Storming of Ethiopian Embassy put State Department’s integrity to test

This week Washington D.C. observed the storming of Ethiopian Embassy followed by a couple of gun shots and a brief media frenzy. The incident did not only mark a worrisome escalation of the confrontation between the Ethiopian government and opposition hardliners but also cast doubt on the integrity of the State Department as well as the overrated American media.


On Monday – at noon in Washington D.C., 7pm in Ethiopia – a group of men forced their way into the Ethiopian Embassy. A cell phone video – recorded by one of the men – shows the group encircling an Embassy staffer and taunting him. “Shoot” the men yelled in Amharic – an Ethiopian language. They were also heard shouting “call [Ambassador] Girma”, “traitor, “thief” and other pejorative words. Ethiopian Embassy Washington DC

The Embassy staffer, later identified as Solomon, is seen brandishing his pistol in a futile attempt to dissuade the men. Yet, the group kept walking forward with a man in military jacket (which looks like the uniform of the former Ethiopian army) taking the lead. Solomon kept desperately waving his pistol as he retreats to an office door of the Embassy. The men kept yelling “shoot”. One man from the group is heard urging – the man in a military jacket – “Shemelis, don’t get too close to him”. A gun-shot is heard at that point. (It was learnt later no one was hurt)

All this was captured in the video posted by ESAT, an opposition Online TV, and it was widely cited by American media outlets.

Another cell phone video – subsequently released by the same source – shows Solomon retreating inside the building while the Ambassador hold the door for him. The video also shows a guy taking down the Ethiopian flag and later the men are seen in a room – which is said to be an office of the Embassy (consular office?) – shouting slogans. A siege that lasted between 5 to 10 minutes.

Sounds different from the narrative on the Anglo-Saxon media? Of course, the story echoed across the media on Monday was a different one.

Reuters claimed:

” The U.S. Secret Service detained a possible shooter after a report that shots were fired on Monday near the Ethiopian embassy in Washington”.

NBC pilled on it saying:

“A man was taken into custody after he fired a handgun outside the Ethiopian embassy …… the man, wearing a dark suit and holding a silver handgun, is seen pointing the weapon at others who try and reason with him”

Washington Post echoed:

“Secret Service officers have apprehended a suspect after a report that shots were fired outside the Ethio­pian embassy”.

About six hours later, Reuters took the liberty to edit its news – without any exploratory note – indicating that the shooting took place “on the Ethiopian Embassy grounds” and that “no arrests were made”.

I don’t have the luxury of tracing how the rest of them corrected themselves. But it came as a shock to those of us, at, that an international media quietly modifies a published item.

Needless to say, it defies the imagination that they did not bother to check Wikipedia for a photo of the Ethiopian Embassy – which would have helped them to notice that the whole drama took place on Ethiopian sovereign territory – and that they didn’t bother to have the video translated – in a city where tens of thousands Ethiopians live.

Rest assured, they will come up with a follow-up story or – if you may – a patch-up story. Justifying the storming and brief siege of an Embassy of sovereign country. But that is merely a marginal aspect of the bigger problem.


Anti-government demonstrations in front of the Ethiopian Embassy – or other events organized by Ethiopian dignitaries – is not uncommon. Now and then, groups of diverse interest stage rallies. The list ranges from legitimate opposition parties and activists to Eritrea-backed insurgent groupings. Often than not, in these protests, people with pending political asylum application take the front row and stage a little drama – big enough to bolster their case but not big enough to get them into trouble with the police.

As the Ethiopian government barely tried to engage the diaspora community, the opposition hardliners had been content with the occasional protests and the concerted effort to discourage people from going to the Embassy and attending its events. To date, many in the Ethiopian diaspora – especially those who are attend opposition dominated Churches and cultural restaurants – would rather not talk about their trip home, let alone any investments they made.

The trend started to change in the past three years, as the government launched town-hall meetings across the United States and elsewhere to raise funds for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam, which is being built on the main source of Nile.

Understandably, the opposition in the diaspora felt compelled to “defend” their territory. One venue after another, the hardliners escalated their attempt to disrupt the fund raising meetings by forcing their way inside the meeting halls, disrupting the speaker and refusing to leave – at times, expelled the organizers and held their own meeting instead. Most of these events were attended either by Cabinet level officials or the Ambassador.

The government employed several tactics to bypass them and those who cared to underwrite the grand dam had several ways to do so anyways. But, in the process, a dangerous precedent was set. The diaspora opposition hardliners saw those incidents as a “progress” in their political activism. That is now spreading even to the Ethiopian diaspora in European nations, where adversarial politics is less appreciated.

Coupled with their attempt to outshine one another, the hardliners took the matter to the extreme. In less than twelve months period, an Ethiopian-American journalist verbally assaulted a 76 years-old ruling party heavy-weight at a Starbucks cafe. Again, two other Ethiopian-Americans similarly assaulted at a Cabinet member in a supermarket. Both incident were captured in a video by the perpetrators themselves. Both took place around Washington D.C. where the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service has a stronger presence and mandate.


Unsurprisingly, the Ethiopian government is reluctant to proactively respond to these incidents. Partly, it hopes its newfound affection for the diaspora will eventually pay-off and marginalize the hardliners. Partly, it fears any response to the hardliners will complicate its courtship of the diaspora and bolster the profile of the incidents. Thus the reason that none of the incidents have not been taken to court as per Title 18 sec. 112 of the United States Code and as per the District of Columbia Code. Nor was there any visible increase in the security details of the Embassy and visiting dignitaries.

Yet, the responsibility of the US State Department, and its Diplomatic Security Service, to assess security threats and take precautionary measures do not entirely depend on a formal request from the Ethiopian government. They cannot turn a blind eye to an ever-escalating problem, just because the Embassy chose to stick to its hypothesis that the majority are its supporters. (In truth, no one knows where the majority stands – as both pro and anti government events draw a few hundred people).

Quite to the contrary, it is reasonable to suspect that some in the State Department and the Congress have a vested interest in these incidents. The list of the suspects ranges from Secretary of State John Kerry, who regrettably endorsed the Holocaust glorifier Eskinder Nega, to the little-known Congressman Dana Rohrabacher who laughably called Andargachew Tsige a political reformisms and activist. The reasons range from mere ignorance to an overinflated egoistic temptation of acting as a vanguard of opposition elements to a deliberate intent to embarrass the Ethiopian government. The latter do not entirely come from a mere dislike to Addis Ababa’s policies, but also a sort of “balancing act” between different factions in the State Department. Indeed, there are plenty indicators that the opposition hardliners often act with a node from some elements in Washington D.C..

NOW, THANKS TO the latest incident, the State Department cannot play hide-and-seek no more.

The Department will have to make it clear whether it condones a violation of Ethiopian Embassy premises, in a city where Michael Moore was prohibited from filming  the Saudi Arabian embassy from across the road. Again, luckily the incident took place in an area under the direct preview of the State Department’s security service, thus denying it any bureaucratic excuses.

How the Department responds to this week’s episode not only will determine the manner in which way the opposition hardliners will behave, but also – and more importantly – will cast light on its own organizational and political integrity.

Daniel Berhane

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