Alemayehu G Mariam
Blaming the Victim
Last week, dictator Meles Zenawi hectored his rubberstamp parliament in Ethiopia about the forced expulsion (or as some have described it “ethnic cleansing”) of Amharas from southern Ethiopia and zapped his critics for their irresponsibility in reporting and publicizing it. Zenawi denied any expulsion had taken place, but explained that some squatters (he described them as “sefaris from North Gojam”) had to be removed from their homesteads in the south purely out of environmental conservation concerns for the area’s forestlands. In a broadside against organizations “that promote the view that our collective identity is Ethiopianity,” Zenawi harangued:
… By coincidence of history, over the past ten years numerous people — some 30,000 sefaris (squatters) from North Gojam – have settled in Benji Maji (BM) zone [in Southern Ethiopia]. In Gura Ferda, there are some 24,000 sefaris. Because the area is forested, not too many people live there. For all intents and purposes, Gura Ferda is little North Gojam complete with squatters’ local administration. That is not a problem: There is land to farm [in BM zone], and there are people who want to farm it. Everybody wins, no one loses. There is only one problem: The squatters did it in a disorganized way. The squatters settled individually and haphazardly and in an environmentally destructive way. The settlement was not based on a sound environmental impact study on the destruction of the forest. The pristine forest in the area must be protected. The squatters want land that can be easily developed and cultivated. They don’t care if it is a forest or not. They cut the forest and used the wood to make charcoal to aid in their settlement. As a result massive environmental destruction has occurred…. Settlers cannot move into the area and destroy the forest for settlement. It is illegal and must stop. Those who try to distort this fact are irresponsible. It is necessary to filter the truth. The rights of all Ethiopians must be protected on equal footing. Those who allege persecution and displacement of Amharas are engaged in irresponsible agitation which is not useful to anyone…
Stated more simply, the “sefaris of North Gojam” are environmental criminals who deserved forcible expulsion; and they should thank they lucky stars they are not prosecuted criminally.
When it comes to defending the African environment, no person has more expertise or passion than Zenawi who, after all, is the anointed C.E.O. (Chief Environmental Officer) of Africa. In 2009, Zenawi headed a delegation of African negotiators to the Copenhagen Summit (2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen) to morally and financially hold accountable the wayward West for its environmental destruction, climate change, global warming and all the rest. In the run up to the Summit, Zenawi threatened to bring down the Summit if the West did not do right by Africa and cough up $40bs:
We will use our numbers to de-legitimise any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position… If needs be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent… Africa’s interest and position will not be muffled as has usually been the case… Africa will field a single negotiating team empowered to negotiate on behalf of all member states of the African Union…. The key thing for me is that Africa be compensated for the damage caused by global warming. Many institutions have tried to quantify that and they have come up with different figures. The sort of median figure would be in the range of 40 billion USD a year.
A day into the Summit, Zenawi was ready to cut a deal with “Africa’s rapists” for a cool $10bs. He told his African brethren cold cash is better than talking trash:
I know my proposal today will disappoint those Africans who from the point of view of justice have asked for full compensation for the damage done to our development prospects. My proposal dramatically scales back our expectation with regards to the level of funding in return for more reliable funding and a seat at the table in the management of such funds.
In October 2011, in a speech before the African Economic Conference, Zenawi lectured:
Much of our land has been cleared of tree cover resulting in massive land degradation, soil erosion and vulnerability to both flooding and drought. As a result of the global warming that has already happened we have become more exposed to strange combinations of drought and flooding. The resource base of our agriculture is very seriously threatened.
In other words, we need to go back to the Western rapists and squeeze some more cash out them.
Zenawi’s Stewardship of the Environment in Ethiopia
Zenawi is manifestly the go-to expert on the impact of climate change and global warming on Africa. But does he have a clue about the environmental destruction, and particularly, the deforestation of Ethiopia? By 2020, Ethiopia is expected to lose all of its forest resources according to the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute (the foremost agricultural research institute in the country):
Ethiopia’s forest coverage by the turn of the last century was 40%. By 1987, under the military government, it went down to 5.5%. In 2003, it dropped down to 0.2%. The Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute says Ethiopia loses up to 200,000 hectares of forest every year. Between 1990 and 2005, Ethiopia lost 14.0% of its forest cover (2,114,000 hectares) and 3.6% of its forest and woodland habitat. If the trend continues, it is expected that Ethiopia could lose all of its forest resources in 11 years, by the year 2020.
