The Honorable John James
Chairman, Subcommittee on Africa
US House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
RE: Looming Christian Genocide in Ethiopia Lurks Behind the Veil of Ethnic Conflict
Dear Representative James:
On a personal note, I am an Ethiopian citizen of an Oromo and Amhara ethnic construct, an Orthodox Christian, and a lawful resident of the U.S. Professionally, I was the Deputy Global Manager of the International Economic Comparison Program at the World Bank. I was also the interim chair of PM Abiy Ahmed’s Economic Advisory Council for a brief twilight moment. Over the last five years, I have written dozens of articles about Ethiopia’s entropic political and economic chaos and the resultant challenges to establish a redemptive order. One of them was written at the request of the US Department of State for “positive and practical suggestions for moving forward.”
On this Christmas Day of worship and celebration, I wrote this letter on behalf of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. A 2017 Pew Research Survey found that nearly all (98%) Ethiopian Orthodox Christians see religion as “very important” in their lives, 78% attend church weekly, and 65% pray daily. This made them a target of anti-Christian forces.
I am inspired to write this letter encouraged by your leadership and meticulous questions at the recent Congressional Hearing “Ethiopia: Promise or Perils, The State of U.S. Policy.” I apologize in advance for a lengthy letter that is necessary to present the depth and breadth of the crisis with over 40 hyperlinks as evidence. The letter’s aim is twofold.
- To upraise you of a looming genocide against Orthodox Christians. What the world is not aware of is that, under the current Oromo-led government, the center of gravity of the Ethiopian political crisis has stealthily shifted from ethnic-based (Oromo v. Amhara) to religion-based. This is unnoticed by most foreign observers because the terms Amhara and Orthodox Christian are interchangeably used.
- To appeal to you to pay heed to: (1) Pope Francis’ call to “pray for persecuted Christians in Ethiopia”, support UN’s calls for independent investigations into deadly religious violence” and pressure the Biden administration to hold Prime Minister (PM) Abiy Ahmed accountable.
The threat of genocide is undergirded by an anti-Orthodox Christian political ideology of Oromummaa that guides the Oromo-led government’s political narrative and diabolical policy. In an article titled “Promoting and Developing Oromummaa, the godfather of the ideology (Professor Asafa Jalata of University of Tennessee- Knoxville) accused Christians of being perpetrators of “The Ethiopian colonial terrorism and genocide” against Oromos.
In another article, titled “Being in and out of Africa: The Impact of Duality of Ethiopianism” Professor Jalata, who interchangeably uses the term Christian and Amhara, accused Amhara leaders of being agents of Semitic international forces (a reference to Israel). Even worse he accused Amhara people of committing the crime of genocide that exterminated “5 million Oromos through war, slavery, massive killings, diseases, and war-induced famine.” Fanatic Oromos feel that, with an Oromo-led government in office, it is time for a pay back.
Ethiopia has become a country where Oromo fanatics “slit open the belly of a 9-months pregnant woman, rip her fetus out, and hand the lifeless child to the dying mother.” The woman was 29 years old. There was also the case of a pregnant women who died of ventricular fibrillation triggered by a sudden shock of terror when machete-wielding anti-Christian Oromo gangsters broke into her house.
This video clip shows a man weeping in agony, saying: “They cut my 37 years old wife’s belly open and killed her and the unborn child, saying a Christian child will not be born on our land. They did this in front of our children.” The video is in Amharic, but you can feel the spirit of his agony without understanding Amharic. I appeal to you to watch it for one minute from the 2:30 minutes mark.
The above three examples are cases in cities with access to social media. Similar atrocities in remote rural areas remain undocumented. Further, Orthodox Christians are subjected to mass murder. As APA News documented “28 Christians were murdered in brutal killing spree by Oromo armed militants on 23 November 2023.” Anti-Christian forces parade Orthodox Christian priests on the streets of Oromo region with dead black chicken hanging on his neck. The black chicken signifies the allegation that Christians are magicians and terrorists.
On September 6, 2023, an international Orthodox group reported, “Christian homes and businesses were destroyed by extremists after a campaign” that accused Orthodox Christians of being sorcerers. On December 23, 2023, the same international group reported about “targeted Killings of Orthodox Christians Continue in Arsi”, one of the Oromo regions of Ethiopia.
As the U.S. Office of International Religious Freedom has reported, government police forces are part of the Orthodox Christian mass murder, going as far as opening fire on peaceful worshipers “during an Epiphany parade.” The world has also witnessed with horror police and security officers throwing teargas inside an Orthodox church while the congregation was praying and singing hymns of praise to God.
In 2023 alone, hundreds of churches have been demolished by the government. The President of the Oromo region is on the record stating “hundreds more will be abolished in Sheger City alone and no power on earth or heaven will stop him.”
