An Oromo family hangs out their laundry at a camp for the displaced outside Adama, Ethi­o­pia, on Oct. 4. Fighting between Ethiopia’s Oromo and Somali regional states has led to tens of thousands fleeing to camps. (Paul Schemm/For The Washington Post)

By Paul Schemm,

A largely hidden war in remote areas of Ethiopia has killed hundreds of people, displaced more than 100,000 others and raised the specter of ethnic cleansing, potentially destabilizing an important U.S. partner in the fight against terrorism.

With the strongest army in the Horn of Africa and second-largest population on the continent, Ethiopia has been a major ally in battling regional terrorist groups such as al-Shabab and a pillar of stability between two disintegrating states, South Sudan and Somalia.

But that hard-earned reputation has been thrown in doubt by weeks of fighting between rival ethnic groups in Ethiopia’s neighboring Oromia and Somali regions and by accompanying reports of massacres and expulsions.

“They started to burn our houses, the Liyu police,” said Mohammed Nur Jamal of the Oromo ethnic group, referring to a paramilitary force from the neighboring Somali Region. With several dozen others, Jamal, a portly middle-aged man who wears an embroidered Muslim cap, now lives in a makeshift camp near the Oromo city of Adama. The camp is one of dozens that have sprung up to house those who have fled their homes.

“We lived like brothers and sisters for many years,” Jamal said. “We never fought like this. We even married together and owned properties together.”

Local media say at least 150,000 Oromos have been expelled from the Somali Region and are now living in camps. The federal government has declined to give exact figures, pending an investigation, but admitted that “hundreds” have died.

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa said in a Sept. 19 statement it was “disturbed by the troubling reports of ethnic violence and the large-scale displacement of people living along the border between the Oromia and Somali regions.” It called for an investigation into which groups were behind the violence.

Ethiopia, while long a centralized state, is made up of at least 80 different ethnic groups. Under an emperor and later a communist regime, it presented itself as a unified Amharic-speaking nation, with little attention paid to different ethnic groups with their own languages and histories.

In an attempt to recognize the aspirations of the country’s main ethnic groups, the rebel movement of Tigrayan ethnicity that overthrew the communist regime in 1991 reorganized Ethiopia into a federal state made up of nine ethnically defined regions with a degree of autonomy.

Two of those regions now appear to be at war with each other. The nearly 1,000-mile border between the mainly agricultural Oromia Region and the more arid Somali Region has historically been the scene of minor conflicts over resources. But those tensions have exploded since September with allegations that regional security forces are involved, especially the Somali Region’s paramilitary “Liyu” (special) police.

Jamal, who had lived among the Somalis for 15 years, said the attacks took him by surprise. “There was hate, but it was hidden. They didn’t show it for many years because they were afraid of the federal government,” he said.

“Only Oromos are being targeted,” said Jaafar Mohammed, who spent 20 of his 25 years among the Somalis. “There are many other ethnic groups there — Somalis, Gurages, Amharas and others. But they targeted Oromos. It’s a puzzle for us.”

Mohammed said gangs attacked the Oromos and that he personally saw at least 20 people killed. He said he was hidden by a fellow Oromo at a local bank until he was able to sneak away to a camp close to a military base. He and other fleeing Oromos stayed there for a few days before trucks came to take them away. Even then, people hurled objects and insults at the trucks, and the Somali regional police stole the Oromos’ cellphones, people in the camp said.

“I would never return to the Somali region,” said Abdel Jabbar Ahmed, who fled with his family. “I am filled with tears when I try to recall what happened there. . . . A lot of people are hiding right now.”

Clashes and unrest were reported as far back as March and stem from dissatisfaction over a 2004 referendum that set the border. Over the past few months, a number of meetings brokered by the government were held with officials from both regions to resolve differences. The strife is often linked to the competition for resources and arable land, especially with much of the Somali Region in the grip of a severe drought.

[Climate change threatens ancient way of life in Ethiopia]

On Sept. 11, violence flared again after two Oromo officials arrested by Somali regional police turned up dead. In the ensuing Oromo protests, a number of Somalis were killed, sparking the widespread eviction of Oromos from Somali lands in retaliation.

Government spokesman Negeri Lencho said that those behind the violence would be prosecuted and that federal forces have been dispatched to restore peace.

“Psychologically, residents living around the borders are uncertain,” he said in a Sept. 25 news conference. “Some of them are frustrated about the security situation, although the government is doing its level best. . . . We can bring about a sustainable peace.”

While the regional governments have pledged to return people to their homes, the displaced in Adama said they were being encouraged to find relatives to live with in the Oromia Region.

For now, they are housed in an unused office complex near the municipal headquarters on the edge of the city, where they sleep in bare rooms on thin foam mattresses surrounded by their belongings. At least half the camp’s several dozen denizens are children. In other camps for the displaced around the country, thousands are being sheltered in converted warehouses.