According to a 2004 study, Ethiopia has some 60 million hectares of land covered by woody vegetation of which nearly 7 percent is forestland. Some 63 percent of the forestland is located in Oromiya, followed by Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples region [SNNP] (19%) and Gambella (9%). It is remarkable that Zenawi decided to draw the line on deforestation in Benji Maji/Gura Ferda in 2012 given the worsening nature of the problem in that region as a result of uncontrolled foreign commercial export agriculture. It is equally remarkable that he chose ethnic removal as a tool of reforestation and land reclamation.
But is Zenawi’s claim of environmental concern and forest protection for the expulsion of the “North Gojam sefaris” supported by evidence? Or is he using an environmental subterfuge to evade controversy and withering criticism? Over the past five years, Zenawi has “leased” (sold) some of the most fertile land (much of it forestland) in the country to the Saudis, the Shiekdoms, the Indians, the Chinese and Koreans (SSICKs) and anyone else sporting a crisp dollar bill. According to the respected Oakland Institute [OI], beginning in 2008, Zenawi’s regime has
transferred at least 3,619,509 hectares of land to foreign investors although the actual number may be higher… The Ethiopian government insists that for all land deals consultation is being carried out, no farmers are displaced, and the land being granted is “unused.” However, the OI team did not find a single incidence of community consultation… There are no limits on water use, no Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), and no environmental controls. It is alarming that investors are free to use water with no restrictions. Investors informed the OI team of the ease with which they planned to dam a local river and of the virtual lack of control and regulations over environmental issues. Despite assurances that EIAs are performed, no government official could produce a completed EIA, no investor had evidence of a completed one, and no community had ever seen one…. Displacement from farmland is widespread, and the vast majority of locals receive no compensation…. Displaced farmers are forced to find farmland elsewhere, increasing competition and tension with other farmers over access to land and resources.
The bottom line is that the SSICKs who slash and burn pristine forests for large-scale commercial export agriculture are called investors. Ethiopians who clear small plots of land to feed themselves and their families are called “sefaris” (squatters). The SSICKs are given 99-year leases to millions of hectares to “develop”. Ethiopians are forcibly ejected from their ancestral lands and tiny homesteads to make way for the SSICKs. The SSICKs are allowed to grab as much land as they want for pennies; Ethiopians are grabbed and thrown off the land and lose every hard earnerd penny they have invested. The SSICKs are welcomed with open arms at sunrise; Ethiopians are kicked in the rear end and told to get out of town before sundown. The SSICKs have property rights in land; Ethiopians do not have a right to own land. The SSICKs are treated like royalty; Ethiopians are given the shaft. The shame of it all: Ethiopians are “hunted down like animals where they are constantly asked if they support these [SSICK] plantations” according to the Oakland Institute study.
Welcome to SSICKistan.
Are there Environmental Laws the “North Gojam Sefaris” Could Follow?
Zenawi claims that the expulsion was necessary because many of the “North Gojam sefaris” engaged in a pattern and practice of settlement that is disorganized, haphazard and environmentally destructive. But does Zenawi’s regime have policies that would facilitate an orderly, systematic and organized settlement of rural areas or ensure sound forest conservation practices? For instance, the seminal law on the subject, the “Rural Lands Administration and Use Proclamation No.456/2005”, authorizes free access to rural lands for all who intend to engage in farming activities; but it provides no clear direction on how settlements are to be established or administered. It leaves implementation of the Proclamation entirely to the “regional authorities” who often do not have the expertise or capacity to implement it. To be sure, Proclamation No. 456 is virtually silent on the use, conservation or management of forestlands. In fact, it makes only three passing references to “forestry”, “forest degradation” and “forest land.”
The Revised SNNPRS Determination of Executive Organs’ Powers and Responsibilities Proclamation No. 106/2007 [Southern Nations, Nationalities’ and Peoples’ Regional State], purportedly aims to implement Proclamation No. 456, but the region has no environmental protection agency. The task of implementing Proclamation 456 is apparently given to the region’s Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development which purportedly has oversight authority over conservation of natural resources and wild life, but no specific responsibility to undertake forest conservation or management. Land use restrictions under SNNPRS Rural Land Administration and Use Regulation No 66/2007 does not deal with forestlands at all; it is principally concerned with the use of wetlands and sloping lands. Simply stated, there is no regional law that deals with deforestation or clearing of forests for settlements or farming. What are the “sefaris” to do?
