Any future of Ethiopia which includes the Oromo nation must give them their fair say in governance. The five conditions demanded by the Oromo Liberation Army for peace talks seem reasonable. News about Ethiopian conflict and dissension by formal press organizations as well as interested parties on social media mostly involves discussions of Tigray and the Ethiopian government. Yet the largest group making up 35% of Ethiopia’s population and arguably the most oppressed group in Ethiopian history, the Oromos, receive much less international attention. They deserve more. Although I know the Tigray region and her people much better over the ten years I have been in Ethiopia I have had the chance to meet many Oromia who shared their history and feelings with me. Any future of Ethiopia which includes the Oromo nation must give them their fair say in governance which no previous government has ever done. The five conditions are:
1.Reaching a negotiated cessation of hostilities across the country;
2.Dealing with Eritrean influence and withdrawing its forces from Ethiopia;
3.Releasing all political prisoners across the country;
4.Opening unimpeded humanitarian corridors wherever it’s needed;
5.Repealing the proclamation that designates OLA and TPLF as terrorist organizations;
6.An all-inclusive process that leads to the establishment of an independent commission acceptable to all stakeholders.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Amharic monarchy ruling the Ethiopian empire saw the Oromos as a lesser race to be dominated. Their language and culture was Cushitic in origin versus the Amhara and Tigray of the Abyssinian regions which were Semitic. Amharic academics promulgated the false hood that the Oromo people were recent immigrants to the Ethiopian territory. Today Oromo academics have shown that their existence in Ethiopia goes back to the first millennium. The concept of an Amharic manifest destiny and the belief by many clergy in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of this inferiority allowed the development of slavery of the Cushitic peoples of the expanding Ethiopian empire into what is now Oromia and the The Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region. These lands had good rainfall as well as fertile valleys and flatlands which produced agricultural bounties. Many Amhara settled into the Oromo lands and the local rulers where deposed. Even still brave Oromo cavalry bravely defended Ethiopian sovereignty at the battle of Adwa against the Italians. While many saw great hope that a Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, who has Oromia ancestry by his father would elevate the status of the Oromo region this has been negated with drone attacks killing countless civilians and extrajudicial killing of political prisoners.
There seems to be growing dissension in the Ethiopian political factions which pressed for the savage military aggression against Tigray over a year ago. While some communication about peace negotiation is going on between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray leadership many of those in Abiy Ahmed’s powerbase are continuing messages of hate and the need to not only vanquish but wipeout the Tigray people. Military leaders, diaspora internet pro-Ahmara “news”, and clerics have not abated their hate.
While Ethiopia once used to pride itself as being one of the most religious nations in the world there is no doubt that the the barbarism seen by forces of the Ethiopian government and allies are not consistent with Christian or Muslim teachings. For Ethiopian Christians they seem to forget that scripture in both the Old and New Testament warn that hate increases man’s distance from the God who made all humans and our salvation. God loves all sinners as much as he loves us. Simply explained in 1 John 4:20 (NIV) “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”
When many people hear about starvation they assume that intervention that is done when many start to die will result in complete reversal of ill health. Unfortunately the reality is that moderately severe starvation for just a few months can lead to permanent disability and premature death even once proper nutrition has been re-established. The World Food Program and other agencies announcement that 40% of Tigrayans are suffering severe hunger means that even for those that have not yet died they may already have contracted a permanent condition. This is especially so for children.
Thus the urgency of a rapid and comprehensive response to the growing Tigray famine is absolute. Severe decline in brain function, child growth stunting, diabetes, increased birth maternal and child mortality, birth defects, and lowered resistance to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis (endemic in Ethiopia) have been well recognized since World War II in civilian populations deprived in war. Children who survived then in adulthood showed increased levels of diabetes and heart disease leading to premature death.
The release of a leaked document of Ethiopia’s Prosperity Party Meeting at Hawassa, December 2021, entitled, The journey towards prosperity through permanent victory: War aftermath challenges and redress, after victory over Tigray PLF reveals that the Ethiopia government is well aware that continuing the armed conflict with the Tigray Defense Forces will likely lead to economic ruin for Ethiopia. The goal of continuing the conflict in the short term was to weaken the spirit of the Tigray so that Ethiopia could bargain from a strong position. Ethiopia believed the United States interest in the conflict related to wanting to remove Isaias Afwerki as head of Eritrea. Discussion was being held about limiting the power of the Amhara militia group, FANO.
