False Narratives of Ethiopian Conflict Are Toxic
April 5, 2021
In two months, Ethiopia will have national elections, which can potentially shape the future of the largest nation in East Africa. False narratives of the cause and description of the fighting in the northern section of Ethiopia, Tigray, remain misleading and detrimental. This can undermine the efforts of Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed to introduce a non-ethnic based discourse with his newly created Prosperity Party.
Unfortunately, much of the narrative that dominates the news and reporting is falsely framed as a contest between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the government of Ethiopia, headed by Prime Minister Abiy. Some news reports refer to Tigray as a “contested” region between two opposing armed forces. Other commentaries attempt to legitimize the actions of the TPLF as defenders of their territory from “outside” military. Let us be clear. There is no equivalency between the TPLF and the government of Prime Minister Abiy. Such analysis is not only faulty but is dangerous to the nation of Ethiopia. It invites other disingenuous ethnic leaders to launch destabilizations against the Ethiopian nation. Some accounts of the conflict even question, who was responsible for initiating the fighting, blatantly attempting to rewrite history.
It is well known that in the early hours of November 4, the TPLF without cause, attacked the Ethiopian Defense Forces at the Mekele outpost, stealing munitions and murdering soldiers in their sleep. The government of Prime Minister Abiy was obligated to respond with a military counterattack to ensure that Ethiopia remained a sovereign nation.
As long as policy and deliberations in Ethiopia are twisted around the contours of which ethnic group is in power, the nation’s progress will be disrupted and curtailed.
Allegations of Ethnic Cleansing
The United Nations defines ethnic cleansing as:
“ a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas…. rendering an area ethnically homogeneous”
Ethnic cleansing is intolerable and repugnant to civilized society. Given the highly contentious environment in Ethiopia between different ethnic groups, unsubstantiated charges of ethnic cleansing and genocide are inflammatory and pernicious. Hurling such accusations without incontrovertible proof is more than provocative. It can lead to increased violence, threatening the very fabric of Ethiopia as a sovereign nation only months away from its national election. Yet these unfounded accusations are repeated again and again.
In a March 30th letter to United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, Congressmen Gregory Meeks, and Michael McCaul, condemned Ethiopia for “acts of ethnic cleansing,” without offering any evidence other than hearsay from the media. Unfortunately, Blinken himself had used the same provocative language earlier in March, accusing the Ethiopian government of ethnic cleansing, without proof. Protest from the Ethiopian government in Addis Ababa prompted President Biden to send Senator Coons to Ethiopia as his special envoy. Upon his return, Sen. Coons not only refused to repeat such charges, but expressed optimism in the subsequent actions of Prime Minister Abiy.
Atrocities or other illegal actions that have been reported, must be thoroughly investigated, as Prime Minister Abiy has promised to conduct in conjunction with the United Nations. However, the continued use of unsubstantiated accusations of ethnic cleansing by U.S. officials, repeated by the reckless media, are imprudent and perilous to the entire Horn of Africa.
The same congressional letter threatened sanctions against Ethiopia. Ethiopian Ambassador to the U.S., Fitsum Arega, responded the next day, March 31st with his own letter to the two congressmen:
“Your call for what appears to be blanket sanctions is not only counterproductive to the goal of providing support for those in need, but also significantly undermines the two nations’ long cooperate relationship. The U.S. should be working to ensure that funds and supplies are going to those in need, not in threatening behavior that will diminish cooperative efforts to bring much needed help to those in need.”
Human Identity Transcends Ethnicity
Ethiopia’s upcoming election on June 5 will be historic. For the first time, with Prime Minister Abiy’s national Prosperity Party on the ballot, there will be an alternative to the destructive politics of ethno-nationalist partisanship. It is important for all Ethiopians to take responsibility for ensuring that this election is not marred by violent ethnic confrontations.
Now, let us deal with the core issue confronting Ethiopia’s society, which politicians, reporters, Washington think tanks, and NGOs, do not understand; Ethiopian people are not defined by ethnicity.
We are all human beings first and foremost. What does it really mean to be human, and what is its relevancy to the current circumstances in Ethiopia?
Our heritage, no matter how much we respect our parents, cherish our birthplace, and traditions, does not determine our essence as human beings. Our worth, as human beings is not derived from where we were born. What distinguishes us, all of us, as human, as opposed to all other creatures is; that we are bequeathed by the Creator with the very special quality of creative reason. No animal possesses creativity, and no machine can reproduce this unique quality, which I will identify as our soul-mind. The power of reason-creativity is not deduction, induction, or logic. It is the ability to discover, through hypothesis, new physical, and social principles embedded in the universe by the Creator, awaiting for us to uncover. This characteristic of creative-mentation distinguishes the human species, as having a single human culture, which cannot be subdivided.
All societies, going back at least million years in Africa, have progressed as a result of human creativity. Continuous, uninterrupted discovery of new universal principles that advance civilization from one level of science-culture to the next. This, our human culture, coherent with the physical universe, lawfully shatters the silly belief of a preordained limit to the growth of humankind.
Thus, deep down in our soul-mind, we are all universally unified, and alike. We are not fundamentally different, except in secondary features that serve to enrich the breath of our universal human culture. African nations can no longer allow themselves to be ruled and divided by ethnicity and religion. No ethnic group, religion, or class ought to enjoy any superiority. Religious and ethnic differences should not undermine a nation’s national unity.
Each nation has developed uniquely, contributing to the diversity and richness of our civilization. Each nation has uniquely fashioned an identity from historical events and future aspirations.
Let that national identity moored to our exclusive human identity prevail. Any lesser identity is an assault on our unique humanness.
With this concept in mind, let Ethiopia demonstrate its commitment to protect and care for all its citizens by allowing justice to overcome propaganda and prejudice in judging the crimes committed in this conflict.
Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. Mr. Freeman’s stated personal mission is; to eliminate poverty and hunger in Africa by applying the scientific economic principles of Alexander Hamilton.