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‘Death sentence’: Massacres fuel protests, resentment in Ethiopia

Protests began in the capital, Addis Ababa, on June 25, before larger demonstrations were held in the cities of Gondar and the Amhara capital, Bahir Dar, through July 1. Protesters denounced the killings and criticised the government’s inability to curb worsening ethnic violence.

“I went to the demonstration because I’m sick of violence against women and children,” said Geremew Habtemariam, a student in Bahir Dar who took part in protests last week. “Being ethnic Amhara is becoming a death sentence in some parts of the country.”

Days after the protests, reports emerged of yet another mass killing of civilians in the country’s Oromia region on Monday.

In the tragedy that triggered the protest, armed men killed hundreds of people two weeks ago in the Gimbi district of Oromia, some 380km west of Addis Ababa. The victims all belonged to the Amhara, Ethiopia’s second-largest ethnic group, and witnesses say killings began in the morning and continued unabated until the rebels left at about 4pm that day.

Weeks later, bereaved father Abdu Ahmed said he remains broken over the loss of his teenage daughters Hayat and Birtukan. “They shot at everyone, even children and the elderly,” he told Al Jazeera over the phone. “What kind of madman targets defenceless girls?”

“I’ve personally lost count of the number of bodies I’ve buried,” Ali Said, a survivor told Al Jazeera. “Many died from gunshots or in the fire, but I’ve discovered bodies that were hacked to death as well.”

‘Red legacy’ vs ‘green legacy’

At a press conference on Thursday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum told reporters that the death toll currently stands at 338 and that fighters from the OLA (Oromo Liberation Army) carried out the massacre. Abiy has also condemned the violence, saying his government had “zero tolerance” for mass killings of civilians.

The OLA rebel group, which has been at war with the federal army since 2019, controls parts of the region but has denied involvement in any civilian attacks. It accused Addis Ababa of deploying rogue former OLA elements to carry out the June 18 killings.

Days after the massacre, a smiling Abiy and dozens of other government officials were at a launch ceremony for the country’s “green legacy” campaign to encourage the planting of trees for environmental purposes. State media outlets and the prime minister himself encouraged social media users to adopt hashtags promoting the campaign.

However, an Amharic language hashtag meaning “red legacy” in reference to the recent bloodshed outperformed it among Ethiopian TikTok and Twitter users for most of last week. Social media users uploaded pictures of themselves carrying placards with the hashtag in solidarity with protesters.

Tedros Tirfe, chairman of the US-based Amhara Association of America group, believes that frustration among Ethiopians and the ethnic Amhara in particular, has peaked.

“Abiy demonstrated his obliviousness to the plight of Amhara early on by deeming the growing Amhara movement a problem,” he told Al Jazeera. “His negligence, incapacity and complicity in these massacres have been denounced by Amharas repeatedly. Youths are protesting demanding for PM Abiy’s resignation and protection for Amharas outside of the Amhara region.”

Also trending in Ethiopian circles was the release of a new single by popular Ethiopian musician Teddy Afro lamenting nationwide killings. The single, which has accumulated at least five million views on YouTube in under two weeks, subtly criticises Ethiopian authorities for their inability to protect civilians around the country.

‘No one came to our aid’

Across Ethiopia, insecurity is a constant.

A civil war, which broke out in the country’s northernmost region of Tigray in November 2020, continues. Fighting is also ongoing in the Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz states. Elsewhere, there is violence over territorial disputes amid worsening ethnic tensions. In total, about 5.1 million people were displaced across Ethiopia in 2021, a world record for a single year.

Observers say last month’s massacre is among the worst violent episodes in the country in recent memory.

“The United States is gravely concerned by reported killings of civilians in the Amhara community of the Oromia Region of Ethiopia this weekend,” read a statement by US State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Like many of Ethiopia’s 80-plus ethnic groups, the Amhara, approximately a quarter of Ethiopia’s 118 million people, have intermarried and integrated into communities far beyond the frontiers of their region.

But in recent years, mass killings have regularly targeted them in western Ethiopia. More than 50 civilians were slain in similar attacks that took place between February and March 2021. In November 2020, gunmen ambushed and massacred at least 54 civilians after they had assembled at a school compound.

