The Ethiopia Conflict Not Just Another “International News Item”

It was recently reported that young men are taking up arms in Ethiopia’s Amhara region
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Photos: YouTube\Twitter

Far from being a war waged in a distant land, news of the continued conflict in Ethiopia hits very close to home. And not just for me, but for over a million Ethiopian-Americans.

It was recently reported that young men are taking up arms in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, answering the Amhara regional President’s calls as Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters advance. Two of these young men are my nephews. They are now being trained as part of an Amhara militia group, driven by a desire to ensure Ethiopia has a chance at freedom and democracy and avoids a return to the darkness of the past.

I have lived in the United States for 45 years, but I was born and raised in the Northern region of Ethiopia, now under attack by the TPLF. From my youth, I was involved in opposition politics and have always pushed for a fair democratic system in my country of birth. When the TPLF took power as part of the ruling EPRDF coalition in 1991, I thought positive change was on the way – I was wrong.

On June 12th, 1994, my younger brother, Berhanu Ejigu, suddenly went missing. He called me the day he was taken and said his life was in danger. He was arrested by the TPLF, then never tried nor found. I travelled to Ethiopia a few months after his disappearance, pulled strings with the TPLF leadership and told I would see my brother…I was led to a room but the person brought in was not my brother. My parents died about ten years after my brother's arrest, heart-broken and tormented by his disappearance. To this day, the EPRDF government denies any knowledge of his arrest.

The constitution the TPLF put in place in 1995 further fuelled ethnic segregation and conflict in Ethiopia. They committed mass human rights abuses during their almost 30-year authoritative rule as documented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the State Department’s annual reports on human rights.

Now this same group is violently muscling its way back into Ethiopia’s political sphere, as TPLF fighters attempt to infiltrate neighbouring regions. Regions where my family lives and where they should feel safe.

I last visited Ethiopia in 2019 as part of a delegation of academics, commissioned to revitalise Addis Ababa University – my alma mater. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had been in power for a year, and I believed Ethiopia stood a chance at a peaceful transition to democratic governance. This cannot happen if the TPLF continues its campaign seemingly unchecked by the U.S. and other international governments.

As my nephews volunteer to defend the Amhara region and its people, in what is being called a “survival campaign” - I ask myself where is the international condemnation of the TPLF? Only now – almost a year into their aggressive campaign – are we starting to hear calls to stop their crusade. Last month, the U.S. demanded the TPLF withdraw its forces immediately from the Amhara and Afar regions. But this is late and limited scrutiny. I fear their tirade will draw in the entire country.

I would like my home now, America, to do more to secure peace and prosperity for Ethiopia. The Biden Administration needs to engage the Ethiopian Government as an important ally in the Horn of Africa in maintaining regional security. Investigations need to be carried out, aid needs to flow freely into Tigray and all affected regions, but for all of this to happen – firstly, the aggressors must be stopped.

Myself, my family, and millions of Ethiopian diaspora are angry. We are not deaf to the allegations of crimes committed by all sides, but there is one legitimate, elected government in Ethiopia – support them to establish peace for Ethiopia, eradicate poverty and disease and allow my brothers and sisters to live a comfortable, safe life. Something we here in the U.S. take for granted.

Gebeyehu Ejigu is a retired academic and member of the American-Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee (AEPAC).

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