Speak Out for Your Fellow Ethiopians!
No One is Free until We All are Free!
August 27, 2008
Ethnically-based killing has now erupted in the city
of Hagere-Mariam, first starting in the small town of
Soyama, sixty kilometers to the west of Hagere-Mariam
in the Sidamo region of Ethiopia. Reports I am receiving
from people on the ground indicate that the Burji, a
tiny ethnic group in the region numbering less than
50,000, are being targeted by some Guji, a much larger
ethnic group, numbering over two million, who also live
in the area. The local administration in Hagere-Mariam
is run by the ethnic Guji.
Despite the vulnerability of the Burji, many are asking
questions about the Meles government’s possible
role in condoning the violence as they have done little
to intervene in the face of increasing tensions and
threats. According to the reports from witnesses in
the area, some Guji are threatening to murder any Burji
they find, even warning those from other ethnic groups
to place signs or symbols designating them to be of
“non-Burji ethnicity” in front of their
homes so that they will not be mistaken for a Burji
and be killed. Does this remind you of Rwanda?
These two ethnic groups have fought in the past, since
the time of Haile Selassie, but reportedly, the Guji
are being unfairly favored and empowered by the Meles
government who have given them administrative authority
in Hagere-Mariam, the main commercial center in the
region. As part of this preferential treatment, it is
alleged that the Guji have been able to take the offensive
against the Burji with impunity. Many also suspect that
the TPLF government has equipped the Guji with the sophisticated
weapons they are using against the Burji. For instance,
on August 25, 2008, a grenade was thrown on a house
in Hagere-Mariam by the Guji. There were about 30 people
in the building, including women and children who took
refuge there for fear of violence. The bomb exploded
on the roof of the building and did not penetrate, thereby
sparing the lives of those victims!
According to some Burji, the conflict has its roots
in the Guji’s desire to claim the town of Soyama,
known for its fertile land, as their capital. Currently,
the town’s inhabitants are almost exclusively
Burji and they have been “told” to leave
Soyama for the small town of their same name—Burji.
The attacks allegedly began at 6:00 AM on August 10,
2008 when 60 truckloads of well-armed Guji, with alledgedly
sophisticated weapons, attacked the Burji of Soyama.
However, apparently the Burji had received advance word
of the imminent attack and despite their fewer numbers
and weapons, were prepared and successfully held them
off. During the fighting, it was reported that three
Burji and five Guji were killed. When these Guji attackers
returned to the very ethnically-mixed city of Hagere-Mariam,
home to 200,000 people, they began their death-threats
towards Burji living in the city. It is now clear to
those on the ground that this campaign of ethnic cleansing
is being conducted with the tacit support of the local
administrators and security officials in Hagere-Mariam!
After the Burji appealed to the local government for
help, instead of the government taking a powerful approach,
controlling or disarming the perpetrators and becoming
a fair and impartial referee between the two groups,
they have essentially aligned with the Guji.
They have failed to hold the perpetrators accountable
and have instead “escorted’ Burji men, women
and children from their homes, land, property, cattle
and crops as they hurriedly leave everything behind
to run for their lives. As they seek safety, they are
sure to encounter the overwhelming costs of being internally
displaced refugees— deprivation, disease, hardship
and some deaths because of these things.
Fortunately, due to the efforts of some, the news got
out to the German Ethiopian radio station who reported
on the conflict along with condemning the government
for its lack of constructive intervention. The situation
calmed down for a short while, but the Burji’s
fears of further violence continue to drive them from
This past Friday, Burji elders went to Addis Ababa
to hand-deliver a letter, a copy of which we have in
our possession, to Meles describing the seriousness
of the situation and asking for immediate intervention.
They were road-blocked. Officials from the Prime Minister’s
office reportedly told them that hand-delivered letters
would not be accepted due to security concerns. Instead,
they were instructed to mail the letter which they did,
but they received no response.
The Burji elders then went to the office of the Ethiopian
Minister of Justice and hand-delivered the letter there
indicating that they had not heard any response from
the Prime Minster’s office. The letter was read
by some of the Minister’s staff who responded
by referring them back to the office of the Prime Minister.
After again going to the Prime Minister’s office,
they were told that their office staff would look into
it. They have not heard anything since.
In the meantime, people in Hagere-Mariam report there
are simmering tensions with many fearing that the issue
could explode at any moment. Some Guji continue to tell
non-Burji to put up identifying symbols in front of
their homes to avoid imminent violence, yet the government’s
lack of response is fueling the fire.
This is not the first time some of the Guji have attacked
another ethnic group in the region with the appearance
of Woyane support and Woyane immunity. In 2006, similar
attacks were perpetrated by some of the Guji against
Ken Silverstein of the Harper online magazine, reports
about this situation in his August 2, 2006 article named,
“Ethiopian Generals and Somali Warlords.”
In it he gives reasons to believe that the Meles
government is backing Guji attacks against the Borena.
There's also trouble in Southern
Oromiya Province, where violence broke out this spring
between the Guji and Borena clans. When the Ethiopian
government, keen to secure access to the potential income
stream from a gold mine in the Borena Zone, put the
mine under the control of the Guji, a group it has historically
favored in the region, fighting ensued, and the government
aided the Guji. Sources in the region said that the
violence continues and that the province is now in the
throes of a major humanitarian crisis. More than 100,000
people are reported to have fled their homes.
