By Dr. Aklog Birara, a retired IMF Senior Advisor

Dr. Aklog BiraraOn April 26, 2022, unknown terrorists or some anti-Ethiopia entity bombed and killed at least 20 people in the ancient city of Gondar and caused outrage. This is a city I love. This is the city where I attended high school. I remember this ancient city as a hub of diversity. Jews, Christians, and Muslims respected, acknowledged one another, and lived side by side peacefully for centuries. Most modern enterprises were owned by non-Gondaries.

The innocent civilian victims of the bombing were mostly Muslims. It appears that the bombing was planned and executed deliberately to spark a faith based civil. The caustic environment emanating from the ethnicization of politics among elites contributes to this kind of tragedy and abnormality. It behooves regional and federal Government authorities to stop waffling and rationalizing acts of terrorism. The culprits must be held accountable.

The broader issue is equally important. Regardless of ethnicity, faith, class status or political orientation, those who accept Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and the welfare of Ethiopia’s 120 million people (Ethiopians and those of Ethiopian decent) must abandon dreaming and hoping for a divine intervention. Foreign powers and their vast network of agencies will not defend their rights, advance their welfare and development. Ethiopians bear the prime responsibility to do that and more.

First, powerful, and influential countries such as China, Russia, Turkey, the UAE, USA, and others serve their own national and strategic interests. I have argued persistently that corporate or state media, think tanks, civil society organizations, human rights entities, policy makers (legislators) and decision-makers (government officials) operate in tandem. They speak from the same script. Non-state actors in these countries rarely deviate from government policy prescriptions. Self-interest has primacy over principles or values.

It is rare for CNN, the BBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, or others to challenge contentious their government official positions. This is the case of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) initiated war in Ethiopia and the politically engineered misnomer of “Western Tigray” propagated by the US Department of State as well as by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. You need to ask, “Whose bidding are they doing?” How come they fail to recognize that “Western Tigray” never existed before TPLF decapitated the Amhara population, annexed, and incorporate Amhara lands into Tigray and repopulated the area with tens of thousands of Tigrean settlers?

Western human rights organizations, most notably Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch feel entitled to speak on behalf of selected Ethiopian “victims.”  They lie, conduct research and interviews with a pre-conclusion of guilty as charged. They conclude that Amhara administrators, Amhara militia, Fano and Eritrean forces are accountable for ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity of the Tigrean population. These institutions had the audacity to assert Amhara forces ethnically cleansed more than “700,000 Tigreans” in Wolkait, Tegede and Telemt. Census data does not support this claim.

I am aghast at the ferocity of their arguments, their bias and partiality. Independent Photojournalist Jemal Countess’s reporting on the Wolkait massacre of indigenous Amhara that I had reported in my previous commentaries is a most welcome voice. It is a timey rebuke of the make-believe narratives presented by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, the TPLF and its cohort of international advocates.

On April 17, 2022, the prominent American Journalist Jemal Countess reported to the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) in Addis Ababa that “Wolkait is a great site of mass graves where thousands of people were massacred and buried by TPLF’s tyrannical administration during the past four decades.” The TPLF is a killing machine. The TPLF has crafted the art of secrecy, silent killing, identification of impassable mass grave sites and the siphoning of funds. The TPLF is adept at recruiting others to do its bidding.

Mr. Countess went to the site in Wolkait and “saw the mass graves last week and was saddened by the content of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch’s report on the alleged crimes in Wolkait area.”

How is it possible for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to ignore these atrocities by the TPLF? What prompted them to take sides in defense of the TPLF propaganda? Is it ethical or moral to ignore the facts, the information on the ground, the eyewitnesses, the experts from Gondar university who unearthed the massacres?

TPLF atrocities of indigenous Amhara span more than forty years. Concerned Ethiopians including residents of Wolkait, Tegede and Telemt kept reporting systematic, deliberate, and silent killings, forcible expulsions of indigenous Amhara throughout these years. Tragically, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch never responded to these pleas.

A group of us submitted voluminous data with names and locations of those killed by the TPLF to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and received neither response nor follow-up.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch misled the entire world by pre-selecting, pre-screening, and manipulating data; and more troublesome by ignoring real massacres of indigenous Amhara perpetrated by the TPLF. “But the entire world is being misguided by misinformation of the Western media and by politically motivated reports of human rights organizations,” Countess said.

Ethiopian experts righty suspect that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch were either persuaded or blind sighted by the TPLF and its network of supporters and lobbyists to foreshadow the investigation of mass graves in Wolkait by Gondar University that was in the works. “These two human rights organizations are ignoring that, and they actually came out with these records to try to downplay or blunt the effect of University of Gondar’s report,” said Countess.

Why else would Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, the US Secretary of State, and others ignore atrocities of Amhara by the TPLF? Why else would they not hold the TPLF accountable for ethnic cleansing of Afar? How come the mayhem in Afar does not deserve scrutiny by these human rights organizations?

In addition to the damage to the indigenous Amhara population, this wrongful and falsehood reporting by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch is a threat to Ethiopia. It is alarming that a limited few within Ethiopia and Western policy and decision-makers wish to sacrifice the legitimate and legal demands of the indigenous Amhara population and “negotiate” a deal. Such a deal will lead to a catastrophic and perpetual civil war. It will contribute hugely to the strategic geopolitical interests of Egypt and Sudan. It will weaken Ethiopia further. It will make it virtually untenable for Amhara and Tigreans to coexist. 

Therefore, the Amhara regional Government as well as the Government of Ethiopia must reject the findings and conclusions by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. The Wolkait question is not just an Amhara issue alone. It is an Ethiopian strategic and geopolitical issue.

The appropriate action would have been for the USA, Western Europe together with the NGOs to demand that the TPLF, OLF/Shane and other combatants stop fighting, disarm, and negotiate for durable peace. Ethiopian society, especially the country’s political and social elites must also determine to move from a political culture of ethnic polarization and hate to that of a just society based on political pluralism and democratic governance.

In view of the biases exhibited by the USA and the NGOs, Ethiopian political and social elites, academics, civil society and faith leaders, activists, youth groups, and media must ask a cardinal question now. Can Ethiopia’s center hold the country together? Are Ethiopian institutions strong enough to do that? I will leave it to the reader reflect and answer these questions. Meanwhile, I urge every Ethiopian to work hard and fast to defend Ethiopia and Ethiopiawinet from withering away.