The growing weakness and worsening forecast of the Ethiopian economy for the next year was highlighted in a recent forecast. The highly regarded Fitch Country Risk and Industry Research group published an economic forecast for Ethiopia this week that sees continued worsening deficit in the Ethiopian government fiscal accounts for at least the next year. While the Ethiopian government has boasted almost $1.1 billion in revenue from coffee exports of 280,000 tons this year a close look by Fitch determined that Ethiopian coffee production would increase by only 0.3% in the near future. At the same time world wide prices for coffee are expected to fall by 6.3. Coffee exports make up about 32% of the total exports from Ethiopia.
The removal of Ethiopia for the foreseeable future from the African Growth and Opportunity Act will see the trade deficit from necessary imports to Ethiopia increase from $9.3 to $10 billion yearly. The potential for future improvement in Ethiopian economy is now heavily dependent on the peaceful resolution of conflicts within Ethiopia involving the Tigray and Oromo This would weigh heavily on investor sentiment and foreign capital inflows, weakening the country’s balance-of-payment position.
Similarly, the World Bank continues to see challenges in Ethiopia’s development due to ongoing conflict. Ethiopia has one of the lowest Human Development Indexes in the world at 0.38 which reflects the economic potential of the average citizen. The diversion of educational funds, nutritional support, and health funding by the Abiy Ahmed lead Prosperity Party to buying weapons (reports are that Ethiopia wants to quadruple military spending) and increasing deficits is leading to an uneducated and unhealthly workforce which will be unable to develop the country.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s appointment of Ethiopian National Defense Force senior leaders, General Bacha Debele and General Hassen Ibrahim, along with a whole new slate of foreign diplomats might seem strange but there is hidden rationale behind this action. One very credible theory behind this action has nothing to do with these appointees diplomatic skills but rather is likely to be an attempt to shield them from international or domestic prosecution for war crimes carried out under their leadership.
Remember that in August 2021 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission had completed a report that human rights violations had been committed in Ethiopian Tigray conflict ostensibly by all parties. This report was criticized for not including all the potential war crimes especially the massacre of church goers in Axum. The former Ethiopian Minister of Women, Youth, and Children Filsan Abdi who went to Mekelle in July 2021 has stated repeatedly that she found credible evidence for widespread violation of women from ENDF and Eritrean forces which were downplayed by Abiy Ahmed leading to her resignation. In December 2021 after examining what evidence was available the UN Human Rights Commission voted to sponsor an international investigation.
There is good legal precedent that personal immunity (immunity ratione personae) and functional immunity relating to the office held (immunity ratione materiae) given to diplomats may offer protection from international prosecution. Legal scholars who study the history of prosecution of war crimes note that there is a “culture of impunity which contributes to a climate in which human rights violations persist and are not deterred”. Thus mechanisms of enforcement are often not available because of these loopholes in prosecution.
Mesfin Tegenu, chairman of the American Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee is reported by AP News to say that Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, is wanting to discuss peace with Tigray which will preserve the Ethiopian state. This has not been confirmed by Tigray sources, the United States State Department, or even the Ethiopian government.
I previously noted that Ethiopia is in a classic Catch-22. This occurs in the face of the Tigray Defense Force gains in reclaiming Western Tigray as well as holding off attacks by Amhara militia, Afar forces, and the Eritrean military. Meanwhile the Ethiopian economy continues a downward spiral to complete ruin with rising food prices and a debt service that is unpayable for loans in excess of $60 billion. Also the growing Oromo forces against Abiy Ahmed now control half of the Oromo state and nothing has been heard from them about this new development.
Ethiopia is in a Catch-22 situation. There is no clear foreseeable victory for Abiy Ahmed which involves complete surrender of the OLF or TDF. Come to peace terms with the Tigray National State and the Oromos to salvage the economy or continue a war which has no visible end in sight and will only lead to further economic decay for Ethiopia in order to satisfy Amhara centered nationalists (the main backers of Abiy Ahmed) who want Tigray and Oromo rebellions completely obliterated.
