U.S. Ambassador Michael A. Raynor, Media Roundtable Monday, January 25, 2021

 Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Welcome to the U.S. Embassy, and thank you for joining us here today. I always appreciate the opportunity to speak with members of the press. Media freedoms – and professional, objective, and responsible journalists like you – are the backbone of every democracy. Your work illuminates the truth, helps citizens understand what’s going on in their country and beyond, and holds government officials and institutions accountable to their people. These are all vital public services, without which no democracy can thrive, and I thank you most sincerely for the essential and difficult work you do.

I’ve been honored to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia for almost three-and-a-half years. On a personal level, it’s been wonderful to have the luxury of time to explore Ethiopia, and it’s been a source of great pleasure and inspiration for me to get to know this beautiful country and its people better. I’ve visited every region in Ethiopia, and had planned to do even more traveling before COVID-19 got in the way. On a professional level, I’m very proud of what the partnership between the United States and Ethiopia has accomplished during the past three years.

We’ve brought well over 3 billion dollars in U.S. government resources into Ethiopia during that time, in support of Ethiopia’s own governance, development, and humanitarian priorities. That’s a lot of money, and our two countries have done a lot of good with it. We’ve expanded economic growth opportunities – from helping farmers boost their agricultural output, to supporting young entrepreneurs to build their own futures while creating jobs for others, to facilitating many millions of dollars in U.S. commercial investments in Ethiopia.

We’ve addressed the food security and other humanitarian needs of tens of millions of Ethiopians facing natural and man-made challenges. We’ve improved educational opportunities for over 15 million primary school students and equipped them with the skills to succeed in the classroom and beyond. We’ve helped unleash the talents of young Ethiopian graduates, civic activists, and business professionals to become the next generation of leaders. We’ve strengthened Ethiopia’s health systems, improving the well-being and longevity of millions of Ethiopians through our support for health care providers and facilities.

For COVID-19 specifically, we brought in over 180 million dollars in additional U.S. government resources to help Ethiopia manage the health, economic, and humanitarian challenges of the pandemic. And we remain the top supporter – at well over 200 million dollars – of Ethiopia’s efforts to transition toward true democracy, social justice, and economic opportunity, which are the essential ingredients for long-term, durable peace and stability as well.

Ethiopia is a key strategic partner to the United States and one of the United States’ oldest friends in Africa or anywhere, and the strength and success of Ethiopia – and its people – fully align with the United States’ interests as well. But while these are times of opportunity and progress for Ethiopia, they are certainly challenging times as well. We remain concerned about ethnic violence around the country, and the threat it poses to achieving the country’s true potential.

As Ethiopia’s largest partner in humanitarian assistance, we’re particularly alarmed by the ongoing situation in Tigray. After almost three months, we’re still not seeing enough humanitarian assistance reach the most vulnerable areas. Much more needs to be done – and urgently – to ensure that humanitarian organizations, both Ethiopian and international, have full and secure access to the region to provide life-saving support to the millions of people who are suffering. We continue to call on all parties to cease any hostilities; ensure the protection of all civilians in Tigray including refugees and humanitarian workers; and uphold international human rights and humanitarian law.

We continue to be troubled by the activities of Eritrean actors in the Tigray region, and we continue to call for an immediate halt to, and independent investigations of, all credible reports of atrocities, sexual violence, and human rights violations in Tigray and other places, such as Metekel. This is a pivotal time for Ethiopia. What Ethiopia does in the coming months – particularly in promoting democracy; organizing fair and credible elections this year; protecting basic human rights, including freedom of the press and freedom of expression; resolving conflict and addressing ethnic tension; maintaining regional harmony; and promoting economic opportunity – will impact this country’s prospects for generations to come.

Ethiopia’s progress on democracy and human rights must be sustained – even in the face of serious security challenges – so that this country can realize its full potential. We encourage Ethiopia to continue its courageous efforts to introduce and strengthen its political, economic, and security reforms. These are not small tasks, but they are not beyond Ethiopia’s ability to accomplish, particularly if its people, as well as its government, galvanize around them. Like Ethiopia, my own country has wrestled with serious security, health, economic, and social challenges.

Like Ethiopia, we wrestle with issues of racial and ethnic tensions; federal versus regional roles and prerogatives; political representation that reflects the diversity of our communities; and equitable access to economic opportunities. Our two countries share the same values, and our two countries sometimes struggle to fully embody our values, and this commonality is one of the reasons why the United States is Ethiopia’s strongest partner and friend. The United States has been deeply inspired by, and the top supporter of, Ethiopia’s efforts over the last three years to establish democratic governance, economic opportunity, and stability in this country.

These are not easy outcomes to accomplish – indeed, the United States still strives to fully accomplish them after more than 240 years – but they can only be achieved if the government and the people remain steadfastly committed to achieving them. No government’s national security imperatives are more compelling than a government’s obligation to safeguard its citizens’ rights and freedoms. And no citizens should pursue their own interests by causing harm to their fellow citizens, or at the expense of their nation’s stability, harmony, integrity, and potential.

Democracy is a compact, an agreement, between a government and its people. If both don’t play their roles fully and responsibly, democracy – and all the rights and opportunities that can only come from democracy – are imperiled. We saw this in the United States just two weeks ago, when a group of our citizens lawlessly sought to promote insurrection and violence in the very heart of our nation’s democracy – the U.S. Capitol building. But as the old saying goes, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

The United States emerged from that incident with a renewed commitment to valuing and safeguarding our democracy, even as we increase our vigilance against the next threat down the road. Ethiopia, too, can overcome its challenges and emerge stronger by doing so. I’ve spent the last three years learning that nothing in the world is stronger than a determined Ethiopian, and that there’s very little Ethiopians can’t accomplish when they set their minds to it. If Ethiopians set their minds on working together to build a country of democracy, justice, economic opportunity, and harmony, they will most certainly achieve it. And I sincerely believe they will.

And now, I look forward to your questions.