Ethiopia hires lobbying help amid dual threats from Egypt, human rights critics

Ethiopia hires lobbying help amid dual threats from Egypt, human rights critics

by Mikayla Easley and Julian Pecquet

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed heads to a European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium. on Jan. 24, 2019 / Photo by Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

Ethiopia has hired a new lobbying firm for outreach to Congress and the Joe Biden administration as the country battles a diplomatic crisis with Egypt and ethnic strife at home.

The Ethiopian Embassy in Washington signed a $35,000-per-month contract with DC-based law firm Venable on Feb. 1. The contract is for an initial three months but can be extended.

Venable will provide “government relations service which may include outreach to the United States Congress and the federal government,” according to the new filing with the US Justice Department. Registered on the account are attorney Thomas Quinn and policy adviser Loren Aho. The pair also represent the Embassy of Qatar in Washington, while Quinn also represents the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

Venable declined to comment beyond what’s in the filing. The Ethiopian Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

The new hire comes as Ethiopia is under increasing pressure in Washington on several fronts.

Regional rival Egypt has been flexing its new lobbying muscle to try to convince Biden to follow President Donald Trump‘s lead and side with Cairo in its dispute with Addis Ababa over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or GERD. Ethiopia sees the 6,450 MW project as a vital development priority, but Egypt and Sudan want a say in how it is filled because of concerns it could hurt their downstream share of Nile waters.

Egypt benefited from personal ties between President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Trump, who famously referred to his Egyptian counterpart as “my favorite dictator” and tried to broker a deal between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan at the White House. Dissatisfied with what it called the “lack of progress” in resolving the dispute, Trump’s State Department even suspended some aid to Ethiopia in September “based on guidance from the president.”

Outflanked in Washington, the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed hired its first lobbying firm last summer. The contract with Barnes & Thornburg was for $130,000 but only lasted from June 30 to Sept. 30 (the firm provided no services after that date and is expected to shortly file paperwork indicating that it formally terminated its registration on Jan. 19, the day before Biden’s inauguration, Foreign Lobby Report has learned).

Lobbying filings show that Barnes & Thornburg’s lobbying focused exclusively on the dam issue. The firm contacted multiple congressional offices over the summer as well as officials at the National Security Council, the State Department and the Treasury Department, which Trump had put in charge of the negotiations.

Following Trump’s defeat, the Egyptian Embassy in Washington moved quickly to hire Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck on a year-long, $65,000-a-month contract. Former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), former Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Nadeam Elshami, a former chief of staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), are lobbying for the embassy.

Earlier this month, Royce touted his conservationist credentials to pitch a virtual congressional briefing by the embassy.

“As you may know, the negotiations surrounding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam have stalled,” Royce wrote to congressional staff. “Without an enforceable agreement, the operations of the dam will have significant environmental ramifications, for both the populations of Egypt and Sudan as well as for the Nile’s regional ecosystems.”

Ethiopia is also facing pushback over long-simmering ethnic tensions, including in the northern region of Tigray that broke out into open conflict in November. At the time Biden’s pick for Jake Sullivan warned of “potential war crimes” and urged the Ethiopian government and the fugitive leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to open negotiations facilitated by the African Union.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also called for an end to the violence that has killed thousands of people and displaced nearly half a million others. He expressed his concerns about the situation in Tigray on a phone call with Ahmed on Feb. 4.

Ethiopia has enjoyed a helping hand from some Ethiopian-American activists in the Nile dispute. Two groups, the Ethiopian American Civic Council and the Ethiopian Advocacy Network, successfully urged the Congressional Black Caucus last year to object to Trump’s perceived siding with Egypt in the dispute.

“The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) urges the United States and all other international actors to respect the 2015 Declaration of Principles trilateral agreement signed between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, and to continue to play an impartial role, only seeking the counsel of the African Union and diplomats on the ground in the region,” the group wrote in a June 23 statement. “In particular, the African Union has a pivotal role to play by expressing to all parties that a peaceful negotiated deal benefits all and not just some on the continent.”

