Gumii Paarlaamaa Oromoo (GPO)
Oromo Parliamentarians Council (OPC)
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Genocidal Violence in the Making of Nation and State in
Based on a qualitative historical-sociological investigation of the
incidents of mass-killings that have been registered during the last
one hundred and fifty years, this study concludes that both the
unification of the Abyssinian state between 1850s and 1870s and the
creation of the Ethiopian empire state during last quarter of the
nineteenth century were accomplished through wars that were clearly
genocidal. Though their aims were building a state, there were
differences between the types of state and nation envisaged by the
two ‘categories’ of rulers. The attempts of the nineteenth century
rulers were to purge the Abyssinian state of non-Abyssinian
religious and ethnic communities they perceived as ‘alien’ in order
to build an exclusive Abyssinian state and a homogenous Abyssinian
nation. The nationalism of late nineteenth century rulers, as
represented by its architect Menelik II, was expansionist.
Abandoning the idea of Abyssinian homogeneity, they opted for
hegemony over other peoples they had conquered in the heyday of the
European scramble for
+Moreover, the conflict between the two brands of nation alism had
increased in tandem with rising ethnic consciousness and intensified
since the mid 1970s as a consequence the policies of the Dergue. In
order to legitimate the state, control dissent, and stay in power
the ruling elites built a huge military apparatus and used
retributive genocidal killings. The study confirms that there is
clear nexus between authoritarian rule, man-made famines, and
It is reported that, during the colonial and post-colonial periods,
genocides have occurred in a number of African countries (Kuper,
1981; Chalk & Jonassohn, 1990; Fein, 1993, 2002; Hendricks, 2002).
Fred Hendricks notes that ‘in South Africa the San people, who had
refused to be subjugated to outside rule, were systematically
exterminated’ (2002: 234). In its former colony of South West Africa
While genocides committed in Africa are associated with colonialism
or explained as a consequence of consolidating the post-colonial
African state, Ethiopia, which according to most writers had avoided
European colonial rule, is mentioned along with Rwanda and other
African countries as a ‘genocidal state’ in the works of many
scholars (Rittner, Roth & Smith, 2002, Hendricks, 2002, Harff,
2002). For the last thirteen years, thousands of the officials and
functionaries of the former regime have been in prison accused of
genocide and crimes against humanity. Paradoxically, it is
The purpose of this article is to initiate structured studies and
debates on mass violence in
The method used in the study is qualitative, and the empirical data are gleaned from published and unpublished historical documents, and reports compiled by human rights organisations. Socio logical theories of genocide inform the analysis. The study is carried out with the following humanist perspectives. Firstly, I share the widespread consensus that we must develop our knowledge and under standing of processes of organised mass violence in order to develop strategies of prevention. I also concur with the proposition that the ‘scientific study of genocide is not a matter of morbid fascination or mystic divination but of the need to assert the historical reality of collective crime. Only by such a confrontation can we at least locate moral responsibility for the state crimes even if we cannot always prevent future genocides from take place’ (Horowitz, 1997: 258). I am aware of the fact that accusing a person or a state for genocide is a serious matter. I also consider taking lives is too a serious crime to be ignored or overlooked. Having said that, I will leave to other researchers the responsibility to confirm or reject the conclusions I have drawn.
Genocide is a violation of the most fundamental human right of the
individual, namely right to life. Consequently it is the gravest of
all crimes. The sociologist Jack Porter argued that ‘The study of
genocide is important because ultimately so many socio logical
concerns are related to it’. These socio logical concerns, according
to Porter, include ‘the process of war, and colonialism, the
experience of death and extreme deprivation, the meaning of survival
and resistance, and the very nature of society itself’ (Porter,
1982: 4). But how do we define genocide? What types of mass-killings
are categorised as genocide? Under what conditions are genocides
committed? Based on the works of other scholars, I will try to
answer these questions before I proceed to discus the recurrent
First coined by Raphael Lemkin (1944), a Polish lawyer and survivor of the Holocaust, to explain Hitler’s population policy against European Jews, the concept genocide is now under stood as an extermination of a people or a community by mass murder. The objective of genocide can include both the social disintegration and the biological destruction of target groups (Fein,1993: 9). According to the UN Convention on Genocide (UNCG, Article II,1948) ‘Genocide is any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The UN definition is criticised by scholars as too narrow for not including politicide, the deliberate annihilation of political groups and social classes, as well as ethnocide or the destruction of a culture without killing its bearers (Chalk & Jonassohn, 1990: 11, 23). Consequently, several other definitions have been suggested to supplement the UN definition. The sociologist Helen Fein defines genocide as ‘sustained purposeful action by a perpe trator to physically destroy a collectivist directly or indirectly, through inter diction of the biological and social reproduction of group members, sustained regardless of the surrender or lack of threat offered by the victim’ (Fein 1993: 24). For Jack N. Porter, ‘Genocide is the deliberate destruction, in whole or in part, by government or its agents, of a racial, sexual, religious, tribal, ethnic or political minority. It may involve not only mass murder, but also starvation, forced deportation, and political, economic, and biological subjugation’ (Porter 1982: 12). Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn (1990: 23) define genocide as ‘a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator’. The goal of state-sponsored mass killing is not always or in all places to kill of the whole ethnic or religious group, etc.; often the intent is to ‘maim’ by destroying parts of them, in order to make the group dysfunctional as a collective. Therefore, there many scholars who use the concept of genocidal killings to denote actions perpetrated by states to debilitate a political or religious community or an ethnic group (Kuper, 1981; Fein, 1990; Markusen & Mirkovic, 2003). Justifying the use of such a concept, Huttenbach (1988:294 cited in Markusen & Mirkovic, 2003:187) stated that ‘In the process of categorising acts of genocide, a secondary category ought to be included under the rubric of “genocidal” indicative of events that can be clearly identified in character though the crime was not consummated in toto’. In this article the concept genocidal killing is used in that sense.
A Crime of the State
It is generally accepted that genocide primarily is a crime of the
state. It is instigated and often perpetrated by agents of the
state. Since it has access to the technology and may possess the
organisational means for carrying out systematic mass murder, the
modern state has, indeed, been the greatest perpetrator of genocide.
However, the means used to commit genocide vary from state to state
depending on the techno logical and organisational resources they
can command. As the 1994 mass killing of the Tutsis in
The Genocidal Process
There are three general conditions under which a genocidal process
can take place. These are colonial conquest and occupation,
formation of a new social order based on a particular ideology, and
shifts of power under conditions of deep social cleavage. These
conditions can overlap in some situations. This, for example, is the
case of the history of genocidal violence in
Secondly, the genocidal process is also instigated when a group with
a new model or vision of reality takes power of the state and
utilises state resources to establish and consolidate a new social
order, or revitalise a threatened one using coercion. Whenever a
group – ethnic, class or religious – is seen to pose a threat to
this vision of reality, unbridled violence is used against it. Since
the end justifies the means, normative and legal constraints are
often ignored or eroded and genocidal processes are unleashed. This
may mean purposeful collective or selective murder of members of a
target group(s). The Armenian genocide of 1914-1918 (see for example
Hovannisian, 1986) and Cambodian genocide of the mid-1970s were two
examples of such mass murder (Chalk & Jonassohn, 1990:398-407). The
‘disappearances’ of leftist political activists in
Thirdly, potential genocidal processes may emerge under conditions
of substantial shifts in power. This is particularly the case in
pluralist societies with deep socio-cultural or religious cleavages
(Kuper, 1981). Given the hierarchical ethnic structure of such
polities, struggles over political and economic power often develop
into mass violence when a dominated ethnic group attempts to seize
power while a dominating ethnic group is trying to retain it. This
was the case in
There are also elements of ideology, myth, or articulated social goals used by perpetrators to justify the selection and destruction of victims. The victims are defined as ‘enemies of the people’ and devalued as inferior or sub-humans who are outside the moral universe of the perpetrators. In other words, they are to be exterminated to prepare the way for the perpetrators’ vision of society or state to become reality (Fein, 1993; Staub, 1989). Based on a comparative historical survey published in their important work, History and Sociology of Genocide, Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn (1990) distinguish the following four major reasons for which states perpetrate genocides: (a) to eliminate a real or potential threat; (b) to spread terror among real or potential enemies; (c) to acquire economic wealth; or (d) to implement a belief, a theory or an ideology. These are analytic categories and one or several of them may overlap in the explanation of a particular genocidal episode. By and large, this is also the case with the recurrent genocidal killings discussed in this article.
Background to Recurrent State-Organised Mass Violence in
The present state of
While conquest and colonisation may explain the genesis of much of
the present socio-cultural, and socio-political cleavages that
characterise the relations between the north and the south since the
creation of the modern Ethiopian state, it should be noted here that
the history of conflict between the Semitic-speaking Abyssinians and
the Cushitic-speaking peoples predates the conquest. Historians
have argued that the history of
Ethnic Cleansing to Rebuild a Christian Abyssinian Nation: 1855-1968
The modern history of
As a unifier of the Abyssinian state, Tewodros was regarded by
generations of Ethiopian rulers and intelligentsia as a national
icon. He is considered as the hero in and of Ethiopian history.
