Ethnic Violence Southern Ethiopia: Roots, Causes And The Way Forward

UN News online reports that beginning from late April this year, the volatility of pre-existing ethnic tensions were exacerbated by harshness of the nation’s climate and the scarcity of resources. These two factors have resulted in mass displacement of people, and the onset of severe violence. As such, UN News reports that ‘the recent violence came on the heels of more than a year-long crippling drought and tensions over dwindling resources.’ At present, it has been estimated that 1.2 million people have been internally displaced due to the conflict.

Amnesty International has been particularly critical of the Ethiopian government’s response to the crisis. As noted by news24, Amnesty International’s critique is directed at arguably the weak response of the government, as the government has been accused of ‘not doing enough to prevent escalating ethnic violence in some of its regions.’ Nevertheless, the response from international bodies in matters pertaining to aid and relief have been promising. Indeed, here UN News reports that ‘the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund(CERF) has allocated $10 million to help meet the life-saving needs of the most vulnerable people displaced due to conflict in Ethiopia.’ Further, the strong international response to the crisis is also evident in the delivery of aid which has to an extent relieved suffering, though not eradicated it. The actual delivery of aid ‘has enabled the provision of safe drinking water and latrines, food, treatment for severe acute malnutrition, emergency shelter and basic health care.’ Further, UN news has expressed particular and strong concern for the safety and welfare of displaced women and children.

The extremity of the violence unleashed is beyond the parameters of human imagination, with ‘Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency reporting that indiscriminate killings, rape, livestock slaughter, and house burnings’ have dominated the landscape. Moreover, James Jeffrey writing for reliefweb reports of displaced persons particular the ‘Oromo and Somali recounting that the region’s special police’ have actively participated in the bloodshed. The veracity of such claims has been strongly contested by authorities, however, it is equally important to acknowledge the civilian voice. Nevertheless, confidence has been expressed by those affected in the National Ethiopian Defence Forces, who appear to be dutiful and protective.

Greater inter-communal homogeneity would be a crucial step towards the attainment of peace and security within the region- ultimately resulting in the reduction of widespread and brutal violence. To that end, whilst UN news has reported that ‘traditional leaders from both sides of the conflict convened a peace and reconciliation conference to address the Gedeo-Guji conflict… ultimately reaching the consensus that internal-communal violence shall cease and that displaced peoples shall be returned to their place of origin by 8th August.’ Although, such peace talks are plausible, its pragmatism is questionable, especially given that ethnic tensions between the two major groups, that being the Oromo and Amhara, amongst else, have been longstanding. Arguably, in addition to the strong leadership that has been demonstrated here, possibly an increase in military protection in highly affected Southern regions would be an appropriate measure to take. The measure is apt as expecting to return displaced people to their hometowns without being concerned about further fighting and debauchery is not reasonable. Thus, preventive and protectionary measures ought to be put in place.

Nat Kumar