But Abiy also has fierce critics in the diaspora.

Among them is the Oromo Legacy Leadership & Advocacy Association, a Washington-area nonprofit that advocates for human rights in Ethiopia. The group works with policy advisory firm Von Batten-Montague-York, which retained DiRoma Eck & Co., a new firm started by former Trump Treasury Department officials Andrew Eck and Michael DiRoma, in November to lobby for sanctions against “members of the Ethiopian security forces responsible for the extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses.”

Activist Seenaa Jimjimo founded the group to fight for the rights of the Oromo, a marginalized ethnic group in Ethiopia. But as violence flared up in Tigray she told The Influencers podcast co-hosted by Foreign Lobby Report and crisis communications firm LEVICK that the group is coordinating with victims of violence across the country regardless of their ethnicity.

“We stand with the Tigrayan people and we are working closely with them trying to highlight the human rights violations,” Jimjimo said in December. “What is happening with the Tigray right now is that has happened with the Oromo for so long.”


  1. Bravo Egypt and Sudan keep on conducting the operation and restore law and order welcome!!you know we are known for hospitality since Minilik who sell the land and entertain foreign invaders. amhara leaders stole horses and now our neighbors(i;e eritreans donot be confused sir) learn stealing from them and they steal spoons, diapers
    EThiopia is ruled now by the coalition government of Eritrean dictator and Abiy who work to destroy any party and individual who can cause a serious threat to its authority and survival as a dictator. Every dictator reacted violently to the perceived threat to its authority. If they have confidence and integrity they will not act like that because their actions will stand out against all propaganda and defametion made against them. Abusing journalist will not solve anything but it will give a huge volume to the aleady abundant crime committed by this PP and HIgdef and fuel the public anger both among ethiopians and foreigners . Amhara elites are very angry at any one any gouvernement who condemn the atrocities against Tigray , Oromo, Kimant and Agew. They are criticizing UN, UNHCR, EU, US since they fnd it a serious threat for their sovereignity as a the only dominant tribe i ethiopia and soccaled unity by gun and religion. yimegnushal lin kegebeya atawutuwat tebluwal; Amhara elites want to become refugees in abroad condemening every governmnet including Abiy himself and control every one at home. Many of them are living in a cage in US and wage war against their own people. You cannot have the best of both worlds:choose the best answer dear self-apponited amhara activits and politicians ጎንደሬዋ የኢሳይያስ አያት ይመኙሻልን ከገበያ ኣታዉጡዋት ዪሉ ነበር ነፍሳቸዉን ይማረዉ በሕይወት የሉም።የአማራ ልሂቃን ከጦር ሜዳ መዋጋት ሲያቅታቹህ ከከተማ ዉስጥ ሆናችሁ ቄሶችን ስትገሉ ስታስገድሉ ቤተክርስቲያን ስታፈርሱ ፥እናትና ልጆችዋን ስትደፍሩ በኤርትራዉያን ስታስደፍሩ ፫ ወራት አለፉ፥ወያኔ ፮፮፮ ነው፣ገለመለ ስትሉን ቀብለናችሁ ነበር ነገርግን ወያኔ ጠላቶቹን አስተምሮ ወደዉጭ ሀገር ሲልክ፥ለጠላቶቹ ትምህርት ቤት፥ሆስፒታል፥ድልድይ፥ሲሠራ እንጂ በቂም በቀል እንደናንተ ያደረገዉ ነገር የለም፥ማስረጃ አቅርቡ እስቲ እንስማዉ ፥እንየዉ፥የእናንተዉ የዉሸትታሪክ ለአለም አቀፍ የስደተኞች ድርጅት(UNHCR) አቅርቡት፡ምንትስ …. ለማያቁሽታጠኝይሉነበር ማለቴ በማያዉቁዋቹህ ነጮች ፊት የተለመደ የዉሸት ትርክታችሁን አሠሙ፥፥በአገር ዉሥጥ ስራቹህ ፍንትዉ ብሎ የተገለጠ ነዉ፥ regardless of the country issuing your travel document, many of you amhara elites obtain travel