However, while taking him as a hero and a model leader, the
Ethiopian historical and political discourse tends to ignore the
fact that ‘Tewodros is one of the most violent of all monarchs –
probably the most violent’ (Crummey, 1971: 107). As I will describe
in a moment, he literarily hacked thousands of people to death. That
such a figure is considered a national hero among the ruling elite
and intelligentsia says a lot about the values under pinning the
dominant political culture as well as the related problem of the
violation of human rights by Ethiopia’s ruling regimes. Tewodros,
who manage to become an important figure during the zemene mesafint,
had no genealogical claim to royal titles. He started his career as
a ‘shifta’ (bandit) leader in the lowlands bordering on the
Leaders who ‘act out messianic fantasies’ or propagate ideologies of
manifest destiny tend often to blame scapegoats for problems facing
the society. And scapegoats are groups that are often easily
distinguished from victimisers. Tewodros found scapegoats for the
problems of the Abyssinian state and society in the northern Oromos
– those of Wallo, Yejju and Raya. However, the main target of ‘the
violence of Tewodros’, to borrow Donald Crummey’s (1971) words, were
the first two groups. The Wallo and Yejju Oromos were not only in
conflict with the Abyssinian state since the sixteenth century, but
also were influential in internal Abyssinian politics. Firstly their
geographical location affected the emperors’ control over their
Shawan vassals. Since Wallo separated the southern Abyssinian
province from the rest, the emperors whose seat was
According to sociologists, there are three general characteristics
that mark relations between perpetrators of mass killings and
communities to which its victims belong. Groups or communities from
which victims come (a) are alien or perceived as alien by
perpetrators, (b) they are seen as unassimilable either for racial
or religious reasons, and (c) their elimination either removes a
threat (real or symbolic) or opens up opportunities (or both) to
members of the perpetrator group (Fein, 1993:34). This was also more
or less how Tewodros perceived the Oromo when he came to power. Upon
his ascent to the Abyssinian throne in 1855, he vowed to punish and
drive them out because they were ‘intruders’ and ‘the spearhead of a
Muslim attempt to take over
Scholars have stated that in order to ascertain whether a mass
killing is an act of genocide or not, it is important to examine
what perpetrators say, especially before they commit it (Fein,
1993). What they say reflects their intention or an ideology
legitimating their acts. Though Tewodros could have not committed a
full-fledged genocide against the northern Oromo, there is no doubt
that his intent was, as the quotation above indicates, ‘ethnic
cleansing’. The Oromo and the Turks (meaning the Ottomans who
According to Tekla-Tsadik Mekuriya’s The History of
According to Crummey the Wallo did not constitute the major threat
to Tewodros’s power, as the activities of other rebellious groups in
the Christian Amhara and Tigrean districts did (ibid.: 115).
However, for Tewodros ‘the Wallo Gallas are still worse, for they
want to make all
Unlike the Wallo who as Muslims were blamed as proxies of foreign Islamic powers intending to destroy a Christian nation, these were assimilated into the Abyssinian culture, spoke Amharic and were Orthodox Christians. In addition, Tewodros’s Shawan campaign of 1855 provides evidence of his intentions of destroying the Oromo as an ethno-national category. While treating the Amhara who had rebelled against his rule with consideration and respect, he decimated the Oromo living in the same region, though the resistance they had offered was scarcely distinguishable from that of the Amhara (ibid: 112). Historically, dispersion was one of the methods used by communal groups to eliminate their enemies after defeating them in battles. Dispersion was by selling them into slavery or deporting defeated enemies from their homeland, which prevented them from recouping their losses and again pose a threat (Chalk & Jonassohn, 1990: 32-33). Deportation was also one of the methods he used to eliminate the northern Oromo. Thus Tewodros even authorised his soldiers to enslave the Muslims of Wallo (Zewde, 1991:34), or as stated by the German missionary, Theophil Waldmeier, ‘allowed to be distributed to his soldiers in lieu of pay’ (cited in Pankhurst, 1968: 93) contradicting an official ban he had put on the slave trade in his realm. It seems that Tewodros vented his anger on the Oromo even for things that non-Oromos did at his court. This was, for example, the case when Shawa’s crown prince, Menelik, escaped from a prison attached to Tewodros’s fort at Maqdela in 1865. Though it was planned by Shawan prisoners with the connivance of Tewodros’s elder son Meshesha, who had long been out of favour of his father, the Wallo paid a ‘terrible price for Menelik’s escape’ (Prouty, 1986: 6-7). Soon after he was informed about the escape, Tewodros took 25 Walllo hostages, ‘had their hands and feet amputated and the bodies thrown over the precipice to die in agony’. As stated by Prouty (ibid.) and Darkwah (1975:53, fn. 55) it is indeed remarkable that the Shawa Amhara prisoners ‘who remained behind at Maqdela should have remained unmolested while the Wallo prisoners were executed’.
It should be noted also that even during last hours before his
death, Tewodros was killing prisoners from Wallo while releasing
others, including the English. It was noted by a historian that
‘He... released the English prisoners, Shawa prisoners and Gojjam
prisoners... He threw the rest of the Ethiopian Balabbat and Wallo
Balabbatoch [nobility], who numbered more than 500, down the
precipice of Maqdala after having shot each of them with a bullet’ (Asma
Giyorgis 1905/1987: 599). The documented pattern of onslaughts
perpetrated by Tewodros against the northern Oromo, preceded by the
statement of his intention ‘to throw the “Galla intruders” out of
Tigrean warlord named Kassa Mercha became Emperor Yohannes IV of
The historian Asma Giyorgis, who, at that time was in the service of
Menelik, wrote: Human blood was sheld [sic] in every river...
Menelik... asked [Yohannes]: ‘Janhoy [Your Majesty or Emperor], will
God be pleased if we exterminate our people by forcing them to take
Holy Commu nion?’ Janhoy [Emperor] is said to have replied: ‘I shall
avenge the blood of Ethiopia [Christian Abys sinia]. It was also
by force of sword and fire that Grañ islamized Ethiopia. Who will,
if we do not, found and strengthen the faith of Marqos [St. Mark]?’
And this was told as a glorious thing by the contemporaries...
Yohannes spent the rainy season in Wallo offering Holy Communion,
exterminating those who refused and constructing a church at Boru
Meda (1905/1987: 689). As noted by a social anthropologist, since
the sixteenth century, fears of Islam and of the Oromo have
dominated the political consciousness of the Amhara ruling elite,
and ‘he thought of the two in combination has been a recurring night
mare’ (Baxter, 1983: 132). The proposition is supported by a
historian who argued that ‘In the collective memory of the
post-sixteenth-century Ge’ez [Abyssinian] civilization, the
“barbarian infidel” is pictured as a two-head hydra: one “Galla”,
and another Muslim’ (Tibebu, 1995: 17). Thus, Yohannes’s association
of Grañ, the sixteenth century Harari leader who invaded
Yohannes wanted not only to impose a religious ideology on them but
also to eliminate a real or potential threat. As mentioned above,
the thrust of his violence was the Muslim population Raya, Yejju and
Wallo (the latter two inhabiting a region designated later on as the
Wallo province of the Ethiopian empire). Justifying this policy, the
historian, Zewde Gebre-Sellassie (1975: 96), commented ‘It was
apparent to him that the Muslims in the centrally located
Conquest, Genocide and the Creation of the
As pointed out by a historian, ‘Tewodros’s vision of
The Abyssinians succeeded in conquering and annexing many
independent states and nations, including the Oromo. They met
resistance from those they invaded, but they were able to defeat
them because of the large arsenal of firearms Menelik II was able to
buy using revenues from the slave trade
(Marcus, 1974; Darkwah, 1975; Jalata 1993; Hassen, 1999; Bulcha,
Thus, the Abyssinian kingdom ‘not only survived European colonial
occupation but increased its size by more than 65 percent in the
wake of the Scramble for
The second point concerns the cost incurred by the Abyssinian compared to the size of the territory they had annexed. It indicates the predatory nature of Abyssinian colonialism rather than the overall cost incurred as the consequences of the conquest. As indicated by Markakis (1987: 28), ‘Menelik took full advantage of his soldiers’ ability to live off the land’. His commanders and soldiers were not paid salaries but promised ‘a unique opportunity to win fame and get livestock and prisoners’ (Bulatovich, 2000: 239). Having been promised glory and a lot of spoils, the soldiers looted and carried away whatever they could carry away and often destroyed the rest. They killed the men and captured the women and children as slaves. Bulatovich indicated that after about three weeks, ‘Our marching column had increased now almost double what it had been before, from the quantity of livestock that had been taken, and captive women and children’. In the meantime, ‘several dozen captive women and children died’ because ‘they were unaccustomed to protracted walking and endured thirst badly’ (ibid: 354). Although he was apparently disgusted by what he termed the barbarity of the Abyssinian soldiers against the indigenous peoples (see ibid: 300ff.), he continued his service in the expedition, often partic i pating in battles. Back in his tent after a very tiresome campaign against the Maji (Dizi) people, he noted in his diary on 23 April, 1898, [H]ow many victims had the conquest of this land cost? It seemed to me brim-full of violence and injustice. Of course, a new phase in the history of peoples is always paid for with sacrifices. But world justice and individual justice are quite different from one another. Murder always remains murder for us what ever goal it may accomplish and it is especially immoral in relation to these peaceful, industrious people who never did harm to us, whose land we now take away by force, using the superiority of our weapons (Bulatovich, (, 2000: 370). In this statement, and in several parts of his report, Bulatovich referred to the one-sidedness of the killing he had witnessed. The victims, according to his descriptions, were not only non-combatants, but were also often murdered indiscriminately. The onslaught he witnessed was a clear case of genocidal killing. It is plausible to suggest that the annex ation of most of the other regions had followed the same pattern. Consequently, at least four to five million people were killed, died of the attendant diseases, or were captured and sold into slavery during the conquest of the south. One may argue that the mass killings were the results of war. But none of the conquered peoples declared war against the Abyssinians. Some ‘never even heard of the existence of the Abyssinians’ (ibid: 168), or were able to put up any meaningful resistance when invaded by them. In addition to Bulatovich’s reports, there are several other eye-witness descriptions of Menelik’s zamacha (expedi tions) that explain why and how so many lives were taken during the conquest.