Most of the displaced here arrived on trucks after a harrowing journey from the town of Tog Wajale in the Somali Region, near the border with Somalia, where they said neighbors they had known for years suddenly turned on them. Police went house to house and ordered all ethnic Oromos to leave as retaliation for the deaths of Somalis in the Oromia Region.

Amid the hostilities, the rival ethnic groups have accused each other of links to terrorism.

The central government’s perceived passivity in the face of the Oromos’ suffering has alienated the community’s politicians, said Fekadu Adugna, an expert on ethnicity and identity at Addis Ababa University. The whole region is just recovering from a year and a half of anti-government protests in which 1,000 people were killed by security forces.

A recently lifted 10-month state of emergency restored calm to the Oromia Region. But new demonstrations have broken out in the wake of the border clashes. On Oct. 11, security forces killed six protesters and wounded dozens.

“What the conflict is doing is increasing the mistrust between the political parties” from the different ethnic regions that make up the ruling coalition, Adugna said. “That mistrust can be a serious threat for the federal arrangement.”

On Sunday, Parliament Speaker Abadula Gammada — a former president of the Oromia Region and defense minister who once was one of the government’s most prominent Oromo allies — announced his resignation, saying his people and party have been “disrespected.”

In the Somali Region, Abdi Mohammad Omar, the regional president, is a staunch ally of the central government. And his Liyu police — aside from often being cited for human rights violations — have been effective in stamping out a rebel movement in the region.

Jan Abbink, an expert on Ethiopia at Leiden University in the Netherlands, warned that ethnicity-based policies tend to politicize communities and turn land disputes into ethnic conflicts. Whatever positive aspects the ethnic model offered when it was devised in 1992, he said, “I’m afraid . . . it is now not cooling tensions but it is fueling them.”

Many Ethiopians increasingly fear that these conflicts show the federal government is unable to control regional rivalries in this diverse country.

“No healthy country allows a mass displacement of this magnitude in the presence of a capable government,” said Assefa Fiseha, an expert on Ethiopian politics at Addis Ababa University. “What we have is rivalry among ethno-nationalist leaders who think the center is weaker than ever.”
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The United Nations faced criticism Friday after naming Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe a "goodwill ambassador" to promote health causes, despite the country's dire health crisis under his rule.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) asked Mugabe to serve in the role to help tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart attacks, strokes and asthma across Africa.

Mugabe, 93, was in Uruguay for the announcement by WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said he was "honoured to announce that President Mugabe has agreed to serve as a goodwill ambassador on NCDs for Africa."

Tedros hailed Zimbabwe as "a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide health care to all."

Zimbabwe's healthcare system, like many of its public services, has collapsed under Mugabe's authoritarian regime, with most hospitals out of stock of essential medicines and supplies, and nurses and doctors regularly left unpaid.

The appointment angered international rights campaigners and opposition parties, who also accuse Mugabe of violent repression, election rigging and presiding over the country's economic ruin.

"Given Mugabe's appalling human rights record, calling him a Goodwill Ambassador for anything embarrasses WHO and Doctor Tedros," Iain Levine, programme director at Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter.

The main MDC opposition party in Zimbabwe described the appointment as "laughable".

"The Zimbabwe health delivery system is in a shambolic state, it is an insult," MDC spokesman Obert Gutu told AFP.

"Mugabe trashed our health delivery system. He and his family go outside of the country for treatment in Singapore after he allowed our public hospitals to collapse."

Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, is in increasingly fragile health and makes regular trips abroad for medical treatment.

The state-run Herald newspaper reported the appointment under the headline "New feather in President's cap".

It reported that Mugabe told the WHO conference in Montevideo on Wednesday that Zimbabwe had developed a national policy on NCDs and that he had called for more funds for developing nations.

According to WHO, non-communicable diseases are by far the leading cause of death in the world, killing more than 36 million people each year.

UN agencies such as WHO, UNHCR and UNESCO all appoint goodwill ambassadors to highlight specific causes and often draw publicity.

UNICEF ambassadors currently include singer Katy Perry and tennis player Serena Williams.

Latest News in Ethiopia (Oct. 20)

Ethiopia: Four killed in anti-govt protests


Security forces killed four people as anti-government protests continue in Ethiopia demanding the removal the regime.

Regime security forces shot and killed two people in Gundo Maskal town of North Shewa while two others were killed in Bedelle town of Illubabor. Eight others were seriously injured.

In Limu Genet, Jimma, protesters took control of vast coffee plantation that was taken from the local farmers by the oligarchy.

Protests have also resumed today in towns across the country.

Written by Tariku Tezera,

I understand the logic behind Ethnicization of EBC and creation of TigrayTV, OromiaTV, AmharaTV, SomaliTV, etc. However, I think this is costing EPRDF badly. I think their importance is less compared to the associated risk they pose to the strength of Ethiopia. They can easily disseminate 'false' information (like what is happening now in Oromia and Somalia Killils, probably Amhar too, and what happened last year in Amhara etc.). This is similar to the problem of "Ethnicization of Ethiopian Universities" that I worte to you guys a few months ago (please refer to my email using and titled "ANDM is following TPLF footsteps in Ethnicization of Ethiopian Universities").

