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Lessons unlearned, discarded, or forgotten from the 1994 Rwanda Genocide: What is the world waiting for in Ethiopia?

Amhara genocide _ Ethiopia
Maikadra Massacre grave of ethnic Amhara (Photo : from the web)

Getahun Assefa

This article draws a stark parallel between the 1994 Rwanda genocide and the ongoing atrocities against Amharas in Ethiopia. It sheds light on the grim realities and gruesome killings of Amharas under the naked eyes of the international community. According to credible sources, only in June 2024, close to 1000 Amhara farmers, teachers, bankers, children, women, and the elderly were summarily executed by the army of the despotic regime of Ethiopia. These killings took place largely in the Amhara region but are not limited to this region only. There were mass killings in Oromia and other regions as well, deliberately targeting Amharas.  Farmers were gathered by undercover security agents with the pretext of providing them with farm inputs such as fertilizers.  Sadly, 30 of them were brutally killed on the spot for no reason other than being Amharas. 

Reminiscent of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, mass killings of Amharas are carefully planned and consciously executed in coordination between the federal and regional state institutions including the army, ethnic militia, and security entities. Mass killings also took place at government-run makeshift concentration centers where Amharas evicted from their lands were forced to stay. These disturbing and horrifying killings follow political diatribes and inflammatory discourses of political elites. The main culprits include the Prime Minister, the Chief of the Army, the president of the Oromia state, other ethnocratic political elites, and a government-backed Oromo Media Network (OMN). OMN is an Ethiopian version of the Radio Télévision Libre de Mille Collines (RTLM) of Rwanda.

 At the backdrop of the above-mentioned episodes of ethnic cleansing, the key arguments of the article are (i) the international community seems to be incapable of learning from recent ethnic cleansing and genocide; (ii) all the conditions that preceded the 1994 Rwanda genocide are fulfilled in Ethiopia; (iii) while independent reports are confirming genocide or ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia, to date,  there has not been formal inditement of the perpetrators of crimes against humanity; (iv) hesitation, euphemisms and inaction of the international community can lead to grave and unprecedented tragedies; (v) budding dictatorship early on is key to fighting crimes against humanity, maintaining global peace and security, and protecting humanity from extermination; and (vi)  failure to take concrete actions against tyranny and despotism can lead to unimaginable costs to societies and loss of legitimacy in the global governance

Lessons unlearned, discarded, or forgotten from the 1994 Rwanda Genocide: What is the world waiting for in Ethiopia?

The consequences of hesitation, euphemism, and inaction of the international community to prevent the 1994 Rwanda genocide are well documented. The Rwanda genocide remains a scar in the consciousness of the developed nations that had the firepower, military personnel, and financial means to protect human rights and save lives from extermination. It is also an indication of the monumental failures of the United Nations, other international organizations, and regional entities such as the Organization of African Union (now AU) and the European Union.

As history reminds us, euphemism and inaction only prolonged the suffering of ordinary citizens. As with pre-1994 Rwanda, the international media and global political decision-makers are still grappling with whether to call the Ethiopian crisis a war or a conflict. This is despite the prevailing situation of an all-out war waged by the government of Abiy Ahmed Ali, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.  Abiy amassed hundreds of thousands of conventional armies; mobilized ethnic (Oromos militias); undertook ethnic-based military conscription; established a hidden hit squad, consisting of high-level government, army, and security officials to eliminate any dissenting views or opposing figures and groups; publicly boasted of shifting scarce resources away from development towards fighting the war waged on Amharas; and used sophisticated armaments, including drones on civilians. Yet still, government-controlled local media, regional international media, as well as politicians and donors, are calling it a “conflict”. 

War and conflict are entirely different although both involve casualties, instability, internal displacement, and the destruction of properties and the economy. By its nature and as commonly understood, conflict involves two organized armed groups resulting in a maximum of “25 battle-related deaths in one calendar year” irrespective of the intent and nature.  War, on the other hand, is hostility sanctioned by the government, supported by legislative bodies, the army, and the security apparatus. It involves collective violence with wide scale operations, massive displacement of civilians, destruction of properties and infrastructure, and heavy casualties of both combatants and civilians. In essence, any conflict is part of a war, or it can lead to a full-scale war if left unaddressedHowever, calling the war waged on Amharas a conflict is a typical euphemism at best and an understatement of the gravity of the situation at worst just for the sake of political correctness. This has given the regime in Addis Ababa a clear signal and cover-up to unleash its war of ethnic cleansing and genocide in Ethiopia. What is taking place in the Amhara region is an all-out war waged on Amharas by the regime of an ethnic apartheid and ethnic fascism, orchestrated and led by a “peace laureate”- the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. The ultimate objective is to break the backbone of Amharas to make them stateless, vulnerable, destitute, and inconsequential in the country’s economy, cultures, languages, and overall socio-political landscapes.

