(by A. Alemayehu)
An unrelenting genocidal rampage has been unleashed in Metekel, Benshangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia. Since September, 2020, in the last five months alone, two hundred thousand civilians have been displaced, leaving behind bodies of slaughtered family members, burnt farms and scorched villages.
Metekel became yet another site of the most gruesome carnage last week as a joint Gumuz Militia – OLF force attacked the Daletti farming community in broad day-light. In a manner of hours, upwards of 250 two hundred and fifty unarmed civilians have been massacred, with their homes and harvest burnt down. The unit of the Ethiopian Defense Force that was a short distance away arrived and started the task of collecting the dead bodies and loading them onto trucks for a mass burial. These days, it seems to be the only thing the army is good for in Metekel. All the victims were members of the Amhara and Agaw ethnic groups. Unlike earlier massacres where Christian Amhara victims predominated, in the Daletti Massacre, the majority of the victims were Muslim Amharas.
Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed directly overseas the military, security and political Command Post established in Metekel to pacify the region. However, the killings have only intensified since Dr. Abiy put the Command Post under his direct orders. While earlier the massacres involved tens and twenties of victims, it is now becoming common to hear the slaughter of hundreds in just one day.
The Root of the problem
At the root of the genocidal and ethnic cleansing campaigns in Metekel lies the manner in which the Ethnic Federal regions of Ethiopia have been constitutionally structured. Since the advent of TPLF to power, Ethiopia has been subdivided into ethno-linguistic homelands. In a few of these ethno-linguistic homelands, the regional constitution deprives the majority ethnic group ownership of the region and, as a consequence, political representation. An unwritten corollary of these regional constitutional stipulations is that those to whom ownership of the region has been given can mistreat other ethnic groups, including forcing them out of the region. Thus ownership of Harari Region has been given to the minority Harari people and ownership of the Benshangul-Gumuz has been given to minority ethnic groups of the region like the Gumuz. These owner ethnic groups constitute an absolute minority within their respective regions.
The ethnic cleansing pressure is not limited to these regions where the minority were constitutionally enshrined with ownership rights. The ethnic cleansing pressure is worse in Oromia Region where the majority Oromo ethnic group is the sole constitutional owner of the region while the more-than-ten-million numbering non-Oromo ethnic groups are politically voiceless. This has made the region a site of unrelenting ethnic cleansing campaigns since the very beginning. Just a few days before the outbreak of the Prosperity Party- TPLF war, hundreds of Amhara civilians were gathered and slaughtered in a school yard in Gulliso, Wellega, Oromia.
Ethno-logistic political structuring has been opposed from the very first days of its being imposed on Ethiopia by the TPLF. Volumes have been written by those who clearly saw the danger of balkanization and bantustanization that the policy represented.
The system gives incompetent cadres from the local ethnic group uncontested access to power and wealth. Therefore, they are prepared to guard this privilege with their lives. In Ethiopia, land is owned by the state. However, the ethnic cadres are the ones that practically own the land and use it to generate wealth through illegal and corrupt land-grabbing and land-lease practices.
The Specifics of Metekel
Metekel is a zone of the Benshangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia. Historically, Metekel had been part of Gojam, a province in Western Ethiopia encircled by the Blue Nile river and bordering the Sudan. Although Metekel is one of the most backward regions of the globe, technologically and developmentally speaking, it is rich in gold, agricultural potential, incense, power generation and marble quarries. Of the five ethnic groups to whom Metekel is an ancestral homeland, only the Gumuz and Shinasha are constitutionally enshrined with ownership title to the region. The Agaw, the Amhara and the Oromo are deprived this right in Metekel. Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) before and now the Oromo political parties use the Gumuz as fronts to ethnically cleanse Metekel of its Amhara-Agaw majority. The TPLF had brought thousands of settlers to Metekel, provided Tigrayans with land in Metekel which they used as collateral to borrow large sums from the Developmental Bank of Ethiopia. The borrowed money was not intended to be paid back, and it never was. Now the OPDO, major partner of the ruling Prosperity Party, is involved, by the admission of its highest-ranking member, in supplanting the Amhara ethnic group residing in Metekel. The dealer is different but the card game is still the same. That is why Abiy Ahmed’s closer involvement in Metekel seems to only intensify the massacres, the burnings and the mass exodus.
