The Horn: Another Civil War Looming By Dawit Giorgis

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

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Posted by on August 19, 2016. Filed under NEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to The Horn: Another Civil War Looming By Dawit Giorgis

  1. chachi gonfa

    August 19, 2016 at 6:36 PM

    In one interview, the Mr. W. Giorgis said he runs an NGO which works throughout Africa on peace and reconciliation issues.

    If Mr. W. Giorgis does what he says, how can he show gross carelessness in his note above that can mislead foreigners and some uncritical Ethiopians?

    I will refer just to three of the many misleading issues. First, look at the facts and figures he gave; second, the alarm he tried to raise by mentioning civil war and genocide; and, third, his unrealistic call he makes to the U.S. to side with the people in the uprising.

    To begin with, take the second paragraph as an example if you want to see misleading facts and figures. I think I don’t have to suggest to look for more.

    The last time I checked map of Ethiopia and read on its ethnographic configuration, “Tigrai” is a regional state and not an ethnic group. Again, the last time I checked statisitcs on the population of Ethiopian, Ethiopians are well over 90 million and “Tigrai” has more than (at least not less than) 6% of the over 90 million. Let alone Ethiopians, foreigners might not be fooled by these facts and figures as they are a click away on line. But the whole thing reflects on the sorry state of Mr. W. Giorgis’ throwing figures around – willy nilly. Some might even streach the situation and question Mr. W. Giorgis’ conclusions in this and many other issues.

    Facts ad figures aside, Mr. W. Giorgis’s alarming claim is: ” A civil war, and possibly genocide, is in the making in the Horn of Africa, in Ethiopia.”

    Horn of Africa has six countries: the Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. How are all these countries to plunge themselves in civil war that degenerates to genocide? I think this point remains at the surface without adequate elaboration. In fact, it might need another paper. If he does not worked on it again, it is a “C” grade.

    Civil war and genocide have internationally accepted definition (sociological, political as well as legal) which makes them inapplicable to these six Horn countries. At least not the way Mr. W. Giorgis prents it. As far as history goes, an all sub region inclusive civil war and genocide have not happened. And they are less likely to happen in the Horn sub-region.

    Obviously, cross border wars among and between the Horn countries (for example between Ethiopia and Eritrea) cannot be considered as civil war or genocide. Ethiopia and Eritrea share common ethnic groups, but that does not make cross border civil war genocide possible. War between two countries is called war and not civil war. Genocide across boundaries are possible, but there is no basis to advance such a claim in the Horn region. History tells us, Armenian genocide (by Turks) and genocide of Jews (by Nazi Germans) are directed at certain people living at a certain epoch and territory. There are no forces similar to Turks and Germans of the 1920s and 1940s in the Horn region.

    It is true that there are civil wars in the Horn. Somalia has one. South Sudan has also one. But, is civil war really in the making in Ethiopia? If so, between or among whom is it in the making? Shouldn’t Mr. Giorgis be clear about this issue? Aren’t Ethiopians working so hard to avoid such a possibility? Haven’t they succeeded to avoid one without the possibility that it might not rear its ugly head?

    The existing government used civil war as a means to access to power. Isn’t this sad reality which made impossible to establish a democratic system in the country? Among many solutions to avoid war, some want the constitution fully implemented. I think it makes sense if the government heeds their demands and change course. I wouldn’t mind if it stays until the next election if it gives a firm commitment to Ethiopians and the international community that the next election will be free and fair. Without chaos continuing, Ethiopia can transition to democracy if an agreement is made on this point.

    Is there a possibility for a civil war to break out in Ethiopia that can degenerate to genocide? I don’t even think about that possibilty in my wildest dreams. Ethiopia had civil war but not genocide. My father who was opposed to Derg was telling me that Derg has committd genocide. I studied the crimes committed during that era and came to the conclusion there were serious crimes but do not amount to genocide. Derg genocide was all politics. Now it is coming again.

    What I see going on now in Ethiopia is people demanding their rights faced by a government that denies their rights. Conflicts between people and governments have not led to civil war and genocide. See the situation in North Africa and the Middle East in the last ten years. Civil war emerges when peaceful struggle is hijacked by armed groups that claim to free the people from oppression and end up in attacking the people themselves.

    As genocide was post-Derg politics, raising civil war and genocide might feed the argument of the government opposed to meet the demands of the people. Mr. Giorgis’ warning is ” Go demonstrate if you want civil war and genocide”. Right?

    Or, is Mr. W. Giorgis playing an NGO game of walking a fine line between the government and the people looking for some kind of return from consultation fee? I am not sure about this, but simply asking.

    Finally, more than anybody else, the U.S. has information which direction Ethiopia is going. For that, read the statement they made a week or so ago. They were absolutely right in the position they took.

    I hope cooler heads prevail.