EthioPoint: Ethiopians Analysis | Research Articles

Open letter to Mr. H. Cohen

14 mins read

July 16, 2020
Mr Cohen, Get Off Ethiopia’s Neck!
By Getaneh Kassahun

Dear Mr. Cohen,

CoGreetings! I see that you’re back with another comment on Ethiopia, this time on a problem you helped create as a 59-year old diplomat—in which you assured Ethiopians and Americans alike, that the TPLF lead Marxist guerrilla would deliver a representative democracy. How did that turn out, three decades later, Mr Cohen?

Allow me to refer back to my email to you on January 30, 2020 in which I protested your, uninvited, conflict-of-interest ridden “solution” for Ethio-Egypt dispute on the Nile. Knowing full well that only 40% Ethiopian population has access to electricity and the precarious nature of Ethiopian economy, you suggested GERD dam be filled very slowly, in return for some intangible green-cow investment. I’m glad and relieved that Ethiopia refused to sign on the dotted line of a permanent poison pill that would have forsaken its future and walked away. The matter is now back to where it belongs: Africa, as opposed to in the hands of people with overlord entitlement mentality to propose and/or impose “solutions” to places they can’t locate on maps and for people they know nothing about their history. American interest in the region is best served by a stable and prosperous Ethiopia. A proposal to restrict Ethiopia’s ability to utilize its waters with its own resources, when its current population of 114 million swells past 200 million in 30 years—on top of the unwritten loan and aid embargo by US lead international financial institutions (WB, IMF) on projects on the Nile (where Ethiopia contributes 85% of the water volume)—was not only unjust and unfair to Ethiopia but very counterproductive for all stakeholders involved.

I truly don’t understand why you keep commenting, albeit infrequently, on Ethiopian affairs after you personally told me, back in October of last year, as having decided to stay out of Ethiopian issues because, admittedly, your understanding of Ethiopian issues and history is full of <insert choice words> selected mythologies propagated by TPLF and OLF ideologues. One of such mythology that you carried and practiced for close to four decades, is the idea of Amhara hegemony. You told me: “everything I know about the Amhara, Meles Zenawi taught me.” And then you’re surprised to find out, just recently, that HIM Haile Selassie had Oromo linage.  But then you keep failing upwards to somehow “offer a solution” to Ethiopia’s problems.
In contrast, the late Paul Henze, who was former deputy NSC & was CIA station chief in Addis Ababa, studied Ethiopian history extensively–with  keen interest at that. He wrote books on Ethiopian history, published volumes and travelled extensively. From a letter, dated Jul 30, 1992, to the then President of Transitional Government, Meles Zenawi, Mr Henze has this to say about OLF and ethnic politics:

“The OLF tries to represent the Oromo as victimized by Menelik and never given justice for their sufferings. They are entitled to their own view of history, but they cannot require other Ethiopian people to accept it. Much of their history is selective mythology. They forget that in historical terms the Oromo are one of the newest peoples in Ethiopia. Europeans in North America in Whites in South Africa have occupied their territories longer than Oromos in the most regions of Ethiopia. Political debate, however, if it centers on alleged rights and wrongs of the past, leads nowhere. Political debate should be about the opportunities of the future and how best to take advantage of them, not about past history…

If the OLF turns the Oromo into an alienated, disgruntled group supporting insurgency and other destructive actions, they will do the people they claim to represent great harm. They will also make Ethiopia impossible to govern. This is what they [OLF] seem to want to do now. I find it hard to believe that most Oromo want this to happen.

Politics in too much of Ethiopia have centered on ethnicity—with almost no other content to political discussion.” –Paul B. Henze, letter to Mele Zenawi, July 30, 1992 (emphasis mine).

Mr Henze’s clear-eyed analysis—anchored by reality, actual history, rigorous study and logic, is as pristine today as it has been over the years. What he feared about the nature of OLF and the results of institutionalizing ethnic politics, the poison seeds of which you helped plant, has come to be a tragic reality. Despite the ethno-nationalist’s Orwellian name, “Multinational Federalism”, the ahistorical ethnic federalism, is simply an apartheid system—in which ethnic minorities within an ethnic region, especially more or so in the Oromo, Harrar, Dire Dawa, Benshagul Gumuz regions, are treated worse than second class citizens. Residents that don’t belong to the majority ethnic group in that region can’t hold office and face daily indignities of discriminations in in their own country.