One Ethiopian reported to me about an article documenting
the history of the TPLF government’s failure to
act on previous aggressive actions by some Guji towards
other small ethnic groups in the area where some, not
all, Guji took control of towns after driving out some
of these smaller groups—such as the Gedeo, the
Gabra, the Borena and the Amaro—from their homes.
He states, “Unfortunately, as the article points
out, for the past misdeeds, particularly with the Gedeo
situation as you can read, they plundered unimpeded
and the Federal government took no action to correct
the injustice that was dealt to Gedeo people.”
He goes on to conclude that unless these aggressive
actions of EPDRF- favored groups against more vulnerable
groups are “brought to light and publicized to
the whole world, thereby pressuring the Federal government
to take decisive action, we are at the precipice of
an impending blood bath.”
This has been the pattern of the EPDRF government—to
divide groups based on ethnic lines, favoring one over
the other and sometimes, like in the case this time,
where they have sided with the majority group. This
is who they are. The divide and conquer, apartheid-style
policies, are the way the TPLF have been known to operate
since they came to power in 1991.
It is like what happened between the Anuak and other
ethnic groups in the Gambella area. It is also similar
to what happened between Muslims and Christians a year
ago in the Jimma area when TPLF sympathizers attacked
either the Christians or the Muslims in the name of
the other in order to foment conflict and to set the
rationale for the invasion of Somalia. Recently, it
happened between some Oromo and some from the Gumuz
ethnic group. Many other examples exist and the reader
may know of others less well-known.
We need to persuade groups like the Guji that they
are being used and that the same snake that is coaxing
them to believe they can get away with such aggression
is the same snake that will turn around and strike them
when they least expect it. They cannot flourish in such
an Ethiopia. Those of us who can see through this manipulative
and deadly game, must speak out to tell Ethiopians what
is going on so they are not tempted to become a survival
tool for the TPLF. It is now time for every Ethiopian
to speak out against the sabotage of our own society.
No one group will be free until we are all free. All
Ethiopians must speak for each other, not only for our
own ethnic group but for our people everywhere. When
their human rights are violated, ours are violated.
When something is going on in your local areas, it is
up to those in the area to speak up. If you are unable
to speak out within Ethiopia, call those in the Diaspora
with your carefully documented information, just like
the people who called me at 4:00 AM direct from Hagere-Mariam
in Ethiopia. Ethiopians must become aware that we will
all benefit from establishing a strong multi-ethnic,
Pan-Ethiopian institution that can speak for everyone.
I call on any Ethiopians in a position to stop this
cycle of murder, suffering and misery to confront the
precursors to those crimes—hatred, greed, the
desire for revenge and the dehumanization of other Ethiopians.
In order to vaccinate a nation against the TPLF virus
of destruction which is spread from person to person,
ethnic group to ethnic group and nation to nation, we
must step out of this life-consuming cycle into a society
known to revere life and liberty.
Woyane know how to play “favorites” with
people in various ethnic groups, getting them to do
their dirty deeds against fellow Ethiopians. It may
seem like you can get away with it, but no one can commit
such crimes without paying the penalty in their souls.
Our children, families, communities and our society
may suffer and judge us for our wrongful actions at
this critical time in our history or if we rise up with
new passion for what is right, we will most certainly
leave a legacy of blessing to our descendents.
This does not mean that there are not numerous reasons
for legitimate complaints against the others, but murder,
destruction and robbery will never bring peace or resolution
to the problems between people so that we can move on.
Right now, the Burji are feeling very alone as they
face this crisis—the same as many other groups
that when targeted with violence, find no protection
from their own government. Let us come together in solidarity
to speak out for them. We need the concerted effort
of many to make a difference and that effort should
be well-organized in anticipation of such crises as
the Burji are now facing.
I have personally contacted some human rights organizations
like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and
will send this press release out to the over 4000 people
on my email list, but this is not enough.
In order to exert the most power and influence, we
need a strong Pan-Ethiopian institution that can speak
out against such violence and injustice towards any
Ethiopians in our multi-ethnic society and one that
also promotes tolerance between diverse ethnic and religious
groups. EHRCO and others within Ethiopia have been attempting
to do this despite the repression of such messages and
message-givers in Ethiopia; however, after the killing
of the protestors of the 2005 failed election, Ethiopians
reacted by rallying throughout the world. Unfortunately,
since that time, many Ethiopian groups have lost their
voice and moral and political will to stand up in behalf
For our voice to resound through the international
community, it is time that the Ethiopians in the Diaspora
rise up together in a planful and organized effort.
The meeting of representatives from civic organizations
that will take place this weekend in Washington D.C.
is an effort to organize such an institution. We hope
many will join this Solidarity Movement
for a New Ethiopia!
May God help us to bring justice and peace to our beloved
If there is a NGO or group interested in further pursuing
this, please contact us for more information.
Mr. Obang Metho,
Director of International Advocacy
Anuak Justice Council
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