Prof. Belay Seyoum
April 06, 2021
For centuries, Ethiopia has been a united country and people of various backgrounds lived in peace. However, since the TPLF came to power, identity politics has been stretched to the limit and that group rights have been given a prominent place in the country’s constitution and political discourse. The paradox of collective representation is that it perpetuates the very divisions it attempts to manage and encourages conflict between communities. A major problem with group rights in Ethiopia is that the Federal government has been reluctant to commit to the security of ethnic minorities. Regional governments (especially in Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz) have largely abdicated their responsibility to protect minorities in their territory. The recent examples of atrocities against Amhara minorities in Oromia and Benishangul is a case in point. Despite several warnings of impending danger by the minority communities in these areas, both the Federal and state governments failed to commit security to protect citizens. Evidence gathered from surviving victims indicates the assailants’ intent on pursuing ethnic cleansing (ethnic homogenization) through displacement and annihilation.
International law imposes on each individual state the responsibility to protect its people from the worst forms of violence and persecution. A residual responsibility also lies with the broader community of states, when a particular state is clearly either unwilling or unable to fulfil its responsibility to protect or is itself the actual perpetrator of crimes or atrocities. Over the last few years, ethnic minorities have borne the brunt of ethnic persecution and violence and government actions at the Federal and state levels have been quite inadequate. In some cases, there is increasing evidence of complicity between the local governments and ethnic police to provide cover for the perpetrators.
A healthy political culture is important for fostering unity and helps promote the emergence and growth of democracy. The country’s political culture has deteriorated so much that what the factionalized elite (leadership) tell the country’s media is vastly different from what they tell their ethnic supporters. Some of the ethnic leaders have advanced their political credentials by encouraging the persecution and displacement of ethnic minorities in their territory. Once these vicious statements are made, they have a momentum of their own and people act on them long after the statements were made.
The factionalized leadership has failed the country in several ways. First, they have been unable to advance a healthy political culture that promotes national unity, trust, tolerance and accommodation. Their over-the-top rhetoric has inflamed ethnic tensions and conflict. Secondly, they have not put the country’s welfare ahead of their narrow short term political calculations. Thirdly, they have not set down the necessary political norms and values for legitimate democracy in the country.
Liberal democracy emerges through a historical sequence where the process of political competition (and inter-elite cooperation) comes before the expansion of political participation. This is often led by the country’s elite who put their country’s interest ahead of their own. Such cooperation among the country’s political leadership helps restrain the severity of conflict. Large scale participation into politics only comes after the norms and practices of competitive politics have already been agreed among the elites. Common values can only be developed among the elite when they share similar perspectives than among a large and heterogeneous group of people that represent varying goals and interests. Genuine cooperation among the country’s political elite to solve the country’s problems has been sorely lacking.
Where do we go from here? State failure to maintain law order, protect minorities has cost thousands of lives. The premeditated murders of innocent men, women and children cries out for justice and accountability. Governments should govern and provide but they should also be held accountable.
- Federal and state officials who are responsible for security must be held accountable. They should tender their resignations and be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for aiding and abetting ethnic cleansing. In the absence of the latter, failure to intervene to stop a violation is a prosecutable offense.
- A special court should be established to prosecute such violations. There have been so many violations that amount to ethnic cleansing over the last few years that it warrants the establishment of a special court.
- If the government is unable or unwilling to protect minorities and the atrocities continue, there may be a need for international intervention and prosecution of the worst perpetrators by the International Criminal Court.
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