Similarly, the “federal” “Forest Development, Conservation, and Utilization Proclamation No.542/2007” is so vague and general as to be nothing more than a statement of policy orientation. The Proclamation recognizes “government” and “private” forests, but provides no indication on how the forests can be developed or where individuals could apply to get authorizations. Incredibly, the Proclamation catalogues the obligations of private forest developers without enumerating any of their rights. The bulk of the Proclamation is not law but aspirational policy statements about what ought to be done in the future.
Zenawi secondary argument is that the Amhara “sefaris” settled in Benji Maji/Gura Ferda without the required environmental impact assessment (EIA) presumably pursuant to Proclamation No. 299/2002 (“Environmental Impact Assessment Proclamation” [EIAP]). That Proclamation requires an assessment to “identify and evaluate in advance any effect which results from the implementation of a proposed project or public instrument”. As a technical legal matter, the “sefari’s” pattern of homesteading falls outside of the EIAP’s statutory definition of “proposed project” or “public instrument”. In other words, under the present language and definitions in Proclamation No. 299, the “sefaris” would be exempt from performing an environmental impact assessment. Rather, they would be subject to Proclamation No. 456 (Rural Lands Administration and Use ).
But all of the technical legal analysis and arguments aside, the fact of the matter is that a tiny percentage of all private sector projects are subject to the EIAP because of exemption loopholes and political decisions that override the technical merits of such reports. As the OI report has shown “despite assurances that environmental impact assessments [EIAs] are performed, no government official could produce a completed EIA, no investor had evidence of a completed one, and no community had ever seen one….” The regime’s “environmental impact assessment” on Gibe III Dam demonstrates the pro forma nature of such undertakings when it is politically expedient.
Ethnic Cleansing or Forest Conservation?
There is no question that tens of thousands of Amharas have been forcibly removed from Benj Maji/Gura Ferda in southern Ethiopia, and not just from “North Gojam”. Numerous interviews of victims by the Voice of America provide substantial evidence of forced expulsion. So we must face the unavoidable question: Is the forced expulsion of the “sefaris” a form of ethnic cleansing or the consequence of the unintended effects of routine ecological remediation? The evidence on this question from the two individuals who are in the best position to know is rather curious to say the least. Zenawi says the “North Gojam sefaris” were evicted solely because they were destroying the forest in their haphazard settlement patterns. But in his written order, Shiferaw Shigute, President of SNNP, does not not mention a single word about deforestation or harm to the environment in the expulsion of the Amhara “sefaris”. Goodness gracious, who to believe?
“Ethnic cleansing” does not have a specific formal legal definition. A 1993 United Nations Commission defined the phrase as, “the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous.” A UN Commission of Experts established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 held that the practices associated with ethnic cleansing “constitute crimes against humanity”. Others have defined “ethnic cleansing as the expulsion of an ‘undesirable’ population from a given territory due to religious or ethnic discrimination, political, strategic or ideological considerations, or a combination of these.” Article 7 (d) of the Rome Statute declares that “deportation or forcible transfer of population”, (defined as “forced displacement by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds without grounds permitted under international law”) is a “crime against humanity”. Whether the expulsion of the Amhara “sefaris” is part of a deliberate and systematic policy of “ethnic federalism” in which ethnic purges of a civilian population are undertaken to ensure the ethnic homogeneity of the southern part of the country to the detriment of other Ethiopians of a different ethnic stripe will bear significantly on the question of ethnic cleansing.
Just Compensation for the Amhara “Sefaris”?
Zenawi says the “sefaris” are expelled from their homesteads because they were destroying forestland and as part of a national forest reclamation and environmental protection effort. That being so, they are entitled to just compensation under Proclamation 456, which provides, “Holder of rural land who is evicted for purpose of public use shall be given compensation proportional to the development he, has made on the land and the property acquired, or shall be given substitute land thereon.” The “sefaris” were expelled with only their clothes on their backs and their children in tow. They received no substitute land nor compensation for their land, improvements made thereon, cattle or other personal property. Are they not entitled to just compensation under the law?
