By- Mahlet Ayele Beyecha
Once again the black community in the U.S. has shown its support for Ethiopia when the country is left alone to deal with the dispute over the Great Renaissance Dam that it currently is building on the Nile River. However this has not been reciprocated with similar reaction during the ongoing Black Lives Matter struggle of the community, not to mention the Ethiopian government did not applaud the Congressional Black Caucus for their support to Ethiopia. The latter is my reason for writing this article.
In recent months the tripartite negotiations between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt have hindered, and tensions have escalated on the GERD. In January of this year, Egypt breached the principles agreement made in 2015 between the trio only to carry out the negotiation between the three countries. The Northern African country took the case to the U.S and World Bank. Ethiopian representatives have withdrawn from the talks since the U.S. administration has shifted from a mediator to an arbitrator position and the draft prepared did not take Ethiopia’s input into account. Following this, Egypt took the matter to the UN Security Council in which the response was to stick to the 2015 agreement of the three countries, thus not in its favor. Egypt embarked on diplomatic pressure on Ethiopia by knocking doors of the Arab League, European Union, and the Middle East. Still, to its dismay, not African Union or any African State, to which it is a member.
It is in the midst of this the Black American community once again in history demonstrated its alliance with Ethiopia and protested the stance of the U.S. administration on the matter. In this regard, the Congressional Black Caucus in the U.S. released a statement on June 23, in support of Ethiopia’s right to complete the dam and for negotiations to proceed as per the 2015 agreement and commending the African Union to solve the problem.
“The Congressional Black Caucus urges the United States and all other international actors to respect the 2015 Declaration of Principles trilateral agreement signed between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, and to continue to play an impartial role, only seeking the counsel of the African Union and diplomats on the ground in the region. In particular, the African Union has a pivotal role in expressing to all parties that a peaceful negotiated deal benefits all and not just some on the continent.”
This is the second time Ethiopia received the support from the black community in the U.S. Earlier in March, Ethiopia pulled out from the Trump-led negotiation after a piecemeal document was presented to sign in which Ethiopia rejected as “totally unacceptable” because the document prepared lacks the outcome of the talks- the technical and legal discussion of the three countries. This document was reportedly signed only by Egypt.
Photo credit: google (?)
Amid this, the black Congressman Steven Alexander Horsford, who is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, became a voice of Ethiopia. He called upon the Trump Administration “to avoid discrepancy and balanced stance toward the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).”
The lending of a helping hand from the international black community to Ethiopia should come as no surprise. The Italian colonial invasion of Ethiopia from 1936 to 1941 and the feeble response of the international community generally and the League of Nations, in particular, triggered an explosion of outrage and concern by the black community. Following the invasion, African American groups started to form different organizations to collect aid for Ethiopia. These organizations came together under the name of Menilek club, in order to acquire recognition for better coordination and exposing the colonizers. This awakening was brought to the Emperor’s attention and led to the birth of the Ethiopian World Federation (EWF) in 1937, founded by a special emissary Dr. Melaku Beyan sent by the Emperor.
The African Americans have contributed from cash, medicine to weapons, and black patriots who left to Ethiopia to fight against Italy. This support was later continued with a professional workforce mobilization to help Ethiopia in its economic development endeavor.
Mwakigili (2007, p.24) records that, unfortunately, the feelings of the black repatriates who left to Ethiopia for help were not reciprocated, to the extent that they should have been by the Ethiopians who were expected to fully embrace black America as their Kith-and-kin.
The black community across U.S. Europe and the Caribbean at that time were awakened and inspired by Marcus Garvey, who prophesized the crowning of Emperor Haileselassie I and the founder of the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) that was facilitating the repatriation to Africa. Albeit Garvey’s repeated request to meet the Emperor in exile in Bath, it was not possible to achieve. In fact, not only Garvey but other black representatives could not meet the Emperor. This was speculated as; perhaps the king in exile was advised by the imperial advisors that it would be unwise to see Jamaican ‘radicals who were under the British colony (Beyecha, 2018. P.71).
If there is one reason for the world to know Ethiopia besides its infamous association with words famine and drought as referred in the oxford dictionary, is, through the Rastafari movement and its reggae music. Rastafari is an ambassador of Ethiopia on international stages. However, the repatriation of Rastafari to Africa, particularly to Ethiopia, is met by a flexible approach of the state since 1974. It was never welcomed nor rejected. Instead, they received a silent mercy. The state’s draconian law against the Rastafari community that denied their legality was only corrected in 2017 July.
Ethiopia’s shyness to honor the international black community and its resilience in pushing the pan-Africanism agenda demonstrates nothing but a paradox. Today the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted an extraordinary meeting to discuss GERD ahead of the UNSC open session. The meeting included President el-Sisi, PM Abiy, and PM Hamdok of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan. Also, it was attended by some African heads of states and African Union Chairperson. Following this PM Abiy Ahmed thanked the organizer in his tweets:
“Our continental organization, with a Pan-African spirit, is the right space to dialogue on issues that are of value to #Africa. The #GERD offers all stakeholders the opportunity for unprecedented economic growth and mutual development. ½
Fruitful discussions on African Solutions to the #GERD with the Bureau of the AU Assembly plus #Ethiopia, #Sudan & #Egypt. I appreciate @CyrilRamaphosa for his leadership in facilitating these high-level talks of continental significance. Gratitude also to @AUC_MoussaFaki.2/2″
However, except for Ethiopian tweeps, I have not seen a statement from the Ethiopian government acknowledging the support of Congressional Black Caucus and Congressman Horsford who advocated and advised the same- i.e. to resolve the matter by the trio and by the African Union.
Ethiopia continues to play a central role in inspiring the international black community in general and the pan-African movement in particular as it represents the symbol of freedom and independence in the heart of black people. Ethiopia should step up its response to acknowledge, honor, and applaud the international black community when it is due to do so.
Mahlet Ayele Beyecha is an independent Pan-African and Middle East researcher. She holds an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Ben Gurion University and a Research Masters in African Studies from Leiden University. She can be reached at [email protected]
Beyecha, Mahlet Ayele, 2018. The Rastafari in Ethiopia: Challenges and Paradoxes of Belonging. Masters Thesis, Leiden University.
The Congressional Black Caucus Statement on the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. https://cbc.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=2200 June 23, 2020.
Congressman Horsford calls for Trump to Balance Stand towards GERD. https://www.ena.et/en/?p=13011 ENA, March 4, 2020.
Mwakikagile, Godfrey. Relations between Africans and African Americans: Misconceptions, myths, and realities. New Africa Press, 2007.