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Monday, August 22, 2016

An Ethiopian medalist just led a protest that could land him in jail

By Kevin Sieff, Washington Post
August 22, 2016





















Feyisa Lilesa the brave (AFP)

NAIROBI — When he crossed the Olympics marathon finish line, Feyisa Lilesa put his hands above his head in an "X." Most of those who watched Lilesa's spectacular silver medal performance didn't know what that meant — or just how dangerous a protest they were watching. Lilesa was protesting the Ethiopian government's killing of hundreds of the country's Oromo people — the country's largest ethnic group — that has long complained about being marginalized by the country's government. The group has held protests this year over plans to reallocate Oromo land. Many of those protests ended in bloodshed. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400
people have been killed since November.

For months, the Oromo have been using the same "X" gesture that Lilesa, 26, used at the finish line.

At a news conference following the race, he reiterated his defiant message.

"The Ethiopian government is killing my people, so I stand with all protests anywhere, as Oromo is my tribe," Lilesa said. "My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed."

It was a remarkable turn of events — within seconds, Lilesa had gone from a national hero to a man who might not be able to return to his home country. In addition to those killed, many Oromo protesters are currently languishing in prison.

In Ethiopia, the state broadcaster did not air a replay of the finish.

Lilesa was conscious of the danger. He immediately suggested that he might have to move somewhere else.

"If I go back to Ethiopia maybe they will kill me. If not kill me, they will put me in prison. I have not decided yet, but maybe I will move to another country," he said.

It wasn’t the first time an Ethiopian athlete had considered defecting after competition. In 2014, four of the country’s runners applied for asylum in the United States after disappearing from the international junior track championships in Eugene, Ore.

The plight of the Oromo and the Ethiopian government's use of force against civilians have received some attention recently, but nothing as prominent as Lilesa's defiance. Earlier this month, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa said that it was “deeply concerned” about the most recent killing of protesters. But likely because Ethiopia remains a U.S. ally in the fight against Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab, American officials have been relctant to offer any further condemnation.

Oromo dissidents, particularly those outside Ethiopia, have been active on social media about their cause. As soon as Lilesa crossed the finish line, tweets and Facebook posts went up with pictures of their new folk hero. Ethiopia is one of Africa's fastest growing nations, and it seen by many as a model of economic potential. The government has played down the protests, saying earlier this month that “the attempted demonstrations were orchestrated by foreign enemies from near and far in partnership with local forces.”


Lilesa has been racing internationally for Ethiopia for more than eight years, and holds one of the world's fastest ever marathon times: 2:04:52.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Horn: Another Civil War Looming

By Dawit Giorgis
August 18, 2016


A civil war, and possibly genocide, is in the making in the Horn of Africa, in Ethiopia. The most recent events characterized by regular countrywide demonstrations in defiance of a government ban, by the two largest ethnic groups, the Oromos and the Amharas, have demonstrated once again the power of a marginalized majority to wreak havoc and paralyze the country despite the state’s brutal response.

Ethiopia’s minority ethnic group, the Tigrai, which comprises less than six percent of the population of ninety million, has ruled the country with an iron-fist for 25 years. As was the case in Rwanda decades ago, the accumulated anger directed at this minority group is likely to explode and result in a human catastrophe with serious implications on regional stability.

The 2015 US Country Human Rights Report on Ethiopia states: “The most significant human rights problems included harassment and intimidation of opposition members and supporters and journalists; alleged torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees by security forces; and politically motivated trials and arbitrary killings.”

The 2016 Human Rights Watch on the Oromo protests depicts a disturbing picture of a government that thrives on systematic repression and official violence. The report, which puts the death toll from the seven-month-long protest at more than 400, rightly exposes the myth of "Ethiopia rising" as a political "Ponzi scheme.” This figure does not include the100 killed during the first weeks of August.

To camouflage the repressive nature of the regime, the government and its international supporters
have been blatantly asserting that Ethiopia has the fastest growing economy in Africa, while in actual fact it is one of the ten poorest countries in the world currently with over 10,000,000 facing famine.

Now, after 25 years of absolute control over the people, the regime is facing a deadly resistance to its iron-fisted rule and people are anxiously waiting for its staunchest ally, the US, to intervene.
“Washington must be prepared to press its partner to alter its strong-handed approach to political dissent and counterterrorism or consider ending the relationship”

In 2012 Genocide Watch reported “Genocide Watch is deeply concerned with the rising number of human rights violations in Ethiopia; as a result Genocide Watch is classifying the situation as a genocide alert. The warning signs have been there for sometime.

In the case of the Rwandan genocide administration officials admit that the US lost “opportunities to reverse the tide of killings at the earliest stages.” Information obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act shows that President Clinton knew about the planned "final solution to eliminate all Tutsis." Over 800, 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in this genocide. In 1998 Mr. Clinton apologized “for not acting quickly enough or immediately calling the crimes genocide.”

If civil war begins in Ethiopia it will be unprecedented catastrophe the likes of which has not been seen in Africa. It will also create an opportunity for extremist like al Shabab to flourish in next-door Ethiopia, which has a 40% Muslim population. Because of the Nile River, the lifeline of both Sudan and Egypt, instability in Ethiopia will be a major concern and it is likely that these countries will intervene either directly or indirectly. Together with the failed states of South Sudan, Somalia, Central Africa Republic, Yemen across the Red Sea, and with Sudan and Eritrea tittering as a result of US sanction, the Horn can turn out to be the most complicated security zone the world has yet to see with severe implications for maritime activities in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

Because of the protracted war in the Horn of Africa over the last three decades, including some of the world’s longest war, the Horn has become the source of a huge percentage of the world’s refugee and migrant population. With civil war in Ethiopia this percentage can quadruple.

