Terrorism in Western Ethiopia

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The Ethiopian American Community Advocacy Task Force

Concerning recent developments in western Ethiopia, and in particular the security crisis in East Wellega and West Wellega regions, we continue to closely monitor the ongoing impact of terrorism on communities. Alarming reports of ethnically motivated massacres by declared terror group Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), targeting mainly Amhara civilians in Hawa Gelan and in Kellem Wollega has taken the lives of 340 individuals, many of them women and children. The massacre which took place in the early hours of July 4th, 2022, as confirmed by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has shocked the nation. The recent uptick in violence targeting civilians by armed groups is part of an ongoing and ever-increasing trend whereby armed insurgents focus on hard to defend soft targets in villages and townships across West/East Wellega. We are deeply saddened by the ongoing bloodshed and instability that continues to afflict this region of Ethiopia and urge the government to enforce the law decisively, and without fail.

While we urge authorities to recognize failures and work urgently to rectify the security situation, we also recognize Ethiopia’s regional as well as federal security and law enforcement agencies continue to pay the ultimate sacrifice to save lives and hold the perpetrators accountable. The costs to life, property and political stability in the nation is mounting. If left unchecked such events have the potential to spin out of control, just as intended by the culprits. Hence, it is incumbent upon us tackle the issue directly and in consideration of the many nuances of Ethiopia’s political economy in its current state.

According to the United States Defense manual, terrorism is defined as “The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological”. Based on this widely applied standard definition of terrorism, recent atrocities of the OLA are indeed terrorism. However, the goriness, ethnicization and repetition of these attacks is unique in Ethiopia’s history.

While the death of unarmed civilians is a national tragedy, we should not forget the intended goal of the terrorists, which as stated in the very definition of terrorism, is a ‘calculated use of violence to coerce or intimidate governments or societies in pursuit of political or ideological goals. In the case of the OLA and its cohorts, they aim to achieve this by inciting more ethnic divergence, particularly among Ethiopia’s Amhara community. It serves to empower radical voices while drowning out the rest of us. The actions of the terrorists have the intended goal of unravelling Amhara support for the ruling party, with the goal of fracturing the Amhara/Oromo coalition which in their view is the core of Ethiopia’s current political economy. We recognize the dangers of such an outcome, at this point and time, would be catastrophic.

We also recognize the difficulty posed by foreign actors in providing material support to armed insurgents behind the violence. This, however, is as old as the country itself. There have always been insurgencies supported from without. A country the size of Ethiopia within a strategic geo-political area, a water tower in a climate change afflicted world, and with untapped natural resources is inevitably ripe for proxy influence peddlers. Perhaps what is slightly different this time is the level of information warfare or what is sometimes referred to as gray zone warfare. Throughout the past three years continuous disinformation in support of insurgencies and against the state was intended to cause disequilibrium, regime augmentation or change. The consensus is this disinformation was coordinated and largely coming from outside Ethiopia’s boarders. We all know too well how mainstream media outlets failed us and did so deliberately.

Combating modern gray warfare is something Ethiopia as a state and a society must grapple with. We have a long learning curve ahead of us. So far, we have failed at debunking the lies. This is particularly true of government media and PR readiness. Local media organizations need to make qualitative leaps in short order to be able to combat the incessant disinformation and to educate the public. Government officials need to be open and readily available to communicate to the public the situation on a consistent basis. If not, the social media spinmeisters and conspiracy theorists will rule the day. Lastly, we recognize the future of war will be largely information as the world becomes increasingly connected and the old gunboat diplomacy fades in favor of increasingly sophisticated and tailored propaganda. We urge the government of Ethiopia, as well as other civic organizations in country to improve in communications and information.

A crisis always comes with an opportunity. We can learn hard lessons from tragedy and become better. We have been tested before, and just like our ancestors we will overcome again. We have an opportunity as a society to condemn terrorism and to hold the perpetrators accountable. Never has there been a more opportune time to instill in the public the centrality of law and order. Moreover, never has there been an opportunity such as the one before us to showcase the savagery and cruelty of OLA and the TPLF to the international community. Never has there been a better time to work closely with neighboring countries on common goals for peace and development. We urge authorities to call the crime by its name. Work diligently to protect lives and to hold the perpetrators accountable openly. Only in doing so will the public trust again.

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