By Cassandra Lee
The reality for many Tigrayans’ throughout Ethiopia is fear, anguish, and unknowns as they are awaiting the fate of their lives, not knowing what day will be their last in Addis Abeba and surrounding towns. Ethnically and politically targeted arrests have been a common theme in Abiy Ahmed’s administration as Prime Minister and Military commander in chief. The culmination of gross human rights violations around the country is being personified in this final crackdown of terror that Abiy and his cadres in the Prosperity Party and Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) have been unleashing on the peoples of Ethiopia. By Mid December 2020 the international community was reporting the unjust detention of Tigrayan people in Addis Ababa. However, Tigrayans are not the only people subjugated to arbitrary arrests and detention. Politicians, activists, and vocal musicians have all been victims of crimes that replicate that of the Derg era’s red terror. And as the civil war partnered by the international agent of Eritrea has progressed, social media circles from all opposing ethnic groups have a story to tell of atrocities committed on their people by one of the three main players, the Ethiopian National Defence force, Fano (Amhara) Militia, and the Eritrean Defence force, as well as the local police. The most gruesome crimes caught on camera have all got 1 of these 4 belligerents in common.
Throughout the centuries the use of force has been used in the creation of the Ethiopian state system. When looking down south of the country and into the Neftenga-Gabbar arrangements under the Menelik II reign of the late 19th century shows that despite his promises for reform, the system of soldier ruled (client/patron) towns known as “garrison towns” were personified by terror towards the indigenous southerners. They were forced into working for soldiers of the Menelik II empire who were given the freedom to act with impunity. If one man rebelled the abuse to his body was hardened and the Neftenga with their weapons could do as they pleased. This quasi-slavery / serf-like arrangement has plagued the governments of Ethiopia since with historical trauma still carrying wounds into the future. Not only that, the soldiers of Menelik II terrorized and subjugated the Christian peasants of Tigray commended in his home base of North Shewa. Due to their hardened war capabilities, they suffered, but not as the south did under the Neftenga-Gabbar arrangements.
Build on a nasty and expansionist foundation, the country has not known a period as peaceful as the EPRDF time, whereby nations and nationalities were at least seen and not hidden or abused for their ethnicity and sometimes differing racial features. However, in the 21st century, we see a system that mimics that of the early Menelik II days. Where people are not forced into labour as such, but they are forced into submission in other forms. Abiy and Menelik II both managed to cling to power whilst promising change and overseeing the torture of their people.
One of the areas that Menelik II was fond of was his conquering of the Wollega region in the Oromia. A place that in March 2020 became the center of another garrison like a township. Hundreds of village boys with no trial or conviction were shot dead under suspicions that they were supporting to Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). Due to a complicated invitation for the OLF (a previously named terrorist organization under the EPRDF) to return to Ethiopia under Abiy Ahmed’s promised reforms, the group split after the federal government demanded they hand in their weapons. As the name states, the liberation of the Oromo people is at the core of the mission. The armed faction of the OLF retreated to the green lands of Wollega in case Abiy did not live up to his promises and officially formed the Oromo Liberation Army “OLA”. In retaliation for questioning his authority, military command posts have been active in the area ever since. Whereby members of the public have been arrested or executed with no other reasons other than suspicion.
There are countless numbers of people who stood for the truth and revealed the hidden perils under Abiy Ahmed’s regime throughout Ethiopia before the full-blown civil and international war was ratified on Tigray on November 4th, 2020. In August, the Wolaita Zone Leader, Dagaro Kumbe was arrested with 26 others, citing suspicions of working with TPLF and OLF-shene (meaning OLA). After his release, a member of the Prosperity Party was placed in his seat of administration. Reminding us very much of the early neftenga-gabber system. Where the people did not have the right to self-rule but were given a leader based on the decisions of the central body.
In December 2020, Rabale Sayid Nuur a Canadian Somali and former member of the Somali Regional State government was arrested without charge, just ambushed in his home, released early December, and then arrested again and according to his son’s Facebook page not released again until July 21, 2021. It has also been widely known that the opposition political rivals in Oromia regional state, the Oromo Federal Congress have had many of their political leadership in jail since July 2020. After trumped-up charges and suspicious evidence collected “implicating” Jawar Mohammed in the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa, he and his colleagues such as Bekele Gerba and senior figures of the OFC were arrested. Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) members, Chaltu Takkele and Gemmechu Ayana, and Kennesa Ayana were also arrested. Although OLF chairman Dawud Ibsa was spared this time, he was later put under house arrest in Addis Abeba in October 2020, and in May 2021, his house was raided and fate unknown.
