April 29, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) – Eritrea and Ethiopia have respectively continue to become Africa’s leading jailers of journalists, according to a new survey released Thursday by an independent watchdog.
The US-based Freedom House said governments of the two east African countries continue to show little tolerance to dissent and as a result have the highest number of imprisoned journalists in sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite the release of 10 imprisoned journalists in 2015, the report said Ethiopia continued to repress all independent reporting, and remained the second-worst jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, after Eritrea.
The report noted for the Journalists in East and Southern Africa suffered from a sharp increase in political pressure and violence in 2015.
In the midst of Burundi’s political crisis in May, which stemmed from the president’s pursuit of a third term, nearly all independent media outlets were closed or destroyed. The loss of these outlets, especially radio stations that had been the main source of information, resulted in a dearth of reporting on critical issues. Extensive intimidation and violence against journalists by the regime of President Pierre Nkurunziza and his supporters drove many into exile.
According to the report for East Africa, the run-up to early 2016 elections in Uganda featured an increase in harassment of journalists attempting to cover opposition politicians. In Kenya, greater government pressure in the form of repressive laws, intimidation, and threats to withdraw state advertising resulted in a reduction in critical reporting on President Uhuru Kenyatta and his cronies.
Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan. South Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti were listed amongst the last 20 African countries designated by the group as not free Media.
According to the group, Press freedom saw decline to its lowest point in 12 years in 2015, as political, criminal, and terrorist forces sought to co-opt or silence the media in their broader struggle for power.
Sudan and Egypt were also listed amongst world countries which has suffered biggest decline in press freedom in the year 2015.
The survey showed that only 13% of the world’s population (fewer than one in seven people) enjoy a free press where coverage of political news is robust, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and the press is not subject to onerous legal or economic pressures.
41% of the world’s population has a partly free press, and 46% live in not free media environments.
The varied threats to press freedom around the world are making it harder for media workers to do their jobs, and the public is increasingly deprived of unbiased information and in-depth reporting.
“Steep declines worldwide were linked to two factors: heightened partisanship and polarization in a country’s media environment, and the degree of extralegal intimidation and physical violence faced by journalists” it said.
Ghana, previously the only free country on the continent’s mainland, suffered a status decline to Partly Free.
Founded in October 1941, Freedom House is a US-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights.
The group is a US Government funded independent organisation which conducts surveys on political rights and civil liberties in 195 countries around the globe.
An Ethiopian internet cafe. Creative commons image via UNICEF
When things get a little too hot for the powers that be, a sure fire way to cool them down is a good old-fashioned social media blackout. Just ask Congo-Brazzaville, where back in October, a constitutional referendum changed the game, striking down the previous two term presidential limit, allowing 72 year-old President Denis Sassou Nguesso to run for office, yet again. Nguesso was president from 1979 to 1992, returning to his throne in 1997. Nguesso recently won yet again with a supposed 60 percent of the vote. Five more years.
The opposition in Congo-Brazzaville was not happy, crying foul amid allegations of widespread fraud and voter intimidation. A media blackout was instituted with access to social media and SMS blocked. Users were able to circumvent the ban by utilizing virtual private networks or VPNs. General Jean-Marie Mokoko, speaking to VOA’s French to Africa Service said, “When a dictatorship is installed in a country, we (call on) people, basically, to engage in legal civil disobedience to block this attempt at fraud”. Read here for more on the situation there.
In Uganda, DonaldTrump doppelgänger, sort of, Yoweri Museveni, won (stole) his fifth term as President this past February. Fraud, voting irregularities, voter intimidation, and the arrest of the opposition have been reported. The state also instituted a media blackout of social media, citing security concerns. Museveni has been President since 1986. Trump has taken note.
Ethiopia, land of coffee and soon to be not land of Emails has drafted legislation that will criminalize spamming. Those found guilty will be subject to five years behind bars in Ethiopia’s state of the art prison facilities where prisoners are treated very humanely, no torture is going on there, just lots of shiro-wat and chill.