The US cannot afford to miscalculate the possible consequences of the gross abuses of power for 25 years. Its strategic interest, including the partnership on counter terrorism in the region, can be taken care better by a stable democratic government rather than a fragile autocratic regime, which is most likely to fall soon under the weight of people’s insurrection. Therefore, the United States should see beyond its short-term interest and support the establishment of an inclusive democratic government.

Dawit Giorgis was a visiting fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He is currently the Executive Director of the Institute for Strategic and Security Studies

Friday, August 12, 2016

USA og Europa må reagere på krisen i Etiopia

Publisert den 12. august 2016 av Leoul Mekonen 

NEAR JIJIGA, EASTERN OGADENIA, ETHIOPIA - OCTOBER 8TH: A column of ONLF rebels are leaving the hill where a week long stand off with ethiopian troops finally ended, October 8th 2006, in Ethiopia. The two rebels are carrying the most important idem of the unit, a light machine gun and its ammo. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Getty images)NEAR JIJIGA, EASTERN OGADENIA, ETHIOPIA - OCTOBER 8TH: A column of ONLF rebels are leaving the hill where a week long stand off with ethiopian troops finally ended, October 8th 2006, in Ethiopia. The two rebels are carrying the most important idem of the unit, a light machine gun and its ammo. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Getty images)
Nesten 100 demonstranter er nylig drept av det etiopiske regimet. Vi kan ikke lengre anse diktaturet som våre venner
Leoul Mekonen
Om Leoul Mekonen (1 artikler)

Leoul Mekonen er etiopisk flyktning, menneskerettighets- og politisk aktivist mot det etiopiske regimet for Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia. Han er sosionom og jobber med helse- og sosialt arbeid med etniske minoriteter og psykososialt arbeid med asylsøkere og flyktninger.


