Global Agenda

Ethnic Cleansing in Ethiopia

Andrej Varju

Ethnic cleansing has further escalated the crisis in conflict-torn Ethiopia. The African country has been experiencing a bloody civil war for 20 months, is facing its worst drought in 40 years, and is worsened by skirmishes with neighbouring Sudan over border disputes.  

The ethnically motivated massacre, which claimed 30 Amhara lives, occurred near the town of Gaba Robi in the Oromia region in the west of the country. A similar ethnically motivated attack happened in the area in June, when armed attackers stormed the predominantly Amhara village of Tole, leaving 100 dead and up to 2 000 people fleeing the village from fierce gunfire. The Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), a local rebel group fighting for Oromia’s independence from Ethiopia, is reportedly behind these ethnic attacks. But the latter denies the allegations and has accused militias linked to the central government of responsibility. However, the OLA’s claims have dubious credibility since the President of Ethiopia is also part of the Amhara ethnic group. 

At the end of June, there was also an attack by the OLA in the Gimbi district, where local residents counted some 230 dead bodies, including women and children. Mass graves are being built in the region for the victims, which also foreshadows that the conflict is far from over. However, there is evidence of attacks on civilians by pro-government forces in the area. This is mainly due to accusations of collaboration with the OLA. An example is an incident in May 2021, when government security forces executed a local 17-year-old boy for allegations saying that he was affiliated with the OLA.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for ending the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, has promised to eliminate the OLA and work to restore stability in the region. However, very little has been written about the conflict in Oromia, and the complexity of the crisis contributes to the difficulty of getting information from remote areas of the region. 

In addition to Oromia, there are reports of ethnic cleansing occurring in another Ethiopian region, Tigray, which is also an area where border clashes with Sudan are ongoing. In the region, as in Oromia, rebel groups are fighting against the central government. Tigrayans are loaded into trucks and driven from their homes into detention camps where living conditions do not resemble ‘life’. Many die of disease, starvation or torture, all because of their ethnicity. Villages are looted, pillaged and depopulated; at least 4.5 million people in the region are starving, according to the Tigray Emergency Coordination Centre, which the Ethiopian Federal Government runs. A document from the Tigray regional government states that by February this year, 21 people had already died of starvation; it is difficult to imagine how many more have passed since then and how many cases are unknown. The conflict began when the government launched a military operation against the ruling party in the region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The Ethiopian army managed to halt the TPLF advance just under 100 miles from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and subsequently pushed the rebels back into the mountainous Tigray region. The conflict then turned into a guerrilla war that still plagues the region today.

So far, the country’s conflicts do not appear to be easing anytime soon. On a more positive note, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working with the Ethiopian Red Cross to provide basic humanitarian needs to the people. Recently, a third ICRC convoy arrived in Tigray with essential humanitarian aid, providing people with at least basic assistance. With no end in sight to the conflict, however, it seems that this humanitarian crisis will only escalate further in the future. 

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