Washington lobbying firm Mercury Public Affairs has picked up a new diaspora group endorsed by the Ethiopian government as Congress and the Joe Biden administration continue to press Addis Ababa over ethnic strife in the east African country.
The firm has registered four lobbyists on its account with the Pennsylvania-based American Ethiopia Public Affairs Committee (AEPAC), including former Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and former Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.). Rounding out the lobbying team are Deirdre Stach and Jamiyl Peters, a former aide to Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.).
“AEPAC was established in March 2021 in response to deteriorating US-Ethiopia political relations caused by [the] lack of recognition among some US officials and legislatures of the strong strategic partnership between United States and Ethiopia,” the group says on its web site. “AEPAC works to maintain and enhance bilateral relations by providing balanced and credible information. AEPAC encourages both sides to overcome short-term issues and pursue a strategic partnership that will serve the long-term mutual interest of the two nations.”
Mercury will lobby on “strengthening the organization’s reputation and identifying opportunities to further diaspora’s role in US civic society,” according to its lobbying registration, which was effective June 1. Mercury also represents the governments of Uganda and Zimbabwe as well as the transitional Government of National Unity in Libya.
AEPAC is led by a trio of Ethiopian-American businessmen: Executive Chairman Mesfin Tegenu, the CEO of drug pricing company RxParadigm in Delaware; Secretary Youm Abiy Fesseha, the president of Pennsylvania-based USA Pharma Products; and Treasurer Tilahun Degefu, president of Allied Parking Services in Philadelphia. The group says its funding comes from donor contributions.
The association insists that it is an independent organization “not affiliated with the Ethiopian Government or any political party” but instead represents “pro-Ethiopian American citizens, legal residents and American friends of Ethiopia with different backgrounds, religions and political affiliations with a shared goal of strengthening and expanding the U.S.-Ethiopia relationship.” Its launch however was announced on April 4 on the Ethiopian Embassy’s web site by Ambassador to the US Fitsum Arega, who thanked Ethiopian-Americans for “making the initiative to set up the committee, and their related supports.”
The lobbying push comes as both Congress and the Biden administration have continued to press Addis Ababa to end the fighting in the northern region of Tigray. This week the Ethiopian government announced a unilateral cease-fire after rejecting US calls for a truce when Biden dispatched his ally Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) to the region in March.
Meanwhile the House Foreign Affairs Committee is considering a resolution from Africa subcommittee chairwoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) denouncing human rights abuses by all sides in Ethiopia. A similar bill easily cleared the Senate in April.
AEPAC is only the latest Ethiopian-American group to join a crowded diaspora advocacy field whose divisions mirror those in the multi-ethnic country. While the Denver-based Ethiopian American Civic Council (EACC) has been taking Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed‘s side the conflict, US groups representing the Amharas, Oromos and Tigrayans have all been lobbying Washington in recent month (only the Amhara Association of America is still registered to do so).
The Ethiopian government for its part is represented by Holland & Knight, which signed a six-month, 45,000-a-month contract with the Ethiopian Ministry of Peace in March. The Ethiopian Embassy in Washington for its part declined to renew its own $35,000-a-month lobbying contract with Venable following the end of its three-month term on April 30.