The Italian diplomat and arms dealer, Pietro Antonelli,
followed the king on some of his expeditions against the Arsi Oromo
and wrote that Menelik’s army fought against tribes ‘who have no
other weapons but a lance, a knife and a shield, while the Amharas,
infinitely superior in numbers, always have in their army several
thousand rifles, pistols, and often a couple of cannon’ (Antonelli,
1882, cited in Marcus, 1975: 64). Describing the havoc they caused
when in action, he noted: one sees thirty or forty thou sand men
running in one direction... soldiers no longer think about their
generals, nor... of the king... [who] in these moments is a simple
soldier. It is a flood of men following a giddy course. After eight
or ten hours of assault the soldiers return to camp with herds of
cattle and groups of women and children; captive able-bodied males
and elderly were killed. The severity of the zamacha was aimed at
the eradication of all resistance... Wher ever the army surged
forward, there was the utmost destruction; houses were burned, crops
destroyed and people executed (ibid: 67). Marcus reports that the
commander-in-chief halts the assaults only after the enemy
surrenders. Then the king or his surrogate assigns an Amhara
nobleman along with colonists (soldiers who participated in the war)
to administer the ravaged land, divides the rich booty, and returns
home (ibid: 68). Ras Tesemma, Menelik’s most trusted general and
commander of many of the expeditions in the conquest of the south,
told the head of a French military delegation in 1899 that, ‘Up to
now, I have made war to kill, ravage, pillage and collect beasts
[livestock] and slaves. Now His Majesty Menelik wants no more of
this aggression’ (Prouty, 1986: 206). Although the conquest of the
south was almost complete at that point, the atrocities did not
cease. They continued, by and large, until the Italian invasion and
However, the statement throws some light on the genocidal process.
The perpetration of mass death committed in the process of the
conquest reflected three of the four categories of intentions
ascribed by scholars to perpetrators of genocides namely,
elimination of real or potential resistance to the empire building
project; spreading terror among real and potential enemies; and
acquiring economic profits (Chalk & Jonassohn, 1990). Firstly, the
conquering forces committed mass killings, particularly against the
Arsi Oromo, the Walaita, and the Kaficho, to eliminate what was
perceived as real or potential resistance to their empire-building
project. Put in a comparative perspective, the case of the Kafa,
Gimira and Maji/Dizi bear similarities to the atrocities inflicted
on the Herero and Nama peoples of
The Frenchman, Gaston Vanderheym, who accompanied Menelik on that
expedition, described the offensive against the Walaita as ‘some
kind of infernal hunting where human beings rather than animals
served as game’. Not only were the surrendering Walaita killed and
mutilated, but the invaders made no distinction between fighters and
civilians. ‘It was a terrible butchery of living or dead flesh... by
soldiers drunk from blood... [O]
As remarked by Prouty (1986:199), genocide characterised the
conquest and colonisation of the
It is difficult to know the exact number of people who died during
the wars of conquest. However, the war as well as the attendant
epidemics and the famines that were caused by the destruction and
looting of property took their toll in great proportions. Alexander
Bulatovich, who visited Oromoland at a time when the Oromo were
still reeling from the shock of conquest, wrote that the dreadful
killing of more than half the population during the conquest took
away from the Oromo all possibility of thinking about any sort of
uprising. Bulatovich estimated the Oromo population to be at least
five million at the time of his tour, 1896-1898. As he was a highly
respected and decorated friend of Menelik and his generals he had no
motive to exaggerate what he observed. In addition, the estimates he
made were corroborated by those which were made by a French
missionary who lived among the Oromo for decades (De Salviac, 1901).
Oral sources and notes made by European travellers during the early
decades of the twentieth century indicate that mass murder was
committed in the process of conquest and consolidation of the
Ethiopian rule in the south. Thirdly, the acquisition of economic
profit was a driving force behind the genocidal colonial policies.
During the protracted war of conquest and the pacification that
lasted for several decades, vast amounts of property belonging to
the conquered peoples was confiscated or destroyed, and millions of
head of livestock were looted. Tens of thousands of captives were
deported and sold into slavery. This was even the case of with the
Maji or Dizi, Gimira, and other peoples in what is now south-western
Nationalism and the Rationalisation of Genocide
Helen Fein notes that because they lack contacts and visibility,
‘the victims of genocide and genocidal massacres are often the least
likely to raise accusations of genocide’ (1993: xviii-xix). This
applies also to the peoples who were conquered by the Abyssinians in
the late nineteenth century. They were voiceless because they lacked
not only contacts with the rest of the world, but also their leaders
were killed and their institutions incapacitated or completely
destroyed by the conquest. It is argued that in some cases,
academics play key roles in obfuscating genocide by justifying the
discrimination and persecution of target groups (Markusen, 2002:
85). This was (is) the case in
The Dergue’s Reign of Terror, 1974-1991
Following the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie’s autocratic
government, a group of low ranking officers from the armed forces
and the police called the Provisional Military Admin is trative
Council (PMAC), or more generally known as the Dergue, took power in
The Red Ter ror
Following the coup against General Teferi Benti, Mengistu launched what he officially labelled the ‘Campaign of Red Terror’ on 4 February, 1977. Initially, the campaign was declared against the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), one of the urban-based leftist organisations opposed to the regime. Since the EPRP was using assassination in its opposition to the military regime, Dergue leaders and their supporters came out with such slogans as ‘We shall carry terror into the camp of the anarchists’, ‘Their blood shall serve as the water we will put out the fire of counter-revolution’ (Tola, 1989), etc., to justify the genocidal killings that followed. In a statement he gave news reporters about the liquidation of Teferi Banti and other Dergue members, Mengistu bragged that, ‘Making decisions promptly and without hesitation or constraint can be counted as decisive factors for the triumph of our revolution. That is to say, the anti-people forces who had lined us up for their lunch – we had them for break fast’ (Schwab, 1985: 112). Irving L. Horowitz (1997: 36) has argued that ‘Those states with long histories of internal repression tend to be the same ones that have exhibited patterns of genocide in modern times’. This is also evidently true for Ethiopia’s history of which the Dergue’s reign of terror was the most barbaric episode. The barbarism was manifested not in the number of victims killed but the extent of the dehumanisation of the society as a whole. It revealed not only the level to which ‘despots can sink to fulfil their cravings for power’, but also ‘stained the respect given to intellectuals when some of these were found to be no better, if not worse, than the illiterate killers employed by the regime’. It ‘damaged the whole nation in a way which needs decades to overcome and erase’ (Tola, 1989: 159).
