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  • Ethiopia’s Political Turmoil Worsening: Threatening Regional Security

    by Betre Y. Getahun

    Political turmoil, ethnic tension and conflict have continued to engulf east Africa’s most populous nation, Ethiopia. The country is now on brink of an all-out civil war which could affect the whole region.

    Armed security officials watch as protesters stage a protest

    Armed security officials watch as protesters stage a protest against government during the Irreechaa cultural festival in Bishoftu, Ethiopia on October 02, 2016.

    Despite increasing international condemnation, the ruling party in Ethiopia has shown no sign of political reform. Instead, it continues to divide the nation once known for its unity and use all means possible to silence the entire population, estimated to be over 100 million.

    According to human right groups’ reports, from 2015 to 2017 only, more than 2000 protesters were killed and thousands were tortured while many were arbitrarily arrested. The 2016 Irreecha festival alone left over 1000 people dead and tens of thousands detained by security forces. And the regime’s killing, torture, arbitrary arrest and brutal measures have continued to intensify as protest and resistance continue to grow.

     Until recently, Ethiopia used to be seen as a stable nation in an unstable region.  However, the regime’s draconian policies that target particular ethnic groups, discrimination, grand corruption, oppression, and widespread human right violations have led to widespread protest and political unrest, proving that the country is not different from other east African nations known for their decade-long civil wars. This has forced the international community to give at least some attention to the internal dynamics of the political turmoil.

    However, the international community has again failed to understand that the instability in this most populous African nation has far-reaching implications and that it is necessary to take action to prevent future disaster.

    The recent conflict in the south eastern part of the country in which the regime in Addis Ababa is implicated has shown the international community the true face of the regime and the future disaster it is sowing in this war-torn region of Africa. This conflict has shown us how the unrest has been changing its face over time. It is increasingly clear that the regime’s  enforcement of its divisive policies are leading the nation to more trouble.

    In this new deadly clashes broke out last month between ethnic Oromos and ethnic Somalis in the country’s dry and mainly pastoralist south-east, hundreds of people are estimated to have been killed.  Reports show that tens of thousands have been displaced following the clash. And the conflict has continued to intensify, affecting thousands of women and children.

    This and other ongoing political turmoil, ethnic conflict and tension are leading the country to endless and bloody civil war, posing a very serious threat to an already unstable region.

    As Addis Standard magazine states in its September 2017 analysis large scale conflict is inevitable and an avoidable unless the the government steps down and the ruling party pass power to the people. In this long research based story, the magazine highlighted the fact that the nation is fast descending into horrific turmoil.

    “Popular demands that precipitated a three year-long protest, which started in Oromia in 2014 and then spread to the Amhara and other regions, remain unaddressed. The discontent in the two most populous regional states, Oromia and Amhara, home to two-thirds of the country’s population of over 100 million, is deep and widespread,” the magazine reads.

    Research findings also show an increase in militant activity across the country. This is one of the basic indicators used to predict large scale conflict or civil war. Margaux Pinaud is a researcher on political violence in Africa. In a recent interview, she stated that the militant activity is high, particularly in regions most affected by the protests, including Oromia, the largest region of the country.

    “Activity by ethnic militias in Ethiopia is the highest that it’s been since 1997,” she said. “And activities by political militias — though usually in unidentified armed groups attacking civilians or engaging in clashes with state forces — are also extremely high compared to the rest of the data that we look at,” she added.

    East Africa has long been an unstable region known primarily for war and drought. Any civil war that erupts in a country like Ethiopia will have spillover effects and has the potential to expand across the fragile borders of the region. The consequence of such large-scale unrest affects not only the region but the whole world.

    Ethiopia shares borders with six countries: South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Kenya, and Djibouti. All these nations are in political turmoil and conflict.  Somalia, which shares the longest border with Ethiopia has suffered an ongoing civil war since 1988 that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of poor Somalis.  Both north and South Sudan are not exceptions. It is estimated that the 1983-2002 ethnic war in Sudan had claimed the lives of nearly one million Sudanese; the recent ethnic violence in South Sudan alone has claimed 4,000 lives. The 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrea devastating border conflict was another tragic war that resulted in a widespread loss of life, as well as injury and damage.