Entitled ‘Computer Crime Proclamation’ the legislation targets the mass distribution of mail that aims to sell and/or advertise goods and services and the sharing of photos and content.
A portion of the law reads, “Whosoever intentionally intimidates or threatens another person or his family with serious danger or injury by disseminating any writing, video, audio or any other image through a computer system shall be punishable, with simple imprisonment not exceeding three years or in a serious cases with rigorous imprisonment not exceeding five years.”
In addition to common sense legislation such as criminalizing the dissemination of child pornography, theft, and cyber attacks there is a clause concerning the distribution of material that incites a public disturbance aka protest that is raising some eyebrows.
Some view the new legislation to be a backhanded way of arresting journalists, bloggers, and people who utilize the web to express their opposition to government policies or just factually report news that can be seen as damaging to the Ethiopian government. The new law comes on the heels of a large protest movement that has gripped the nation.
The protests began when development plans to expand the borders of the country’s capital Addis Ababa into Oromia was announced.
Government forces have already wounded, tortured, arrested and killed hundred of protesters. People in parts of the Oromia region have reported messaging applications including Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger as being inactive on the country’s state owned telecommunications monopoly.
Back in March, Tanzanian civil servants were barred from using social media during working hours amid its rise in popularity and have been warned that ‘gossiping’ will lead to termination.
Social media blackouts are far from a distinctly African political feature. In 2011 the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, a public transportation train system in northern California shut down cell phone service in four stations for a few hours following anti-police brutality protests. And then there is China.
Protests in both Zimbabwe and Gambia occurred earlier this month. In Serekunda people went to the streets demanding electoral reform. Meanwhile demonstrators in Harare protested President Mugabe’s four hundred and eighteen year rule. A social media blackout can be expected in the country.
Okelo Akaye and et. al
Sentenced Seven to Nine Years Imprisonment
Federal high court
Lideta 19 criminal bench sentenced Okelo Akaye and et. al up to nine years
rigorous imprisonment. Both defendants and federal prosecutor file their
mitigation and aggravation statement on April 25, 2016 and today April 27, 2016
court render the final sentencing.
Though on its
aggravation statement prosecutor demanded court to apply the new punishment
guideline to render judgment court declined to accept the request because the
defendants was found guilty of crime which happened mostly before the
implementation of the new guideline in 2013. and since there were no lives
claimed or property damaged in their criminal action court dismiss prosecutors
claim to aggravate the punishment.
Prosecutor also claimed
that their criminal activity would have claimed many lives, damage property and
they would have brought serious national security danger if they were not
caught and requested the court to make the sentencing at aggravated level.
The court over ruled that too.
In the other hand court
accepted the aggravating suggestion by the prosecutor saying, the court shall
increase the penalty of the defendants because they acted together, form a
criminal group to commit crimes.
Court accepted the
defendant’s mitigation suggestion that they have never been guilty of any
criminal charges before and also that they are responsible for their families.
In the other hand the
court decline first defendant mitigation statement asking the court to lower
punishment because he has been serving Gambela region as well as the
federation in different capacity including the region health office from 1986
to 2000 till being the regional president in 2004
As a result first
defendant Okelo Akaye by being member and leader of Gambela People Libration
Movement and acting on secession of the region Gambela from the federation the
court sentenced him for nine years imprisonment.
Second defendant David
Ujulu by being member and foreign affair of Gambela People Libraetion Movement
and acting on secession of the region Gambela from the federation, the court
sentenced him for nine years rigorous imprisonment.
Third to seventh
defendants (Uchan Opeye, Uman Nkyew, Ujulu Chamo, Ataka Uwar and Obang Umed) by
being member of the Gambela Peoples Freedom Movement and participate in
different activities of the group the court sentenced them to seven years
rigorous imprisonment each.
First charged by the
federal prosecutor on June 2014, Okelo Akaye and et.al court order the
prohibition of their public right for two years.