There are, of course, those who argued that the end justified the
means. They maintained that terror was used for ‘revolutionary ends
that benefited needs of the masses’ and that therefore it was wrong
to blame the Dergue. For example, reflecting the stand of many
scholars and politicians inside and outside of
Although Schwab was recognised as an area expert and had ‘written
and published extensively’ on
Members of the kebele and peasant associations were armed, and at
the height of the Red Terror, the defence guards of the kebeles were
given, without any restrictions, the power to arrest and execute
anybody they suspected of being ‘anti-revolutionary’. This
prerogative to kill without restriction was called netsa ermijja
(Lefort, 1983; Bulcha, 1988). It was conferred not only on the armed
guards and militias of the kebele and peasants associations but also
on the regular security service organised in different auxiliary
branches. The netsa ermijja, which in Amharic means instantaneous
execution of suspects without any pretence at judicial procedures,
turned the revolution into an orgy of blood shedding. An extensive
search for ‘counter-revolutionaries’ called
in Amharic was conducted involving every house in the kebeles. Large
numbers of people were arrested and many were executed and dumped in
mass graves. It was in the prisons of the kebeles that the worst
cases of torture and killing took place. Here, the netsa ermijja was
exploited not only by rapists and thieves but also by psycho paths
who tortured, maimed and killed for pleasure. It was, for example,
using the fitesha and netsa ermijja as pretexts that in May 1977, a
kebele official could kill over thirty people, including an
eight-month pregnant woman and mother of many children in one urban
neigh bourhood in the centre of
Since it was meant to terrify and control, the results the Red
Terror were often brought to the attention of the public. To
inculcate a feeling of helplessness against the power of the regime,
and cultivate apathy among the population, dozens of corpse were
displayed in public squares or placed near the homes of relatives.
The mutilated and disfigured corpses characterised the torture of
the Red terror. The corpses were left lying there in the street for
a day with placards attached to them some of which read: ‘I was an
anarchist’, ‘I was an enemy of the people’, etc. The victims were
denied customary burial and relatives were not allowed to display
even signs of grief for their murdered children. Since the majority
of EPRP’s supporters were secondary school and university students,
most of the victims were very young. Relatives and the public were
often forced to go and look at the corpse. But ‘One could be
arrested, tortured and shot for shedding tears for corpse one saw on
the street’ (Tola, 1989: 177). Traumatised mothers often sat in
anguished silence on the spots where the corpses of their children
were thrown for display before these were dumped in unmarked mass
graves. In the beginning, when the regime allowed parents and
relatives to fetch the remains of the victims, they were made to pay
for the bullets the state ‘spent’ on them. The number of those
killed in the Red Terror is unknown. Estimates of the total number
of people killed during the reign of terror vary between 150,000 (Tola,
1989) and 200,000 (Human Rights Watch, 1999) for the country as a
whole. The number of people who went through the prison system that
mushroomed in every neigh bourhood all over the country is unknown.
According to one estimate, about 125,000 people were detained in
Addis Ababa’s conventional prison establishments and 335 kebele
detention centres alone (Bekele, 1980). Given the fact that each
kebele and peasant association was empowered to have a detention
centre there were perhaps over 25,000 prisons in
For Halliday and Molyneux (1981) the Red Terror was not the work of
irrational individuals or a product an irrational process: it was
used deliberately for demobilising an enemy and consol i dating
obedience to the regime. Indeed, we may have a better grasp of the
phenomenology of the Dergue’s reign of terror if we place it within
the context of Ethiopia’s political culture of violence. The
Abyssinian-cum-Ethiopian political system was and even today, is
autocratic. The power of the king or ruler was unlimited. Therefore,
not only his person but also his name stirred awe and fear in the
minds of his subjects. According to an Amharic dictum, ‘When
demanded in the name of the King, the running water stops let alone
a person’. The dictum indicates that for centuries, Ethiopian rulers
used fear as an instrument to control their subjects. Though they
used socialist rhetoric to castigate the former Ethiopian kings and
emperors as feudal dictators and oppressors, the role figure of the
military rulers was not a socialist or democratic African or world
figure but an emperor of feudal
Stalinist concepts: pagan or heretics were changed into reactionary,
tsere Mariam (enemies of St. Mary) and sinners became tsere hizb
or enemies of the people. As mentioned above, Tewodros hacked off
the limbs of victims and cast them from cliffs, hanged them to die
or sent them home to terrify the population. The Dergue displayed
mutilated corpses to achieve the same goal. It used, without any
compromise, the gigantic bureaucratic structure and immense
military power it had built to implement its version of Ethiopian
nationalism based on the ideology of Etiyopiya Tiqdem – ‘Ethiopia
First’. The Dergue mobilised the society to wage war against the
very foundation on which it stood. It attacked its institutions,
including the family, under mining solidarity and trust between
members of the community, household, and citizens at large. Children
were used against their parents and siblings, husbands and wives
were pitted against each other. A refugee who escaped the Red Terror
and settled in
Misplaced Priorities and Genocide by Attrition
During the last three decades millions of Ethiopians lost their
lives because of starvation. For outsiders,
According to Horowitz (1997: 250, 262), the higher the level of
repression within a society, the greater the need for an apparatus
capable of exercising maximum control. He notes that the mechanisms
aimed at ensuring maximum control are in themselves exceedingly
costly, and that at the same time they increase the potential and
even the necessity for more manifest resistance. The same vicious
circle was apparent in the way the Dergue ran the state. As
indicated above, the suppression of opposition through the Red
Terror in the urban centres was followed by a dramatic increase of
conflict in the periph
David Marcus (2003) mentions four types of government conduct ranging from least deliberate to deliberate in creating or abetting famine. He ascribes least deliberate conduct to ‘incompetent or hopelessly corrupt regimes’, who, when faced with food crises are unable to respond to their citizens’ needs. The second type of regime conduct is characterised by complete indifference to the fate of the citizens. According to Marcus these regimes may possess the means to respond to crises, but they ‘turn blind eyes to mass hunger’. That was also the response of the autocratic regime of Haile Selassie I during the 1974 Ethiopian famine. Because the regime ignored, and even hid, the plight of its needy citizens, the famine killed over 200,000 people in the province of Wallo alone (Keller, 1988: 168). The third type of regime conduct is marked by recklessness, by which ‘govern ments implement policies that themselves engender famine, then recklessly pursue these policies despite that they are causing mass starvation’. The fourth type of regime conduct is intentional, that is, governments use famine as a tool of extermination against troublesome populations. Although it is difficult to conclude that it was intentional, such policies were the cause of the 1984-85 famines (Clay and Holcomb, 1986; Wolde-Giorgis, 1989) rather than drought. Marcus argues the Dergue ‘took advantage of existing faminogenic conditions, namely severe drought, to direct starvation against insurgent population in Tigray and Wallo’ (2003: 258). Food shortage developed into famine because of ‘the counter-insurgency strategy adopted by the government, and the restrictions and burdens imposed on the populations of non-insurgent areas in the name of social transformation’. The regime manipulated and abetted famine, and this, according to Marcus, should be regarded as ‘first degree famine crime’ (ibid.), or genocide by attrition. Attrition or the wearing down the resources of an opposition or recalcitrant population is one of the oldest methods used by many regimes to overcome resistance. This includes obstruction of the targeted groups’ access to food or destruction of their means of food production.
Using famine as a pretext, the Dergue embarked on a project known as the resettlement programme, forcibly relocating northern peasants hundreds of kilometres away from their homes in the south and the southwest. The purpose of the relocation was perceived by the opposition and scholars as an attempt ‘to drain the sea to catch the fish’, or deny support to the armed opposition, but the result was disastrous for the victims of the deportation. As reported by a Norwegian researcher, the operation was an ‘unbelievable cruelty to the Ethiopian people’ (Eide, 1996: 296). In the process of recruiting and transporting settlers, thousands of families were torn apart. The senseless brutality with which the settlement was conducted was such that the husbands and wives, and parents and their children were dragged to different sites hundreds of kilometres apart, never to meet again (Wolde-Giyorgis, 1989: 128). A Norwegian nurse who witnessed the physical and mental distress of the settlers reported that the conditions in resettlement camps were horrendous, and that ‘Mothers cried in despair because they had been separated from their families or their children had died during the trans portation. They had been forced to leave’ (cited in Eide, 1996: 297). Many died people during the arduous transit from north to the south that took weeks. According to Dawit Wolde-Giyorgis (1989: 304) who was the head of the state’s Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) at the time, about 20,000 died during the transit. He also noted that almost 500 people were executed trying to escape. A report compiled by Medicines Sans Frontiers indicated that between 50,000 and 60,000 men, women and children had died during the movement from north to the southwest (Malhuret, 1985: 64). The death rate soared at the settlement sites, lack of food and of medication against malaria and other diseases being the main factors behind the increase. After resettling some 600,000 of the 1.5 million targeted peasants, the regime stopped the deportation because of lack of resources and criticism from aid donors. Of the 600,000 resettled in 1985-86, a survey conducted by the Ethiopian Central Statistical Office in 1988 counted 425,164 persons on site (CSO, 1991: 190-191). In less than three years, over 170,000 of the settlers had died or deserted, becoming refugees in neighbouring countries. The government- sponsored survey also uncovered the intensity of the settlers’ resentment against the programme, confirming that the fact that the resettlement was deportation and not something that the people joined voluntarily (cf. Lemma, 1988: 21; Galperin, 1988: 182-183).
