Genocide and War in Ethiopia: How to Extinguish the Fire

The fabric that has bonded the colorful and historic diversity of Ethiopia is under enormous stress. Ethiopia is on the verge of breaking up. The crimes against humanity and the genocide that have been going on amidst the silence of the international community cannot be forgiven or forgotten. No matter what the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed does to deflect attention from the continued genocide and crimes against humanity, the slow but almost certain disintegration of the nation is imminent, unless bold decisions are taken.  

The dialogue to bring in the TPLF to be part of the Prime Minister’s Prosperity Party (PP) has not gone anywhere. If the ongoing war between the central government and Tigray region is an attempt to force the leadership of Tigray to submit to the will of the PM, then it is a wrong war.  While the brazen act of the TPLF against a branch of the National Defense Forces is contemptible and cowardly, this war, like any war waged to consolidate power, will have adverse consequences that will last for generations and will make peaceful coexistence among people more difficult. 

At this moment the government is making it look like it is a war between the Amharas and the TPLF. Sadly, the Amharas are dying again. Paradoxically, the Oromo Special Forces, which compete in size with the National Defense Forces, do not seem to be actively engaged in this war of struggle for power.  The question must therefore be asked whether this war in any way directly benefits the interest of the Amharas or other Ethiopians, before we allow Amharas to be fodders of Abiy’s war for power.  

In the current Ethiopian situation, a just war is one waged with the objective  to unify the country; return back the land of the Amharas that the TPLF has illegally grabbed; bring those accountable for the past crimes to justice; remove the old guards in the leadership of the region; give an opportunity for the people of Tigray to genuinely vote for a progressive party that will honor their interests and the  union; and pave the way for the drafting of a new constitution that will be presented for a referendum  and conduct election accordingly. However, cogent reason points to the contrary: The war seems to be a result of a power struggle.  

Incontrovertible, the majority of Ethiopians have problems with the TPLF (EPRDF) leadership, because the TPLF instituted an ethnocentric constitution and government, looted the country, imprisoned and tortured innocent civilians, and took lands that belong to the Amharas.  Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed never attempted to address these issues or bring those responsible to justice from their hideouts in Mekele. He has not changed any of the policies that the TPLF has instituted and practiced for 27 years. He inherited the policies, embraced them, and used them to further the agenda of his own ethnic group in a rather brutal, arrogant and crude manner. Today, two and half years after he came to power, it is difficult to believe that he is fighting against the TPLF out of concern for the Amharas and Christians who are targeted for extinction, routinely murdered, torched and displaced by the Oromo extremists who belong to his own party. From the start, the dialogue between the TPLF leadership and the PM was never about these fundamental issues.  In this respect, the war is a war of struggle for power, not one that is intended to protect the main interests of the people of Ethiopia.

I have fought my own battle against the TPLF since it took power. It is a party that is responsible for the destruction of Ethiopia, as we knew it.  The leadership of the TPLF has dragged the majority of the people of Tigray into this confrontation and is forcing them to fight a war that is not in their best interest. Until the leadership of the TPLF is brought to justice, there will be neither peace nor reconciliation in Ethiopia. Ethiopians will be vindicated and pursue the path of reconciliation only after TPLF is held accountable and justice is rendered, a cause for which I have spent the last  35 years of my life.  But I do not want this to be an end by itself; but only a prelude to a free and unified Ethiopia under regional federation. 

We had hoped that this PM would lead us to this end; but I have been utterly disappointed, as have millions of Ethiopians. I and many others have presented options; but the PM has refused to accept an option that can lead to the formation of such an Ethiopia. 

Today Amharas and Christians, seen for centuries as the lighthouse of freedom, peace and tolerance, are being persecuted in this land. Though some might have short memories and are clapping at the bravado of the PM to dare the TPLF, the question must be asked whether he is doing this to consolidate his power or to bring about the much needed fundamental change in Ethiopia. Is this war going to help prevent the horrific crimes that are taking place as I write this piece? Why did the PM choose this time? For a reasonable mind, it seems to be a move designed to deflect from the main agenda of the people, as the PM always does when OLF extremists commit such serious crimes. He avoids the issue, or gives some vague explanation on the matter, and moves on to another non-relevant matter, pouring cold water on the anger of the people. And, in this he has never been short of supporters. 

The PM talks about forgiving and forgetting. Forgiving and forgetting are hollow political words, while the persecution of Amharas and Christians continues.  These atrocities will have severe consequences on the security of the people and integrity of the nation, unless something bold is done today. This was supposed to be done yesterday. Ethiopia needs courageous leaders!

