By Elias Hussein
The terms Genocide and ethnic cleansing are variously defined or understood over time. In 1946 however, the acts were recognized as a crime for the first time under international law by the United Nations General Assembly (A/RES/96-I) and a more formal definition of the terms were offered. A common thread that runs through the latest definitions is that it is “killing members of a group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part imposing measure intended to prevent births within the group and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”, presumably all intended to eliminate the very existence of the targeted group.
Unfortunately, in Ethiopia today, the two terms are being recklessly thrown around unchecked, especially by Amhara elites, without a shred of evidence to support their fictional allegations. Claims and counterclaims are coming out one after the other. For example, the Amhara are currently on a massive propaganda campaign dubbed #AmharaGenocide. Are they justified, or are Amhara elites playing the victim card, or are they actually preparing the ground work to justify a planned and oncoming genocide they seem to be fermenting behind the scene?
When we talk about genocide and ethnic cleansing, especially in the context of Africa, the Rwanda and the Darfur genocides come to mind. It is appropriate, at this point, to briefly remind the reader what happened in the two genocides.
In Rwanda, the ethnic Hutu extremists slaughtered about 800,000 Tutsis in just 100 days in 1994. It is widely accepted now that in Rwanda, the government armed and trained Hutu youth in combat in 1990 which ended up in genocide against Tutsis. Tutsis were identified with the rebel group Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) while Hutus were incited by the government to take up arms and murder their neighbors.
In Darfur, dubbed “The first genocide of the 21st century”, where the Janjaweed (“evil men on horseback”) militia and the government of Sudan worked in tandem to eliminate “the fish by draining the sea”, nearly 400,000 people were killed. It is now widely accepted that the Janjaweed attacked from the ground while Sudanese government air force attacked civilians with indiscriminate aerial bombings. In March 2009, the ICC found Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir guilty of directing a campaign of crimes against humanity, of mass killing, rape and pillaging against civilians in Darfur and issued an arrest warrant against him and sentenced him to two years in prison.
Elsewhere in the world, ethnic Bosnian Serbs, after forming a Serbian paramilitary force in Bosnia, committed the Bosnia genocide against the Muslim population supported by the government of the former Yugoslavia and its military equipment to further their irredentist claims. The ICC convicted many Serbians for crimes against humanity including Mladic, “the Butcher of Bosnia”” to life imprisonment. In Germany, while conducting genocide against the Jews, the Nazis were not just assisted by the German government of the day but were the government.
Besides meeting definitions of genocide and ethnic cleansing, all the major genocides that we briefly explored above have three things in common. First, the governments of the day consistently supported and enabled the perpetrators. The perpetrators always had the support and assistance of the government of the day. Secondly, the victims were those that the government was trying to eliminate or defeat. Thirdly, the groups that were killed or displaced in greater numbers were the victims.
In other words, if history is any indication, those that committed genocide generally enjoyed the support and assistance of the government of the day because they consider the victims common enemies and killed them in greater numbers than they lost in the ensuing conflicts. In fact, it seems almost impossible for one to actually commit a genocide against an ethnicity or a race or a religion which enjoys the support and funding of the government of the day.
Now, let us come back to Ethiopia. The Amhara are demonstrating across the country against what they call “genocide against the Amhara” especially in Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz. This does not make sense to the careful observer.
In Ethiopia, it is the Amhara that has the support of the government. It is the Amhara Special Forces and Militia that are accused of “leading a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing” in Tigray by no less superpower than the USA, many other western governments, and international organizations. Amhara militiamen are reported to have said to a Tigrayan woman they raped, that their problem wasn’t with her but her womb and that ‘A Tigrayan womb should never give birth’.
The government of Amhara Regional State, like that of the Hutu government in Rwanda in 19190, has been arming and training Amhara Special Force, militia and Amhara youth (“Fano”) in combat to further its irredentist claims against Tigray, Oromia, Benishangul-Gumuz and others which led, for example, to the massacre of Oromos in Wollo, of Tigrayans in Tigray. They conducted mass killings in Metekel against the Gumuz people, in Kimant against the Kimant people. The GoE looks the other way or provides support and assistance for them.
The GoE and Amhara elites are both working to dismantle the multinational federal order which the Amhara dislike so much because it did away with their hegemony to some extent.
In other words, the GoE supports Amhara elites and stands shoulder to shoulder with them when it comes to working eliminate those that resist a return to the past imperial days. For example, in his speech to Oromia State Council meeting of February 27, 2021, Fekadu Tessema, Head of Oromia Prosperity Party, spoke of eliminating “the fish by draining the sea” in reference to Oromo Liberation Army (OLA); the Oromo people being the sea that his party in government is planning to drain.
How can anyone conduct genocide or ethnic cleansing against them? How is it possible for the Oromo and the Gumuz – nations the GoE is working to defeat or eliminate – to conduct genocide against the Amhara supported by the GoE? This undoubtedly can only be either a case of the perpetrator playing the victim card, or they are working to justify a planned and oncoming genocide against others or both.
If it is not to play the victim card, why else would Amhara elites allege a never-before-seen or heard kind of genocide, where the supposed perpetrators – the Oromo for example – were killed in numbers greater than those against whom they are supposed to perpetrate genocide – the Amhara? This was the case in deaths that followed the assassination of Hacalu where, according to Ethiopian State Media, of 239 killed, the Oromo constitute the overwhelming majority at 145. In a demonstration that followed Jawar Mohammed’s claim of security forces’ attempt to arrest him in October of 2019, Eighty-six people were reported to have been killed of which 62 of them were Oromos. In almost all claims of genocide against the Amhara, nationals other than Amhara are killed in greater numbers. What kind of genocide is this? This is a kind of genocide invented by Amhara elites to hoodwink the world.
I want to live in an Ethiopia that accepts everyone and where people of different ethnic identity also feel that they are equally Ethiopians. Unfortunately, it appears recent Amhara politics is led and dominated by musicians and comedians bent on trivializing monumental challenges the country is facing, and in the process inflaming and exacerbating ethnic animosity.
By now, it should be clear to the reader that Amhara elites are throwing terms like genocide and ethnic cleansing around so carelessly that if and when it takes place in Ethiopia, the world might not take it seriously.
Further, it seems to me that Ethiopia is on a path to accelerated self-destruction. It is extremely difficult to contemplate continued survival of the country until and unless the regime and its ardent supporters, the Amhara elites, urgently reverse course, drop their irredentist wish, end the rapidly expanding war now engulfing the entire country, and hold all nations and nationalities inclusive dialogue to chart a common destiny. As Mr. Jeffrey Feltman said, “[The] Ethiopia Crisis Could Make Syria Look Like ‘Child’s Play’”. Given the Amhara elites’ irredentist claims against their neighbors, and playing the victims card while vilifying the true victims, I would add Ethiopia’s very likely oncoming violent disintegration could make the breakup of Yugoslavia look like a ‘picnic’.
 Elias Hussein is a student of political theory as both philosophy and history, and lives in the USA