The reset tlement programme had negative effects on the lives of the indigenous populations and the environment wherever it was located (Cultural Survival, 1988; Wolde-Meskel, 1989; Bulcha, 2001). One of the indigenous mino ities adversely affected by its resettlement programme were the Anuak of the Gambella region who came into direct and sustained genocidal conflict with the settlers and the state. To that, I will return later. Parallel to the resettlement programme, the Dergue also forcibly moved about 12 million peasants from their traditional habitat into hastily set up villages. This programme when started in 1978 targeted only Oromo peasants, and is known as villagisation. The motive then was to isolate the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and curb secessionist tendencies among the population in the south-eastern part of the country. When villagisation was implemented in 1984-1985 on a larger scale, again the Oromos were the first to be affected. Elsewhere I wrote: villagization disrupted agricultural activ i ties as it was conducted even in the middle of the harvesting or planting seasons. Thus the state owned daily, The Ethi o pian Herald (28 October, 1986), reported that about 554,000 house holds with about two million members were moved into new villages between October 1985 and February 1986. The period coincides with the harvesting season in Ethiopia. That means that the peas ants were tearing down their homes while weather and wild animals were destroying their harvests (Bulcha, 2001: 142-143). In order to realise its model of society, the Dergue used quick, and often very cruel, methods to terrorise the peasants and solicit their obedience. Its cadres set fire on the houses of peasants who refused to move from their homes, and shot leaders who were vocal in their opposition to villagisation (Clay, 1986; Vallely, 1986). In 1985-86, about 140,000 Oromos fled villagisation from the Hararge region to Northwest Somalia (Zitelmann, 1989:5). More than two thousand of the ‘villagisation refugees’ died of starvation and a cholera epidemic that broke out in an overcrowded refugee camp near the border town of Tug Wajale in Northwest Somalia (Skari, 1985; Godwin, 1986). The Sudan also received thousands of ‘villagisation refugees’ from the western regions of the country.
In this connection, an extract from Claude Ake’s description of post-colonial African despotism explains the behaviour of the Dergue. He wrote: Having abandoned democracy for repression, our leaders are de-linked from our people. Operating in a vacuum, they proclaim their incarnation of the popular will, hear echoes of their voices, and reassured, pursue with zeal, policies which cannot, there fore, mobilize them. As their alienation from our people increases, they rely more and more on force and become even more alienated (Ake, 1987: 7). The resettlement and villagisation projects did not lead to the expected results: they did not prevent the insur gents from growing in strength and influence. Christopher Clapham (1987:219) suggested that ‘the villagisation campaign, which seeks to increase control at the expense of an inevitably increased alienation, may well prove to be the touch stone of central government success or failure’. Indeed, it proved to be the touch stone of the Dergue’s failure. It intensified the dissat is faction of the peasants who joined the ranks of refugees abroad or swelled the number of the guerrilla forces from which the regime wished to keep them separated. The growth of the liberation front and the intensification of dissatisfaction of the population as a whole led to the demise of the Dergue in May 1991. Mengistu Haile Mariam and hundreds of the Dergue’s officials are now being tried for genocide and crimes against humanity.
Still a Genocidal State
Following the demise of the Dergue, a conference was held in Addis Ababa in July 1991 to map out a political course for Ethiopia. The conference was attended by twenty-two organisations and groups reflecting different political interests and views which adopted a Transitional Charter which laid out guidelines for respect for human rights, a geographical reorganisation of Ethiopia, and adopted democratic principles for sharing power between the central and regional governments. In other words, a new situation was created to reverse a history of centralised autocracy and violent political conflict. What the Charter promised was a new model of nation and state-building that would involve the different ethnic groups – or nations and nationalities, as they are designated in the Charter – in decisions affecting their lives. The principles enshrined in the Transitional Charter of 1991 and the Constitution of 1994 do not seem to have given the people freedom to exercise their rights. It has been also argued that the facade of autonomy for different nation al ities, peoples and nations, hides centralised control by the minority Tigrean elite. The reasons which led to the failure of the constitutional changes to yield the promised and expected returns have been discussed by scholars and politicians (Tronvoll & Aadland, 1995; Leta, 1999; Robinson, 1997). There is no need to mention them here. Studies made on current human rights situation in Ethiopia confirm that ‘A decade after the EPRDF came to power, human rights violations occur throughout the country, and are at times very grave’ (Waugham and Tronvoll, 2003: 18-19). Although we may not conclusively state that genocidal killings are occurring at the moment, it is plausible to argue that the economic and human rights situation indicates that Ethiopia is moving along what Irving Straub (1989) called a continuum of destruction. The country still remains a fertile soil for genocidal killings.
The economic conditions have been deteriorating for the majority of the people. Even if it is difficult to make estimates, it is clear that people are dying en masse as the consequence of the prevailing socio-economic conditions. Between ten and fifteen million Ethiopians are threatened by starvation every year and need inter national assistance to stay alive. Indicating that at least 12 million Ethiopians are in immediate danger of death by famine, the Herald Tribune (30 July, 2003) stated that their survival depends on external assistance. The paper added that ‘rural Ethiopians never fully recovered from the famine of 1984, nor the severe droughts that have come after, especially in 1999 and 2000’. During the period famine killed up to 50,000 persons. In October 2004, the United Nations (UN, 2004) reported that as many as 200,000 people, mainly children, died during the last eighteen months. The death toll is comparable to that which was caused by the Wallo famine in the early 1970s. The recent UN report indicates that the current food crisis, as many others before it, is the result of the government developmental policy or lack of it rather than bad weather alone. Rejecting the arguments that the food crisis resulted from drought, it criticised the government for failing to deal with regular crises facing the people. The statement is also an indictment, albeit an indirect one, of the government for mass deaths.
A comparison of EPRDF expenditures on medical care and armaments will reveal the recklessness that characterised the conduct of the previous regime. It seems that waging war and keeping a huge military force rather than keeping the taxpayers alive, has been the top priority of the EPRDF. The Herald Tribune wrote that ‘Ethiopia spends only $1.5 per person per year for health, although Ethiopia now has more than two million people with the AIDS virus and the infection is exploding’ (ibid.). From 1998 to 2000 the current regime spent US$2.9 billion dollars sending 123,000 young men and women to their death in what observers have characterised as a ‘meaningless war’ with Eritrea (The Economist, 2002). While thousands of people were dying of famine, the EPRDF was spending daily about one million dollars on the war against Eritrea. The sum of one million dollars is enough to give proper medication to thousands of patients in Ethiopia for weeks or dig dozens of water holes in the drought-affected areas, preventing the death of thousands of children and domestic animals from lack of drinking water. It is plausible to state that authoritarian regimes in general, and the Ethiopian rulers in particular, do not think often in such terms or make this kind of calculation. Consequently, while maintaining its position as the largest military force in sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world. It is remarkable that the consequences of previous genocidal killings for the perpetrator have failed to deter the present government from treading the same path. Many of the factors which scholars see as precursors of genocidal killings such as extra-judicial executions, ‘disappearances’ or assassinations of leading members of the target group, the denigration or stigmatisation of the target group through campaigns in the press and media, etc., characterise the regime’s treatment of many of the ethnic groups in Ethiopia. Particularly, the peoples of southern Ethiopia are under going an ever-escalating political oppression and psychological stress that can ignite a genocidal eruption. As pointed out by a scholar of ethnicity and conflicts in Africa, the current Ethiopian regime perpetuates not only violence but also intensified conflict and warfare among groups of peoples outside and within Ethi opia. In effect, it creates an atmosphere of animosity and fear that create conducive atmosphere for genocide. The policy of handling such conflicts is based on arming/favouring one group and disarming and jointly attacking the other group which led to the destruction of size able communities.... This is genocide by other means. The causes of blood shed among peoples hardly get independent scrutiny and accept able resolution (Hameso, 2003: 14).Genocide, as perceived by many scholars, is not a result of a sudden eruption of new violence, but often the culmination of successive and diverse violations of human rights by the state (Kuper, 1981; Staub, 1989; Ould-Abdalla, 2002). In other words, ‘recurrent “small” or “retail” violence could be signs announcing that “wholesale” killings could be expected’ (Ould-Abdallah, 2002: 178). During the last two years several incidents of state-sponsored massacres were reported from several regions. I will discuss briefly two of the most recent incidents below.
