By Dawit Wolde Giorgis
A year ago, the people of Ethiopia ecstatically welcomed PM Abiy Ahmed and his colleague Lemma Megersa as peacemakers, unifiers and reformers introducing Ethiopia to a new era of national unity. He quickly opened up the political space, released prisoners, and made peace with neighboring Eritrea. However, that euphoric sentiment is now changing to fear and uncertainty largely due to the ethnic conflicts consuming the country.
Most Ethiopians hoped that Ethiopia could make a peaceful transition under the leadership of Ably and Lemma, and the people supported the two leaders wholeheartedly despite Ethiopians’ misgivings about Abiy’s and Lemma’s past involvement in the brutal security apparatus of the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Force (EPRDF).
He still speaks of a peaceful prosperous united Ethiopia with half the population unemployed and ethnic hostility reaching a critical level. People are being slaughtered like animals. Churches are being burnt. Christians are being persecuted. The age old Coptic Church, which has existed and flourished in Ethiopia since the birth of Christ, is now under siege, publicly condemned and publicly declared as a target of the Oromo extremists. Many Coptic churches have been burnt and some asked to leave some areas.
Oromo extremists wanted to show the supremacy of their tribe in the most brutal way reminiscent of the Rwanda genocide. And yet the prime minister did not have the will or the desire to quell the anarchy and bring to justice those who have committed such crimes. There are as many and perhaps more political prisoners in the cells across the country than the numbers of prisoners he released when he came to power two years ago. Public meetings and demonstrations are banned for all except for the Oromo ethnic group. Freedom of speech and expression has been curtailed significantly. Arbitrary arrest and detention by government forces has become routine. Non-Oromos across the country live in fear and most have left their rural homes and descended upon the urban areas where they felt they would get protection. But in some of the major cities they are being hunted, imprisoned, harassed and their houses burnt.
PM Ably is no more seen by many as the charming leader and uniting force people have believed he was at the beginning of his tenure. His speeches and particularly the one he made at his first year anniversary of his ascension to power has become a turning point in the optimism people had on PM Ably. He came out as a brutal leader prepared to stifle freedom of expression and dissent. He ranted about the need to control freedom of expression and closing social media. He did not seem to like the criticism directed at him and his polices. Since then he has come out clearly supporting the extreme elements that are creating havoc in Addis and in every region in Ethiopia.
The Nobel Prize seems to have emboldened his determination to continue giving the image of a peacemaker while pursuing a policy that makes it possible to put his tribe in absolute control of every aspect of life in Ethiopia and eliminate any resistance through his ruthless rogue forces one of which is led by a man called Jawar Mohamed, the CEO of OMN, a media out let which preaches hate and supremacy of Oromos and violent Muslim extremism.
Jawar Mohamed ,CEO of Oromo Media Network (OMN)
Last April I wrote: “Jawar is an ethnic and religious extreme. He has been caught on tape telling his crowd that he will cut off the heads of Christians. Like the ‘interhamway’ of Rwanda Jawar has recruited young Oromos who call themselves “ keros’ to do the dirty work of killing plundering and creating an atmosphere of fear in the nation.
One writer, Mekuria, writes: “ It was alarming to see how these youngsters, once thought as intelligent and self controlled were in reality so haplessly uninformed that they showed up in full force to do the bidding of their handlers no questions asked. The image of Kero youngsters brandishing machetes and other homemade weapons was a pitiful sight to see. It reminds me more of the notorious Boko Haram about whom I have written a lot, than the peaceful youngsters with their arms crossed over their heads in protest. That Ethiopians had come to love and appreciate. Kero youngsters are Ethiopians who desire better than being reduced to doing the dirty work of others and getting tarnished in the process. They have camp Jawar to thank for it “ (ECDF)
This month Jawar made up an excuse of being threatened by government security and mobilized his Kero forces who murdered 78 people, burnt houses, established road blocks in several places in the city of Addis Abeba, robbed people and for a few days paralyzed the nation, and yet the Prime Minster personally had nothing meaningful to say about this extraordinary incident except a hollow statement issued by his office. He never stated that criminals will be brought to justice nor did he utter the name Jawar nor his organization. This is an indication that either he is collaborating with the extremist Jawar or is simply incompetent to lead this country to peace and democracy. It is truly remarkable that the head of state should behave in such a way when the very survival of this nation has become a big question mark.