Historical parallels, euphemism, and collective passivity 

Before the 1994 Rwanda genocide, there were worrisome developments with the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing in the country. These were foisted by the colonial history of divide-and-rule, aggravated by the ensuing fractured ethnic-based political narratives. Identity cards were issued based on ethnicity and ethnic profiling. The members of political parties that emerged after the independence of Rwanda were predominantly Hutu extremists and some moderates. There were no organized political portfolios or affiliations for Tutsis who have been completely marginalized politically and economically. In 1959, before Rwanda’s independence in 1962, thousands of Tutsis had been killed and exiled, a situation which seriously deteriorated after independence. Between 1990-1994, there was growing ethnic polarization supported by ethnic-based hate propaganda and political narratives against the Tutsis. These were further intensified by inflammatory messages and incitation by government-sponsored Radio Télévision Libre de Mille Collines (RTLM) and the print press. 

Similar tensions escalated in neighboring Burundi pitching Hutus against Tutsis. Close to 50,000 people including women, children, and the elderly were massacred in Burundi alone with many thousands fleeing to neighboring Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire (now DRC) in a matter of a few weeks. At the same time, in Rwanda itself, a Hutu militia collectively known as Interahamwe was preparing an assault on Tutsis, including children born from mixed families, and Hutus married to TutsisAll these have been reported to the United Nations Security Council and major developed nations by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) based in Kigali during the period before the genocide. The ICRC and regional and international media outlets have also aired news and dispatched press- wires all over the world.   

The alarming reports and the plea to urgently intervene to save lives were completely ignored. Instead of acting to stop the impending genocide, major countries, and their security and intelligence services were busy evacuating their respective citizens notably from Rwanda and Burundi. In a matter of a few days close to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred in Rwanda. Young boys were mutilated, and women, girls, minors, and children were gang-raped in front of their families before being killed. Entire families were massacred simply because either they belonged to the Tutsi ethnic group or Hutus intermarried with Tutsis. Yet, the international community was still debating whether to call this episode of mass killings a genocide and if there was a need to deploy an international force to save lives. The delayed intervention was too late and too little for the ordinary women, men, and children who were the direct target of genocide.  Whatever the justifications may be, the 1994 Rwanda Genocide remains a blemish in the consciousness of the international community and the darkest spot in human history. It remains a symbol of collective failures in the face of all adversities, impending human tragedies, and humanitarian crises of unprecedented scale and magnitude. 

Deaf ears and blind eyes to the killings of Amharas

As if humanity is condemned to and incapable of learning from recent history, what we have been seeing in Ethiopia is no less than the atrocities witnessed in Rwanda. All the preconditions that prevailed in Rwanda before the genocide are fully met in Ethiopia.  As with the pre-1994 Rwanda, the current political elites of Ethiopia and their hate-mongering narratives targeting ethnic Amharas have continued unabated. Government-sponsored Oromo Media Network (OMN) has been airing non-stop diatribes against Amharas, exceeding that of Radio Télévision Libre de Mille Collines (RTLM) in Rwanda. An Oromo ethnic militia in the shape and mindset of Rwanda’s Interahamwe has been established, armed, and financed by the government. As in Rwanda before and during the genocide and ahead of the killings, Amharas were evicted from their lands and put in concentration camps. Their livestock, grains, and properties were confiscated by the ethnic militia and the army. The Oromo ethnic militia with the full backing and protection of the army is then follows by killings. The Oromia regional state has become the killing field for Amharas. Oromo mobs including armed forces isolate, intimidate, and seek ransom from Amharas for the alleged “exploitation of their ancestral lands for centuries”. These all are cover ups and tactics to justify mass killings of innocent Amhara civilians including children, women, and the elderly. According to credible sources, only in this month (June 2024) close to 1000 Amhara farmers, teachers, bankers, children, women, and the elderly were summarily killed by the army of the despotic regime of Ethiopia. Unlike in Rwanda, in the Ethiopian killing fields not only machetes, spears, arrows, and bows but also modern and sophisticated conventional arms are used. Since 2018 (the year that saw the rise of Abiy to power), in the Oromia region alone, tens of thousands of Amharas have been killed. A few moderate Oromos (just like moderate Hutus) who refused to join the killing spree were also killed together with the Amharas.  

