Ethiopia: A catastrophe in the making

Ethiopia: A catastrophe in the making

Thousands of people have died, around 2 million have been displaced, more than 5 million rely on emergency food aid and 400,000 are at risk of starvation. But violence in Ethiopia is growing beyond Tigray province.

Civilians are bearing the brunt of the conflict in Ethiopia

(DW)—In Ethiopia’s Tigray province, a lack of medical supplies, frequent power cuts and a severe fuel scarcity — not to mention a cash shortage due to closed banks, and growing unemployment after factories were shut down or looted — is making life increasingly difficult for the population, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

“The humanitarian situation is very worrying and getting worse,” said Alyona Synenko, the ICRC’s spokesperson for Africa.

Not only did the war displace 2 million people in need, but they are now supported by host communities who themselves have very little. It has also impacted negatively on agriculture, on which most Tigrayans rely to survive.

“Many farmers could not plant their crops on time, because they couldn’t access their land,” Synenko told DW.

“Also, they no longer have access to agricultural credits. They need those credits very badly to be able to buy fertilizer, because due to the local climate, they need fertilizer to be able to plant the crops.”

A ceasefire that does not work

The United Nations (UN) warned that more than 400,000 Ethiopians are at risk of starvation.

In a report published last Friday, the UN criticized both sides of the conflict for impeding the flow of aid to the population in need. It called the situation “catastrophic.”

Working on the ground, the ICRC has registered a rapid deterioration of the food situation.

“The farmers tell us they have only one meal a day. We also saw that the quality and the quantity of their meals have gone down,” Synenko said.

On June 29, after military setbacks, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared a unilateral ceasefire until the end of the planting season in September.

But instead of peace after nine months of conflict, “what we have now is an escalating crisis,” said Murithi Mutiga, project director Horn of Africa at the International Crisis group (ICG).

“The Ethiopian government says that it ordered a ceasefire, but the Tigrayan leadership argues that the ceasefire was not sincere, because Addis Ababa is imposing a blockade on the region,” Mutiga told DW.

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Expansion of violent conflict

The war increasingly threatens “to spill over in the region,” warned Mutiga.

Last weekend, the president of Ethiopia’s Somali region, Mustafa Muhumed Omer, said that a vital road and rail trade artery — linking the landlocked capital of Addis Ababa to the sea port of Djibouti — was blocked by local youths in protest against militia attacks from the neighboring Afar region.

The Somali regional government said that Afar militia “massacred hundreds of civilians” on Saturday in Gedamaytu, a town at the center of a regional boundary dispute in northeast Ethiopia.

On Sunday, the Amhara region called on “all young people” to take up arms against forces from the neighboring region of Tigray, who claimed to have taken over a town in Amhara for the first time since the conflict.

‘War crimes’

Over the past week, local authorities in Sudanese Kassala province found more than 40 bodies floating in the river between the countries. They were apparently people fleeing the war in neighboring Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Some had gunshot wounds or their hands bound.

Eritrean refugees in Addis Ababa protesting an attack on refugee camps

“We have definitely seen that more areas are becoming affected by the violence,” said Synenko. 

“We’ve also seen an increased number of the war wounded. And this is especially concerning because many hospitals are experiencing a severe shortage of medical supplies.”

The ICRC supports several hospitals in Ethiopia.

Signs of ethnic cleansing, the prospect of famine and fear of the violence reaching neighboring countries have prompted the international community to increase pressure on Addis Ababa to end the war.

‘A war about blood and soil’

Many critics believe this to be too little, too late.

“It is possible to sympathize with the actors that have been trying to find a way out of this war, because these are very entrenched issues,” analyst Mutiga said. “This is a war about blood and soil, about power and survival, about ethnic nationalism. And, normally, these wars are very difficult to end.”

“But I think this is the moment now to redouble all efforts, not only from the West, not only from the United Nations, but also from Ethiopia’s neighbors and regional multilateral organizations such as especially the African Union,” Mutiga added.

Five million Ethiopians depend directly on aid to survive

Ethiopia’s survival at stake

Eritrea has been involved in the conflict at Abiy’s side from the start. But other countries are increasingly concerned too.

“Ethiopia has been an exporter of stability in the region, one of the biggest contributors to peacekeeping around the world and in Somalia. So, yes, the longer this lasts, the greater the danger of contagion. Not just in Somalia: in Kenya, in Djibouti. Sudan is also watching with a lot of anxiety,” said Mutiga.

With no end of the conflict in sight, fears are also growing that it might spell the end of the Ethiopian nation. “Given what the disintegration of Ethiopia would mean, I think everybody hopes and would like to invest in avoiding that outcome. It is one that many Ethiopians are worried about. But, hopefully, it is one that can be prevented,” the expert said.

