Subjecting Gondar to a Cycle of Assault is Tantamount to Dismantling Ethiopia
(ጎንደርን የጦር አውድማ ማድረግ የሚያስከትለው መዘዝ ኢትዮጵያን ማጥፋት ነው)
By Aklog Birara (Dr.), April 8, 2020
“A life lived in fear is a life half lived,” a character in the 1992 Australian film “Strictly Ballroom,” attributed to the film’s director and co-writer, Baz Luhrmann.
On April 1, 2020, six months after atrocities were committed, most notably, against the Amhara population, Human Rights Watch wrote a compelling assessment under the title “Ethiopia; Justice Needed for Deadly October Violence.”
Reading this latest assessment by an unassailable human rights group, I asked myself when Ethiopians would live life without fear from their own government and from their own fellowman? An incurable optimist when it comes to Ethiopia, I said to myself, “This too shall pass.” I then learned that the Ethiopian federal Government has encircled the city of Gondar with heavily armed defense and security forces including tanks?
Last week, I signed a petition initiated by the United Nations Secretary General calling for and pleading with all nations and armed groups for a cease fire; and urging them not to initiate any conflict in the midst of a global pandemic.
Ethiopia is part and parcel of the global community of nations. Its government has an obligation to give priority to public health services using the country’s scarce financial and human resources equitably. The country’s authorities at any level of responsibility have a sacred duty to refrain from conducting military assault and other punitive measures against the civilian population under any pretext. The focus should be on public safety and not on power grab.
As it is, the pandemic is terrorizing Ethiopians, especially the poor, the disabled, children and the elderly. They need necessities such as water and foods and not bullets. They need health care workers, medicines and PPPs. It is gratifying to note that Ethiopians in the Diaspora are doing their level best to mobilize funds and PPPs in support of all Ethiopians.
It is clear from ground evidence that they Ethiopians do not need intimidating heavy weaponry including tanks and armored personnel that compound the terror that already exists. Assault on civilians is a form of terrorism.
Consider what other governments are doing at this time. In numerous countries including Uganda, national police, defense and security forces and civilians are mobilized to provide food and medicines in each village and town; and social distancing measures are strictly enforced. For a poor economy, this kind of measure by government officials ensures that ordinary citizens meet basic needs. Ethiopia can learn from Uganda.
Contrast what Uganda is doing with the Gondar sub-region of the Amhara region. Ethiopian armed personnel intimidating the civilian population in the town of Dabat, the Amhara region. It is reported by reliable sources in Gondar, Debre Tabor and Dabat that tanks and other heavy weaponry have been deployed in this area.
As far as I know, Dabat, the city of Gondar and other towns and cities in the Amhara region do not face invasion from external enemies, for instance Egypt, Turkey or Saudi Arabia that are rumored to be major suppliers to the illegal weapons trade in this and other regions of Ethiopia.
While I acknowledge the notion that, even under the best of times, Ethiopian society suffers from fake news supply and propagation across social media, the deployment of tanks and military personnel in Gondar and other vicinities of the Amhara region is extremely unwarranted, dangerousand deplorable.
By all accounts, Ethiopia’s religious and spiritual society needs officially encouraged and sanctioned resolution of local conflicts emanating from any internal group unlawful activities through mediation led by trusted spiritual leaders, elders, academics and other members of civil society. Ordinary citizens continue to plead for mediation and reconciliation now.
The common enemy that terrorizes the civilian population in Gondar and the rest of the Amhara region; and in fact, the entire country is the pandemic. Poverty makes matters worse. It therefore behooves the federal government of Ethiopia led by Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed to stop intimidating innocent civilians under the pretext of combatting lawlessness.
The latest assessment by Human Rights Watch shows systemic recurrence of human rights abuses in Ethiopia, most notably against the Amhara population, the poorest and the most marginalized in the entire country. Why punish it more? For what end?
One would have thought that Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year, in particular, and his emerging dominant Prosperity Party in general, would go after the culprits of the October, 2019 cold-blooded massacre; and hold them accountable for crimes against humanity. The current assault against the people of Gondar and other localities in the Amhara region is adding insult to injury. It is a form of regime-led terrorism that may lead to genocide.
Decisive action against those who murdered innocent civilians last October would have demonstrated not only to Ethiopians; but to the entire world a determination and resolve that the regime is not hesitant to apply the rule of law regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation. This action would have prevented recurring extrajudicial assaults, murders, abductions, jailings and persecutions of innocent civilians, especially the Amhara as well as the Gurage and other minority ethnic and indigenous people throughout Ethiopia. Selective assaults against them continue unabetted.
