Biden to Ethiopian and Eritrean Americans: I understand your pains amid Tigray conflict, human rights abuses and COVID-19

U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has personally comforted Ethiopian and Eritrean Americans amid multiple crises affecting their loved ones in the Horn of Africa, including the devastating conflict in the Tigray region, severe human rights abuses and the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement on Friday on the celebration of Enkutatash, a public holiday in coincidence of new year in Ethiopia and Eritrea, President Biden said “Ethiopian-Americans and Eritrean-Americans are vital to every aspect of the life of our nation—enriching communities all across the United States—and I know the past year has been difficult for many of you.”

Literally translated as “gift of jewels,” Enkutatash is a name that derives from the story of the Queen of Sheba in the bible and other ancient texts, when the ancient queen of Ethiopia traveled to Jerusalem to meet King Solomon and sent him a large quantity of gold and precious stones.

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerkii is welcomed by Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed upon his arrival at Addis Ababa International Airport, Ethiopia, Saturday, July 14, 2018. (AP Photo Mulugeta Ayene) 
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerkii is welcomed by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed upon his arrival at Addis Ababa International Airport, Ethiopia, Saturday, July 14, 2018. (AP Photo Mulugeta Ayene)

“Jill and I send our best wishes for a happy new year to all the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea, and all those around the world celebrating Enkutatash tomorrow (Saturday), including hundreds of thousands of Americans with Ethiopian or Eritrean heritage,” President Biden wrote in his statement on September 10, 2021, before highlighting the pains many are feeling over the coronavirus pandemic and the conflict in the Tigray region, which is affecting the entire region.

“In addition to the pain and loss caused by COVID-19, the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia may be directly affecting your families and loved ones,”President Biden wrote. “We are all deeply concerned by the reports of violence against civilian populations in Ethiopia, and my Administration is engaging in robust diplomacy with our partners throughout the region to peacefully resolve conflicts in the Horn of Africa.”

President Biden said the United States “has a deep and long-lasting commitment to the people of the Horn of Africa,” and “we will continue to speak out against violence and the inhumane treatment of any group of people, and we will continue our support for addressing humanitarian needs in the region.”

“We believe Ethiopia, a great and diverse nation, can overcome its current divisions and resolve the ongoing conflict, beginning with a negotiated ceasefire,” he said. “Building peace will not be easy, but it can and must begin now with dialogue and by seeking unity in our common humanity.”

He added, “Melkam Addis Amet to all those celebrating. And I pray this New Year may usher forth peace, reconciliation, and healing for families and communities across Ethiopia, Eritrea, and worldwide.”

The conflict in the Tigray region has been going on since November of last year. The United States, the United Nations, the African Union and others have been trying to find a negotiated solution for several months without any success.

While hundreds of thousands of people in the Tigray region are said to be on the brink of an unprecedented famine, the war in the region is crushing the economy and scaring tourists. For many, Ethiopia and Eritrea are now too dangerous to visit and too unstable to do business with.

The Biden administration has called on all parties to embrace peace, asserting that there is no military solution to the conflict there. But that call has yet to be answered by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali and other actors in the region.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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