3 Comments

  1. Re-posted from Ayyaantuu News

    Ya Oromo, (also, to the Journalists and ‘Experts’ who write about Ethiopia’s current crisis but whose work I have found to be short on insight and facts…)

    The Anti Oromo Liberation Army campaign in the guise of protecting the ‘unity’ of Ethiopia is in full swing. Nearly forty years ago, the same campaign was waged against The Eritrean Liberation Front, The Tigray Liberation Front, & the then fledgling Oromo Liberation Front. Today, the focus of this Anti-Oromo campaign is the Oromo Liberation Army. Rather than write an article about it now, I have republished an essay written on this same issue by H.Q. Loltu in March 1985. I and many of my friends are forever indebted for ALL we have learned from the work of one of our brightest thinkers and writers on the Oromo question. With a change of names, time, and other minor items here and there, I trust you will find this essay useful in understanding why the “concern” about Ethiopia’s “fragmentation”, or “Balkanization,” at heart, is really an Anti-Oromo propaganda campaign with the sons and daughters of armed Amhara settlers, the Nefxagnas, as the primary drivers of the story line. Other proponents of the ” scare-the-bejesus-out-of- -the-reader” writers about the ‘evils’ of “Fragmentation” or “Balkanization,” fall within the range of those who are plainly oblivious to the history of the Horn of Africa AND the Oromo in particular, to those who have an agenda of their own to push under the guise of “respect for Ethiopia’s Sovereignty”…

    Re-printed from:
    The Kindling Point #5
    “On Unity & Fragmentation”
    March, 1985
    By H.Q Loltu

    ” Many people seem to be afraid of the “fragmentation” of Ethiopia, and give that as a reason for opposing the Oromo and other movements for national liberation.
    Most people who mention it, however, are either unwilling or unable to explain their concerns. So I have been thinking a lot lately about what might lie at the base of this fear of “fragmentation.”

    Recently while this issue was on my mind, I ran across several articles appearing in Newspapers and Magazines to commemorate the Berlin Conference that was held in 1884-85 in that city to divide up Africa. The articles dealt with how and why the Colonial Powers at the time carved up Africa into its present pieces.When you think about it, the World has really been observing the one hundred year anniversary of the Fragmentation of Africa. The way Africa was carved up made sense only to the colonizing powers and not to Africans. The pieces on the map show only the logic of an outside market and the logic of ruling elites. Foreigners drew lines that dissected living nations of Africans limb from limb for the convenience of intruders. They drew lines around prize territories in complete ignorance and contempt for the inhabitants. Then each colonial power took his prize to play with in whatever way he wished. And each one jealously guarded what was handed to him like a dog guards a bone. It was at this time and in this way that Oromia came to be in the possession of Abyssinia.

    The Oromos were trapped inside the Ethiopian Empire by a gun and a lie and a set of rules written by colonial thieves. If you ask me, the famous Berlin Conference was no better than a big poker game among robbers who were plotting to raid the riches of Africa after a few scouts had returned to tell stories about her wealth. They played with chips that were broken fragments of Africa grabbed from wherever the players could reach and stacked with other parts without rhyme or reason. The biggest prizes went to those who were the best at bluffing and lying about their claims to certain regions. It was not only Europeans who played this game. Abyssinians played also. Abyssinians have always been expert at bluffing.
    They are better at it than at anything else. They could not govern themselves in unity; they could never defeat or absorb the Oromo Republic on their own, no matter how hard they tried. But once they were handed a disputed part of the pot from this gigantic poker game and given guns to “protect” it, they conquered the Oromo nation with a vengeance and then pretended that things had always been that way.

    The greatest outrage of all is the Abyssinian lie that their claims to the region went back to the beginning of time. Ever since they finally conquered the Oromos, the Abyssinians have been worried that the Europeans were going to come and take
    away the prize that was awarded to their Kings. [So] their greatest defense has been to act like that old poker game was a convention of the saints and the rules of thieves were created to protect the “sacred principles of unity and justice.”

    No one has been so dependent on the rule of thieves as the Abyssinians, so [no] one needed to defend them as strongly. when Haile Selassie used the League of Nations to try to hold onto his Empire, the Europeans were amazed and pleased and flattered that someone had taken their old game seriously. They supported Haile Selassie when he cried that Italy was a bully trying to take his piece away from him (but no one was more of a bully than the Emperor to the people inside his empire). When the British stepped in to defend the Emperor’s position and the Italians left, the Oromos were locked in for another fifty years.

    Let me make one footnote here. No colonialism is good. But some types have lasted longer than others. That is the one difference to the Oromos if the Italians had stayed. Former colonies of the Europeans have obtained their independence. The colonies of the Abyssinians have not. And Abyssinian fascism is not less torturous than Italian fascism.

