Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed did not meet with Biden’s top official Samantha Power in Addis Ababa but her message was loud and clear: stop the war in Tigray and allow humanitarian access to avoid famine

The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 but has come under intense scrutiny for pursuing war and death rather than peace and stability, did not meet with President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s top official Samantha Power when she traveled to Addis Ababa on Wednesday but her message was loud and clear: stop the war in Tigray and allow humanitarian access to avoid famine.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali address the media briefing at the conclusion of the Official Visit by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia at the Union Buildings in Tshwane. January 12, 2020 
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali address the media briefing at the conclusion of the Official Visit by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia at the Union Buildings in Tshwane. January 12, 2020

Supporters of Abiy Ahmed in the United States told Today News Africa in Washington DC on Thursday night that the Prime Minister deliberately did not want to meet with Power, who is the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), because she has pushed for humanitarian access into Tigray, a ruse to indirectly supply the TPLF with weapons of war.

Those allegations have long been discredited and the supporters who spoke with this publication did not offer any evidence to back up their outlandish claims. Still, such conspiracy theories may be behind the refusal by the Ethiopian government to cooperate with the international community and negotiate an end to hostilities in the Tigray region in the northern part of the country, which have now lasted more than nine months.

The Biden administration, the United Nations, the European Union, as well as a web of human rights organizations have alleged that grave human rights abuses, including war crimes and ethnic cleansing have been committed by Ethiopian troops and driven parts of Tigray into famine.

President-elect Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden arrive to the inaugural platform Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, for the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy) 
President-elect Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden arrive to the inaugural platform Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, for the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

The Biden administration has already withheld security assistance for Ethiopia and banned top level government officials from traveling to the United States.

Power’s agency, USAID, holds more than $1 billion in annual aid to Ethiopia and that has been put largely on hold.

The United States, the largest aid donor to Ethiopia, has been helping the Horn of Africa nation with emergency humanitarian support, including food, health and education.

At a press briefing in Addis, Power, the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations under President Barack Obama, talked about “alarming humanitarian catastrophe where 5.2 million people remain in a state of dire need.”

Obama Biden 
Obama and Biden

“The U.S. is watching with great alarm as a conflict that began in Tigray is now beginning to spread,” she said. “We now estimate that there are roughly 76,000 internally displaced persons in Afar and 150,000 internally displaced persons in Amhara after TPLF military expansion into neighboring provinces. Other values, values like humanitarian aid workers should be free to do their jobs and never be targeted, attacked, or harassed, and they should have unhindered access to the desperate Ethiopian people whose lives they are trying to save.”

Power detailed U.S. humanitarian intervention in Ethiopia, asserting that “from support for public health to investments in Ethiopia’s agricultural transformation to sustained humanitarian assistance across decades, the United States has deep, deep roots of partnership with Ethiopia.”

U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Samantha Power, moderates the Transparency, Accountability and Open Government panel at the White House Summit on Global Development in Washington, DC on July 20, 2016. Members of the panel included the Ford Foundation's Director of Civic Engagement and Government, Rakesh Rajani, Ukrainan Member of Parliament Svitlana Zalishchuk, and International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) President and CEO, Douglas Rutzen. 
USAID Administrator Samantha Power

“I am proud to announce new investments to support the health and humanitarian needs of the Ethiopian people on top of the more than $149 million in humanitarian assistance to help people affected by the ongoing conflict in Tigray, which I announced last week, today, I’m announcing more than $45 million in funding to expand and intensify the fight against COVID-19 to support health systems, respond to urgent humanitarian needs and support vaccinations,” Power said.  “This is part of $720 million in new funding that the United States, USAID, is providing to fight the pandemic abroad, including $445 million for sub-Saharan Africa to support COVID-19 response and vaccine readiness and urgent humanitarian needs consistent with the African Union’s continental COVID response strategy.  This is itself in addition to the more than 1.6 million U.S.-purchased Johnson and Johnson vaccine doses that by the end of this week will have been delivered to Ethiopia on behalf of the American people.  And as you know, a delivery of the lion’s share of those doses is happening just in the next day.”

Asked at the press briefing whether whether the United States was concerned about language used recently by  Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who has been criticized for using words like “weeds,” “cancer,” and “disease” to refer to the TPLF, Power said, “Well, I did raise in the meeting with the Minister of Peace the points that I would have raised had I seen the Prime Minister, and this was certainly one of them.”

“Concern about inflamed rhetoric, the dehumanizing rhetoric that you referred to, but also increasingly virulent speech that you find on the Internet and in various publications directed at aid workers.  And already, we have seen horrific attacks against aid workers who are doing nothing more than trying to provide food and other forms of assistance to people in desperate need. So dehumanizing rhetoric of the kind that you referred to only hardens tensions and can, and historically, certainly, often accompanies ethnically-motivated atrocities,” she told an AFP correspondent.

The United Nations Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide last week was concerned about Abiy’s dangerous language and linked it to the possibility of further atrocity crimes in Tigray and elsewhere.

Power is not new to activism. In 2002, she came to prominence with her book “A Problem From Hell,” which severely criticized the United States for inaction during mass killings in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s, Europe during World war II and the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

President Biden in a statement when announcing her appointment described as her as “a world-renowned voice of conscience and moral clarity.”

The American leader said Power’s voice was “challenging and rallying the international community to stand up for the dignity and humanity of all people.”

On peace and stability of Tigray, Power told reporters that U.S. Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman continues to work “tirelessly around the clock, along with other international partners and in constant dialogue with the parties here on the ground to promote the cause of peace.”

Jeffrey D. Feltman speaking at The London Conference on Afghanistan in 2014. Photo taken by Patrick Tsui 
Jeffrey D. Feltman speaking at The London Conference on Afghanistan in 2014. Photo taken by Patrick Tsui

“And my objective in meeting, especially with the Minister of Peace, given her jurisdiction, was to discuss the desperate humanitarian needs that are growing even more acute with every passing day,” Power said. “Our discussions were focused on that. And yes, of course, I stressed the U.S. position, which is our support for an immediate cessation of hostilities, our appeal and demand to the parties to remove themselves from territory along the lines of what you saw me, and the State Department and others speak to yesterday.”

She added: “So even as we appeal to the government to expedite access, to make it easier, not harder, to allow these convoys that are ready, that are filled with food, ready to go, ready to reach mothers, parents who are looking at their kids, and just not even — imagine your kid looking up at you and just, and not having eaten.  I mean, we can feed those kids through our partners, but not if the food can’t get into Tigray.  So I really hope that we’re going to see the access we need now.”  

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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