Be fair to the people!
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Alemayehu G. Mariam
A Conversation With Obang Metho
Note: A report by the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program on the Anuak concluded:”From December 2004 to at least January 2006, the ENDF (Ethiopian National Defense Forces) attacked and abused Anuak civilians in Gambella region – wantonly killing, raping, beating, torturing, and harassing civilians in response to ongoing Anuak rebel attacks. These abuses left Anuak villagers fearful of leaving their homes at night, going to the fields and farms outside of town, or fetching water from the water pumps or streams.”
These are excerpts from an extended conversation I had with Obang Metho, the well-known Ethiopian human rights advocate, in solemn anticipation of the seventh anniversary of the December 13-16, 2003 Anuak massacres this coming Monday. The interview is captioned “forgotten genocide” because very few people know what happened to the Anuak seven years ago was genocide as defined under Art. 2 of the 1948 Genocide Convention. In the interest of full disclosure, in September 2006, I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the University of California, Los Angeles premier of “Betrayal of Democracy”, a heartbreaking and gut-wrenching documentary on the Anuak massacre produced by the Anuak Justice Council, Obang Metho, Executive Director, in collaboration with the University of Saskatchewan, Canada.
Alemayehu: As you know November and December are very sad months for Ethiopians. In November 2005, following the election that year, hundreds of unarmed demonstrators were massacred in the streets. The world knows a lot about those crimes. But I am not sure if too many people other than the Anuak remember what happened in December in 2003. To be frank, with the exception of some Anuak I have met, I don’t recall having any serious conversations with other Ethiopians about what happened to the Anuak people in Gambella seven years ago. Do you think your other countrymen and women really care about what happened at that time?
Obang: First of all, I want to thank you on behalf of the Anuak for joining with them in remembering some of the darkest days of Anuak history and for bringing this tragedy to the attention of Ethiopians now in 2010. I am sure that Meles never expected that seven years after the genocide of the Anuak that others, like yourself, would have joined together to commemorate this day.
You ask whether other Ethiopians really care about what happened to the Anuak. At the time of the massacre, the only Ethiopian organization that came to the defense of the Anuak was EHRCO [Ethiopian Human Rights Council]; otherwise, it was either overlooked or was not known among most Ethiopians. This was not surprising for several reasons. First, the Anuak were a remote, tiny and marginalized ethnic group who were not part of the mainstream of events in the country. Secondly, Ethiopians were very divided by ethnicity, region, skin color, political view, language, culture and to a lesser extent, by religion; so what was important was what happened to one’s own group and the rest tended to be ignored. Thirdly, even today, what happens in Addis Ababa has always received far more attention than what occurs in the rural parts of Ethiopia where most Ethiopians live. Fourthly, the Ethiopian government does its best to cover up their crimes so it does not get out to the mainstream media. If the news does get out, they simply deny their own responsibility, twist the truth and blame others or try to excuse what happened as one of the regrettable consequences of “ethnic conflict” or use other justifications to avoid responsibility. The government even issues a whitewashed report absolving itself of any responsibility in the massacres.
It is true that the November 2005 killing of 194 unarmed protesters in Addis Ababa and elsewhere in the country created a groundswell of outraged response from many sectors of the Ethiopian community because they could identify with the victims, and the killings were carried out in plain view. It became impossible to hide, even to the international community.
However, this was not the case in the majority of violent incidents that have taken place over the past two decades all over the country. We have over 86 different ethnicities; many of them live in remote, rural and marginalized communities and are silenced violently like the Anuak were in 2003 without too much publicity. In fact, the Anuak genocide is now much better known and more remembered than most of the other incidents that have been perpetrated by the TPLF [Meles Zenawi’s party] against Ethiopians.
