“People ‘killed like chickens’ as ethnic tensions continue in Africa’s second most populous country”
PBS News Hour
Aklog Birara (Dr)
I had prayed hard and hoped that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will have the courage, wisdom, ethical and moral values, sense of humanity and competence to transition Ethiopia from ethnic polarization, targeted murders, theft, graft, corruption, and maladministration to that of genuine and representative democratic governance underpinned by the rule of law and buffeted by strong national or Ethiopian institutions. Sadly, these hopes have yet to be fully fulfilled.
The genesis of the problem
While overcoming the prior years of ethnic apartheid institutionalized and weaponized by the TPLF is an arduous effort, the Ethiopian federal state that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed leads cannot operate as a rudderless ship: declaring a unilateral ceasefire while leaving Afar and Amhara people weakened; asserting the primacy of Ethiopian unique identity while rejecting reform of the divisive and conflict-prone language and ethnicity based Constitution; announcing that his government welcomes critics and constructive criticism while arresting and jailing thousands without due process of law or without establishing credible evidence; preaching common destiny, peace and stability while opining that “in Addis Ababa, folks show animosity towards Oromo” in his interface with members of Parliament, etc.
Priorities are misplaced.
As I write this painful commentary, the government of Ethiopia today is trying to divert the attention of the Ethiopian people and the international community of conjuring a misleading image by propagating a false sense of peace, stability, normalcy, development—planting trees and greening Ethiopia, injecting optimism that the third fill of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is a done deal, repeating the breakthrough that wheat self-sufficiency will be achieved in the coming two years, and that peace and reconciliation with the TPLF is feasible thereby averting another catastrophic war and the like. On the last point, the Ethiopian public does not know the parameters, or the deals made behind the scenes to make peace with the TPLF feasible.
I do not deny the notion that these are all vital. But Ethiopia’s government leadership priority is misplaced. It does not zero in on the country’s missing link—the common humanity and peaceful coexistence of its huge and diverse population. No country in the global arena achieves success without constant challenges, but those challenges cannot be ignored and must be vigorously addressed.
The safety and security of ordinary citizens is the first and foremost priority of any government on this planet. You cannot eat wheat if you are dead. You cannot educate a child if your child is murdered by terrorists. You cannot enjoy access to electricity if your very existence is denied or is threatened.
For almost half a century, I have fought hard to defend Ethiopia’s legitimate rights, its sovereignty over its immense natural resources. I have lauded and applauded the generosity and humanity of ordinary Ethiopians. I witnessed this unparalleled level of empathy among Ethiopians during my recent visit. This phenomenon does not just happen. It takes generations of intermingling, marriages and friendships among different ethnic and faith groups.
I have also argued vigorously that ethnic-federalism and the Apartheid administrative structure designed by the TPLF and OLF will undo Ethiopia. I fail to understand why a system that polarizes, triggers constant war and conflict and prompts targeted ethnic killings is deemed sacrosanct by the Ethiopian Prime Minster.
For reasonable persons like me committed to Ethiopia’s territorial integrity, national security and national interest, sovereign rights, and all-inclusive and sustainable development, it is disingenuous and self-serving on the part of Ethiopia’s government leadership to segregate and subordinate the unparalleled insecurity, fear and large-scale slaughter of ordinary and hard-working Amhara in Wollega, Oromia and in Beni-Shangul Gumuz from the rest of Ethiopia’s governance. Preaching sustainable and equitable development is empty rhetoric when it is managed devoid of humanity, human dignity, and human worth. The cherished human right to live without fear or without being murdered regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation is a foundational principle to all peoples.
Th need for justice was the reason why Ethiopians sacrificed their lives and rejected the TPLF. The expectation then and now is that its replacement will do much better.
The OLF/Shine planned and executed large scale massacre of Amhara in Wollega, Oromia, Ethiopia. This massive Amhara genocide outraged the entire world including Iran and the US alike. It is the latest in a series of similar massacres of Amhara over the past forty years. These latest atrocities are horrendous and hard to comprehend in part because there is even disagreement between the TPLF/Shine on the one hand; and Oromo Regional Special Forces and the Federal Defense establishment on the other as to who the perpetrators of this genocide are.
