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Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed: A Dangerous Shift Towards Forced Conscription and Child Soldiers

May 29, 2024

Henok Abebe

My cousin, Mulu Ayalew, resided in Gojjam, Ethiopia, where he worked as a farmer and raised two children. One fateful morning during the early 1990s, he ventured to his farm only to be apprehended by government cadres who coerced him into joining the military. Regrettably, he never had the opportunity to release his cherished oxen, bid farewell to his family, or even inform them of his sudden departure. They whisked him away to a military training facility and subsequently deployed him to the war front against Eritrea. Tragically, he never returned. His children endured decades of longing to reunite with their father, while his devoted wife faithfully upheld her promise, patiently awaiting his return for over two decades. Mulu’s father, Ayalew Belete (my beloved uncle), a seasoned veteran who valiantly fought for his country on two separate occasions (against the TPLF, EPLF, and Somalia), perpetually gazed outward, yearning for his son’s homecoming. However, Mulu was never repatriated.

He was forcibly conscripted into the military and paid the ultimate price, sacrificing his life for a nation that appeared insatiable in its thirst for the blood of its own offspring. Although I acknowledge that it was the government’s doing, sacrifices such as Mulu’s are made in the name of “Beloved Mama Ethiopia.” His parents lost the son they anticipated would provide support in their twilight years, his children were deprived of their father, and they struggled to cultivate their land until eventually abandoning the area. His wife dedicated her life, relinquished her beauty, and forfeited her youth while patiently awaiting his return. All was in vain. The family was shattered, and my eyes well up with tears whenever I reflect upon Mulu’s narrative—a tale that resonates with countless Ethiopians. Ethiopia’s history does not progress in a linear fashion but rather revolves in a relentless cycle, leaving its people trapped in perpetual turmoil.

.Samuel Huntington’s words in his book, “The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century,” emphasize that history does not progress in a linear fashion. Instead, it moves forward when capable and determined leaders push for change. Unfortunately, Ethiopia has not been fortunate enough to have such a leader, resulting in a continuous cycle of conflict and war.

Similar to its predecessors, the current regime in Ethiopia has plunged the nation into a state of war. This internal conflict has caused immense suffering, as the country is torn apart by opposing forces. While Abiy Ahmed may have initiated and waged this war, it is important to acknowledge that all parties involved are contributing to Ethiopia’s destruction. Both sides of the conflict consist of Ethiopian fighters, and the weapons used are purchased with the country’s limited foreign currency. The ongoing destruction of infrastructure further hinders the development and freedom of the Ethiopian people, as these resources could have been utilized for their benefit.

Regrettably, Abiy Ahmed, the leader of Ethiopia, has become a tyrant who mercilessly spills the blood of his own nation. His actions have resulted in widespread human rights violations, including acts that can be classified as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. These atrocities, such as rape, extrajudicial killings, starvation, and the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, are carried out under the orders of Abiy Ahmed, who serves as the commander-in-chief of the army, and Birhanu Jula, the chief of staff. To make matters worse, the military has resorted to forced conscription and the recruitment of children for military purposes.

There are numerous reasons why individuals may choose not to participate in a war, such as religious beliefs, disagreement with the cause, concerns about the conduct of the war, the parties involved, and ideological reasons. This is particularly evident in Ethiopia, where the country has been plagued by ongoing civil conflicts, with Ethiopians fighting against each other. In such circumstances, people have strong motivations to avoid engaging in war and refrain from harming their fellow countrymen or being harmed by them. It is crucial for governments not to resort to forceful conscription solely to maintain their power. The wars in the Amhara, Tigray, and Oromia regions have inflicted immense damage on the nation, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars and millions of lives, without any accountability from the warring factions. The individuals who initiated and led these wars still hold positions of power and are now leading another campaign against their own people.

Due to the wars conducted by Abiy Ahmed over the past five years, the Ethiopian National Defense Force is facing a significant shortage of manpower. Countless lives have been lost, and extensive destruction of property has taken place. Instead of utilizing the limited foreign currency available to purchase agricultural machinery, Ethiopia has been investing in weapons of war, ranging from drones to modern AK-47s. In an attempt to address the shortage of foreign currency, Abiy Ahmed has resorted to deceptive tactics, falsely claiming to pursue transitional justice and national dialogue. However, these processes are merely a facade and will not effectively address the current issues faced by Ethiopia, especially while an active war persists and the current government remains in power. This can be observed through various instances, such as the Ethiopian government’s contradictory response to the US embassy’s call for a cessation of hostilities and negotiations. While the government speaks of transitional justice and dialogue, it simultaneously.

Abiy has turned to coercive conscription in various regions, including Addis Ababa, to tackle the shortage of soldiers. People from different backgrounds are being detained, forcibly taken to training camps, and sent to the front lines without proper preparation. This is evident from several incidents. Families of those taken to military training centers against their will are voicing their concerns on social media. Those who give up in battles against the Fanos argue that they were drafted without consent and never intended to fight. Fano leaders claim that those forced into the army either surrender in large numbers or fire their weapons into the air instead of aiming at the enemy. The youth in Addis Ababa and major cities are left unemployed due to a government that prioritizes war over job creation. Ironically, the same government that leaves them without jobs also sends them to their deaths. The government is using the war to systematically decrease the unemployment rate, seeing impoverished or jobless individuals as mere tools to protect Abiy Ahmed’s power, rather than acknowledging their inherent human dignity.

International agreements such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child explicitly forbid the recruitment of children under 18 for military purposes. Abiy Ahmed’s deliberate actions have led to a significant number of unemployed young people, contributing to the ongoing conflict, and leaving millions of children without access to education. The government’s policies have resulted in over 9 million children being unable to attend school, with resources being diverted towards warfare, schools being destroyed, and educational facilities being repurposed as military bases. In some regions, children are unable to attend school due to the ongoing violence in their communities.

Having deprived these children of education and hope, Abiy Ahmed is now resorting to forcibly recruiting minors to participate in the conflict, putting them in harm’s way. Children are being used as human shields by Abiy’s military forces, with recruitment of minors being widespread across the country, including in the Amhara region. Families are being coerced into silence, unable to protect their children from being enlisted. These vulnerable children have no means of escape, particularly in areas where transportation is limited and conflict is rampant. Instead of safeguarding them, the government is complicit in their recruitment. Society and families are powerless to shield these children from threats posed by both the government and the military. Those who resist conscription are unjustly detained under false accusations of supporting Fano. Thousands of children are already involved in the conflict, while others are undergoing training. Abiy shows no remorse and vows to continue the war. It is imperative for the international community to shift its attention from other global conflicts to the dire situation in Ethiopia and neighboring Sudan.

Abiy Ahmed’s deceptive transitional justice and national dialogue processes should not fool the international community. These processes cannot achieve their goals as long as they are controlled by the very entity responsible for war crimes and human rights abuses. Furthermore, as long as this entity remains in power, the true objectives of these processes will continue to be twofold: to mislead the international community in order to secure loans and aid, and to evade accountability through a justice system that they tightly manipulate.

The international community must utilize all available means to exert pressure on Abiy Ahmed, compelling him to cease his wars and relinquish power. This will pave the way for a genuine transitional period, during which authentic transitional justice, national reconciliation, and negotiation processes can take place. Additionally, the international community should strongly condemn the government’s actions of forced conscription and the recruitment of children, as these actions flagrantly violate international human rights and humanitarian laws.


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