By Obang Metho
April 7, 2021
Increasingly, many, including me, believe Ethiopia has become a fragile state, in serious danger of collapse and descent into a failed state. Two growing sources of violence are potential threats: armed military conflict in the Tigray Region in the North and ethnic-based killing and violence in non-combat zones especially Oromia, Benishangul-Gumuz and the Amhara Region. Here are some of the details:
Armed Military Conflict in the Tigray Region
A major source of present instability, with indications of worsening, involves the ongoing armed combat in the northern Tigray Region between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF). The Tigray Region is the home region of the party that ruled the country for 27 years, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), who appear to be fighting for the restoration of their power.
The military confrontation erupted on November 4, 2020, when the current Government of Ethiopia responded to a report that the TPLF had attacked Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) at a major military base in their region, killing sleeping soldiers and stealing large amounts of artillery, munitions and military equipment. Prior to this, the TPLF had challenged the current government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, now in power for 3 years, with escalating defiance and resistance. In response, the current government carried out a military campaign to crush the resistance and to enforce the law of the land.
Until recently, the federal government had blocked most access to the region to humanitarian groups, human rights groups and the media. In addition, the shut down of the Internet and other communication methods made it extremely difficult to assess conditions on the ground.
More recently, humanitarian groups and human rights organizations were allowed greater access to the area. Human rights investigations revealed areas of significant concern, including the perpetration of human rights abuses against the people of Tigray. Further investigations are needed.
Ethnic-Based Killing and Violence in Non-Combat Areas Throughout Ethiopia
The continued rise in ethnic-based violence and killing outside the combat zones could become a major factor leading towards societal collapse as life becomes unsafe for many, especially for those living, working or traveling outside their own ethnic areas. Violence is now affecting most regions of the country, but especially Oromia, Benishangul-Gumuz, the Amhara Region and to some extent, the Southern Nations. Here are some of the troubling indicators pointing to its current fragile condition:
- Ethnic-based violence and the brutal killing of civilians, including children, especially in Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz, but also in other places, mostly directed against those of different ethnicity, especially the Amhara who are living these regions
- The normalization of death and violence
- The failure of the rule of law and the lack of transparency and accountability
- Vigilante groups killing and robbing at will
- An alarming lack of compassion for victims by some, especially those of different ethnicity or when the victims are seen to be “part of an enemy group”
- A growing humanitarian crisis involving hunger, mass displacement, lack of shelter and health services
- A growing spirit of vengeance and the recycling of violence
- Increasing fear and confusion as the reality on the ground is denied, blamed on others or otherwise avoided, leaving a silence that screams for the truth
- The rejection of the TPLF-advanced narrative, especially to the western governments and medias, which overlooks the TPLF’s own long record of injustice, political imprisonments, torture, and perpetration of widespread human rights atrocities, including crimes against humanity and genocide that they have committed during the years they were in power
- The West’s wide acceptance of the TPLF’s narrative, including overlooking their past history of human rights crimes and injustice, and treating both the current federal government and the TPLF as nearly equally legitimate contenders for power
- Ethnic-based land disputes
- The contentious political environment as the country prepares for the upcoming national elections in June, especially due to concerns that some regions will not allow all parties to participate in the election, only allowing their own ethnic-based party access to their areas
- Signs of a buildup of fear and ethnic-based anger over the increasing numbers of incidents of ethnic-based violence and killing, which could lead to increased ethnic conflicts, civil war, instability and a failed state
If we, Ethiopians agree that Ethiopia is at risk of becoming a failed state, are we willing to face the crisis before it is too late? If yes, can we work together as citizens to find areas of consensus, despite our differences?
Can the people of Ethiopia agree that a court of justice, chosen due to its attributes of fairness and impartiality, is superior to vigilante justice, where a just and fair process to establish guilt or innocence is denied?
Can we agree it would be good to live in a country where its institutions were truly grounded on the value and fundamental rights of every human being, better ensuring that the basic rights and privileges of all citizens would be upheld rather than a country continuing to exclude others based on identity factors, resulting in rivalry, dehumanization of others, anarchy, chaos, violence and mob rule?
Can we agree that it is wrong to kill children and their families because they are living in our region or neighborhood and are not of the “right ethnicity?”
Can we agree that killing people of different ethnicities who are simply carrying out their jobs, like a car driver, transporting an NGO official to a different region, or an ambulance driver, transporting injured persons to a hospital, should not be killed when they are required to drive those persons outside their own regions?
