Ginbot 7 and the Ethiopian Diaspora: Next Steps

By the Strathink Editorial Team

Berhanu Nega, leader of Ginbot 7, a self-described terrorist group committed to overthrowing the Ethiopian government “by any means necessary,” is back in the United States. Why? Presumably, the economist turned military commander of a 200-man army based in Asmara is here to raise money and the flagging hopes of an aging diaspora political opposition. This raises a number questions about the U.S.’s commitment to global terrorism as well as the motivations for the Ethiopian opposition in the diaspora.

It remains a puzzling contradiction in U.S. foreign policy to allow Berhanu Nega free entry and unfettered fundraising opportunities for arms to overthrow a friendly government. This is particularly true today when the U.S. President has tried to deny ordinary people entry into the U.S. based on religion and national origin. If a five-year-old boy from Syria is denied entry simply because he is from Syria, how does a self-professed terrorist be welcomed and allowed to blatantly break the law that forbids raising money for a foreign military enterprise or expedition?

According to the Neutrality Act, promulgated in 1794:

that if anyone person shall within the territory or jurisdiction of the United States begin or set on foot or provide or prepare the means for any military expedition or enterprise to be carried on from thence against the territory or dominions of any foreign prince or state with whom the United States are at peace, every such person so offending shall on conviction be adjudged guilty of a high misdemeanor and shall suffer fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court in which the conviction shall be had, so that as such fine shall not exceed three thousand dollars nor the term of imprisonment be more than three years.

And the 1948 Expedition Against a Friendly Nation (18 U.S. Code 960) upholding the Neutrality Act saying: 

…Whoever within the United States, knowingly begins or sets on foot or provides or prepares a means for or furnishes money for, or takes part in, any military or navel expedition or enterprise to be carried on from thence against the territory or dominion of any foreign prince or state, or of any colony, district, or people with whom the United States is at peace, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years or both. 

 Why, then, is Berhanu Nega allowed to flaunt U.S. law? It appears that support from several members of Congress, including Congressman Chris Smith and Ed Royce, has given free reign to Berhanu Nega to come in and out of the U.S. as he pleases and beg money from the opposition faction of the diaspora. The hypocrisy of the current Administration over immigration and the acquiescence of Congressmen such as Smith and Royce call into question the Administration’s rationale for the recent Executive Order. However, we leave that debate to the U.S. government.

Our concern is the latitude given to a self-professed terrorist to raise funds for his 200-man army based in Eritrea, called the “North Korea” of Africa. And why would Congressman Smith and Congressman Royce, although longtime foes of the Ethiopian government, support a terrorist government based in a country sanctioned by the United Nations—with the full support of the U.S. government? Congressman Smith most recently (September 2016) co-sponsored a House Resolution (861) “supporting respect for human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia.”

When Congressman Smith calls a hearing to condemn the government of Eritrea, front and center is Ginbot 7 leader Berhanu Nega, testifying about human rights and governance, having used his Eritrean passport to enter the United States.

Just three days later after his most recent resolution condemning Ethiopia, Congressman Smith issued a statement Congressman commending “the work of [American] law enforcement in making a speedy arrest of a terrorist suspect thought to be connected to bombing attacks against targets in New Jersey and New York…”

So, apparently, in Congressman Chris Smith’s mind, it is o.k. to target civilians in Ethiopia with terrorist attacks, as long as it is directed against overthrowing the Ethiopian government, but not o.k. to target civilians in the U.S.

Next, we turn to the Ethiopian opposition in the diaspora. Who are they and what do they want?

Many supporters of Ginbot 7 in the diaspora had fled the oppression of the Mengistu years beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Arriving in the capital cities of Europe and the big cities throughout the United States, Ethiopian refugees settled into their new lives as immigrants. Like any immigrant community, every family adjusted to life outside of their country in different ways and the community today is a mosaic of lifestyles. Some went on to pursue the higher education interrupted by the chaotic and violent struggle to overthrow the emperor and later, the military. They became engineers, information technology specialists, medical professionals and business people, moving from the urban enclaves of immigrants located in every major city to the middle and upper class suburbs.

Others found employment in the service sector—parking lots and small gifts shops–where some took financial shortcuts to achieving the American dream.

Yet, when that day [the fall of the Derg]finally came, there was no big rush to give up their comfortable lives outside of Ethiopia.—because there is a price to pay when returning home after so many years. Many who left behind their country in the late 1970s and early 1980s were young and today have spent three or four times as long outside the country as they had living in Ethiopia.

The Ethiopia in their minds is long gone—the familiar streets and landmarks that marked the days of their youth have been replaced by an urban landscape not that much different from cities and metropolises of the West.