I think weaker Killil and stronger Federal (central) government is the solution; not a strong Killil or and weaker central government. The recent "special interest" bill of Addis, or changing the name of Addis to Finfine, will agravate things rather than solving them.

And changing the Oromigna alphabet to Latin Qubee was also a great mistake; and I think should be corrected (but with time). (if you are interested, you may go to your email archives and read more on that issue, for eg. "forwarded message on ኦሮምኛ በግእዝ ፊደላት").

Also, I want to mentioned that, putting unnecessary emblem in the Green-Yellow-Red flag was a great mistake (and should be corrected). I discussed with many elders Tigrians on this issue few years back, and they are Not Happy with that, not because they are against Biher-Bihereseboch it is mainly because they think it is against their religion (Note that the unnecessary emblem = believing in Biher-Bihereseboch narrative is a propaganda of EPRDF not a "general truth", and it could easily corrected if EPRDF is willing to correct it). Think about forcing a proud Orthodox Church leader to put a flag with a star (not a Cross emblem), that is very weired in fact, that is why the people of Mekelle and Adigrat decided to build a big Cross in Choma and Adigrat; I think this was to show their disagreement with TPLF's Ethiopian Flag (probably) and to show to all Ethiopians that they like Cross, I could be wrong on this but I think it makes a lot of sense for many Tigrian Orthodox Christian followers where they like to put the Cross in prominent places including their forehead. In general, I do not know anyone who is mature in age and history and who liked the current unnecessary emblem in the Green-Yellow-Red flag Ethiopian flag.

Also, I would like to mention that many Orthodox Christians in Tigray are not happy to see their church leaders separated for more than 25 years; I think EPRDF should encourage elder peoples (such as Former President Girma Woldegiorgis and others) to reconcile the Ethiopian Orthodox Church leaders. It is costing Ethiopia too much !!! Not only politically, but also culturally, socially, economically, etc. This is isolating a lot of Tigrians from their Ethiopian brothers and sisters. It is hindering many Tigrians (outside Ethiopia) form building friendship, have a positive social life and build family with their Ethiopian brothers and sisters. I think Orthodox church leaders (both in Ethiopia and outside) should compromise and reach to an agreement for the sake of their followers (Mi'emenan), if they really care about their Mi'emenan.

I believe this current situation is a good opportunity for EPRDF to correct many of its mistakes, and attract many constructive opposition but with clear and acceptable ideologies, such as Medrek, ex-TPLF leadership, many knowledgeable Ethiopians such as Dr. Yakob (the author on "Asseb Yeman Nat?"), etc.

By Egypt Independent,

The water ministers from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia agreed Thursday to hold a new round of negotiations at the ministerial level to discuss their main points of disagreement on the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The three countries’ water ministers approved the draft guiding principles during the meeting of the National Committee. These principles will guide the two advisory institutions that are conducting studies on the effects of the dam, the Ethiopian news agency ENA said.

ENA quoted Egypt’s Minister of Irrigation, Mohamed Abdel Aaty, as saying that the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will visit Egypt within weeks and will sign with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi comprehensive cooperation agreements.

The visit of the Egyptian and Sudanese ministers to the Renaissance Dam on Wednesday is a historic step that opens up more opportunities for dialogue, transparency and exchange of information, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Electricity of Ethiopia, Seleshi Bekele, said.

He stressed his country’s full commitment to transparency, to exchange relevant information, not to cause significant harm to Egypt and Sudan, and to maintain cooperation in accordance with the Declaration of Principles, particularly with regard to the first filling of the dam with water and its operation, ENA added.
“We have drafted the guideline on the pending issues basically on how to forward the implementation of the consultants,” ENA quoted Bekele as saying on Wednesday.

Written by Alemayehu G. Mariam,

On October 18, 2017, the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia issued the following statement:

United States sees peaceful demonstrations as a legitimate means of expression and political participation. We note with appreciation a number of recent events during which demonstrators expressed themselves peacefully, and during which security forces exercised restraint in allowing them to do so.

We are saddened by reports that several recent protests ended in violence and deaths. All such reports merit transparent investigation that allows those responsible for violence to be held accountable.

We encourage all Ethiopians to continue to express their views peacefully, and encourage Ethiopian authorities to permit peaceful expression of views. More generally, we encourage constructive, peaceful, and inclusive national discourse on matters of importance to Ethiopian citizens. (Emphasis added.)

I was stunned when I read that statement. I could not believe it. I thought I had misread it. I read it a few times over just to make sure.
It dawned on me that the U.S. was, for the first time in decades, standing on the right side of history with Ethiopians, particularly young Ethiopians, who “expressed themselves peacefully”.

My mind was reeling. Could it be a hoax? What is going on?!

