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Ethiopia: The Wild Card in the U.S. Congressional Race in Colorado’s Sixth District

October 19, 2016
Colorado's forth

Colorado’s forth “Taste of Ethiopia” in Aurora this past summer, an indication of the growing influence of Colorado’s Ethiopian Community, heavily concentrated in the State’s Sixth Congressional District, the center of which is Aurora, Colorado

(Although she is a much better candidate then her opponent, the Obama Administration’s support for the Ethiopian dictatorship and its silence on the wave of repression currently being unleashed by the government there, is hurting Morgan Carroll’s bid for the U.S. Congress in Colorado’s Sixth District)

In the midst of, issue-wise, what is probably the most vapid presidential campaign in modern American history, the Ethiopian Community of Colorado is coming alive and organizing. While the country’s two presidential candidates go blow for blow – most of it gutter talk on both sides of the Democratic-Republican fence – foreign policy issues and crises have received virtually no attention, including the current democratic explosion and government repression in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is simply a vivid example of what the campaign – and the country – is not talking about…and should be. The escalating violence in Ethiopia is nowhere mentioned in the presidential contest, or in the media. Whether it’s from the Trump camp, pickled on racist and misogynist one-liners, or from Hillary Clinton circle, when it comes to Ethiopia (or issues in general) there is silence.

Having an opponent like Donald Trump has permitted Hillary Clinton to sidestep the issues the campaign should be about: the economy, racism, particularly the epidemic of police violence against people of color, the continued escalation of CO2 levels in the atmosphere making global warming and climate change irreversible, and international crises pretty much everywhere, including in Ethiopia.

Having an opponent like Donald Trump has permitted Hillary Clinton to sidestep the issues the campaign should be about: the economy, racism, particularly the epidemic of police violence against people of color, the continued escalation of CO2 levels in the atmosphere making global warming and climate change irreversible, and international crises pretty much everywhere, including in Ethiopia

Ethiopia Explodes: The Presidential Candidates,  U.S. Media and Obama Administration are silent

Unknown if one reads or watches the U.S. media, Ethiopia is exploding.

An October 2, annual celebration of the Oromo people, one of the country’s largest ethnic groups was crushed as the Ethiopian military opened fired on a crowd killing more than six hundred. Shortly thereafter a state of emergency was declared by the government and foreign journalists have been prohibited from entering the countryside outside of the country’s capitol, Addis Ababa.

Colorado’s Ethiopian Community – virtually the whole community minus a small percentage who support the government, or act as spies for it, mostly for reasons of ethnic solidarity – is coming together, trying to draw attention to the repression and war crimes taking place on an increasing level in Ethiopia. They are also, as a community, increasingly suspect and outright opposed to the role that the Ethiopian government is playing supporting U.S. strategic aims in East Africa.

 Colorado’s Ethiopian Community – virtually the whole community minus a small percentage who support the government, mostly for reasons of ethnic solidarity – is coming together, trying to draw attention to the repression and war crimes taking place on an increasing level in Ethiopia. They are also, as a community, increasingly suspect and outright opposed to the role that the Ethiopian government is playing supporting U.S. strategic aims in East Africa.

Political activism in Colorado’s Ethiopian Community did not just begin in 2016. Ethiopians here has been politically engaged for some time, but even more so during this election cycle. The dictatorship in power in Ethiopia for the past quarter century, a strong U.S. strategic ally in Africa, has unleashed a wave of repression against its population that has reverberated among Ethiopian communities worldwide and in Colorado. As the democratic movement against the current dictatorship (that is the proper word for those ruling in Addis Ababa) has swollen to include virtually every sector of Ethiopian society, the government’s repression has intensified considerably..

Colorado’s Ethiopians are riveted by the events back home and looking to see who on the U.S. political landscape will speak up and act on their behalf against an increasingly intolerant dictatorship. For them, Ethiopia is the key electoral issue and how the candidates respond to the crisis there will determine their vote, and this in turn could well determine who gets elected to the U.S. Congress from Colorado’s Sixth District.

