Could Ethnic Conflict Happen in Ethiopia?

Tigrayan supporters attending the 40th Anniversary of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)- Mekelle (Ethiopia), 18 February 2015

Could Ethnic Conflict Happen in Ethiopia?

By Tesfahnnes Beyne 


The phenomenon that ethnicity has now become fashion in many African countries is so dangerous that, some African countries are finding themselves in competition for power using the tools of ethnicity which often leads to ethnic based antagonism among their ethnic communities. What they should have done instead was to use natural law or the law of common sense and come to simple terms of living and coexisting among one another. The outcome of ethnic rule would often lead to competition for resources and violent conflicts. In the case of Rwanda, it was ruled by the Belgians from 1914 and in 1934 they produced identity cards classifying the Rwandans by their ethnic group. It was easy for the Belgians to divide and rule the country along ethnic lines. The main objectives of the colonizers is to create suspicion and misunderstanding between ethnic group.

RWANDA: From the start, the Belgians considered the Tutsis to be superior; more tall and beautiful than the other main ethnic group, the Hutus. The Tutsis at the time welcomed it accepting the colonizers divide and rule policy, unaware of what would be unleashed on them in the future. The Tutsis were then in power for about 20 years and enjoyed better jobs, education opportunities, than their Hutu neighbors. Then when the Belgians relinquished power in 1962, they gave power to the Hutus, because they were the majority. Then all of a sudden, hell erupted; for every bad thing that happened in Rwanda, the Hutus began to blame the Tutsis. They were waiting for an opportunity to attack their brothers and sisters, the Tutsis, for being privileged when the Belgians ruled the country. The Hutus blamed the Tutsis for any ills that concurred in Rwanda after the Belgians left, be it economic or natural. When ethnic violence started in Rwanda, the propaganda against the Tutsis was hyped via the mass media, radio stations were urging Hutus to rise against the Tutsis to slaughter them so that they can have their land, better jobs opportunities, their houses etc. This action against the Tutsis helped the Hutus hold on to power and their aim was to wipe out their brothers and sisters, the Tutsis.

The spark that led to Rwandan genocide occurred when the president of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarmana, a Hutu, died with when his plane was shot down over Kigali Airport in 1994. The Hutu'sgot the opportunity they were looking for, that they firmly believed their president was killed by the Tutsi's. So they started an all out genocide on the Tutsis,while UN troops who were present in the country did not bother to intervene. On the contrary the UN troops ran away leaving the Tutsi'sat the mercy of the blood thirsty Hutus, who killed or amputated Tutsis with machetes and anything else they could find. They massacred almost one million Tutsi's and then to add salt to the injury, the Hutus were alleging that the origin of the Tutsi's is in Ethiopia and when they committed heinous crime against the Tutsis, they threw their dead bodies into a river (which possibly goes through Ethiopia) and claimed the Tutsi'swere sent back to their country of origin, Ethiopia. It was one of the worst human tragedies of the century that happened in broad day light while world leaders watched the horror, in front of their television screens, without feeling any guilt. They were completely unmoved and their response was reprehensible and frankly indefensible but who can argue with the powerful and rich, after all the dead were black Africans not Europeans.

One would expect for once the African Union to intervene or do something to save the Tutsi's, but they didn't, after all African Union is an impotent organization that it will not act unless it is told by its masters. Therefore at its extreme, ethnic rule or ethnic radicalization can lead to an apocalyptic departure from humanity and turn humans into animals. The Secretary General of the UN at the time was Kofi Anna an African from Ghana and he was completely powerless and discredited. He was not able to do any thing to save African lives. Therefore his legacy is now tainted with the genocide in Rwandan and he will have to live the rest of his life with guilt for not saving African lives. He is not welcomed in Rwanda in the near future for the crime against humanity that happened to the Tutsis while he was the seating Secretary General of the so called UN therefore completely discredited for life.