De siste ukene har internasjonale medier begynt å dekke den eskalerte konflikten og den blodige situasjonen mellom demonstranter og det autoritære regimet i Etiopia, hvor nesten 100 demonstranter har blitt drept ifølge Amnesty. Etiopia er hovedsakelig styrt av TPLF (Tigray People Liberation Front). Hundrevis av mennesker, også barn, har blitt drept i Oromiya- og Amhara- regionene under anti-regjeringsdemonstrasjoner, som har spredd seg siden november 2015. Fortsatt kommer det grusomme bilder og filmer av avdøde personer og alvorlig skadde personer i Oromiya- og Amhara-regionene i Nord-Etiopia, særlig i byene Gonder og Bahir Dar. Dagens alvorlige politiske klima i de to største regionene i Etiopia, er i ferd med å komme ut av kontroll, det kan potensielt skape et folkemord. 
Farlig returavtale
Dagens alvorlige politiske utvikling i Etiopia og regimets brutalitet viser oss dessuten at det er ekstremt farlig å inngå eller implementere returavtale for etiopiske asylsøkere som har fått avslag i Norge eller andre europeiske land. Det er en alvorlig feil å utsette asylsøkere som har en eller annen tilknytning til opposisjonsbevegelsene i Etiopia for forfølgelse og tortur. Den foruroligende situasjonen kan ikke forstås uten å forstå hvem som har hatt den politiske, økonomiske og militære makten i Etiopia de siste 25 årene, og hvordan makthaverne har klart å opprettholde den hele denne perioden.
Ett parti har styrt hele Etiopia siden 1991
Det er flere årsaker bak den eskalerende konflikten i Oromiya- og Amhara-regionene. Det etiopiske regimet kom til makten i 1991 etter 17 års geriljakrig mot marxistregimet. De representerer den etniske minoritetsgruppen fra Tigray-regionen, som utgjør 6 prosent av landets 85 millioner mennesker. Det politiske partiet TPLF (Tigray people Liberation Front), var dannet hovedsakelig for å kjempe for å frigjøre Tigray i samarbeid med «The Eritrirean People Liberation Front.» Mens kommunistregimet kollapset, grep TPLF anledningen til å kontrollere hele Etiopia. Siden 1991 har dette partiet styrt hele Etiopia ved å ha full kontroll over landets forsvar, militærstyrker, etterretning, økonomi og media. Dette har skapt enorm frustrasjon, marginalisering, utstøting og opprør blant andre etniske grupper og opposisjonsgrupper.
Etnisk basert politikk som skaper konflikt mellom ulike etniske grupper
TPLF har ført en sterkt etnisk basert politikk overfor det etiopiske folket og har skapt unødige konflikter mellom ulike etniske grupper. «Etnisk politikk» har gitt en formidabel mulighet til å splitt og hersk over det etiopiske folket ved å skape en «oss og dem»-følelse, preget av hat, mistanke og fiendtlighet. Istedenfor å skape samhold og samarbeid mellom ulike etniske grupper, har regimet bevisst fremmet fiendtlige holdninger mellom Amhara- og Oromo-befolkningen ved å bruke nasjonale medier.  For å ha kontroll over hele landet og få legitimitet som demokratisk styre, har TPLF dannet andre partier ved å rekruttere lojale tjenere fra ulike etniske grupper (Amhara, Oromo, Afar, Somali, osv), som ikke er folkevalgte. Disse partiene har ikke egne ideologer eller selvstendig politisk agenda. De ble utelukkende dannet for å være en forlenget arm for hovedorganisasjonen TPLF, og få kontroll over ulike folkegrupper og deres ressurser.  
Politiske partier som ikke er i tråd med regimets politiske agenda og interesser blir angrepet, forfulgt og stemplet som terrorister, anti-fredskrefter osv. Regimet har ved terrorlovgivning stengt muligheten for opposisjonsgrupper til å bevege seg fritt og drive politisk virksomhet. Populære politiske partier som Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Oromo People’s Congress (OPC), Ogaden Liberation Front(ONLF) og Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJP) har blitt fratatt sin organisasjons- og forsamlingsfrihet og rett til å stille til valg. Regimet har klart å sitte ved makten ved å slå hardt ned på populære opposisjonsledere, aktivister og medlemmer av opposisjonspartier.
Journalister og redaktører blir angrepet og folkegrupper blir tvangsflyttet
I tillegg til fravær av demokratiske valg, blir kritiske stemmer angrepet, særlig folk som jobber i media. I følge Pen Internationals rapport fra 2015, er Etiopia blant de landene som har høyest antall forfulgte og fengslede journalister og redaktører.  En annen viktig årsak til den blodige konflikten mellom regimet og resten av etiopiske befolkningen er tvangsflytting av Oromoer, Amhara folk og folk i Gambella fra deres eget land, slik at utenlandske investorer eller personer med tilknytning til regimet skal tjene på det. Millioner av mennesker har hensynsløst blitt tvangsflyttet fra sitt land, uten å bli spurt om samtykke eller få erstatning. I den nordlige delen av Etiopia har det Tigre-dominerte regimet tatt et stort jordbruksområde fra Amhara-regionen og satt den under Tigray-regionens administrasjon. Dette har medført en stor konflikt, som er i ferd med å eskalere til krig mellom Amhara- befolkningen i Gonder og det Tigre-dominerte regimet. 
TPLF-regimet har fått støtte fra USA OG EU
Massearrestasjoner av mennesker tilhørende opposisjonsgrupper, drap og bruk av eksessiv vold mot fredelige demonstranter er ikke noe nytt i Etiopia. Folk har levd med det i de siste 25 årene. Selv om regimets bruk av vold og udemokratiske midler har blitt dokumentert igjen og igjen, fikk TPLF-regimet enorm støtte fra USA og EU som en viktig samarbeidspartner i «the war on terror». Obamas administrasjon snakker klart og tydelig om samarbeidet med det etiopiske regimet for ivaretakelse av amerikanske interesser. USA har hittil valgt å ha mer fokus på sin egeninteresse, enn den grove undertrykkelsen 85 millioner mennesker i Etiopia er utsatt for, under en etnisk gruppe i minoritet som har full kontroll over militæret. Det vesten har glemt, er at å ensidig støtte en bevæpnet minoritetsgruppe, etter hvert vil skape en stor misnøye hos befolkningen i et etnisk delt samfunn. Det vil komme protester som preger, ikke bare Etiopia, men også hele Afrikas Horn. Det er viktig å understreke at Vestens interesse i Afrikas Horn kan ivaretas best under folkevalgte ledere og forsamling enn under en minoritets autoritære styre.
Veien til folkemord kan være kort
De siste 25 årene har det vært folkeopprør og protester i alle etiopiske regioner, unntatt Tigray-regionen, der regimet kommer fra. Folkeopprørene har blitt slått hardt ned i regionene Amhara, Oromo, Gambella og Ogaden ved å skyte demonstranter nådeløst. De som har utøvd vold er stort sett lojale soldater som hører til Tigre-stammen med navn «AGAZI»- styrken. Dette har allerede skapt alvorlig hat og en fiendtlig holdning mot Tigray-folket i tillegg til motstand mot regimet. Mange som mener at Etiopia er styrt av «Tigray Apartheid-regime», argumenterer at det er bare de andre folkegruppene, ikke Tigray, som har blitt utsatt for blodige angrep de siste 25 årene. Det har aldri vært folkeopprør, massakre av opposisjoner eller tvangsflytting av folk i Tigrayregionen. Dette kan få store konsekvenser når folkets opprør eskalerer i ulike regioner.
Dagens favorisering av Tigray-folket i form av privilegier til utdanning, til arbeid og til nøkkelposisjoner i samfunnet gir hat og mistillit til regimet og til Tigray i de andre folkegruppene. Derfor mener mange etiopiere, og også lederen av Genocide Watch, Professor Gregory Stanton, at veien til folkemord kan være kort, dersom Vesten ikke griper inn og støtter eller presser på for politisk reform der alle opposisjonspartier får mulighet til å delta i et demokratisk valg og danne en ny regjering som inkluderer alle partier. Problemer og konflikter som har å gjøre med rettferdig fordeling av ressurser og land kan løses best under en demokratisk valgt regjering. Ikke under et regime som bestemmer alt ved å bruke sine militære styrker.
Regimet har kun klart å overleve med vestens støtte
Etiopia trenger vesten mer enn noen gang. Regimet har kun klart å overleve med vestens støtte, som en samarbeidspartner i “krigen mot terror”. Dersom USA og EU gjør sitt beste for å skape demokratiske valg, kan de forhindre et mulig folkemord og endeløs borgerkrig i Etiopia. Etiopia trenger vesten før det er alt for seint.