Their families have been transformed by the passage of time—no longer do parents await the return of their now aged children. The children who fled their homes beginning with the Red Terror are now grandparents. Their own children and grandchildren, like the offspring of immigrants everywhere, may only vaguely understand the languages of Ethiopia. Their cultural connection to Ethiopia may only be the colors of the flag and the food prepared by the first generation immigrant who still insists on injera as their staple food. McDonalds and sushi now hold sway over their children and grandchildren’s taste buds and the music of Ethiopia may only be heard at family gatherings held by the older generation.

Nearing retirement age, the first generation Ethiopians who fled Red Terror are comfortable in their exile with first-rate healthcare, mortgages paid off, and their children and grandchildren living nearby. They may remember the household full of serategnas but not the current wages demanded for housemaids driven by employment opportunities in Middle Eastern countries. They may remember the status they enjoyed as members of elite families, but Ethiopia has undergone a fundamental social transformation and feudal families, beginning in the Derg time, have lost their former place in society. They may remember bucolic areas of Addis Ababa but the reality is miles of infrastructure, residential and industrial areas. The Ethiopia in their memories no longer exists.

What remains is the unfinished business of the Ethiopian revolution.

Many of those in the diaspora who fled the consequences of their political activism cannot seem to come to terms with others finishing what they started. No one can deny their sacrifices—their youth, some their healthand even their lives, their families, their homes and their “belonging”. What Kiflu Tadesse, one of the founders of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Party (EPRP) calls “the generation,” this group had made an enormous contribution to the political, economic and social transformation of the country with the abolishment of the feudal monarchy. Even for those who fled, already they have made their indelible mark in history. Well done, we say, to everyone in “the generation” who gave so much to the transformation of the country.

It is unfortunate that, for the past 25 years, a great many people in that generation living abroad have continued the battles of the student movement of the 1960s and 1970s into the 21st century. Despite the significant changes that have occurred in Ethiopia under the current government, the Ethiopian opposition has not let go of the past. Just look at the leadership and we see the same people who led different groups against the monarchy, the Derg and even each other today wage an unproductive struggle promoting violence in a country weary of the gun.

Berhanu Nega once played a productive role in shaping contemporary Ethiopian politics. Beginning with the Ethiopian Economic Research Association and the formation of the Rainbow Party, Berhanu Nega worked within the constitutional framework to provide data-driven analysis to oppose EPRDF policies and, later on, stand for election to replace the majority party with his own. That is democracy.

Democracy was derailed when the Berhanu’s coalition party emboldened themselves to claim total victory in an election where the numbers gave them partial victory. Rather than take the sizeable number of seats the CUD won in the 2005 parliamentary election, they decided it was all or nothing—and in the end, it became nothing.

The amnesty granted CUD leaders gave Berhanu the opportunity to leave and return to the United States to teach and begin building a new organization unabashedly committed to overthrowing the Ethiopian government by force. The Ethiopian opposition in the diaspora, disappointed by the failure of the opposition party coalition to take power, was presented a consolation prize in the formation of Ginbot 7. Their dreams of taking were restored.

An immigrant’s life is marked by an unanswerable “what if”—what if he/she had stayed in their country? Blessed with the opportunity to start over again and, at the same time, cursed with the opportunity to start over again, there is a cognitive dissonance in belonging yet not belonging. First generation immigrants cling to their language, their food, their music and everything that bonds them to the elusive concept of “home.”

“The generation,” that Kiflu Tadesse writes about in his personal history of EPRP, has the additional burden of avoiding the fate of their comrades who met death before many had even begun shaving. Others spent years in prison or living on the margins of life under a regime that trusted no one under 30.

So let’s go back to the question of “why?” Why, when Berhanu Nega comes back to the U.S., does the Ethiopian opposition in the diaspora open their wallets to fulfill a terrorist’s dreams of power? Maybe they want to forget their decades in exile and feel once again the exhilaration of their youth in smashing the power structure. Maybe they want to justify the reality of their life abroad and the fantasy of their return home. Maybe they, too, have dreams of power and anticipate the day when they can return home as a Minister or powerful government official.

For whatever reason, it is wrong. It is wrong to promote violence while enjoying the relative peace and security of their adopted country. It is wrong to buy arms for other peoples’ children to use while their children, like Berhanu Nega’s, spend their youth in college or in the workplace. It is wrong to ask others to do what they are unwilling to do themselves.

It is wrong. It is wrong. It is wrong.

What, then, are the next steps for those who have been squandering their hard-earned money on Berhanu Nega’s quest for power?

Stop. Stop funding the violence. No one wants violence in their own neighborhoods. Stop funding violence in Ethiopia.

