by Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam
Word on the street is that the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is talking to “K” Street lobbyists to get the attention of the Trump administration.
According to the little bird who told me, the TPLF has retained a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. to provide them access to top Trump officials for the purpose of thwarting, undermining and stopping the current reforms in Ethiopia.
The TPLF lobbying effort is said to be geared towards using U.S. aid, sanctions and other punitive policies to pressure the government of H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed to retract and significantly cut back on the ongoing political and economic reforms in Ethiopia.
My fly on the wall informant tells me that the argument to be used in convincing Trump officials, as absurd and silly as it sounds, is that the current political and economic reforms in the country are dangerous, will unravel the ethnically organized political system, and if not stopped immediately, will lead to ethnic conflict and civil war.
According to my informants, the TPLF is in the process of raising at least USD $1 million to pay for lobbying services.
Apparently, TPLF leaders do not want to tap into the billions they stole from the Ethiopian people for the last 27 years for lobbying.
They want to hustle their crestfallen supporters and minions for the money just like they did in their criminal bond sales for the so-called Renaissance Dam for which were sanctioned $6.5 million by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2016.
In May 2013, I told the TPLF they were committing a serious financial crime (and cited chapter and verse of the applicable U.S. Code to them), and should not sell unregistered bonds.
They did not believe me and got slammed with a multi-million dollar fine.
Truth be told, the people of Ethiopia got slammed with a multi-million dollar fine.
Other details about the TPLF’s latest lobbying efforts may come out in due course.
None of this comes as a surprise to me.
I have a pretty good idea how the TPLF uses lobbyists.
After all, I have fought TPLF lobbyists and their congressional supporters single-handedly, tooth and nail, since 2007.
I consider myself a veteran of TPLF “lobby wars” on The Hill.
Indeed, what the TPLF is trying to do today is not much different than what it did back in 2007 when it hired DLA Piper to stop passage of human rights legislation in Congress.
Back then, the TPLF was paying millions to lobbyists to stop passage of Ethiopia human rights bills in Congress to remain in power “for a hundred years”.
Today, the TPLF aims to pay millions to lobbyists to stop political reforms in Ethiopia, return to and remain in power “for a hundred years”.
In 1991, key U.S. officials helped the TPLF seize power.
Today, they think key U.S. officials can get them back to power.
DLA Piper is one of the largest law firms in the world with 4,200 lawyers in over 90 offices around the globe.
On May 4, 2006, the TPLF signed an agreement with DLA Piper to pay $50 thousand a month plus hourly rates for lobbying services.
In September 2006, I declared full diaspora Ethiopian mobilization against DLA Piper lobbying efforts.
In October 2006, I mobilized Ethiopian American lawyers to oppose TPLF human rights violations.
In my call for grassroots advocacy and activism, I declared, “Richard Armey, the former Majority Leader of the House of Representatives and lobbyist for the Ethiopian government, has arrayed his mighty DLA army against us and H.R. 5680.”
We did fight back with a massive grassroots campaign.
In August 2007, I fought mano a mano with DLA’s top lobbyists and partner Gary Klein in the firm’s Federal Affairs and Legislative Practice Group.
It was a battle between David and Goliath.
At the time, I had just joined the Ethiopian human rights movement following the Meles Massacres and was just cutting my teeth in grassroots activism and advocacy.
In mid-August 2007, Klein gave a radio interview in which he made numerous outrageous and preposterous claims.
Klein said there are no political prisoners in Ethiopia.
Klein said no one in Ethiopia has been jailed because of their political views or stand.
Klein said opposition leaders jailed by the TPLF after the 2005 election were all criminals.
Klein said reports of human rights abuses by international human rights organizations were lies and unsubstantiated allegations.
Klein said the TPLF regime allows full and unrestricted exercise of basic freedoms including free speech, free press and free electoral participation.
At the time, I made various efforts to contact Klein and challenge him to a public debate on the lies he told in his interview. But Klein refused to engage me.
So, I wrote him a 6,000-plus word letter in which I sliced and diced his outrageous lies and made them public.
I concluded my letter as follows: “We respect your public advocacy efforts on behalf of your client. We believe you are entitled to your opinion; but you are not entitled to your own facts.”
But the DLA Piper lobbying team batting for the TPLF had 12 other lobbyists, including power-hitter former House Republican majority leader Dick Armey.
Among the senators DLA Piper lobbied for the TPLF was one Barack Obama, who after becoming president in 2015 declared the TPLF “government of Ethiopia has been democratically elected.”
Between 9/01/2007-7/30/2008, the TPLF paid DLA Piper $1,351,851.25 for fees and expenses.
In return, DLA Piper made several hundred “contacts” with U.S. officials, media reps and others for the “Government of Ethiopia.”
Remarkably, with the exception of a few face-to-face meetings with members of Congress, all of the other official contacts by DLA Piper lobbyists were with congressional staffers by email.