Tragically for the Ethiopian people, particularly for the millions of the Amhara population who work and live throughout Ethiopia, recurring murders, maiming, abductions, displacements and now the intimidating and the unconscionable deployment of tanks and defense forces encircling the city of Gondar at a time of a potentially catastrophic pandemic that is unfolding in Ethiopia have aggravated fear and dismay.
What is appalling further is this. Regardless of internal civilian poor governance conditions, to deploy federal military forces in Gondar at a time when the Secretary General of the United Nations is appealing to all nations already in civil conflict and war for cease fire is inexplicable. The federal government’s role and responsibility at this time is not to expand and deepen its power base through intimidation and harassment. Rather, it is to focus on public health services and on the provision of essentials, including water and food to the population. For this reason, the deployment of tanks and other weapons to Gondar is inhumane and appalling.
This latest deployment by the federal government makes life in “fear” and mistrust of authorities especially in Gondar and other parts of the Amhara region as “life half lived.”
Further, a decisive measure by the federal government following the wholesale massacres in October last year would have conveyed a powerful message to Ethiopia’s external adversaries, especially the Egyptian regime that Ethiopia’s affliction emanating from ethnic and religious polarization is no more tolerated. Instead, ethnic polarization is more pronounced under the Abiy regime. I ask, who is advising the regime?
Tragically, and as Human Rights Watch reported, “The Ethiopian government has made little progress in investigating the deadly October 2019 violence and in acting to prevent further security force abuses and inter-communal violence. Six months later, victims and their families from two towns in the Oromia region still seek justice for abuses committed by security forces and violent mobs.”
Another way of putting the above is that the government of Ethiopia has practically normalized human rights abuses, selective ethnic cleansing, elimination of opponents and other abuses even at a time when the entire world community faces the Coronavirus epidemic that rich countries are unable to cope with. In October 2019, Jawar Mohammed, still an insider and “king maker” in Ethiopia’s ethnic politics posted venomous and hatemongering dictions accusing the Abiy government that it withdrew a security contingent afforded to him at Ethiopian tax payer’s expense. I know of no other government that subsidizes home grown terrorists, ultra-nationalists and agents of fundamentalism.
In the rampage and savagery that followed Jawar Mohammed’s call for revenge, 86 innocent civilians, most of them Amhara or of mixed backgrounds were massacred. These murders took place primarily in Oromia, Harari regions and in Dire Dawa.
There are numerous examples of crimes against humanity perpetrated on the Amhara population. Throughout the 1990s. For example, young and child bearing Amhara girls were compelled by the TPLF regime and their supporters in the Amhara region to take prescriptions or drugs that made them infertile or childless.
The federal government’s census declared to parliament that 2.5 million Amhara disappeared inexplicably. This number was later estimated by demographers and economists to exceed 5 million Amhara. Where did these Amhara go? Is the current assault and intimidation in Gondar, Wollo and Gojjam part of the strategy to strangulate and reduce the Amhara population?
As part of the ploy to marginalize the Amhara population, the TPLF implanted deliberate and systematic propaganda creating divisions between and amongst the Amhara, Kimant and other indigenous people in the Amhara region who share the same language, religion, culture and history. At one-point, regional authorities were persuaded to send large numbers of people from the Kimant community for military and security training in Tigray. This is part of the core problem. No one except the TPLF and other ethno-nationalists will gain from this scheme.
Long before the TPLF and its ethnic allies took power in 1991, the TPLF massacred thousands of Amhara farmers, youth and others in the Amhara region. It forcibly evicted large numbers of peasant families. It annexed and incorporated large tracts of fertile lands into the Tigray region.
The abduction of 17 university students on December 4, 2019 by an unknown and well-armed abductor remains unresolved. In this incident the abductors cordoned off a bus with students on board leaving for their homes from the University of Dembi Dolo and fled. in the Oromia region. These students are predominantly Amhara. It is reported that they boarded the bus in an attempt to save their lives from ethnic-based murders, rapes and violence.
Reuters, the Washington Post, the Miami Herald and other newspapers reported the abductions widely. Ethiopians within and outside the country protested this abduction; and demanded Ethiopian federal government search and rescue to no avail. The whereabouts and fate of these students remains unknown for more than five months.
Despite pleas from parents and expressions of outrage from a broad spectrum of Ethiopians, the federal government of Ethiopia has proven to be incapable of rescuing the abducted students, most of them girls from poor Amhara families.
I find it extraordinary that such an incapable regime that can’t go after abductors in Oromia is quick to respond to alleged lawlessness in Gondar and the rest of the Amhara region.
I am not a member or financier of the Fanno organization. But it is important to note that the Fanno movement’s resurgence is a consequence of these and other assaults on the Amhara population; and especially the annexation of Amhara lands by the TPLF.