Warning Signs of Genocide
Reporting on mass murder perpetrated against the Annuak of the Gambella Regional State, Genocide Watch and Survival Inter national (2004: 2) wrote that the ‘government forces and settler militias initiated a campaign of massacres, repression and mass rape deliberately targeting the indigenous Anuak minority’ on 13 December, 2003, and that this ‘has led to a severe escalation of violence’ in the region. Here, a brief note on the Anuak is in order before going into the discussion of the recent incident. The Anuak or Annywaa are one of the three indigenous groups who inhabit the Gambella regional state in south-western Ethiopia. The oppression of the peoples of this region started about a century ago when their territory was conquered by and partitioned between the two colonial powers of the day: England and Abyssinia. Like most of the other parts of the south-western marches of the Ethiopian Empire, the Gambella region also became hunting fields for ivory and slaves. Eisei Kurimoto (2002: 223), who conducted field studies during the Dergue period and after, notes that the clashes with the imperial agents who came to exploit local wealth such as ivory, cattle and slaves after the advent of the empire are vividly narrated. The end of slave hunting, with the Italian occupation of Ethiopia from 1936 to 1941, brought some security to the peoples of south-western Ethiopia. However, following the restoration of the Haile Selassie government in 1941, the Annuak, like most of conquered peoples of the region, were treated like third class citizens (Cultural Survival, 1988). They were denied educational opportunities, and had no part in the affairs of the country.
Although the Dergue brought the Anuak some benefits like schooling, it also created problems that made life very difficult. A respondent told Kurimoto that the Dergue brought upon them ‘taxation, poverty, hunger, and forced military recruitment’, and that ‘Our life has changed. It became bad. Our fields were taken, our children have nothing to eat’ (ibid: 224-225). The establishment of settlements in areas led to the loss of their traditional land and disrupted their agricultural and non-agricultural modes of producing subsistence. It undermined their traditional subsistence security system: fishing and hunting to supplement the food they produced for consumption. According to the respondents, the customs and institutions of the Anuak were also affected. It seems that, among others, the introduction of alcoholic beverages by the settlers had demoralising effects on the Anuak society. According to one of the elderly informants, many young men do not marry and build families as before. He complained, ‘Now those young people, why do they not multiply at all? It is because of the beer. Those young boys who did not drink, now they have started to drink. Now those young boys, they do not raise around ten children as their fathers did’ (ibid.: 226).
Despite their numbers (between 40,000 and 50,000 in Ethiopia), the Anuak were one of the ethnic groups that formed an ethno-nationalist movement, the Gambella People’s Liberation Movement (GPLM) to fight the Dergue. In the 1980s, GPLM struggled against the Dergue in co-operation with other nationalist movements. Therefore, following the demise of the Dergue in 1991, the GPLM participated in the transitional government (Cultural Survival, 1988; Kurimoto, 2002: 222, 230). Though the coalition with the EPRDF looked promising in the beginning, violent clashes followed. The conflict was between the EPRDF and the regional organisations. It also involved ethnic conflicts between the Anuak and the Nuer, the largest indigenous groups in the region (about 60,000 in Ethiopia), and the indigenous populations and settlers. As it escalated the ethnic conflict claimed thousands of lives (ibid.: 236). Apparently the situation developed into what Straub (1989: 239) called ‘difficult life conditions’, and which included oppressive anxiety, hopelessness and an unpredictable future because of political, social and economic deterioration. Kurimoto wrote ‘Life as they [Anuaks] saw it was in a process of continued deterioration. The common themes were death, poverty, and the destruction and breakdown of community. They did not see anything good in the present’ (Kurimoto, 2002: 231). Hopelessness and the breakdown of the community were exacerbated by the fact that young people were leaving home for other countries because of fear and poverty. Meanwhile tension was developing between the EPRDF and the Anuaks.
Genocide Watch and Survival Inter na tional (GWSI, 2004: 3) reported that on 13 December 2003, ‘Soldiers using automatic weapons and hand grenades targeted Anuaks, summarily executing civilians, burning dwellings (sometimes with people inside), and looting property. In four days, some 424 Anuak people were reported killed, with over 200 more wounded and some 85 people unaccounted for’. Sporadic murders and widespread rapes have continued for the rest of the month. Based on eyewitness reports the GWSI (ibid.) wrote: Remi nis cent of the Interahamwe civilian militia involved in the attacks against Tutsis in Rwanda, victims shot or beaten by soldiers were typically then set upon by groups of High landers who mutilated and dismembered bodies. Such symbolic dehumanization is an early warning sign of genocide. High landers used rocks, sticks, hoes, machetes, knives, axes and pangas (clubs) to kill people; they also worked independently of soldiers. Several witnesses described hearing Highlanders [settlers] chant slogans as they hunted down and killed Anuak people. The GWSI concluded that, confronted with the spectre of genocide, ‘members of the Anuak community have taken both defensive and offensive military actions’ (ibid: 4). Retaliatory attacks and counter-attacks continued into 2004, claiming many lives on both sides. The incident also sparked the flight of thousands of Anuaks into Sudan and Kenya. Although ‘there have been regular massacres of Anuak since 1980’, there are many unanswered question regarding the latest incident. The GWSI notes that the conflict ‘was sparked by the killing of eight UN and Ethiopian government refugee camp officials... on December 13, 2003’, and that ‘there is no evidence attesting to the ethnicity of the unidentified assail ants’. However, ‘the incident provided the pretext for a major political pogrom against the Anuak minority carried out by EPRDF soldiers and Highlander militias’ (ibid.). Why were the Anuak targeted? Why did the government author ities order their forces to kill the Anuak immediately (on the same day) after the attack on the UNHCR officials?
It seems that the explanation is, at least partially, what the GWSI called ‘powerful incentives to control the natural resources of the region’ (ibid: 8). While the conflict over resources started during the Dergue regime, it may have been intensified under the present government. There is ample evidence confirming that increasing need for timber in the north, and the discovery of minerals including gas and oil in Gambella, have brought local and inter national prospectors and exploiters to the region. The experience the indigenous seem to be similar to the experience of many of other indigenous peoples elsewhere and discussed by other scholars (Chalk and Jonassohn, 1990). The Japanese anthropologist, Re’ya Sato who has been studying the Majang neighbours of the Anuak, reported that ‘Since the early 1990s... wood-felling by several private companies has been taking place in the forests around Meti, and Majang leaders have began to feel that their habitat and resources were no longer inexhaustible’ (Sato, 2002: 193). The private companies are apparently not from Gambella, but the north. The income from timbering benefits those who come from outside, while indigenous people’s source of subsistence is being destroyed. The GWSI argues that ‘The Anuak situation has grown markedly worse since oil was discovered under Anuak lands’ (SWSI, 2004: 9). The central Ethiopian authorities have signed concessions with foreign prospectors and therefore have powerful incen tives to seek to control these resources. The GWSI argue that even conflict over gold may be relevant in explaining the repression of the Anuaks. They indicate that Anuak subsistence miners mine gold in Gambella district, which the Ethiopian authorities may be interested in gaining control over (ibid.). Warning signs for genocide are coming not only from Gambella but also from other regional states, particularly the Ogaden (Abdulkadir, 2003), Sidama (Hameso, 2003) and Oromia (Hassen, 2003). Reports on serious viola tions of human rights are most frequent from the Oromia regional. According to a Norwegian sociologist who acted as an inter national observer in the 1992 and 1994 election, ‘the fear of the colonised Oromo appears sometimes stronger than the spirit of democratic competition’ (Pausewang, 1994: 5). The fear concerns Oromo political domination of Ethiopia, given their numbers, and this in turn fuels the need for absolute control over them through systematic state violence (cf. Fein, 1993: 89). Consequently, detention without trial, torture, ‘disappearances’ and extra-judicial executions are regularly reported (Waugham and Tronvoll, 2003: 19).
During the last ten years, thousands of men and women have gone through prisons and detention centres. Following the withdrawal of the OLF in 1992, the EPRDF government imprisoned between 20,000 and 45,000 men, women and children accusing them of being members or supporters of the OLF (HRW, 1994; Pollock, 1996). Although the actual number is unknown, it is widely believed that thousands of detainees had died of malnutrition, torture and diseases in official and hidden concentration camps. The UK-based inter national human rights NGO, the Oromia Support Group (OSG), has reported 3,566 extra-judicial killings and 901 disappearances of civilians suspected of supporting groups opposing the government. The OSG noted that ‘most of these have been Oromo people’ (OSG, 2004). Although those who are victims of the extra-judicial killings come from every sector of the society, the majority are civic leaders, teachers etc., with the potential of providing leadership. Those who ‘disappeared’ also belong to this social category. It is plausible to argue that, functionally, the unexplained disappearances of Ethiopian citizens have their parallels with the disappearances of the regime opponents in Latin American countries in the 1970s and 1980s. They are meant to terrorise and control the local population while avoiding responsibility and account ability. While the extra-juridical killing and the disappearance of prominent members of the different ethnic communities continue to occur, there are also indications of systematic suppression of civic organisations and the collective persecution of intellectuals. For example, the Macha Tulama Association was closed down in 2004 and its leaders were imprisoned following their abortive attempt to stage a peaceful demonstration to protest the evacuation of Oromo organisations, particularly the offices of the Oromia regional state, from Addis Ababa, which originally was an Oromo district of Finfinnee. Apparently, government repression also increased even against educational institution as well as teachers and students across the country. The Human Rights Watch (HRW, 2003a: 3) stated that: Being educated can be a risky business in Ethiopia. Students and teachers, often among the most politically active elements of society, are frequent victims of human rights violations including extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrest, and denial of freedom of association and expression.
