Working and praying for peace in Ethiopia

Last month Ethiopia’s prime minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Felix Girke and I wrote an article in The Guardian on his achievements and on the challenges that remain.

We applauded his efforts in making peace with Eritrea and opening up political space at home. We also noted the sad irony in the timing of the award, for at the moment when the prime minister was being lauded for securing peace, Ethiopia has been experiencing a wave of violence.

In the last week of October, at least 86 were killed in cities across Ethiopia, and many more injured. People receiving treatment for their injuries in Adama, 100 km southeast of Addis Ababa, spoke of being attacked on account of the language they spoke – or for not joining in attacks themselves. Others said their injuries were due to security forces opening fire on crowds.

The situation outside the cities is harder to follow. In the Lower Omo region, where I have worked, there is little representation by national or international media. News is therefore filtering out piecemeal.

Last week, Concerned Scholars for Ethiopia released a memo documenting the deaths of at least 38 people at the hands of security forces in the past two months.  The youngest victim was reportedly a 10-month-old baby, and the eldest a man around 90 years old.

The victims were members of the Bodi, a group numbering around ten thousand people. The Bodi (who call themselves Me’en or Mela) are one of approximately a dozen ethno-linguistic groups who have lived in the Lower Omo for generations.

Both in the cities and in the Lower Omo, violence appears to be occurring along ethnic lines. This is troubling for many reasons, not least because it threatens the project of ethnic federalism on which Ethiopia’s post-Cold War order was founded.

Although the principle and practice of ethnic federalism have not always matched, it still seems the best option – perhaps the only viable option – for bringing those who live within Ethiopia’s borders together, and uniting them in mutual respect. The success or failure of this project should be of concern to people everywhere.

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