Ethiopian bloggers rally to save controversial bill

Ethiopia’s diaspora bloggers are flexing their political muscles in a bid to save a controversial bill they claim has been blocked in the US Congress.

The highly-politicised groups of Ethiopian writers living in the USA published a flurry of posts over the past week to persuade Congress to pass House Resolution 5680 – the ‘Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006′ (see the full list of H.R. 5680 posts on Technorati).

HR 5680 is, in its own words, designed “to encourage and facilitate the consolidation of security, human rights, democracy, and economic freedom in Ethiopia”. It amounts to a condemnation of Ethiopia's current government and a series of punitive actions – everything from “[prohibiting] security assistance to Ethiopia” (with exceptions for peacekeeping or counter-terrorism assistance) and a ban on “U.S. entry of any Ethiopian official involved in giving orders to use lethal force against peaceful demonstrators or accused of gross human rights violations, government security personnel involved in shootings of demonstrators, and Ethiopian civilians involved in killings of Ethiopian policemen”. The latter prohibition is a reference to bloody clashes between protesters and armed police that left more than 80 dead after Ethiopia's national elections last year.

Ethiopian diaspora supporters of the bill, which was proposed by New Jersey representative Chris Smith, recently claimed that the legislation had stalled in Congress after the Ethiopian government hired a lobbying company to argue their case.

For The Defense gave an account of the history of the bill in his lengthy Open Letter to U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert which started:

Dear Mr. Speaker:

I write this letter on behalf of hundreds of thousands of proud and loyal Ethiopian Americans who have placed their trust in the United States Congress to spread the blessings of freedom, democracy and human rights to our birthplace of Ethiopia.

Weichegud ET Politics! was among a number of campaigners who went one further by pubishing the Speaker's email address and encouraging people to write to him themselves. In the posts The Ethiopian Diaspora comes of age and Update: HR 5680 she said that the campaign was a key moment for the USA's growing Ethiopian community:

To be sure, the Diaspora (the vocal one that Ato Meles’ government feels a need to, um, shut up [Meles Zenawi is Ethiopia's Prime Minister]) has come a long way. There are Ethiopian-American “get out the vote” initiatives happening. People are meeting with their representatives and senators. Even at a very ad hoc level, there is significant movement. Eventually, there will be one big gynormous PAC [People's Action Committee]. But until then, there is an impressive, educated grass roots movement planting strong seeds.

She warned that it would still take time to achieve their aims:

People have to be methodical and calm. Fighting for democracy is not a “quick result” game where we think if we do X then Y must follow or the entire equation is wrecked. Sometimes you have to go through V to get to Y.

Carpe Diem Ethiopia took a more emotional tack by posting photographs that allegedly showed victims of human rights abuse in the post Support H.R. 5680. He wrote:

All DLA Piper lobbyists and lawyers googleing around for information on Ethiopia should see are images of our mothers and our children crushed under the weight of tyranny. Carry these images in your minds during your cab ride to Capitol Hill.

Bloggers swapped tips on how to campaign for the bill. Others pointed to the new website of the Coalition for H.R. 5860. Enset published an article from Fikru Helebo in the post Let's Give HR 5680 the Support it Deserve which read:

compatriots, let's roll and give HR 5680 the support it deserves and let the chips fall where they may…Here is how to contact your representatives: All you need to do is enter your state and your zip code and the web site tells you who your represetative is…

Enset went on to pointed readers to articles about political lobbying in Congress in his post Supporting HR 5680 this Saturday. He concluded:

Realistically speaking, it looks like that the chances of HR 5680 being brought to the house floor for a vote next week are very slim. But, whatever happens next week, it will not be the end of the road for Ethiopian Human Rights and democracy advocacy. The spirit of HR 5680 will live on

ethiopundit reflected on what Ethiopian-American campaigners had achieved so far – and looked forward to even more influential days to come in the post Ethiopian-American:

We have absolutely no doubt that there will be at least one Ethiopian-American Congressmen within the next decade and that a decade later there will be at least one Senator. In the meantime in every walk of American life they will strive, work and achieve.

