Ethiopian Christians & Moslems: In their unity for rights & democracy lies their strength (Part III)

23 Jan

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin

Parts One & Two of Christians and Moslems Braving Together a Difficult Time to Help Ethiopia Survive discussed two important things.

The first is the role of Christianity and Islam in Ethiopia and how they helped our country defend and preserve its independence, as Ethiopia was also evolving historically. The second part dealt with the challenges both Ethiopia, as multiethnic state in the processes of its consolidation, and the roles played by the two major religions. The focus then is moved to the present, the situations they are in on account of policies and ideologies pursued by the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), as core of the ruling party in the country in these past two decades.

As stated earlier, the intention of this article is sincere. That is why it is in the first place using examples from our history, i.e., to caution divisive forces against their unholy and throbbing sentiments. Of late, the ‘dons’ harve been using state powers, resources and institutions to advance their unhealthy objectives they set out during their founding in the mid-1970s.

Their actions, deriving from persistent and consistent behavior, have convinced this writer that, unless Ethiopians act in unison to curtail the danger hovering over their country in a timely manner, in the final analysis the TPLF may leave the country in irrecoverable disasters, to ensure their hold on power themselves, unfortunately employing the names of the people they exploit that necessarily do not share the goals the “dons” have in mind.

More than ever before, the situation forces every citizen to raise the following questions:

       ◙    How can the TPLF explain what it has been doing to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church since it assumed power, including its public statements and actions of the past few months, which have made public its objective of weakening the Church by forcing permanece of the internal division?

       ◙   How are Ethiopian Moslems to take their Ethiopianness in a country that increasingly is denying them of the human rights, freedom to worship their religion, while fully respecting Ethiopian laws? The fact that these problems intensify is a pretext for the TPLF to execute its goal of Ethiopia’s weakening, as it heads ont establishing a state of its own.

       ◙    How should Ethiopians come to terms with the fear and repression that endlessly hang on their heads, the rampant inequalities on all fronts, as the TPLF members enjoy freedom to do whatever they like leading a life of luxury?

       ◙    What laws would allow, or what exclusive right do TPLF members (coming from single minority ethnic group) have in Ethiopia that entitles them to control and exercise national powers?

       ◙    What laws do entitle them to exclusively hold offices and make ultimate decisions on the political, economic, military, security and intelligence matters of the nation, which affect every individual, the nation’s interactions with other foreign governments and entities, with no accountability whatsoever?

With these brutal rape of our nation have the booties headed to the TPLF – starting from the generous scholarships to higher education institutions in foreign lands, then allowing their members to sit on higher level posts in the army, national security, telecommunications, in short the finance and economic sector as a whole.

The sad fact is that the TPLF members had never been mistreated or discriminated to this degree in the days of the emperor, not even under the military regime! It is now unacceptable that non-TPLF Ethiopians be subjected to this mistreatment, discrimination and rape of their country!

Today, not even exiled Ethiopians seem to be beyond the reach of TPLF’s lawlessness and its attempts at intimidating them in their second homes in foreign countries, whose protections they have sought and and have received and been entitled to under national and international laws!

Part II particularly focussed the problems faced by Ethiopian Moslems. In this article, as the third and last one, the focus would be on the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the problems it has been experiencing.

Before closing, the article would also refer to an unfortunate broadcast on Radio Feteh by a preacher, addressing the Moslem community. That sermon has been the original motive for this article in the first place. As indicated earlier, it became necessary to shift its focus onto the overall problem that Ethiopians have been experiencing. That attempt was made, coming from the angle that the actions of the regime are giving rise to such unwanted sentiments, as shown in the brief discussion in the middle of this piece.

The Moslem community is not alone in Ethiopia in its struggle for human and civil rights

Like the Moslem community, Orthodox Christians also find themselves at the receiving end of an increasingly puzzling historical injustice right at this very moment. It has its origin in two separate incidences, forcing now the need to question the motives of the TPLF leaders and their minions.

Are they trying to undermine the Ethiopian identity, built over the centuries? Are they trying to pursue an open policy of “Everything to the Don”, they massively pursued in the early years when they assumed power and started building EFFORT side by side with their political powers.