I laud the courage of the President, Sahle Work Zewde, who stated publicly:
“ A red line that we have to draw and respect for the sake of our country and people has been crossed; we all have a role to play to rescue our country from the danger that it is facing. All concerned have to do their part. Let us say a red line should not be crossed” ( Translation from Amharic by Borkena)
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has issued a stern statement calling for the Ethiopian government to hold all those responsible for the brutal and shocking killings of innocent citizens (Borkena)
With the unfolding situation, Ethiopia has definitely become a failed state. The new index will reflecting current situation will show up next year since the fragile state index is an annual ranking of 178 countries. It is still in the group of 22 failed countries in the world. It certainly improved after the release of prisoners and the sense of stability that was created immediately after PM Abiy came to power. But that has changed now. (Read my last article A Country on the Brinks, April 8, 2019 ). Weak and fragile states are fertile grounds for violence and extremism. “A State’s failure to provide basic rights, services and security not only contributes to growing inequality, it also creates a vacuum that allows non-state actors to take control over State sovereignty and territory. There is a risk that failed political transitions, with weak institutions, law enforcement and checks and balances provide a fertile ground for violent extremism. Weak States thus create opportunities for the physical location of extremist groups.” ( UNDP, Preventing Violent Extremism)
As I stated in my earlier article a failed state includes:
- Lack of control over armed forces, militias, etc. within the country
- Lack of free participation in politics
. Lack of control over territory within national borders
- Massive displacements
- Failure to provide public services food health shelter etc.…
- High level of corruption in whatever government does
- High numbers of refugees seeking to leave
- No or poorly functioning economy
Today Ethiopia almost all the above. The most critical is human security. States fail because they can no longer provide security to the people. When a state fails to provide security it loses its legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Millions of Ethiopians have now started taking necessary steps individually or in groups, including taking the law into their hands. Robbery, including bank robberies, gruesome murder, torture has become so prevalent that media outlets have stopped even reporting unless it is a little different from what is routinely taking place in many parts of Ethiopia. The government is bankrupt and is unable to provide basic services. Inflation and unemployment is at its highest in the nations history. Extreme poverty has driven people to join criminal gangs and violent extremists.
Under these situations, other internal and external interest groups take advantage of the vulnerability of the population and create the conditions of wide spread violence through the supply of armaments money and the radicalization of vulnerable groups. The competition for scarce resources, the lack of security and absence of law and order has created a vacuum of leadership at local and village levels. This vacuum is being filled by ethnic war lords and criminal gangs easily bought and sold by money some of which is being pumped into Ethiopia by foreign extremist elements. It is to be remembered that the government itself admitted that ISIS is operating in Ethiopia and some people have already been caught with incriminating materials.
Djibouti is emerging as the new regional arms trafficking hub. The small strategically located state acts as a transit location for weapons trafficking between Yemen and northern Somalia through the AMISOM mission among other actors in the trade. The findings are the result of an investigation carried out by EXX Africa (specialist intelligence company that delivers forecasts on African political and economic risk to businesses) in illegal weapons trade in the Horn of Africa. There is equally disturbing weapons smuggling activities across the borders with Sudan as evidenced by reports of the government of Ethiopia
The complex security situation in the Horn of Africa and the coastal states of the Red Sea cannot be defined only by its strategic and geographic location. It is also defined by the resurgence of violent extremism and other kinds of conflicts, which have complicated the already complex situation in the Horn. The resurgence of ethnic and religious extremism in Ethiopia will totally alter the political and security dynamics in the Horn of Africa resulting in a security crisis that cannot easily be controlled and probably transform into a proxy war. The Horn of Africa is the most complex and militarized region in the world and with the destabilization and resurgence of violent extremism, Ethiopia will undoubtedly be in a crisis that will severely affect the entire region. The stakes are high and the players are many.
Radicalization is a phased process in which an individual or a group embraces a radical ideology that can lead to an increased willingness to condone or use violence for political goals. The radicalization process is unique to each individual. Radicalism challenges the legitimacy of established norms and policies. It does not, in itself, lead to violence. Extremism is different from radicalism. Extremists accept violence as a legitimate means for obtaining political goals without necessarily exercising violence. Terrorism or violent extremism encompasses violent behaviors that originate in an ideology shared by a limited group of individuals. Violent extremism includes the willingness as well as training, preparation and the actual conduct of violent acts against civilians. Terrorists show a severe disconnects from society and tend to devalue or dehumanize their victims.
( European Forum for Restorative Justice)
What we see in Ethiopia today are signs of radicalization and extremism.