    Unbearable Consequences

    A civil war in Ethiopia affects the region directly and the consequences are long term and difficult to undo in the future. Such conflict opens doors to terrorists, fanatic armed groups, and ill-intentioned foreign powers. And it makes the region a play-ground for these destructive forces. Some oil-rich Arabian nations have already begun their effort to add fuel to the fire. They are trying to establish military bases in the region and control this strategical geographic area.

    As we have seen in the past few years, terrorists are jumping into conflicts and  exploiting them to achieve their goal: destruction and mass slaughter. And Africa is no exception. Many African counties are victims of these groups’ new strategies. Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabaab in Somalia, ISIS and Al Qaeda in Libya,  Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, the Al-Qaeda linked jihadi faction in Mali are few examples of terrorist groups operating in Africa. And there is no guarantee to say the same thing won’t happen in Ethiopia. As the country is located in a strategic geographic area, the chance to become another Afghanistan and Iraq is high.

    The international community and regional institutions have been trying to make east Africa a stable and a safe place. If an all-out ethnic conflict or civil war break out in Ethiopia, this on-going effort would immediately collapse and it would become very difficult to establish  law and order in the region in the future. And east Africa would plug into another two or three decades of bloody war and unrest. As this is a drought- prone area, such a conflict would be catastrophic and would result in an even more dramatic humanitarian crisis.

    To Turn A Blind Eye Helps No One

    Ethiopia is one of the major allies of the west in the fight against terrorists and many argue that this is one of the reasons why the international community turns its blind eye to this disaster-in-the-making and the regime’s barbaric acts and dangerous ethnic politics.

    It is a terrible truth that the silence of the international community is not making Ethiopia safe and the region stable. Instead, it is making the country less stable and increasingly unsafe.

    The international community still believes that the government in Addis Ababa is a key partner in improving the deteriorating peace and security in the region. This is a result both of wrong calculations and the shrewd politics of the regime in Addis Ababa. The fact is, however, that the government in Addis Ababa is what is turning the nation into lawlessness.

    It is obvious that the west is silent not because they do not know what is going on in Ethiopia or because they like the regime. It is because they do not have another option at this point and are waiting for the right time to turn their back on the regime. No one doubts that the US wants to see democracy flourishing in Ethiopia. The question is, when will the US say enough to the regime in Addis Ababa.

    The clock is ticking. There is no more time for the international community to sit and watch this large scale conflict in-the-making. It is the time to say enough to the regime in Ethiopia. The security and stability of East Africa is crucial not only to the region but also to the whole world. Therefore, the international community should begin efforts to prevent this crisis from happening.

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  • Is ethnic federalism really the biggest problem in Ethiopia?

     

    Tension between ethnic federalism and a centralised Ethiopian identity threaten the unity of Ethiopia. Can it be resolved?

    In a recent op-ed for TRT World, a former Ethiopian opposition leader Teshome M. Borago asks: Is Ethiopia a Rwandan genocide in the making?

    The Rwandan comparison is not surprising. The deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in Ethiopia should in fact alarm everyone. What is surprising, however, is Teshome’s reasons for sounding the alarm: ethnic federalism.

    Ethiopia has 99 problems but ethnic federalism is the least of them. Teshome’s partisan commentary is irresponsible, riddled with factual inaccuracies and removed from the reality as lived by the majority of Ethiopians in 2017.

    He uses two recent events to illustrate the supposed dangers posed by ethnic federalism. First, Teshome cites the alleged killing and eviction of ethnic Sidamas from Bale, in southeastern Oromia by what he calls “Oromo extremists.” Second, he blames ethnic federalism for the ongoing crisis along the border between Oromia and Somali regional states. He also admonishes the federal experiment as “an apartheid-style separation of land that divides people based on tribe.”

    Teshome is known for his avowed opposition to ethnic federalism. In fact, his now defunct party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy was formed in 2004, vowing to abolish the federal system. Opposition to federalism has been the rallying cry for Ethiopia’s former ruling class that is finding it difficult to navigate their way back to political power under the new dispensation put in place in 1991.

    Teshome is certainly entitled to his opinions but not his own facts. For one, his use of the terms tribe and tribal to characterise Ethiopia’s ethnic groupings speaks to Teshome’s penchant to play to a Conrad-style western stereotyping about Africa’s endless and irrational tribal trouble—not to mention his nostalgia for the feudal order—which divided the people of Ethiopia into citizens and imperial subjects.

