US Ambassador Patricia Haslach parts Ethiopia, not with media encounter but farewell remarks to US Embassy staff in Addis Abeba

4 Sep

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

One question departing career ambassadors usually confront at the end of their tour of duty in a given country, as I pointed out in a commentary of August 7, 2013, is whether they should say something to the press, and if so how much they should say about their experiences in the country they are stationed in.

For all sorts of reasons, some ambassadors may argue with themselves and may decide (possibly in consultation with one or two senior diplomats whose judgements they trust) not to give ‘goodbye interviews’, or nothing formal at all. There is nothing new about this.

Nevertheless, since diplomacy is polite in its demeanor, the respective decisions the envoys take show that ambassadors come with varying senses of their mission, for which they have varied responses of showing support and solidarity, or as the case may be, the appetite to punch, when situations warrant.

When parting ambassadors speak out: for some it could be sort of to say ‘I would miss Ethiopia’; at the same time, they tap their shoulders to indirectly tell their inputs into the excellent relations existing between their two countries. In bad times, of course the unexpected could happen, as I recall the case of a very able Egyptian diplomat Ambassador Tarik Ghoneim in Ethiopia, after his unwelcome interview of October 2010 leveling an arrogance daringly demanded Ethiopia to surrender her share of the Nile River to Egypt.

Ambassador Patricia Haslach (Credit: US Embassy Addis)

(Credit: US Embassy Addis Abeba)

At the same time, the individual ambassador’s motive being to finally help the country they lived in to improve and make further progress, they could focus on substantive matters. A case in point is Ambassador Patricia Haslach farewell remarks to her staff, having decided to get done with that.

Surely, parting ambassadors that make such remarks could turn out to be very essential for citizens, although what they say in parts biting and hair-raising to the host country. Such remarks focus on problems and shortcomings, things the envoys consider ordinary citizens would be too timid to speak out their government to hear and act on their concerns. In other words, it is important to note that diplomats and diplomacy have different ways and modes of communicating. To reiterate, the ambassadorial remarks could take the form of an interview (expect a real message), or making statement (dinner speech, or creating a friends moment), to the same effect.

As it happens, Ethiopians live at a time when they badly need foreign government representatives to speak out on their behalf. People fear for their lives and they do not and cannot say out in public the shame and disrespect they suffer in their country in the hands of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) cadres and security forces. Even showing sign of being pleased by someone else’s remarks has a price to pay in Ethiopia. It entails an attack by the TPLF security forces, or perhaps imprisonment, vindictive as the Front is.

Recall that during the two-week-long state-ordained mourning in Ethiopia for dictator Meles Zenawi, as always, the security people were all over and used to check around faces of people to see who was tearing and mourning properly. When they thought someone or a group was not truly sad, they beat up, or arrested for not mourning deeply. Through this, at the time the TPLF managed to turn Ethiopia into a frenzy of mourning competition to Meles the Butcher, some of the mourners being paid high daily allowances.

Ethiopians have our vanities, thanks to the gifts of nature. What foreign envoys say about Ethiopia’s beauty and the goodness of its people always evokes the people’s inhibited smiles. More importantly, however, what people want to hear is when in formal settings envoy gets out the message to the outside world that Beautiful Ethiopia is a country, where human dignity and civil rights are daily trampled upon. Because of this, they want the world to know that Ethiopians live in fear and everything repressed and compressed inside them.

On their departure, usually foreign envoys – I recall, mostly that of the United Kingdom, United States, Egypt, Kenya, Sudan, Djibouti, etc., – make statements on the media before departure. With the exception of Egypt, the rest of African diplomats pump out their lies. This is because they themselves are not free to speak their minds. Therefore, it is usually the American and British ambassadors that speak out their true experiences and their disappointments.

Do you know that Ethiopians love Ambassador Yamamoto, unfortunately after his departure, for being top notch diplomat he had been, we all discovered from WikiLeaks, for being a true friend of Ethiopia’s ordinary people and for speaking and trying to stir his government on the path of truth and what was right? Brilliant a diplomat as he had been, it was not necessary to conclude he was successful.

“The end of an assignment is always bittersweet, and that is particularly true today”, Ambassador Haslach began her remarks.

The outgoing US envoy has chosen the middle road on the dilemma of whether to speak or not to speak. The typical feature of her statement was its mediation between positive achievements she witnessed and hitting hard on the horrendous. However, unlike her predecessors, she did not invite the Ethiopian media for a press conference or an interview.

The important point is that Ambassador Haslach managed to speak out her displeasure and unhappy observations about the country’s political posture and unpleasant behaviors to the Addis Abeba-based United States Embassy Staff. That, she has couched in the following language:

“While I leave here feeling proud of the work we’ve done. I am also worried by recent developments, which have the potential to threaten the progress that the people and government of Ethiopia have made. I know there is a great deal of fear and frustration in Ethiopia, including among our diverse and talented staff. I can tell you that we continue to engage with the government of Ethiopia, urging its officials at all levels to uphold Ethiopia’s constitutional guarantees of democratic government and respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

My sense is that her not giving interview before her departure may have to do with the position of the United States Government. It must have been displeased with what has been happening in the country in respect of the different forms violence and state lawlessness the TPLF has been perpetrating across the nation.

Irrespective of the actual reason for it, Ambassador Haslach’s remarks to US Embassy staff in Addis Abeba, as she put it, “I want you to know that our message is clear:”

“[A]nyone who wants Ethiopia to develop and to succeed must understand that Ethiopia will be strongest when all voices are heard and government is accountable to all. Unlawful detention and abuse must end.”

