In Ethiopia, U.S. aid chief Samantha Power sought peace in war-torn Tigray and urged Abiy Ahmed to get out of the way of humanitarian assistance

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali did not meet with U.S. aid chief Samantha Power when she was in Addis Ababa between August 3 and August 4, 2021, to seek peace in the war-torn Tigray and provide humanitarian assistance to the millions of people at an increased risk of famine. However, her message and the actions she took there spoke louder than that missed opportunity.

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

For instance, during a meeting with Ethiopia’s Minister of Peace Muferiat Kamil, Administrator Power stressed the United States’ multi-decade commitment to the welfare of the people of Ethiopia, no matter their identity or affiliation, and “reiterated the United States’ call on the Government of Ethiopia to remove the bureaucratic barriers preventing humanitarian workers from saving lives and the urgency for all parties of the conflict to negotiate a cessation of hostilities and allow unfettered humanitarian access,” spokesman Rebecca Chalif said in a statement on Friday, recapping her stay in Ethiopia.

“She also spoke of the dangers posed by the increasingly inflammatory and ethnically-charged rhetoric, noting as well that hateful rhetoric directed toward humanitarian workers and harassment of convoys traveling through Ethiopia to try to reach Tigray are contributing to a climate of fear in the humanitarian community, particularly among locally employed staff,” Chalif said, adding that the Administrator “also stressed the importance of conducting independent investigations into the attacks on aid workers who are putting their lives on the line to help those most in need.”

From the start, Administrator Samantha Power’s visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was crystal clear, according to Chalif, who said, she traveled there “to draw attention to the urgent need for full and unhindered humanitarian access in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and to emphasize the United States’ commitment to support the Ethiopian people amidst a spreading internal conflict and still-raging COVID-19 pandemic.”

At a press conference, she announced approximately $720 million in new funding from the American Rescue Plan, including approximately $445 million for sub-Saharan Africa and over $45 million for Ethiopia, to expand and intensify the fight against COVID-19 abroad, respond to humanitarian crises exacerbated by COVID-19, and support a global recovery that leaves countries better prepared for future pandemic threats.

Administrator Power, members of the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), and USAID’s Ethiopia Mission Director toured a warehouse in Adama that stores and prepares USAID-provided wheat, yellow split peas, and vegetable oil for delivery throughout Ethiopia, including the Tigray region.

“Unfortunately, many of the warehouses were piled high with goods, and trucks sat idle, as government restrictions and delays have prevented food assistance from reaching those in need,” her spokesperson said.

Chalif added that the tour was followed by a meeting with humanitarian partners who discussed “how checkpoints, ever-shifting paperwork requirements, the cut-off in communications, and impediments to transporting cash and fuel were stifling their ability to reach people in desperate need as the conflict in Tigray crosses into its ninth month.”

“The Administrator expressed her deep appreciation for the tireless work humanitarian workers are doing to help the 5.2 million people in Tigray who are relying on aid for survival,” Chalif said, adding that later in the day, the Administrator toured the USAID supported Chanco Health Center/Maychew Health Center accompanied by Dr. Lia Tadesse, Ethiopian Minister of Health.

During the visit, the group spoke with health care providers and discussed the challenge of delivering services to Ethiopians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Administrator also spoke with USAID implementing partners who outlined specific USAID investments in global health initiatives.

In a meeting with Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the Administrator discussed the importance of strengthening ties between USAID and the Africa CDC, the need to increase capacity for manufacturing vaccines in Africa, and the urgency of distributing COVID vaccines in Ethiopia and across the continent.

Almost a week after that trip, the same challenges on the ground remain virtually the same. In a tweet on Monday, Power made the same call, warning that the situation in Ethiopia “is not a crisis” but “a catastrophe.”

She said 5.2 million people remain at risk and humanitarian access remained blocked by the government.

President Joe Biden poses for photos as he arrives and is greeted by President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Tuesday, June 15, 2021, at the European Council Headquarters in Brussels. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith) 
President Joe Biden poses for photos as he arrives and is greeted by President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Tuesday, June 15, 2021, at the European Council Headquarters in Brussels. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

The status quo may force President Joseph R. Biden Jr. now take things into his hands and act more decisively towards Abiy Ahmed who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize but has pursued war and death rather than the stability his recognition sought to achieve.

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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