IVORY COAST: In Ivory Coast, the election of December 2010 was followed by violence revolving around ethnicity, nationality, religion. The supporters of the incumbent president Larent Gbagbo and the opposition leader Alasane Ouattara both felt they won the election. But the electoral commission declared the opposition leader Outtara as a winner whose support came from the North, mainly Muslims. Gbagbo with his strong hold of the South mainly Christians had excluded Northern Muslims from power while he was president. He then rejected the result of the election by refusing to step down, alleging that the election was rigged. In the ensuing battle for supremacy to rule Ivory Coast, the International community supported Outtara. Gbagbo refused to cede power and was finally removed from power by force when the former French Colonial Power and UN troops stormed Gbagbos residence to arrest or kill him. Finally he was arrested and brought to justice. But the ethnic clash that resulted after the election caused the loss of lives, property, and displacement of people. Thus ethnic violence can easily erupt unless you bring all communities on equal status. If you start to exclude any one or any member of a community and then the consequence would definitely take ethnic lines and plunge any nation to catastrophic tragedy and that is what precisely happened in Ivory Coast.

KENYA: In Kenya similar ethnic violence erupted in the power struggle for power during the 2007/2008 election when 1,300 people were killed and almost half of a million people were displaced because people in Kenya expressed their concern about political dominance by one group over the others. Thus when the election date was announced each ethnic community was supporting their own ethnic leaders and rumors spread that the end result of the election was rigged in order to benefit one ethnic group against the other. In the following struggle for political supremacy and financial power they had to fight it out using ethnic violence as a means to justify their cause or sort out their rivalry. In the 2007 the incumbent President Kibaki (from the ethnic group Kikuyu) was declared the winner over his opposition rival Raila Odinga. Odingas supporters felt that the election was rigged and on violent rampage against the Kikuyus in several parts of the country.

The allegation that the election was rigged was widely confirmed by International observers. As a result of the election Uhuru Kenyatta (president as of 2013) and William Rutto (deputy president as of 2013) were indicted by the International Criminal Court for encouraging indirectly the ethnic violence, but the case against Uhuru Kenyatta and his officials was dropped for luck of evidence. For the victims, the verdict was a shock, they felt it was a cover up and expressed their outrage against the International Criminal Court for letting Kenyatta and his officials off the hook. It should be noted that over the years there has been rivalry between the two big ethnic groups in Kenya; the largest and dominant group, in Kenya are the Kikuyu and had been blamed by the second largest ethnic group the Kalanjis for having been enjoying more of the economic and political resources of the country than them. That they have been allocated some of the fertile lands originally belonging to the Kalanjis. The latter had a very strong feeling that their ethnic rivals have been taking advantage of them all these years and perhaps waiting for their turn to revenge at the appropriate time. In this situation, political dominance of one group over the other will always results in resentment and violence because those who are not getting their fair share of the cake would definitely feel marginalized. Taking the law into their hands, when election was announced, the two communities divided along tribal lines valuing ethnicity above anything else. They cling on to their ethnicity group for fear that they will be overwhelmed by other ethnic groups. The outcome was complete disaster and the perception has always been that if your tribe wins, there is the feeling that you can share resources with tribal members. At times politicians would use ethnicity to cover up their weaknesses and try to humiliate their opponents using ethnic violence instead of searching for an area of common interest that bring the country together as a unifying factor. The end result for Kenya was catastrophic, many were killed displaced and it may happen again unless a real remedy is found to bring the two ethnic groups to live in peace. This can only be achieved if ethnic leaders who are in power have the will and interest of their nation first. If they don't, the message is loud and clear, more Machete killings to come.

SOUTH SUDAN: In South Sudan, the same ethnic conflict is still raging like wild fire and the reason is simple instead of coexistence wit their communities in peace and harmony it is their leaders who are leading their nations into oblivion simply for hegemonic power rather than build up their nation. South Sudan became an independent country in July 2011. The main reason it became independent is that, the central government in Sudan left the South impoverished without adequate infrastructure, investment, hospitals, good roads, the South was ignored despite the fact that the central government was collecting billions of dollars from the rich South in oil revenues. The Southerners did not have any choice but to fight the central government to make themselves free from the rule of the Northerners. While that was one side of the story, the other side of the story was that politicians from West European countries and the United States had been meddling in the affairs of the Sudan for many years. Their mass media have been bombarding us with news that the Southern Christians have been killed and murdered by the Arab North; Evangelical Christians from America and extreme republicans like Senator John McCain from Arizona (republican presidential candidate in the 2008 election in United States) have been flaming the media with similar misinformation, in saying the government of Omar Al Bashir is evil and the message was clear we need to fight the Government of Sudan.

What was even funny about the politics of South Sudan was that even actors like George Clooney (who has now married a British Human Right Lawyer of Lebanese Origin named Amal) was involved in preaching for the overthrow of the government of Omar Al Bashir and for the South Sudan to break away from proper Sudan. I am sure all these actors and politicians would never argue for the right of Palestinians on a similar basis, because if they do so they would probably lose their job because the powerful Jewish Lobby in America and above all the United States of America would defend Israel for its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands as it done in the past by using its veto power more than 40 times to block the right of Palestinians to live side by side with the Jewish state. Finally the famous, the rich and above all the Veto wielding Security Council members especially the United States would use its influence to penalize or sanction poor countries like Sudan to give in to their demands or face more sanction. In the end Sudan gave in to the relentless pressure she came under for the referendum to take place and the South by overwhelming majority decided to become an independent country. One may ask why were Western politicians deeply involved in detaching South Sudan from the North, the answer was simple that the South is very rich in oil and it was awash with oil money which became a curse at the end of the day.

Therefore western companies, politicians, or National Security Adviser of the Obama Administration like Susan Rice have been drumming up support for the breakup of Sudan and they knew well they were going to benefit from the split without thinking for the well being of the people of South Sudan. Before they rushed to break it away they could have thought how the two ethnic groups can successfully mange their country to peace and prosperity. But they were simply interested in their short term interest of theirs and not the long term interest of South Sudan or the North. For instance what they could have done was create an atmosphere or institutions how the two rival ethnic groups can live together peacefully by creating institutions that reflect the interest of all ethnic groups to balance the power among the people. What happen was simple, the Western powers rushed to get the black gold preferring one ethnic leader to have more power than the other. What happen next was tragedy beyond belief, the euphoria that erupted when the nation was born quickly evaporated because of ethnic conflicts or tribal animosity. What is also quite strange was that the president of the new nation, the darling of the West Salvir Kirr, who looks like he is still in the bush wearing his Western Texan hat, perhaps donated to him by the Bush family from Texas.

Frankly his Texan hat doesn’t seem to reflect the interest of Africa. The president is ethnically Dinka, the largest ethnic group in South Sudan and his vice president Dr Riek Machar represent the second largest tribe called the Nuer. Machar initially cooperated with his president but fell out with Kirr because he alleged Kirr was not being transparent during his rule of the new country. What happen later was a power struggle, that left thousands of civilians killed, millions displaced internally and externally to neighboring countries. Therefore the power struggle that started off as a local problem, that could have been solved amicably among brothers and sisters, escalated into full scale ethnic war between the two biggest ethnic groups lead by Salvar Kirr Dinka and Riek Macher Nuer. From the presidents camp, they accused the vice president of undermining him and Salvar Kirr sacked Macher and full blown ethnic war erupted.

