A peaceful Ethiopia under threat
October 3rd, 2016
By Belete Gebrewold
I write this article to share the gathering danger that might slide the regional security crisis to the worst level in the Horn of Africa.
Ethiopia has been mentioned in the Bible many times and is historically known as one of the oldest Christian countries. This can be seen through festivals like Meskel (Cross), where Ethiopia is the only country where Coptic Orthodox and Catholic communities celebrate the discovery of the true cross on a national level. In 613 AD, Ethiopia gave refuge to the Muslim Prophet Muhammad’s followers. To this day, Ethiopia is one of the few countries where Christians and Muslims continue to live side-by-side, as brothers and sisters. Despite the deep-rooted peaceful culture, Ethiopia has come to a crossroads where Christianity is threatened under the current governance of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.
The present government emerged in May of 1991 after the crumbling of the Derg regime, a communist military junta that ruled the country for 17 years. While under the microscope of many international organizations and the U.S government, the new government’s ruling TPLF party promised to work toward democratic governance in which it would enable freedom of speech and uphold human rights under the constitution of Ethiopia. After the transition, the U.S. State Department clearly communicated to the ruling leadership that no democracy would mean no cooperation from the U.S.
Nevertheless, after a short time it became clear that the transitional government was not structured democratically but rather was dominated by the ruling party and was suppressing dissent and open debate. Ethnic groups were pitted against one another. The government went as far as requiring ethnic identification cards for all citizens, an action deliberately done to poison the atmosphere and divert attention from democracy, freedom of speech, a free press, free and fair elections, and other reforms. The government, rather than listening to the concerns of elders, religious leaders, scholars, labor leaders and citizens, acted aggressively to silence the people’s voice.
In the recent months, the gathering frustration of the Ethiopian people has led to peaceful protests and civil disobedience throughout the country. Peaceful demonstrations have repeatedly been answered by government force. Furthermore, the government is forcing the Ethiopian Somalis of Eastern Ethiopia to demonstrate at gunpoint against these fast-spreading anti-government demonstrations. It’s not hard to see how the persecution the government is undertaking can destabilize a region that already borders the unstable Horn of Africa.
For 25 years, the ruling government has claimed it that it has kept strong relations with U.S. administrations because of its partnership with the U.S. “war on terror.” There have been many efforts by Ethiopians to get the U.S. to show how the government is capitalizing on both sides in the name of fighting terror.
We can’t ignore or underestimate situations that might contribute to creating an unstable ground that could breed another ISIS/al-Shabab territory threatening to Coptics/Catholics, Protestants and Muslims who have co-existed for generations in peace.
This reminds me of the homily I heard last Sept. 25. The priest mentioned how we are called to be holy about threats to Catholics and Christians around the world. To be honest, I don’t think it requires a person to be holy to not turn a blind eye to what is going on in Ethiopia. The greatest threat to Christians is to do nothing when we see injustice; “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (Edmund Burke). With that, I ask you, for the Ethiopian people and for the values of Christianity and human dignity, not to turn a blind eye to what is going on in Ethiopia.
Gebrewold has been active in events related to Ethiopia and Africa in the Archdiocese of San Francisco since 2003. He organized a petition drive for Ethiopian human rights in 2006 in various parishes in San Francisco. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
From October 6, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.