In terms of the reaction of the United States Government, expressing its open displeasure, one could recall that lately it has begun to take open criticisms and tonal reservations:

    *   In speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, on August 1, 2016 Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall criticized the gun-ho role of TPLF soldiers in Somalia, which she said: The “alleged abuses by the Ethiopian military in Somalia [have] elevated al-Shabaab by allowing the group to tout itself as defender of the faithful.”

    *   On August 22, 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry met with the leaders of the Kenyan Government to discuss security issues, as well as the future of Dabaab refugee camp for Somalians. The security aspect points to US strengthening its sub-regional sheriffs in the anti-terrorism was with Nairobi as the center. While not certain how much can be read out of it, in a remark intended to signal United States uncertainty about TPLF in Ethiopia, Secretary Kerry underlined: “And I think we all were agreed, and I know that both the Somali, I know that Kenya, and I believe the Ethiopians are prepared (emphasis added) to work with the United States in order to put greater pressure on al-Shabaab in the meantime.”

    *   US Travel Alert regarding Ethiopia is one of the longest this time around. It expires only on February 18, 2017. There it points out: “U.S. citizens in Ethiopia should increase their level of situational awareness, continuously assess their surroundings, evaluate their personal level of safety, and avoid demonstrations and large gatherings.” This would prove a nab on investments, which already show that Ethiopia is no longer safe destination for businesses.

Irrespective of the actual reason for its limitation of her farewell remark to US Embassy staff in Addis Abeba, as she put it, Ambassador Haslach’s intention is for Ethiopians to understand: “I want you to know that our message is clear:”

“[A]nyone who wants Ethiopia to develop and to succeed must understand that Ethiopia will be strongest when all voices are heard and government is accountable to all. Unlawful detention and abuse must end.”

To forcefully derive that same message home, the US ambassador also emphasized:

“Even in the United States, the world’s oldest democracy, we continue to strive for improvement, by acknowledging our challenges and working to overcome them. Freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, transparency, and accountability are essential elements of good governance and democracy.”

In looking back, one also recalls how effective her predecessor Ambassador Donald Booth was in delivering his message. Before his departure, he had a press conference in which he extensively discussed the things that had troubled him throughout his stay in Ethiopia. Even the slouching TPLF at every corner seeking land grab and occupation of state-owned houses, was awakened to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), fostered by the US Congress in 2000, which now the TPLF is milking the benefits through its textile company Alemda.

In the August 5, 2013 issue of The Reporter, he lashed out on the TPLF regime raising several issues, which range from the Kofele Massacre (Arsi) of August 3, 2013 to the longstanding TPLF denial of religious freedom, to its lack of respect for fundamental human rights.

Among the issues he discussed in the above-mentioned The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO) article, Ambassador Booth focused on four points, two of which continue to be of grave concern to the international community in general and the United States Government in particular:

    ° The deepening religious problems in the country, which now by then was in its 19th month and the dangers to religious freedom in the circumstances; and

    ° Human rights concerns in Ethiopia and the need to ensure the freedom of speech and the press, as Ambassador Haslach has pointed out, which remain major US preoccupations.


Another formidable ambassador with no less influence in Ethiopia was the United Kingdom’s Greg Dorey. Once commenting on the May 2015 election to The Reporter, he put it starkly, touching upon the embarrassment this has caused its allies, as follows:

    It is starting to sound as if the ruling party and its allies will have a 100 percent of the seats in parliament. And I think that is not good for democracy; that is what you get in places like North Korea. But actually in Ethiopia you need some diversity of opinion in parliament.


The ambassadors come and go. Their personal disprovals of the TPLF regime and that of their governments keep on piling up. However, we do not see them acting to stop the ongoing bloodshed in Ethiopia. Does that mean to say, the TPLF in Addis Abeba which Mr. Obama recognized as ‘democrats’ have borrowed a page from the 1994 genociders in Rwanda that has stamp of international approval?

How come that these nations cannot see that Ethiopians have started collecting, exactly like Rwanda in 1994, dead bodies of young boys and girls, adults both men and women in places in Oromia and Amhara, early on in Gambella, South Omo Valley and the Ogaden.

Who could be fooled by the TPLF, authors of the ‘Shishte Zero’ in Tigray before they seized power in Ethiopia, extent of the cruelty of these people in well-tailored suits in luxury villas and German cars are made of? Why should Ethiopians believe these powerful people in despair (desperados) are not and would not be capable of burning prisons housing prisoners under the state’s responsibility? As human beings, when the prisoners they control try to escape the inferno, the army and prison guards shoot them!

The fire at Kilinito Prison for Political Prisoners started early Saturday morning, preceded by gunfire, according to eyewitnesses. Since then, nearly forty hours have elapsed. Finally family members of the prisoners, who have been asking for their loved ones ended up in detention today! They became a nuisance to the TPLF aristocrats, which could not confirm to them they have been killed by its bullets!

It is our strong conviction, the Kilinto fire, and elsewere in the country too, was started to shoot some of the political prisoners, individuals such as Bekele Gerba! His September 1 message to the Ethiopian people to start economic boycott of the TPLF has terrified them. The articulate language of Bekele’s paper is very much akin to Gandhi’s Salt March of 1930 that aimed to paralyze British colonialism, after its monopoly over salt production. How come the powers to be cannot see this

What is the big power responsibility that pumps monies into the TPLF killing machine? By the way, events are moving fast in Ethiopia, are the last days of the Obama Administration to witness genocide in Ethiopia?

Otherwise, the White House owes it to all Ethiopians to explain when and why the impunity of ethnic cleansers and democracy have become bedfellows!

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