Ethiopia grapples with the aftermath of a deadly weekend

By NPR 
August 11, 2016
















Protesters chant slogans at a demonstration in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, on Aug. 6. Demonstrations took place last weekend across the country, and Amnesty International says dozens of peaceful protesters were shot dead.Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

The videos trickled out slowly on social media — slowly, because those posting them had to use special software to get around what seemed to be a government-imposed internet block.

This video showed thousands of people in the streets of the northern Ethiopian town of Gondar. The size of the crowd was significant in a country where civil protests are usually banned.
Even more significant? The location o f this anti-government protest.

For the last nine months, protests have erupted further south, in Oromiya, home to Ethiopia's largest but historically marginalized ethnic group, the Oromo. But now the protests have spread north to a second region, the Amhara.

The different protesters have different grievances, but they share a growing frustration with the rule of a third, minority ethnic group — the Tigrayans. They say the Tigrayan elite has a cartel-like grip on the government, military and the fast-growing economy.

The response by the Ethiopian military to the protesters was swift and brutal. Amnesty International says that nearly 100 people were killed over the weekend when soldiers fired directly on demonstrators.

The U.N. human rights chief has "urge[d] the government to allow access for international observers" to investigate what happened.

Even after those weekend confrontations, witness reports were still filtering back to Addis Ababa, the capital. "We're hearing who's been wounded, who's in hospital, who's been killed, not to mention those who've disappeared without a trace," said Tsedale Lemma, editor in chief of Addis Standard, one of the few Ethiopian magazines that risks open critiques of the government.

She described an Orwellian spectacle on state-run television, with "ferocious PR work" to discredit the protests. "People are being paraded in the TV, being made to denounce the protests. People denouncing even the use of Facebook."

For years, Ethiopia's government has warned against a social media-fueled uprising like the one that happened just north, in Egypt, in 2011.

If you watch Ethiopia's state TV broadcasts, what you'll be told is that the country's protests are fueled by ethnic separatists — or even ethnic terrorists.

Tsedale disputes this explanation, saying the protesters' beef is with the government, not with any particular ethnic group. "I don't see that people are deliberately orchestrating ethnic violence in the country," she says. "Of course, the government is eager to identify it as such."

In Ethiopia, politics is ethnicity, and ethnicity is geography. The country is formally divided into autonomous ethnic states, each with its own ethnic government. It's a controversial system called "ethnic federalism" that was instituted by the current regime. Political parties are organized along ethnic lines. Thus any critique of the central government will automatically take on ethnic dimensions.


The protesters impugn the Tigrayan elite — the government officials and army generals — who, they say, have a choke-hold on the country. The government accuses the protesters of fomenting ethnic war on all Tigrayans, rich and poor. And in the fragile ethnic balance that is Ethiopia, the battle to claim the narrative is just as important as the battle in the streets.

UN calls for probe into Ethiopia protesters killings

Ninety deaths in Oromia and Amhara regions must be investigated by international observers, UN human rights chief says.
But Ethiopia says UN Observers not needed (See 2nd headline story below) 

By Reuters
August 11, 2016


The UN human rights chief has urged Ethiopia to allow international observers to investigate the killings of 90 protesters in restive regions at the weekend.

Zeid Raad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Wednesday that allegations of excessive use of force across the Oromia and Amhara regions must be probed and that his office was in discussions with Ethiopian authorities.

"The use of live ammunition against protesters in Oromia and Amhara of course would be a very serious concern for us," Zeid told the Reuters news agency in an interview in Geneva.

He also said that his office had "not seen any genuine attempt at investigation and accountability" since January when the killings of protesters first began.

Unrest continued in Oromia for several months until early this year over plans to allocate farmland surrounding the regional capital for development.

Authorities in the Horn of Africa state scrapped the scheme in January, but protests flared again over the continued detention of opposition demonstrators.

In the weekend, protesters chanted anti-government slogans and waved dissident flags.

Some demanded the release of jailed opposition politicians. Information on the reported killings has been difficult to obtain, Zeid said.

He added that any detainee, who had been peacefully protesting, should be released promptly.

The state-run Ethiopian News Agency said on Monday that "illegal protests" by "anti-peace forces" had been brought under control. It did not mention casualties.

Ethiopia says UN observers not needed as protests rage


Addis Ababa - Ethopia has dismissed a plea from the United Nations that it allow international observers to investigate the killing of protesters by security forces during a recent bout of anti-government demonstrations.

Getachew Reda, a government spokesman, told Al Jazeera on Thursday that the UN was entitled to its opinion but the government of Ethiopia was responsible for the safety of its own people.

Reda's comments came after the UN urged the government to allow observers to investigate the killings of at least 90 protesters in the Oromia and Amhara regions over the weekend.

Zeid Raad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said allegations of excessive use of force must should be investigated and that his office was in discussions with Ethiopian authorities.

Reda, however, told Al Jazeera that it was not necessary to send observers to specific parts of the country since the UN already had a massive presence in Ethiopia.

He said the government would launch its own investigation into whether security forces had used excessive force and would do so in consultation with local people.

He blamed what he called "terrorist elements" for stoking the violence from abroad, without giving further detail.

At the weekend, an opposition leader told the AFP news agency that up to 50 people were killed as security forces suppressed the protests. Amnesty International put the death toll at 97.

Oromia, an area which surrounds the capital Addis Ababa, has seen several months of protests, sparked by plans to allocate farmland in the region for development.

