The appalling death and injury visited on innocent citizens exactly a week ago today in Moyale, a town in southern Ethiopia bordering Kenya, should never have occurred. The killings are unacceptable by any standard and should be condemned in the strongest possible term. They not only erode further the public’s trust in the government, but also exacerbate the turmoil rocking Ethiopia and feed into the international community’s narrative that the country continues to have a poor human rights record. According to official accounts five members of the defense force, including the commanderof the battalion they belong to, who killed nine people and injured a dozen others on faulty intelligence have been disarmed and detained pending an investigation. The investigation should be completed within the shortest possible time even as the public is kept apprised of its outcome and the ensuing trial.
It is primarily the responsibility of the government to ensure citizens’ inalienable right to life and security of person as enshrined in the constitution as well as the human rights conventions and international instruments adopted by Ethiopia. The government’s response to the Moyale killings cannot and must not be limited to expressing condolences to the families of the persons it says were mistakenly killed; it is duty-bound to bring to justice all the soldiers and officers implicated in the carnage including everyone in the chain of command and individuals culpable of similar incidents in the past. The investigation team dispatched to ascertain what actually transpired on the ground, which consists of senior defense forces officials, must conduct a thorough probe and submit a report that is not tainted by political considerations. It should take statements from the families of the victims, eyewitnesses, elders and other sections of the community to get a clear picture.
This brings us to the fundamental questions that everybody is seeking answers for. How could the presumably well-trained battalion act on erroneous information? Where and how did the breakdown occur? Why did the members of the battalion fire on unarmed people and take other precautionary measures prior to deciding to use deadly force? Aren’t soldiers required to disarm or,if this is impractical, to neutralize even an enemy before they resort to taking lives? What are the rules of engagement for the army when it engages foes toting weapons and civilians? How credible will the punishment handed down by the military court be after the suspects have been court-martialled as the army has confirmed? Granted that some of the information disclosed during the trial may be classified for national security reasons it is nonetheless important to release as much information as possible for the sake of transparency and to prevent the recurrence of the Moyale incident.
At a time the country is standing at a crossroads and trying to extricate itself from an unprecedented political quagmire, the continued death, injury and displacement of compatriots is worsening the plight of the victims and their loved ones. A nation once regarded as an oasis of relative stability in a restive region has been in the throes of political instability for two-and-half years now due to the inability to resolve differences through civilized dialogue.Barely a week after a state of emergency was declared and on the eve of the meeting of the executive committee of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to nominate a new chair and eventually the new Prime Minister news of the Moyale killings came as a shock and turned what little hope there was into apprehension. How long can things go on like this? It goes without saying that the security forces and the political leaders on whose instructions they are deployed keep uppermost in mind the well-being of citizens as they carry out their duties. True mistakes may be made. Nevertheless, it is of paramount importance to put in place mechanisms designed to minimize the consequences of the error, particularly where human lives are at stake.
The government owes the public the duty to guarantee its safety and security. It is imperative that the leaders of the EPRDF, who also occupy senior government positions, make every effort to set aside their apparent differences and agree on a consensus candidate as they go about the process of appointing the incoming chair of the Front and the premiere. For the transition of power to be deemed a success it should at least enjoy broad public support. This would go some way towards laying the foundation essential to deepening the democratization process and thereby restore the stability that the people yearn for.
Neither Ethiopia nor its proud and far-sighted people deserve to be in the complete mess they are now. Ethiopians have coexisted harmoniously for centuries without letting ethnic, religious, cultural or political diversities come between them; they have displayed extraordinary heroism to repel any and all invaders and defend their beloved country’s sovereignty. It’s quite embarrassing and frankly speaking frustrating to see Ethiopia lurch from one crisis to another despite being home to people who can do it proud. Now is the time to deliberate seriously on where we are headed as a nation if we fail to secure a lasting solution to internecine conflicts which have led to unheard of death, injury and internal displacement. The choice before us is clear: to take bold steps that help steer the country on the path to democracy and prosperity or fall into an abyss. There is still time to make the right choice. But it has to be done immediately because once the opportunity is lost it will be very difficult to regain it. Our heartfelt condolences go to the families of the victims of the Moyale incident and wish them the strength to get through this difficult time. The incident should be condemned in no uncertain terms.