Although Ethiopia’s Central Statistical Agency has been trying to hide failing economic reports since August 2020 the dismal economic outlook can no longer be hidden. Although some economic analysts had predicted a robust economic recovery earlier in the year based upon two factors:
That the Ethiopian forces would come to stop significant fighting from Tigray and Oromo factions
That cessation of the fighting would improve foreign investors confidence in Ethiopia without sanctions
Currently the Tigray Defense Force is making slow but steady progress into Western Tigray and creating a buffer zone against invasion in the northwestern Afar. Attempts at reinvasion by Eritrean armed forces have been repelled. Meanwhile almost half of the Northern Oromo region has been taken by the Oromo Liberation Front who now openly recruit and train thousands more each week. There is no clear foreseeable victory for Abiy Ahmed which involves complete surrender of the OLF or TDF.
In December 2021 food prices went up 41.6% the highest in decade while the actual value of the birr against the dollar has essentially reached 50 to the dollar and continues to fall. The Ethiopian government has played games with statistics for economic growth using the falling birr to create false gains which are really losses in terms of international currency value in economic growth (-2%), gross domestic product, and per capita income. By the end of 2022 Ethiopian government debt will exceed $60 billion which has an unsustainable debt service unless severe austerity measures occur.
Other analysts have noted that while the previous regime of Meles Zenawi leadership of the Ethiopia Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front was able to achieve high economic achievement under authoritarian rule this will not be the case for Abiy Ahmed’s prosperity party. Centralizing decision making to Amhara oligarchs, severely suppressing human rights and free press, and not sharing real dialogue with the Tigray and Oromo parties will never bring the “market liberalization” needed to put Ethiopia back on a growth path.
President Biden made clear that there will be no re-instatement of the AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act Treaty) until the requirements for human rights guarantees stipulated in the treaty are restored. Professor Jon Abbink is a professor of Politics and Governance at Leiden University, a proclaimed Abiy Ahmed government supporter, and has stated that AGOA termination delisting will cost the loss of “200,000 Ethiopian jobs directly and in the textile and apparel sectors (ca. 80% women) and indirectly in extra 700 to 800,000 additional supportive jobs (in transport, catering, distribution)”. It will dent the emerging young Ethiopian industrialization policy, in which the country showed great promise. Although The (international) firms in the new Ethiopian industrial parks will partly survive by seeking new markets but this will be enough to sustain them.
The current starvation of the Tigray is a violation of three forms of the laws of God espoused by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOTC) which can be clearly shown by reviewing the well described theology of the EOTC. Government leaders and the followers of their orders are committing mortal sin in the commission of this evil. There is no Biblical justification under EOTC theology for starvation nor the killing of innocents in Tigray by Ethiopians.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOTC) traces it’s beginnings to before the birth of Christ and even before the reception of the Ten Commandments by Moses. Their theology is guided by three principles which view of the law of God as Hәgga Lәbbunä (the law of heart), “Hәgga Orit” (the law of Moses and “Hәgga Wangel” (the law of gospel).
As noted by the Apostle Paul in his discussion of the Gentiles, the EOTC believes that God gives man the ability to know right from wrong by his nature without formal training by Hәgga Lәbbunä (the law of heart). This was a gift from God to the Ethiopians even before the introduction of Judaism by the Queen of Sheba who reigned in what is now Tigray.
The Ten Commandments represent the essence of the Law of Moses “Hәgga Orit”. Tradition has it that the son of Queen Sheba and King Solomon of Israel, Menelik, brought the Ark of the Covenant to Axum in Tigray which as described in the Book of Exodus contains the original two stone tablets given by God to Moses with the Ten Commandments. An EOTC tenet of faith is that this sacred religious relic is held in Axum.
The ancient Israelites were only victorious in the Old Testament when they fought in battles as ordered through the Prophets in an exact manner dictated by God’s instruction. The arrival of Christ brought a clarification of the message that would attempt to eliminate war. The justification for war could never be about territory or power but only about preventing eminent severe loss of life by large populations as noted by many Christian scholars.
The 81 canonical books of the EOTC are larger and have more books then the Western Catholic and Protestant Churches but two components relevant to how one should treat enemies in both in the Old Testament and New Testament are shared. In Proverbs 25:21 (NIV) :If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. The Apostle Paul repeats this message in Romans 12:20 (NIV): On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” The burning coals refers to the shame that will be felt by a perpetrator who has acted wrongfully against you when you show him mercy. The EOTC sees Paul’s view of the laws of God as encompassing the “law of Conscience, Torah and the law of the Spirit of life”.
