Wednesday, 31 August 2016
The Ethiopian Intifada is a response to extreme internal repression
Aug 19, 2016
The Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), the dominant group within the ruling coalition, rules over a deeply divided and aggrieved populace. The TPLF has carried out egregious human rights violations; the regime has become even more repressive with each year by systematically limiting political space, taking 100% parliamentary seats in the Lower House. Ethiopians are sick and tired of the regime in Addis.
Ethiopians cite disputes over land, ethnicity and indiscriminate killings of protestors as the real causes of the Ethiopian “intifada”. But if one believes the Ethiopian spokesman, Mr.Getachew Reda, the protests in Gondar and Oromia are somehow remotely orchestrated and stage managed from Eritrea. Mr. Reda, with his outrageous claims, is increasingly sounding as clownish as the late Saddam’s information minister, comical Ali. He rarely addresses the real causes of the protests: the forceful incorporation of Wolkayt region into Tigray or the daylight land robbery in Oromia― all in the name of “development”. The government spokesman attributes the Oromo, Muslim, and the Wolkayt protests to infiltration from Eritrea, Saudi Arabia or Egypt. This false claim is another example of utter contempt and disrespect for the people by an arrogant government official who is out of touch with the heartbeat of the people.
It is true that there is no love lost between the ruling regimes in Eritrea and Ethiopia but it is absurd to believe that Eritrea, even it so desires can stir up the kind of uprising occurring in Ethiopia. It simply has no such power to do so. The border between the two countries is one of the most militarized borders in the world and one under heavy surveillance. An uprising of this scale cannot be initiated by an outside force. Such a claim is an insult to the pride and intelligence of the Ethiopian people.
The overwhelming narrative in the Western media portrays Ethiopia as a source of stability in a troubled region, as an economic powerhouse with a potential to surpass Kenya and join the club of countries like South Africa as well as a pacifying regional force and a bulwark against terrorism. There is little critical reporting on the country which means international readers have a skewed and partial picture at best. Unless one has the time and the motivation to dig deeper, one would not know that the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), the dominant group within the ruling coalition, has in fact destabilized the region, rules over a deeply divided and aggrieved populace, which in actual fact is responsible for worsening terrorism in Somalia. The core of the TPLF is an ideological group which behaves like a chameleon depending on the audience and responsible for the atmosphere of tension and the expensive militarization of the region.
The TPLF has carried out egregious human rights violations; the regime has become even more repressive with each year by systematically limiting political space, taking 100% parliamentary seats in the lower house, detaining members, discrimination and harassment of Amharas, Muslims and the Oromo; it has all but blocked legal political participation for these groups.
Ethiopians of all stripes and not just the Oromo, are sick and tired of the regime in Ethiopia and the suffering they must endure challenging it while Ethiopia enjoys impunity and protection from the powers that be. The ongoing protests in different parts of the country are not connected or coordinated and appear to be spontaneous protests. Participants in the protests embody resistance to their increasing marginalization, which are ongoing and spreading. More recently, the protesters in Gondar proclaimed solidarity with the Oromo uprising in the South. For a regime that thrives on divide and rule, this solidarity is a worrisome sign and perhaps signals the beginning of its dissolution.
It also seems the tired scapegoating of Eritrea for its own domestic woes is increasingly ineffective. Imaginary scapegoats and bogeymen had served the regime well but there are now indications that ordinary Ethiopians are beginning to see that Eritreans are not natural enemies of Ethiopians, as the regime has depicted. This is a good sign that the populations are beginning to recognize the essential brotherhood of all the peoples of the region: this could be the leap of faith which was missing due to the influence of intensive propaganda by dictatorial rulers for the last six plus decades. Recent headlines also give hope that the era of impunity may end sooner than later. Headlines like these from major newspapers:
(1) Ethiopia must allow in International observers after Killings
(2) Ethiopia’s regime has killed hundreds. Why is the West still giving it aid?
(3) ‘A Generation Is Protesting’ in Ethiopia, Long a U.S. Ally
(4) America’s complicity in Ethiopia’s horrors
are new. The massacre that occurred over the first weekend of august may have jarred the radar of the international media but their overall failure to register the pattern of it has been the norm for almost as long as the TPLF has been in power. The genocidal policies towards the Anuak in the Gambella region received little international publicity. Rioting Muslims were effectively and brutally silenced. The TPLF marginalized both the legal and the extra-legal opposition arresting prominent leaders like Professor Bekele Gerba, a prominent Oromo intellectual and human rights activist. Professor Bekele Gerba and other prominent leaders are protesting their treatment in detention by staging a hunger strike.
Resentment to TPLF rule extends to the movement’s home base of Tigray, where most of the population feel left out by the TPLF elites interested only in making money and investing it in the capital or abroad.
Despite a dishonest attempt to externalize the issue, Ethiopian Muslims, who number anywhere from 40% to 50% of the population, and the Oromo have historically been marginalized, and the protest is very much homegrown and rooted in a long list of grievances. When it comes to the thugs running Ethiopia today, whatever happened to the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect? Rewarding the TPLF with a non-permanent membership in both the Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council, despite its dismal human rights record, is cruel and cynical.
This tribalist regime must go and the criminals at the helm must answer for their crimes. A first step is investigation by aindependent observers as recommended by the UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. Predictably and true to character, the TPLF regime is refusing to allow in neutral outside UN observers. The regime has a pattern of ignoring international norms and laws, when it doesn’t suit it.
The Ethiopian people desperately need relief and healing. The region needs to be spared from this dangerous and fanatical warmongers. Ethiopia deserves imaginative leaders who can prevent fragmentation and are cognizant of the complexity of the society, who can see beyond tribe, and discern and appreciate the mosaic of ethnicities that make the country beautiful and rich. The West should stop enabling this murderous thugs. China should stop bailing out this regime and other African dictators and begin to care about the human rights of Africans!
* Yohannes Woldemariam teaches International Relations and Environmental Studies with a special interest in the Horn of Africa region. This article first appeared in The Huffington Post.