To that end, there two things that filter out:

First, there is the Waldba Monastery question, which the TPLF wants converted to sugarcane plantation and sugar factory. This is a monastery that was founded in 490 A. D. This is done ignoring the fact that they are destroying the country’s historical legacy by destroying the monument, a national treasure? This gives rise to one crucial question that pesters lots of Ethiopians: Why is the TPLF not sensitive to the feelings and sentiments of substantial number of Ethiopians in many parts of the country that identify with it?

Those who have closely followed this scandalous move allege that the intention of the TPLF in respect of Waldba is to develop water supply for Tigrai, which ever way by destroying the monastery and building water infrastructures.

To achieve this goal, the regime has been imprisoning old monks, who have lived all their life in the monastery, leading a life of prayer and devotion to God. Some monks have escaped and have now become refugees and some others are still in hiding within Ethiopia, according to radio broadcasts secretly transmitting their views and the issues thereon.

At home, there are subdued murmurs about this issue, including sabotages here and there by people angered at the regime. Abroad, Christian Ethiopians have responded to this by organizing protest rallies in different countries, and soliciting foreign governments and organizations to help save the monastery. At the same time, at home the community of the faithful is also being heard pleading for help, contacting international civil society groups and the media.

The second source of the problem is the restoration of the legitimate patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to his post. He was deposed from his post in 1991 by the TPLF to make way for a Tigrean patriarch.

The question is, if church and state are separate, as the TPLF constantly swears, what business does the state have in the affairs of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, let alone putting the leader it prefers – Abune Paulos? This led to the division of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Synod into two: one at home and the other in exile.

Thus, for instance, after years of dilly-dallying over the reconciliation between the two sides that the TPLF coup engineered, it finally resolved about a week ago to go against any reconciliation between the two. This has been anticipated, after the expiry last August of the patriarch They installed.

Many Ethiopians, especially those that have been working hard to bring the two churches together to peacefully find solution to that cleavage, now fear that this latest decision would entail serious implications to the country’s internal unity, peace and stability going forward.

They now came out officially saying they had nothing with deposition of the patriarch in 1991. This is also tantamount to denial that there was rapture. Fortunately, this has also been confirmed by the US government, according to a document by the US Ambassador in Addis Abeba in 2009, WikiLeaks released. The person who signed the letter deposing the patriarch, a former prime minister, has publicly expressed his regrets for being used to do that.

All this is happening because the TPLF fears it cannot manage without a TPLF member in robes. Therefore, its intention is to get the person it favors, strictly on ethnic considerations, to be selected as the sixth patriarch. As in the past, pressure, threats and coercion have reportedly been applied on the bishops of the Orthodox Church at home to select a Tigrean to preside over patriarchate of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

While rumors of government pressure seem real, its evidence is also shown by bishops’ rambling message, in which they explained why they decided to severe even the minimal contacts that existed between the two Synods.

Only a few months ago, the two sides held a face-to.face meeting in California for the first time and both explained it went smoothly. The disruptions began already when they were in the meeting by statements and letters from Ethiopia, although the senior church leaders from both sides amicably parted. Since then, however, the language of their communications, especially hardened.

The problem the bishops have faced is not new. In the past, disagreements between the bishops of the church and the late Abune Paulos, who was accused of worldliness and fast and loose habits with financial resources of the church, were settled by threats and violence, with state forces used, as the video below documents.


The fact that this latest action of the Addis Abeba bishops to break relations with the Synod in Exile is forced upon most of them by the TPLF is not in doubt. This was preceded in earlier weeks by senior TPLF leaders like Abay Tsehaye and Sebhat Nega, accusing the Ethiopian Orthodox Church at home of not condemning the Moslem protests in Ethiopia.

Moreover, agents of the ruling party from within the Church at the level of bishops just recently even dared to publicly state that the Tigrai Church would go its separate way if the fourth patriarch were to be restored to his post ( They made it sound as if such matters were as simple as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church officially breaking away from the Egyptian Coptic Church, as happened in 1959. At least in that case, it was a decision by a sovereign country that wanted to ensure and protect the country’s independence.