Colorado’s Ethiopian Community: Second Largest Immigrant Community after Mexicans

Unbeknownst to many, after immigrants from Mexico, Ethiopians are the second largest immigrant community in Colorado with somewhere around 40,000 of them in the state. Most of those are concentrated in the Denver metro area, with the lion’s share in the Sixth Congressional District centering on Aurora. And they vote. In 2008 and 2012, Ethiopian community leaders registered thousands, and their vote essentially turned the tide for Barack Obama in these elections. Once again, in 2016, the community is involved, expressing their collective voice in this election but this time their political sympathies are increasingly split.

As Ethiopian community activists relate, the community has little interest Donald Trump and will probably vote en masse against him and for Hillary Clinton (about whom, interestingly enough, they have few illusions, but still). If Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations don’t interest local Ethiopians, still as a result of the Obama Administration’s continued support for the Ethiopian dictatorship, Ethiopians in Colorado are turning away from Democratic Party candidates, hurting their chances.

Such is the case in Colorado’s Sixth Congressional District where liberal Democrat, Morgan Carroll is challenging conservative Republican incumbent Mike Coffman. When it comes to the campaign for the U.S. Congress in Colorado’s sixth district, Colorado Ethiopians are leaning towards Coffman, despite Morgan Carroll’s genuinely and consistently liberal, pro-immigrant credentials. Carroll was recently described to me by a friend as “Pat Schroeder-lite.”

A Tight Race: The Ethiopian Vote Could Make The Difference

If the polls are any indication, it is a tight race, but as part of his re-election bid, Coffman has renounced any support for Donald Trump, come out in support of Obama’s immigration program (in a Colorado district with more immigrants than any other in the state) and ironically, perhaps even oddly, become one of the strongest advocates for Ethiopian human rights. There is no question that Coffman has cut into what should be a strongly Democratic Party base among Ethiopians.

Carroll is easily the better, more qualified, more liberal-in-a-principled manner, candidate. On the other hand, Coffman is little more than a typical Neanderthal, Tea Party (or close to it) type. On economic issues, tax cuts for the rich, opposition for any program that give a boost the poor and working class of this country, blind support for the war on terrorism, the classic conservative Republican unabashed support for U.S. foreign military intervention, Coffman is right in their with the worst of them. But he is a crafty fellow and has proven in the past that he is a formidable opponent who knows how to work his base in what is a district typically gerrymandered to favor the Republican candidate.

Carroll is easily the better, more qualified, more liberal-in-a-principled manner, candidate. On the other hand, Coffman is little more than a typical Neanderthal, Tea Party (or close to it) type. On economic issues, tax cuts for the rich, opposition for any program that give a boost the poor and working class of this country, and the war on terrorism, the classic conservative Republican unabashed support for U.S. foreign military intervention, Coffman is right in their with the worst of them. But he is a crafty fellow and has proven in the past that he is a formidable opponent who knows how to work his base in what is a district typically gerrymandered to favor the Republican candidate

Colorado Ethiopians relate the horrors back home

Trying to cut into Coffman’s support in her district, Morgan Carroll has had several meetings with representatives of the Ethiopian Community, including one last night at the Nile Ethiopian Restaurant in Aurora. Of the 30 to 40 Ethiopians present, everyone had family and friends, victims of the Ethiopian government’s repression. Last night, (October 18, 2016) at the Nile Restaurant in Aurora, Ethiopians of all ages and ethnic backgrounds shared horror stories with Carroll. They were heart wrenching accounts the Ethiopian government’s increasing viciousness towards its own people, paralleling the current reports of Mexican government repression against its youth or Israeli on-going repression against the Palestinians

