In Ethiopia, talk of violence is not necessarily confined to the national border

Isaach Geller breaks the silence. In four years as a BBC World Service’s Europe editor in Berlin, the Ethiopian journalist has seen the country on the brink of war as well as the peace…

In Ethiopia, talk of violence is not necessarily confined to the national border

Isaach Geller breaks the silence. In four years as a BBC World Service’s Europe editor in Berlin, the Ethiopian journalist has seen the country on the brink of war as well as the peace sign a government has just pulled out of the room.

Here he explains why he joined it from Britain, and why he sees the government looking worse.

Ali Kassim Bekele is the Chairman of Ethiopia’s National Human Rights Commission. His organisation investigates human rights abuses in the country, which in 2014 adopted the same constitution as that of neighbouring Eritrea. He believes his country’s political problems have been a part of its culture.

“I think it’s been a way of life because as you know this is a very, very important issue in this country,” he says.

“Ethiopia is the only African country where a government has been in power for more than two decades.”

Jakub Mogorosi is a journalist with Ethiopian state-owned television who covers his country’s armed conflicts for the state-owned broadcaster. He says violence seems to spill over into neighbouring countries every now and then.

“The current round of violence in Ethiopia is linked to neighboring countries,” he says.

“Last year, [there were] some increased tensions with Eritrea. This year it’s also the situation with [Oromo opposition group] Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).”

“And of course there is always a situation with [the Ogaden National Liberation Front] aka GAM.”

But critics say Ethiopia’s political issues are driven more by a historical legacy than by current tensions.

Former Soviet-trained Marxists came to power in Ethiopia in 1974 after a bloody coup by Mengistu Haile Mariam, the army general who led Ethiopia during its brief border war with Eritrea. Mengistu’s Marxist policies paved the way for 30 years of civil war.

There were revolutions, killings, and at times brutal repression. And it was only this year that the government released all political prisoners under an amnesty, with plans to hold new polls next year. However the country has been unable to reassure the international community that its leaders are following through.

In August, government forces waged an air campaign to wipe out opposition groups in the Oromia region. European Union ministers reacted by suspending the EU’s economic development programme.

Later in the year, President Yared Uhuru Kisa granted Ethiopian recognition to the Oromo Liberation Front. Many saw this as a political ploy. And it continued to raise questions.

Diplomats are watching Ethiopia carefully. If other leaders, and potentially future administrations, worry about violence in the country, other countries can follow suit and ask for other help. So that’s what they’re waiting for.

Many countries have long voiced their concern about Ethiopia’s human rights record. “A diplomatic crisis will happen only when the United States and Europe have started to lose credibility in the region and Africa,” says Fikadu.

The Ethiopian government denies that it has violated human rights. Government spokesman Meles Alem stated recently, “We have eradicated very much the remnant of the coup plotters.”

The government continues to assure the international community that human rights are being properly safeguarded, but it seems that living with dissent is increasingly becoming difficult.

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