Ethiopia: Ethnic strife threatens church’s unity

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VOA News

Simmering ethnic strife in Ethiopia has reached the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Nationalists of the biggest ethnic group, the Oromo, are threatening to split the church. Developments are bound to further undermine unity.

It started out as a legitimate grievance, Reverend Daniel Seifa Michael acknowledges: “There are issues that they have raised which are really of concern. Like the church has to be strong in the evangelical services in the Oromo communities. And the church has to provide Oromo language services,” the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC’s) foreign affairs department told DW. But he added that the solution cannot come from the outside and must be part of an internal administrative process.

The man behind the drive to create a separate Oromo Orthodox Church is the Reverend Qesis Belay. Over the weekend, he gave the EOC a deadline of 30 days to comply with his demands. He has the support of Oromian politicians like Milkessa Midhaga, head of the Oromia Land Use Bureau, who wrote on his Facebook page: “I had several meetings in government capacity with church and mosque officials in Oromia in Afaan Oromo. The Orthodox church officials had rarely understood the objective of the meetings, as a result minimal participation, due to language problems.”

Religion as a political weapon

A man carries a baby on the run from ethnic violence in Ethiopia (DW/J. Jeffrey)Ethnic violence has cost lives and left many homeless in Ethiopia

The linguistic problem has been turned into a political one, according to expert Mohammed Girma. “That question seems to have been hijacked by some people who have got some political interests,” the researcher from the University of Pretoria told DW. Girma says it is worrying that the people behind this movement are supported by Oromo nationalists, activists and hardliners, some of whom are pushing for independence.

More than two-fifths of Ethiopians out of a total population of 100 million follow the teachings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The EOC was very powerful for most of the country’s history. But it was sidelined by the Marxist government after the demise of the monarchy in 1974 and never recovered the full extent of its political influence.

Now the EOC has to contend with the threat of being turned into a weapon in the ethnic conflicts, which intensified after Ahmed Abyi was nominated prime minister in April 2018 and started to liberalize and democratize the country. Before Abiy, the governing Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition that seized power in 1991 and was dominated by the minority Tigrayans suppressed all dissent, including expressions of ethnic nationalism. Today, the dozens of ethnic groups with competing claims to land, resources and influence are able to openly voice their grievances. This has led to a radicalization in some quarters, was followed by strife and violence.

The synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church(DW/G. Tedla HG)The church is still considering a response to the demands of the Oromo

A prime minister between a rock and a hard place

“The prime minister himself became a subject of contention rather than solving the problem,” analyst Girma says. Abiy is Oromo, and as such has seen his own person turned into a battlefield for competing interests. Oromo hardliners see him as part of the establishment. The Tigrayans feel he is pushing them out of the power they have enjoyed in the past. But Abiy is also viewed with suspicion by those who want to preserve the union, all of which forces him to tread carefully.

Last year, Abiy played a crucial role in conciliating factions within the EOC. The church split in 1991 over the naming of a new patriarch after EPDRF toppled the Derg military junta from power. The former patriarch went into exile in the United States, splitting the church. “The prime minister did an amazing job when he mediated between the church factions,” Girma said. But now, Abiy “needs to come out and do something in relation to what is happening at the moment.”

That’s because there is a real risk that a rift in the church will turn into an open ethnic dispute. “The political entrepreneurs and activists and politicians have used every tool you can imagine to divide Ethiopia. Religion is the latest tool,” the researcher says. And while he sees no real political will at present to solve the situation, he places he hopes on the citizens of his country: “They failed to mobilize society for a conflict at the scale that some of the politicians wanted. Ordinary people are looking for unity, harmony and peace,” Girma concluded.

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4 Responses to Ethiopia: Ethnic strife threatens church’s unity

  1. Days of p saying God hears the prayers only in Amharic has gone and days lands and the people devided between fuedal army and churches is gone,Days only amharas is patriaks is gone.So called ethiopian sinodioces mainily Amahars are declared wars on Oromo and oromiya orthodox church leaders .Even if the government banns oromiya orthox churches it will not be same for Amhara s to continue hegmony and land grabbings in Oromiyaa regional states and in South nationalities,
    We can do same war the Amahara s declare ,its 21 century better they recognize the facts and come to know that God hears the prayers in any language and Jesus was not speaker of Amharic and nothing forbid praying in any other languages

    Yisrael ayyaansaa
    September 5, 2019 at 6:37 am
    Reply

  2. I donot represent any tribe or region but I support the autonomous Oromia Orthodox church. Why are tellig that Tigray could separate itself but oromia should stay with ethiopia; Why ? it is al about the money . Since Oromia region has the largest contributors for Ethiopian orthodox due its population . However, Tigray has only 5-6 milion population. Kulibi Gabriel is in Oromia region and it is known for its huge amount of money providing to the church annually.

    You are using amhara elites and socaed academics to push your propaganda forward !!

    Yayit misikir dinbit !! yamara tarik tsehafiwoch or muhuran silamara sisebku mesat hasteti sizeru mayet selchitona

    Oromia should be autonomous and Finfine is the capital city of Oromia.

    Amharas are saying church is one and language is a means of communication but not a reaso to divide among ourselves; Did they forget this fcat before while they were suppresing others and using their language to rule and suppress the language of the socalled minorities??

    if christian has no race or tribe why do they divide and discriminate us ?

    bishops are leading the church divinding pepe among tribes and promoting nepotism. Some of them were elected thrugh corruption Church is corupted tha the politica leaders!!!!!

    oromiaviva
    September 5, 2019 at 10:07 am
    Reply

  3. Please also follow this video to understand that what is happening against Ethiopia and Ethiopian Tewahedo Ortodox Church was lead and organized by Abeye Ahemed, who is a fanatic Oromo and a fanatic Islamic Oromo, who has been strategically working with the guy who public ally said in a Washington DC Muslims meeting to cut Christians neck with MENCHA.

    If you want to watch the full video about Abeye Ahmed answer for the question raised in Wollo Region City of Dessie you can find it in you tube. People were asking about Ethiopian Tewahedo Ortodox Churches are burning by Fanatic Oromo Islam all over the country and what is his solution since he called him self a government? But his answer for the action which is going on in the 21st century as we speak was to tell his own fabricated story of what had happened more that a 100 years ago, and his answer was directly or indirectly means it is a pay back time for what had happened back then and you have to shut up now; in fact the impression of his answer is the condition will continue. So how long we are going to humiliate ourselves under this kind of situations instead of standing up for our Birthright and fight back to eradicate all EPRDF and Fanatic Oromo, Tigre and Fanatic Oromo Islamic ideology from our land Ethiopia?

    Debela
    September 5, 2019 at 11:50 am
    Reply

  4. leboch tikmatikim yikeribinal gizatachin yikoresal bilew new hulum papasat be gubo yeteshomu nachew mendegna iregnoch

    just investigate how they come to power and they all agreed to inherit their money and property to their relatives after thier departure from this earth they were leading luxrious life by stealing money from the alms .

    Some of them even donot believe in God just they work as any employee in the public office for personal gain.

    You could also hear and observe that many of them have wifes and concubines behind the scene.

    What other a strange has Kesis Belay did to the church ?

    They are the one amassing wealth from the church donated by poor people selling dried fire woods upto a wealthy muslim merchant in Merkato and other places.

    They are in favor of amharic and amhra ruling and suppression.

    oromiaviva
    September 8, 2019 at 6:07 am
    Reply

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