by Elias Dawit 05-16-21
It is perplexing to read the reporting on Ethiopia’s war against Tigrayans. The recitation of facts in the dry tones of conventional journalism project almost an ordinariness to the events. The words “genocide,” “humanitarian disaster,” “atrocities against civilians,” “mass starvation” and even “rape” have somehow failed to convey the sheer depth of interminable sadness, loss and utter horror that a people are undergoing.
Is it because we are watching a genocide unfold on our mobile devices?
Communication technology has taken this war to a level we have never seen before and it is the stuff of nightmares. All over the world, the mobile phone is no longer a symbol of status but a basic necessity, particularly for youth. Almost half of all Ethiopians have mobile phones.
And so mobile phone technology has brought us the minute-by-minute horrors of the genocidal acts globally to anyone with an electronic devise. Yet, the world is still paralyzed with inaction.
Just imagine if this technology was available during the mass extermination of the Jewish people. Imagine the scenes livestreamed of the Jewish people—men, women and children-- lining up at the doors of the gas chambers outfitted as shower rooms, entering these rooms outfitted to kill, their screams and cries as the gas enters their bodies and the dull thud of their lifeless corpses hitting the floor. Imagine a guard aiming his mobile phone at the crematorium where the bodies burned through the night, wafting through the windows of ordinary Germans as they went about their ordinary business.
Just image if this technology was available during the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi people in Rwanda. The Interahamwe —made up of neighbors and even family members—rousting men, women and children out of their hiding places and using their machetes to hack, hack, and hack limbs, heads and torsos until what’s left is a pile of undisguisable body parts.
Unlike the extermination of the Jews or the Tutsis, victims and perpetrators are recording the mass murders and atrocities in Tigray. We are watching them live. We can pick up our phone or turn on our computer and we can see photos or watch videos of the genocide of the Tigrayan people.
We are watching the attempts to exterminate a people live and the level of inaction, in the face of livestreaming the extermination, remains inexcusably and incomprehensibly stalled.
It seems that witnessing a genocide live, as it is happening, is not enough to prod political actors into taking the kinds of actions needed to stop the perpetration of atrocities taking place before our very eyes.
Why is there an ordinariness to opening our phones every morning and watching the latest assault on the people of Tigray?
Why are the masses of Ethiopian people remaining silent in the face of such tragedy? Why have the Ethiopian people accepted the lies and disinformation propagated by Abiy Ahmed’s government about nearly everything taking place today—from the war to the postponed elections to the COVID-19 epidemic? Why are the Ethiopian people not questioning a sovereign state’s invitation to a foreign government—a former enemy government—to murder, rape and pillage its own citizens? Why are Ethiopians not protesting—or even raising concerns—about its young people being sent off to murder and rape their fellow citizens?
Where is the outrage?
And yes, the international community is accountable as well. It has taken moths of bloodshed for the West to acknowledge the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the Tigrayan people. It has taken months of murder, rape, imprisonment and starvation—to name just the biggest crimes committed against Tigrayans—to make statements of concern and appoint special envoys.
In the meantime, the genocide against the Tigrayan people continues and the world looks on with “concern.” Ethiopians remain in a state of denial.
Despite watching events unfold in real time on our mobile phones. Ethiopians will continue to pretend that their leader, Abiy Ahmed, is carrying out a “law and order operation” to capture officials of a “junta.” Ethiopians will pretend that Tigrayans are actually being liberated from this “junta” and will fall in step with the Prosperity Party once they are free of Debretsion Gebremichael, Getachew Assefa and Getachew Redda. Ethiopians will continue to deny the reality of why the election was postponed and the fact that COVID-19 is overtaking efforts to play down the pandemic. Ethiopians will make a few noises about imprisoning journalists but are relieved Oromo leaders are in prison because Abiy Ahmed, an Oromo, represents a majority of the Oromo people.
Western nations will continue to meet with Abiy Ahmed and Isayas Afewerki and pretend to issue demands without teeth. The killing must stop. Eritrean troops must withdraw. Amhara militia must return to the Amhara region. Ethiopia must adequately prepare for elections. Journalists must be released from prison. Rape as a weapon of war must stop. They will tell this to a man who said “at least the rapes were committed by men--my soldiers were attacked from behind with machetes.”
While all of this happens, the rains are coming and many more Tigrayans will die of starvation and water-borne diseases. We will watch it all happen on our mobile phones.