Is the U.S., after the Obama, Bush and Clinton years of diplocrisy (diplomatic hypocrisy) , finally standing on the right side of history in Africa by standing with peaceful Ethiopian protesters demanding respect for their human rights?

I asked myself indignantly, “Why isn’t this story making headlines throughout the world?”

Don’t people realize what this means not only for Ethiopia but also all of Africa? This is earth shaking, unprecedented, unheard-of.
I never thought in my wildest dreams that the U.S. would stand up for American values in Africa.

After 8 years of Obama’s bombastic “right side of history” rhetoric, I had lost all hope.

Truth be told, I thought the Trump administration would be the last to stand up, speak up and put their aid money where their mouth is in the cause of human rights in Ethiopia. I could not have been more wrong. What more could I say!?

When the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia issued its statement on peaceful protest in Ethiopia, it stood for the greatest and bedrock of all American values eternally secured in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech… or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The Trump administration chose to make a stand for American values in Ethiopia by insisting in clear and unambiguous language that the T-TPLF regime must respect the right of peaceable assembly of the Ethiopian people guaranteed under the country’s constitution and international human rights conventions.

Having taught college courses on the First Amendment and American civil liberties for 30 years and practiced constitutional law (and celebrated the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta with my students in 2015, arguably at the only institution in America to do so) in the state and federal courts of the land for 25 years, the statement issued by the U.S. Embassy brought tears to my eyes.

I suspect for most Ethiopians and others who have not had the great honor and privilege of fighting for American civil liberties, the Embassy statement of solidarity with peacefully protesting Ethiopians probably means nothing. There may even be some cynical enough to dismiss it as another political ploy.

What the U.S. Embassy did in Ethiopia by issuing that statement is momentous, historic, epochal, pivotal!

I am joyous to see America stand up for its values where it counts, among the oppressed peoples of the world, and not sell its values for pretended counterterrorism partnerships.

In the end, America is great not because of its economic and military might but singularly because of its ideals of liberty enshrined in the Bill of Rights. True, realization of those ideals has been a hard work in progress for the past 226 years, and shall continue so long as We the People are willing to pay the price of eternal vigilance for our liberties.

I must confess that I have had some unfriendly exchanges with the U.S. Embassy during the Obama and previous administrations.

In 1997, I successfully petitioned to the U.S. Attorney General’s office and the Office of the Inspector General of the State Department to investigate certain questionable practices at the consular office in the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia.

I have carefully studied and analyzed the Wikileaks cablegrams from the Embassy and learned much from them.

I have been somewhat critical of Ambassador Donald Yamamoto (2006-09) for not pressuring more intensely the ruling regime in Ethiopia to respect human rights. But he was constrained by the State Department officialdom in what he could do.

In 2009, Yamamoto wrote, “If we are to move them [ruling regime], though, we need to deliver an explicit and direct (yet private) message that does not glad-hand them. We must convey forcefully that we are not convinced by their rhetoric, but rather that we see their actions for what they are… We should [assure them]… that we are not trying to promote regime change, and that we are delivering a similarly explicit message of the need for change to opposition groups.” Yamamoto understood that so long as the T-TPLF regime remained in power, there will always be a famine not only of food but also of democracy, human rights, rule of law, accountability, transparency and vision. Ambassador Yamamoto wanted to do the right thing, but his superiors would not allow him.

I was also somewhat critical of Ambassador Donald Booth, Yamamoto’s successor, for his apparent cozy relationship with the ruling regime in Ethiopia.

I am most impressed by the Statement of the current U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Michael Raynor, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July 2017. In his Statement Raynor noted:

However, starting in November 2015, Ethiopia began experiencing widespread unrest, resulting in the imposition of a state of emergency that has included arbitrary detention, excessive use of force, and restrictions on civil and political freedoms. The unrest stems from complex factors including land tenure, ethnic tensions, and joblessness, but is rooted in popular desires for greater political freedom and civil liberties. If confirmed, I will advocate for full respect of the rights guaranteed under Ethiopia’s constitution, as well as for reforms that strengthen democratic institutions. Such steps will not only support Ethiopian’s own aspirations for stability and development, as well as its efforts against violent extremism in the region, but they will also strengthen the foundation for the U.S.–Ethiopia partnership in areas of vital interest to both nations. (Emphasis added.)

I want to publicly recognize and commend Ambassador Raynor for living up to his promise of “advocating” for “full respect of the rights guaranteed under Ethiopia’s constitution, as well as for reforms that strengthen democratic institutions.” Less than two months into the job, Ambassador Raynor did exactly what he pledged to do before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I like a man of his word. Is is said action speaks louder than words, but Ambassador Raynor’s words are action. There is a saying that “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” How about an American ambassador who is an honest gentleman sent abroad for the good of his country and stands up for American Values First?!

In May 2015, Secretary Tillerson said the U.S. will make human rights a center piece of America First foreign policy. He told State Department employees:

Guiding all of our foreign policy actions are our fundamental values: our values around freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated. These are our values… not our policies… Policies change… our values never change.

