One of the largest Ethiopian diaspora associations in the US has launched a lobbying and public relations push in support of the government as ethnic clashes threaten to tear the east African nation apart.
The Boulder-based Ethiopian American Civic Council, which represents Ethiopians of various ethnic and political backgrounds, has hired former Colorado state lawmaker Joe Miklosi (D-Denver) as well as Monica McCafferty and her Colorado public affairs firm MCM Strategies.
The two firms are tasked with lobbying Congress, the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and reaching out to private sector stakeholders to “increase humanitarian aid and media and stakeholder access to the Tigray region.” The firms’ lobbying registrations state that the council hopes to leverage the estimated 750,000 US residents of Ethiopian descent to press for action.
“Under this engagement, the EACC’s most immediate interests are to end the sectarian violence, resolve the conflict in the Tigray region, increase much needed humanitarian aid and assistance, and expand press access throughout the area,” McCafferty told Foreign Lobby Report.
Miklosi previously lobbied for the council on passage of a congressional resolution condemning Ethiopian human rights abuses in 2018, which passed just as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed‘s accession to power ushered in a short-lived moment of optimism in a country long plagued by ethnic strife. The council worked with Ethiopian negotiators last year in urging Congress to side with Addis Ababa in its dispute with Cairo over Ethiopia’s new hydroelectric dam on the Nile, but the council insisted at the time that it was not advocating on Abiy’s behalf.
At least three other Ethiopian-American groups are lobbying for the US to take a more active role in holding Ethiopian officials and security forces to account. Lobbyit has represented the North Carolina-based Amhara Association of America since 2019 and recently stepped up its lobbying, disclosing $20,000 in payments in the first quarter (up from less than $25,000 for all of 2020). Lobbyit’s director of government relations Justin Lewis lobbies on “educating members of congress on human rights abuses in Ethiopia.”
He said the group’s priorities include informing Congress about targeted massacres and displacement of ethnic Amharas and human rights abuses against other ethnic groups, urging the US to condemn the massacres and pressing for “comprehensive, independent, and transparent investigations.”
“We do not currently call for targeted sanctions,” Lewis said, “but it is something we could explore pending the results of independent investigations into these atrocities.”
And the Tigray Center for Information and Communication, a humanitarian group based in Alexandria, Virginia, has hired policy and advocacy consulting firm Von Batten-Montague-York. The group’s objectives are to remove all Eritrean troops are out of Tigray, open independent investigations into the atrocities in the region and hold those responsible liable, and secure more US aid for the region. Firm co-founder Karl Von Batten is also lobbying for passage of a resolution from Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that reflects many of those priorities.
From October 2020 until last month, Von Batten also paid $30,000 to DiRoma and Eck on behalf of the Washington-area Oromo Legacy Leadership & Advocacy Association. The firm’s co-founders, former Donald Trump Treasury Department officials Michael DiRoma and Andrew Eck, notably lobbied for human rights sanctions against abusive Ethiopian security forces.
Finally, JM International, a real estate development and petroleum distribution company based in northern Virginia, has hired former Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) of Black Diamond Strategies along with Platinum Advisors DC to lobby on “support for US humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia.”
The Ethiopian government has pushed back with its own influence campaign. The embassy hired Washington lobbying firm Venable for $35,000 per month in February, with the country’s Ministry of Peace following suit a month later with a $45,000-a-month contract with global law firm Holland & Knight.
The lobbying by the Amhara and Oromo groups appears to be gaining traction. While the Joe Biden administration has been largely focused on the fighting in the northern region of Tigray, senior Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) led a congressional letter with four other senators to the president’s envoy to the Horn of Africa last week that urged the US to pay attention to conflicts across the country.
“In addition to your advocacy surrounding the Tigray conflict, we urge you to advocate for peace, reconciliation, and tolerance throughout Ethiopia,” reads the April 29 letter to Jeffrey Feltman. “In the immediate term, this means pushing Ethiopia’s leaders to curtail violence against civilians by state and non-state actors throughout the country and to lay the groundwork for truly democratic elections.”
“Over the longer term, we hope that you will support the independent investigation of human rights abuses committed in Oromia, Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Tigray, and other regions, with full accountability for those found responsible,” the letter continues. “We also encourage you to promote a process
of national dialogue that brings together all of the country’s ethnic and political groups to chart a more stable, harmonious, and inclusive future for Ethiopia.”
The Ethiopian government for its part insists it is in the right as long-simmering ethnic tensions rage on. This week the Ethiopian parliament backed a request from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed‘s government to label the Oromo Liberation Army and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front as terrorist groups.
Update: This post has been updated to clarify the Ethiopian American Civic Council’s stance on the conflict in Tigray.