On behalf of the TPLF, the DLA Piper firm made over 114 contacts with U.S. officials to prevent passage of H.R. 2003, almost all of them by email to Congressional staffers.
The TPLF also retained the services of the Dewey and LeBoeuf (DL) firm to do additional lobbying. DL is a prominent “white-shoe firm” with many Fortune 500 clients.
Between 12/26/2007 and 02/01/2008, DL snagged four payments from the “Government of Ethiopia” ($183,307.48; $28,642.50; $73,962.30; $300,000) for professional fees and expenses.
For $586 thousand, the TPLF got a total of 17 face-to-face meetings and 13 telephone contacts, principally with officials in the U.S. State Department Office of East African Affairs and the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs.
But my battle with DLA Piper in Congress continued.
So, I did two things. I wrote a 4,000-word letter to Hastert explaining the facts of TPLF’s human rights abuses and pleaded with him to let the bill come to the floor.
More importantly, I was able to mobilize active citizens in Hastert’s Illinois 14thcongressional district (DuPage, Kane, Kendall, LaSalle, DeKalb, and Lee counties in Illinois).
In less than a week, we were able to enlist the support of local evangelical, civic and media leaders in Hastert’s district.
Hundreds of telephone calls poured into Hastert’s Hill office.
Hastert’s staffers were amazed, but not amused, by the ferocity of our grassroots response.
Hastert heard us loud and clear but he did not listen to us.
My battle against TPLF lobbyists and legislative supporters continued as Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) became a notorious champion of the TPLF in the Senate and erected a legislative stonewall to prevent consideration of any Ethiopian human rights bills.
I challenged Inhofe and demanded an apology from him for making racist, offensive and mean-spirited comments about Ethiopians and Africans. On the Senate floor, Inhofe in effect said Africans care so little about their female babies they feed them “to the dogs”.
Suffice is to say, Inhofe is not known as the smartest member of the U.S. Senate.
In October 2007, Inhofe condemned H.R. 2003 after it passed the House absurdly claiming the bill “enflames tensions already present in the Horn of Africa, threatening regional stability and long-term U.S. national security.”
I challenged Inhofe once again.
I argued, “Inhofe is the quarterback on Team D.L.A. Piper lined up against H.R. 2003 in the Senate. Inhofe’s strategy is to use Senate procedures to delay and/or prevent action on the bill in committee; and to keep it away from the floor by making a veiled threat of a filibuster.”
I later confirmed from various sources that Inhofe had put a hold (prevented the bill from coming to the Senate floor) on HR 2003 in the Senate where it died.
But I managed to organize a group of Ethiopians in Oklahoma and elsewhere to protest and make mass telephone calls to Inhofe’s Senate office to release his hold.
In the intervening years, I have followed TPLF’s efforts to use highly paid American lobbyists to remain in power, as they like to brag, “for a hundred years”.
In May 2015, I challenged Smith, who incidentally was a TPLF employee in the mid-1980s, and whose nomination in the Senate I vigorously opposed, on her attempts to excuse the TPLF from responsibility for the recurrent famines in Ethiopia.
Smith’s response to my letter was laughable pap.
The election of Donald Trump in 2016 hit the TPLF like a ton of bricks.
They had counted on Hilary Clinton being a shoo-in for the presidency.
They were sure as the sun will rise tomorrow that with Hilary Clinton it will be business as usual and they will continue to ride the Barack Obama gravy train for another eight years.
The TPLF hit the panic button and on January 18, 2017, two days before President Donald Trump was inaugurated.
The TPLF signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) and agreed to pay SGR Government Relations, Lobbying (Washington, D.C) $150,000 per month “to develop and execute a public affairs plan to enhance the dialogue and relationships with policymakers, media, opinion leaders, and business leaders.”
The total amount to be paid by the T-TPLF under the MOU was a whopping USD$1.8 million.
The T-TPLF was in complete panic that the Trump administration will drop the hammer on them. They were desperate to get some influence.
In the waning months of the presidential campaign, my little bird informants were telling me that TPLF representatives were making frantic efforts to gain access to Trump advisors through Republican Party channels and later to the Trump Transition Committee.
Their efforts failed. It was a time of high anxiety for TPLF leaders.
The TPLF’s situation became even more desperate when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson began “cleaning house” at the State Department. Most of TPLF’s sympathizers in the Department were history.
I strongly supported Tillerson’s State house cleaning.
During the campaign, I had vociferously opposed Donald Trump.
In my December 18, 2016 commentary, I boldly declared I will “eat crow” if Trump did not follow in Barack Obama’s footsteps and do business as usual in Africa and particularly Ethiopia.
But what the Trump administration has done, despite Trump’s poor choice of words, in U.S.-Africa policy has stunned me and forced me to grudgingly eat crow (vegan style, of course) time and again.
Right off the bat, the Trump Transition Committee began asking a whole lot of tough questions about Africa and U.S. policy.
The Committee was asking the same questions I had been asking for years.