In the case of this latest decision, it obviously is not coming from the Church, but from the TPLF itself! This latest threats smack of the ‘Tigray would break away from Ethiopia’ signal – a rumor of the class the type the TPLF spreads whenever its power is threatened.

Recall in this connection that it did the same thing in the morrow of the 2005 election, in response to the TPLF being trounced at the ballot box, as Africa Confidential reported shortly after.

Thus, all said and done, members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are the other added community of frustrated and angered citizens. What this means is that, even without resolving its problems with the Moslem community, the TPLF has begun creating antagonisms with Orthodox Christians, which one way or the other is likely to push the country into unchartered territory.

While Ethiopians brace up for that there is every need to avoid provocations that would lead to needless bloodshed. That is one smart thing the Moslem community did in this past year in its struggle with a heavy-handed regime.

Fighting ambivalence and disruptive messages

Mistakes can happen but, as mentioned above, members of the Islamic community in Ethiopia should not allow disruptive messages to filter out of their ranks, as heard on January 13, 2013 on the Feteh radio. This actually is the reason why I picked my pen, as stated above, to right this piece from a broader perspective.

I am extremely offended by the language used to demean the mission Emperor Menilik undertook to expand towards Arsi and Bale especially. It is granted that military occupation and expansion are not something to be condoned, especially within the comforts of 20th and 21st centuries. That is why the world we live in now cannot tolerate that and the practice is not in evidence anywhere in the world.

There is no doubt that untold sufferings and disasters had befallen ordinary citizens during those processes. But there must also be recognition that is the processes many nations until the end of the 19th century followed before they assumed their present.

I am fully aware that this is a very sensitive issue for many Ethiopians. There are those that still legitimately feel and believe that those pains they suffer today are consequences of those conquests. I strongly believe that the solution to lies not in attacking the past, but in addressing the problem with the appropriate solutions, in line with national laws and the relevant international laws, anchored on democracy, respect for fundamental human rights of individual citizens and genuine equality of all Ethiopians.

For instance, in seizing power the TPLF created ethnic enclaves and their federation, without any rights to be exercised by the constituent parts of the federation. In fact, that all the more has remained the imperative necessity for Ethiopia today to ensure continuation of that struggle until human liberty and freedom are achieved.

For Menilik, the conquest and expansion was an imperative of his time. Especially, when he learned that Egypt was preparing to vacate Harar, he saw the wisdom of expanding his empire through conquest into the south and southeast.

In other words, if Menilik had not extended his military presence into Arsi, or Bale and later Harar, today Ethiopia could have been a different country, geographically speaking, possibly parts of it either under British, French, Italian colonialism, or who knows what.

History has shown repeatedly, as Edmund Burke put it, it is beneficial to judge societies first recognizing their ways and habits. He said, “Every age has its own manners and its politicks dependent upon them.”

That is why I found it most offensive, when the announcer on Feteh Radio said that Ras Darge, the Ethiopian force commander to Bale, secretly sent a spy into the area. The alleged spy pretended to be a Moslem. He spent six months in the area studying and identifying the likely resistance leaders to Menilik’s conquest,who he said were Moslems.

Once he had done that, the announcer claimed on the radio said, the spy took his leave to travel to Arsi, attributing his temporary departure to bringing prayer cloths to the faithful in Bale. On his return, he said he brought the cloths indicating that those cloths were deliberately contaminated by smallpox. Because of that, the announcer said employing a violent language on the radio to the effect that the decimation of Bale Moslem leaders brought Bale’s surrender to Menilik’s forces.

The possibility that a cloth worn by a person with smallpox being cause for transmission and deaths is not questioned here. Historically records show that such actions were practiced in the Middle East and also by the colonial powers in the Americas. In the case of Ethiopia, however, there has not been any clear evidence that this was done by design.

If at all, it happened, on also need to ask whether it was coincidence that the cloths were worn by infected people in Arsi, before they were transported to Bale? We do not have any clear indication speaking to this.