In recent years, Amaharas, who are accused, by extremist Oromo demagogues, are threatened with ethnic cleansing in the pursuit of revenge for the alleged mythology of past crimes that never existed and purify the Oromo region of non-Oromos; not in the pursuit of harmony nor happiness. I would like to remind you that Amharas were excluded from the conference that created the current ethnic apartheid system in 1991.

Which brings me to your recent comment on ethnic tension and violence. Indeed, Ethiopia is going through a difficult time and is, in my view, in a clear and present danger of ethnic cleansing and genocide—thanks to the ethnic politics that has been planted three decades ago—midwifed by you. Job well done, Mr Cohen!

As reported in Addis Standard detail on July 15, 2020 , Voice of America on July 5, 2020  & July 6, 2020 and BBC News on July 06, 2020, among many others, following news of the tragic murder of Hachalu Hundessa, a popular Oromo musician and activist, on June 29th in Addis Ababa, a large group of highly organized Oromo youth, the “Qeerro”, led, primarily by, Jawar Mohammed, a fanatic ethnic (& very likely religious) extremist:

  • Attacked ethnic and religious minorities, primarily Amharas, Guragies, and Orthodox in several dozen districts and towns of Arisi, West Arisi, Bale and East Shewa zones of Oromo region. Hundreds were killed, their homes, properties and businesses looted, vandalized and burned down—all because the Qeerro was told to avenge for the killing of the popular ethnic singer—before even the police say anything about the alleged killers. Why a group of people far away from the crime scene should be responsible and punished for the crime of someone they had no idea exists in the universe? It’s the result of politics of “us vs them”.
  • The Qeerro attackers had list of their targets and checked ethnicity of victims from their identity cards, which have all the hallmarks of the ethnic cleansing and genocide witnessed in Rwanda in 1994.
  • The wider and peaceful Oromo residents in the attacked towns were very protective of their neighbors. But this noble humanity didn’t go well with the small but very militant and organized Qeerro—which distributed pamphlets that warned urged them not to provide help to non-Oromo neighbors, nor buy/sell from/to them—since their assets will be confiscated by Qeerro.
  • Ethicized local and federal security and government organs not only failed to prevent & stop the attacks and refuse to help pleading victims, some worked actively with “Qeerro” and participated in the pogrom. The “Qeerro” were either left to loot, destroy, burndown business and kill Amharas, Guragies and Orthodox believers in impunity.

I would have thought you may reflect on your role but instead you commented:

“Ethiopia is going through a period of ethnic tension accompanied by violence. PM Abiy could lower tensions and contribute to stability by announcing a firm commitment to true federalism in which the rights of all Ethiopian peoples are respected.”

To a bystander, this may appear innocuous. But what you’re suggesting is adding fuel to a raging fire. When you say, “true federalism”, you’re being disingenuous or clueless. I know—have experienced it and come to admire—what a true federalism looks like, right here in US, where 4 in 10 New York City residents or as about 1 and 4 California residents are foreign born and enjoy all the freedoms and privileges the US has to offer—irrespective of their ethnicity or where they were born. But non-Oromos who were born in Debre-Zeit or Nazareth towns are treated as second-class citizens in their own county. That’s not a federalism. It’s a different “ism”: apartheidism.

A child born from an Amhara immigrant in the US has, give or take, about the same rights as those of the descendants of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to pursue his/her dreams. But the same child, if born in Shasheme or Zeway towns, will be treated less than a second-class citizen —despite his ancestors having lived there since time immemorial. How is all “peoples’ rights” are you urging to be respected under the ethnic apartheid system that you incubated?

It’s not been unnoticed by me that you would never say, “American peoples”, but you use “Ethiopian peoples”—buying into the mythology of centrifugal OLF and TPLF theory. It should be “the Ethiopian people”—just like we say, “the American people”.


Dear Mr Cohen:

Time and again, spanning four decades, you have been engaged in projects and ideas that brought misery and discriminations to tens of millions of Ethiopians and ethnic cleansings to tens of thousands.

Ethiopia is going through difficult time as it deals with the effect of ethnic apartheid. But Ethiopia, make no mistake, will persevere to survive and emerge, once again, as a strong, proud, independent country and hope of Black peoples around the world, as it once was. It will get there by leaning on its own three thousand years of civilizations and values and by eventually rejecting the abnormal three-decades old alien ethnic apartheid system imposed as a side effect of the end of the cold-war.

Ethiopia will recover and thrive by its own. Just get off her neck!



Getaneh Kassahun