By Esayas Hailemariam
Dear Honorable Representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:
I am deeply concerned about the actions of the Bank of Abyssinia, through which your esteemed Embassy processes visa payments. The Bank’s recent conduct has not only shocked the Tigrayan diaspora worldwide but also blatantly disregards the Pretoria Peace Agreement—brokered under the aegis of the U.S. Department of State.
Article 10 (4) of the Pretoria Agreement explicitly states the commitment of all involved parties to resolve territorial disputes in accordance with the Federal Government of Ethiopia’s Constitution. This is in line with the U.S. government’s sustained efforts to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia.
Contrarily, the Bank of Abyssinia has taken it upon itself to unilaterally relabel Tigrayan territories, effectively undermining this internationally backed peace accord. In a recent correspondence dated March 6, 2023, the Bank went so far as to categorize Tigray cities as part of the Amhara State, presenting itself as a de facto authority in interstate territorial matters (see the letter in Amharic in the attachment). Specifically, the Bank unlawfully designated its branches in the Tigray territories of Wolqait Tsegede and Setit Humera zones as part of its 110 branches under the administration of the Bahir Dar district of Amhara State.
The Bank even went further to name one of its Addis Ababa branches as “Professor Asrat Woldeyes Branch,” in honor of the late Professor Asrat Woldeyes, founder and leader of All-Amhara People’s Organization (AAPO), an ethnic-based political party in Ethiopia created in 1993 (see attached exhibit). This evidently reveals that the Bank of Abyssinia functions more like a political entity with a partisan political agenda, rather than as an independent and impartial financial institution.
Given these circumstances, it becomes imperative to question the continuation of the U.S. Embassy’s financial association with the Bank of Abyssinia. Does maintaining a partnership with an entity that undermines internationally-sanctioned peace agreements, U.S. laws, and policies align with the United States foreign policy objectives in Ethiopia?
If the Embassy chooses to maintain this relationship, I respectfully demand, on behalf of Tigrayans worldwide, a compelling justification that reconciles this decision with U.S. diplomatic goals and principles. In general, the relationship between U.S. embassies and foreign banks that collect visa fees on their behalf is generally regulated by federal laws, State Department policies, and international agreements. Specifically, the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) often outlines the procedures and regulations for such financial interactions.
In the U.S. the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), and many established caselaws involving financial institutions prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, age, and other protected classes. Bank of Abyssia’s provocative ethnic agenda clearly contravenes U.S. laws and practices.
Moreover, why should the Tigrayan community be obligated to make visa and consular payments through a financial institution that blatantly ignores our identity and territorial sovereignty? What is the assurance that such a politically biased and ethnic Bank won’t manipulate confidential visa and consular information of Tigrayan U.S. visa applicants for political agenda because visa payments are handled by this bank?
As a form of protest, numerous Tigrayans have pulled their money out of the Bank of Abyssinia, and several have publicly destroyed their bankbooks on social media platforms (see attached exhibits).
I respectfully ask that the Embassy give immediate and serious attention to our concerns. Additionally, we intend to contact our federal lawmakers, the U.S. State Department, and members of the diplomatic community to discuss this unacceptable situation and seek their support.
I eagerly await your prompt and thoughtful response to these pressing matters. If you need further information and/or documents, please let us know.
Esayas Hailemariam is a U.S. citizen residing in California and a part of the Tigrayan community in the United States.