For example, in July of 2002, 200 Mazengers — neighbours to the Anuak in Gambella — were brutally killed, but who knows about this? In 2001, 100 Sidamo were massacred. Who remembers these victims today? Ethiopians were killed in 1992 in Badenyo and in Arba Gogu. In all few remember these anniversaries. I say ask the Oromo about the tens of thousands of their people who have been beaten, tortured, imprisoned and murdered in the last twenty years by the Meles regime. How can we remember an anniversary when there are so many incidents and they are still ongoing? Ask the Afar about the displacements and human rights abuses they are facing right now. Ask the Benishangul about the same displacements and human rights abuses in their area. Ask the Ogadeni about the genocide being committed against them as we speak. It is not all about “remembering,” but about standing with the victims against such barbaric aggression. We can keep going on for the list is endless and many cases are still unknown.
This is why the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE) was formed. We must no longer mourn alone; it is time to take action. Meles’ government cannot stop on 80 million people if we all stood up for each other and together. I believe we Ethiopians will finally come together in this way to stop this oppression. Only then will we hear the countless stories that have never been told of the immeasurable suffering of our people, and not just the Anuak.
Alemayehu: Let’s nail down the facts about what happened in Gambella during the infamous three days in December in 2003, and in the days preceding and following. What are the established facts?
Obang: Meles and those carrying out the atrocities against the Anuak believed them to be expendable people; they thought of them as road blocks on the way to the oil fields, the fertile lands and abundant water and rich natural resources on indigenous Anuak land. They targeted those individuals who were the voices of the community and have a say in the exploration and development of oil on their land. As you might remember, when the killing squads went through Gambella town looking for the next Anuak to brutally kill, they chanted, “Today there will be no more Anuak,” “Today there will be no more Anuak land”. As they raped the women they said, “Today there will be no more Anuak babies.” Within three days, 424 Anuak were dead.
When I received news, it was the darkest day of my life. My world was turned upside down. Among the 424 Anuak killed, I personally knew 317 of them. They were my family, my classmates and many others with whom I had been working to bring development not just to the Anuak, but to the region. Most were educated and outspoken. I have no doubts that I would have been one of the victims had I been living there at the time.
The Anuak genocide occurred as a surreal event as no one discussed it. When international news covered the massacre, they picked up the Ethiopian government’s spin, which described it as an ethnic conflict between the Anuak and the Nuer. That is not true. Later on, Oromo soldiers, who had not even been in the area, were scapegoated for the killings. When I testified before the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in March and April of 2004, I did not speak only about the Anuak, but spoke of the Oromo and others facing persecution.
However, it was only after I testified before the US Congress in March of 2006 that I became more involved in the mainstream Ethiopian community. By that time, I had been to the capital cities of most of the donor countries in Europe and in North America exposing the Anuak massacre and ongoing human rights violations against the Anuak. After the November 2005 killing of unarmed election demonstrators in Addis Ababa and other parts of the country, other Ethiopians joined in this effort. Unfortunately, most tended to cluster around their own individual ethnic or political party interests rather than joining together as a whole. Sometimes we were working at cross purposes. I often wonder where we would be today had we been willing to collaborate then. I hope we don’t have to ask ourselves that question five years from now.
Alemayehu: I don’t believe many of us in the larger Ethiopian community adequately expressed our outrage against the crimes perpetrated against the Anuak. Perhaps many of us did not particularly care, didn’t know or were just indifferent. After all, the Anuak are a tiny minority. Do you sense indifference among other Ethiopians to the plight of the Anuak?
Permit me to answer this question by asking another question. How many mainstream Ethiopian people you see writing about the ongoing genocide in the Ogaden or about the displacements of people as foreign investors align with this one-party government in grabbing the Ethiopian peoples’ land and resources in places like Benishangul-Gumuz, on the borders of the Amhara region or even in Addis Ababa where graves are to be bull-dozed to make room for someone who seeks “ownership” of the land? This is not just indifference to the Anuak, but it is indifference to the problems our people are experiencing all over the country. The Anuak are only one example. This is why we need a “NEW ETHIOPIA!”
Not seeing the full humanity of each of us is the reason we have so many liberation fronts created not simply to break away from the country, but instead, created predominately to protect the interests and lives of the people that are not valued by others. As long as some feel they are more Ethiopian and see others as being of less worth, we will have indifference to the plight of others. This is why we have formed the SMNE, to fight for a new Ethiopia that values all her children the same way regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, political view or any other distinctions. The reason why many of these separatist groups do not want to associate with “Ethiopia” as they see it because they don’t see much inclusiveness in the larger Ethiopian community. Meles has had an easy time of dividing and ruling; and until we all change from the heart, we will not emerge from our collective suffering.
