Aklog Birara (Dr)
Part 2 of 4
“When injustice becomes law; resistance becomes duty.”
Thomas Jefferson, an American hero
The heart of the problem facing Ethiopia
Before the rise of Fascism and Nazism and the outbreak of the Second World in the 1930s, a pioneer of European colonialism by the name of Roman Prochazka, Austrian, wrote a provocative book under the title Abyssinia: the powder barrel.
In this pro-colonial book that justified the civilizing mission of Italian aggression against ancient and independent Ethiopia, Prochazka offered the misleading and harmful narrative that Abyssinians (he meant Amhara) are fiercely independent, patriotic, anti-Western and a major competitor to European colonialism in Africa. He argued that Amhara expanded Ethiopia’s territorial space by subjugating other ethnic groups. He deemed it right that European colonialists have a moral responsibility to free oppressed nationalities. These external powers continue to take sides in support of national liberation fronts, especially the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) that use the narrative Prochazka offered as a template.
Today, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey and other countries take advantage of Ethiopia’s ethnic polarization. Among other things, they supply miliary hardware including drones to the Abiy Ahmed regime. These drones are in turn used by the regime to kill innocent Amhara civilians, including infants, pregnant women, elders throughout the Amhara region.
License to kill.
When government authorities and non-governmental entities (such as terrorists) participating in war crimes, crimes of genocide, crimes of ethnic cleansing and economic crimes are not held accountable by the international system, they tend to entertain the erroneous notion that they have license to do more harm and kill with impunity.
Ethiopia went through the bloodiest war this century in which more than one million innocent lives perished during the two-year war with the TPLF. The economic Cost of this catastrophic war is estimated at $26 billion. The government of the United States absolved the Abiy government; largely because America’s national security and strategic interests override the fundamental American doctrine of “responsibility to protect” human life. I suggest US reversal of concerning its long-standing human rights policy is a short sighted and precedent setting.
The license to kill, maim, arrest without due process, expel and displace is anathema to peace and stability in Ethiopia. Human atrocities including killings, maiming and massive incarceration of thousands are taking place in Bahir Dar, Bure, Debre Berhan, Debre Tabor, Finote Selam, Gondar and other Amhara localities as well as in Addis Ababa, Beni-Shangul Gumuz and throughout Oromia. Amara suffers from dual sources: one internal and the other external, including the West’s inability or unwillingness to condemn state and government led human atrocities in Ethiopia.
I believe Western animus towards Amhara and the mindset of Western policy and decision-makers tacitly accepting Amhara as oppressors, subjugators, colonializes and exploiters of non-Amhara began to take roots 73 years ago and remains intact.
Hurtful and false narrative paraded by anti-Amhara ethnic elites.
At the height of the Ethiopian Student Movement (ESM) in the late 1960s and early 1970s of which I was a part, a Marxist leaning Amhara student by the name of Walelign Mekonen wrote an explosive manuscript under the title “On the National Question in Ethiopia” that went viral. He dismissed Ethiopian nationalism as one driven by Amhara; shallow, narrow, and unrepresentative. Ethiopian nationalism, he felt was rooted in and driven by the preponderance of Amhara culture, language, religion, institutions, and governance.
Ethiopia, Walelign felt, was in fact a country of oppressed nationalities. His and Prochazka’s arguments served as fodders to the rise of national liberation fronts, most notably, the TPLF that replaced the Socialist Military Dictatorship in 1991; and the OLF and affiliates, the governing Oromo Prosperity Party (PP) that in concert replaced the TPLF five years ago. I recall one interview in which Field Marshall Berhanu Jula said “there is nothing wrong with the replacement” of Tigrean elite supremacy with Oromo elite supremacy. This is exactly what Abiy Ahmed, OLF, the Oromo Federalist Congress, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO, that rebranded itself as the Oromo Prosperity Party and allies are doing today. Together, they rule Ethiopia with an iron fist and control Ethiopia’s parliament.