Authorities scrapped the land scheme in January, but protests have flared again over the continued detention of opposition demonstrators.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Case of Rwanda: Lessons for Ethiopia

By Dawit Woldegiorgis 
July 22, 2016


This is article is meant for Ethiopians to remind them to learn lessons from the Rwandan genocide. Some might think that such kind of scenario will never happen in Ethiopia. But just think about it: who thought that a country called Somalia with one language, one ethnic group and one religion would so rapidly fall apart and be a failed state for two decades? Who would have thought that the former Yugoslavia would disintegrate and result in the kind of genocide and ethnic cleaning we have seen in the heart of Europe, sending many leaders to the international criminal court? Who would have thought that South Sudan, which had its independence in 2011, after decades of war, would descend to a civil war that is causing the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese? Who would have thought that Muammar Gadhafi would be overthrown in such a swift and brutal way and the country plunging into civil war and becoming the breeding ground of terrorists like ISIS, an evil that slaughtered many innocent young Ethiopian migrants.  And the list can go on.

Let me tell you a first hand story about the genocide in Rwanda just to remind you, though I know that you have read and heard about it and you may have watched the movie Hotel Rwanda.  In 1994, in the month of August I received a call from Ellen  Sirleaf Johnson (current president of Liberia) who was then the UNDP Africa Bureau Chief. I was asked if I would be willing to head a UN emergency coordinating team to Rwanda. I accepted the offer.

That was just a few weeks after the genocide, the greatest mass murder since the holocaust, of close to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus ended and the Rwandan Patriotic Front had just entered victoriously to Kigali. I had never been to Rwanda before. Flying over Rwanda is an incredible experience.  The scenery does not seem real. It is a beautiful country, a country of mountains as it is called in French (mille collines) and looks as if a green carpet has been plastered over the thousands of mountains with beautiful well-structured villages.  But being inside Rwanda at that time would give one a very eerie experience that one would never forget.

I had come to a country where in the last 100 days (April 6 to July 16, 1994) an estimated 800,000 to I, 000,000 Tutsis and some moderate Hutus were slaughtered; between 250,000 to 400,000 women raped (67% of these were later infected with HIV); etc. The statistics on the number of survivors, orphans, disabled people, widows etc. are staggering.   There are two major ‘ethnic’ groups in Rwanda Hutus composing of 84% and Tutsis 15% and the rest Twas, the pygmy population who comprise around 1%.

Though the two groups are one culturally and linguistically united people, they had a very brutal past. The genocide was a culmination of accumulated hatred by the majority Hutus towards the minority Tutsis; hatred and mistrust that had its roots in the Belgian colonial era.  In 1860, a certain British officer by the name of John Hanning Speke:

 “ declared that all culture and civilization had been introduced by the taller sharper featured people who he considered Caucasians from the Horn of Africa, Ethiopians” and I may add perhaps the Oromos in particular. He considered Ethiopians to be of “Caucasian origin, descendent   from the biblical King David and therefore superior race to the Negros.” Of course this is not substantiated neither by history nor by science and therefore considered either oral history or just a legend. (I however don’t wish to make this subject of discussion since the intention of this article is to look into the genocide and the lessons that can be learnt). Such a contorted categorization of Africans was a convenient way for Europeans to divide and rule, in this case,  by creating the illusion that Tutsi blood was more like them than was the Hutus. We see the same pattern in South Africa apartheid system where the whites were classified as first class citizens and the coloreds (half casts) who were to be the closest to the whites and therefore treated better as second class and the Indians who, though they are black, have sharper features third class and the   black Africans came last in the ladder of categorization of South Africans and rights and privileges distributed in that order.
 
In Rwanda this categorization resulted in the complete marginalization of the majority during the colonial period.  By the end of the Belgian presence in Rwanda in 1959, “forty three chiefs out of forty five were Tutsis as well as 549 sub-chiefs out of 559” in a country where peoples’ lives and land holding system were controlled by chiefs.  The result was a political and economic monopoly by the minority ethnic group. The college enrollments for example was:

 1932 forty-five Tutsi and 9 Hutus
 1945 forty-six Tutsi and three Hutu;
 1954 sixty-three Tutsi and 19 including 13 from Burundi
 1959 two hundred seventy nine Tutsi and 143 Hutu.

Obtaining secondary education for Hutus was very difficult and even those who got the education had difficulty getting employment. This resulted in the creation of a special Rwandese Tutsi minority elites that controlled the lives of the majority and who believed in the Belgian and the Tutsi contorted history that made the Tutsis very different from the Hutus, a superior race narrative, which eventually was embedded into the minds of Tutsis for which they eventually paid a very dear price.  The Hutus who were denied everything they had prior to the coming of the colonialists and repeatedly told they were inferior to the Tutsis, began to hate all Tutsis. “The time bomb was set and it was now only a question of when it would go off …Rwanda was not a land of peace and bucolic harmony before the arrival of the Europeans (but) there is no trace in its pre-colonial history of systematic violence between Tutsi and Hutu as such…. ideas and myths can kill, and their manipulation by elite leaders for their own material and power interest does not change the fact that in order to operate they first have to be implanted in the souls of men.”  (Gerard Prunier, the Rwanda Crisis.) Tutsis started a movement for independence and this angered the Belgians who quickly changed sides and replaced the Tutsi chiefs by Hutus.  When Hutu leaders got this power they started settling scores and in 1959 killed over 100,000 Tutsis. A huge number of Tutsis fled to neighboring Uganda, Zaire and Burundi.  It was by these refugees that the Rwandan Patriotic Front was established.

