As Rwandans commemorated the 25th anniversary of the horrific 1994 genocide on April 7 Ethiopians from different walks of life expressed trepidation at the prospect of their country experiencing a similar atrocity. Beginning April 7, 1994 almost 800,000 people – mainly Tutsis and some moderate Hutus – were massacred over the course of 100 days by bloodthirsty ethnic Hutus consumed with hatred. Speaking at a ceremony attended by the leaders of Chad, Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Niger, Belgium, Canada, Ethiopia as well as the African Union and the European Union at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the mass burial ground where more than 250,000 victims are thought to be buried, President Paul Kagame said, “In 1994, there was no hope, only darkness. Today, light radiates from this place. How did it happen? Rwanda became a family once again.” Citing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), who as an 18-year-old served as part of an Ethiopian peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1995, Kagame remarked that Rwanda shall always remember what it had emerged from. As the Rwanda genocide is remembered annually the theme is a call for such barbarism to be repeated never again anywhere. Wishing for something not to transpire though is no guarantee it will not come to pass. It’s for this precise reason that everything possible must be done to avert the havoc that can be wrought by troubling trends unfolding in Ethiopia. The Rwanda genocide must not be repeated in Ethiopia.
All compatriots who feel they have a stake in Ethiopia’s destiny need to attach greater importance to its fate than their differences. Instability is spreading to more regions of the country. Thousands have perished and millions more displaced from their homes due to deadly conflicts in the Oromia, Somalia, Southern, Benishangul Gumuz, Afar, Amhara and Gambella regional states. In the past week the relatively peaceful and adjoining areas of North Shoa and South Wollo were racked by violence that led to the death and maiming of several innocent civilians. Many fear that failure to heed the lessons of previous incidents potentially gives rise to internecine strife entailing mayhem and destruction. Though the victims of conflicts and citizens worried to death by the rising level of instability have implored the government to find a decisive solution, there seem to be no end in sight to the conflagration of clashes that threaten to destabilize the nation. Consequently, the hope many have had for Ethiopia is giving way to a sense of foreboding.
The common values Ethiopians have forged over centuries and handed down from generation to generation are being undermined by zealots bent on building a wall between the children of one nation. In particular individuals who have a large following on social media are harping on ethnic, religious, cultural and ideological differences of a people who have accommodated their diversity and co-existed peacefully for eons. These vile characters are causing death and destruction left and right because no one has put a stop to them. It’s inexplicable why the government is reticent about bringing to justice pseudo-intellectuals who are openly spewing venomous rhetoric for the express purpose of fomenting unrest. Even though it is of the essence to reconcile opposing narratives regarding the past by exploiting the opportunities that the sea change underway in Ethiopia in the past one year has provided to ensure freedom, equality and justice, forces harboring an ulterior motive are deliberately pushing a new historical narrative laced with myths to advance their evil agenda. As a result the tie that binds Ethiopians is being slowly eroded. This not only increases the likelihood of deadly intercommunal conflicts, but also jeopardizes the very survival of the country.
Ethiopia should have been treading the path to peace and prosperity on the back of the ongoing political reforms. Sadly, various indicators affirm that it is on the edge of a precipice. The nation is awash with weapons of all sorts thanks to a burgeoning illegal arms trade. Though rightful mission of the defense forces is to protect the sovereignty of the country, they are busy quelling disturbances. Over three million citizens have been uprooted from their homes due to ethnically motivated attacks. Trivial disputes tend to escalate into fatal skirmishes on account of the absence of a culture of constructive dialogue and the alarming rise in intolerance. Moreover, religious institutions, local elders, civil society organizations and intellectuals have played no significant role in promoting peace and stability. All these failures are posing a serious existential threat to the country.
If Prime Minister Abiy’s administration does not use every legitimate tool at its disposal to ensure that Ethiopia does not crumble right under its nose, the future is bound to be bleak. The lack of a coordinated response to the soaring incidences of violence has heightened tensions. The foremost obligation of the government is to protect the safety and security of the public. In reality though in Ethiopia there are elements which wield greater power than the government in certain areas or with sections of the public. The problem is primarily attributable to the glaring rift within the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Ethiopians overwhelmingly supported the EPRDF leadership which promised to bring about change in the hope that it would deliver the nation from the quandary it was in and set in motion the transition to democracy. Unfortunately, this hope has been dashed by the acrimonious infighting plaguing the Front. To make matters worse forces salivating at the prospect of grabbing power are exploiting the division to incite skirmishes that may well trigger a state collapse. It’s an understatement to say that if Ethiopia were to become a failed state the consequences will be extremely unpleasant not only for its citizens, but also for the region and beyond. The specter of such calamity can be prevented one way and one way only: stop putting the interest of individuals and groups above the national interest and articulate a broadly acceptable roadmap that steers Ethiopia on the road to democracy. Anything else is a recipe for a repeat of the Rwanda genocide.