This is a snapshot that explains the reason why millions of Ethiopians do not trust regional and federal police, security forces and defense. Trust in government at all levels is literally degraded. The case of abducted students shows that victims of any sort of abuse and violence have nowhere to go. It is that bad. Trust in authorities at any level emanates not from fear; but from honest, dedicated, competent corruption-free public services.
Dismissing facts and atrocities does not engender trust in authorities in any country. I admire and endorse the conclusion reached by Human Rights Watch, and the following statement from its Horn of Africa Director who said this. “The Ethiopian authorities can’t brush the killing and maiming of scores of people, the destruction of homes and businesses, and attacks on hospitals under the carpet….To ensure that upcoming elections can be held safely and securely, the government needs to accelerate its investigations into the October violence and bring those responsible for abuses to justice.”
A repeat of the October, 2019 massacre is poised to take place in the Gondar sub-region of the Amhara region. I remind the reader to pose a moment and look back at the events and revolt before the TPLF was deposed from power; and before Prime Minister Dr. Abiy took the helm.
Young people in the entire Amhara region, most prominently in Debre Tabor, Gondar and Bahir Dar sacrificed their lives. Scores and scores of people, most of them young were massacred by TPLF and allied security personnel. Despite the atrocities that remain uninvestigated, Amhara youth in the city of Gondar rose up to the occasion; and identified with their Oromo brothers and sisters under the banner “Oromo blood is our blood.”
Why so? Because the Amhara region, its people and the entire population suffered immensely from demonization; from persecutions and ethnic cleansing; from deliberate marginalization; from under investment of social and economic infrastructure; from the lack of job generating enterprises including industrial parks; and from land grab and incorporation into Greater Tigray.
The people, especially youth felt and hoped that there will be “light at the end of the tunnel” under Abiy’s leadership. However, the leadership structure and the personnel who run the Amhara regional state remained intact—-totally subservient to the TPLF that created the Amhara party; and now to the Prosperity Party, successor to the TPLF.
There is a plethora of evidence to show that the structure of the economy in Gondar, Debre Tabor, Dessie and other parts of the Amhara region remains stagnant. Youth do not find meaningful jobs. Ordinary citizens suffer from personal insecurity, lawlessness, theft, bribery, illicit trade including arms smuggling. Today, the entire population is terrorized by the pandemic.
In June last year, the Amhara region lost its competent leaders who had shown a high level of dedication to Amhara and Ethiopian causes. Yet, these promising Ethiopians were gunned down deliberately and systematically in Bahir Dar. The consequences remain far reaching. Among these is the fact that the Amhara people are deprived of caring and empathetic leaders. They are effectively made rudderless.
To this day, no one that I am aware of has been held accountable for these crimes. The unfathomable explanation that “Amhara brothers killed their own kin and kith” does not hold.
Fast forward to March, 2020. The entire world is threatened by an unpresented pandemic that has claimed the lives of 78,000 people as of April 7, 2020. Contrast this trend with what happened in other pandemics. In 1915-1926, Encephalitis Lethargica claimed an estimated 1,500,000 lives. In 1918, the so-called Spanish flu claimed an estimated 100, 000,000 million lives. In 2009, the Swine flu took a toll on 575,000 lives.
The economic cost in the United States alone is forecast at $6 trillion. Unemployment currently estimated at 13 percent is forecast to rise to 30 percent or more.
This pandemic also scientifically known as COVID-19 is projected to last between 12-18 months. Life as we know it before this epidemic is unlikely to become normal event after a vaccine is identified.
Here, I should like to remind the Ethiopian people and the rest of Black Africa that African governments should never allow their people to serve as guinea pigs for experimental drugs no matter the temptation and regardless of incentives.
COVID-19 is most likely to shape the future of globalization in general and relations among nations in particular. The devastating impacts of the pandemic on public health, the economy, investments, transport, trade, tourism, culture, religion, personal and family behavior, and psychological attitudes of peoples across the globe towards one another are changing rapidly, and some experts say, irreversibly. Sovereignty and self-preservation are at a premium.
In the light of this trend, geopolitical and social transformational factors within countries, for example, huge investments in public health, might compel each nation; and the entire globe eventually to rethink the whole meaning of growth, development and investment as well as relations among nations.
Some experts argue that we should abandon the theory and practice of globalization as a force for good. This is due to the perception that globalization is the source of the pandemic; and therefore, of death and destruction. This may be unfair and unwise.
Part of the problem for this unfortunate perception is that, the world today lacks global statesmen and women to galvanize the scientific community in solving global problems including the current pandemic. Debt levels will rise dramatically. At least 90 countries have approached the IMF for financial support.
COVID-19 is a momentous occurrence that compels government leaders and civil society to rethink the way we live with one another in each and every country; and the way we deal with catastrophic incidents across national boundaries.