“The administration’s incompetence to protect the security of its own citizens has so far imperilled the lives of thousands of innocent civilians,” Addisu Lashitew, research fellow at the Brookings Institution told Al Jazeera. “Politically, the government has failed to hold officials accountable for this monumental failure to protect the security of civilians. The administration should immediately allow an independent investigation to help bring to justice the perpetrators of this heinous act and their accomplices.”

The growing frequency of such episodes and a perceived lackadaisical approach by the authorities in addressing the issue has led to demonstrators accusing the government of complicity.

Six survivors of the massacre in Gimbi told Al Jazeera that members of a local government force tasked with protecting the area suddenly departed unannounced on either June 16 or 17, leaving residents defenceless. They returned hours after the rampage had ended.

“There is no explanation for why [government soldiers] left,” Ali Said said. “Even if they left, there are other security forces nearby. But no one came to our aid.”

It fuels claims by activists that officials in Oromia cooperate with rebel groups keen on cleansing the region of its ethnic minorities.

“Federal and regional officials and the security apparatus made no effort to stop such attacks and in many cases were complicit in them,” Tedros explained. “In fact, known perpetrators have often been rewarded, given government positions and land.”

Tedros’s Amhara Association of America, which has been documenting the atrocities, published a statement on its website calling for Abiy and the Oromia regional president, Shimelis Abdisa, to resign for “negligence, complicity, and/or direct involvement in the state-sanctioned Amhara Genocide in Ethiopia”.

Such allegations follow previous massacres of civilians. In late 2020, five government officials in Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz region were arrested and accused of complicity in an attack that left more than 100 people dead.

The Ethiopian government has denied any involvement and insists it is putting perpetrators of violent attacks on trial.

“We have a probe currently under way,” said Fekadu Tsega, Ethiopia’s junior justice minister. “We will update the public when the probe is complete and act on our findings.”

In Amhara, that pledge may not be so reassuring or end the protests.

A recent federal decision to disarm Amhara rebel groups it deemed unruly triggered anti-government protests in May. In response, security forces arrested more than 4,000 demonstrators, journalists and opposition politicians across the Amhara region.

For survivors, there is fear that more attacks may yet come and that there will be no help.

“There’s no point in sending in the military or police after we’ve lost all of our friends and families,” Ali Said said. “I don’t care what the politicians say. Nobody here trusts them anymore.


4 thoughts on “‘Death sentence’: Massacres fuel protests, resentment in Ethiopia”

  1. Sleeping with the Enemy Wearing the Ethiopian Flag = ባሌን ጎዳሁት ብላ ብልቷን ወጋችው!

    1. The TPLF left Ethiopia with no army & no money thus paralyzing Ethiopia from fighting back! Who doesn’t know that? Can Ethiopia advance if we keep shooting each other in the foot & be additional problems? Why not be part of the solution for a change?

    2. Self-serving Amhara Ethnic Activists and their Proxy Media portray Abiy as Moslem Oromo, OLF, OLF-Shèné, etc. Abiy was the OLF’s first assassination target at Mesqel Square. Abiy is of mixed heritage: Mother – Amhara [Orthodox Christian]; Father – Oromo [Moslem]; Wife – Amhara [Evangelical Christian]; Abiy – Evangelical Christian.

    3. When TPLF launched its ENDF Northern Command Massacre, it had 250, 000 soldiers in Tigray [well-trained/well-armed with latest weapons bought for ENDF]. That left Ethiopia with only 44,000 stationed all over Ethiopia to fight back. BUT most were under the command of TPLF Officers. So, Abiy had to weed out TPLF & rebuild ENDF!

    4. When TPLF dashed for Mekelle, it had looted Ethiopia so bone-dry that Abiy didn’t even find a one-month salary left to pay government employees. Abiy kept Ethiopia afloat with the USD $1 billion obtained from UAE’s Prince MBZ! The TPLF, WB, IMF, etc. were telling us that Ethiopia has been registering double-digit growth for 2 decades.