Like all other immigrant groups it is natural and singularly American that they are concerned with their place of origin…

As far as Ethiopian-American political activism goes, this is just the beginning – success and help for Ethiopia will come long before the first kid who ate shiro and hamburgers from birth sits on the Supreme Court.

The political debate in Ethiopia's blogosphere is dominated by anti-government voices. No posts arguing the government's case turned up in a search of Technorati and other sources.


  • Where are the pro-government bloggers?…

    A guy called chubby just left this comment: hey, i was just wondering are there any pro-meles or government websites? all i can find is one sided against the gov’t, would like to see the other side…thanks andrew There are……

  • Alex

    Hi Andrew, First of all I would like to say that I really appreciate the work you are doing in Ethiopia and above all your neutrality. But, I would like to know why you said the H.R. 5680, the Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006, is a controversial bill? In my opinion all the bill does is emphasise on human rights and democracy, about freeing elected political leaders who have been arrested on ridiculous charges of genocide and treason, are being held in despicable conditions and face the death penalty. The passage of HR 5680 also includes an authorisation of $20 million over a period of two years to assist political prisoners, indigenous Ethiopian human rights organisations, independent media, civil society and to promote legal training. So what is controversial about asking for Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights for the Black people of Ethiopia?

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  • Hi Alex – I didn’t mean to make any personal comment on the merits of the bill by calling it “controversial”. I just meant that it has been the cause of controversy – some people are very much for it – others (presumably the government) are very much against it). The fact that it is being stalled – by whatever means – shows that thre is som sort of controversy surrounding it. Do you think that is fair enough – or does the word still imply some sort of judgement?

  • hey ethios i support the bill, atleast most of it. but there are many problems with it. some of it used to ask for return of money to eritrean businessmen kicked out of ethiopia. its funny because hundreds of ethio business men kicked out by eritrea are not mentioned. so the bill is suspicious and there is one congressmen who is a friend of a rich eritrean. i forgot his name. anyway that is one. The second problem is it condemns the government while the CUDP opposition group is pleading guilty and admitting its unconstitutional insurrection plans. many police killed, many police injured also. so the selective condemnation raises political issues and even ethnic issues. the CUDP represetatives threatening to kick out all tigrayans out of Addis ababa was also undemocratic. one CUDP leader said “tigre to Mekelle” referring to chasing out all tigrayans out of addis and to mekelle(tigray capital)
    this is just one example. so the bill should be edited and then all of us (even supporters of ruling party) will bring the BILL back to life and promote it. otherwise, let it just die out.

  • samson

    All Ethiopian supporters and pushers of the bill. Wake up! Stop and think.

    America digs for itself. I don’t think we are doing the same. History shows us that our differences are weak points for external intruders. Americans behind this bill are either beneficiaries of the Isayas regime or neocolonialists who would never like to see a nation that instills the concept of black freedom and pride. Unfortunatley, we are delivering for their destabilizing intentions. Where was America during the election when people were dying. Carter, it’s missionaire, was approving of the election, when 80% of the population was crying fraud!. Now, when positive trends begin to flush, when we start to see light at the end of the tunnel, no body seems happy.

    I don’t mean to support the govt., eventhough I believe I do have the right to do so. What I mean is at least Ethiopians should refrain form serving the evil purposes of selfish superpowers. It is the Ethiopians who would suffer the consequences of sunctions, not Meles. I suggest the Kinijit to learn and fight from within. There is no short cut to people’s power. Let’s unite and rule our country. Work for fair shares between nationalities.

  • SOFI

    Surprised Tigist Shibabaw’s passing hasn’t been widely discussed. Being GIGI’s sister and a musician as well, I wonder why she makes suicide. Her death is somehow related to lack of family support. I hear tidbits that GIGI is estranged from her family, might the same be true of Tigist. Its sad whatever her demon, it took her life away. Unfortunate her support whether friends or family either didn’t know her situation or were unsuccessful. I think the thought of suicide might be a common occurrence in moments of brief or long depression.

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