Let this day remind all Ethiopians that it is time to reach out to others
To build bridges between all Ethiopians who are suffering.
December 13, 2015 (Vancouver, BC, Canada), It was a day of bloodshed, horror, and sorrow no one will forget. Twelve years ago, on December 13, 2003, Anuak in the Diaspora began to receive desperate calls from family members and friends from Gambella, Ethiopia. A massacre was being carried out in Gambella town and the victims were all Anuak.
TPLF/EPRDF defense troops with guns, accompanied by militia groups they had armed with machetes and pangas, went marching through Gambella town chanting, “Today is the day for killing Anuak.” They used a list, prepared in advance by the government, that included the names of leaders, pastors, students, and some of the most educated and influential Anuak; particularly those who had challenged the TPLF/EPRDF regime’s plans for oil exploration without consulting the people and considering the environmental impact on the land and rivers of the Upper Nile. The killing continued for nearly three days with a final death count of 424 Anuak who were slain.
Homes, crops, water wells, and storage bins were destroyed and schools and health clinics were ransacked and pillaged. Over 10,000 Anuak fled across the border to refugee camps in southern Sudan where a civil war was going on between the north and the south. Multiple human rights investigations that followed, found evidence of a calculated plan, called Operation Sunny Mountain, meant to “teach the Anuak a lesson,” which was said to have originated in the top offices of the TPLF in Addis Ababa.
This past week, some 50,000 people convened in Gambella town for the yearly Ethiopian All Nations and Nationalities festivities, celebrating the “unity in diversity” claimed to have been achieved by the same TPLF/EPRDF regime that perpetrated the atrocities twelve years ago. Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir, someone wanted by the ICC for killing over two million Southern Sudanese, was the featured speaker. Many from Gambella have relatives on the other side of the river in south Sudan who fought against him or who were victims of the civil war.
Gambella was the site for this festival this year for the first time. The festival has a different venue every year; however, it seems ironic, and more than upsetting to many of the Anuak, that the timing of the festival was changed this year. It is normally held in October, but was changed this year to December, ending only two days prior to the anniversary of the Anuak massacre.
Public observance of this date by the Anuak in Gambella has been “unofficially” prohibited by the regime who has engaged in a cover-up of the truth since it happened; however, many still privately grieve in remembrance of the loved ones who were lost.
With the All Nations and Nationalities festival this year, the TPLF/ERPDF forced Anuak to play a major role in the festivities. They were required to sing, dance and perform in their language while the TPLF/ERPDF applauded themselves as a model government founded on the value of promoting “unity in diversity.”
The Anuak were to celebrate with the same regime that killed their family members; they were to be on the frontlines of the TPLF/EPRDF propaganda campaign. They were supposed to be proof of the success of the TPLF/EPRDF’s model of ethnic federalism that has been used to perpetuate hegemony, ethnic-based apartheid and the robbery of Ethiopian land and resources.
They were singing and dancing side by side at last week’s festival with the other indigenous ethnic groups, including the Nuer, who the TPLF/EPRDF initially unjustly blamed for the Anuak massacre before later blaming Oromo soldiers who had not even been in the area at the time. Prior to the massacre, the TPLF/ERPDF had disarmed the Anuak and armed the Nuer in order to later use them as scapegoats for the killing, destruction and violence, but the Nuer refused to participate. Instead, many provided safe haven for the Anuak. The same TPLF/EPRDF that is pushing forward a false picture of themselves is well known within Gambella and all of Ethiopia for its incitement of ethnic division between ethnicities, small and large, in order to maintain a strong-armed grip on the people.
The timing of the festivities this year is seen as yet another regime attempt to conceal the TPLF/EPRDF’s own shameful role in this horrific slaughter of innocent people and the subsequent robbery of their land and resources. It has made it all the more painful for Anuak who are now forced to falsely celebrate on this darkest of days; prohibited from mourning the ones they lost, including some whose bodies have never been recovered or buried properly. Until today, no one has been brought to justice. Is this “unity in diversity?” Even if the TPLF/EPRDF suppresses the voice of the people; they will not forget.
The Anuak Justice Council (AJC) was established to advance and protect the well being of the Anuak, wherever they lived, as a result of the massacre of December 13-15, 2003 and the aftermath; however, as people remember December 13, we cannot limit our grieving to the Anuak. We also care about the plight of so many other people within Ethiopia, South Sudan and beyond. So many lives have been unjustly and cold-heartedly taken. It has left countless people still carrying deep wounds and heavy sorrow. We should also remember all of those who have lost their lives at the hand of this ethnic apartheid regime over the last twenty-four years; however the killing has not stopped.
Think of the young Oromo students and the Amhara people in Gondar who have been killed by federal security agents across Ethiopia over the past days, weeks and months. Some of these precious young people still have not been buried.
We should be able to send our young people to school and have them come back with joy, new learning, achievement, and if they are covered with anything, it should be with ink on their fingers from their pens; not as a dead body covered with their own precious blood after being shot by federal security forces that are supposed to protect them. What kind of country is this? These young people could be one of ours; after all, we are part of greater family, regardless of their ethnicity or other differences. It is our joint responsibility to make sure it does not happen again. May their families be comforted. May their souls rest in peace.
It is always so difficult to lose those we love and those who have done so much for others. We also in the AJC are grieving for the loss of someone instrumental in upholding the value and rights of others. That person, Ms. Akuthi Okoth, was the former chairperson of the Anuak Justice Council (AJC) from 2006 to 2008. She died of cancer on November 23, 2015. She was a great human rights defender. She was also an articulate, well-educated and outspoken woman who testified at the UN in 2005 on behalf of the Anuak of Gambella who had been killed or who were in danger of harm.
She was known for her commitment to the Anuak and the rights of all the people, including the Southern Sudanese. We want to remember her dedication to the betterment of the lives of others, but also let her qualities inspire us today. As a person of faith and a bold woman of principle, she strongly believed in reconciliation; not in retaliation or cover-up. She believed in speaking the truth and spoke out regularly at meetings and in the community, always wanting to improve the lives of others.
We are certain she would have something to say about the All Nations and Nationalities festivities in Gambella being used by the TPLF/EPRDF as a means to run away from the truth of December 13, 2003. She would encourage the people of Gambella, who know the truth about what happened, to reach out to each other to bring genuine unity and a spirit of cooperation between the diverse people in Gambella, in real, everyday, practical ways that will enrich their lives.
We know she also would want to encourage the same for the people of South Sudan and of Ethiopia who are also suffering from the loss of loved ones, violence, killing, hunger and displacement, to seek God’s help with their struggles and also to respond to the needs of others. God has placed us in families, communities, regions and nations to build each other up.
There is work to be done. Together, with God’s help, the people of Ethiopia, South Sudan, the Horn of Africa and beyond, can find ways to bring healing and restoration to our land and our people. Let us be reminded that even in the midst of our pain and difficulties, God is faithful to those who call on Him.
If you have any questions or require further information, please contact Mr. Ochala Abulla, Chairman of the Anuak Justice Council (AJC): Phone: +1(604) 520-6848 E-mail: Ochala@anuakjustice.org