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House bill on Ethiopia violence sparks rival diaspora lobbying

A pending House resolution denouncing human rights abuses in Ethiopia has sparked a flurry of lobbying by rival diaspora groups after a similar resolution sailed through the Senate late last month.

Advocates for specific ethnic groups are lobbying for attacks on their communities to be highlighted in the new bill from Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee panel on Africa. Meanwhile the Denver-based Ethiopian American Civic Council (EACC), which bills itself as the largest and most diverse diaspora group in the country, has brought on three Colorado public affairs professionals in recent weeks to help push back against bipartisan criticism of the government’s response to the violence in Tigray.

“The EACC opposes the recent United States government’s visa restrictions on Ethiopian officials, the elimination of international aid to Ethiopia, and the threatened economic sanctions,” the group said in a list of talking points around Bass’s bill obtained by Foreign Lobby Report. “These actions only harm Ethiopian civilians and will exacerbate an already [untenable] humanitarian situation.”

The talking points were put together with help from Monica McCafferty of Colorado public affairs firm MCM Strategies. Also working for the council are former Colorado state lawmaker Joe Miklosi (D-Denver) and Democratic strategist Ted Trimpa of the Trimpa Group.

The council is led by chairman Yoseph Tafari, an ordained deacon and political activist who fled Ethiopia in 1976. Its issues with the Bass bill include concerns that it appears to treat the Ethiopian National Defense Forces “as a belligerent force in its own country” alongside the outlawed Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and other armed groups.

Other groups worked with Bass’s office before she released her bill to make sure their prioirities were addressed.

The Amhara Association of America for example lobbied to include references to the massacre of at least 600 Amhara civilians in the town of Mai Kadra last November, allegedly at the hands of the TPLF, in both the House and Senate bills. The House bill also references the admission by the governing party of the Benishangul-Gumuz state that dozens of officials have been complicit in targeted ethnic violence against Amhara and other ethnic groups.

“The language in H. Res. 445 shows the success of AAA’s tireless advocacy efforts, as Congress starts to become comfortable with explicitly calling out these massacres,” chairman Tewodrose Tirfe said in a press release.


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Now the group says it will push for “additional language via the amendment process” to “explicitly call out the targeting of Amharas” in the Oromia region, the country’s largest state and home to the capital, Addis Ababa. The group also wants the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to expand their joint investigation of the violence in Tigray to Oromia and other regions where Amharas are being targeted.

“Ethiopia is facing numerous humanitarian, human rights, and political crises right now, including the continued targeted massacres of civilian Amharas across the country,” Tirfe said. “We estimate that in the past 11 months, at least 2,041 Amharas were killed and 800,000 were internally displaced due to these atrocities.”

Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, the AAA has retained the services of Washington lobbying firm Lobbyit since 2019. The association doubled its lobbying spend to $20,000 in the first quarter of 2021 as Ethiopia garners growing attention in Washington.

(Click below to listen to our recent interview with Lobbyit founder Paul Kanitra and AAA lobbyist Justin Lewis on The Influencers, the weekly podcast hosted by Foreign Lobby Report and crisis communications firm LEVICK.)

Finally, Karl Von Batten of policy and advocacy consulting firm Von Batten-Montague-York tells Foreign Lobby Report that he has stopped lobbying for the pro-Tigrayan Tigray Center for Information and Communication following passage of the Senate bill. But he vowed to press Congress and the Joe Biden administration to carry through with calls in both the House and Senate bills for Ethiopia to “convene a credible and countrywide process of national dialogue and reconciliation.”

The diaspora lobbying fight comes as the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington declined to renew its own $35,000-a-month lobbying contract with Venable following the end of its three-month term. The firm lobbied heavily on the Senate bill between February and April.

Venable’s departure leaves the Ethiopian government with just one lobbying firm: Holland & Knight, which is working for the Ministry of Peace. The $45,000-a-month contract was signed March 12 and lasts six months.