    Later, Haile Selassie tried to use the Organization of African Unity as a platform to hold onto his empire just as he had used the League of Nations. He even invited the OAU to have its headquarters in Addis Ababa. And he began to talk about the importance of “territorial integrity” of the colonial pieces of Africa just as he had used the idea of “collective security” to protect his empire [at the League of Nations].

    Understanding that each of the African Heads of State had inherited a colonial territory, and along with it, the problems, Haile Sellasie calculated that they would not question the terms of the Will and risk losing their inheritance. That is why the Emperor constantly warned them of what might happen to
    Africa if the colonial boundaries were disrespected.

    Can you imagine the colonialist and those seeking their independence sitting together and deciding the future of the African people? Yes I can. It can only happen if one party is aware and the other doesn’t know. Haile Sellasie was the only one who really knew about the nature of Ethiopia when he sat with Africans who did not. (It was truly a case of one rotten apple spoiling the rest!) I am sure that he had no better way to guarantee his holdings than by threatening everyone else’s and making the OAU into a kind of a Shrine honoring the Europeans’ fragmentation of Africa.

    Today in honor of Haile Sellasie, his successor, Emperor-Comared Mengistu Haile Mariam, also Chairman of the OAU, repeats this concern by preaching about the importance of “non-interference in internal affairs of Africa” (especially the people of Africa are not to interfere), and warns about the “Indivisibility of Ethiopian Unity.” (This is nothing new; this is something we have heard before!)
    The essence of this warning is to frighten people with the issue of fragmentation. And if you really think about it, there is no other group that argues more desperately about the evils of “fragmentation” than Ethiopians with an empire to keep together.

    When Africa was broken up and nations splintered into fragments, so was the Republic of Oromia. That was a terrible loss to Africa. The Oromos had a democracy under the Gadaa method of government. This was before the Abyssinians arrived armed with Remington rifles. They defeated the Oromo armies and gunned down hundreds of thousands of Oromos.It has to be one of the worst slaughters and series of uneven battles ever fought in the history of the world.

    From that time of conquest until now, every sign of unity, cooperation and camaraderie among Oromos has caused panic and alarm in the hearts of Abyssinians. This is because they know what they are guilty of doing to the Oromos. The Gadaa
    system of assemblies and lawmaking was outlawed mainly because the Gadaa unified the Oromos in Politics, Economics, and Religion.

    Oromos share every experience of colonized Africans. Oromos were not allowed to move around on their own territory after the formation of Ethiopia. Instead they had to stay and till their own farms and pastures for any one who arrived from Abyssinia with a gun and piece of paper in a foreign language saying he owned the land. Thereafter the people on it had to give up to him everything they grew. If they refused, they were dealt with by the same armed landlords. Oromo land and people were divided into Provinces, Awarjas, and Woredas. Nobody in the international community cried out about “fragmentation” then when the real fragmentation took place.

    But when the Oromos organize themselves to throw off the terrible yoke that has been tied on their necks for a full one hundred years, certain groups become very concerned about “fragmentation” and “economic in-viability of small entities.” It should not surprise anyone to learn that the ones who are especially concerned about these issues are the sons and daughters of the armed landlords,
    the “neftennas.”

    Now I ask you, how can anyone who has looked at the present condition of chaos in Ethiopia find the arrogance to say that they are worried that “fragmentation” could bring disaster? If this is not disaster, what is it? Definitely, it is a disaster impossible to exaggerate, and it is caused by colonial policy. The present crisis is so severe that seven million people are in danger of death by starvation and the rest are terrified of being destroyed by bombers. How can people stand by witnessing the holocaust of the 1980’s and continue to defend the old colonial empire?

    I have been thinking a lot about why the world can be so concerned about Ethiopia and so quiet about the real problem that the people inside are facing. The West is quiet about the problem because they created it. The East is quiet about the problem because they are sustaining it now. Africans are quiet because they are afraid. People who live in glass houses cannot throw stones. Therefore they sit in the OAU and sip champagne while Mengistu is bombing Eritrea, Somalia, Oromia and Tigray and declare that Ethiopia’s problem is due to “natural catastrophe.”

    In my opinion, all of Africa inherited the problem on the day that they agreed not to redraw the colonial boundaries according to an African logic in order to express real African unity. Is it not true that Europeans were more interested in the size of the holding when they entered and drew the lines without considering the ethnic composition of the holding? Look at the Somalis, divided among the Italians, the British, the French, and the Abyssinians. Isn’t the problem of Africa the problem of fragmentation then rather than now? Isn’t the “problem” we see a “problem” of the people wanting to be united who have been torn apart? Isn’t it when the people reject that division that the war begins? Yes, it is.