This leads me to the ethnic-federal system in Ethiopia that makes the pandemic even more troubling. Tribalists, ethno-nationalists and fundamentalists in Ethiopia and the rest of Sub-Sharan Africa should reflect and acknowledge that the way forward is to embrace the Quaker wisdom, “There is that of God (humanity) in every person.” If Ethiopians respect and accept one another as human beings; their chances of survival will be far greater.
We do not have to be religious or spiritual to acknowledge one another as human beings. We don’t have to believe in God to reject tribalism, sectarianism and exclusion. Today, we are witnessing in the richest and most powerful nation on the planet that COVID-19 treats everyone—white, black, brown, yellow, rich and poor, old and young, male and female equally and mercilessly. Who would have thought that the United States will be unable to meet the demand for personal protection equipment for its health workforce?
Poor nations can mitigate risks. This is why I suggest this simple policy. Let us stop war and warmongering against anyone and for any political reason at any cost. Because, civil conflict compounds the punishment to which we may be blind. My point is to underscore the seriousness of the latest scourge; and to urge the government of Ethiopia not to aggravate the situation by conducting any form of military action against any group within the country.
It is clear from eye witness accounts that there is lawlessness in numerous parts of Ethiopia including the Amhara region. However, and contrary to assertions by regional and federal authorities, the Fanno organization cannot be blamed for lawlessness. This lawlessness is in part a function of the inability, incompetence and corruption of the Amhara regional administration. The federal government cannot compensate for this incompetence by deploying defense and security forces under any pretext.
For example, as I highlighted above, Gondar and vicinities have enjoyed a semblance of peace and stability, in large part because of the bridging and policing roles of Amhara youth including a large component of the Fanno organization. I am not saying that there are no culprits within the organization that take advantage of poor governance. Why not only identity culprits and hold them accountable; and at the same time apply parity by holding any culprit throughout Ethiopia? Don’t discriminate!!!
It is equally important to recognize that Ethiopia’s porous and unprotected border to the Sudan is defended by indigenous people including Fanno. So, why not differentiate the bad from the good and resolve local conflicts in Gondar and other places through peaceful means? Is it not time to try reconciliation as an option rather brute force?
Why succumb to the desires and wishes of the TPLF hard core that is accountable for the massacres of hundreds of thousands of Amhara over the past 40 plus years; and for the annexations of large tracts of Amhara lands? Why not deal with the core policy and structural issues rather than with the symptoms?
If the allegations are true; I would find it reprehensible that federal security and defense forces would be deployed against the civilian population of Gondar and other Amhara localities at a time when regional and federal authorities must and should be using all scarce financial and human capital resources to protect the lives of the population against the current pandemic.
In my considered opinion, an assault against the people of Gondar and other places, especially at this time in history, is tantamount to crimes against humanity.
I urge the federal government to withdraw security and defense forces from Gondar. Their sole responsibility is to defend Ethiopia’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and to ensure the security of its citizens.
An assault on the people of Gondar under any pretext is an assault on the entire Amhara population.
I am in favor of disarmament of all non-defense, security, federal and police forces; but oppose selective and discriminatory disarmament. The Amhara regional administration’s call for disarmament of Amhara farmers, youth, the Fanno Organization and others without addressing the core policy and structural problems in the region, and especially in Gondar is sinister. It is intended to further disempower the Amhara population and to make it vulnerable for social and economic strangulation.
Leaders and cadres of the Amhara Democratic Party that traces its formation to the TPLF; and has now morphed into a branch of the Prosperity Party are accountable for crimes being committed against the people of Gondar and the rest of the Amhara region.
The Ethiopian federal government has a critical role in strengthening the sovereign power of Ethiopia’s multinational state; and in serving as a major agent of democratic governance and as an engine of transformation of the country’s fragile economy. I see no justification for military involvement in Gondar and the rest of the Amhara region.
I therefore urge Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed to apply wisdom in governance; adhere closely to the same principle of inclusion and embrace (መደመር) in Gondar and the rest of the Amhara region; withdraw tanks and military forces from Gondar as soon as possible; and refrain further from any and all assaults on one of the most impoverished regions in Ethiopia.
I urge the world community, especially human rights organizations, the AU, EU and the UN system to monitor and to investigate current and future military deployments by Ethiopia’s federal government against civilians; and urge the regime from any military and paramilitary assaults against innocent people, and to stop ethnic cleansing and repressions in Ethiopia.
Last but not least, I advise and urge Amhara youth to stop falling into a trap by being privy to the deliberate demonization campaign of the Amhara through social media; and by fragmenting itself into villages and regions.
The only way to save the Amhara people from annihilation is unity.
April 8, 2020