Alemayehu: When you came out in public in 2006 and sought help to put a light on the Anuak massacres, did you get your much support from other Ethiopians? Did you make an effort to mobilize Ethiopians in the Diaspora, and if not why not?
Obang: In the midst of the genocide and ongoing human rights crimes, I sought organizations and government officials who were in the best position to intervene. Genocide Watch president, Dr. Greg Stanton, was one of the first to respond to my call for assistance. At the same time, some Anuak and their friends in Minnesota had already decided to send a team, which soon included me, to interview Anuak survivors and witnesses to the genocide who had fled to a refugee camp in Sudan. We hoped to gather information and evidence while the memories were still fresh. At Dr. Stanton’s suggestion, we added a seasoned human rights investigator in our group. Following the investigation, we issued a report, “Today is the Day for Killing Anuak.” A subsequent investigation was also completed resulting in the report, “Operation Sunny Mountain,” which linked the massacre to the top officials of Meles in Addis Ababa.
Human Rights Watch did an investigation and issued two separate reports, “Targeting the Anuak: Human Rights Violations and Crimes against Humanity in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region“( 3/24/05) and “Ethiopia and Eritrea: Promoting Stability, Democracy and Human Rights“(5/5/05). The International Human Rights Clinic at the Harvard Law School issued another report, “We Are Now Hoping for Death“, (12/14/06). In all, the Anuak Justice Council was involved in coordinating the completion of five separate human rights investigations on the massacres.
We did not attempt to mobilize Ethiopians until 2006, following my testimony before the U.S. Congress when I made strong connections with other Ethiopians. At the time, ethnic and political divisions created competition between Ethiopians. Rather than working to advance similar goals, some tried to hijack the work of others or refused to collaborate. Even though this continues to be a characteristic shortcoming of many in the struggle for Ethiopian freedom and justice, I believe today Ethiopians are discarding peripheral differences to work together in common cause. I think Ethiopians suffering in the country would be highly encouraged if they saw real progress towards this goal among us in the Diaspora. It is only then that we can work together to mobilize the people within Ethiopia towards a national rather than an ethnic solution!
Alemayehu: How do we keep the memories of the Anuak massacre victims alive? What can we do as individuals and as a community, that is Anuaks and other Ethiopians together?
No one except the Anuak may have cried for them in 2003, but today, millions of Ethiopians know about the Anuak genocide. On December 13th, Ethiopians may remember the pain and suffering of the Anuak; speaking to others about it, praying for the survivors, joining with Anuak they know in a service of remembrance or calling them to personally talk. Many Anuak will shed tears as they remember those dark days and the subsequent grief and hardship resulting from their losses. May this remembrance be a call to all Ethiopians to reflect on the losses of their own loved ones or those of others in the country. We have suffered much as a country. We should try to lift up others with similar losses and wounds.
For me, I will join with other Anuak in Minnesota in a service to remember December 13th; honoring the memory of those who lost their lives and praying for the future of the people and Ethiopia. For me, the pain has somewhat subsided, but my memory of this horrific loss motivates me to work to prevent it from happening again to the Anuak or anyone else. If Ethiopians have forgotten the memory of the Anuak genocide in 2010, the reasons may be somewhat different than 2003.
First of all, we Ethiopians are in great distress right now. It is natural for memories to fade, but when we are still struggling for survival, it is easy to become diverted with one new crisis after another. It is important not to forget so that we can take hold of a better future, but part of remembering “rightly” will take place when peace comes to Ethiopia, when justice is finally served and when the perpetrators and their bosses are held accountable.
Another reason for the memory subsiding is that the Anuak are not alone. Many others have also suffered at the hands of this regime both before and after the Anuak genocide. Look at the genocide going on right now in the Ogaden. Look at the daily beatings, killings and imprisonment of innocent Ethiopians now carried out by this repressive regime all over our country.
Due to the current dictatorial regime, Ethiopians must first become free before official memorials will be constructed, but that time will come. Several years ago I talked about how the death of the Anuak will never be forgotten as long as there are those who care about justice. Even though the current regime would like to obliterate or “whitewash” the memory of these shameful acts, we Ethiopians must be sure they are not forgotten.
