Ethiopia is on the brink of major unrest. The ethnic-based federalism of the last 30 years has proved to be a disastrous formula for Ethiopians of all races, except for those who advocate for it to fill their own pockets. Extra-judicial imprisonment and even killings, the conflict between different ethnic groups, and the growing tension and violence against a particular group of people or people of faith have been far too many during this social and political experiment. The federal government seems weak to form a coherent policy and administer the country where the rights and safety of every citizen are guaranteed anywhere in the county. There is too much of a tribal mentality and traveling from one ethnic federal state is proving to be difficult, especially in the last five years.
Now this tribalism and ethnic friction are manifesting among members of different faith-based institutions – which used to be assets that preserved strong bonds among citizens of different ethnic or language backgrounds. The US and Europe seem to be ill-informed about the political, social, and cultural heritage of the people – and may, in the process, be repeating the mistakes that led to the disintegration and collapse of social order in places like Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Somalia.
The attempt to divide or destroy the oldest institution of Christianity in the world – with which many people of different ethnicity identify – has the country on edge for a major and potentially bloody unrest. And this destructive path is being carried out with the intent, purpose, and coordination of the federal & local governments. The last thing the African continent and especially Ethiopian needs currently is another conflict and bloodshed following the fragile peace deal in the north.
One of the most important assets for peace and stability in any federal state is the preservation of institutions that are the bedrock of the bond among its people. Trying to bend such institutions to the broken political system of ethnic federalism will only lead to the eventual destruction of the federal state itself. When the federal government is the force that fuels the tension among members of such institutions to fulfill its political, ideological, or other hidden goals – the potential for bloody unrest is exponentially increased, because a government that is willing to bend such institutions to its will, will undoubtedly move with all of its destructive assets to impose its will.
We are already seeing signs of this with a group of breakaway religious leaders from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church – whose efforts are being organized and supported by the government. In the wake of such an unfortunate move, the security forces of the government are harassing, intimidating, and in some cases detaining bishops, church leaders, and Sunday School youth organizers. The state-sponsored media keeps silent about such egregious violations against the Church and its members while giving wide coverage for the illegal actions of the breakaway religious leaders – who with the help of security forces have started taking over the properties and assets of the Church in different regions – a dangerous move against a historical institution with a membership of more than 60 million people.
Signs of unrest are already manifesting in different parts of the country. If the West doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past in other countries, it is time to act now and take the necessary diplomatic measures to prevent the looming disaster which has an unpredictable end.
The fear of bloody unrest is not based on an unfounded illusion. While the west had much been closely following the civil war in the north, the killings and displacement of Christians from the Oromia region have been mostly ignored. Thousands of Christians have been killed and displaced in the last five years by extremist groups while the government, with indifference, watched the massacres of women and children. These atrocities are well documented – but they keep being ignored by the west. (Click here for a documentary on some of the atrocities.)
What is happening to the Church now with the forceful political will of the government may be related to the atrocious religious cleansing of Christians from certain ethnic regions in Ethiopia. While it may sound unrealistic to warn that a Turkish-like genocide is looming, that is exactly what happened with such poor foresight of the danger the Turks faced almost 100 years ago.
It is better to try and do something about it now than to argue 100 years later whether the death of thousands is genocide or not.