In 1994 the RPF, had intensified the war and was closing in Rwanda.  Radio des Milles Collines  (RTLM) financed by the government launched its program of hate and extermination just after the Arusha Accord. When the president was returning from Arusha, his plane was struck and he was killed. That incident triggered the genocide though the preparation to eliminate the Tutsis had been going on for quiet sometime.  A highly educated Rwandese professor, Ferdinand Nahimana was heading the radio programs. It was full of vitriolic propaganda of hate and clear messages for Hutu extremists to go out and kill.  The radio was sending out messages that Tutsis were controlling everything and seeking supremacy and this evil and injustice perpetuated by this minority group can “be cured only by their total extermination” calling them hyenas, snakes, cockroaches, etc. It was hateful, dehumanizing, and designed to incite the people to rise up and kill Tutsis, capitalizing on the years of oppression that Hutus have endured under the real or perceived, direct and indirect control of a minority that only represented 15% of the population. It was not a spontaneous uprising. It was an uprising that had been in the making since the Habermanya government took over (the last government before the genocide). But the root of the problem goes back to the colonial period.

Many of the killers believed the Tutsis were evil people who have taken everything for themselves and treated the majority as second-class citizens and therefore deserve to be eradicated.   Children wee not spared according to Radio Milles Collines “"you must also kill the rat in gestation; it will grow up to be a rat, like the others."

They used languages too graphic to repeat (if interested read Hate as a Contagion: the Role of Media in the Rwandan Genocide by Maria Armoudian).  Hutus were killed for helping the fleeing Tutsis because, according to the media they were “inyenzi’ cockroaches. Rwandan Hutus were called to rise up and finish the Tutsi once and for all. They were told to use knives, machetes and clubs.

The first few weeks in Kigali were extremely traumatizing for me. Though the RPF had been there for a month and cleaned up the city as much as it can, there were still bodies littered on the outskirts of the city   and roadblocks that have not yet been cleaned up, road blocks made of human corpses. We could see bodies floating on river Kivu though thousands had already been swept away down stream, ‘to Ethiopia’ as their killers stated when they threw them in to the river. One church was still full of corpses, with over 700 Tutsis who had run to the church hoping to get protection.  The churches all over Rwanda had been the traditional sanctuary for these deeply religious people but on this occasion they became the convenient place where they were killed in mass.   Many churches have been used as killing fields because there were a large concentration of frightened people in one small area.  In one case over 2000 people had sought refuge in the largest Catholic Church Saint Famille and all of them were killed after the parish priest handed them over to their killers. Apparently he was a supporter of the Hutu extremists.  The Ntarama church, where I saw over 700 corpses, has now been turned over to a genocide museum. At the time I arrived there were still some dogs feasting on human corpses and RPF had to go after stray dogs and shoot them.

Prior to the genocide, Rwanda had come a long way where it had become sometimes difficult to make a distinction between a Tutsi and a Hutu. There were many instances where Tutsis were mistaken for Hutus and spared from being killed. Moderate Hutus were killed because of their association to the Tutsis and because they did not want to be part of the killing machinery that was being put in place.

During the first days after the president’s plane was hit, on 6 April 1994, the ‘Interahamwey’ (Hutu militia) started systematically killing Tutsis and Hutu moderates in the villages and neighborhoods by imposing curfews and roadblocks.  “The roadblocks and barriers were staffed by soldiers and gendarmerie on the main roads, while communal police, civil self-defense forces, and volunteers guarded others. Together, they successfully stemmed the flight of victims who tried to escape the genocide. Anyone who tried to hide was tracked down by search patrols that scoured the neighborhoods, checking in ceilings, cupboards, latrines, fields, under beds, in car trunks, under dead bodies, in bushes, swamps, forests, rivers, and islands. By April 11, after barely five days, the Rwandan army, interahamwe, and party militias had killed 20,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu" (OAU May 2000).

In villages where both Tutsis and Hutus were living together people knew who was who and therefore identifying the Tutsi was not difficult.  But in the towns and particularly in Kigali, the business and political capital, where people did not know each other, identification was difficult. The roadblocks were the key locations where many were massacred. Fleeing people were asked their ID cards.  Tutsis were automatically hacked to death and those who don’t have ID cards were killed as well including Hutus who were suspected of being moderate or associated with Tutsis.  In Rwanda of those times all ID cards had to show the ethnic group one belongs to.

Jean Kambanda, Prime Minister of Rwanda during the months of the genocide, pleaded guilty to genocide and admitted that "he ordered the setting up of roadblocks with the knowledge that these roadblocks were used to identify Tutsi for elimination" and that he participated in the distribution of arms knowing that these would be used in massacres of Tutsis (OAU May 2000).

There are many lessons leant from the Rwandan genocide. Most relate to the response of the international community once the killing machinery was set off. Effective and active response would certainly have helped to reduce the level of carnage that took place in Rwanda in 1994, but it would never have been able to remove the level of anger and hate that were embedded in the minds of most Rwandese.

