Victims of all sorts of injustices, violence, genocide, mass atrocities, and ethnically motivated killings deserve justice more than anything. Even if they don’t demand it, those criminals who have destroyed the precious lives of other human beings out of ill-will, hatred, ignorance, or any other motives must be held accountable. To that end, the primary responsibility of a government is not planting trees or laying wreaths to honor the dead. The top priority must be ensuring peace, security, and the rule of law.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s latest appearance in Parliament was anticipated to address the widespread outrage over the genocidal mass atrocities being committed against innocent civilians. To the dismay of so many people, the Prime Minister failed to properly identify the tragedies that have threatened to tear the nation apart.
The recent genocidal killings in Wolega against Amhara civilians including toddlers, pregnant women, the elderly, and the infirm are by no means isolated. They are not ordinary crimes that are comparable to killings in Los Angels and New York. While it is an unfortunate fact that killings happen everywhere, ethnically motivated genocidal mass atrocities are the most dangerous that can destroy a nation and trigger civil wars. While communities and families are devastated and impacted by any sort of mass killings, a highly vulnerable and volatile country like Ethiopia faces an existential threat due to genocidal killings. These genocidal killings and ethnic cleansing against the people of Amhara, which has been going on for over three decades, portend another Rwanda in the making.
The genocide in Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia did not happen overnight. Like Ethiopia, both nations were playing with the fire of ethnic politics fueled by hatred and division for decades. The ensuing genocide whether it be in Rwanda or Yugoslavia could have been prevented had the leaders of the day played responsible roles.
The Prime Minister needs to reassess what went wrong since he came to power galloping on a wave of unprecedented popularity. Why was he able to connect to ordinary people at the onset of his leadership as a dynamic young reformist? Why is he now acting more like a typical African ruler who listens to himself more than his people who had embraced him wholeheartedly as their leader? The difference between now and then is self-evident.
The ordinary people who are being killed because of their identity are not just numbers. They are beloved mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, nephews, and nieces. They have families and friends. Their lives are as precious as anyone else. What is even more worrying is the scale and viciousness of the killings that are likely to annihilate more villagers and innocent civilians who have done nothing to deserve being slaughtered, executed, beheaded, or lynched.
In a country like Ethiopia where the effects of desertification wreak havoc, planting trees is very important. Nonetheless, it needs to be done at the right time. If the Prime Minister continues to pretend like an unperturbed gardener who cares more about his seedlings and trees than the safety and security of his people, then the disconnect between him and his subjects will dangerously widen. While ordinary people become more and more insecure in the face of the ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing, the Prime Minister will be equally uncertain about his future in power.
Abiy is obviously leading a nation in crisis. Even if he began his leadership with an impressive reformist agenda, things have now backtracked. An array of missteps and blunders have turned the clock back. Human rights violations, mass arrests, kidnappings of dissidents and critics, and lack of respect for the rule of law, among other things, have made people lose hope in the PM and his inner circle.
While it is understandable that the terrorists are bent on creating instability, fear, and insecurity, Abiy, and his henchmen can only stabilize the nation and save the lives of millions of people living in fear if only they have the full backing of the nation. For that to happen, the ruling party needs to listen to the grievances and concerns of the people. At the very least, ensuring peace and security should be the top priority of the ruling party. Planting trees while people are grief-stricken sends the wrong signal. As leaders do, they need to come out of their comfort zone, express their condolences, visit the victims, show their resolve to bring the perpetrators to justice, and follow it up with swift and tangible actions.
People are not demanding a lot. They need leaders who rise to the occasion in times of great need, crisis, and grief. Otherwise, this government cannot save the nation from the perils it is facing. It seems impossible to ride out of the whirlwind in reverse gear.