By the way, these contributions are illegal and one day those who contribute may be asked by the legal system to account for these funds.

The next time Berhanu Nega comes to the U.S., the Ethiopian opposition in the diaspora needs to act responsibly and refuse to fund the violence that is feeding the current dictator in Eritrea his Ethiopian lackey.

It is time now to take a stand up and say no. It is now time for “the generation” to stop living in the past and use their many resources to advance the revolution they began so many years ago.

18 Responses to “Ginbot 7 and the Ethiopian Diaspora: Next Steps”

  1. same says:

    I agree 100% with you but the solution is :
    1.close the door by strengthening internal cohesion of the people with the political system at any cost.
    2. strengthen the security system of the country to foil the terrorists’evil mind as usual
    3. Bring lasting solution with the Eritrean Dictator
    4. strengthen the diplomatic relation with U.S Government and all concerned bodies.
    5. expedite to clean up nepotism, corruption and favoritism, instead replace with Administrators who are capable to rally the people around them

    • snakeman says:

      If, like you said, berhanu is leader of a 200-man strong army, then why are you writing about him the null-think-tank? Why the sleepless nights about berhanu and esat when you have plenty of media and web outlets? I will have to answer that myself – traitors and bandas and their gilgel- and buchila-bandas won’t have peace of mind – shame and guilt make such personalities and communities. So day and night they bark at anything – real or imaginary threats to them! Top that with imminent failure and wider unrest – this blend can make bandas not only sleepless but rabid maniacs barking and biting anyone and everyone. These tplf bandas betrayed their country, allied with ethiopia’s enemies, corrupted to the core, rotten mentally etc. slithering poisonous snakes with human appearnce.

  2. tesfaye says:

    Is this a thinkthank?

    ድንቄም ቲንክ ታንክ
    ኣይጋፎረም ሁለት ብትሉት ይሻላል።
    No neutral opinions, just biased as usual.I wish you were giving good advices to your boss in Addis ruther than worrying About the great Dr.

  3. Abey zewde says:

    We should organize and write an effective statement to countries which harbor this terrorist in a sustainable way. Wherever it is a neo-liberal media and their few banda terrorist Ethiopian friends are bent to inform false and genocidal propaganda news about Ethiopia.
    I am really sad how these individual try to create strife and destabilization of millions of people through false propaganda. We have to organize soon to do what we can do.

  4. Abeba Shburu says:

    Agame is Always agame and I Think they will die even as Agame.

  5. Samuel Estefanous says:

    I gotta admit, this is rather a persuasive well gauged and moderated article. But a little laced with generalization…yes, about the diaspora…okay a degree of demographic variation is indeed noted. But I think even the generalization ain’t that far fetched.
    America-those United States of America-has always been a morally bankrupt Nation. Devil belt matches block for block with the Bible belt.
    I mean the lynching, keeping humans in a pen at a zoo, holding a bazaar of slaves and auctioning naked girls. I mean to kill is human but to keep a human being in a pen at a zoo? You gotta be a devil incarnate…still to wage wars of attrition to keep this system and make it last to doomsday is insane…
    Why are you surprised,Sir. America is a Nation which invaded and stole a huge chunk of Mexican territory to ‘further out entrench the Slave States…’
    In the bygone days? Are you kidding me? Exactly what do you think Trump is doing? He is keeping Mexicans out of their ancestral lands-Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Florida…half America is Mexican only a couple of decades ago…now they want to make America great again…how? by repeating their despicable acts from history’s bloody chapter…
    No, I wouldn’t expect a semblance of justice from America,Sir.

  6. Adal Isaw says:

    Please edit your article before posting it. There are serious errors that you should correct in this article. If you fail to see the errors, I will help.

  7. Asegedech says:

    “any supporters of Ginbot 7 in the diaspora had fled the oppression of the Mengistu years beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Arriving in the capital cities of Europe and the big cities throughout the United States, Ethiopian refugees settled into their new lives as immigrants. Like any immigrant community, every family adjusted to life outside of their country in different ways and the community today is a mosaic of lifestyles. Some went on to pursue the higher education interrupted by the chaotic and violent struggle to overthrow the emperor and later, the military. They became engineers, information technology specialists, medical professionals and business people, moving from the urban enclaves of immigrants located in every major city to the middle and upper class suburbs.”