As reported in a recent issue of Forbes Magazine: Courage is a prerequisite for truly great leadership.  While it has many faces, at the heart of brave leadership is the willingness to take action amid uncertainty; to do what is right over what’s expedient, and to risk failing and falling short in the process. …. Why? Because unless leaders are willing to lay their psychological safety (i.e. pride and power) on the line for the sake of those they serve, no amount of brilliance or showmanship will suffice.” 

Hannah Arendt, a foremost scholar on the subject of forgiving and forgetting one said: “ … we are, demanding and meting out punishment in accordance with our sense of justice, while, on the other hand, this same sense of justice informs us that all our previous notions about punishment and its justifications have failed us. Forgiveness died in the death camps.”  (emphasis mine) 

When children, mothers and fathers are  being slaughtered like animals for who they are, people mutilated and their body parts thrown for animals, when  bodies are dragged on the streets, when pregnant mothers are being butchered, when wives and mothers are raped in front of their husbands and children, when people are beheaded in public, when men’s organs are displayed as trophies, when Christians are put in a room and burnt alive, when many are murdered and thousands forced to flee seeking shelter and protection, when those who wore the uniform to uphold  and enforce the law are either participants of the crimes or are onlookers; that is when justice died in Ethiopia

  • When the chanting for more blood resonates across the country amidst  the silence of the government by not condemning the acts nor consoling the victims  or helping the displaced:  that is when the empathy of leaders died in Ethiopia.  
  • When the government refused to neither name  the crime, nor name the perpetrators, who everybody else knows:  that is when accountability died in Ethiopia
  • When Amharas and Christians in rural Ethiopia are being persecuted for who they are: that is when fascism reigned in Ethiopia. 
  • When the PM failed to launch operations to free the young students of Dembi Dolo  kidnapped by the Oromo extremists:  that is when his true color manifested.  

Ethiopians have witnessed the horrific killings and torture of Amharas and non-Oromos in several places and at different times over the last two years alone. This week’s report of the Ethiopian Human Rights Association has detailed some of the atrocities and human rights violations.  It is difficult to believe that the Prime Minister has suddenly come to his senses and started this war to stop these atrocities.  If he had genuine concerns, he should have started from those who are daily murdering and displacing Amharas, Christians and non-Oromos: the Oromo extremists

Where was the PM during these times? A head of state who refuses to condemn these crimes and put it in the category of crimes that it belongs to, could be charged according to the Genocide Convention under:  “complicity in genocide’ which is punishable under the convention.  Without any doubt, there is evidence of genocide and crimes against humanity happening in Ethiopia; and if leaders cannot or do not wish to prevent them, the international judicial bodies are obliged to take up the case, as has happened many times in the last two decades. I want my readers to understand that there are no phases for Genocide. The phases that Genocide Watch has established since 2000 is only for analytical purposes to educate people on how and why genocide takes place. It has nothing to do with international or domestic law. The Genocide conventions define genocide as:  “…. any of the following acts committed with intent to destroyin whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”.

— Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2[5]

Article 3 defines the crimes that can be punished under the convention:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.

This is the law. The only other law is domestic law. The Ethiopian Civil Code defines Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity more or less in the same manner. Because of this confusing statement of Genocide Watch some people are made to believe that that the ten phases have to be completed before it can be concluded that genocide has been committed. It is wrong. The definition of Genocide is simple and very clear. 

Robert Coalson, a professor of international law at the University College London who frequently works on cases before international tribunals said: 

 “The basic difference between crimes against humanity and genocide is as follows: Crimes against humanity focuses on the killing of large numbers of individuals. The systematic, mass killing of a very large number of individuals will constitute a crime against humanity. Genocide has a different focus. Genocide focuses not on the killing of individuals, but on the destruction of groups. In other words, a large number of individuals who form part of a single group. And the two concepts in this way have different objectives. One aims at protecting the individual; the other aims at protecting the group.”

The Ethiopian politics has evolved from crimes against humanity, ethnic rivalry to a policy of ethnic cleansing of non-Oromos, and now to a publicly declared genocide to exterminate the Christian Orthodox Church and its members and the Amahra ethnic group.  

The case of Ethiopia today is of much concern to peace and security not only in Ethiopia but also to the regions and the continent and beyond. Therefore, it should become the concern of the UN Security Council, which as, as described in Chapter Seven. Chapter VII:   “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.” To this end, the Council may employ “such action…as may be necessary to maintain or restore it.” 

Prime Minster Abiy has been successful in diffusing the anger of people every time heinous crimes are committed by Oromo extremists.  All these will be exposed sooner or later and he will be blamed for the crimes and probably charged under international law. 

