I am an Amara. “ene Amara negne.”- By Yilma Bekele
“Ich bin ein Berliner.” – “I am a Berliner” Those words were spoken by President John F. Kennedy on June 26, 1963 in West Berlin. He said that to show solidarity with the people of Berlin after the East Germans with the approval of the Soviet Union erected the Berlin Wall to prevent their captive citizens from fleeing to the west.
The passage I like the most is when he said “Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!”… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
Today it feels me with so much pride to say all Ethiopians where ever we live say in unison “ene Amara negene” Injustice against any of Ethiopia’s children is injustice to all of her children. We feel each other’s pain. When one Ethiopian is marginalized, when a single Ethiopian is put in harm’s way it is an affront to each one of us and we all suffer. It was none other than Martin Luther King Jr. who took injustice to heart when he declared “he who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
Tell me my fellow Ethiopian. What do you see in the picture above? It is a picture of people huddled together. It must be night time, what are they doing outside in the cold? Why are they sad? There is no mistaking that they are our people. I can tell that Ethiopian face from a mile away. Look at that slender chiseled face, kind eyes and welcome demeanor. They are our sisters, brothers, mothers or fathers sitting on bare soil, with no chairs and it is difficult to tell whether it is outdoors or inside. There is no question they seem to be confused, tired, and sad. Notices the young girl on the left with barefoot and looking resigned and observe the father on top right holding his chin and just seeming to wonder about the dire situation. I want you to see the child on his mother’s lap looking sad and his mother looking straight at the photographer not for pity but seems to be saying ‘take a good look, don’t forget my ace!’ I cried because I am human, I hurt because I cannot be there to hold their hand, rub their shoulders and ‘whisper it is ok, I am here to help.’ Oh my God the pain is killing me; it is tearing my soul apart. Why is this happening to my people? Why am I witnessing this suffering?
They are not just numbers. They are not statistics we refer to from some paper. They are living, breathing human beings. There is no Ethiopia without them. A house cannot stand without a foundation and a country does not exist without people. The people you see above are Amaras from the region referred to as Beneshangul/Gumuzl Kilil in Western Ethiopian that were deported from their own land to places they don’t even know. They are the homeless Ethiopians. They are stateless people within a country called Ethiopia. They are the surplus Ethiopians. How does such calamity happen? Was there an invasion by a foreign forcer? Was there some kind of natural disaster? Was there a civil war?
No they are the victims of a policy carried out by a rogue regime gone wild. Their plight is a calculated and thought out policy put in place by the regime in power. They are the recipient of a plan drawn by Meles Zenawi and his friends to keep our country in perpetual conflict and destroy Ethiopia from within. This is not an isolated event or an opportunistic move on the spur of the moment. No this is a plan drawn over thirty years ago same as Adolf Hitler’s plan of what he called to as the ‘Final Solution’ to annihilate the Jewish people. This is Meles Zenawi, Sebhat Nega, Seyoum Mesfin, and Abbay Tshaye’s and company nefarious plan directed at a single ethnic group. The ‘Final Solution’ against the Amara people.
Fascist Mussolini in his own evil ways knew that he cannot conquer Ethiopia without partitioning us. Thus he divided our country into six units as follows: 1) Eritrea to include Tigrai – capital Asmara 2) Amhara to include Begemeder, Gojjam, Wello and northern Shoa – capital Gonder 3) Galla and Sidamo –capital Jimma 4) Addis Abeba 5) Harar 6) Somalia-capital Mogadishu. Meles Zenawi and his Woyane party went further and created what we today call nine Kilils. He called it Federalism but in actuality it was South Africa’s Apartheid system in East Africa.
Musoloni and the Italians were in charge of the six units they created. The white minority government in South Africa was the boss of all the Bantustans. In Ethiopia Meles Zenawi with his Tigrai ethnic based Woyane party ushered a new era of abuse, conflict, civil war and the beginning of the destruction of our ancient land.
All Tigray’s are not Woyane. On the other hand there is no reason to shy away from stating the obvious-most Tigrais are the beneficiary of the system set up by Woyane warlords. They are the number one Ethiopians standing heads high above all others. This is not hate. This is not a figment of my imagination. Nothing happens in Ethiopia without the knowledge and consent of the Woyane party. This is a very painful statement to write down but why hide from the truth.
It is also true that Woyane agents and provocateurs planted among us are posing as Amara/Oromo among others and making ugly and hateful statements directed at our brothers and sisters from Tigrai ethnic group. This is the Way Woyane operates and we are all familiar with that mentality. We should also be aware of the fact that Woyane has been systematically attacking Ethiopian history, Ethiopian heritage and the concept of being an Ethiopian in order to carry out their goal of setting us against each other. They have convinced a few gullible people, uneducated and lumpen individuals that our country is not worth saving and separation and going your own way is an option.
We should all try harder not to allow any kind of hateful speech; any put down of each other based on ethnicity and should at no time and place tolerate such ugly and backward behavior. It is commendable to be proud of one’s ethnicity and heritage but it is not a license to attack and degenerate someone from another group. We do not have choice what ethnic group to belong to when born, we are what we are. No one decide ahead to be white or black, to be Chinese or Indian, to be short of tall or be female or male. That is all in the hands of a higher authority. Ignorance and pettiness is what makes us stressed and lash out against those we are not familiar with.