International organizations are increasingly alerting the world about a looming full-blown ethnic-based genocide. What they have failed to see is the religious dimension that is festering behind the veil of ethnic conflict. One exception is the Voice of the Martyr – an international nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend the human rights of persecuted Christians. Its report noted: “Recent political unrest has created opportunities for large attacks on Christians and churches throughout the country,” Other international alerts include:
- “The UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide has sounded the alarm about the heightened risk of genocide (October 2023).
- The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention has issued an “Active Genocide Alert in Amhara Region” stressing “The Amhara are in a perilous discursive position that could easily devolve into genocide” (December 2023).
- The European Center for Law and Justice’s has appealed to the UN alarmed by Ethnic Violence against Amhara People (October 2023)
- “Ignored by western governments a genocide is taking place in Ethiopia. The Amhara people, a large ethnic group, are being ethnically cleansed (December 2023).
Of recent, the atrocities have taken a new turn to indiscriminate drone attacks against civilians. The focus of the drone attack is the province of Gojam, widely considered as the bible belt of Ethiopia located in the Amhara region. The following reports were published since August 2023.
- “Dozens of civilians have been killed this month by drone strikes and house-to-house searches in Ethiopia’s Amhara region” (October 30, 2023).
- “Air strike kills at least 26 in Ethiopia’s Amhara region” Le Monde (August 15, 2023)
- The UN voiced concern about “the devastating impact of drone strikes and other violence on the population in the Amhara region” Voice of America (November 17, 2023).
- Modern Tokyo Times took note that “New artillery and drone strikes killing civilians are a continuation of intimidating the Amhara” (December 7). The report revealed drone targets included a primary school, bus stations and an ambulance carrying crucial medical supplies.
The Human Rights Watch’s recent report concluded: “Despite the growing violence, Ethiopia’s regional and international partners have remained largely silent.” Their silence has led Ethiopia to intensify its drone attacks against Christians. On December 16, 2023, Ethiopia awarded its Medal of Honor to the CEO of Turkish drone manufacturer, Baykar, praising the significant role his drones played in Ethiopia’s civil war. In the same week, the Field Marshal vowed to step up the drone operation. Days later, he made good of his words with intensified drone attacks.
The International Community Stands in Breach of Its “Never Again” Promise
We need to remember that the international community was caught off guard and completely unprepared to respond to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. This was not for lack of warning signs. As documented in the U.S, Army War College report, “Organizations like Human Rights Watch were predicting problems in Rwanda as early as 1993.” After the genocide, the world and most particularly the U.S. promised such a global failure will never happen again. Neither the US nor the world at large is living up to its best intentions.
The world needs to remember 800,000 Rwandans perished in just 100 days of genocidal violence. At the time, the population of Rwanda was shy of 7 million and the weapons most widely used in the genocide were matchets. In comparison, the population of Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia is over 50 million and the government is using machine guns, tanks, and drones. If a full-blown genocide breaks out, the catastrophe to the Christian population will be unimaginable and irreversible.
The Prime Minister has shown time and again, he is a sociopathic murderer who has publicly threatened the people that his wrath will be “deadlier than dictator Mengistu Hailemariam’s red terror of the 1970s.” According to the Human Rights Watch, the red terror represents “one of the most systematic uses of mass murder by the state ever witnessed in Africa.” The African Union put the number of red terror fatality at 700,000.
The Prime Minister’s public threat and murderous track record leaves no room to give him the benefit of the doubt for a positive outcome. Ethiopians believe the only chance for a positive outcome is establishing accountability. It is with this sentiment that leaders of the Lawyers Association of Ethiopia filed a court case accusing him and his army chief of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Ethiopians of all hue and stripes are speaking up increasingly to save the nation from an existential crisis. Even the Prime Minister’s cabinet members have started to speak up at a grave risk to them and their family. A week ago, State Minister of Peace (Taye Dandea) condemned the PM publicly as a “savage who plays games with innocent people’s blood.” He was arrested and his wife and children were thrown out of their residence. Two days ago, another state minister of peace (Seyoum Mesfin) fled the country.
The Time to Act is Now
The US has many reasons to intervene. First, as the largest aid provider to Ethiopia, it has both legal and moral obligations to ensure its funds are used for humanitarian and development programs that they are intended to. This is not easy to ensure. As the IMF report notes, “Aid, being fungible, it may ultimately help support” wasteful and nefarious expenditures.
This is not a speculative conjecture. It is a reality in Ethiopia. The mass demolitions of hundreds of Churches and tens of thousands of Christian residential homes were supported by earthmoving equipment paid for by U.S. taxpayers as part of Ethiopia’s international aid for infrastructure building.
Furthermore, a 2023 UNDP report revealed the nation’s key macroeconomic parameters are “in the danger zone” and its “fiscal space has essentially disappeared. In 2023, defense and debt servicing expenditures account for more than a fourth of the total budget.”
Where is the defense budget going? The government has been acquiring Chinese-built 155 mm SH15 wheeled, self-propelled howitzers, according to The Defense Post and Military Africa. This is a new addition to the Prime Minister’s recent collections of advanced weapons from Turkey, Iran, and UAE.
