November 26, 2022

Fitsum Arega – Ethiopian Ambassador asks for U.S. support “not sanctions”

Ambassador Fitsum Arega of Ethiopia
Ambassador Fitsum Arega of Ethiopia

Last updated on April 12th, 2022 at 02:40 pm

Fitsum Arega has held the position of Ethiopia’s ambassador to the United States since April 2019. Prior to being nominated ambassador to the United States, Fitsum was the Director General of the Ethiopian Investment Commission and the Chief of Staff for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Over the past year, United States- Ethiopia relations have been put to the test as prolonged conflict and human rights abuses have been reported in the Tigray region.

The conflict involving Ethiopian federal forces,TPLF regional forces, and the Eritrean military has resulted in thousands of deaths, millions of displacements, and has put hundreds of thousands at risk of famine. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported abuses including indiscrimante attacks on civilians, sexual violence as a weapon of war, arbitrary arrests and detentions, recruitment of child soldiers, and ethnic-based killings.

When asked to address these grotesque human rights violations in a heated CNN interview in June of 2021, Ambassador Fitsum Arega placed the blame entirely on the TPLF and also asserted, “The priority of the government is addressing the humanitarian challenges in Tigray.” However, the general consensus amongst international organizations is that the Ethiopian government was blocking international humanitarian aid to Tigray for months.

In response to recent reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Ambassador Fitsum has stood by statements from Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that, “The Government of Ethiopia is committed to holding accountable all those responsible for violations of human rights and humanitarian law.”

While Ethiopia’s conflict has drawn immense international attention, it is not the only issue facing the people of Ethiopia. It has combined with the coronavirus pandemic to exacerbate pre-existing instability and create new economic challenges.

Speaking on Ethiopia’s relationship with the United States, Ambassador Fitsum Arega said in June of 2021, “We still believe the U.S. is our strategic partner. We value the friendship and the assistance in this challenging time.”

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However, the United States has placed economic sanctions on Ethiopian officials in response to the humanitarian crisis. Many fear that the relationship between the U.S. and Ethiopia could continue to deteriorate if the United States is not met with cooperation.

Ambassador Fitsum said on April 2, 2022 that Ethiopia “needs support not sanctions that would only hurt the very people that partners aspire to protect.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered hope that progress is being made when he said on April 1, 2022, “We welcome the delivery of humanitarian assistance over recent days to Ethiopians in the Tigray and Afar regions. We urge all parties to build upon this positive step to ensure progress toward a secure, stable, and prosperous Ethiopia.”

While Ambassador Fitsum Arega and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed have consistently denied claims that the government has been blocking humanitarian aid, an indefinite humanitarian truce was declared by the Ethiopian government in late March that is hoped to be implemented.

The situation in Tigray is not the first time that Ambassador Fitsum has found himself at odds with the United States government. He has been an adamant supporter of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and vocally opposed plans by the U.S. to cut funding to the project in 2020.

Ambassador Fitsum has a Master’s degree in Development Economics and Policy Management from the University of Manchester, a Master’s of Business from the Open University Business School, and a postgraduate degree in Local Government Systems and Management from the University of Birmingham.

Prior to being Chief of Staff and then Ambassador, Fitsum Arega had held numerous other governmental positions including Head of the Addis Ababa Investment Agency, Head of the Addis Ababa Trade and Industry Bureau.

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