The harmful theme that emerges from arguments by Prochazka and Walelign is this. Although the majority are rural farmers and poor, Amhara are portrayed as lead beneficiaries of the Ethiopian national state and government. The response to this sweeping and untrue characterization of Amhara as beneficiaries at the expense of others is for the government and party in power today to redress this anomaly by any means and at all costs. The license to kill with impunity emanates from this sweeping narrative.
Today, the Amhara people face an existential threat from the same ruling party and government that Amhara defended and died for during the two-year catastrophic war with the TPLF. Ungrateful, you may say. But real politics and power grabs are not governed by ethics and morality.
Ethnic hegemony has gone amok.
I had always hoped that Ethiopia will enjoy a genuine democratic government system in which all Ethiopians are treated fairly, equitably, and justly. I had always dreamed of an inclusive and rule of law-based Ethiopia where any citizen would live, work, and contribute to his/her country without fear of being killed like a wild animal because of his/her ethnic or religious affiliation.
The ethnicity and language-based constitution and structure do not allow the above to happen. For Ethiopia to enjoy peace, stability, sustainable and equitable development its core institutions and structure must change.
Let us deal with facts first.
- The Abiy regime is exclusionary, tribalist, corrupt, conflict and war driven and unabashedly pro-Oromo hegemony.
- The Abiy regime is committing a Nazi-like reign of terror targeting Amhara in the same manner that Nazi Germany did targeting millions of Jews and sending them to death chambers.
Amhara has reached a point of no return.
- Far from the sweeping changes promised by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed when he took power five years ago with the support of Amhara political elites, Ethiopia today is in the process of sliding into the abyss.
- The power of persuasion, reasoning, dialogue, mediation, and negotiation to settle political differences consultatively is subordinated to government and state sponsored and sanctioned military violence against innocent civilians across the Amhara region. This is unprecedented in the annals of Ethiopian history.
- The reign of terror inflicted on Amhara dwarfs any atrocities that occurred during the Socialist regime of 17 years; and the TPLF rule of 27 years. Both were for sure brutal and merciless against opponents.
- The current one sets itself apart from the rest because it targets the entire Amhara population. This is the reason why I contend it is Nazi like.
As former president of the Amhara region, Gedu Andargachew put it succinctly at a hearing held by the docile Ethiopian parliament, Abiy Ahmed and his cronies failed to learn from past mistakes. The state of emergency approved by the pro-ruling parliament is allegedly done at the request of the submissive Amhara regional state leadership. It is wrong, unwarranted, and dangerous. It forces Amhara to defend itself at any cost.
- I believe Abiy stimulates inter-ethnic conflict and war by presenting the issue as a struggle between Amhara and Oromo rather than as a contention between a brutal and Nazi-like regime led by Abiy Ahmed on the one hand; and ordinary Amhara civilians who wish to be treated and accepted as human beings on the other hand.
- Nothing in the history of state of emergency cases under Abiy Ahmed demonstrates a defensible basis that affirms state of emergency legislations restored peace, stability, and human security in the past.
- The current state of emergency imposed on the Amara region is far worse in that the targets are ordinary Amhara farmers, children, the elderly, priests, and other ordinary peaceful people. It is the entire state and government machinery against all Amhara that is playing out.
- Although data is scattered all over the place, hundreds of thousands of Amhara have been killed, wounded, tortured, dispossessed, and displaced over the past half century, especially since 1991. Under the watch of Prime Minister Abiy more than 50, 000 Amhara perished in Wellega, Oromia alone Over one million are displaced.
To cap the above, there is sufficient data and ground to declare Amhara genocide and to formalize complaint to the UN Human Rights Council and to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The human suffering of the Amhara notwithstanding, I argue in this series that Ethiopia demonstrates combustible factors that endanger its very existence. Tragically for the country and its diverse population, Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister, has proven to be a warmonger ethno-supremacist rather than a peace maker. His party is replete with corrupt and subservient cadres.
