A civil war, and possibly genocide, is in the making in the Horn of Africa, in Ethiopia. The most recent events characterized by regular countrywide demonstrations in defiance of a government ban, by the two largest ethnic groups, the Oromos and the Amharas, have demonstrated once again the power of a marginalized majority to wreak havoc and paralyze the country despite the state’s brutal response.
Ethiopia’s minority ethnic group, the Tigrai, which comprises less than six percent of the population of ninety million, has ruled the country with an iron-fist for 25 years. As was the case in Rwanda decades ago, the accumulated anger directed at this minority group is likely to explode and result in a human catastrophe with serious implications on regional stability.
The 2015 US Country Human Rights Report on Ethiopia states: “The most significant human rights problems included harassment and intimidation of opposition members and supporters and journalists; alleged torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees by security forces; and politically motivated trials and arbitrary killings.”
The 2016 Human Rights Watch on the Oromo protests depicts a disturbing picture of a government that thrives on systematic repression and official violence. The report, which puts the death toll from the seven-month-long protest at more than 400, rightly exposes the myth of “Ethiopia rising” as a political “Ponzi scheme.” This figure does not include the100 killed during the first weeks of August.
To camouflage the repressive nature of the regime, the government and its international supporters have been blatantly asserting that Ethiopia has the fastest growing economy in Africa, while in actual fact it is one of the ten poorest countries in the world currently with over 10,000,000 facing famine.
Now, after 25 years of absolute control over the people, the regime is facing a deadly resistance to its iron-fisted rule and people are anxiously waiting for its staunchest ally, the US, to intervene.
“Washington must be prepared to press its partner to alter its strong-handed approach to political dissent and counterterrorism or consider ending the relationship”
In 2012 Genocide Watch reported “Genocide Watch is deeply concerned with the rising number of human rights violations in Ethiopia; as a result Genocide Watch is classifying the situation as a genocide alert. The warning signs have been there for sometime.
In the case of the Rwandan genocide administration officials admit that the US lost “opportunities to reverse the tide of killings at the earliest stages.” Information obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act shows that President Clinton knew about the planned “final solution to eliminate all Tutsis.” Over 800, 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in this genocide. In 1998 Mr. Clinton apologized “for not acting quickly enough or immediately calling the crimes genocide.”
If civil war begins in Ethiopia it will be unprecedented catastrophe the likes of which has not been seen in Africa. It will also create an opportunity for extremist like al Shabab to flourish in next-door Ethiopia, which has a 40% Muslim population. Because of the Nile River, the lifeline of both Sudan and Egypt, instability in Ethiopia will be a major concern and it is likely that these countries will intervene either directly or indirectly. Together with the failed states of South Sudan, Somalia, Central Africa Republic, Yemen across the Red Sea, and with Sudan and Eritrea tittering as a result of US sanction, the Horn can turn out to be the most complicated security zone the world has yet to see with severe implications for maritime activities in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.
Because of the protracted war in the Horn of Africa over the last three decades, including some of the world’s longest war, the Horn has become the source of a huge percentage of the world’s refugee and migrant population. With civil war in Ethiopia this percentage can quadruple.
The US cannot afford to miscalculate the possible consequences of the gross abuses of power for 25 years. Its strategic interest, including the partnership on counter terrorism in the region, can be taken care better by a stable democratic government rather than a fragile autocratic regime, which is most likely to fall soon under the weight of people’s insurrection. Therefore, the United States should see beyond its short-term interest and support the establishment of an inclusive democratic government.
Dawit Giorgis was a visiting fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He is currently the Executive Director of the Institute for Strategic and Security Studies