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Ethiopian bloggers rally to save controversial bill

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia, Digital Activism, Governance, Human Rights, International Relations, Law, Migration & Immigration, Politics, Protest, War & Conflict

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 [1] – the ‘Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006′ (see the full list of H.R. 5680 posts on Technorati [2]).

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 [3] 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 [4] and Update: HR 5680 [5] 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 [6]. 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 [7]. Enset published an article from Fikru Helebo in the post Let's Give HR 5680 the Support it Deserve [8] 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: http://www.house.gov/writerep/. 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 [9] 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 [10]:

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.