    Second, any administrative demarcation can separate and unite people. And no one formula is inherently superior to another. If Teshome’s favourite feudal demarcation, which was replaced by a multi-ethnic federation, was any better, it would not have stoked three decades of civil war.

    Third, officials from Oromia state and the Sidama zone have acknowledged minor disputes over resources in the Bale region. But no deaths were reported as he alleges. And the dispute was quickly settled by local elders through established conflict resolution mechanisms.

    Besides, in Ethiopia, like elsewhere in Africa, sporadic clashes over scarce resources predate the advent of ethnic federalism. Teshome’s golden imperial era was also not all glitter, as it too saw some of the most horrific abuses.

    Fourth, hundreds of Oromos have been killed and close to 225,000 displaced in the last few months alone in the conflict between the Oromia and the Somali states. The clashes were instigated by predatory central authorities facing popular dissent through its proxy, a Somali paramilitary force that is seeking to illegally expand that state’s jurisdiction into Oromia—obviously worried about its absolute hold on power should its benefactors succumb to popular pressure.

    Teshome conveniently sidesteps these facts and deliberately misrepresents the issue. Locals on both sides say the Oromo-Somali conflict is a scheme orchestrated by predatory central leaders to divert attention from the regime’s growing maladies and its refusal to demarcate the two state’s border per the outcome of a 2004 referendum that awarded the disputed areas to Oromia.

    To understand the sweeping and unprecedented political shocks taking shape in Ethiopia, one needs to go back to the early 1990s.

    Ethiopia has over 80 different ethnic groups. The Oromo and Amhara comprise over 60 percent of the population. Ethiopia is also divided along religious lines. 43 percent of the population is Ethiopian Orthodox, 33 percent are Muslim and 19 percent Protestant.Ethiopia has over 80 different ethnic groups. The Oromo and Amhara comprise over 60 percent of the population. Ethiopia is also divided along religious lines. 43 percent of the population is Ethiopian Orthodox, 33 percent are Muslim and 19 percent Protestant. (TRTWorld)

    Following the overthrow of Mengistu Hailemariam’s communist regime in 1991, for the first time in its long history, Ethiopia formally recognized the right to self-determination, a contentious demand for over three decades, including the right to secede for every nation, nationality, and people in Ethiopia. Accordingly, the country was reconfigured as a multi-national federation. Its governing institutions were divided into 12 linguistic motherland states and two self-governing cities.

    The model was forged as a compromise between two competing forces: Those seeking total independence or secession from Ethiopia, and those who wanted to maintain Ethiopia’s territorial integrity. More importantly, it was an effort to redress century-old structural imbalances and historical injustices in the country.

    Ethiopia is home to more than 80 ethnic and linguistic groups. However, in its recorded history, state power has been controlled solely by ethnic Amharas and Tigrayans. By devolving power to regional states, at least theoretically, the new model sought to finally address longstanding quest for self-rule by the majority Oromos and other ethnic groups in the south of the country.

    Unfortunately, Ethiopia’s authoritarian leaders reneged on the promises of federalism. Hence, power remained centralized in the hands of ethnic Tigrayans, who make up about six percent of the population. Meanwhile, to stem growing discontent over reluctance to implement the federal arrangement, Ethiopia embraced a developmental state model, which is characterized by strong state intervention in the economy and severe restrictions on civil and democratic rights.

    Despite the lack of its full implementation, however, ethnic federalism allowed a generation of young Ethiopians to learn in their native tongues. Unlike their parent’s generation, Ethiopia’s millennials studied in their mother tongues. (Until 1991, Amharic was the only language of instruction and commerce. Non-Amhara Ethiopians were forced to assimilate and learn Amharic to fit in.) That in turn led to growing cultural self-awareness and resistance to the hegemonic and exclusive “Ethiopian” identity championed by urban and Amhara elites in which they don’t self identify with.

    In 2014, 71 percent of the population was under the age of 30. In other words, those born in the early 1980s onward or Ethiopia’s “millennials,” have distinct experiences. Experiences that Teshome and urban Amhara elites, who to this day long for the return of a unity imperial state, find hard to accept or relate to.

    Today’s youth are keenly aware of their state’s territorial boundaries, thanks in part to the opportunity to be educated about their distinct cultures, in their own languages. They grew up singing their respective state’s anthems. In Oromia, the Oromo homeland, informed by long-standing national grievances toward the central state, the millennial generation exhibits pure allegiance to the Oromo question, a demand for the end of Oromo people’s economic and political marginalization in the Ethiopian state.