The number one driver ‘push factor’, to violent extremism is poverty and unemployment. Poverty pushes people towards radical and extremist ideas and inequality makes the poor more receptive to violent propagandas. The recruits of violent extremists are uneducated and unemployed and being radicalized is a response to a government or political system that they consider illegitimate and one that has not addressed their basic needs. Social media drives radicalization. But it is the narratives of the extremist Oromo leaders that is the main factor in the creation of violent extremism. ‘Pull factors’ include the extremist leaders promising material, emotional or other benefits specifically owning larger territories so far held (according to their narratives) by the Amharas and other ethnic groups and controlling the political and economic power of the country. They promise to bring more prosperity and entitlements to the Oromo people. They play on their dreams, needs, their fears and fantasies. They make them feel that they will get whatever they want to.
The promises they make are based on false narratives of their history, a history that makes the Oromos the perpetual victims of oppression and marginalization. This was partly true up until 1976 when the then government known as the “dergue” declared a radical land reform, which enabled the Oromos to be landowners. Since then the problems that the Oromos have faced were no different from what the rest of the population has endured. But the extremist leaders continue coming up with narratives that infuriate and motivate the young, the poor, the ignorant and the restless to join their call for violence to achieve an incomprehensible goal. They join these criminal groups voluntarily owing to the appeal of a group-based identity, poverty, perceptions of exclusion and cultural threats and other real or perceived grievances and the promise of economic empowerment . By holding a machete or an AK 47 and being able to use it at will with impunity gives them power and control over others. This also gives them an opportunity to rob people of their belongings. In the process the government looses complete control and the warlords take over areas with fierce battles over turf and followers.
This crisis is the making of the Prime Minister who is more of a showman and a stooge of extremists rather than a leader with substance and grand strategy for peace and development in Ethiopia and the region. His intention was to create a modified version of the current political system and create a perception of change and maintain the status quo in a disguised form. That approach did not work and has not been fully accepted even by his own constituency
This stalemate has created a crisis which requires the urgent intervention of the AU, the United Nations, and the European Union to ensure stability in Ethiopia, but more importantly to ensure regional stability and prevent violent extremism from taking over the country and the region with global security implications. The instability of a country with a population of over 100 million will have far reaching consequences on every country in the region; and Europe should be bracing for the migration of millions.
Commenting on the Burmese politician Aung San Suu’s Nobel Prize for Peace, Hamid Dabashi, the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, had this to say: “The widely documented slaughter of Muslims in Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi’s callous disregard for their fate and even possible political collusion with the mass murderers now leaves no doubt that even if she originally deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, she most certainly no longer does. The world at large cannot be at the mercy of the Nobel Peace Prize spectacle to bestow such spectacular honor on a person and then wash its hands of the subsequent actions of these people. “
The public relations skill of Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed and his pathological lies did not give space to the international community to see the magnitude of the crimes that are being committed by the government security forces and vigilante mobs which people believe is organized with the knowledge of PM Abiy Ahmed. Professor Dabashi asks, “ Does this shameless power monger deserve to carry the title of a “Nobel Peace Prize laureate? Today Aung San Suu Kyi must be the single most embarrassing name on the roster of the Nobel Peace Prize recipients.” Under siege and under fire, Ethiopians are asking this same question today about their leader, Abiy Ahmed, the winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Peace.
This is an early warning for Africa, Europe and America to brace themselves for the influx of millions of Ethiopians and others in the region, fleeing their countries to seek asylum and protection. People with no options will trek the Sahara once again and seek freedom and protection at the gates of Europe and dare the Mediterranean. 2016 proved a record year for persons who crossed an international border seeking humanitarian space. This year or next year this record could be broken when the political violence in the Horn of Africa triggers an unprecedented human tragedy unless necessary measures are taken to stop this madness in Ethiopia.
“ Twenty years after the Rwanda genocide, where “ the consequences of failing to heed the warning signs were monumentally horrifying” the world must respond early to the risk of mass atrocities amid mounting religious and ethnic polarization, “ a United Nations special event warned in 2014.
Is the world heeding this early warning or is it going to ignore it once again and allow a horrifying civil war, the likes of which Africa has never experienced, emerge in Ethiopia? It can be stopped because most Ethiopians want peace and peaceful coexistence. Ethiopians expect the international community to live up to its words of “ Never Again” in the aftermath of the holocaust and the Rwandan genocide.