Preventing Genocide in Ethiopia

From left to right: Fayera Nagaraa (a torture survivor from Oromia), Phil Austin, Sara Dickson and Kaitlin Murphy (Interns from the Washington Center) during visit to the U.S. Congress on June 26, 2012.

July 22, 2012 ( I have the moral obligation to bring the Ethiopian crisis to your attention because Maryland University has recently released a report that Ethiopia is on a high risk of genocide, instability, and politicide. World Genocide Watch, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and many human rights groups and the media have also repeatedly warned the international community about the severe human rights abuses in Ethiopia. The Oromo Studies Association and Oromo Women’s Association have also written a letter of concern to President Barack Obama, to the leaders of major Western countries, the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights and the World Genocide Watch, etc.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) also advised donor countries to take governance problems more seriously but the international community never paid attention to their advance warnings about the Ethiopian crisis. Many human rights groups and the media have well articulated the Ethiopian crisis but it is the report of the ICG that has exposed Meles Zenawi’s Revolutionary Democracy. It is the best and well articulated report and synopsis of a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) dated September 4, 2009, Ethiopia: Ethnic Federalism and its Discontents, may help to understand how this minority group has created an ultra-big government to control the state and people by the funds it obtains from donor nations, the IMF and the World Bank.

It is very important to understand how an elite group that claims it represents a minority ethnic group that accounts for about 6% of the Ethiopian population is controlling both state and people. The report was based on field research and it is highly credible and written by a group of high profile world experts.

Summary of the Report: Controlling State and People

“While the elections attract international attention, everyday politics under the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Front (EPRDF) are often ignored. They are marked by top-down policymaking. Popular participation is restricted, decisions are monopolized by the de facto one party state, and there is little local room for deviating from federally fixed policy priorities.

However, the EPRDF’s authority is neither complete nor uniform. There are three distinct political spaces, in the capital, rural areas, and periphery. Addis Ababa enjoys the most political pluralism and individual liberty. Concentration of an educated middle class and foreign presence helps explain the city administration’s greater accountability and scope for dissent…

A well-organized party network extends from the federal to the regional, from the regional to the Woreda (county), and from the Woreda to the kebele and sub-kebele levels.

Given the strong link between the state and EPRDF parties, it is no surprise Meles is at once prime minister and chairman of both the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and EPRDF. Power is concentrated and most strategic decisions are taken in the EPRDF executive committee and the prime minister’s office. Meles is surrounded by a small group of old TPLF confidantes. This inner circle consists of companions from the armed struggle era… Despite the federal government’s multi-ethnic composition, TPLF officers occupy the highest levels of all ministries. The party’s dominance is particularly evident in the armed forces and the National Intelligence and Security Office. Most senior military commanders were former TPLF fighters. This remained so when, in September 2008, Meles promoted a dozen senior military to lieutenant, brigadier and major general. Eight of those promoted are Tigrayans, as is the chief of staff, General Samora Yunis. The troops stationed across the country are thus another means by which the TPLF exerts control over regional and local constituencies. The federal security agenda overrides local institutions, and in unstable and politically sensitive areas, military commanders, federal police, and security organs operate largely independently of local authorities. For example, in Oromiya Tigrayan security and intelligence personnel are felt to operate like a “state within a state”.”

Local opposition groups also reported that 57 of the 61 TPLF/EPRDF generals are from Tigray region, the birthplace of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.

“…The TPLF also created so-called gott and garee institutions… These institutions are an informal but highly effective mechanism by which the party hierarchy controls rural dwellers down to household level.

In this system, local party officials and “cadres” are assigned to monitor the everyday activities of their immediate neighbors. Kebeles are divided into sectors, which are sub-divided into 25 household then again into 5 house-hold units. Each unit is overseen by a party member, loyalist, or “cadre”, who reports relevant incidents to higher party officials and kebele administrators. Regular meetings are called by these sub-kebele party officials to lecture farmers on government policy…Those who refuse to attend or to make the contributions proposed by the government are branded as “anti-development”. Gott and garee officials also closely monitor opposition supporters.