In August Secretary Tillerson notified Egypt that the U.S. will withhold $95.7 million in military and economic aid, and would only release $195 million in additional military aid after it makes progress in its human rights record.

In August, I wrote a commentary asking, “The Dawn of a New Era in U.S. Human Rights Policy in Africa: Is Ethiopia Next?”

Now, I have my answer. Thank you very much!

While we are talking about American values, Senator Obama in his book, the “Audacity of Hope wrote:

We hang on to our values, even if they seem at times tarnished and worn; even if, as a nation and in our own lives, we have betrayed them more often that we care to remember. What else is there to guide us? Those values are our inheritance, what makes us who we are as a people. … If we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren’t willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all.

In July 2009, Obama went to Accra, Ghana and lectured, Africans,

Make no mistake: history is on the side of these brave Africans, and not with those who use coups or change Constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions… History offers a clear verdict: governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable, and more successful than governments that do not.

In August 2014, Obama was not “hanging on to American values”, he was hanging out and fist bumping with the African “strongmen” who used coups, stolen elections and subverted their constitutions to cling to power, including Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe (Ethiopia), Paul Biya (Cameroon), Blaise Compaoré (Burkina Faso), Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (Equatorial Guniea), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Joseph Kabila Kabange (DR Congo), Idris Deby (Chad), King Mswati III (Swaziland), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Denis Sassou-Nguesso (Rep. of Congo) and many others.

To add insult to injury, in 2015, Obama went to Ethiopia and said the ruling regime that claimed 100 percent control of the “parliament” was “democratically elected”.

So much for Barack Obama’s American values!

Ambassador Raynor has considerable foreign service experience. Since 2010, he has served as the Assistant Chief of Mission in Afghanistan, Ambassador to Benin and as Executive Director in the State Department Bureau of African Affairs.

As I have argued on numerous occasions, there is a time to criticize and a time to give credit. This is the time to give Secretary Rex Tillerson, Ambassador Michael Raynor and the Trump Administration full credit for standing up with the oppressed people of Ethiopia.

Thank you Ambassador Michael Raynor and Secretary Rex Tillerson! History will remember you once stood and walked with the oppressed people of Ethiopia, on the right side of history.

P.S. I cannot get over the irony that Barack Obama should talk about the right side of history for eight years and Donald Trump walk the talk of the right side of history in eight months!

By James Jeffrey,

Ethiopia can’t seem to escape the blight of drought, no matter how hard it tries. Despite impressive economic growth and decades of capacity building, it faces another humanitarian crisis as one of the worst droughts in living memory scorches the Horn of Africa.

At the beginning of the year, 5.6 million Ethiopians were in need of food aid, primarily in the south and southeast of the country. That number recently jumped to 8.5 million.

An additional headache is that this year’s response by the government and international partners is proving less decisive than last year’s effort. In 2016, more than 10 million people were reached, food aid poured in, and the government spent hundreds of millions of its own money averting a major humanitarian catastrophe.

Why are the numbers in need increasing?

The January estimate of 5.6 million came from the government’s Humanitarian Requirements Document, an annual assessment in collaboration with international partners detailing Ethiopia’s humanitarian needs. The revised figure followed spring rains in April that petered out too soon, taking any hopes of revival with them.

“The situation is unprecedented,” said Sam Wood, Save the Children’s humanitarian director in Ethiopia. “That was the third failed rainy season in a row, so it’s a cumulative effect of failed rains hitting vulnerable communities.

“Ethiopia has made lots of progress, but when you have a problem of this sort of scale, duration and scope, any system is going to be overwhelmed.”

Adding to concerns is the chance the Hagaya/Deyr short rains (October to December), accounting for up to 35 percent of annual rainfall in the southeast, could prove a dud too due to the continuing El Niño effect.

The current humanitarian bill is $1.26 billion. So far only $334 million has been received.

Why the cash shortfall?

At the beginning of the year, the UN warned that 20 million people were at risk of starvation in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and northeast Nigeria.

“Aid budgets from donor countries have already committed most of their funding responding to other conflicts or disasters for this year, and this resulted in less funding for drought-affected people in Ethiopia,” said Geno Teofilo with the Norwegian Refugee Council.

“There is also donor fatigue regarding droughts in East Africa,” he added.

Others note how droughts don’t seize the public imagination to the same extent as disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, meaning there’s less motivation to delve into one’s pockets.

This year, the Ethiopian government has committed $147 million compared to last year’s unprecedented $700 million.

“The government has many development demands,” Mitiku Kassa, Ethiopia’s state minister of agriculture and commissioner for its National Disaster Risk Management Commission, told IRIN.

“If we divert too many funds to humanitarian needs, it will be difficult to continue growth, so we have to request support from the international community.’’

What are the consequences on the ground?