When this TPLF government finally collapses, not only do I envision a memorial for the Anuak in Gambella, but also in Addis Ababa where not only will the Anuak be represented, but many others known and unknown who have tragically died at the hands of the Meles regime. At that time, Ethiopians will build a wall of shame where we can go to remember how the government that was supposed to protect the people turned out to be their mortal enemy. It will serve as a sobering reminder of how we must work to preserve a respect for the humanity in each of us.
Alemayehu: Is there anything being done to bring to justice those who committed the crimes against the Anuak in 2003? Are there any efforts underway?
Obang: Yes! We have a very strong legal foundation in place for that day in court where Meles and others will finally be held accountable. This is due to all the human rights investigations and documentation completed by groups like Genocide Watch, Human Rights Watch and others. The case of the Anuak alone is very strong; but when combined with others, all of this abundant evidence may easily form the foundational basis for future prosecutions. The case of the Anuak is before the International Criminal Court (ICC) right now and the UN High Commissioner is looking at the case referred by Dr. Greg Stanton regarding the pattern of human rights abuses in Ethiopia at the hands of this government. I am confident that the time will come for Ethiopians to finally obtain justice. Look at the case of Cambodia where evidence collected and secured over twenty years ago produced convictions just this year. Meles is no different than Omar al Bashir. The tide is certain to change and we will be ready!
Alemayehu: From what you have been able to gather, is there systematic persecution still going on against the Anuak?
Obang: The new systematic persecution has everything to do with the “new fever” for Anuak land and resources. It is being advanced with speed and intensity in the case of the Anuak and other indigenous peoples of Gambella, but is also going on throughout the country; wherever there is resistance to this plan to dispossess the people of their land and assets. People from Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, Oromiya, Afar and Ogaden have officially been put on notice to move from their homes to be resettled in camps. Those who speak out have been harassed, threatened or beaten. In the case of the Anuak, some have turned up dead, floating in the river or have been beaten to death. We do not know what will happen to the people if they refuse to leave their homes; something that is a definite possibility. It certainly could trigger fresh violence by government security forces.
How should we, as Ethiopians, work together to prevent the type of genocide that happened to the Anuak does not happen to any other groups in Ethiopia?
December 13th should act as a reminder of the shared pain of our people and act to bring us Ethiopians together to “mourn under one tent” as has been done in our traditional culture for many years. Inside the tent is the land of Ethiopia and our beautiful and precious people. The roof of that tent is the sky over our beloved country. Because of the pain, misery and ongoing threats to our survival as a nation, we must come together to find a common vision and lasting solution. This is at the heart of everything the SMNE and others have been trying to do.
Now is the time to change our thinking about each other and BEGIN to build a healthier, more inclusive society. No one but the Anuak and their friends cared about them in 2003, but we have a chance to do it over. The land grabs and human rights abuses going on right now; not only to the Anuak but to all the people of Ethiopia should sound the trumpet to gather together. Some only want to gather if they are in charge. This attitude will surely defeat us. We must ask ourselves how much we really care about potential tragedy if egos or hunger for power stand in the way. I do think we are better in 2010 than we were in 2003, but we are still not where we need to be.
The many loved ones I lost can never be replaced, but I trust God that their lives were not lost in vain. Ethnic domination and marginalization of others due to ethnicity, skin color, culture, education, gender or religion is unjustifiable. It was the reason the Anuak were singled out to be slaughtered among the 50,000 people who also lived in the city of Gambella. It was the reason why the government viewed them as a threat rather than as valuable human beings. As most survivors among the Anuak say, the Ethiopian government does not want the Anuak people, but only the resources. These resources on their indigenous land remain today as the chief threat to their survival as they stand in the way of the regime’s ambitions in the area; yet the Anuak are not alone as Ethiopians are becoming more accepting of each other.
Over the last seven years, I have met many wonderful Ethiopians like yourself, who have come into my life, contributing in some unique and special ways. You asked me about a story I have told many times about my experience in Washington DC some years ago with an Ethiopian cab driver who could not believe I was Ethiopian. I must say, Ethiopian cab drivers today are among the most educated and politically astute Ethiopians around. They know about the Anuak and the other diverse people of Ethiopia. Now, when I get in a cab in Washington DC, a more common experience I have is the driver who refuses to accept any fare for the ride saying, “I want to contribute to the struggle.” This is not about me or the Anuak, but about caring about the suffering people of our beautiful country. Yes, we should remember our painful history as a lesson for the future, but we must also embrace each other as we collaborate to create a New Ethiopia where there is room for all of us!