Many Ethiopians perceive the TPLF’s obsession with surveiling opposition activities as deeply intrusive. Neighborhood-level “cadres” report minor occurrences to kebele officials, including residents’ whereabouts and visitors. According to many, “their main task is to monitor the people, spy on people and report to the kebele.” Barely visible to outsiders and foreigners, this party control discourages dissent and constantly reminds people who is in charge. It allows the TPLF to keep a tight grip on opposition supporters and reward its own. In situations of political unrest, sub-kebele party informants point kebele police and federal security forces to families and compounds where opposition is known or suspected.

A recurrent government method to silence critics is to accuse them of being the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Oromo People’s Congress (OPC) formerly Oromo National Congress (ONC), or Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) members. Reporting OLF sympathizers buys favors from local administrators, including kebele court judgments in property disputes. Unsurprisingly, Oromiya has the country’s highest level of reported human rights violations. An atmosphere of suspicion, intimidation, and fear prevails.”

Conclusion of the ICG

“The international community has ignored or downplayed the problems. Some donors consider food security more important than democracy in Ethiopia. In view of the mounting ethnic awareness and political tensions created by the regionalization policy, however, external actors would be well advised to take the governance problems more seriously and adopt a more principled position towards the Meles Zenawi government.”

Creating a state within a state, pouring billions of dollars in the form of foreign aid, military assistance by donor nations, and generously granting a huge amount of loans by the IMF and World Bank for the last two decades has significantly contributed to the empowerment of this minority group at the expense of the majority. I hope that the UN, Western countries and the rest of the world must intervene to prevent another human crisis and genocide in the Horn of Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular. I believe this is the right time to put international pressure and dismantle the apartheid policies of a racist and fascist regime of Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. I am also a witness to the observation of the ICG since all of my torturers were Tigrinya speakers. They were saying, “When we say democracy, you took it seriously?” I have never taken it seriously that is why I have clearly and loudly spoke against Revolutionary Democracy. It is Meles Zenawi’s illusion and speaking the jargons of liberal democracy and being a democrat are entirely different. He may fool himself and some of his supporters and allies not those of us who know what real democracy is.

After controlling state power – the military,  the security, the electoral board, the judiciary and the media this minority regime had monopoly over economic resources for the last two decades. With such unacceptable political arrangement, this minority regime has put the whole country for sale – which is dubbed as “The Deal of the Century”. Foreign companies are on a rush for land grabbing in Oromiya, Gambella, Benishangul and so on. This has been widely reported by rights group and the international media. The Oromo people strongly oppose this deal because this regime does not represent us.

Meles Zenawi’s chronic suppression of the internet and media freedoms in Ethiopia and the regime’s flagrant violations of rights enshrined in domestic and international law is also widely reported by rights group and international media outlets.

For instance, Graham Peebles wrote on Redress Information, “Freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are basic human rights and are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is not for a government – whose function is to serve the people – to decide who or indeed if these freedoms should be allowed. Although etched into the Ethiopian constitution, freedom in its various democratic manifestations remains a fantasy for the people, who are increasingly controlled, inhibited and impoverished. The Ethiopian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is imposing ever more stringent and repressive measures of subjugation. If it could it would control and restrict the very air the people breath.

As an Oromo torture survivor, I am so honored to have this great opportunity to bring the concerns of many rights groups, the media and Oromo civil society organizations to the attention of the international community. As a victim of this brutal regime, I would like to join all peoples and organizations to ask: “How long will Meles Zenawi’s allies in the US, Britain and the European Union tolerate the regime’s flagrant violations of rights enshrined in domestic and international law?”, a question well articulated by Jonathan Peebles.

Finally, I would also like to thank the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) – International and its supporters for giving me this chance to speak on behalf of the Oromo people, on behalf of those who did not survive, and those who did not have the chance to speak.

Thank  you,

Fayera Nagaraa Soboksa,
A torture survivor from Oromia


  • Professor Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
  • Congressman Mike Kelly, U.S. House of Representatives
  • Linda J. Gustitus, President of National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT)
  • Sisters of Notre Dame, Congregational Representative at the UN, New York
  • Professor Terry Coonan, Florida State University and TASSC Board Member
  • Professor Richard Wilson, American University International Human Rights Law Clinic
  • Representatives of many Human Rights Organizations, Religious Organizations, Educational Institutions, and interns of the Washington Center who joined me to lobby the U.S. Congress