    It’s this disenfranchised generation that’s now revolting against the central government. The sustained protests in 2014, 2015, and 2016, in which security forces killed more than 1,000 people in Oromia and Amhara states, have radically altered Ethiopia’s political landscape.

    Popular mobilization has reached a point of no return. There is growing consensus across the political spectrum on ending the hegemony of ethnic Tigrayans. Ethnic Tigrayans currently hold all key government positions, including the national intelligence, the defence, foreign ministry and until 2012 the office of the prime minister since 1991.

    The bottom line: contrary to Teshome’s assertions, the overarching demands of ethno-nationalists in Ethiopia are not about land per se. Rather, to build a more perfect union – a kind of mosaic, where all of Ethiopia’s eight dozen ethnic groups can coexist while retaining their cultural and religious diversity.

    Ethnic federalism is and remains the only glue that is holding Ethiopia together. Unfortunately, Teshome and his right-wing protagonists want to take us back to the era of a unitary, feudal, and Christian state. That ship has sailed and the port no longer in view. 

    The fight now is for justice, freedom and equality of all people in Ethiopia and for the genuine application of the country’s constitution that established the federal system. Ethiopia’s right-wing politicians can help avert a Rwanda-like scenario by joining hands with ethno-nationalists to hasten the end of a rule by an entrenched Tigrayan business and political elite.

    Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

    We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com

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  • New Entry Period for Diversity Visa Program (DV- 2019)

    Addis Ababa, October 16, 2017;  Due to technical issues, the registration period for DV-2019 is being restarted, and all entries made prior to October 18, 2017, will need to be resubmitted for the entrant to be considered. We regret the inconvenience to Diversity Visa entrants.

    The new registration period for DV-2019 opens for electronic entries at noon, Eastern Daylight Time, Wednesday, October 18, 2017, and closes at noon, Eastern Standard Time, Wednesday, November 22, 2017.

    If you entered before Wednesday, October 18, 2017, that entry will not be considered, and you will need to submit another entry during the new registration period. You may submit one new entry without being disqualified for submitting multiple entries. Individuals who submit more than one entry during the new registration period will be disqualified.

    Applicants can access the electronic DV entry form (E-DV) at the official E-DV website, dvlottery.state.gov, during the registration period. DV instructions also are available on the Department of State’s public webpage at usvisas.state.gov/dv/ instructions.

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  • Ethiopia: Bereket Simon submits resignation

     

    ESAT News (October 16, 2017)

    Bereket Simon, a high ranking political figure with the ruling EPRDF, has submitted his resignation from his position as chair of the Ethiopian Economic Policy Research Institute, according a report by the BBC Amharic.

    The report said Mr. Simon submitted his resignation to the Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn.

    Local newspapers reported earlier that Mr. Simon has been removed from his post as the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. He was in that position for seven years.

    He is the second official in a week to vacate his post after the House Speaker, Abadula Gemeda, resigned to work “to restore the dignity and respect for the Oromo people and his organization.” The former speaker was not clear as to who has disrespected the Oromo people and his organization although his accusations subtly points to the TPLF.

    The BBC report said Bereket Simon has submitted his resignation to the Prime Minister and the last time he was seen at his office was Thursday.

    The report also said the official was not happy at his stay with the Policy Research Institute and his research and policy recommendations have not been well received and implemented by the prime minister and other officials.

    A founding member of the EPRDF, Bereket Simon is also a member of the council of the Front and a leading member of the Amhara National Democratic Front.

    Bereket Simon is also the former Minister of Information and Minister of Government Communications Affairs.

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  • Ethiopia: What's Driving Clashes Between Ethiopia's Somali, Oromia Regions? - All Africa

    ANALYSIS

    Somaliland, a semi-autonomous region in the Horn of Africa, has displaced thousands of ethnic Oromos, according to Negeri Lencho, Ethiopia’s information minister.

    The forced relocations are the latest fallout of simmering conflict along the border between Ethiopia’s Oromia and Somali regions. Those tensions have boiled over in recent weeks, resulting in hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of displacements, Lencho told reporters at a press conference on Monday.

