Throughout the world the ideology of division and intolerance has permeated mainstream politics and poisoned societies; tribal nationalism, hate and prejudice are widespread, animosity and suspicion toward ‘the other’ commonplace. In Ethiopia this vile, fear based trinity appears to have become government policy.
The focus of the regime’s enmity is the Amhara people, a large ethnic group making up around 30% of the population. In the last four years Amhara communities living in the Oromo region have been subjected to sustained violence by Oromo nationalists; the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)/Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), together with Oromo Special Forces ((OSF) and the Queero (Oromo youth group) are behind the violence, with it seems, the approval, perhaps active participation, of the government.
Ethnic cleansing of Oromia is part of an OLF plan to create an independent Oromo nation (Oromia for the Oromo people), and reduce the overall number of Amhara in the country. Tens of thousands of Amhara civilians have been killed, thousands of homes destroyed on the outskirts of the capital Addis Ababa (which sits within Oromia), hundreds of thousands displaced (Ethiopia has around 5.6 million internally displaced people according to the UN). Anyone talking about the violence, journalists, human rights workers, lawyers or students, run the risk of arrest.
And in a dramatic inflammatory move, on 8 April the government moved the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) into the Amhara region with orders to disarm and dissolve the only body offering protection to the people, the Amhara Special Forces (ASF).
Each of the 11 regions of Ethiopia has a paramilitary force of varying strength. They sit somewhere between the police and federal forces, and form part of a complex national security framework. After the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) were defeated by the ENDF in November 2022, and were forced to accept disarmament as part of the peace agreement (something which has still not happened), many called for a program to disarm all regional forces, not just the TPLF, as part of a larger constitutional review.
Prime-Minister Abiy Ahmed had made clear he intended to reform the system for some time, and on 6 April the government announced plans “to integrate all regional special forces either into the national army, or the federal or regional police.”
Fine, long overdue and a measure in principle that Amhara people and the Amhara regional authority support. So begin with the two major terrorist groups operating openly within the country, the TPLF and the OLF/OLA and then proceed within an agreed democratic framework; discussions with regional administrations need to take place, a clear plan laid out and consensus reached.
No such balanced steps have been taken, and the only force currently being disarmed/dissolved is the ASF, and the reasons are clear: It is not to dismantle an inherently flawed security apparatus, but to leave the Amhara region vulnerable to attack; whether from the TPLF in the North or the OLF/OLA to the South. The ENDF, which should be protecting the Amhara people, is not trusted any more than the government is; with a command structure dominated by Oromo personnel it is seen not as a national force, but as an ethnic army run by Oromo war lords.
This malicious move has been seen by the Amhara community as an invasion of the region by the ENDF, acting in collaboration with, the OLF/OLA and TPLF. Huge protests erupted leading to clashes with security forces in which live rounds were fired on demonstrators. It reinforced the view that, while the OLF/OLA/OSF are the primary perpetrators, the federal government is complicit in the ethnic violence taking place in the Oromo region and elsewhere. Which, if true, begs the question: ‘why’? Why is the government allowing, indeed facilitating a genocide?
The Ethiopian government is led by PM Abiy Ahmed, who is leader of The Prosperity Party, (aka the Oromo Prosperity Party (OPP)); a political alliance he established in December 2018, a little over a year after coming into office. It is, on paper at least, a broad coalition representing political groups from all the major regions except Tigray, as the TPLF refused to join. In practice though the OPP, and therefore the government, is dominated by one faction, the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), which, as chairman, PM Abiy led prior to becoming PM. This mirrors the previous regime, the EPRDF; another supposed coalition, in power for 27 years, that was in fact controlled by one group, the brutal TPLF.
When Abiy and Co. came to power in 2018, exiled opposition groups were invited back to Ethiopia. This included the OLF/OLA, who, unlike other parties were not forced to disarm. Since their return, the OLF has been classified as a legitimate political party, unlike their shadow, the OLA, which is rightly regarded as a terrorist group, and has established a close working relationship with the OPP.
They are driven by an extreme nationalist ideology; a divisive dogma that has blighted many nations in recent years, expressed in numerous forms. At its core is intolerance and hate; a misinterpretation of events and a disregard of facts. Underpinned by blame and anger at a particular social/ethnic group for the ills they, the believers, have suffered, perceived or real. The immigrant, the refugee, the metropolitan elite, or in the case of the OLF, the Amhara, who they associate with ‘The Evil Ethiopian State’, become the subject of their animosity and, in Ethiopia, their brutality.
The OPP (the ruling party) is, many believe, working in tandem with the OLF/OLA, indeed there are former members of the OLF now embedded within the Abiy government. Their fanatical doctrine has infiltrated the mainstream, their violent methodology countenanced in exchange for political support.
And where, within this cauldron of duplicity and violence, is PM Abiy? Like so many current ‘leaders’ he lacks principle, is politically and morally weak, and will do anything to cling on to power – including it seems, allowing a genocide to take place. Dishonest and manipulative, he is driven by personal ambition rather than a commitment to serve the people, unite the nation and create social harmony.
Beyond ‘the why’ is this happening, crucial as that may be, is perhaps the more significant question, certainly for the Amhara people living in Oromia: How can this brutal ethnic violence be stopped? And secondly, why have no foreign powers, Western or African, (openly) called for the assault on Amhara people to stop and the perpetrators be brought to justice? In contrast say to the recent violence in Sudan, which has rightly attracted a substantial response from foreign governments as well as global bodies such as the Arab League, the African Union, the UN, and generated a great deal of international media coverage, there has been little or no response to the Ethiopian/Amhara crisis.
Geo-politics is not animated by notions of brotherhood and compassion, it is motivated by self-interest, or perceived self-interest and short-term gain. Only when it is judged that US/western ‘interests’ (a reductive term based itself on global divisions) are threatened in some way, or an opportunity for greater regional influence/control presents itself, do these global powers act. Otherwise men, women and children can die in their thousands, particularly when they happen to be poor, and African; the same pattern of neglect and hypocrisy pertains to climate change. The result of this inhumane approach to global affairs is the same as it has always been, exploitation, injustice, and suffering of the most vulnerable.
Whilst all pressure should be applied to western governments, and the US administration in particular, the source of hope does not lie in Washington or Brussels, but rests firmly with the people of Ethiopia. Fanatical groups like the OLF/OLA play on people’s fears, indeed they themselves exist only within an atmosphere of fear, and thrive when distrust and social fragmentation takes hold. It is the coming together of people from the various tribal/ethnic groups scattered throughout Ethiopia, uniting against division, duplicity and hate, that offers the greatest hope of peace and social harmony, not external intervention.
Graham Peebles is a British freelance writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and India. E: [email protected] W: www.grahampeebles.org