Pastoralists in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, bearing the brunt of this drought, have lost hundreds of thousands of sheep, goats, and camels. Often whole flocks have died, representing a family’s entire livelihood, leaving people no choice but to retreat to makeshift settlements, surviving on aid from the government and international agencies.

A survey conducted by the International Organization for Migration between May and June 2017 identified 264 of these sites containing around 577,711 internally displaced persons, or IDPs.

Overwhelmed by numbers and additionally challenged by diminishing funds, aid agencies began cutting food rations and faced running out of money entirely this July, until last minute donations from Britain, the EU, and the United States guaranteed food shipments through to the end of the year.

At the same time, the World Food Programme was able to increase its humanitarian support from 1.7 million people to 3.3 million in the Somali region.

For now, deaths on a large scale have been limited to animals, though infant malnutrition rates are increasing to dangerous levels, accompanied by reports of cholera outbreaks.

How is the Ethiopian government handling the situation?

The government has faced accusations it played down the severity of the crisis to keep the country from looking bad internationally. It was too conscious, critics say, of protecting the narrative of Ethiopia’s remarkable economic renaissance over the last decade – one that has enticed foreign investors.

“Since 2015, we have been working with international aid agencies, making assessments together and disclosing the numbers of beneficiaries,” Kassa, the agriculture minister, hit back. “So, nothing can be hidden. The government has recognised how serious the situation is.”

Some aid workers in the Somali Region, however, have spoken about animosity between the federal government in Addis Ababa and the semi-autonomous regional government, resulting in a disconnect that has increased the risks faced by the vulnerable.

But even if national and regional governments were in perfect harmony, the logistical challenges would remain huge. The Somali Region is hot and arid, with few good roads and infrastructure, and has a significant nomadic population. That makes it harder for local and international aid agencies to conduct accurate assessments to ensure effective action.

What else is having an impact on the response?

Earlier this year, inter-community conflict broke out between ethnic Somali and Oromo in the Somali Region, resulting in dozens of deaths and more than 50,000 people displaced. It became unsafe for smaller aid agencies to move around.

On top of all this, Ethiopia hosts more than 838,000 refugees from Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea and other crisis-ridden countries.

Meanwhile, although the Ethiopian government felt confident enough to end a state of emergency earlier this year, following more than a year of political protests and bloodshed, discontent hasn’t disappeared. Grievances over land reallocation and ethnic federalism ­– both factors during recent clashes in the Somali Region – as well as government corruption, the lack of jobs, freedom of expression, and political transparency, all heave beneath the surface.

While both the United States and Britain – two of the biggest donors – have continued supporting Ethiopia’s humanitarian needs so far, both their governments face continuing pressure to reduce overseas aid. US President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint promises to slash American contributions to international aid institutions, including the WFP.

Is climate change the real bogeyman?

Pastoralists in their seventies and eighties who have lived with frequent droughts say this one is the worst in their lifetimes – and they aren’t the only ones to notice.

“While working in Central America, East Africa, and the Middle East, I’ve always talked to elder people, especially those in agriculture, and the message from them is consistent,” Wood said. “Weather patterns are becoming less predictable and when rain comes it is too much or too little.”
When natural disasters strike, the situation of vulnerable populations can quickly deteriorate into a food and nutrition crisis.

What needs to be done?

The people leading the main aid organisations say the public must be kept aware of the drought, to try to keep money rolling in.

“A humanitarian need is a humanitarian need even if it is not as dramatic as other disasters,” said Wood. “If we don’t scale up and sustain the response, then everything that came before comes to naught.”

Yet even if resources can be found to cover this drought and its fallout, building capacity and livelihood security for the future is another matter entirely.

It can take pastoralists who have lost more than 40 percent of their animals more than seven years to rebuild flocks. As a result, international agencies and the government face having to restock flocks or provide pastoralists with new livelihoods – further stretching budgets.

Due to the increasing frequency of droughts, both the Ethiopian government and UN agencies are increasingly focusing on investing in strengthening people’s resilience.

In Ethiopia’s northern drought-prone Tigray Region, irrigation schemes, fruit nurseries, and health centres are boosting productivity, increasing incomes and improving nutrition so that rural people can better withstand natural disasters.

“The government’s goal is to create climate resilience within the context of sustainable development,” said Kassa. “Then, one day, we will be able to deal with drought without any appeals.”

Written by Obang Metho,

What will we leave to the next generation—a gift or a curse? This question is critically important; however, it is equally important to know whether or not our—or someone else’s—individual or collective efforts, will produce the desired outcome.

These are key questions to ask ourselves today as we face the many warning signs that signal the growing instability in Ethiopia. Change appears to be inevitable, but what kind of change do we want and how can we get there? How can we avoid the mistakes of the past where mass efforts and sacrifice were hijacked by a minority at the top, greedy for power and profit?

The popular discontent leading to the overthrow of Haile Selassie did not lead to better lives for the vast majority of the people under the Derg government of Mengistu Hailemariam. Neither did the same unity of discontent under the Derg lead to improved lives for most Ethiopians under the TPLF/EPRDF. In fact, some might agree that the situation became successively worse with each replacement, with the dreams for the future, becoming a casualty along the way and a curse to the next generation. This is what we have inherited.