The Ormo militia and Oromo-led army as well as the police and security forces remain the backbone of the ongoing war of genocide against the Amharas waged by the ethno-fascist and ethno-apartheid regime of Abiy Ahmed Ali. The regime has also instituted a hidden hit squad which is believed to be composed of high-ranking government, security, and army officials- called Koree Nageegnya, an Oromo equivalent of the “Secrete Security Committee”. These institutionalized crime syndicates and their genocidal actions against the Amharas are the perfect replicas of the Hutu ethnic army (Interahamwe) and its crimes committed against the Tutsis in 1994.  

Besides targeted killings, Amharas are systematically purged from public services. Their private properties are confiscated, and entrepreneurs are denied access to capital, land, and business opportunities. Amhara traders and businessmen are obliged to pay exorbitant taxes and huge financial contributions to the war efforts of the government and subsidize the party apparatus. In Oromia and other ethnically divided states, Amhara ethnic groups are excommunicated and deliberately made to live in constant fear, trepidation, isolation, and permanent grief. Amharas are subjected to gross human rights violations, inhuman treatment, and exploitation, predominantly, by state institutions such as the army, ethnic militia, and security services. 

Physical infrastructure including education and health facilities have been deliberately destroyed in the Amhara region.  A few days ago, the country’s Ministry of Education reported that 70-80 % of the 50,000 schools nationwide are either substandard or dysfunctional.  3,500 schools in the Amhara region alone are partially damaged or destroyed by the ongoing war. Likewise, 9 million school-age children are out of school in Ethiopia today, of which nearly 3 million are in the Amhara Regional state. An estimated 30 million Amharas are asphyxiated and denied access to health facilities, medicine, safe drinking water, or food. The objectives of the regime of Abiy Ahmed Ali are to materially deprive Amharas to make them voiceless, insignificant, powerless, and dependent.  Sadly, all these shocking, degrading statements and crimes against humanity are rampantly executed by the regime under the naked eyes of the international community. Particularly, donor countries and aid agencies that are behind financing despotic regimes in Africa turn blind eyes to such degrading statements of Amharas. In short, all crimes against humanity are rampantly executed by the Ethiopian ethnocratic regime.  It becomes apparent that the international community has completely ignored or forgotten lessons from the tragedies of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. 

The ethnocratic regime in Ethiopia, instead of tackling socio-economic and political barriers among the main ethnic groups, has been busy erecting more barriers and inequalities through discriminatory and exclusionary policies. Instead of working hard to avert ethnic cleansing and genocide, the government is intentionally expanding devastating wars along ethnic boundaries. Ethnic profiling and stratification have become the norms rather than exceptions. Interethnic wars are viewed by the government as responses to the country’s poverty, unemployment, hunger, and malnutrition and for its completely shuttered legitimacy and political credibility. With all this, the euphoria that followed Abiy’s rise to power was short-lived and vanished into thin air in a few years. All the promises of reform and democracy were shuttered. Hopes of prosperity and equality of citizens were dashed and promises of nation-building were broken. Consequently, Ethiopia was thrown back into the vicious circle of interethnic conflicts, wars, political instability, poverty, and generalized deprivation. 

Extermination of Amharas is being exercised wide and open

All evidence after evidence including by the United Nations and human rights-affiliated international organizations shows that women, young girls, and children are gang-raped before being killed. Women who survived extermination sustained lifetime psychological scars, physical and mental sickness, as well as sterility inflicted upon them by their rapers who inserted objects into their organs and wombs. Many of those who were raped were also found intentionally infected with HIV/AIDS virus.  Pregnant women had their wombs slashed with knives to take out and kill infants. Innocent children, unborn babies, women, and the elderly who were killed by a mob of Oromo youth and armed ethnic militia were buried in mass graves with excavators. According to the recent accounts of the United Nations, 70% of the crimes against Amharas (which are crimes against humanity), are committed by government forces. All these crimes perpetrated against Amharas in Ethiopia are perfectly identical to those well-documented in the 1994 Rwanda genocide including written accounts and testimonials of survivors of the genocide and in the reports of the Rwanda National Unity and Reconciliation Commission. 