Twenty two defendants, including four missing senior members of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) have appeared at the Federal High Court 19th Criminal Bench this morning. The court adjourned the next hearing, which will be a defense hearing, until May 10th.
Federal prosecutors have charged 22 members of the OFC on Friday April 22nd with several articles of Ethiopia’s infamous Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP). On the same day the court ordered the police to transfer all the 22 detainees from the notorious Ma’ekelawi, where they have been kept incommunicado for most of the last four months, to Qilinto, a prison cell south of the city’s outskirt under the administration of the Addis Abeba Prison Authority.
Following their transfer on Friday, however, news emerged that four of the 22: Bekele Gerba , first secretary general of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), OFC members Adisu Bulala, Gurmesa Ayano and Dejene Tafa, have disappeared after refusing to take “unknown pills” administered to them by prison authorities upon their arrival in Qilinto.
This morning, Bekele Gerba told the court that the four of them were “kept in an isolated, dark room for the last four day for refusing to take pills which we didn’t know about.” Bekele also told the court they have been denied access to their family members and legal counsel. He then requested the court to arrange for public hearing as per their constitutional rights so that “journalists and family members can attend court hearings.” Dejene Tafa on his part said that he now fears for his safety and the safety of the 21 co-defendants.
This morning a further 16 individuals, all from the Oromia regional state, and were detained at Ma’ekelawi were also brought to the same court. The court adjourned the hearing until this afternoon. It is expected that like the 22, the 16, under the file name of Tesema Regasa, will be charged with the ATP. According to lawyer Wondimu Ebbissa, who is representing the 22 defendants, so far 83 defendants, including Bekele Gerba et al, are held in Qilinto and a further 97 are believed to be either at Ma’ekelawi or the Addis Abeba police prison facility near Ma’ekelawi.
Among the charges the prosecutors have brought on defendants include statements that the defendants have participated in the recent #OromoProtests against the implementation of the Addis Abeba Master Plan, the immediate cause for the widespread protests within the Oromia regional states, the largest of the nine regional states that constitute Ethiopia.
However, a month after protests have erupted, in a rare gesture of concession to public demand, both the federal government and the Oromia regional state have said they withdrew the plan, something the federal prosecutors seem to negate with some part of their charges that indicted defendants for participating in the protest.
Photo caption: A picture taken of a protesting students and residents in an undisclosed location in the midst of the recent #OromoProtest
WASHINGTON –U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a resolution with 11 other Senators today condemning the lethal violence used by the government of Ethiopia against protestors, journalists, and others in civil society for exercising their rights under Ethiopia’s constitution.
The resolution calls for the Secretary of State to conduct a review of U.S. security assistance to Ethiopia in light of allegations that Ethiopian security forces have killed civilians. It also calls upon the government of Ethiopia to halt violent crackdowns, conduct a credible investigation into the killing of protesters, and hold perpetrators of such violence accountable.
“I am shocked by the brutal actions of the Ethiopian security forces, and offer condolences to the families of those who have been killed. The Ethiopian constitution affords its citizens the right to peaceful assembly and such actions by Ethiopian government forces are unacceptable,” SenatorCardin said. “The government’s heavy-handed tactics against journalistsand use of the 2009 Anti-Terrorism and Charities and Societies Proclamations to stifle free speech and legitimate political dissent demonstrate a troubling lack of respect for democratic freedoms and human rights.”
“Peaceful protestors and activists have been arrested, tortured and killed in Ethiopia for simply exercising their basic rights,” Senator Rubio said. “I condemn these abuses and the Ethiopian government’s stunning disregard for the fundamental rights of the Ethiopian people. I urge the Obama Administration to prioritize respect for human rights and political reforms in the U.S. relationship with Ethiopia.”
Joining Cardin and Rubio as cosponsors of the resolution are Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
The United States works closely with Ethiopia on signature Administration initiatives including Feed the Future and the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership. It also provides funding for Ethiopia’s participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia.