This was not the intention of many of those brilliant Ethiopian who gave their lives for efforts to bring greater freedom and rights to Ethiopia. One example of this were members of the student movement, in the early seventies, who resisted the Monarchy, hoping for something better. Most of those involved were the children of the elite who had had an opportunity to be educated; however, they wanted something better for others, including the peasants. One of their slogans was: “Land to the tillers,” because the land of the peasants had been taken away and they saw it as wrong.

They never thought it would end like it did; nor did they foresee the deep ethnic divisions we have today. Back then, ethnicity was not as much of a divisive factor as it is now. In fact, the student movement was made up of people of different ethnicities and religions; women were in positions of leadership; and together, they stood as one Ethiopian people for one united Ethiopia. Some of those involved have not given up their vision for a better, more just Ethiopia. They want to be part of that change they hoped for years ago; yet, we all are more aware of how easily our dreams can slip away. We must take precautions on this journey of today so it does not happen again. We thank all those from the past who tried, many of whom lost their lives, as well as those who continue the struggle. We need each other.

Today, we hear the call for unity from every direction; but, even unity, if it is blind unity, can take us in the wrong direction. Then we will end up in the same place as before. To avoid that, let us start by first asking:

“What Kind of Unity Do We NOT Want?”

Do we want unity without truth?

Do we want unity without principle or moral integrity?

Do we want unity that advances someone’s or some group’s personal ambition for power, material gain or control that undermines the future well being of others?

Do we want fake unity without commitment to the common good of all, when it can be used to hijack the outcome to serve the self-interest of a few?

Unity will require some compromises, but unity that compromises truth, moral integrity, or depends only on one leader, rather than the structural integration of principles into all aspects of change, will ultimately fail.

With this in mind, as we witness the rising tensions against the TPLF/EPRDF, we should be prepared should their control end quickly. We can see the increased fragility of the coalition government of the EPRDF, especially as the TPLF fumbles in its attempt to maintain its hegemony in the face of increasing protests and signs of resistance from people like Bereket Simon and Abadula Gemeda, the Speaker of the House of Parliament. If the EPRDF implodes, the current system of the TPLF will be challenged at its roots. If it falls, what will replace it? The future is unpredictable and all of us know it. Let us look at some foundational challenges so we may consider, discuss and debate how we might better flourish in the future as one nation rather than self-destruct as people divided by ethnicity, religion and other differences.

Worldview Under Pressure

How can we break the cycle of “bad endings” to our effort to bring change to Ethiopia?

Positive change will only come from a positive change of worldview— to something better, healthier, or more timely than we now have, if we are to build a better future.

Our view of the world may now be shaped by:

Tribal affiliations and loyalties
Fear and past trauma
Cycles of violence and revenge
Reaction-driven decisions
Self-seeking and opportunism—whether individual or collective
Years of oppression and injustice
Unresolved grievances
Pent-up anger
False assumptions and lies about the “other”

Each of these, singularly or cumulatively, result in a lack of trust towards the majority of others, making it extremely difficult to form a common vision and to work together in carrying it out.

How Can Ethiopia Transition from Dictatorship to Democracy?

One of the greatest challenges before Ethiopians is how to transition from the ethnic-based, authoritarian model of the TPLF/EPRDF, where favoritism and cronyism is entrenched in all institutions of government and civil society, to a model that ensures rights, dignity and opportunity to all the people of Ethiopia.

Examine yourself. Is this what you really want? Do we really want all others to enjoy freedom, justice, opportunity and well being as we enjoy them ourselves?

Do we genuinely want a new model based on representative democracy that is decentralized and where humanity comes before ethnicity or any other differences?

If so, or if others have ideas to present, how do we follow a process that will encourage the development of an agreed upon “ending plan” through a shared effort?

Inclusive values and principles should undergird the effort; however, unless the people of Ethiopia can agree on the principles, values and structures necessary to implement these key ingredients, there will be major obstacles to any effort to reform our nation.

Key Obstacle to Success: Lack of Trust

We must answer the following questions:

How can we move ahead to form a common vision without trust?

How can we develop relationship with others where trust can be built?

How can we do that by talking to each other instead of talking about each other?

When no or little trust exists, how can we build greater trust artificially by integrating it into the structure of the governance system? Because all of us can be self-centered and flawed; we must have a means to ensure compliance to just laws and practices.

How can we build safety measures into a transition plan, knowing some will want to hijack it? A shared effort to the wrong end plan, whether open or hidden, should not be pursued and confronted.

How can we create a strong transitional plan, including an impartial justice system, to undergird the move from the current tribal model of the TPLF/EPRDF to a free, just and decentralized nation based on representative democracy?