Tigrayan politicians who are not members of the TPLF, Dori Asgedom of the Assimba political party was arrested during the 2020-2021 war on Tigrayans for refusing to support the Prosperity Party’s treatment of the people of Tigray. Another Tigrayan politician and activist member of the Baytona political party, Kibrom Berhe has been arrested on many occasions, one recorded in July 2021, his current location is unknown. Countless journalists have gone missing or been arrested for speaking against the government or reporting against the mandated “acceptable narrative”, such as Abebe Bayu of Ethio Forum, one of the most respected online forums by many Ethiopian Diaspora regardless of ethnic standing.
The theme of arresting political dissidents is not uncommon in Ethiopia. As shown the history of its formation was built on unlawful arbitration and abuse. This century arresting those opposing the center and transplanting leadership has been the common theme for the Prosperity Party. Upon liberating a town, the OLA will free political prisoners which then gives some sense of relief to those unjustly accused of crimes unknown. And returning looted property to local facilities, stolen by the enforcing regimes. Since he arrived in power, Abiy Ahmed has overseen many problems around the country, and it appears he has ensured that they were never to stop growing.
However, in Tigray, the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) had spared their population as much pain as possible and lived in relative peace whilst the country seemed to implode. Albeit that was not to be the case for long, which was even discussed publicly as a potential threat by Getachew Reda as Abiy and his political party were acting unconstitutionally, and nothing could be put past them. Amnauel Assefa, Head of the Tigray’s Bureau of Justice described the possibility of a military rule over Tigray, and it is now the case. Abiy Ahmed himself has recently come out and said that he must learn from the knowledge of the past Mengistu Hailemariam’s Derg regime adding not only salt but peroxide to wounds of millions of people who are still recovering from the horrendous red terror days.
Over the past few weeks, anyone following the Twitter and Facebook funnel of Tigrayan families in the diaspora will have read at least one story of a family member gone missing this month alone. Friends and family have been attempting to tell that world what their families are going through for over a year. The media had covered reports of houses being searched, former ENDF soldiers imprisoned in concentration camps, guarded by those they used to train, police officers ordered to be arrested, air force members under house arrest, civilian businesses shut down, people being evicted with no reason all for what is being justified as “connections to the TPLF” or what is more sincerely likely, they are Tigrayan and the Tigrayan’s have a long history of fighting oppressors.
With no remorse shown by Abiy Ahmed, the atrocities are getting worse day by day. As the Tigrayan defense force (TDF) and their new ally, OLA encroach the capital, people are being rounded up and taken to unknown locations. Busloads of local Oromo youth are being sent to the battlefield, picked up from high schools, and sent to their death. Whilst Tigrayans are rounded up and taken to camps such as the Magoria Camp. Humanitarian workers, lawyers, UN staff, bankers, priests, real estate brokers, bartenders, waiters you name it have all been arrested in the last few weeks.
Perhaps as the history of Ethiopia is something that is often romanticized, the suggestion of a Hitler-like extermination camp or Gulag round-up was not taken seriously. Or that the Red Terror of the Derg is not known by many. But Abiy Ahmed is truly aware. He initially justified the war by saying he needed to arrest former and retired and serving members of the TPLF under terrorism laws with absolutely no evidence presented. But the words of the Prime Minister and his justifications for doing so are based on revenge which rides on the back of delusions that the TPLF had “launch (ed) a campaign, covertly and overtly, to undermine (his) my administration…” It is instead a way to crown himself the next “great” leader of Ethiopia and live out his mother’s dream, that he will be the emperor of the Nation. Showing no regard for humanity, he sleeps at night believing in himself and that his “(My) primary duty as prime minister and commander in chief is to protect the nation and its people from internal and external enemies. That is why the Federal Government launched and successfully executed defensive operations to restore law and order in the Tigray Region, regrettably making the use of force the only tool left in our arsenal.” Summing up, that nothing will stop him from taking what he thinks is his, hiding the reality of the past, and failing any form of reconciliation. And all the horror could have been prevented if he made good of the promises made in his Nobel peace prize acceptance speech. Instead of showing, that he too could be as murderous as Menelik II and Mengistu Hailemariam combined.
 Documentary in Amharic on the red terror. Showing the digging of the mass graves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsLflpn4xBg&list=RDCMUCPo6JhBDUjyn2atQeSvYnGA&start_radio=1&rv=EsLflpn4xBg&t=445
 Caulk. R. A; Armies as Predators: Soldiers and Peasants in Ethiopia c. 1850-1935