“Given the challenges posed by the devastating drought and border insecurity, it is more important than ever that the government take actions to unify rather than alienate its people. It is critical that the government of Ethiopia respect fundamental human rights if it is to meet those challenges,” Cardin added.
The death toll from a raid carried out by South Sudanese gunmen in western Ethiopia has risen to 208 people and the assailants kidnapped 108 children, an Ethiopian official said on Sunday.
The attack took place on Friday in the Horn of Africa nation's Gambela region which, alongside a neighbouring province, hosts more than 284,000 South Sudanese refugees who fled conflict in their country.
By Sunday afternoon, the number had risen to "208 dead and 75 people wounded" from 140 a day earlier, government spokesman Getachew Reda told Reuters, adding the assailants had also abducted 108 children and taken 2,000 head of livestock.
"Ethiopian Defence Forces are taking measures. They are closing in on the attackers," he said.
Getachew did not give further details, but officials in Gambela said on Saturday Ethiopian troops had crossed the border in pursuit of the attackers.
Cross-border cattle raids have occurred in the same area in the past, often involving Murle tribesmen from South Sudan's Jonglei and Upper Nile regions - areas awash with weapons that share borders with Ethiopia.
Previous attacks, however, were smaller in scale.
The gunmen are not believed to have links with South Sudanese government troops or rebel forces who fought the government in Juba in a civil war that ended with a peace deal signed last year.
South Sudanese officials were not immediately available for comment.
Under pressure from neighbouring states, the United States, the United Nations and other powers, South Sudan's feuding sides signed an initial peace deal in August and agreed to share out ministerial positions in January.
With Ethiopia in the grip of its worst drought in decades, the government has appealed for aid to help the 10 million people living in Africa's second most-populous nation.
But in the town of Wukro, surrounded by the rocky, arid mountains of the northern Tigray region, the government is investing longer-term efforts to ensure a supply of fresh water that will go far beyond the immediate needs of aid.
With a mushrooming urban population, water needs are only set to grow as the number of people living in towns soars from 70 million today to an estimated 100 million by 2050.
In a bid to anticipate future need, the government is stepping up construction of wells to pump ground water in a project backed by both the United Nations and charities.
"Lack of water affects everything: food, health, education and children's futures," warns the UN children's fund (UNICEF), which is working with the government to boost access to clean water and health in new, rapidly-growing towns.
"Urbanisation must be accompanied by access to water and improved hygiene," says Tamene Gossa, an urban hygiene expert with UNICEF, warning that without it, new districts risk becoming slums.
For Wukro, a town of some 43,000 people, new wells have been dug some 18 kilometres (11 miles) away, tapping into major groundwater supplies. Late last year, clean water emerged from a well some 200 metres (650 feet) deep which now supplies the town.
"We supply 50 litres per day, per person, which means the population in Wukro is now... safe," says Tesfalem Hagdu, deputy director of water resources for the Tigray region.
- Limiting erosion -
Floods and failed rains caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon have sparked a dramatic rise in the number of people going hungry in large parts of Africa, with southern Ethiopia an area of special concern.
Food insecurity is a sensitive issue in Ethiopia, which enjoys near-double-digit economic growth, but which has struggled to change its image following the famine of 1984-85 which followed an extreme drought.
While northern Tigray has escaped the worst of today's El Nino drought, it has still seen water shortages, and the area around Wukro is dry and dusty.
But there have been huge efforts to change the situation, with the authorities planting acacia and eucalyptus tree seedlings in a bid to limit erosion, to help water infiltrate the soil and feed underground springs.
Water experts hope to be able to supply the wider region within the next two decades.
"The water coverage for 2035 will be 100 percent -- not only for Wukro, but for five other villages around," says Abdul Wassie, technical chief of the region's water resources.
- Growing hygiene awareness -
But the city has also gone further, with hygiene-related programmes to increase awareness about sanitation issues.
Two years ago, a primary school in the town created a water and sanitation club to promote basic hygiene.
