envoy Mike Hammer paid a visit to the insurgents and took “gleeful selfies” with TPLF leaders just days before they launched another offensive. She emphasized the role of the administration and media in elevating the organization.
“The Biden administration has the power to end this war by condemning this insurgent group,” said Aregawi, “because without the cover of the western media, they’re not as powerful as they can be. That’s why we’re here — to make our voices heard, to come together and show that we’re unified in this.”
Aregawi also mentioned the fallout of sanctions on working people of the Horn of Africa. “We’ve already seen thousands of people losing jobs due to the Biden administration’s sanctions on Ethiopia. Thousands of people have lost their jobs in the manufacturing sector — the majority of whom are women.”
Other attendees expressed similar thoughts regarding sanctions. Amanuel Biedemariam, an Eritrean-American activist and rally organizer, said, “Sanctions are devastating for any country. Ethiopia has 120 million people, and that amount of people being displaced and hungry is very calamitous. The world needs to pay attention, and it’s only happening because of the Biden administration’s meddling.”
“Sanctions don’t work; they’ve never worked,” commented Sebla Tsehaye, an Eritrean-American activist who has long been involved with the local Horn of Africa community. “What [the U.S.] wants to do, using sanctions, is to make governments kneel. They want to create pressure by the citizens so that the governments fall apart and they do a regime change in the process. In Eritrea, that hasn’t worked, and we don’t want that to work in Ethiopia. We want peace with our neighbor. When Ethiopia is economically and socially strong, then we’ll have good neighbors that can create a very solid Horn of Africa.”
When asked for thoughts on the Pentagon’s $800 billion budget, attendees remarked that military intervention and sanctions are disadvantageous to people in the United States as well, as those resources could be better spent toward improving their quality of life.
Abdirahma Warsame, a Somali-American activist, said of the Pentagon budget, “That is really ridiculous. We have homeless people right here in D.C., right there just outside the Capitol. You’ll find homeless people, homeless veterans, people with no food. It doesn’t make any sense. Why spend all that money when you have poverty just across the Capitol and in front of the White House?”
Atli Moges, an active member in the local Ethiopian-American community, said, “Isn’t diplomacy cheaper and more reasonable than war? I don’t see anything which we achieved through war. Look at Afghanistan, it is a mess. Look at Libya, look at Syria, look at Yemen — a lot of hunger, a lot of famine, a lot of suffering. Why do we have all that money for the Pentagon? Shouldn’t they invest that money in people so that we can have a better life? Why do they put all the sanctions on poor countries?”
Biedemariam said, “The United States gave over $60 billion of aid to Ukraine. That $60 billion could bring free tuition to every American in the United States. It just shows you what the priorities are. The priorities are the arms industrial complex, and the people of the United States of America are left with a debt that they are going to carry for generations to come.”
Tsehaye said, “Instead of putting that money where it’s not needed to go fight, kill, torture and create chaos in other nations, we should be building infrastructure, improving the educational process, and improving the health system of the United States. Unfortunately, that’s not the focus of the government of the United States.”
When asked what they would like to say directly to President Biden, attendees emphasized that further intervention was a mistake, and encouraged disarming the TPLF and approaching the Ethiopian government in good faith.
“If Joe Biden is truly a wise man, and he truly cares for humanity, then he needs to stop warmongering by the U.S. in foreign lands,” said Tsehaye.
Moges said, “Stop supporting the terrorists. Work on diplomacy. America needs diplomacy, not war.”