Then some evil people like our Woyane warlords use our weakness to divide us, to be suspicious of each other and plant the seeds of hatred in our society. It is a struggle not to be taken by such propaganda that is intended to make us feel better even with an empty stomach. Let alone our old and poor backward country even the industrialized and educated countries have not been able to tackle this cancer in their body politic.
But we Ethiopians are resilient people. The fact of the matter is over twenty years of hate filled propaganda by Woyane has not been able to accomplish their goal of setting us against each other. Proof in point being during Woyanes deportation of our Eritrean citizens it was heartwarming to see our ordinary people crying and being distressed following the buses that was hauling our brethren, it was a display of true Ethiopian love to see the citizens of Gurafereda washing their hands of Shiferaw Shigute’s ugly deed and today we are sure that our citizens of Bena Shangul do not agree with this current nightmare visited on them by the new Woyane warlords in Arat Kilo.
Do you really think puppet Shiferaw Shigute of Southern Region, do you for a second believe puppet Ahmed Naser Ahmed Of Beneshangul/Gumuz Kilil will carry out such ugly deed without the approval and consent of Meles Zenawi then and Debretsion Gebremichael today? No sir, this kind activity is carried out with the direction of the highest body of the party that is run by Debretsion and company.
It does not do us any good to speculate why they are doing this criminal act. Why would a government declare war on its own people is a question history always tries to answer. It is nothing new. It has happened before we have witnessed it unfold all around us. Rwanda was yesterday, Bosnia is still fresh in our mind and Gurafereda and Beneshangul are close to our heart. No matter how you put it in Ethiopia under the leadership of the Woyane Tigrai based TPLF party our country is turning into hell on Earth. Our Gambellan citizens are uprooted from their ancestral land, Sidama citizens are hunted like wild animals and the Amaras are the favorite target of these disturbed and sick individuals in charge.
Of course we can fight their hatred based criminal act with more hate. I believe MLK Jr. said it better when he wrote ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’ I do not hate Woyane. I do not want to be like them. Again I will quote you MLK when he said “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too much a burden to bear.” My heart aches when I think of the dead Meles Zenawi, I cringe when I see the picture of Bereket Semeone, Debretsion Gebremichael, Sebhat Nega or Abbay Tshaye’s. They must carry such a burden with them how do they ever sleep at night? How do they function among the company of people with such overwhelming evilness engulfing the depth of their soul?
We all have responsibilities in our daily life. We are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, cousins, neighbors and workers interacting with other fellow human beings. Sometimes our duties and expectations from those around us is a source of stress and uneasiness. Fathers and mothers worry about the welfare of their family, children are under constant pressure to perform better and our work place puts up so much demand on us we are driven to the edge. It is all because we all want to be loved, needed and do better for those around us. The ultimate satisfaction is when a job done comes out perfect and those around us appreciate the effort. That is the reward that feeds the ego.
Our leaders do not seem to understand that. Given the chance to lead and make a better world for their fellow citizens that put so much trust and faith in them they callously throw away the opportunity to excel. They choose the path of hate, divide and rule and the road of destruction. Instead of sharing the bounty that comes from all working together and lift everybody higher they choose to hoard little crumbs for themselves and those around them. They play with words to fool themselves. They try to manipulate reality to fit their myopic vision. They think calling famine nutrition deficiency changes the pain, naming their terror squad internal security wipes the blood of their hands or doctoring the book balances the account for real. It is a sickness with no cure.
I wrote down I cried and felt broken heart when I saw the picture of my people from Beneshangul then I thought about it. Yes it is human to feel their pain but that is not the answer to our problem. I went back to MLK to see what he tells me about mending a broken heart. How did the great leader deal with such ugliness in the world. This is what he said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” It is true my response should be what am I going to do about this situation that is keep me up all night?
I am going to be proactive. I will not sit down and observe and take this abuse silently. I am in the USA. I will do my best to discuss with my people so we can find a solution that is sustainable. I will write and talk every chance I get to develop a culture of inclusiveness based on equality, respect and justice. I will support all those forces that are struggling to overcome this force of darkness by any means necessary. I will strive harder to learn from this negative experience and turn it into a positive experience so we can together build a better and just society. I will organize my fellow exiles to contact their Senators, Representatives, locally elected officials so they can pressure the US government to stop coddling such a criminal enterprise masquerading as a government.
I am also heartened by political parties, civic organizations and groups that are currently working under harsh conditions in Ethiopia to gather information, proof and documents regarding the ethnic cleansing situation. I also believe upon getting our documents in order we could be able to do a citizen’s arrest of all the mentioned criminals when they show up outside the country. We can as victims of government atrocity hold these despicable individuals and hand them to our local police. Armed with our documents we have every right as human beings to ask that they be brought to justice since they are breaking international law which our country is signatory of. It is just but another arsenal in our fight against injustice. Finally since information is power I give my word of honor that I do my at most best to strengthen and make ESAT the most powerful media in my beautiful homeland. I ask my fellow Ethiopians to sit down and think hard because indifference has not brought us any amount of measurable respite from this from this never ending atrocity by a regime one wild.
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:
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