The Ethiopian lobby in Washington is starting to push lawmakers to reintroduce a bill that was killed in the last Congress after big-named lobbyists representing the Ethiopian government — including Dick Armey, the Texas Republican and former House Majority leader turned DLPA piper lobbyist — got a hold of how it would affect Ethiopian officials if passed. The bill, The Ethiopian Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Advancement Act, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (D-N.Y.) calls for strengthening the U.S.-Ethiopia relationship and fostering democracy, economic development, and freedom of the press. It calls for a sanction of the Ethiopian government by cutting off non-humanitarian aid if the African nation does not follow the bill’s call for democracy.
Prompted by police killings of about 200 protesters after 2005 general elections in Ethiopia, the bill seeks the release of political prisoners and the withholding of visas from key Ethiopian officials who are suspected of links to human rights violations. Mesfin Mekonen, head of the Ethiopian-American Council, has already started meeting with congressional staffers and writing letters to the U.S. State Department to rebuild support for the bill. "While the failure of Congress to act on this legislation last year is disappointing, we must focus our attention on achieving results," Mekonen says.