    I would go further and say that if Africans had redrawn their map the economic
    crisis that they are facing would not have existed and they would be able to take a proper position based on African unity. But the regimes over Ethiopia’s empire must argue to maintain the colonial boundaries because Ethiopia herself is a colonial empire that she wants to keep. The others made a mistake to follow her.

    Redrawing the map is not supported by the former colonial masters. Why? Because if Africa redraws her map, both the East and the West would lose their big markets for weapons systems and Africa would turn to research and development on her own. Why does Africa need weapons systems anyway? To protect herself from the U.S.A? The U.S.S.R or Britain or France? For that matter, Israel? Could she defend herself against any of the great powers even with unlimited investment in weapons? No. She could not. Therefore it is obvious that she needs the weapons to suppress mass discontent and to use against her neighbors and against colonial subjects. All are problems caused by accepting the colonial boundaries. I won’t go into which country is against which because that is easy to find out in the media. The point I am trying to make, however, is that African society has been disintegrated by the colonialism that followed the Berlin Conference–usually referred to as European Colonialism by people who forget that Abyssinia was also in that club. That map is still maintained by European, America, and Soviet Bloc aid. To focus particularly on the Horn of Africa, the trouble we see in Ethiopia’s empire today is the people’s expression of dissatisfaction with that arrangement and their wishes to be reunited.

    I would say that it is the responsibility of Europeans who have created the problem to realize it and stop aiding the empire and to get involved in aiding to rebuild what was destroyed rather than sitting on the sidelines and waiting for the OAU to lead them in a proper direction. (Of course if the West has a
    long-range plan to reconquer, they cannot do that, but otherwise they could and they should.)

    I understand that it is very difficult for the West to go against the situation that they created. They have made the Ethiopians the token blacks for the international community for a century now. People are afraid to say or do anything against it. If Africans say that Abyssinians are colonizers and should be out of their colonial position, those Africans are labelled against African unity or power hungry. If a white person says it, that person is labelled a racist. (Definitely the Abyssinians have enjoyed their position and have even come to believe that they deserve to be there. As a result they not only keep quite but try to close the mouths of others.) Then who can say it? The working Oromos who suffer under the heavy burden have been saying it for years in every way possible to them.

    Let me make a closing remark. I, for one, am totally opposed to the fragmentation of a nation: that is why I support the national liberation movements. When People divide something whole into several parts and then annex each piece to a different entity and call that “unity,” just like the Ethiopians are doing, and when they call anything that comes after that a fragmentation, then the term “fragmentation” loses its real meaning. It becomes an empty phrase in the mouths of those who benefit from colonialism. The ones who can tell the difference between fragmentation, which is the breaking up of a nation, and decolonization, which is the breaking up of an empire, are the colonial subjects themselves. We should listen to them, understand them and support them. By all standards, the Oromo issue is not an issue of fragmentation, rather it is an issue of decolonization and a process of rebuilding a nation. ”

    Hordhoofa Q. Loltu

  2. Aba Solan,
    I absolutely loved reading this article by Loltu from 1985! My father loved
    reading “The Kindling Point,” but never saved the copies! It is one of the very few regrets I have in my otherwise wonderful Oromo upbringing! Do you have any other copies written by Loltu? Oh, how I would love to get my hands on all of his work! Know that there are the “quiet” children of Oromia such as yourself who are working for the emancipation of our people and the birth of a Sovereign Oromo Republic! We shall all meet, one day, in our own Free land, among our own Free People, under the umbrella of our own Free & Sovereign Oromo State! To paraphrase you, NOTHING LESS SHOULD BE ACCEPTABLE!

    Let’s stand with our Oromo Liberation Army!

    • You have restated my own sentiment regarding the imperative for establishing an Independent Oromo Republic eloquently! We owe our fallen heroes and our own children that much AND more! The right of the Oromo People to form their own Sovereign Oromo Republic SHOULD NEVER BE NEGOTIATED AWAY! What we need to negotiate about, if necessary, is the mechanism by which the Oromo People WILL CHOOSE TO GO THEIR WAY!

      As to the articles written by Loltu, I have “The kindling Point,” #1 to #38, except for #s 36 & 37. Loltu also published a series of Articles titled ” The Turning Point,” after he stopped publishing “The Kindling Point,” but I only have Issue #3. I am planning to digitize these articles and make them available via emails soon. I will share the ‘hows’ of my project when I am ready. In the meantime, we will continue to meet on Kichuu’s pages! Our ULTIMATE GOAL is, of course, to quote you, to be able to “one day, meet in our own Free land, among our own Free people, under the umbrella of our own Free & Sovereign Oromo State!”
      NOTHING LESS SHOULD BE ACCEPTABLE!

      Waqaa Gurracha Oromo Waliin!

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