    5. OLF [OLF-Shèné] used Abiy’s Amnesty to enter Ethiopia and wreak havoc. Lemma Megersa [Defense Minister back then], OLF General Kemal Gelchu, etc. turned a blind eye to let OLF arm-and-fund itself [Wollega Armory assault (95, 000 latest assault rifles looted); over 20 CBE banks robbed (millions in cash looted); kidnapping & murder; etc.].

    6. Most in the rowdy crowd shedding crocodile tears for Amharas are either the problem or part of the problem. They ask Abiy to fight the Egypt-US-EU-backed TPLF-OLF while opening new war fronts on the over-stretched ENDF. They contribute NOTHING to the welfare of Amharas. Does the Amhara Zone itself generate even 20% of the GDP?

    7. More Amharas live in other Zones than in the Amhara Zone itself! In a 2019 interview on Walta TV with Simeneh Bayfers, Christian Tadelle said: ‘’Over 15 million Amharas live in Oromia ALONE!” About 3 million more live in Addis. Top that up with those in other zones. Yet, I haven’t met any Oromo in Gojjam & Gonder during several trips.

    i_Mognu / don_Q

  2. Lies, lies and more lies !

    1. “The TPLF left Ethiopia with no army & no money. ” Really? Are you telling me A. Ahmed built army from zero with no money in the coffers to send a huge army to invade Tigray in a few months.? Due to fear of Eritrea, the country has some of the army and the hardwear in Tigray, but not everything. See what you said under no.3 of your write up.

    2. “Abiy was the OLF’s first assassination target at Mesqel Square.” Really? If so, how come no OLF has been charged and sent to jail for the attempt on A. Ahmed’s life? He has in more than one occcasion said he has helped OLF members to escape arrest when he was a security chief under TPLF. This said, he does not give a rats ass to Amhara life. Proof is he does not condemn the killings until the recent international outcry which made him uncomfortable. The killings have continued and he’s back to his deafening silence. As the saying goes, silence amounts to acceptance of the killings. By the way, every Oromo I know is married to Amhara women because they think marrying Amhara woman is like a black man marrying a white woman in the 1920s America. It is like getting the best stuff.

    3 “Abiy had to weed out TPLF & rebuild ENDF!” Weed out TPLF, maybe. But what choice did he have at the time? Keep TPLF in the army and fight it at the same time. I think, TPLF itself left in good time and A. Ahmed had the shell. TPLF called its officers in good time way before A.Ahmed tried anything which you called “weed out”. What’s there to weed out if TPLF has taken its people in good time? This is another big lie.

    4 “Abiy kept Ethiopia afloat with the USD $1 billion obtained from UAE’s Prince MBZ!” Another lie. Reports suggest this money did not go to government coffers (Ministry of Finace) and was personally spent by A. Ahmed. In one occasion he was quoted to have said “I begged for the money and got it and its me who will decide how and on what to spend it”. So, what do you say Mr. Abiy did this Abiy did great thing for the country? Tell us if Ministry of Finace knows where all the money went? Tell us also if the money is loan or aid and what A. Ahmed signed in retur for the money. What is the growith in Ethiopia now? Negative.

    5. “OLF [OLF-Shèné] used Abiy’s Amnesty to enter Ethiopia and wreak havoc.” This is partly true, but what did he do about it? Nothing. Now we have reached a point of no return to a fullblown civil war which will engulf the entire country. All responsibility lies on A. Ahmed who goes out to plant trees when people are dying in thousands and banks are robbed in broad day light.Buddy! . Lemma Megersa and General Kemal Gelchu are patsies who will not help to exonerate A. Ahmed. ,

    To be continued.

  3. Continued…

    6. “They (Civil Society Organizations) ask Abiy to fight the Egypt-US-EU-backed TPLF – OLF while opening new war fronts on the over-stretched ENDF.” This is another lie from i_Mognu. What he’s asked is to preserve security of citizens citizens throughout the country. In every country, preserving security of citizens is a police work at different levels (municipal, regional and country wide). Becuase Abiy did not take security of citizens seriously from the start, private armed groups have reached a level that required ENDF to help which it invariably failed to do. So, tell me who’s responsible for all the chaos ithe country and its people are undergoing right now ? Abiy ignored the problem and now it’s biting him. Don’t blame TPLF-OLF for the incompetence of Abiy. They were and still are contenders to his rule and it appears that they are succeeding.

