By Gennet Negussie
Virginia has one of the highest populations of Ethiopian Americans in the United States and last year the 100,000 strong community united and helped change the outcome of the gubernatorial election – giving Republican Glenn Youngkin our support and delivering a shock win over Democrat Terry McAuliffe. What started in Virginia is spreading around the country as we edge ever closer to the mid-term elections.
The new unity and organization in the Ethiopian American community have been sparked by our collective frustration at the Biden Administration’s policy towards the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia. The State Department’s position, as well as that of many Democrats, and some Republicans on the Hill is based on punishing the democratic government of Ethiopia and largely ignoring the main aggressors in the conflict, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Not only does such an approach not help Ethiopia, with aid now flowing to Tigray following a government-led truce, it is also painfully counterproductive to U.S. interests in the region with anti-American sentiment rising sharply. If there is no recalibration, this wholly one-sided stance will not only endanger lives in Ethiopia, but also turn vital diaspora voters off the Democratic Party here in the U.S. – and we all know that’s the sort of language politicians really pay attention to.
The mid-terms are already shaping up to be intense yet fascinating. The economy and abortion are likely to take centre stage nationally, while in districts across the country battles will be raging on many different issues that will ultimately motivate voters to go one way or the other.
The Ethiopian American community is estimated to be up to one million strong and with the diaspora being concentrated in many of the critical swing states such as: Virginia, Georgia, Texas, Nevada and Pennsylvania, it is clear the potential impact we could have.
The American Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee (AEPAC) has worked hard to help nurture the community and explain the value of acting as a bipartisan voting bloc. The first test was in Virginia last year and the impact we had there in mobilizing voters played a decisive role in the election outcome. It is our intention to do the same in a narrow set of seats this November. We will have a dual approach: back our supporters in Congress and challenge those who have led the anti-Ethiopian aggression from the United States.
In New Jersey, we are considering how we can support Congressman Tom Malinowski’s Republican challenger. Malinowski has led the charge on the Hill against Ethiopia by proposing HR6600. He is also very vulnerable given the redistricting that has swung his seat more conservative. Those who have stood by Ethiopia over the last year, such as Congressmen Chris Smith and John Garamendi, will enjoy our full backing.
There are other targeted campaigns we are engaging with and providing financial and mobilizational support. I am confident our diaspora, as the Cuban American and Israeli American communities have long been able to do, will act as a block and support candidates who will further our goals and strengthen the relationship between Ethiopia and the United States.
November is still five months away and there are things President Biden and Democratic leaders can do to influence our thinking. However, words are not enough to undo the damage to trust among the diaspora. We need to see action. That can be in the form of reinstating Ethiopia’s place in AGOA, calling on the TPLF rebels to lay down their arms and pulling HR6600 and S3199. Sadly, we seem a long way from that, therefore we will use democracy instead of advocacy to have our voices heard.
Gennet Negussie, is a leading member of the American Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee (AEPAC), she is also an advocate for Global Ethiopian Advocacy Nexus, a US based grassroots organization of Ethiopia Americans to promote democracy and human rights in Ethiopia.