Yonas Biru, PhD
The international community’s intervention was critical to stop the War in Tigray. Before Ethiopia is fully out of the catastrophic crisis, a far more existential calamity is triggered by Oromo renegade clergymen who are supported by the Abiy administration and the Oromo regional government.
The crisis in Tigray was contained in a relatively small region with no more than six percent of the nation’s total population. Today, the crisis involves the entire Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC). The Church has made it clear that it is prepared to sacrifice its leaders and followers and will not submit to the Oromo tribalist renegades and PM Abiy’s threat.
A 2017 Pew Research Center Report found 98% of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians believe in God, 78% attend church services weekly and 65% pray every day. The Church’s response to the assault against its canonical dogma and administrative rules is: “[The] Holy Church describes these kinds of period as the time of martyrdom for Christians and those who have no fear of facing any detriment or death paying sacrifice for their soul just as Lord Jesus Christ taught us.”
The Abiy administration’s response is threatening the EOC and its peaceful followers, alleging that they are infiltrated by, or are agents of, Ethiopia’s enemies. We have come to a time where the EOC is seen as the Enemy of Ethiopia.
The assault against the Orthodox Church started in full earnest on January 19, 2020, at the Oromo Federalist Congress’ (OFC) political campaign. One of the speakers was the current spokesperson of the renegade clergymen – Deacon H/Michael Tadesse. The other was Jawar Mohammed, a high-level official of OFC and the leader of “Ethiopia Out of Oromia” campaign.
The Deacon’s speech was entirely devoted to get the Ethiopian Orthodox Church out of Oromia. This was underlined in his concluding remarks: “From now on Oromo Orthodox Christians will be led only by native Oromos only not by መጤ (outsiders).” The overriding litmus test for priesthood in the Oromo tribal land is pure Oromo blood. The Oromo tribal government has declared leaders of the EOC persona non grata and expelled several prominent leaders out of the Oromo tribal land.
What is the reason behind it? It is a degenerative Oromo tribal politics. Shimelis Abdissa, the current President of the Oromo tribal land, did not mince words to make it clear that the Oromo identity is above religious identities. Oromos who are named after the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Prophet Mohammed are considered as offense against the Oromo tribal liberation theology. These are names most common amongst Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and Muslims. The EOC is seen as the antithesis of the Oromo tribal theology.
Currently leaders and priests of the EOC are murdered in cold blood. Some are slapped in the face by police in the Oromo tribal land in front of their followers. To top it off, followers of the Church who are wearing black to mourn the murder of peaceful Church leaders and followers are denied service in public banks and ordered to leave their offices and not to return if they do not stop dressing black. The EOC mourning tradition is to wear black from 40 days to a year. This is the equivalent of denying Muslims not to wear kufi or hijab to office or to public offices.
Today, the Abiy Administration upped its threat by telling the Church they cannot protest during the Sunday prayer session. Over a million Orthodox followers are expected to attend Church services to pray for the wellbeing of their Church. Obviously, the mass will overflow outside of Church compounds. This is common in Ethiopia when churches and mosques gather for prayer and peaceful protest.
The international community that is financing the Abiy administration has moral responsibility to ensure bullets that were bought with their funds are not used to kill Christians. In recent months, the Abiy government has been piling weapons and the PM has threatened the Church and its followers that his administration has tools that it has not used in the past.
Every bullet that the PM is threatening to rain on peaceful Christians is paid for by the international fund that the PM uses at his discretion. It should be noted that in a recent speech before the National Parliament, the PM announced that one of his signature mega projects is estimated to cost up to 500 billion Birr (US$9.33 billion). When he faced pushback from some members of the Parliament, the told them at their session that he will use the nation’s funds as he sees fit outside of the oversight authority of the Parliament.
The PM stands in gross breach of one of the most important pillars of the Constitution encapsulated in Article 50, Section 3: “Supreme power of the Federal Government shall reside in the Council of Peoples’ Representatives which shall be accountable to the Ethiopian people.” This includes “Approving general economic, social development policies and strategies” (Article 55, Section 10).
Nearly 1 million people died because of the war that just ended and on his administration’s account the economic cost of the war in North Ethiopia was $28 billion. The PM is now recklessly setting the country up for a far more catastrophic crisis.
The International community must publicly condemn the planned massacre before it happens and warn the PM if he goes ahead with his threat, he will face international sanction and international prosecution.
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