Several told of summary executions of student activists – public executions in front of whole villages forced to watch, a la Nazis. Accusations of rampant arrest, torture verified by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reports. The government admits to having arrested 1000 people, mostly youth; opposition figures speculate that the number is ten to twenty times higher and continually growing

Carroll has two hurdles to overcome to cut into Coffman’s support base among the Ethiopians in the district:

– As mentioned above, Obama’s continued support for the Ethiopian dictatorship (and administration silence on the current wave of repression there) is the first problem.
– The second is that despite his conservative-approaching-tea-party politics, Mike Coffman has made a concerted effort to woe his Ethiopian constituency and, for whatever else, he stands for, he has come through for them, far more than the district’s Democrats. As several Ethiopian Community organizers related (both liberal Democrats by the way), “the Democrats only come around during the election cycle when they need our votes, otherwise…they are nowhere to be seen.”

Be that as it may, Coffman has carefully worked for and with Colorado’s sizable Ethiopian Community. Coffman might be conservative-boarding-on reactionary, but he is not stupid. According to Ethiopian community leaders I spoke with last night, Coffman enjoys considerable support among the Ethiopians in his district, in large measure because despite his reactionary credentials he has made a point of supporting the interest of the community these past years. He has Ethiopian interns on his staff both in Washington and Colorado; his political ads feature Ethiopians among his supporters. More recently Coffman called the Ethiopian ambassador to the United States and asked for an explanation of and an end to the state-sponsored wave of violence. He has sponsored a resolution in the U.S. Congress, condemning the repression in Ethiopia and calling for an independent investigation of the current turbulence, while Morgan Carroll, although she has done some work behind the scenes has yet to issue a statement from her campaign condemning the violence being perpetrated against the Ethiopian people.

Obama’s Lousy Record on Ethiopian Human Rights Hurting Morgan Carroll’s Chances

On the other hand, while Morgan Carroll has had little to do with it, President Obama’s Ethiopia policies are increasing unpopular among Ethiopians here and hurting Carroll’s chances. Several noted the hopes Ethiopians felt from President Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech, in which, putting himself “on the right side of history” he called for greater democratization in the Middle East and Africa. This touched a deep chord among Ethiopians, living under what amounts to a Tigre ethnic dictatorship, now for more than a quarter of a century.

But Obama’s words did not translate into action.
– The United States gives Ethiopia more than $1 billion a year most of which goes to military aid and virtually none goes to economic and social development.
– The U.S. has pushed Ethiopia to send troops to Somalia as part of an African occupying force, ostensibly to fight Al Shabbab; this intervention has become increasingly unpopular in Ethiopia
– American allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel, are both becoming increasingly active in Ethiopia. The Saudis have bought up a good deal of the best agricultural land; food raised in Ethiopia is eaten in Saudi. Along with the Qataris and Gulf States, the Saudis have set up a military base in neighboring Eritrea from which they recruit mercenaries (paid by the Saudis) to fight Saudi’s’ U.S. supported war in Yemen. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was in Ethiopia pressing the government to lobby for Israeli observer status in the African Union. (The Ethiopian government did that, but the initiative was rejected). This is the tip of the iceberg so to speak of Israeli-Ethiopian security cooperation. The increased role of Saudi Arabia and Israel, important U.S. allies, are increasingly suspect and unpopular among the Ethiopian public.
– As disturbing, in exchange for its role in supporting U.S. strategic goals in East Africa, the Obama Administration – and the Democratic Party on a national level – continue to support the Ethiopian dictatorship; Last year, President Obama publicly came out referring to Ethiopian rigged elections as “fair and above-board;” the Ethiopian Community throughout the United States was appalled. 546 out of 547 seats in the parliament in June 2015 elections won by the ruling EPRD party (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front).

All this suggests that for Morgan Carroll to cut into the Ethiopian Community’ support for her opponent, she’ll have to come out more clearly against her own party’s support for the Ethiopian dictatorship. Does she have the where-with-all to do so in the remaining three weeks of this election campaign?

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