No wonder then that the political appointees and Prosperity Party bosses of the Benshangul-Gumuz region who oversaw three years of massacres and displacements of the Agaw and Amhara are still enjoying the privilege of their offices. No wonder then that the OLF has opened office, operates training centers and moves its troops in broad daylight in Metekel. No wonder then that the military chooses to arrive after the attackers leave, despite being given information of an impending attack ahead of time. Abiy Ahmed’s Command Post includes the very personalities that were in charge over the region during three years of ethnic cleansing. The new General assigned lately works with such people to gather intelligence and to co-ordinate his troop movements. No wonder then that the army unit dispatched gets ambushed and totally destroyed. Is this the same army that is boasting of crushing the 45-year old TPLF and its quarter-million strong force? This is what prompted a famous Ethiopian activist to invoke the Ethiopians saying, “Wesfe sileghim qibe aywegam” which roughly translates into ‘An unwilling knife won’t slice butter”.
The scope of the problem
While Metekel is sight of the worst human tragedy of our time, it is getting an inversely proportional coverage. One reason is that Metekel is one of the darkest corners of the earth in terms of technology, education and development. There are only two journalists currently that even report about the topic. There is practically no activist dedicated to exposing the atrocities in Metekel. Compare this to Tigray where hundreds of thousands of activists, including top dogs like WHO’s Tedros Adhanom, tweet regular ‘awareness’ and misinformation texts. While Tigrayans in Colorado held a candle-light vigil to bring awareness to the lack of electricity in some areas of Tigray, the illiterate victims of the genocidal attacks in Metekel do not even know what electricity is. While activist from Tigray are busy using Photoshop to modify gruesome pictures to use from other parts of the world, pictures from the massacres in Metekel are unusable in the mainstream media due to their explicit and offensive depiction of the bloody violence.
Government and Media Response
The attention given by the government of PM Abiy Ahmed to the genocide against the Amhara people could only be described, at best, as pathetic. In a democratic political system, a comparable failure would have led to the resignation or impeachment of the head of state. While the government declared a week of mourning and the lowering of the national flag upon the assassination of an Oromo singer, no such expression of sadness followed any of the mass murders of over 200 Amharas in each of Oromia and Benshangul-Gumuz regions. Even when the confirmed massacre of close to 1000 Amharas in Mai Kadra, Tigray was discovered, the government, even though it highly used the incident for its propaganda war against TPLF, failed to declare a single day of mourning for the victims. The church and other religious organizations, which also seem to be under tight government grip, failed to declare nation-wide prayers of mourning for the massacred civilians. With respect to the national media outlets, most of which are under strict government control, the pattern has been to release a barrage of unrelated sensational news to drown social-media news of the massacres. Recently, the media are engaged in the practice of skillfully diverting public attention from the Metekel massacres by releasing a few names of captured or killed elites of the defunct and defeated TPLF every time a major massacre happens. What is suspicious and troubling about these media maneuvers is that the reports of captured or killed TPLF elites is released in the media weeks after the actual capture or killing took place. That such news repeatedly eclipsed news of the Amhara, Agaw or Konso massacres, has been too frequent an occurrence to ignore as just pure coincidence.
In the case of the Daletti Massacre, the government has done two things. The first one is that it has claimed that several armed perpetrators have been destroyed and some captured. The government is known to issue such declarations without any real actions on the ground, in a cheap effort to hash-hash the public outcry. It never shows the bodies of the ‘destroyed’ murderers and never releases the names of the ‘captured’ or ‘killed’. The second action that the government claimed to have done is to establish a curfew. This is also regarded as just a nominal, if not ridiculous, measure against the Gumuz militia. It is known that the Gumuz are hunters that are accustomed to moving in the thick of the night in the densest jungle. They live and operate in a forest environment and not in a metropolitan area. How a curfew would curtail their movements or how government soldiers who have no forest survival skills are going to enforce this curfew, is not clear at all. Most likely, the government used the declaration of the curfew as just an act to appease concerned members of the local and international community who probably lack awareness of what life in Metekel looks like.
What is more troubling than the government’s lack of concrete action to stop these atrocities against the Amhara people is the fact that many government authorities and cadres of the ruling party have been found to collaborate with the armed terrorists. Such alleged collaborators are usually transferred to other responsibilities, or sometimes, even promoted.
A case in point is Shimelis Abdissa, President of Oromia Region. During the July 2020 Amhara Genocide in Oromia Region, Shashemene was razed to the ground while the Oromia Special Force in the city and the National Defense Force unit seven miles away quietly looked on. On the aftermath of incident, the arrested Mayor of burnt-down Shahemene gave statements in court that implicated Shimelis in the massacre and burning. The mayor said that he called and talked to his boss Shimelis several times as the murderous gang started looting, killing and destroying property. However, he claimed that Shimelis only told him to get back to bed. No measure has been taken against Shimelis. In fact, Shimelis has become best buddies with Abiy Ahmed, always at his side, even right after the recent Daletti Massacre when the two chose to go spend quality time in the Koisha Resort of Southern Ethiopia.