    I find your premise abit worrisome. True, some have joined Berhanu for many different reasons. However, those who joined EPRP cannot be generally categorized the way you did.Indeed, Derg members, post 1990 emigres who figured out that the status quo has reached its limit and chauvinists and narrow nationalists of all hues are the real culprits.
    These coupled with minor but irritating mistakes of the ruling party and government are to blame for the current state of affairs.
    Regards
    Asegedech

  8. Yohanes says:

    Well written, based on truth and relevant points. Yes I always wonder too why Brhanu is having all this privileges while he is causing unrest to the peace loving country? Yes for any elected government, there is that period of limit to serve peacefully to the public by whom has been elected. And it is understood that opposition is good to have in a democratic society but with having in mind peace and stability for the country you are going to represent. Whereas brhanu’s chauvinism is nothing but terrorism by in large to his beloved country.
    This get to stop!

  9. gizaw says:

    “…to target civilians in Ethiopia with
    terrorist attacks, as long as it is directed against…” ……. Who is the terrorist in here(Ethiopia)? Sometimes a freedom fighter can be condemned as terrorist by a ruling group/individual; as is the case of Abune Petros, Abdisa Aga, Belay Zeleke, Germame Neway… I dont think that u r doing things out of ignorance. Here is my invitation from Martin L. King Jr 4 u “non-coperation with justice is as evil as cooperation with injustice.” Your case is even worse, though. To mee Ur writing doesn’t worth the …it is written by.

  10. simon says:

    Agames are panicking. Hahahaha.

  11. Dawit Gedamu says:

    I have always been impressed with your analysis, ride on. It is not the first time for U.S. administrations past or present to accommodate individuals believed to promote U.S. national security interests. I am not sure how Berhanu Nega serves that purpose; nevertheless, it appears he is considered as “our man” in the troubled Horn of Africa. That seems the reason for the illegal protection he is provided to go back and forth between Eritrea and United States. Remember some one centuries ago said, “that big powers do what they want and poor countries accept what they must.”
    Does Ethiopia need to accept what it must as a poor country, terms dictated by foreign powers direct and indirect? My Habesha sprit fights within me against the willful abrogation of one’s rights because of presumed consequences. Do you think Alula would have beaten the Italians if he were afraid of European power? Do you think Yahoos who laid down his life to defend the territorial integrity of his country? For that matter do you think Menilik’s victory would have been realized if he were afraid of European powers? I have long lived in the West to understand their psyche. They respect power and a victor.

    Berhanu is not a big problem, Eritrea is. Eritrea gave him a passport and a permit to destabilize Ethiopia from his Eritrean base. Go to the source and deal with it. I understand the ambiguity of the Ethiopian ruling party over this question since Eritrea was created by some of the key component of the EPRDF. Some of their aging leaders said recently “we will defend Eritrea” if threatened by some phantom force.

    This kind of propaganda does not serve Ethiopian interests. You leave the Ethiopian people wondering if the gov’t of Ethiopia has well defined policy towards Eritrea, in spite of the clear foot print of the Eritrean gov’t in the recent turbulence in Amhara and Oromo that was a major cause for the devastation of lives and property.

    Eritrea is not a viable state by any rational metrics; but it can hang on for years to come receiving alms from foreign powers who are not well disposed to Ethiopian progress and well being.

    • Sirak Ab says:

      Really?
      You must be out your mind to stuck to the 1940’s and 1950’s feudal Ethiopia. This was the exact lame argument that brought your poor country to the abyss and still continue be haunted by. Leave Eritrea alone… tell your people in Adwa, who are calling the shots, trying the same thing again and again and expecting different out come is the thing of the past too.
      No need to look far … just vacate your Tigrayan ass from our land… that may be produce some thing different… until then you will have to just wonder your endless what if’s

      Sirak

  12. Dawit Gedamu says:

    I am not sure what you mean by “your comment is awaiting moderation.” Please explain.

  13. Bonnanza says:

    Every time Berhanu runs out of money he goes to the Senators and cry.It is sad this senator acuses of no base we need to protest and has to stop blaming Ethiopia .

  14. Ewnetu says:

    Any objective human being with any sense of fairness and justice cannot defend and tolerate what is being done by TPLF. Literally, TPLF is there to loot the country and for wealth transfer. Look at EFFORT and the overnight millionaires (with no creative or business talent) created because of the special privilege accorded to them mostly individuals from one area. TPLF has created an apartheid system where one class of people who are above the law (or they are the law), and the rest is a 2nd class citizen. This is a “government” who labeled every one who dare to speak up even the social problems prevalent in the country (let alone politics) as terrorist and handing down a jail term like a candy. It is the gangster mafia group running the country who is the real terrorist. Also, if Dr Birhanu is a 200 men army, why do you bother even to write about it. Why would TPLF lose sleep on AG7, and spend millions of dollars (they do not have) to silence them. I hope you know why. My friend- It is a matter of time…in the end justice will prevail.

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