The logo of the International Monetary Fund. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

In the coming weeks, top bankers with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are slated to fly to Ethiopia for critical meetings. The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has asked for billions of dollars in aid to keep his strife-riven country afloat.

It is important to understand that there’s more than just money on the line. For residents in conflict zones such as the Amhara region, where government forces have massacred civilians with drone strikes and in door-to-door raids, the IMF negotiations could be a matter of life or death.

For that reason, the IMF must condition any loan for Ethiopia upon immediate and serious reforms from Abiy’s corruption-addled regime. The potential carrot of billions of dollars in Western loans makes sense only if policymakers brandish their stick, demanding a change of course that would finally end years of tribal strikes in Africa’s second most populous nation and restore basic human rights.

The government’s repeated crimes in the Amhara region (population 60 million) and elsewhere could and should trigger U.S. laws aimed at blocking aid to problematic regimes — something that happened in Ethiopia just two years ago.

“We continuously monitor the human rights situation in Ethiopia to assess whether there is a pattern of gross violations that would affect U.S. support for international financial institution assistance under the International Financial Institutions Act,” the State Department said in a recent official statement to Bloomberg News. “The U.S. government is alarmed by continuing reports of human rights abuses and violations in Amhara and Oromia regions which implicate the government and non-state actors.”

American policy makers should be alarmed as government forces step up their campaign of repression against a popular rebel group in the Amhara region. That campaign has expanded to multiple assaults on the civilian population.

The latest confirmed abuses are detailed in a report from Amnesty International, which links the Ethiopian National Defense Forces to at least 11 extrajudicial killings of civilians in Amhara’s regional capital of Bahir Dar — most shot to death at close range, with relatives in some instances denied the right to bury their dead. The well-documented killings come after widespread reports of a much bloodier incident in the Amharan village of Merawi, where door-to-to-door raids by troops of the Abiy regime allegedly killed at least 80 civilians and perhaps as many as 150.

Journalists attempting to report on such killings and the role of the Ethiopian government — as well as deadly drone strikes on civilians, the destruction of ancient churches and other world historical sites, and intentional assaults on food supplies — have been met with official censorship, or worse.

In late February, a French journalist named Antoine Galindo was arrested and held for nearly a week by security forces for attempting to interview an opposition leader from the Oromo Liberation Front. The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least eight other journalists are behind bars in a growing crackdown on press freedom.

Meanwhile, the costs of war — first in the Tigray region and now in Amhara region — are exhausting the Abiy regime’s coffers, as well as documented corruption, including the construction of a new palace for the ruler, which some have estimated at $15 billion. Late last year, Ethiopia defaulted on a debt payment. Its financial problems come as a prolonged drought in the war-torn northern regions threatens to tip into yet another famine.

Thus, the upcoming IMF visit will be an opportunity to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone. Any loan approval to keep the government in Addis Ababa afloat — and also stave off a growing hunger crisis — must come with conditions, including an end to the regime’s deadly assaults on civilians.

Applying IMF leverage at a time when the Ethiopian government desperately needs fiscal relief would be very much in line with Washington’s goals for curbing violence across the continent.

Just last year, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee made that agenda very clear on a call with reporters. She praised the long American partnership with Ethiopia but added: “But to put that relationship in a forward trajectory, we will continue to need steps by Ethiopia to help break the cycle of ethnic political violence that has set the country back for so many decades, including most acutely in this recent conflict.”

IMF loan approval must be conditioned on measures to curb Addis Ababa’s rampant corruption, restore press freedom and other civil liberties, and end the civil war and its related humanitarian abuses in Amhara and other regions. This could also help foster the broader goal of ending tribal and ethnocentric governance across Africa, which has proven to be a disaster for everyday people.

Every crisis — even one as deadly and terrible as the recent bloodshed in Amhara region — is also an opportunity for something better to emerge on the other side. That’s why it is so critical that any IMF deal for Ethiopia become more than just a fiscal life raft for a brutal and corrupt regime. What Ethiopians need is a down payment on a renewed partnership between two great nations, structured around shared principles of human rights.

Mesfin Tegenu, chairman and CEO of RxParadigm, is executive chairman of the American Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee.

Source: The Hill

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