By Anywaa Athow
On the pretext of war on terror, the Ethiopian government has been arresting, detaining and sentencing numerous ethnic Anuak. More than 56 individuals are suffering in Ethiopian detention and tortured accused of murdering their fellow ethnic groups in a remote Gambella region. Many more are sentenced to life imprisonment and some waiting on death row. While the government commits gross human rights abuses against indigenous Anuak in their own homeland, the authorities freely enjoys without limit extending their support to so call federal police and other Ethiopians.
Despite relative peace returning to Gambella after a prolong trouble over arbitrary massacre in 2003 and continued eviction to grab indigenous communities land, the government in Addis Ababa repeating the same mistakes by arresting and intimidating Anuak to leave their land. It has embarked on arresting innocent civilians and returnees to allow them to suffer or die in prison. This move by authorities in Addis Ababa abrogates the fundamental federal arrangement that gives power to members of federal states as federal state police and anti-terror groups detained and imprisoned citizens without the knowledge of local police and perhaps local authorities.
In a nutshell, the authorities in the federal do not want peace to return in Gambella. In the past few months, farmers enjoyed relative peace and welcomed the returned of their young ones from exile. Yet, the return of arbitrary arrest and government violent act will create further tension and potential conflict unnecessarily.
As the community and other peace leaving individuals learnt about the arrest of regional special force commander, Philemon KwotAgid, the region was thrown into confusion and chaos. It is not clear why authorities arrested him while he is sick. Perhaps, they intend for him to die in prison.
The regional special force commander is a veteran fighter along TPLF to over throw the military junta and supposed to be rewarded with better rank rather than locking him up for unfounded reasons. He was a brain behind the return of thousands of Anuak from exile to their traditional homeland, Gambella. It seems that his effort to convince 2003 genocide survivors to return to their families after 10 years has been so much undermined and ignored by authorities. His recent arrest on 23rd August 2014 on impractical reasons is a sustained effort by federal authorities to undermine his peace effort.
It is to be recalled that the Anuak suffered tragically in the hand of current regime; in 2003, about 2500 innocent Anuak civilians were murdered in cool blood and many more fled the region into neighboring countries for safety, land grabbing and government villagisation policy has evicted thousands and deprived them of decent livelihoods and many innocent civilians are picked up and suffering in Ethiopian federal government jails. Many more are intentionally infected with HIV/AIDS.
So far the mass grave of those who perished in 2003 is not known to their loved ones apart from a single non-Anuak individual who fear for his safety if he disclosed the three mass graves outside of the Gambella town. It is estimated that about 50,000 Anuak have lost their lives and 25,000 displaced from their homes in last 10 years period.
The former Gambella governor, OkelloAkway Ochalla escaped narrowly during unforgettable Anuak genocide. After 10 years, when he returned to visit some of his family members in exile, he was picked and deported to Ethiopia. This was the time when South Sudan slipped into anarchy and prolong turmoil that threatened many national and refugees from Gambella. The Ethiopian government paid staggering amount of $23,000,000 to South Sudanese authorities to arrest OkelloAkway and seven other Anuak who they accused of being part of terrorist group. The money needed for key regional development is being misused on unfounded ground just to simply continued promoting genocide policy.
The arrest of Philemon KwotAgid would have sparked serious and irreversible disaster in the region had it not been the effort of regional elders to calm the situation that is developing and soon will get out of control. This is an indication that Ethiopian government does not enjoy affording peace to the region. But to send a clear single to those who already came back hopping that peace has been attained to return into exile. Moreover, it is a clear signal that those who are in exile should not return to their beloved homeland to live in peace with their families.
Despite the clams that Ethiopian government is among the most powerful country in the continent and with high number of troops, my hope is in the power of God who could do anything bigger than human ability and power. It would take away this great power one day and perhaps turned these heavy weapons against great number of troops.
This Ethiopian government policy threatened all Anuak irrespective of where they came from in the Anuak country. I appeal to all my brothers and sisters to preach the message of unity rather than division along the line of Lul, Openo, Chiro, Jor, Akobo and even Adongo. Let us understand that we are one and the same people irrespective of where we came from in the eyes of Ethiopian government. The clear evidence is that all people in federal prison are all from corner of Anywaa land; you find people from Lul, Openo, Jor, Akobo, and even from Adongo side in South Sudan. They are all arrested for being Anywaa. We should understand that the policy is to evict all Anywaa from their land which God gave them.
Our land is rich in both agricultural potential and various minerals. It is a home endowed with vast natural resources, wild lives, and four rivers that could feed Ethiopia for 10 years if its resources are utilized wisely in the interest of genuine development. But the current policy lacks sustainability and does not respect ethics of environmental friendly development. Instead, to follow degradation and make the beautiful land barren.
In conclusion, Ethiopian government should stop harassing innocent Anuak by returning their army into the barracks as they are there to protect citizens equally from any cross border attack. Rather than protecting the section of their fellow Ethiopian highland community in the region who continually feed them with lies throughout. It is also appropriate for large section of the army to be stationed at international border to protect any incursion from across the international border as the military junta used to practice.
The Anuak and other indigenous communities in Gambella are threatened by the presence of large army among unarmed groups. History would repeat itself if this large army who only protect their Ethiopian highland groups remain in towns.
It is also a good idea for the government to release all Anuak in federal prison. They are far away from their parents and families who would wish to visit them in prisons. They also suffers various ill treatments while in federal prisons as they are discriminated against by Ethiopian highlanders in prisons; Paul Agwa was beaten by a group of Ethiopian highlanders and he lost his teeth without any intervention from prison officers. In the interest of peace, the government should look into God fearing Anuak who would want to tell the truth and other Ethiopian highland population whose culture is surrounded by selfish interest.
The release of Anuak in federal prison would send a signal to those still in exile to return to their homeland. Their return would make them live peacefully with other Ethiopian communities as it used to happen during the regime of Haile Selassie and Dergue period. Comparatively, the military junta was more peaceful and respect equality of all citizens than the current EPRDF government that oppresses Anuak without limit.
I am also of the opinion that land grabbing should stop immediately. The beautiful land of Gambella should be preserved for ecotourism and increase national wealth for the benefit of the country. The current land grabbing is bad for the people, natural environment and wild lives. It destroyed National Park and displaced many human and wild lives. It further encourages environmental degradation rather than sustainable environment management.
Ethiopian government policy could be illustrated by the following triangle: