Ethiopia at a crossroads: apartheid, civil war or reconciliation?



By Tariku Abas Etenesh

Ethiopia is seeing an increasing number of civilian protests, which are brutally suppressed by the government. It seems that the elite in power needs to heed the lessons taught by the Rwandan genocide: Do not play with ethnic hatred.

The year-long, nationwide and unceasing popular anti-government revolt in Ethiopia has brought the country’s ‘ethnolinguistic federalism’ experiment to a dead end. Despite the country’s constitution professing the equality of ‘all the peoples of Ethiopia’, for the past 25 years ‘equality’ has been a factor of who has the most firepower among the rebel groups that toppled the former military regime in 1991. As a result of the political atmosphere in the country, where the best armed takes all, all aspects of the federal government (i.e. intelligence, military, police, state banks, airlines and core sectors of the country’s economy) are now dominated by an elite from a Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that represents only 6% of the general population.

Divide and rule

For 25 years, the TPLF elite has guaranteed its grip on state power through the divide-and–rule tactic of festering ethnic animosity. The Amhara and the Oromo are their prime targets. Hate speech against the Amhara (the second–largest ethnic group in the country) was broadcast on state– and party–owned mass media outlets, denigrating millions of people by referring to them as ‘timkehetegna’, which means ‘the conceited’ The killing and jailing of the Oromo (the largest ethnic group in the country) has been normalised, thereby creating an entire generation of people who feel like second-class citizens in their own country.

Threatening the country they lead

Unlike the former military regime, which relied on force to crush any opposition but never compromised on the sovereignty of the nation, the current TPLF–led dictatorship is unprecedented in its threat to wreak havoc if its absolute power is contested. The late Meles Zenawi was often seen using this tactic of bullying the country whenever his party’s reckless corruption and unconstitutional dominance over the federal government was questioned.

One aspect of the mayhem that Meles designed and his colleagues now desire to unleash is that of instilling hatred among the people of Tigray and other ethnic groups by turning any criticism of them as leaders of the country into an attack on the Tigray people. This hate–mongering is evidence that the elite does not have the Ethiopian people at heart, only power. The Tigray people have not only been betrayed by the TPLF elite but they are also being manipulated as the party tries to hide its many failing. Tigray deserves peace and development as much as the other parts of Ethiopia, not to be taken hostage by the corrupt and power-hungry TPLF, which is terrorising them.

Cracks in the ‘divide and rule’ policy

For the first time in the 25 years of minority control of the federal government, the people of the two major ethnic groups, the Amhara and the Oromo, have come together to create a common front of the oppressed. This unexpected show of unity has sent a shockwave through the TPLF elite, who is frantic and has sent in the military, armed with tanks, helicopters and missiles, against civilians – as if people who are simply demanding their rights and equality were foreign invaders.

Country at a crossroads

The current popular opposition in the Oromia and Amhara regional states is a great opportunity for the government to re–examine its divisive policies, admit to its failings and design a reconciliatory road map that would save the nation from descending further into conflict. The elite, however, still chooses to use special killing squads, military force, burning prisons and killing prisoners in custody.

In addition, it is now spending taxpayers’ money and foreign aid on the launching of media campaigns to derail the unity of the Amhara and the Oromo people.

A silent coup

Following the first wave of uprising by the Oromo last year, the Ethiopian military, controlled by the TPLF, has made official its unequivocal allegiance to the ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ policy, which is the governing policy of the ruling party. This act of merging party and government into one practically re-mandated the defence force of Ethiopia into being a mere protector of the minority elite and, by implication, declared the country’s constitution obsolete.

This is a silent coup. This fact becomes evident when one considers the supposed industrialisation of Ethiopia, which is to be led by the military, under the Metals and Engineering Corporation (METEC). This is a corporation under the Ethiopian National Defence Force that is fully controlled by generals who were former TPLF rebel leaders. They were tasked by the late Meles Zenawi with the industrialisation of the country. This dangerous disregard for the constitution amounts to running a government inside a government and is pushing Ethiopia towards being an ethnic apartheid state. This can only lead to more violence.

Embracing real democracy

Just a few months ago, the government won 100% of the seats in parliament seats. Vote rigging is suspected. The whole country erupted in opposition, showing the real danger of authoritarianism.

Sending in an army, equipped with tanks and missiles, against civilians – as the government has done against the people of Amhara – for no reason other than the fact that they exercised their democratic rights, is not how democracy works. Such a display of power is the most cowardly and desperate exhibition of despotism.

The path of national reconciliation

Unfortunately, due to the divide-and–rule policy of the government over the past 25 years, Ethiopians have been targeted for their ethnicity: The Amhara, Oromo, Anuak, Somali, Tigray, Kembata, Konso and many other ethnic groups have been targeted at different times. This is a sad reality and testifies to the policy of hate–mongering that is practised by the elite.

The government of Ethiopia needs to stop encouraging further division and animosity. No Ethiopian should be targeted for his or her ethnicity. There is a lesson to be learned from the Rwandan genocide: Do not to play with ethnic hatred.

However, it is incumbent on the people of Ethiopia not to fall for the traps set by the elite who now, more than ever, seem determined to encourage ethnic conflict and hatred through their media propaganda. Our silence today will not save us sorrow tomorrow. We should say no to the machetes of hatred that the country’s leaders are selling in their media. We should say no to the use of our name to justify the killing of any Ethiopian.

The martyrdom of our time is saying no to hatred and ethnic conflict while calling for equality and justice for all.
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