The International Community is Put on Notice: Ethiopia Can Become
the Next Rwanda
By Elias Dawit 11-06-20
In April 1994, the government of Rwanda shot down the plane of President Juvénal Habyarimana, setting off a planned genocide that killed upwards of one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. In a matter of mere months, ordinary Hutu—men, women and even children—slaughtered their family members, friends and neighbors with their machetes in a bloody paroxysm of hate. It is difficult to imagine the horrifying intimacy of using a machete to kill family members, friends and neighbors.
The genocide was preceded by widespread messaging by the government that sought to demonize the Tutsi people as a minority who monopolized political power and stole the wealth of the country.
For those who have followed Ethiopian politics since the rise of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, this narrative is familiar. For several years now, the Prime Minister and has government have promoted a narrative of hate through social media, the traditional media and through official government communiques.
In the beginning, the TPLF grudgingly cooperated with the new Prime Minister. After all, as primary drafters of the Constitution and fellow party members, it was their responsibility to respect the process and work with Ethiopia’s new head of government despite the reservations they had for his leadership. The tone was set, however, with the Prime Minister’s inaugural speech that described the TPLF-led government as “twenty-seven years of darkness.” From then on, Abiy and his allies conducted a deliberate campaign against the TPLF and the people of Tigray. Hate speech was supplemented with economic sanctions, blockaded roads, arrest and detention of TPLF leaders, and finally, an all-out military attack.
The Prime Minister was not working alone. The peace with Eritrea was a pretext for an alliance with Isayas Afewerki to destroy the TPLF and its leadership—long a thorn in the side of the Eritrean autocrat. The Ethiopian Prime Minister and the Eritrean President worked hand-in-hand to bring matters to this point—war. The Ethiopian Prime Minister is waging war against his own people in concert with a foreign power.
The tipping point for Abiy Ahmed to declare war on his own people was an election. It is abundantly clear that the Prime Minister cannot win an election in Oromia. Using COVID-19 as an excuse, elections were postponed indefinitely. The TPLF argued that the Constitution requires elections be held every five years, with the government mandate expiring last month in October.
The fair and orderly electoral process in Tigray last month, including political space for Tigray’s opposition political parties, became an embarrassment to the Prime Minister. Moreover, the refusal of the TPLF to recognize the legitimacy of Abiy Ahmed’s government past the October deadline has infuriated the Prime Minister and struck a blow to his massive ego.
The events that took place on Tuesday defy understanding. The Prime Minister sent an Antonov to Mekelle to demand that Tigray give up the massive amount of defense forces weaponry in the region or burn it. They also informed the stunned Northern Command, for decades stationed in Tigray to protect the border with Eritrea, to turn their guns against the people of Tigray. The military leadership refused, stating firmly that they will not shoot fellow Ethiopians. When the Antonov tried to leave, the TPLF confiscated it. The prime Minister, in a bout of fury, sent the Republican Guard into Mekelle. The red beret-clad special forces were picked off by snipers, dotting the landscape with bodies and red berets.
The Prime Minister claimed that the TPLF attacked the Northern Command’s military base in an attempt to hide his infantile military maneuver, calling it a “red line.”
In the meantime, Tigrayans in Addis Ababa were being subjected to a campaign of harassment. TPLF supporters were detained. People were told to identify Tigrayans and inform the kebele, (neighborhood association). Tigrayans were restricted from leaving the country, being turned away at the airport.
Have we learned nothing from the Rwanda experience?
The EU has issued a statement expressing its “deep concern,” for escalating tensions and calling for a national reconciliation conference and avoiding placing blame on either of the parties. The US, through Mike Pompeo, is taking the side of Abiy Ahmed, saying it is“ “deeply concerned” not by the declaration of war against Tigray but over reports that the Ethiopian military was attacked by Tigray, echoing the lie perpetrated by the Prime Minister.
The unrelenting support of the US for a Prime Minister who, if standing for election today would lose, is a grave mistake. Ethiopia is taking two roads simultaneously—one taken by Rwanda and the other taken by the former Yugoslavia. The humanitarian cost of a war against Tigray is reprehensible. Tigray will ultimately win this war but at what cost?
Without a resolution in the next few weeks, followed by a conference of national reconciliation with all parties at the table, Ethiopians will perish—Tigrayans, Amhara, Oromo, Somali, Afar, Benishangul, Wolaita, and. Gurage, to name just some of the nations, nationalities and peoples that make up this once powerful nation.
Tigrayans are the target now. But every Ethiopian will soon be at risk as the violence escalates and spreads.
Ethiopia’s imminent collapse is not just state collapse. The Horn of Africa is a bad neighborhood—Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan have teetered on the edge for decades. Ethiopia, in partnership with the US, has been able to keep it relatively stable and secure through its shared commitment and strategy to counterterrorism.
The US must reckon with its misguided support of Prime Minister Abiy and its new-found tolerance of Isayas Afewerki. Abiy Ahmed is presiding over the potential genocide, state collapse and regional instability. It is time to cut him loose and play a facilitating role in Ethiopia for all parties to form a transitional government and hold elections as soon as possible.
As long as the US and its allies ignore the authoritarianism, state-sponsored violence against Ethiopians and treasonous behavior of the Prime Minister, they will be held accountable.
The US, along with the rest of the international community, is hereby put on notice