Another Obstacle: Lack of Truth

Truth has been a threat to the TPLF from the beginning. The foundation of the TPLF vision was to liberate themselves from Ethiopia, but when they succeeded, also with the help of others, they reclaimed the country and its resources for their own advancement. Now angry, revenge-filled and unhealed victims; they identified with their former oppressors and became the next perpetrators and opportunists, using the justification that it was now “their turn to rule, eat and rob.” However, because they still knew it was wrong, it had to be hidden.

As a result, a “fake” front for the TPLF— the EPRDF Party— was necessary so as to appear as the legitimate democratic replacement to the Derg. Unfortunately, this opportunity to be “better” than the previous system was exploited to advance the TPLF and its cronies. This included inciting division along the lines of ethnicity, religion, political viewpoint, boundary lines and whatever worked to perpetuate their rule.

Ironically, the ideology (worldview) they fought against so as to liberate themselves, they later adopted as their own, causing a growing backlash today. Because it is wrong and they know it; truth becomes the enemy. The truth can also convict one’s conscience and as we know human nature; it is hard to face it. Thus the worse one feels, the more some will try to suppress the truth. Yet, what will liberate them and us from the predicament of today is the truth.

If the TPLF/EPRDF were willing to face it, with forgiveness, the TPLF/EPRDF could become part of our mutual recovery, the reconciliation of our people and the restoration of our land. It would take moral courage, but it could be powerful and without precedent! No one expects them to do it; but who knows, people can be healed and changed!

What Kind of Worldview Helps Us Become Our Neighbors’ Keeper— Neighbors Both Near and Far?

We must discard the lies, negative ideas and self-serving individual or collective agendas that many of us carry— either knowingly or unknowingly—that block us from achieving a better Ethiopia. This includes such things as acknowledging the humanity, value and rights of people from other ethnic groups and backgrounds.

Moral and God-fearing people need fewer laws and less enforcement. Religious leaders, elders, communities and families, all have an important role to play in advancing the moral and spiritual beliefs and actions of the present and future generations. Do they conform to our beliefs or does our ethnic loyalties or greed hijack our beliefs? What comes first?

Yet, if some maintain a solitary struggle for freedom without regard to other groups, others should still pursue the common good and rights for all, including them. At the present time, many do not join others because there is so little trust that the ending benefits will be mutually shared. Fear, expectations of loyalty, penalties for non-traditional views and ambition can deter some from adopting an inclusive goal for all Ethiopians.

Common vision cannot be to simply end the TPLF/EPRDF without an end plan for the increased wellbeing of all. The end plan is critically important to the success of this effort. The common vision at the front end, will not be enough. The most critical question is: what must we do individually and collectively to achieve the best end goal for all Ethiopians?

What one believes, whether good or bad, right or wrong, true or false, will be determined by our worldview, values, beliefs and principles. All these will shape the outcome. We must be careful and should start by rebuilding ethics-based models for leadership within our government, institutions, civil society and social structures. This may require education and training. We also must think how we can resolve past grievances so we can move ahead, perhaps looking at models used in other countries.

Reconciliation Must Be Genuine to Work

Faith leaders and others can play a role in encouraging reconciliation and the restoration of justice; however, it must be genuine. The TPLF/EPRDF is increasingly talking about reconciliation. Wherever there is sincerity, we welcome this new direction, but our responsibility is to hold them, as well as ourselves and others, accountable for genuine corrective action where there is real repentance and forgiveness. The status quo is unsustainable.

Some of the meaningful actions that will prove it is real, not an effort to merely manipulate the public, will be to speak the truth, to cease human rights abuses, to release all political prisoners, to stop all torture, to restore justice to the courts, to rescind the CSO law and rewrite the anti-terrorism laws so as not to use it to target our finest voices of truth and freedom.

Truth is in short supply and a superficial effort to bring reconciliation that is simply meant to pacify the people without any meaningful reforms, will not suffice. It is fake; yet, if there is sincerity, let us start the dialogue! One example was done in Dallas last weekend, October 7-9, when more than 25 civic organizations came together and formed a consortium called: Tibebir. This is an excellent step forward and we applaud the effort.

For the Sake of Our Children

In summary, as we look at our opening question today, focused on what we will pass on to the next generation, a gift or a curse, we may discover something we hold in common—the Ethiopia we will pass on to our own children and grandchildren.

Humanize them, starting first with those in your own families. Name each of them. Ask yourself what life will be like them if we forget the effect our decision today will have on their future? It is an opportunity to do it right so they can have better lives.

As for me, Obang Metho and the SMNE leaders, we want to contribute to their future by choosing well today. Humanity before ethnicity is essential and the only way forward. It will mean greater opportunity, prosperity, rights and dignity for all of our children and grandchildren. If your children or your ethnic group are not free, sustainable peace will never come to any of them for no one is free until all are free. Let us care for each other for the sake of all our children.

May God give us guidance to avoid anything that will lead us to our mutual destruction.

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For more information, contact Mr. Obang Metho, Executive Director of the SMNE.


Latest News in Ethiopia (Oct. 19)