The Ethiopian complete medical supply blockade has turned the normally happiest time in family life, the arrival of a new baby to a young married couple, into a nightmare . For Tigray’s population it is estimated that there are 36 births per 1000 population giving an estimate of 252,000 births per year. Prior to the onset of the Ethiopian occupation with its subsequent medical blockade of Tigray we know that maternal mortality from births in Tigray averaged 266 per 100,000 live births. Of those deaths the most common cause was hemorrhage accounting for 34%. Ethiopia already had one of the highest rates of post-partum hemorrhage with some areas reporting 676 per 100,000 the highest in the world. In the best of conditions another twenty infant deaths occur per 100,000 births due to maternal complications of pregnancy. Of course these numbers were estimates because many women still delivered outside of medical attendance and births are often not registered. Estimates are that 19% of women delivered in medical attendance in Tigray.
The Ethiopian blockade of medical supplies has made it impossible to run a blood bank and treat complications of delivery. There are no drugs, medical equipment, or even the capability to do surgery to stop a dangerous post partum hemorrhage. I can tell you from my experience at Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital in Mekelle that everyday many young women giving birth had their lives saved by blood transfusion. Now these women die.
If we take into account that the there is no treatment now for post-partum hemorrhage, neonatal respiratory failure (no oxygen, suction, intubation supplies), sepsis from infection (no antibiotics or intravenous lines), and no caesarian section for breech presentation, cephalopelvic disproportion or even fetal distress the severe complication and death rate will climb exponentially . Maternal and infant mortality for Tigray has no doubt soared to that seen in previous centuries.
The apathy of the world and Africa to the human suffering in Tigray shamefully represents abandonment of principles of human dignity and equality in Christian and Muslim faith. Why is the current threat of Russian invasion of Ukraine, a country of half the size and half of the population of Ethiopia without the current humanitarian crisis, receiving so much diplomatic and media attention while the Tigray Ethiopia conflict is not? There is no doubt that a massive armed conflict in Ukraine could cost hundreds of thousands of human lives but at the same time several hundred thousand have already died and millions more are at risk in the largest conflict and humanitarian crisis currently on this planet in Tigray. Resistance to the government of Ethiopia by other minorities including the Oromo is propagating daily. Although one might quickly argue that the Western democracies care more about white Europe then black Africa it is not that simple. We have to look at human nature and to reflect on Christ’s message to mankind to find solution. The issue of external international concern and internal domestic concern both involve idolatry to tribalism rather then acting in obedience to Christian and Muslim beliefs of brotherhood.
Since the beginning of history there is a human trend which seems natural to place family and those with the most in common with ourselves before strangers. In every generation bloody conflict develops when one group of humans identifies another group as not only different but also a threat. Today in the world of ubiquitous social media small sparks of hate can easily become raging firestorms with little rational basis. Yet this tendency to form tribes is a part of our “animal nature”. Even from a biological evolutionary point of view this has been explained as done to favor the reproduction of our genes over other competing genes. The concept of becoming a pious Christian or Muslim involves specifically that man must escape his beastly nature and evolve to a divine nature of love of God and his fellow man.
Yet the birth of Jesus Christ brought in a new era. As Christians we are taught to recognize that we are creations of God who have been created by a divine nature which negates and overrules our beastly nature. In recognizing that all humans are God’s creation and our equal brethren potentially worthy of salvation and only ultimately to be judged by God we are governed by new commandments. Love your neighbor and love your enemy are inescapable tenets of Christian faith. Christ and his apostles tell us that tribalism exists but that we must create our relationships with others through God as equals in both Ukraine and Ethiopia. Muslims have similarly been taught to see themselves equally before God.
Western democracies have tended to look at Africa as incapable of stable democracy and meaningful contribution to world affairs. At the same time African political leadership while voicing support for democratic ideals always tends to favor existing political leaders even if they have strayed far democratic principles to become repressive authoritarian states. African autonomy of a dictator is considered appropriate if it avoids the perception of colonialism. Tribalism reigns throughout the world. It seems both Western democracies and Africans have to decide whether they are going to live by the principles they claim as Christians and Muslims.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are taught we must intervene when a fellow human being presents before us in need. We cannot walk away and ignore the situation.