In my assessment, it makes no difference whatsoever who did it. Whether in concert with one another or alone the perpetrators committed genocide. Left to Ethiopian and regional authorities, we will never know who is accountable and responsible for this latest crime of genocide. Condemning this act of terrorism against innocent civilians that claimed the lives of an estimated 1,500 Amhara (and counting) and 47 Ethiopians from Gambella in a single day is not sufficient. There must be an independent body of credible persons to investigate this crime of genocide.
In this connection, I am pleased to note that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement urging that an independent “investigation” of this latest genocide must occur.
This type of targeted massacre of Amhara will continue until and unless perpetrators are held accountable now. Based on history, I have no confidence in the political will or the institutional capacity and or resolve on the part of the government of Ethiopia to hold genocide leaders or perpetrators to account regardless of whether “Ethiopians defense and security forces were involved.”
Independent Ethiopian sources allege that Oromo regional and Ethiopian “defense and security forces are also involved” in this mayhem.
The system allows recurrent massacres of Amhara.
It saddens me to opine that the rule of human rights law contained in Ethiopia’s Constitution never protected Amhara from constant intimidation, displacement, targeted killings, and disempowerment. The ethnic federal system of the country has in fact normalized targeted killings and displacements.
The TPLF and OLF crafted and imposed a language and ethnicity-based constitution and Apartheid like administrative structure that gives ample power to regional ethnic elites to segregate and punish so called “invaders, colonizers, unwanted settlers, and non-indigenous people.” Ultra-ethnic nationalists, terrorists such as the TPLF, OLF/Shine and other fronts thrive in this environment. They are often supported by regional and federal authorities as well as foreign powers such as Egypt and Sudan. This is the core reason why this system must go.
Targeted killings and massive displacements of Amhara are therefore systemic and structural and will be exploited by foreign interests including Egyptian and Sudanese conspirators.
I can provide a plethora of evidence in support of this thesis. For example, I remember massive expulsions of Amhara from Gura Ferda before Prime Minister Abiy took power. The reginal leader who triggered the expulsions was appointed Ambassador. I recall large scale killings of Amhara that prompted Professor Asrat Woldeyes to form an Amhara civil society that morphed into a political party. The imminent Professor was jailed and harassed. Post April 2018, upon the re-entry from exile of the OLF leadership and the ascent into power of Prime Minister Abiy, onslaught of Amhara in the Oromia region and Beni-Shangul Gumuz escalated dramatically. We were led to believe by the Prime Minister and by the regional President of Oromia that OLF/Shine was diminished.
More than a dozen Amhara female students were abducted by OLA/Shine and their whereabout are still unknown. More than a dozen banks were attacked and hundreds of millions of Birrs were robbed by the same group. In 2021 alone the OLA/Shine is reported to have killed 1,688 innocent civilians, most of them Amhara. The Amhara Association of America (AAA) goes further and states that “In the same year, Oromo Special Forces (OSF) were responsible for killing at least 37 Amhara and for supporting OLA forces in some instances. Oromia Regional President Shimelis Abdissa never acknowledged the recurrent massacres of Amhara in the region he is leading, signaling that ethnic cleansing of Amhara is a regional policy.” It also confirmed 62 abductions.
The latest lawlessness that cost the lives of more than 1,500 Amhara and counting, and 47 Ethiopians from Gambella shows the enormity of ethnicity-driven inhumanity to man in today’s Ethiopia.
Why accountability matters
It also shows gross negligence on the part of both federal and regional authorities to provide security for ordinary citizens irrespective of nationality or faith. If the allegation of “ethnic cleansing of Amhara as a deliberate regional Oromia government policy is correct, then, targeted slaughter, dispossession and displacement of Amhara will continue unabetted. This is because the strategic objective is to dispossess all Amhara. The larger picture that emerges is total domination of the political and socioeconomic landscape at the exclusion and at the cost of Amhara. I suggest in the strongest terms possible this strangulation of Amhara weakens Ethiopia even further. It makes it vulnerable to external threats. The winners will not be Ethiopians at all.