The Prime Minister had the full support of the nation to do away with the constitution and the policies instituted by the TPLF and bring to justice those responsible, during the last two and half years. But he preferred not to do so until the current power struggle came to an impasse.  Is this attempt to diffuse the current anger of the Amharas or an operation designed to force the TPLF to submit to his will to join his party? Or is it really an attempt to create an alliance with Amharas to remove the threat of TPLF? Time will tell. 

History reminds us that the fire that Emperor Nero started consumed his own palace.   Nero’s reckless responses to the tragedy is now being compared to Trump’s twitter behavior amid the growing crises of pandemics and its economic fallout. As a CNN legal analyst, Renato Mariotti noted: “You might want to look up what happened to Nero.” WE advise the Prime Minister to “look up what happened to Nero.”

 Ethiopia’s unity is being challenged once again  and here we are with the PM decorating his palace, planting flowers in Addis Abeba and beautifying the parks in the suburb of Addis while the country is on fire with a political crisis over election and change, wars in Oromia region, with recently declared war on Tigray Region, with genocide and crimes against humanity across the nation, with locust invasion , with confrontation with Egypt over GERD, and with rampant poverty and ever escalating youth unemployment and run away inflation. 

The fire in Ethiopia is set by Abiy’s own Oromo colleague’s fabricated history, which makes Amharas the historical enemies of Oromos.  The PM grew up studying this narrative. He never denied this version of false history nor did he condemn the hate propaganda, which was being told by Oromo Media Network (OMN), the Oromo version, of Rwanda’s Radio Mille Colline. The Ethiopian Nero started a fire of a different nature. He is not fully aware that this fire will soon consume him and he will face the same fate. That is what history tells us over and over. 

Without justice and punishment there cannot even be a discussion about forgiveness.  Forgetting is impossible  for those who witnessed atrocities and saw their loved ones  brutalized.  Forgiving is difficult and forgetting  is impossible. Ethiopian society can begin to live together with tolerance and peace only after justice has been served and those responsible for igniting  and fanning  the fire are identified and brought to justice. The future of Ethiopia depends upon Truth, Justice, Reparations and Reconciliation in this order.  New leaders have to come out and liberate the people from the bondage of false history and propaganda.. This Prime Minister is  being given an opportunity to give back the power to the people. An Indian man of wisdom, Memet Murat  once said: “What makes a political leader resign or not to resign has something to do with having an honor or not! Those who have honor always choose the honorable way: Resignation!” .

If he does not, disgraceful exit is inevitable. There will be civil war which will cost millions of lives, destabilize the region, create the conditions for a proxy war and open the gate for Al Shabab and other extremists who are already in place because of the actions and policies of this PM.  This PM needs to zoom in on the fundamental problems of the country, which needs courage and wisdom.  If Ethiopians are vigilant and foresee what is bound, to come they need to rise up and protest against genocide and crimes against humanity and demand a new election under a new constitution. People are ready for this. The PM is not. He needs to be aware that we are in different times. There will be nowhere to hide. There is international justice. There will come a time when all those fighting amongst themselves will acknowledge that Ethiopia is the only home they have. Ethiopia will rise up again from the ashes.  

The case of Ethiopia has already been internationalized. The below is a Statement on Ethiopia by the Senior Study Group on Peace and Security in the Red Sea Arena issued on Thursday, November 5, 2020 at United States Institute for Peace (UPI) It echoes much of what I have cautioned and written about in the last two years.  

“As we cautioned in the study group’s” Final Report and Recommendations released on October 29, the fragmentation of Ethiopia would be the largest state collapse in modern history. Ethiopia is five times the size of pre-war Syria by population, and its breakdown would lead to mass interethnic and interreligious conflict; a dangerous vulnerability to exploitation by extremists; an acceleration of illicit trafficking, including of arms; and a humanitarian and security crisis at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East on a scale that would overshadow any existing conflict in the region, including Yemen. As Ethiopia is currently the leading Troop Contributing Country to the United Nations and the African Union peacekeeping missions in Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia, its collapse would also significantly impact the efforts by both to mitigate and resolve others conflicts in the Horn of Africa.

“However severe the events of the last 48 hours and the preceding violence in multiple parts of the country may be, a wider war is not inevitable, nor is it too late to prevent one if Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy and Ethiopia’s federal states exercise responsible leadership. To do so, they must take immediate, visible steps to defuse the crisis and signal to the Ethiopian public a commitment to de-escalation. These steps should include a cessation of military operations and the launch of an inclusive political dialogue that is credible to the Ethiopian people and lays the groundwork for free and fair elections. Neither will be possible while many of the country’s most prominent political leaders remain in prison. In addition, the closing of political space and Internet and communication blackouts must be reversed while inter communal violence and the rise of incitement and hate speech are addressed.”


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