That was music to my ears.
“With so much corruption in Africa, how much of our funding is stolen? Why should we spend these funds on Africa when we are suffering here in the U.S.?”
I had answered that question dozens of times over the past ten years, the latest in my January 22, 2017 commentary, “TrAIDing in Misery: The T-TPLF, its Partners and Famine in Ethiopia”.
“We’ve been fighting al-Shabaab for a decade, why haven’t we won?”
I had answered that question several times over the past decade including in my November 3, 2008 commentary, “The 843-Day War”.
“How does U.S. business compete with other nations in Africa? Are we losing out to the Chinese?”
I had answered that question in my June 2011 commentary, “The Dragon Eating the Eagle’s Lunch in Africa?”
“Why should the U.S continue to support AGOA [Africa Growth and Opportunity Act which allows 39 eligible sub-Saharan Africa countries to export certain goods to the US market duty-free] and allow imports which benefit to corrupt regimes?”
I had been asking the same question about AGOA for years.
In my 4200-word letter to President Trump in February 2017, I alerted him of the TPLF’s massive lobbying assault planned on his administration and detailed the TPLF’s history of fraud, waste and abuse of U.S. aid in Ethiopia.
In my conclusion, I argued, “How long must the US aid gravy train continue to transfer billions of American tax dollars to African dictators to maintain their empires of corruption? There must come a time when Ethiopia and the rest of Africa must be forced to kick their addiction to aid and charity.”
In October 2017, I wrote a letter to President Trump requesting imposition of Magnitsky Act sanctions against members of the TPLF self-styled as the “Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front”.
On December 21, 2017, President Trump issued an all-inclusive executive order“imposing tangible and significant consequences on those who commit serious human rights abuse or engage in corruption.”
I gave the Trump administration high marks for its Africa policy in its first year.
I know it is not popular to give credit to the Trump administration.
I have been publicly and privately criticized for praising the Trump administration and “dogging Obama” on Ethiopia and Africa policy.
I tell it like it is, or as I like to say, “I speak truth to power, the powerless, the hungry and thirsty for power and anyone who cares to listen”.
The truth is the Trump administration is doing fine by me with respect to U.S. policy in Ethiopia.
Just a week ago, the U.S. Department of State held an Ethiopia Partnership Forum and assembled some 400 business leaders to come together and discuss investment opportunities in Ethiopia.
Such a Forum has never been held under any U.S. administration!
Did the Obama administration organize an Ethiopia partnership forum?
I am glad that the Trump administration is now moving from handouts to promoting private investment in its “private segment engagement policy” supported by the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act of 2018.
I have been advocating against handouts of U.S. tax dollars and for a hand up through U.S. investments in Ethiopia and Africa in general.
My motto has been, “Give Africa (Ethiopia) a hand up, not a handout.”
BUILD, in my view is a hand up which promotes “market-based, private-sector development to spur economic growth in less-developed countries.”
TPLF’s Last Hurrah!?
The TPLF has tried every trick in the book to return to power “for a hundred years.”
The TPLF has used its agent provocateurs to spread conflict and strife throughout Ethiopia.
The TPLF has used its supporters to instigate military coups.
The TPLF has used its minions to make attempts to take the lives of the leaders who are managing the change.
The TPLF has unleashed its “digital woyane” trolls on social media to spread lies and disinformation.
The TPLF has activated its agents throughout the Ethiopian bureaucracy to sabotage the current reforms.
The TPLF has tried to make deals to escape legal accountability and resurface from the trash bin of history where its leaders today reside in fear and trepidation.
None of it has worked.
Now, the TPLF and its supporters in America are trying a change of tactics.
They want the Trump administration to help them dismantle the government of H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed.
They want to use American aid to pressure the government of H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed.
We know the TPLF has billions in money stolen from the people of Ethiopia.
We also know the TPLF is determined to return to power “for a hundred years” at any and all costs.
But let there be no mistake.
We will fight the TPLF in the halls of the U.S. Congress.
We will fight the TPLF in the State Department.
We will fight the TPLF in the policy forums.
We will fight the TPLF in the conventional and social media.
We will defend the current nonviolent democratic revolution taking place for the first time in Ethiopia’s 2000-plus year history.
As I have said for over a decade, we know the TPLF’s basic strategy is, “Apres moi le deluge.”
After me, the flood. In the Amharic equivalent, it is what the donkey said, “After me, I do not care if the tall grasses never grow.”
The TPLF does not give a damn what happens to Ethiopia if they cannot make a comeback and remain in power for “a hundred years.”
TPLF leaders have every right to engage in self-deception and self-delusion.
We also know the TPLF can hide but can’t run.
But I will tell the TPLF leaders today what I told them in my February 9, 2009 commentary.
ETHIOPIANS UNITED CAN NEVER BE DEFEATED!
By the TPLF!
By TPLF’s lobbyists!
By TPLF minions and supporters!