On October 26, the PM showcased an arsenal of advanced weaponry in a military parade, rolling tanks, ballistic missiles, and sophisticated drones. This is a nation where 20 percent of the people are fed with international food aid. It warrants noting international humanitarian aid to Ethiopia was discontinued after it was determined the government was exporting the food aid to neighboring countries.
Aid money being fungible, it is difficult to say U.S. tax money including its food aid did not seep into financing some of the weapons the PM showcased at the military parade. The very possibility that the Ethiopian government’s weapons of genocide may be partially financed by U.S. taxpayers must be concerning to the American public and the US Congress.
The vanity project obsessed PM is also building a palace with an opulent environ at the cost of $15.3 billion (14 percent of Ethiopia’s GDP). Le Monde described the project as “pharaonic taken by delusions of grandeur” glamoured up with a waterfall, three artificial lakes, a zoo, and luxury villas. In comparison, the Kremlin is estimated to cost 1% of Russia’s GDP. The Élysée Palace in Paris and the White House in Washington are estimated to cost 0.0045% and 0.0002% of their respective GDP.
To top it off, the President of the Oromo region is spending undisclosed millions on his mansion, with artificial reflective lakes, electronically monitored underground parking, indoor swimming pool and a peacock garden with dancing water fountains. The first two pictures below show the official rendering of the Oromo mansion. The third one is your governor’s mansion in Michigan. In 2022, the State of Michigan’s GDP was 490.32 billion U.S. dollars, nearly four times that of Ethiopia. Considering this, why should Americans allow their tax money to go to Ethiopia?
Apart from ensuring its aid money is not used for wasteful expenditures, preventing genocide is an integral part of America’s moral value and international obligation as a signatory of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The US also has strategic geopolitical interest in Ethiopia’s peace and stability.
If sensibly engaged, the U.S. can play a pivotal role. Unfortunately, its current policy leaves much to be desired. The PM is successfully playing the West against China, Russia, Iran, and UAE to avoid accountability. This can only deepen the crisis and hasten the genocidal civil war, which will have huge implications on the Horn of Africa’s economy and security.
Alexander Rondos, the EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa was right four years ago when he said: “Ethiopia is at a very very delicate moment. Not only for its own sake but for the security of the wider region… This is not Yugoslavia which imploded. Ethiopia straddles every other country around it. That is a core strategic question.” Today, the situation is far worse.
What Can the US Do?
The question the international community needs to answer is: What explains the decision to issue an international arrest warrant against Putin for abducting thousands of Ukrainian children and taking them to Russia and ignoring PM Abiy’s far more heinous crimes.
On the Prime Minister’s watch, nearly one million people have perished because of war, man-made starvation, and a string of extrajudicial mass murders. Hundreds of churches have been demolished in the Oromo region. Further, as reported by the Voice of America, “close to a million Amhara were forcefully evicted from the Oromo region. It warrants repeating the terms Amhara and Orthodox Christians are used interchangeably. The nation is inching at an accelerated rate toward a point of no return.
The recent arrests of civil society leaders who sought to organize a peacefully rally to end the ongoing civil wars, and the beating and imprisonment of two African Development Bank officials with diplomatic immunity status attest The Prime Minister is in a state of anxiety, paranoia, and aggression.
In recent weeks, he kicked one of the woman ministers on her knee for raising concern about his violent tendencies. He ordered another woman minister to do pushups for coming late to a meeting. He has become increasingly dangerous. Given his sociopathic nature and brutal track record the world cannot remain silent.
Your office has many options at your disposal to intervene directly through congressional actions and/or indirectly through diplomatic engagement via the executive branch. It is with a sense of humbleness and modesty that I put forth the following suggestions for your consideration.
- Demand an unfettered and timebound international investigation of all atrocities committed in Ethiopia, including demolitions of churches and mass murder of Christians in the Oromo region.
- Pressure the UAE and Turkey to stop arming the genocidal war against Christians.
- Ratchet up economic sanctions, including suspending the Paris Club’s consideration of Ethiopia’s request for debt restructuring until the Prime Minister agrees and take steps to give an unfettered access to international investigation.
- Pressure the Biden administration to form a global coalition and a coordinated global sanction with an unequivocal demand for an unconditional ceasefire.
- In the event the Prime Minister refuses to provide an unfettered access to international investigations and fails to declare an unconditional ceasefire, request the International Criminal Court to issue an international arrest warrant against him, Oromo President Shimelis Abdissa, Field Marshal Berhanu Julla, and Addis Ababa Mayor, Adanech Abebe.
Ethiopians celebrate Christmas based on the Ethiopian Calendar. We celebrate Christmas on January 7. Please join Ethiopians throughout the US as we pray for our brethren in faith back home. Your prayers, your mantle as Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, and your voice for justice will give 50 million Ethiopian Orthodox Christians hope for the Future.
Yonas Biru, PhD
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