So we come to the most important lesson that Africa and particularly Ethiopia should learn from the genocide in Rwanda. The genocide in Rwanda happened because of ethnic politics and state sanctioned incitement to hate and kill. The responsible officials were disseminating contempt and demonizing the other group. The supreme court of Canada reviewing the response of the Canadian government based on the report of the then commanding Lt. General Romeo Dallaire stated “…. the holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers-it began with words. These are the chilling facts of history-the catastrophic effects of racism” and the Rwandan Tribunal stated “these acts of genocide were preceded by-and anchored in-the state orchestrated demonization and dehumanization of the minority Tutsi population-using cruel, biological of Tutsis as ‘inyenzi’ –prologue and justification for their mass murder.”  Yes genocide starts with words. Words are the means through which hate or love is expressed. In cases of genocide and crimes against humanity, words are the means through which the flames of hate and intolerance are fanned.

The situation in Ethiopia has not reached that level yet but if it is allowed to reach that level there is no way to stop it. The rhetoric and irresponsible statements coming out from some people including government officials, from community leaders and from the major ethnic groups, which spreads faster and effectively through social media, suggests that if left on its own the situation   could escalate to wide spread hatred and retribution, civil war, crimes against humanity and possibly to genocide.  ‘Genocide is defined in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948)’

Rwanda showed the worst that human beings can be. It showed how human beings could be manipulated to hate and kill through irresponsible leaders and members of the community in general who may harbor hatred. The hate and anger directed at particular ethnic group accumulates overtime and knows no boundaries when it is unleashed through a concerted effort of hate groups created by the deliberate polices of a government and elite groups who seem to care more about power than the long term consequences of their actions. Ethiopian leaders are accountable for what is happening now and worse on what may happen unless remedial measures are taken. “ Africa’s redemption is not only clasp in the hands of the leadership, but moreover in the active participation in change of the average person, in the home, in the school, in the work place and in their private relationship.”  (African Holocaust Society)

The damage done on the relationship between the various ethnic groups in Ethiopia is grave and warrants the intervention of the international community to exert meaningful pressure to stop this build up of tensions that could lead to a catastrophic end with very severe consequences that could dwarf the Rwandan genocide. The government should be made accountable and be willing to take steps that could restore sanity and heal the gaping wounds. For this to happen, Ethiopia needs leaders who are not consumed with narrow ethnic and personal interests but leaders who capitalize on the common thread that binds the people and the common vision for unity and democracy.

The international community’s indifference to the early warning   signs and faultiness is not acceptable. At this moment the major preoccupation of millions of Ethiopians has become individual and group security, stocking arms and guarding themselves from the excesses of a minority government. Some ethnic groups are spewing hate and vengeance and as in Rwanda   (where Hutus hated all Tutsis) people are unjustifiably beginning to hate all Tigreans. This, of course, is unfair to the large majority of Tigreans who are themselves victims of the policies of the current government which does not truly represent the best interests of the majority of Tigreans. When such a sense of insecurity, mistrust and hate is stretched to its logical conclusion it can lead to war and possibly genocide. The silence of the international community in the face of this build up is disturbing. The international community is needed now to ensure that sanity prevails and a system that addresses the grievances of all ethnic groups is installed sooner than later because at this stage the crisis is preventable. Conflicting western interests might not make an effective intervention possible but silence would not be appropriate either. Reconciliation, election, power sharing would not solve the fundamental problems and grievances once war starts because the stakes become higher as groups dig in deeper, the divisions become sharper and the sacrifices too many to allow easy compromises. The voice of the international community at this early stage could prevent this country from going into war with itself.

With such kind of catastrophe no one wins. In the end every body loses. There will be no Ethiopia to fight about.  Each ethnic group in Ethiopia has treasures of wisdom. Let them tap to those wisdoms, let them see what is happening around the country, let them take note of the signs of difficult times ahead, let them prevent harm on each other, let them go back to the drawing table and begin with the common factors that unite them, let them dwell less on their differences and more on the common ties that bond them or else they become one of those countries they never imagined to  be. Let Ethiopians have the courage to stand together to challenge the status quo and build a democratic system that would answer the grievances of all, because it is possible.  Africa has over 3000 tribes and 2000 languages and there are only  54 states. There is, therefore, no alternative to peaceful coexistence.

I worked in Rwanda for two years and had the honor to know closely President Paul Kagame, then vice president and head of the military. His challenge and the challenge the people faced were enormous. With half a million Hutu refugees ‘interahamwes’ most of them just across the border, to build a peaceful country and begin reconciliation was indeed a very tall order. The threat of ‘Interahamwes’ unleashing another war was always there until in 1996 they returned in mass. The reconciliation program started in earnest only then. There was no family in Rwanda, in both the Hutu and Tutsi communities that were not severely affected by the genocide and yet there were no alternatives to re reconciliation and the task had to begin soon. It was difficult to bring about a majority rule as well. Democracy, in the way that has been defined by the western world posed a great danger in a country where reconciliation has not yet been complete and the memories of 1994 are still fresh in many minds. The President had to walk a fine line and the majority had to accept the reality. Pragmatism and common sense than idealism prevailed.

 I left Rwanda after two years but what I saw and heard during those years haunted me for a long time until I returned to Kigali after ten years to see a population truly trying hard to leave the past behind, learn from the lessons and move on as one people and one nation. During my two years there I had been to the prisons and talked to former 'Interahamwes' who have been implicated in the genocide. Some were still proud that they did what they did. The unrepentant voices of some were scary and had made me   doubt whether there could ever be a true reconciliation. The numerous voices of the survivors were also bitter. But the government and the people chose the right path. For over twenty years people are slowly learning to live together ad heal the wounds together even when they know that some in either communities have been killers and still harbor hate.

