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Colorado Politics INSIGHTS – Conflict in Ethiopia bound to drive politics in Aurora.

August 16, 2021

Colorado Ethiopians and Eritreans celebrating the choice of Abiy Ahmed for prime minister. 7,000-8,000 in attendance. Aurora High School. July 22, 2021 (R. Prince photo)

(Personal note at the end of the article)

Colorado Politics

INSIGHTS – Conflict in Ethiopia bound to drive politics in Aurora

by Joey Bunch joey.bunch@coloradopolitics.com – August 12, 2021

The description sounds all too familiar and at the same time foreboding.

“A power struggle, an election and a push for political reform are among several factors that led to the crisis” is how the BBC described the bloody conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and the ruling party in the regional state of Tigray.

The violent political transition happening in the country’s north, the cradle of mankind, extends its reach into Colorado politics, and smart purveyors of election matters would be wise to keep an eye on American policy toward the most populated country on the Horn of Africa.

Sadly, the British news service added, “All sides have been accused of atrocities.”

If Colorado politicos, especially Democrats, think fighting there ends there, they should turn in their politico membership card, because they’re neglecting a local constituency I’ve been watching rise in metro Denver for a decade now.

Tens of thousands of Coloradans have an interest in family or the bond of heritage.

Ethiopian immigrants have money, voting blocs, organization, a deep bench of good candidates and untapped potential to engage with either party. The relationship for years seemed to trend left, but that’s not a guarantee, especially in these times of fraught African policy and vague diplomacy.

Politicians have to walk a tightrope in a conflict they might not understand, and the risk is highest in eastern metro Denver, which will be reshaped by legislative and congressional redistricting this year.

Some immediate local political news happened last weekend when the annual Taste of Ethiopia Festival in east Denver was canceled again this year out of an abundance of caution in the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Organizers pledged to be back and bigger than ever the first weekend in August next year. With a midterm election in 2022, local politicians should hope so, too.

When the festival reminded festival fans of the postponement on Facebook last weekend, a video played beneath the post, interspersed with pictures of politicians: Gov. Jared Polis, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse (himself a first-generation American of Eritrean parents), U.S. Rep. Jason Crow and his congressional predecessor, current Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman among a cadre of state legislators and municipal leaders.

Politicos come for the goat kikil but stay for the association with likely voters who are up for grabs.

The civil war in Ethiopia would be a somber, if not chilling backdrop this year. Estimates as high as 52,000 people who have been killed, at least 350,000 in famine condition and more than 5.2 million people at risk of running out of food.

Last month United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield tweeted, “If the Ethiopian government does not provide unhindered movement of humanitarian supplies, commodities, and aid workers into Tigray, hundreds of thousands of people could starve to death.

“We need access. We need aid. We need to end the conflict.”

Africa Reports says children are being detained, exploited and murdered. Hospitals, schools and refugee camps are being looted and destroyed.

The onus is on Democrats, because Joe Biden is in the White House, and he’s toothlessly called for a ceasefire and urged combatants to work it out.

In March he sent one of his congressional lieutenants, Sen. Chris Coons from the president’s home state of Delaware, to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

Biden is under pressure for the U.S. to send unfettered humanitarian aid and launch an independent investigation into the human rights abuses in the region.

The rewards of statesmanship are high for his party in need of a foreign relations win ahead of next year’s midterms.

Rob Prince’s blog on the Colorado Progressive Jewish News laid out an insider’s view of the dynamic:

“Increasingly the Dems are persona non grata in Colorado’s Ethiopian churches, mosques and restaurants given the Biden administration’s support for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s separatist offensive. The brief honeymoon between elements of Colorado’s Democratic Party leadership and key Ethiopian personalities is coming to an abrupt end.

“Colorado Ethiopians helped elect Biden nationally and Jason Crow (D-Colorado) to the House in Colorado’s District 6 are now moving in droves into the Republican fold. Not that long ago here in Colorado, the then anti-Trump sentiment among Colorado’s Ethiopian community helped Jason Crow unseat his conservative, Mike Coffman in their contest for the U.S. Congressional seat in Colorado’s District 6. This swing to the Democrats came after then-President Trump urged Egypt to bomb Ethiopia’s Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as the dam nears completion.

“The brief honeymoon between Ethiopians-USA and the Biden administration is over.”

Ethiopia is a critical U.S. ally in the Red Sea arena, where good friends are valuable. In May, frustrated with the unceasing conflict, the Biden administration imposed restrictions including cuts in aid to the largest recipient of American aid in sub-Saharan Africa, including nearly $1 billion annually, mostly for humanitarian aid.

Biden’s response was high-minded but unspecific.

“America’s diplomacy will reflect our values: defending freedom, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity,” he said in May.

But what is there to do about accusations of brutality and ethnic cleanings by the ruling government. a friend where one is needed for so long?

How Democrats answer that question, carefully, could go a long way in determining which party sends its members to Washington from Denver’s immigrant-rich eastern horn.

Endnote:

Joey Bunch’s piece in Colorado Politics is one of the first pieces in a (somewhat) mainstream media publication that has tried to challenge the mainstream narrative on the unfolding Ethiopian drama. Bunch understands well, that these faraway events, poorly acknowledge or understood by the Colorado voting public still could affect Colorado electoral results. And he is right about that.  I am quoted in his article (towards the end) – even if he got the title of my blog wrong. It is “View from the Left: Don’t kvetch: Organize. OK Kvetch a little, but then try to get over it and organize. Ignorance is not bliss, it’s just ignorance.”

Colorado Politics, formerly the Colorado Statesmen, is a local Colorado political weekly. If I remember correctly, it is owned by the Anschutz Group, Colorado Billionaire Philip Anschutz’s political play thing. It considers itself, immodestly “the state’s top political and public policy news journal” which might be true because to my knowledge it is the only political and policy news journal in the state. On its webpage Colorado Politics claims that its “award-winning staff keeps tabs on Colorado’s public policy news, and the politicians, lobbyists, interest groups, non-profits and other players behind those policy debates.” Its annual subscription rate of $159 for the digital edition. 

 

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