U.S. responds to recent promises by Ethiopian government: ‘what we’ll be looking for is action’

Late last week the Ethiopian Government told the UN that it would allow trucks to drive for the first time in more than six weeks

The United States on Monday responded to recent promises by the Ethiopian government that it would allow some humanitarian access into the Tigray region, saying that words are important but action is what is needed.

“Late last week the Ethiopian Government told the UN that it would allow trucks to drive for the first time in more than six weeks,” a journalist began his question to State Department spokesperson Ned Price during a press briefing in Washington. “Obviously, we’ve seen the Ethiopians allow Obasanjo to come in and out, Kenyatta and Feltman, and yet not a single truck has moved in since the promise that was given late Thursday night. Do you believe an apparent shift in the Ethiopian Government’s tone is legitimate or a ploy to buy time?”

Price said the United States government is looking for action and not mere words, adding that it would welcome any action that would facilitate delivery of assistance to the people in need.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed © Donat Sorokin/TASS Host Photo Agency 
SOCHI

He said, “Well, we have consistently said that we welcome words but what we’ll be looking for is action, and that includes in the context of humanitarian access and humanitarian deliveries into Tigray and to northern Ethiopia.  We would welcome any action from the Government of Ethiopia that would allow lifesaving humanitarian assistance to reach all of those in need in Tigray and across Ethiopia regardless of ethnicity. We have not seen, as you alluded to, any action that would indicate that these trucks can safely transport lifesaving humanitarian supplies.

“Moving trucks with relief supplies is just one of many steps that are necessary to help the millions of people across the region who are in need. We know and we have heard from humanitarian aid organizations that they need to be able to move fuel, to move cash, to move food, to move other supplies in order to operate programs that distribute these lifesaving and essential supplies once they go into Tigray and Amhara. 

“We have repeatedly and increasingly urgently called for all parties to allow and facilitate unhindered humanitarian access, and we are alarmed, as we have said over the course of the last week or so, at the detention of UN and NGO staff and drivers, which is yet another obstruction of humanitarian aid.  Humanitarian aid, humanitarian access must be allowed so that these aid workers can work free from harassment, free from intimidation, and of course, free from detention as well.

A UN food convoy on its way to Tigray in July 
A UN food convoy on its way to Tigray in July

“Let me make one other point because it is just incredibly important in the context of Ethiopia. This is a challenge that we are engaging on.  It’s a challenge that will be high on the agenda when Secretary Blinken meets with President Kenyatta and is in the region, is in Kenya and the continent this week.  But the security situation in Ethiopia continues to be tenuous.  Earlier this month, we – our embassy went on ordered departure.  Our embassy is still open, but we did go on ordered departure.  And since earlier this month, we have gone from recommending to urging Americans to avail themselves of the commercial flight options that continue to be available out of Addis to leave the country immediately. 

“We are doing that not because we are pessimistic about the prospects for peace, but because we are practical, and these options are still available today.  There are days this week where nearly two dozen commercial flights will be available. We understand from the embassy that there is excess capacity on these flights.  The embassies’ American – section of American Citizens Services has been – has actually extended its hours.  It’s open seven days a week.  We are providing repatriation loans.  In other words, we are actually up-fronting the costs of return tickets or tickets – airfare out of the country so that Americans can avail themselves of this option. 

“I think there may be a misperception that what we saw in Afghanistan is something that the U.S. Government can undertake anywhere and everywhere in the world.  What we saw in Afghanistan was unique; it was extraordinary.  It was something that this administration had not done before.  It is something that no administration had done before.  In the military-led airlift of nearly 125,000 individuals, the context of Afghanistan was unique.  The context of Afghanistan is not something that the U.S. Government can replicate elsewhere. 

“And so that is why we are being explicit in urging Americans to avail themselves of these plentiful commercial options.  The security situation in and around Addis continues to be stable. And there is no reason that Americans should wait until the last minute or that anyone should expect that we may be in a position to undertake something similar to what we saw in Afghanistan.  The conditions, the context is just quite different.”

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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