Tensions from out of Ethiopia appear, complicating final days of campaign

Samuel Gebru speaks at a 2014 Inclusive City Forum at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. (Photo: Matthew Modoono/Fletcher School)

A flier making the rounds in Cambridge’s Ethiopian community has been causing distraction for Samuel Gebru’s campaign for City Council just days before polls open.

The flier accuses Gebru of being “silent when the regime he supports commits atrocities” and says he speaks of development in Ethiopia when “his attention and energy should be focused on human rights first.”

Gebru, 25, was born in Sudan to Ethiopian parents in 1991, but was moved to Cambridge when he turned 3. Since graduating from Cambridge Public Schools, he founded and serves as managing director for Black Lion Strategies, a firm that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Ethiopia, and ran a nonprofit for 10 years also focused on Ethiopia. The campaign materials for his first run for City Council call for people to “take the initiative and stand up for civil rights, civil liberties and democracy,” and he speaks of keeping Cambridge a “safe, inclusive, and welcoming community.”

A flier being shared on social media discusses the City Council candidacy of Samuel Gebru.

But among local members of the Ethiopian-American community – estimated at up to 30,000, with as many as 5,000 in Cambridge – there are some who see Gebru’s local stance at odds with his position on the regime running Ethiopia for the past three decades. Dissent is not allowed, and the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front government, which has fired on crowds of protesters, occupies every seat in Parliament. Ethiopians have fled the country in waves  over the decades.

“We are victims of this government, and he is supporting this government,” said Tibebu Gashaw, a 15-year resident and parent who has moved out of the city. “He’s counting himself a Democrat and running in the city of Cambridge, but if they are killing his own people, and this guy is defending these dictators, how can he be working for human rights? So we are not supporting him.”

Gashaw said he did not make the flier, but he has shared it since it appeared roughly a week ago.

The Gebru campaign has been aware of the flier, campaign manager David F. Albright said, but would not comment on its specifics.

“We remained focused on presenting a positive image for an inclusive Cambridge. Our campaign will continue to focus on the issues that countless Cambridge voters have told us they care about, including economic equality and affordable housing. That has been Samuel’s message since he launched his campaign last November and it will remain his message till the end,” Albright said.

Another member of Cambridge’s Ethiopian community described the situation in the African nation of 86.5 million people as impenetrably complex, and its diaspora equally so, with factions split along not just political lines, but along religious, ethnic and even linguistic ones. But the passions run strongest among new emigrants and previous generations, while Ethiopians raised in the United States are likely to be less consumed by the fractiousness.

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