As the leaders battled for power supremacy, their country went up in smoke resulting in vicious ethnic conflict. The tribes were encouraged by their leaders to defend their tribe which lead to attacks on other tribes, the people have no choice except to listen to their ethnic leaders, rightly or wrongly. As a result the power struggle that started among the two leaders transformed into barbarous ethnic conflict and is still continuing. It is quite sad that the nation that started with hope and prosperity is now completely broken nation. The new nation has now become a laughing stock of the World when a simple local problem has turned out to be dire and South Sudan is now a failed state before she is even born. It is beyond belief that its promise has turned from hopefulness to despair and ethnic conflict will continue unless the two leaders find a minimum platform that brings the two communities together to govern their country.

ETHIOPIA: So one wonders, could the ethnic minority administration in Ethiopia fall into the same trap of ethnic violence that happened in Africa. Well we have to remember Ethiopia is another third world country and what happen ethnically in other African countries may happen in Ethiopia too but it will be less severe. Even if it happens, it would definitely not happen the way it has happened in in Kenya or Ivory Coast. Of course the ethnic minority government of Ethiopia introduced what is called Ethnic Federalization with the aim of reducing conflicts and equalize the different communities in Ethiopia. But many Ethiopians did not accept the concept of Ethnic Federalization fearing that it will just cause more damage and mistrust among the many ethnic groups living in Ethiopia. The view from many Ethiopians especially from the Oromos and the Amharas and other smaller ethnic communities is that minority ethnic administration would often lead into discord, division, jealousy, competition for resources, ethnic rivalry providing the minority government the upper hand to divide and rule Ethiopia on ethnic lines to suit its end game to stay in power using ethnic con trick to rule the majority.

Frankly the concept of Ethnic Federalism is very dangerous because once you introduce ethnic rule it may lead into unnecessary ethnicity driven agendas instead of looking widely to cater for all communities. Shared ideas and shared common goals vanish as as each ethnic group would ask refugee or shelter from their ethnic leaders instead of the common interest. Bribery corruption becomes rampant are there are no transparent institutions to bring different ethnic groups together, it is a recipe for complete ethnic disaster. At the end of the day Ethnicity policy will end in cul-de-sac with no exit strategy but creating resentment jealousy, hatred between the haves and the have nots. It is a very dangerous road for any country to rule on ethnic lines. As experts on ethnic violence have said successful political accommodation of diverse ethnic groups could be achieved by power sharing between the different ethnicities. Presently it does not look like it is happening in Ethiopia because the Amharas and the Oromos feel marginalized, which could mean it may lead to the radicalization of ethnic groups who can easily take the law into their hands turning ethnic rule on its head and demand their turn to do the same rather than nation building.

IN CONCLUSION: as we have seen from the above ethnic conflicts have taken place in some African countries for instance in Rwanda, Kenya, Ivory Cost, South Sudan, it has left devastating effect on the people of these countries. And for those who are affected by the vicious ethnic conflict, they have been displaced, killed in their thousands or were forced to move to neighboring countries. Yet the minority ethnic leaders of Ethiopia would like us to believe that their ethnic administration is correct for the multi-ethnic groups in Ethiopia but it will fail. Of course they have their election based on ethnic rule and they will definitely win by more than 90% of the electorate by hook or crook. But many opposition members are saying it is a sham election that the ethnic administration of Ethiopia is holding the fictitious election simply to prolong its stay in power, so that they can strengthen their rubber stamp National Assembly to strangulate any opposition or enemies they may face in the future. In fact many of the surrogate ethnic leaders who have been elected by the minority government have not even been elected legitimately by their own ethnic community except they were selected by the authorities to be a vehicle in promoting the minority governments desire to stay in power and rule over the majority. This happens because there are no independent institutions to keep checks and balances for the interest of everyone in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia may eventually face some kind of ethnic conflict like other African countries but not on a similar scale. However the marginalized and victimized will definitely rise one day to have their turn because, the victims of ethnic rule do not forget and forgive. They are simply waiting for an opportunity to occur and once it occurred they will take advantage like ferocious animals with rage and vengeance against the Tigreyans and their property from those who have become victims of the ethnic minority rule of Ethiopia where ever they may be.