Why Did Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Rebuff Samantha Power?

Why Did Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Rebuff Samantha Power?

The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development was seeking greater access for aid workers in Tigray.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy, and , a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy.

 Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, speaks at an event in Khartoum, Sudan on Aug. 3. ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

(Foreignpolicy)–Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last week rebuffed a request to meet face to face with a top Biden administration official to address the country’s civil war and worsening humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region, dealing a blow to U.S. efforts to tamp down a conflict that threatens to fuel famine and destabilize the wider Horn of Africa.

When Samantha Power, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), visited Ethiopia last week to seek greater access for humanitarian aid workers in Tigray, she was asked in a press conference why she hadn’t met with the Ethiopian prime minister.

“He was not in the capital today on my day here,” she said.

Behind the scenes, multiple U.S. officials familiar with the matter said that Abiy’s office did not respond to U.S. requests for a meeting with Power, effectively rebuffing the senior U.S. cabinet member and underscoring the increasingly strained relationship between Washington and Addis Ababa.

Several U.S. officials in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Foreign Policy they feared the conditions of the conflict in Tigray might bear early warning signs of ethnic cleansing and potentially genocide, unless all warring parties find a way to de-escalate tensions.

They also said U.S.-Ethiopia relations were worsening as the conflict continued, leaving the Biden administration with less leverage to pressure Abiy’s government into ending the conflict as it weighs new sanctions and other punitive measures on officials and commanders involved in the war.

Ethiopia, once seen by Washington as an anchor of stability in East Africa, is the recipient of massive amounts of U.S. government assistance, including nearly $1 billion in funding overseen by USAID in 2020.

When asked whether Abiy rebuffed requests for a meeting with Power, a USAID spokesperson told FP, “Administrator Power had hoped to meet with Prime Minister Abiy during her visit but as she mentioned in her press conference on August 4th, the Prime Minister was not in the capital on the day of her visit, and she hopes to have the chance to meet him soon.”

Power’s visit and meetings with other senior Ethiopian officials came against the backdrop of emerging reports of further atrocities against civilians in the Tigray conflict. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International released a report this week accusing forces aligned with the Ethiopian government of widespread sexual violence against women and girls in Tigray. There are also emerging reports of forces allied with the opposing Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) massacring hundreds of people, including over 100 children, at a camp for internally displaced people in Ethiopia’s Afar region—though those reports have not yet been independently confirmed by international watchdogs.

Power, current USAID chief and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under the Obama administration, first rose to prominence with her 2002 book on genocide, A Problem From Hell, which criticized U.S. policies in the run-up to to brutal ethnic cleansing campaigns and genocides in the Balkans and Rwanda in the 1990s.