Just consider the Gestapo like atmosphere during the parliamentary debate when Gedu Andargachew was speaking eloquently and clearly about facts on the ground. It was loyalty to the ruling party first and principle as well as country second. How is it possible to debate policy if alternative views are dismissed even by members of parliament? Who do you appeal to? The courts do enjoy judicial freedom. Parliament serves the governing party. The military is dominated by a single ethnic group.
The Oromo dominated Prosperity Party is essentially the old Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) dominated by the TPLF that ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist for 27 years. It morphed into the tantalizing PP this time dominated by the OLF and its affiliates.
The name Prosperity has not diminished its ethnic orientation. Only the top actors that wielded party, state and government power changed hands. Prime Minster Abiy mastered the art of dominance by incentivizing divide and rule. He also beefed up the country’s defense forces by increasing the number of combat ready forces to over 600,000. It is an ethnic military serving the governing party.
The evolution of an ethnicized military under Abiy Ahmed.
In an insightful commentary dated August 15, 2023, entitled “Why Ethiopia’s Amhara militiamen are battling the army, the BBC summarized Abiy’s response to the crisis his government created in the Amhara region as follows:
“So far, the prime minister has primarily relied on military force, with the lower chamber of parliament endorsing, on Monday, August 14, 2023, his decision to declare a six-month-long state of emergency in the region. This has placed Amhara under the de facto control of the security services. The region has been divided into four command posts, falling under the overall control of a committee chaired by intelligence chief Temesgen Tiruneh. The heavy deployment of troops has been backed up by airpower. On Sunday, an air strike was carried out in the town of Finote Selam, reportedly killing at least 26 people at an anti-government demonstration.”
Thia massive show of force using tanks and air power including drones resulted in the deaths of scores and scores of innocent civilians, including children and elders. It angered ordinary citizens and boosted Fano’s status and legitimacy among the Amhara people, including those who were previously skeptical and detached.
Adding insult to injury, Abiy’s military declared “night curfews in six cities including the regional capital, Bahir Dar, forcing people to stay indoors” against their will. The BBC confirms that “The security forces have also set up checkpoints across the region, with reports that many Amhara have in recent months been barred from travelling to Addis Ababa, raising concerns of ethnic profiling.”
“What’s the way out of the crisis?” asks the BBC.
The way out is not government led violence and terror. “During Monday’s parliamentary debate, Ethiopia’s former Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew – who was once also the leader of the Amhara regional government – said it was clear that the ruling party had lost its support there.” I agree. I do not foresee that Aby’s government will ever regain the trust and confidence of Amhara.
I also agree with Gedu Andargachew that the plausible way out of the crisis that Abiy, his army, his cabinet and parliament created and affirmed is to take the following steps:
- a) For the military to pull out of the Amhara region
- b) For the atrocities of Amhara to stop immediately
- c) For dialogue towards a political settlement to begin without delayand
- d) For Amhara stakeholders to agree on the formation of a “new interim administration” for the Amhara region.
- e) Amhara champions of the cause and allies have a lead responsibility to tell the international community that captured soldiers repeatedly say that they have been ordered by their superiors to “kill mercilessly and to destroy social and economic infrastructure and Amhara national edifices and icons including monasteries, churches, mosques, and castles.
It is clear from the flight of senior Amhara leaders to safety that the timid and subservient Amhara regional leadership no longer enjoys the confidence or trust of the Amhara population. Gedu’s recommendation of a “new interim administration of the Amhara region” is therefore worth considering.
For durable peace to occur in Ethiopia, repressive governance must stop now. Leaders, and influencers of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), Oromo Special Forces, Oromo PP and other agencies accused of and responsible for widespread atrocities of Amhara over the past five years must be held accountable in a court of law.
Finally, I urge the international community to do its part, apply due pressure on the Abiy regime and push harder for the cessation of atrocities against Amhara and other ethnic groups that are in a similar predicament.
August 17, 2023