    7. i_Mognu” Does the Amhara Zone itself generate even 20% of the GDP?” It contributes over 60% of the country’s GDP and it’s growing as we exchange this comments. Think of the DAM which will contribute 90% of the country’s GDP when it enters full operation. Where does all the water come from? Sooner or later, Amhara will control the Dam to negotiate a deal with Abiy so that it gets 70% from the dollars the dam generates. If not Amhara is likely to build another dam up stream to collect its own revenue. It needs a lot of dollars to develop the region which Abiy is blocking. So much for the GDP.

    8. “More Amharas live in other Zones than in the Amhara Zone itself!” This is another lie. Majority of Amharas live in Amhara region. They live in other regions as well. After all, it is their country and they have the right to live in any corner of the country. The constitution allows it. It only under Abiy’s rule that this became a problem. Even him does not directly negate this practice – only indirectly – say when he talks in Orommiiffa. Amharas will continue to live in other regions and any pressure to force them out will face resistance and if it does not back off the country will disintegrat for good. What’s the purpose of a country if its people can’t live together freely mixed up as they please? NONE.

    9. I_Mognu says : “I haven’t met any Oromo in Gojjam & Gonder during several trips” Check history. During the Oromo expansion in the 16th and 17th centuries, Oromos were able to reach Gondar. Gondar even spoke Orommiiffa before they assimilated to Goneres and adopted Amharic as their language. If we do genialogy and DNA telsts, half Amhara in Amhara region will be Oromo. The same is true to present day Oromia where Amharas lived for centuries. Tests will show half Oromos are Amhara. Even today, Amhara children in cities and towns in Oromia are forced to do their schooling in Orommiiffa which makes them forget Amharic. In a generation, these Amhara children will present themselves as Oromos. This is the way Oromo forced integration and assimilation works.

    I_Mognu , some of the Amhara you met during your travel to Amhara region is Oromo. In any case, the same is true about Tigray region. There are no Amharas and Oromos there. TPLF’s social engineering at its best. Oromia repeating it now.

  4. Abbu Hamza, nice try! Ethiopians are also aware of the Nazi Joseph Goebbels’ Law of Propaganda that runs somewhat: “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth!”

    1). My Question: During TPLF’s 27-year Looting-and-Killing Spree, Egypt’s White Supremacist West masters & their institutions said: “Ethiopia has been registering double-digit economic growth for two decades!” So, how come Ethiopia’s Credit Rating tumbled from B+ to D- the minute Abiy refused to sign America’s Pro-Egypt Nile deal?

    2). When Abiy took over, the money that TPLF [Petty Thieves] looted and fled to Tigray was ALL of the Federal Government’s money. So, Abiy is rebuilding ENDF with money & resources from the Ethnic Zone Governments. As we speak, Abiy is dismantling the 27-year-old TPLF-serving institutions piece-by-piece & building Ethiopia-serving ones.

    After the TPLF [Petty Criminals] massacred the ENDF’s Northern Command [NC] in their sleep, the NC who escaped to Eritrea came back & chased the TPLF Rats in to their Rat Holes in the Tembien Mountains [South Tigray]. However, some of the 250,000 well-armed TPLF Rats blended with civilians & still wreak havoc in civilian clothes.

    3). Abiy was the OLF’s first assassination target at Mesqel Square. It happened in broad day light! If the OLF assassins escaped, it is because they were assigned to kill him by the TPLF’s own Security Chief [Getachew] who died hiding in one of TPLF’s Rat Holes!

    4). Marriage: Ethnicity is not an issue like in Egypt, US, etc. To me, Abiy & Zenash are an EXTRAORDINARY COUPLE. Abiy once said: “When we got married, we didn’t even have a mattress! We sprinkled fresh grass under the sheet & slept on it!” So, which Arab, White, etc. as beautiful & as elegant as Zenash would do that for a poor black man?

    4). Yes, Abiy kept Ethiopia afloat with MBZ’s USD $1 billion! I CHALLENGE you to post the report you claimed to the contrary. As to money from his Dinner Fund Raisers, he said, “I am only accountable to the donors!” It is his project! Their money! Their call!

    i_Mognu / don_Q

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