In 2003, for example, the EPRDF conducted what may look like ethnic cleansing when it dismissed over 350 students of Oromo ethnic background from Addis Ababa University following a demonstration. Similar measures were taken in other universities and colleges and many students of Oromo ethnic background were purged. The repression against students and teachers is not limited to universities. During the last two years, many incidents of state-sponsored violence involving the death of many school children have been reported (see for example, ibid.). There are three well-known cases of massacres perpetrated on school children by oppressive regimes in Africa since the 1960s. These were the 1976 massacre in Soweto by the apartheid regime of South Africa, the Bokassa regime’s massacre on school children in 1977 in Central African Republic (Hendricks, 2002: 235), and the massacre of over 500 youngsters by the Dergue on 29 April, 1977 (Halliday and Molyneux, 1981: 122). Compared to these incidents the EPRDF’s violence against Oromo school children bears similarity with Soweto. In both cases the victims were ethnically defined. But unlike the Soweto massacre, the violence against school children in Ethiopia is hidden from public scrutiny. While this can be partly explained by the absence of a free press in the country, it seems that the relations between the Ethiopian government and the Western countries also played a role.
Genocide and the Inter national Context
To develop into genocide, violence needs an enabling inter national context. As was the case on the eve of the Rwandan massacre of 1994, genocide occurs when the inter national community remains indifferent or inactive because the perpetrator government is successful in disinformation; when foreign observers do not take the killings they see for what they are and the UN will not criticise a member state (Smith, 2002). As has been remarked by human rights scholars, ‘genocide lurks largely in the darkness of irresponsibility, which prevents too little and intervenes too late’ (Rittner, Roth and Smith, 2002: 205). Although evidence collected by local and inter national human rights organisations is mounting, little is being done to prevent the ongoing serious human rights violations in Ethiopia. And Western governments seem to have full knowledge of events in Ethiopia, but they are complacent in their belief that Ethiopia is making moves towards a democratic state. It was pointed out by a researcher that ‘reports by NGOs and churches, submitted since 1992 on human rights violations and election fraud, have not been taken seriously’ by governments in the West (Englert, 2000: 7) As stated by a sociologist, the ultimate meaning of democracy is respect for the lives of people and that ‘Life itself a precondition for the democratic social order’ (Horowitz, 1990: 263). Indisputably, the extra-judicial killings and disappearance of real or suspected political opponents of the EPRDF, reported by researcher and human rights organisations, constitute a blatant violation of this principle. The attitudes of Western states towards the EPRDF government have been, by and large, a mixture of indifference to its violations of human rights and appeasement of its economic and diplomatic needs. Consequently, the present Ethiopian government has been a recipient of large US and European economic aid without the constraints of conditionality. As Mark Levene (2002: 71) aptly remarked, genocide in the age of globalisation ‘is a dysfunction not just of particular societies but our entire community and of the political economy that goes with it’. It was also suggested that ‘Appeasement or inter national indifference to arbitrary government action and the cruel treatment of people by their own government also makes fertile soil for genocide’ (Rittner, Roth and Smith, 2002: 179). It is a well-known fact that self-interest weighs more than the concern for economic development and respect of human rights in the Third World in the inter national policy decisions of many of states in the West. The observation applies to US relations with Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is considered an important regional partner of the US in its war on inter national terrorism, and the country also supported the US invasion of Iraq. For several years, US special operations forces have been cooperating with and training an Ethiopian army division in ‘anti-terrorism’ and ‘counterterrorism’ (GWSI, 2004). Thus as pointed out by Dieter Oberndörfer (2000: 5), the ‘Americans... have repeatedly been moved by geo-strategic considerations... in establishing their policy of “benign” neglect of the ugly aspect of Ethiopia’s policies’. Drawing similar conclusions, the American sociologist William Robinson maintains that given these geo-political interests, ‘it should have come as no surprise that the United States has continued to support the EPRDF regime... ignoring (and even supporting) the systematic repression of the Oromo and other groups (Robinson, 1997: 31). The fact that the EPRDF is using Western aid to fight the opposition confirms Robin son’s statement. Like many other authoritarian regimes around the world, the current Ethiopian government is also using ‘counterterrorism’ to suppress legitimate political demands (HRW, 2003b). A senior State Department official told Human Rights Watch that, after the attacks in the US on 11 September, 2001, the US is even less inclined to demand respect for human rights in Ethiopia because it is completely dependent on the cooperation of this strategically located country, which borders Sudan and Somalia in the horn of Africa. Ethiopian government security forces have taken advantage of this inter national climate to system ethically repress students, teachers, civil society organisations, and journalists (HRW, 2003a). The counter-terrorism alliance with the U S after ‘September 11’ has emboldened the EPRDF leaders to label the political opposition such as the OLF as ‘terrorist’ organisations ‘in order to give legitimacy to their handling of the Oromo question’ (Vaughan and Tronvoll, 2003: 131). Indicating that the human rights situation is worsening in Ethiopia, Oberndörfer (2000: 4) argues that development co-operation ‘by the inter national community has primarily served to stabilize the dictatorship of the EPRDF’. What should be noted here, however, is that there is a limit on how long terror can be used to cow a whole country into obeying the dictates of political elites whose social base constitutes less than ten percent of the population. Although militarily the balance is in favour of the EPRDF, the political conditions in the country are tense and threatening. What should be taken into account also is the fact that the current Ethiopian government can readily resort to genocidal violence if its power is threatened. The Ethiopian military apparatus has killed more citizens than the enemies of the nation during the last fifty years. As a scholar stated, ‘States of terror can become states of genocide when rulers detect members of a distinctive group are challenging the state’ (Fein, 2002: 46). Appar ently, the EPRDF is not less reserved in its use of terror if much more subtle than the Dergue.
Conse quences of Genocide
Raising the important question why genocides occur so often and in such a variety of situations and historical epochs, Kurt Jonassohn (1990:415 explained that ‘The answer seems to lie in their efficacy’. He maintains that genocide solves the perpetrator’s ‘problem’ sufficiently and permanently and that ‘the costs of such solution are born by the victims’. In addition, when the victims are located outside the perpetrators’ society, which had often been the case historically, the perpetrators’ material benefits have been often enormous. However, Jonassohn also notes that the victims of genocides, particularly of those committed for ideological reasons, are often located within or are part of the perpetrator state and society. Consequently, the costs and benefits of such genocides have to be absorbed by the perpetrator societies. He maintains that ‘An empirical study of relevant cases will show that the costs of ideological genocides are enormous, but also that it takes a very long time to recover from them’ (ibid: 416). Using these propositions as analytical tools I will discuss very briefly the costs and benefits of genocidal killings committed by Ethiopian rulers in the past. Obviously, my analysis concerns the gains made or the costs incurred by the perpetrators, that is, the Abyssinian-cum-Ethiopian state(s) and its agents. In three out of the four Ethiopian episodes described above, the genocidal atrocities perpetrated by the Abyssinian-cum-Ethiopian rulers were committed to solicit ideological conformity from victims located within or on the fringes of the perpetrators’ society. This was particuarly the case with those committed by Emperors Tewodros II and Yohannes IV to create a homogeneous Abyssinian nation. The costs of their unsuccessful nation-building project were borne not only by the victims, as intended by the emperors, but also the Christian community. In the case of Tewodros, his cruelty against Muslims spilled over to the society he aimed to benefit, thereby causing resistance to his rule. Although not studied or apparently not even recognised by researchers, there are indications that his violence had damaging effects on the economy of northern Abyssinia. For centuries, Muslim merchants were respon sible for the long distance trade on which the traditional Abyssinian state survived. Therefore, the prosperity of Gondar, the capital city of Abyssinia, was mainly based on the activities of its large Muslim community (Bruce, 1805: 386-387), which exported African products, both from Abyssina and the surrounding countries, and imported foreign goods. As the destruction of this trading community that was started by Tewodros was exacerbated by thereligious policies of Emperor Yohannes, the long distance trade centred on Gondar dwindled decades before the railway redirected inter national trade to Djibouti on the Gulf of Aden. Politically, the violence of Tewodros also erased the importance of Gondar not only as a seat of power but also as the traditional cultural capital of Abyssinia.