documents by the volition of TPLF authorities like the late Seyoum Mesfin. Now you became sponsors of war crimes and defenders of PP cadres as cyber militia. Your actions do reflect your genuine identity than your pretencious and treacherous words which in turn exposes your psycopathtic personality . You cannot have the best of both worlds : you cannot destroy our peace by creating ethnic based conflict at home and claim a refugee status in abroad. And Simultaneously insist to grab power in ethiopia and dehumanizing the rest of non-amhara tribe in the ill-concieved amharnized ethiopia by stripping off the God-given privilege of nations and nationalities , their language, privilege to choose their leaders both in secular and religious arena. We cannot think of one religion and one language in the modern day of Ethiopia; Look at european and other countries, there arecountries whose official and working language is not only one rather 2 or 3 in one country. For your surprise, these countries have no ethnic and ethnic minorities with distinct right from the other rather equal right before the law and the state leaders. In Amharanized ethiopia this is abnormal , because we accept amahara to be our superbeing and the only leader bothe in the church and secular organizations which is weird and against God-given human right. Regarding those eritreans who are now and again staggering to veil teh crime committed by their own brothers , fellow eritreans by naming them ሕግደፋዉያን . Please stop using the word ‘ሕግደፋዉያን’ all these unspeakable and unimaginable atrocities are committed by Eritreans and ethiopians ; The world donot call them ሕግደፋዉያን but eritreans . You could look at how H.E Joe Biden adress these thugs and demande the withdrawal of eritreans but he didnot say ሕግደፋዉያን or PJDF. Stop fooling yourself and deluding the ordinary people. We are losing family members and telling us ሕግደፋዉያን killed your family . Are you moking at all Tegarus in an attempt to evade revengful act from our side ? Who should be lafet to be avictim of your egoistic act of contolling Tigray and destroying our land while you remain protected by your treacherous words ?? You are doing the same act like Abiy . Abiy and his fans sent Religious leaders to Tigray to deceive Tegarus in the name of religion after they did what their revengful act for over 3 months in dark and communicatin balackout. Being Eritrean is the identity of both every eritrean , but we donot say ሕግደፋዉያን or ሕግደፋዊነት when we address their identity. It is a political view and standing. We call someone ባንዳ , traitor, defector,, ከኸዲOne who betrays one’s country, a cause, or a trust, especially one who commits treason without detaching his or her identity. Why do prefer to call these incarnated demons ሕግደፋዉያን rather than ኤርትራዉያን ?? You had a huge time to avoid this crime , but you chose to support and conceal the crime by denying the presence of eritrean Army in Tigray? አቱም ሀሾት እዩ ኤርትራዉያን ከምኡ አይንገብርን ጨዋታት ኢና ትብሉና ኔርኩም፥ንዚ ግብርኩም ክንቃወም እንከለና መሊስኩም ሕግደፋዉያን ኢልኩም ሽም ተዉፁኡልና hasadat leyabu chakanat

  2. የኢትዮጵያ መንግስት በአሜሪካን ሀገር የሚገኘውን የጥብቅና ባለሞያዎች ድርጅትን ለወኪል ጉዳይ አስፈፃሚነት ሥራ እና ለህግ አማካሪነት ሥራ በወር ሰላሳ አምስት ሺህ የአሜሪካ ዶላር እየከፈለ በመቅጠሩ ፤ አሜሪካ ለእስራኤል ከምትሰጠው አመታዊ የገንዘብ እርዳታ ውስጥ ሶስት ቢሊየን የአሜሪካ ዶላር በመቀነስ ይህንን ሶስት ቢሊየን የአሜሪካ ዶላር በየአመቱ ለኢትዮጵያ ለመስጠት በህግ አግባብ ስምምነት በቅርብ አሜሪካ ትስማማለች ተብሎ ይጠበቃል።

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