Alemayehu: With all the land-grabbing and population displacement, some 45,000 plus people from Gambella being moved to make way for international land-grabbers, do you have fears that what happened in December 2003 could happen again?
Obang: Yes, because once again, this regime’s greed for “more” is leading to robbing the most vulnerable people of Ethiopia of their land and resources. Because these people “do not count,” they are simply in the way of what this regime wants. If the people resist, the Meles government has been known to use any justification to use military force to subdue them; which could easily lead to ethnic-based killing. I do not think the people will all peacefully cooperate in this plan to displace themselves they have lived on for millennia. In 2003, the genocide was about oil. In 2010, it is about land, gold, potash, natural gas and even sand for concrete.
These are the new precipitating factors that could lead to genocide, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations. However, there is also the passive side of a new form of “genocide” that could lead to putting at imminent risk, large populations of some of the most vulnerable people of our country; not necessarily in terms of direct killings, but in terms of jeopardizing the long-term survival and well being of huge groups of people who are being forced from their homes and land all over the country. How will these people support themselves?
We need to care about the pain of each other more than we care about the power and advancement of one particular group of Ethiopians for “none of us will be free until all are free.” By the time I spoke before Congress in 2006, when our paths first crossed, I had already come to the conclusion that justice would never come to the Anuak until justice came to all Ethiopians; that until we cared about the wellbeing of others based on the God-given worth of every person–putting humanity before ethnicity–that Ethiopia would only produce serial dictators who would take turns preying on the vulnerable.
This is why when I testified I said I was not there not only for the Anuak, but also for the Tigrayans who disagreed with the cruelties of the Meles regime, the oppressed Oromos, the Somalis, the Afar and the other ethnic groups throughout Ethiopia who have been targeted by this regime. I said I was there for the Ethiopian woman whose son or daughter had been shot dead on the streets of Addis Ababa after the national elections and for the CUD leaders and young student protesters who had been taken away from their families and put in prisons and detention centers. I was there for those courageous prisoners of conscience, languishing in prisons throughout Ethiopia. I wanted my voice to not be my own but theirs; warning others that our country was in grave danger; that our nation was dying.
This was an effort to break out of our isolated boxes of caring only for our own tribe or ethnicity. It was the beginning of the SMNE. Today, the danger is greater than on that day and unless we put aside our differences and find common ground to unite, we have no hope. This regime will kill again and are doing so as we speak. Yet, God can help us change and I see a rising momentum for such change coming from many different groups of Ethiopians.
In 2003, we would never be having this discussion; yet, today, you are bringing these issues to the forefront. Both you and I have worked closely over the past four years on many issues. Through your many informed and insightful commentaries and analyses, you have contributed much to the discussion of the current situation by exposing the true nature of the regime and by creating greater international awareness and factual understanding of the dictatorship and repression in Ethiopia. This interview is just another example of your willingness to think beyond the ethnic-based paradigm that has defeated us for so many years. Because of people like you, who are willing to become the voices for a different kind of Ethiopia, a “new Ethiopia” of the future. May it inspire others to join with us! Thank you so much my friend!
Alemayehu: Thank you Obang for sharing your thoughts. It has been an honor working with you all these years. They say, “If you want peace, work for justice.” We all want peace in Ethiopia and for the Ethiopian people. So, we’ll be right there with you working for justice; we are with you in trying to bring to justice those perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. It’s only because of scheduling conflict that I am unable to join you and the Anuak community in Minneapolis for the memorial on December 13. But be assured that all Ethiopians join you in observing this tragic date in spirit. I hope the Ethiopians in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, my old “stomping grounds”, will come out in full force and attend the memorial and show their solidarity with our Anuak brothers and sisters.
Obang: Thank you.
REMEMBER THE FORGOTTEN ANUAK GENOCIDE OF DECEMBER, 2003.
 Obang Metho is the Executive Director of the Anuak Justice Council and the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia.
Resource links on the Anuak massacres: http://www.mcgillreport.org/anuak_genocide_links.htm