A few independent observers in Ethiopia feel strongly that it is even reasonable to imagine that the same phenomenon of ethnic cleansing of Amhara that is taking place in Oromia might be planned for the cosmopolitan city of Addis Ababa, home to millions of Amhara. This imagined or real occurrence will be catastrophic for all Ethiopians. It will undo Ethiopia. This is the reason why I mentioned the unfortunate statement by the Prime Minister to Parliament that in the city of Addis Ababa, “there are folks who show hatred for Oromo.” Are not Ethiopians mixed through thousands of years of intermingling and marriages? This utterance adds fuel to the fire. It emboldens terrorists. It does nothing to bridge relations.
International outpouring of dismay and outrage
Ethiopia’s image is severely tainted by the atrocities in Wollega, Oromia. The international community including media have condemned this latest massive massacre of innocent Amhara civilians—babies that are just weeks old, children who can barely walk, girls, pregnant and other women, the elderly, poor farmers who toil the land to make a living etc. None is a combatant.
What is their crime? They are born Amhara. Because they are, Amhara are assaulted constantly. Millions are displaced in the North by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front; and in the South by its strategic ally, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA/Shine).
For the first time in recent years, Western media—the BBC, the Guardian, NBC, PBS News Hour, the New York Times, the Washington Post— has given ample coverage to ethnic genocide of Amhara in Wollega, Oromia, Ethiopia, and adjacent areas. The UN has called for an investigation.
- The PBS News Hour quoted the Associated Press and confirmed the massacre of hundreds of Amhara in Wollega, Oromia, as “One of the deadliest mass killings in the east the African Nation.”
- On Sunday June 19, 2022, the Guardian reported as follows: “More than 200 Amhara people killed in attack blamed on rebels. People ‘killed like chickens’ as ethnic tensions continue in Africa’s second most populous country. This number has increased dramatically since then.
- AP quoted a witness on the ground. “I have counted 230 bodies. I am afraid this is the deadliest attack against civilians we have seen in our lifetime,” Abdul-Seid Tahir, a resident of Gimbi county, told the Associated Press after barely escaping the attack on Saturday. “We are burying them in mass graves, and we are still collecting bodies. Federal army units have now arrived, but we fear that the attacks could continue if they leave.”
Believe it or not the local administrator rejected a request by residents to hire an excavator to bury the dead. His concern is reputational risk for the Oromia leadership led by Shimelis Abdissa and for the federal government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. International reputation is earned through moral and ethical actions and not by burying or masking the truth.
Residents are instead forced to use shovels and other rudimentary tools to dig and bury, for example 60 plus in one mass grave, 50 plus in another mass grave etc. Mass graves are now normalized in Ethiopia. This is sick and sickening for a society that is highly spiritual and “God fearing.” The task goes on today.
- “Shambel, another witness who gave only his first name over fears for his safety, said the local Amhara community was desperately seeking to be relocated “before another round of mass killings happen”. He said ethnic Amhara who settled in the area about 30 years ago in resettlement programs were being slaughtered “like chickens.”
These eyewitnesses “blamed the Oromo Liberation Army for the attacks. In a statement, the Oromia regional government also blamed the OLA, saying the rebels had attacked “after being unable to resist the operations launched by [federal] security forces.” I have heard this rhetoric before. It underestimates the depth of the problem either deliberately or ingeniously.
A knowledgeable Ethiopian whose name will remain anonymous told a group of us at a meeting last night that one eyewitness in Wollega, Oromia where Amhara genocide took place wondered “Why a country that repulsed foreign invasion valiantly is unable or incapable to protect its citizens from harm; why it is unable to destroy the terrorist OLA/Shine and its affiliates?”
Someone gave a rhetorical but substantive response. “There must be the will at the highest level of the Federal Government of Ethiopia to do that.”
Credibility in tatters—who do you trust?
It behooves us to ask the fundamental question of why “Oromo Special Forces and Ethiopia’s Defense” were unable to capture or kill or incapacitate the OLA/Shine over the past four years?
Forget the blame game and theatrics. Whether carried out by the OLA/Shine or Oromo Special Forces and Ethiopian Defense, the consequence is identical. Amhara are constantly targeted and massacred because of their ethnicity. These targeted massacres of Amhara are recurrent practices. There has not been a deliberate commitment on the part of the government of Ethiopia or the Amhara regional government leadership or both to address the root causes of these massacres since the formation of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in 1991 and the formation of its current successor, the Prosperity Party led by Prime Minister Aby Ahmed.