After all, the database of the World Health Organization (WHO) turns out that in the 19th century, Ethiopia had six smallpox epidemics in the following years: 1811-1813, 1838-1839, 1865-1866, 1878-1879, 1885-1887, and 1889-1890, according to Fenner in Smallpox and its Eradication. Geneva: World Health Organization, 1988. The latter periods of the epidemics coincide with the conquest and subjugation of Arsi, Bale and Harar. How is it that the announcer on Feteh Radio found evidence of deliberate spread of smallpox epidemics in Bale, not Harar or Arsi?

Moreover, to allude that Menilik’s forces commanders had used deliberate means to wipe out the leaders of Bale Moslems is most troubling, given that these outbreaks of the disease had repeatedly befallen most parts of Ethiopia within shorter time spans. Also, could it not be an overestimation of the country’s capacity to do that with resources that had existed then?

Most of all, to play the role of the devil’s advocate, let’s assume that what is said in that sermon was all true. But how could spreading such venom on the radio now as a sermon help the Moslem struggle today? My fear is that, instead such shortsighted zealotry would evoke anger and hatred amongst people – Christians. These are historical crimes in which today’s generation has not committed.

Finally, the reality in our country is that at this very moment there is one strong community of Ethiopians angered by the state, because of the denial of its religious freedom, civil and human rights. Working to beef up the rift is not in the interest of the Moslem community is not in its interests, as it would not also be in the Christians:

What Ethiopian Moslems would have to keep in mind is that they are not alone. In Ethiopia today there is a burgeoning community of frustrated and angered citizens. Whatever the state has at the back of its mind, there is no doubt that it has done wrong by Ethiopian Moslems, as it has against the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and its clergy.

Where is Ethiopia headed?

Going forward, the unresolved situation in these two communities is likely to affect the country’s internal unity, peace and stability.

At a time, when the individual Ethiopians’ sense of rights since the mid-1970s has become the budding twig of the Ethiopian national consciousness, the state’s creeping reversal in choosing heavy-handedness to arrest this historical tide is becoming cause for concern, more tensions and bloodshed.

Going forward, TPLF dictatorship, a cousin of Hafez al Assad’s Syrian Alwaites, cannot win in Ethiopia. This is being said notwithstanding the support of the major powers it enjoys, who by their preoccupation with Islamic extremism around the world, more particularly due to what happened in Somalia under Al Shabab, are not paying attention. The present situation in Africa, recently in Algeria, Mali, etc. would also lend the TPLF ready support, even when the West is aware of the Front’s reengagement in what I call the Sehul strategy – in the likeness of the doomed role by a Tigrean warlord Mikael Sehul during the Zemene Mesafint (the Era of Princes) in 18th century.

The only hope is on one hand Ethiopians must resist the repression. Only when they do that would the world would wake up for the right reasons. I earnestly hope that this analysis is wrong since I do not in any form or shape my country through the destruction the Syrian minority Alwaites leadership has done in order to exclude from power the majority Sunnis.

More particularly, in a world governed by separation between politics and faith, at the center of which the hunger for democracy, equality of all citizens and ethnic groups and respect for fundamental human rights are the becoming driving forces, the immorality and perniciousness of violence and deceit by the present Ethiopian state have become too manifest to ignore.

For instance, the state’s newly revived interference in religions, against all laws and citizens’ resistance, is motivated by the exclusive goal of total control by a few of the majority. Their ideology is dominance of the few over the many, under the guise of a single ethnic group over a multi-ethnic state.

Regressive as it is, it comes as a reminiscence of distant eras, for which the new Ethiopia is not amenable. By the sign of things, the Tigrean community is as much a victim of the repression, although their name is being used to advance merely the interests of the commando in power, as the visting NATO parliamentary delegation likened TPLF governance style, after it visited Tigrai and Addis Abeba in October 2010. For this, the entire Tigrean people cannot be blamed, whose name is being used in vain for the benefit of the few.

From the increasing counter reactions building within adherents of both Christinas and Moslems, especially within the ranks of the young and educated, the challenge for our country going forward would is more serious than many people may anticipate.

The events cascading before our eyes, especially of late, represent the choreography of what Ethiopia is to be reduced into, if no united action exists.

TE- Transforming Ethiopia

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