    The conflicts are the latest in a series of clashes that have ebbed and flowed for over 25 years. Some of the root causes remain unchanged, but new dynamics, including increased militia activity in the region and escalating tensions, make solutions more elusive.

    Close relations, longstanding tension

    Oromia and Somali share Ethiopia’s longest interior border, a meandering line from Moyale in the south to Mulu in the east. Parts of the border follow the Ganale Doria River, but the regional boundary mostly stretches between the Oromia grasslands and Somali desert.

    A common way of life has long connected Oromo and Somali people. The Oromia and Somali regions share language, religion and culture. In fact, some groups who speak the Oromo language identify as Somalis, and vice versa.

    Despite these close relations, the two ethnic groups have experienced intermittent conflicts over resources, including land and water, over the past 25 years.

    The tensions date back to the formation of Ethiopia’s unique brand of ethnic federalism. In 1991, politicians divided the country’s population — nearly 50 million people at the time — into nine regional states based, in large measure, on ethnicity.

    Disagreements over exactly where the Oromia-Somali border should lie have resulted in several referenda, but full demarcation has never occurred, contributing to ongoing strains.

    The border has great symbolic power: More than just an administrative boundary, it’s tied to identity — a political and ethnic differentiator between Ethiopia’s two largest regions.

    Suspicions, accusations

    Frictions along the border have been longstanding, but recent conflicts have taken a new, more ominous turn, experts on the region, including Human Rights Watch, say.

    Exactly who’s behind the recent killings and displacements isn’t clear, however, even from within the country. Spokespeople from each regional government blame armed groups from the other side.

    “We here in Ethiopia are also confused. It’s not easy to understand what’s going on with this long border,” said Fekadu Adugna, an assistant professor of social anthropology at Addis Ababa University.

     

    Much of the confusion stems from the complex assortment of federal, regional, paramilitary and rebel groups engaged in armed conflict across Ethiopia. The Liyu police, a special police force based in Somali, have been accused of killing people in the Oromo ethnic group. But the Liyu have also fought the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a separatist faction that seeks self-rule for Somalis.

    Limited access to the conflict zones makes it difficult to prove accusations of who is behind the current attacks.

    “A number of people have lost their lives,” Adugna said. But, in many cases, the exact circumstances of their deaths remain unclear.

    Ethiopia’s powerful federal government, rather than controlling the conflict, has only fanned the flames of the ethnic division, according to some observers.

    Felix Horne, a researcher with Human Rights Watch focused on the Horn of Africa, said Ethiopians interviewed by HRW have long felt bullied by the federal government.

     
     

    “The vast majority tell us, ‘Look, it’s always been this way. There is always arbitrary arrest, you know," said Horne. "There’s always abuse by police, but things have just gotten a little bit more intense in terms of the amount of arbitrary arrests.’”

    Protests across Ethiopia roiled the country in 2016, resulting in a 10-month state of emergency and a concerted government crackdown that began last October.

    The protests began when the government proposed expanding the boundaries of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, into Oromia. Hundreds died as unrest swept across the Oromia and Amhara regions.

    Horne said the state of emergency silenced protesters without addressing their true concerns about land rights, political representation and freedom of expression, setting the stage for the most recent violence.

    “What we found is that [the government] largely redefined the protesters’ grievances in terms that met their needs. They talked about corruption. They talked about the need for job creation; about improving good governance,” he said. “And these are all important things, obviously, but crucially these are not things that protesters routinely [were] raising on the streets.”

    The state of emergency did stop protests and associated violence, said Margaux Pinaud, a researcher on political violence in Africa with the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a body that produces real-time data for disaggregated conflict analysis and mapping.

    At the same time, however, militant activity increased across the country, she said, particularly in regions most affected by the protests, including Oromia.

    “The activity by ethnic militias in Ethiopia is the highest that it’s been since 1997,” Pinauld added. “And then activity by political militias, though usually it’s unidentified armed groups — but doing attacks against civilians or engaging in clashes with state forces — they’re also really, really high compared to the rest of the data that we look at.”

    Increases in militant activity could suggest an escalation of the people’s movement, she said. That movement has increasingly become an armed struggle over grievances with the federal government, which many Ethiopians say doesn’t represent their interests.

    Protesters previously committed to nonviolent resistance haven’t produced results, Horne said. “There’s lots of discussions about different options, which is obviously really, really worrying,” he added.

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