Although the resistance of the northern Oromo to religious conversion was quite successful, the long-term effects of the assault perpetrated on them by the two emperors were socio-politically and economically disastrous. One of the effects of the onslaught on the Wallo, Yejju and Raya Oromos is the perpetuation of famines in these areas. For decades, the provinces of Wallo and Tigray became the location of what journalists have designated as ‘the Ethiopian or African famine’ (cf. Sorenson, 1993). In the two provinces, the awrajas (sub-provinces) suffering the highest number of famine deaths have also been those that were repeatedly ravaged by the armies of emperors Tewodros (1855-1868), Yohannes (1872-1889), Menelik (1889-1913) and Haile Selassie (1930-1974). The economic and subsequent political consequences of the onslaught on the northern Oromo were profound. The depletion of resources and destruction of the environment caused by the many invasions resulted in a regional chronic food deficit which quickly develops into famine during the periodic droughts affecting Northeast Africa. When the terrible pictures of the hidden famine taken by a BBC journalist was broadcast on the Ethiopian television on the eve of the Ethiopian new year in September 1974, the nation was shocked. The famine, as portrayed by the film, not only made a terrible dent in the national pride and citizens’ self-respect, but also brought about radical changes in Ethiopia’s national politics. The traumatised nation not only despised the aging Emperor, but also revolted against the system that he represented. The military leaders exploited the trauma and anger caused by the pictures from the famine affected areas to de-legitimise the old system. Haile Selassie was made to pay for his ‘murderous neglect’ of the plight of his subjects. It was claimed that the emperor wilfully left the Wallo and Raya peasants and herdsmen to their sorry fate to punish them for having opposed his regime in the past (Lefort, 1983: 44-45). He was deposed, arrested and put in prison the morning after the BBC’s film was broadcast on Ethiopian TV.Regime change did not help to mend the social, demographic and productive fabric that was torn asunder repeatedly by genocidal violence of the past governments. The structural changes brought about by the nationalisation of land did not result in increased food production or income for the peasants and herdsmen. As the owner of land, the state replaced the former landlords as their exploiter. As mentioned above, the policies of the Dergue even exacerbated the violation of human rights in Ethiopia. Ten year later, in October 1984, it was again the BBC that took the initiative and brought the horrifying images of famine from the same region and site, the town of Korem, to startled television viewers around the world. As was the case in the past, other regions were also affected by the drought, but the famine killed more people here than else wherein the country.
An assessment of the costs incurred by the country as the consequence of the policies of the Dergue needs an extensive investigation that cannot be made here. Therefore, I will make some remarks on only damages caused by the Red Terror to the socio-economic development of the country through its assault on educated men and women who provided the society with skilled personnel. As mentioned above, the Red Terror not only killed people but also sent into exile thousands of citizens, many of them with vital skills and education needed for Ethiopia’s socio-economic development. The consequences of the reign of terror become clearer if we compare the post-1974 behaviour of Ethiopian youth and intellectuals with their pre-revolution attitudes towards their country. Although we lack statistics, it is common knowledge that the vast majority of the Ethiopians who studied overseas before the mid 1970s returned, while almost all who graduated from local institutions of higher education stayed at home and served the country. In this respect the consequences of the reign of terror have been dramatic. Targeted by the Red Terror, the preoccupation of most of most men and women with higher education and skills became staying alive. Those who were outside the country decided not to return, while those inside used all available means to get out of the country. The flight of this category of men and women from Ethiopia not only continued in the post-Dergue period, it intensified during the last ten years. This is reflected in the behaviour of the present generation of Ethiopians, called by observers the ‘exit generation’ (Shinn, 2004). According to some observers, the behaviour of the ‘exit generation’ is characterised by a combination of a ‘breakdown of basic principles’, cynicism and a compelling desire to leave their country (ibid.). No study has yet been made of the phenomenon. However, one plausible explanation could be the trauma caused by the violent disruptions caused by the Dergue’s reign of terror and the severe social, political and economic problems the country continues to face even today. Thus, the ‘brain drain’ triggered by the Red Terror increased throughout the 1980s and 1990s and has now developed into a debilitating haemorrhage. Here are some indicators of this trend. Of the 22,700 students who went abroad for higher education between 1980 and 1991 only 24.4 percent returned to Ethiopia (Sethi, 2000). More than 75 percent stayed abroad. About 37 percent of staff of Addis Ababa University who went abroad between 1981 and 1997 failed to return (Mengesha, 2000). Some institutions were affected more than others. It was reported for example that of the 20 staff members of the physics department of the university, not a single one returned. A third of Ethiopia’s doctors have left the country (Tadesse, 2002, cited in Shinn, 2004), and hundreds of those trained abroad since the mid-1970s did not return.
According an official of the Inter national Organization for Migration (IOM), today Ethiopia is ranked first in Africa for losing highly trained professionals to other countries (Sethi, cited in The Daily Monitor, 8 November, 2002). Since Ethiopia is among the countries with the lowest literacy rates, it is needless to underline the dire consequences of this brain drain on its socio-economic development. For a country with a doctor-population ration of one to 300,000 and where millions of citizens are infected and dying of HIV/AIDS, the loss of such a large proportion of its physicians is calamitous. While the socio-economic and political consequences of the violence perpetrated by emperors Tewodros II, Yohannes IV, Haile Selassie I and the Dergue were negative for the state and society at large, the violence of Menelik’s conquest in the south was enormously profitable both to himself, his followers and, by and large, to the Abyssinian state. From the king to the ordinary fighter, the conquerors gained enormous benefits, not only in terms of territorial expansion and farm and pasture land that were confiscated from the indigenous populations, but also in terms of the size of movable property looted and captives marched to the north to be kept as slaves or sold. However, this does not mean that the negative consequences of the conquest was and will be limited to the conquered areas. As reflect in the many uprisings in the past and current conflict in the Somali (Ogaden), Sidama, Oromo and currently also Gambella regional states, there is a simmering residue of bitterness from the conquest and the subsequent ethnic oppression. Unless the problem is addressed properly, it may develop into a war, causing unprecedented destruction that may have political and economic repercussions far beyond Ethiopia’s borders.
The history of genocide often reflects the history of state and nation building, the ideology and strategy of political elites, who dominate a polity with ethnic and religious diversity, and of the institutionalised means of dealing with diversity. As discussed in this article, it reflects the author itarian behaviour and coercive methods used by leaders who would build a nation and state that reflects the culture, language and identity of the dominant group. Thus, the genocidal violence perpetrated by Tewodros and Yohannes was designed to settle religious and ethnic differences and create a homogenous Abyssinian nation and state. They perceived the Muslim as aliens, who not only did not fit into the national whole as perceived by the emperors, but whose very existence, they deemed dangerous to the state. Both used violence to realise their conception of the new social order, perpetrating the mass killings and displacement of Muslim populations within Abyssinian state or in its eastern peripheries. Their successor, Menelik, used genocide to subjugate, control and exploit the peoples he had conquered. As Helen Fein (1993) argued, colonial rulers and masters act not only as oppressors and exploiters but also as enemies of the peoples they colonise. Consequently, killing and terrorising the colonised subjects has been also the modus operandi of the rulers of the empire state of Ethiopia.
As mentioned above, the victims of state-sponsored violence were not only the non-Abyssinian subject populations. Those who belonged to the dominant group were also affected, albeit less frequently. This was particularly the case during reign of the Dergue. In an attempt to construct a new social order – a ‘socialist’ state and society – the Dergue used brute force and often terror almost indiscriminately. The regime believed that its vision of an Ethiopian state and society could be established quickly, using violence when needed, and that in doing this the ends justified the means. Thus, while implementing their brand of Ethiopian nationalism, the regime made few substantial compromises with existing conditions and groups, but went ahead with impunity to realise the model of society and state they aspired to establish, and which they believed was for the good of the country.
The Dergue also carried out deportations and forced relocations of populations, causing the death of thousands of citizens in the process. Though the motives for moving populations on such a massive scale were mixed, it is plausible to argue that the primary objective was political. The short-term political objective was to control the growth of dissident nationalism by curtailing insurgent mobility among the population and depriving them of sources of material and human support. It was thought that by placing armed settlers (who depended for their survival on government) among the indigenous population, the state would have better control. The long-term political objectives were to change configurations of popular memories, cultural repertoires and moralities of the different ethnic groups in the country by breaking down social solidarities that had evolved historically. The attempt was to realise a vision of a homogenous nation which previous Ethiopia rulers failed to achieve. In general, excessive coercion and mass murder did not produce acquiescence or stop collective action among the target groups. Instead, it seems that coercion rekindled the indignant memories of the oppressive past and strengthened opposition to the state authorities. As peasants’ sympathy for the liberation fronts increased, the demise of the Dergue was accelerated. The end of the Dergue did not stop political conflict and mass murder. The question remains then: How long does it take to change the ethos and the political culture? Can the South African model of truth and reconciliation be applied to lay bare past misdeeds, heal old wounds and prevent an eruption of genocide in Ethiopia in the future? These and other questions concerning the issues of democracy and citizenship need to be addressed by researchers and policy makers.
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