Moreover, as was the case in the apartheid era in South Africa, Amhara movements within and outside of Ethiopia are severely curtailed by the regime. Thousands of Amharas are rounded up in darkness and broad daylight and languishing in known and unknown prison cells without charges. Amharas are denied forming their civic associations, political organizations, and even gathering for social functions without the watchful eyes of the government and ethnic agents. Amharas are denied formal education and safe drinking water while the sick, pregnant women and the elderly are left without health posts, health professionals, and medical facilities nearby. Amhara farmers in the region are deprived of not only land but also farm inputs such as fertilizers, and high-yield variety seeds simply because they are Amharas. The objectives of the ethno-apartheid regime of Ethiopia are to materially deprived Amharas to make them voiceless, insignificant, powerless, and dependent. As the government of Abiy Ahmed Ali spends billions of dollars (including aid resources) on defense, the army, and financing interethnic wars, the country’s socio economic infrastructure has depleted to the point of complete collapse. Amaharas are direct victims of genocide and ethnic apartheid in their own country.

Deliberately ignored and unheeded cries

 The international community knows well that Amharas are robbed of their fundamental right to live or exist as human beings. The community of nations and international organizations are fully aware that Amharas are subjected to life in permanent isolation, intimidation, harassment, constant fear, trepidation, and endless grief.  They know that these phenomena have been further intensified and exacerbated by deliberate policies of the ethno-apartheid and fascist system emerging in Ethiopia. However, they seem to have been enjoying trade-offs between political correctness and the protection of human rights. It is like attempting (in futility) to wake up someone who had intentionally fallen asleep. However, “better late than never”, internationally recognized independent institutions finally released well-documented reports confirming ethnic cleansing and genocide in Ethiopia. They underlined that in all massacres, the government forces are the predominant perpetrators of crimes against humanity. The scale and magnitude of atrocities and collective punishments endured by innocent Amharas, Tigrayans, and the Afar people are beyond comprehension. Similar trends are emerging in the Oromia region itself, which is the ethnic, political, and military base of the Prime Minister and his cronies.  However, to date, there has not been a formal call for action or indictment of the perpetrators of heinous crimes against humanity in Ethiopia. Justice delayed is justice denied. Where is the Security Council of the United Nations? What is the International Criminal Court doing to bring justice to the innocent victims of crimes against humanity? Why do developed countries and their institutions conveniently choose to treat the arch-dictator [Abiy Ahmed Ali] with kid gloves in the face of gruesome killings of ethnic Amharas and glaring abuses of authority?

The objective of the atrocities and the untold suffering of rival ethnic groups particularly the Amharas is to wipe out the entire ethnic group from Ethiopian soil. It is also intended to ensure the unrivaled superiority and supremacy of the Oromo ethnic group over more than 80 other ethnic groups in the country.   In fact, for Abiy and his regime, such mass killings of citizens based on ethnic identity are no longer crimes punishable by law. Instead of bringing perpetrators of ethnic cleansing to the court of law, a rubber stamp parliament and ethnic-based judiciary, army, police, and security institutions gave the killers legal and institutional protection. The parliament consistently suffocated the voices of Amharas from raising any concerns regarding the ongoing ethnic cleansing. It refused to hold a one-minute silence in remembrance of the Amhara victims of ethnical cleansing and genocide. It enacted draconian laws such as curfews, anti-demonstration laws, and a state of emergency in the Amhara region.   It gave legitimacy to the ongoing war of the government in the Amhara regional state with no accountability and responsibility for war crimes that are widely reported nationally, regionally, and internationally.

These are glaring, deliberate, institutionalized, and systematic actions designed to exterminate the Amharas as opposed to what many describe as a mere dereliction of civic duties and legal responsibilities. The colossal injustice, impunity, mass arrest, and mass killing- all the crimes against humanity perpetrated against Amharas – have continued under the naked eyes of the international community.  We continue asking: why is the international community turning a blind eye and deafening silence to the atrocities being committed against Amharas? What did Amhara do to deserve lip service and shameful ignoring by the “guardians” of democracy, freedom, liberty, and humanity? While all the evidence points to ethnic cleansing and genocide in Ethiopia, what is the international community waiting for to act and save lives? Is it waiting to see another genocide?

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of


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