Has any culprit been held accountable for massacres of Amhara?
Simply put, the federal government of Ethiopia has failed to defend Amhara regardless of geographical location. AFP is right. “Ethiopia is experiencing widespread ethnic tensions in several regions, most of them over historical grievances and political tensions. The Amhara people, the second-largest ethnic group among Ethiopia’s more than 110 million population, have been targeted frequently in regions like Oromia,” Beni-Shangul Gumuz, Gambella, Addis Ababa and suburbs and the Amhara region itself.
Designation and commissioning alone do not do it.
The government of Ethiopia is very good at designating and commissioning task forces to deal with institutional and structural problems. It designated both the TPLF and OLA/Shine as terrorists. But they still dominate and dictate Ethiopia’s political agenda. It anointed the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission that conducted a report on the Mai Kadra massacre as well as human rights violations in Tigray. Has any culprit been held accountable? It is true that the Abiy government had accused the OLA/Sine of “ethnic massacres.” Has anyone been held accountable? Has the government been steadfast and consistent in using its massive defense forces, federal police, and security system to incapacitate the OLF/Shine and to demand that its enablers within the system stop aiding and abetting?
- Dealing with this latest tragedy requires a human face and a human heart. It requires a government leadership that is committed to the defense of human life and that shows empathy for victims and their families. By empathy I mean for the Prime Minister to state publicly those who slaughtered an Amhara “infant” will never get away with this crime and then take concrete action and deal with the root causes that breed terrorism. Amhara mothers and fathers who survived gave AFP eyewitness accounts of the level of cruelty and barbarism.
“I lost my 16-year-old daughter in the attack shot by a bullet from the (OLA) gunmen,” one Amhara man said, adding that the rebels had blocked the main highway.” Another man told AFP he had “personally helped bury 61 bodies on Sunday, with the total number of buried bodies on Sunday being 351 in total.”
What is the goal of these massacres?
“The intention of all these attacks is to force us to leave,” said one eyewitness to AFP. He added that “our houses and properties have been destroyed… I want to leave this area, go to my ancestral region… that at least would allow me to live in peace.” I agree. Rooting out Amhara wherever they live, and work is the primary goal of the OLA/Shine and the TPLF.
I would like to draw a parallel between atrocities committed by the TPLF in the North and OLA/Shine and allies in the South and West. The TPLF conducted a scorched earth assault in its people’s war against Afar and Amhara. It even bulleted trees. The consequences are that tens of thousands of innocent civilians are dead. Millions of Amhara are displaced in their own land mass. Tens of Billions of dollars of investment property are destroyed. More troubling is that the TPLF is preparing for another war. Similarly, the OLA/Shine approaches its atrocities on Amhara with vengeance. It kills hundreds including infants. It robs hundreds of millions. It abducts girls. It displaces and expels.
Whether in the North or in the South or anything in between, evidence shows that Amhara are encircled by murderous actors targeting helpless Amhara. Amhara life is cheapened.
The latest genocide perpetrated by the OLA/Shine and its allies has received more international media coverage than the Mai Kadra genocide perpetrated by the TPLF in November 2020.
Governments have also expressed outrage and condolences.
- On June 21, 2022, the US Department of State issued the following statement. “The United States is gravely concerned by reported killings of civilians in the Amhara community of the Oromia Region of Ethiopia this weekend. We mourn for the victims and extend our sincerest condolences to survivors and all those who lost loved ones in this horrific act. We also call on all Ethiopians to reject violence, and instead, pursue peaceful dialogue to resolve differences. National reconciliation must involve comprehensive, inclusive justice for victims and accountability for those responsible for human rights abuses and violations. Continued reports such as these underscore the urgency of ending the ongoing armed conflict in Ethiopia.”
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran expressed similar sentiments.
What do I recommend?
The international community
I commend and welcome the June 23, 2022, press statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet “urging Ethiopian authorities to hold prompt, impartial and thorough investigations into attacks that led to the killing of hundreds of people in the West Wollega zone, western Ethiopia, last weekend.”