Can we agree that we should not celebrate or participate in the destruction and death of another human being(s) because others from “their tribe” committed injustices to us and/or others?
Can we condemn the acts of those within our own ethnic groups when they are morally wrong?
Can we agree that vigilante killings, which are motivated by the desire for ethnic-based revenge, is like killing one of your own as the cycle continues without end? It lacks any legitimate legal process and is most often directed at innocent victims, creating a legacy of anger, bitterness and desire for retaliation, sometimes for generations.
Can we agree that death and violence has become commonplace? Can we agree that mass killing and violence, based on ethnicity, is happening and growing?
Can we agree that our fragile state is headed for collapse, becoming a failed or genocidal state? Facing the truth may bring shame; yet, it may be the exact motivation we need to find the necessary consensus to meaningfully address our shared future.
Many people, including those in leadership, seem to be distancing themselves from what they fear will become volatile or cannot accept or face. Some want to change the story, adjusting the “details,” in order to blame others outside their groups and to vindicate themselves or their own groups. Investigations, hearings and substantiated evidence are needed, but it is difficult to get as the details often bring shame and no one wants to hear it if it casts a negative shadow of blame on them or their group. The shame is too much; however, facing it may be positive as it may offer the necessary motivation to join diverse others of similar thinking, coming together in consensus for the good of all. If you are someone who wants to hide the truth; at least, it means you know its wrong and that your conscience is telling you to do something about it.
In a health society, people would be working day and night for a solution to avert this disaster from coming, but it seems like no one is doing it. Some may speak, but do they describe what is actually going on? If the future of the country is left in the hands of those who are not seeing, or who are not willing to acknowledge the urgency and danger before us, how will we find a solution, especially, before it is too late?
Who are we waiting for? Some, who might be able to help, have not stepped up despite the seriousness of it. Are we waiting for a miracle, or at least someone who is willing to address it? Are you and I the ones we are waiting for? There should not be silence as we see the country going into anarchy.
The symptoms of anarchy are seen daily. For example, injustice has become routine and the people who have committed these crimes may or may not be held accountable. Why the lack of transparency? Who will call for accountability if not the citizens of the country, no matter what party, leader or ethnic and religious group they support. It is about the survival of the people and our society. Living as if it is not happening is living a delusion. It is irresponsible and dangerous.
Can we find consensus? It may not be too late; however, if Ethiopia comes to the point of collapse; later on, people will know it was because of the lack of action. If it descends into mass atrocities, crimes against humanity or genocide, people will not have an excuse, not only Ethiopians, but also members of the international community, who have been alerted, but did not take action to find a solution; but, let us not point fingers at others. Let us look at ourselves first. It is our shared problem.
As fellow citizens of the country, the future of our children and country is at stake if we fail to take responsibility. Sooner or later we are the ones who will be held most accountable, either by our actions or by our inaction.
Failure to find a meaningful solution and lasting peace is not an option. The people of this country must stand up and work to find a way to save lives and to uphold the value of every life as each person is valued by our Creator. We can establish consensus on many of these points; that is, unless we want to continue to live in an impoverished, systemic tribalism, dangerous and collapsed society. I don’t think so!
In Rwanda, 800,000 people massacred to bring about the realization that all lives have intrinsic, God-given value and that it is possible to live together. Do we need such large-scale failure in Ethiopia to make a turn around to do the right thing now? We should not have to go through this ourselves, but let us learn from their tragedy. That means we must stop living in a delusional world and abolish institutionalized tribalism.
Ethiopia is in trouble. Can we find the consensus we need to work together for a lasting solution.
May God help us see the humanity within our neighbors, near and far, and to embrace our personal responsibility to respond, for the betterment of all of us.
For more information contact Mr. Obang Metho, Executive Director of the SMNE. Email: Obang@solidaritymovement.org
Mr. Obang Metho, is Executive Director of the Solidarity Movement for a New (SMNE) a grassroots social justice movement of diverse Ethiopians whose mission is to advance the freedom, truth, justice, human rights, civil rights, equality, accountability and reconciliation of all the people of Ethiopia, regardless of ethnicity, religion, political view or other differences.
The SMNE is based on the belief that the future wellbeing of our Ethiopian society rests in the hands of those among us who can put “humanity before ethnicity,” or any other distinctions that divide and dehumanize other human beings from ourselves; inspiring us to care about these “others;” not only because of the intrinsic value of each life, but also because “none of us will be free until all are free.”
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