There were thousands who were identified as perpetrators of the genocide locked up in various prisons in Rwanda. To bring about justice and reconciliation, the Rwandan government introduced or reinstituted what is known in Rwandese tradition the Gacaca community court system.  In this system the communities select judges where the cases of perpetrators are heard. The court gives mitigated sentences for those who repent. In many cases those who repent are freed and allowed to go back to the community and be part of the reconciliation program where victims and perpetrators live side by side and talking to each other.

Unlike many other African countries where colonialists carved out the borders, Ethiopia was defined by its own people and its own history and the enormous sacrifices of every ethnic group.  It is their only home. Like any family in a home they had differences and on many occasions each encroached on the rights and freedoms of the other in the family. But they stayed together.

No conflict in Africa is similar to another. But the underlying reasons are always the same: leadership and governance. Ethiopia does not need a genocide or civil war to learn from its own lessons. It had its own turbulent years of nation building. It is now time to learn from its own past and from what has happened elsewhere in Africa and form one united people with freedom, justice and democracy for all.


As Bob Marley said: “One love, One Heart … Let’s get Together and Feel Alright.”

Friday, June 10, 2016

Ethiopia Stifles Dissent, While Giving Impression Of Tolerance, Critics Say

June 8, 20164:06 PM ET






Gregory Warner (NPR)













Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (left), walks alongside President Obama during the U.S. president's visit to the African nation last July. Critics say Ethiopia has cracked down hard on the opposition, but makes modest gestures to give the impression it tolerates some dissent.
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images

The Oromo Federalist Congress, an opposition party in Ethiopia, represents the largest ethnic group in the country, the Oromo.
Yet its office in the capital Addis Ababa is virtually deserted, with chairs stacked up on tables. A chessboard with bottle caps as pieces is one of the few signs of human habitation. In a side office, the party's chairman, Merera Gudina, explains why the place is so empty: Almost everyone has gone to prison.
The deputy chairman? Prison. The party secretary general? House arrest. The assistant secretary general? In prison. Six members of the party's youth league? All in prison.
Critics of the Ethiopian government regularly land in prison. So why isn't Merera Gudina, the chairman of the party and an outspoken critic of the regime, also behind bars?
The reason, he says, is what he calls "the game of the 21st century." Less-than-democratic regimes are getting more sophisticated, and instead of completely crushing dissent, they seek to create the appearance of tolerance or even a multiparty democracy, explains Merera. (Ethiopians go by their first names).
In the case of Ethiopia, a strategy was laid out by the late former prime minister, Meles Zenawi, after the 2005 election, in which opposition parties won 32 percent of parliament and appeared poised to challenge the government.
"Wait for the opposition to grow legs," Meles said in a meeting with top party officials. "And then cut them off."
Merera says he is the current example of that strategy. He describes himself as a "floating head," while the legs of his party — all his deputies, his candidates, his organizers — are either imprisoned or threatened.
Criticism On Human Rights

Human rights groups are extremely critical of Ethiopia, but it is a member of the international community in good standing.
President Obama paid a visit in July of last year, the first ever by a sitting U.S. president, and held a press conference with Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

"We are very mindful of Ethiopia's history, the hardships that this country has gone through," Obama said. "It has been relatively recently in which the Constitution that was formed, and elections put forward a democratically elected government."
A number of human rights groups criticized Obama, saying he should have pressed much harder.
Shortly before Obama's visit, Ethiopia released several noted opposition journalists and politicians. The deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress, Bekele Gerba, was among those freed, and he promptly flew to Washington to sound an alarm bell.
"Every one of us is in a very high risk," he told NPR's Michele Kelemen. "Because anybody who criticizes the government is always a suspect."
Bekele said his wife, a high school teacher, was also forced out of her job because of his politics. Bekele declined to use this trip to the U.S. to stay and apply for asylum. Instead, he said, he was determined to go back to Ethiopia, no matter what would happen.
Opposition Figure Re-Arrested

Soon after his return, Bekele was arrested again, and remains in prison today. Bekele is considered a moderate and he counsels nonviolence. He used his free time in prison to translate the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Merera, the party leader, says that targeting Bekele has a boomerang effect.
"When you are suppressing the moderate voice, then what you get is the radical voice," he warns.
The arrest of moderates inside the country may be amplifying more radical rhetoric in the diaspora, such as rhetoric about "government overthrow" that Ethiopian officials are quick to highlight.
Genenew Assefa, a government spokesman, points out that Ethiopian opposition "tends to be extremist," but also takes his own Justice Ministry to task for arresting so many opposition members.
"And then we put them in jail, and then it's a vicious circle," he says with a sigh. "And this is how it works. I personally, you know, would like to deal with this differently."
He says that he would like Ethiopia to counter criticism with politics, not with police.
But Ethiopian politics appears to be moving away from democratic freedoms, not toward them. In last year's election, the ruling party won 100 percent of the seats in parliament. Even the "floating heads" no longer have a token parliamentary seat.
Merera says that the Ethiopian strategy isn't working.
"You can't arrest everybody," he says. He says that what is brewing is "an intifada (uprising), an Ethiopian intifada — even now, they don't need leadership."
Last November, ethnically Oromo regions of the country erupted in popular protests. Activists say 350 people have been killed, and thousands more arrested. There's a growing fear that Ethiopia's "cut off the legs" strategy is splitting the country.