I do not wish or support for Western governments or UN or other external agencies to intervene in Ethiopia’s domestic affairs. However, the government of Ethiopia can no longer shield itself by declaring sovereign rights. Its best option is to be bold; establish an independent body fast; investigate Amhara genocide; and hold culprits accountable. It also needs to deploy sufficient defense forces in Oromia, Beni-Shangul Gumuz and Gambella and prevent a repeat of barbaric acts.
In the words of the UN High Commissioner, “I am horrified by the senseless killing as well as the forced displacement of the local population in the attack on Tole village. I call on the Ethiopian authorities to ensure that investigations are promptly launched into the attack and to ensure that victims and their families have a right to truth, justice and reparations, including by holding those responsible to account.” I share this sentiment entirely.
The Ethiopian people
- Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people deserve deep institutional, structural and political changes that respond to personal security as well as to the political, economic social and financial aspirations and hopes of its 120 million citizens. This is easier said than done. It requires broad public awareness and buy in. It demands that political parties, including the governing party offer compelling national visions; and demonstrate capability and commitment to settle differences amicably. It requires capable and competent political leadership. It also requires that civil society organizations, youth groups, women etc. participate actively in the political process. The current system is incapable of reforming itself.
- Members of Ethiopia’s huge Diaspora around the globe ought to conduct sustained and synchronized protests; condemn Amhara genocide in Wollega, Oromia; and campaign and or tweet under the hashtag “Stop Amhara genocide now.” They must also consider leveraging their enormous financial muscle by withholding remittances until the Federal Government of Ethiopia establishes a competent and credible investigative body; holds murderers accountable for their crimes; and ensures that ethnic cleansing will no longer be tolerated in any part of Ethiopia.
- Members of Ethiopia’s Diaspora must commend members of Ethiopia’s Parliament who had the courage to protest; to demand that the country’s legislative body discusses the atrocities in Wollega; and to demand that the Speaker of the House Mr. Tadesse Chaffo table the matter as a core national agenda.
- Members of Ethiopia’s Diaspora who are committed to Ethiopia and to our common identity as Ethiopians and as human beings have a moral responsibility to demand that the Ethiopian federal government is accountable for ensuring the safety and security of all Ethiopian citizens regardless of where they live, and work and that prime accountability resides at the topmost level of government leadership.
- Members of the Diaspora who believe in the core principle of “one country, one people” have a moral obligation to appeal to and persuade the international community that genocide of Amhara in Oromia and Beni-Shangul Gumuz and constant intimidation of Amhara wherever they live in Ethiopia make Ethiopia unstable, less peaceful and vulnerable; and acknowledge that the Government of Ethiopia has literally failed in its primary duty of protecting innocent civilians from danger.
Finally, I mourn the genocide of 1,500 innocent Ethiopian Amhara civilians including infants just weeks old as well as the deaths of 47 Ethiopians from Gambella (Gambelians) in Wollega, Oromia, Ethiopia. These atrocities, crimes against humanity or genocide are perpetrated by the Oromo Liberation Army/Shine and its ally the Gambella Liberation Front, both affiliated with the terrorist TPLF under the watch of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The difficult question we Ethiopians and the rest of humanity must ponder, and face is “How many innocent civilians must die before we declare enough is enough and demand accountability from Ethiopia’s leaders? How long are willing to tolerate ethnicity-based murders? Who in the Ethiopian federal and or regional leadership is accountable for Rwanda like genocide in Ethiopia?”
If this latest Rwanda-like genocide in Wollega, Oromia does not send shivers and wake us up to act; then I do not know what else will do the trick.
As someone who has been supportive of several innovative development programs that Prime Minister Abiy is shepherding, most notably the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), I am troubled that instead of mourning the dead and initiating national prayers for all victims of terrorism, the Prime Minister quickly reverted to his comfort zone by planting trees. Had he mourned the dead and expressed genuine commitment that such barbaric acts will not be repeated under his watch, the Prime Minister would have regained the trust and commitment of most of the Ethiopian people including me.
The bottom line is this. We must reinforce the message that terrorism against any Ethiopian is terrorism against all Ethiopians.
May God give solace to the families and friends of the victims.
June 23, 2022
Citations and references worth accessing
(PBS News Hour)
Ethiopia’s Parliament in denial
The face of injustice in Ethiopia
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