In a remote town like Wukro, where health services are limited, basic tasks such as washing hands regularly can make a big difference to cutting overall sickness.
"Before this programme, viruses spread as well as parasitic diseases," says water club leader Selamawit Tamerat.
"Since then, everything changed and sickness decreased," Selamawit says, praising the educational impact the project has had on the wider community.
As well as raising awareness, there has also been the construction of sorely-need infrastructure, such as toilet blocks for the school which were built last year.
Last year, Ethiopia celebrated the achievement of halving the number of people without access to safe water since 1990, with 57 percent of the population now using safe drinking water.
But the challenges remaining are huge.
According to UNICEF, 180,000 children under five die each year -- 500 a day -- in sub-Saharan Africa from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor access to water and inadequate hygiene conditions.
Just three days away from the first year anniversary of the massacre of twenty eight Ethiopians at the hands of a Daesh affiliated sect in Libya, the nation has been brought to her knees in fresh mourning yet again. In what sounds eerily similar to the recounts of mass killings committed against Bosniaks in Srebrenica and Tutsis in Rwanda, hundreds of ethnic Nuer Ethiopian civilians were slaughtered by what the Ethiopian government has described as rogue bandits who crossed the border from South Sudan. The death toll ranges from as low as 140 according to government estimates, to as high as 170 as reported by the France based Sudanese website Sudan Tribune. Despite the lack of images and on the ground reporting, the ghastly depictions of hundreds of defenseless women and children being killed at whim by a gang of blood thirsty marauding terrorists has plunged the Ethiopian nation into mourning, as we continue to ask the poignant questions that are never served with a satisfying answer: why always us?
As thousands of Nuer, survivors, friends and relatives of the dead, devastated beyond belief try to pick up the shattered remains of their lives, an entire nation is beside them in disbelief, shock, sadness and heartache. Of all the people, those who are the farthest from the firing line, farthest from the battlefields, farthest from the political drawing boards, women and children just partaking in the daily tasks that make them a crucial part of the family unit and community structure, were mercilessly cut down for reasons they have no control over. Like only oh too often, it has left us flabbergasted and crying for divine justice.
But while the tragedy that has befallen our fellow citizens has left us all distraught, for those of us, frustrated and searching for answers as to how such an attack on our own soil can take place, it takes a mere analyzing of the different accounts of the story to realise that what has transpired goes beyond glaring failures on the part of our security forces, our intelligence. It’s almost scripted in a sense. The drama behind the scenes may be too ugly to fathom.
To better analyse the horrors that took place, it’s best to gather as much facts from what we have heard and what we as Ethiopians would know. Al Jazeera, BBC, Russia Today and a host of international media outlets started covering the story a little less than twenty four hours ago. They have all described it as a massacre of civilians that took place in “Jikawa Ethiopia.”
The correct spelling is “Jikawo.” Jikawo is a woreda in the Nuer zone of Gambella state. According to the government’s Central Statistic Agency, a community of some thirty thousand people inhabit the forest and grasslands of Jikawo, living off of livestock and agricultural means. Jikawo is located a mere 15 kilometers from the extremely porous border with South Sudan, which means the perpetrators of the massacre could easily have been scouting their targeted victims from nearby for days or even weeks before crossing the border and unleashing their most primal instincts. One might argue that it was impossible to react and prevent the attack due to the proximity of the South Sudanese border. The attackers could swiftly return to the relative safety of internationally drawn lines before Ethiopian forces arrive in the area.
But before international media got a hold of the story, it was the Paris based Sudan Tribune website which initially broke the story with a much more detailed course of events. They managed to speak to a survivor who gave a chilling account of the bloodbath. According to the Sudan Tribune, the massacre started on Friday the 15th of April in what was a peaceful morning abruptly changed to one of terror and bloodshed when “thousands” of heavily armed men, most of them in South Sudan army uniforms crossed the border and started to indiscriminately attack villagers. The report doesn’t specifically describe the type of armaments used to commit the murders, but a witness told the Sudan Tribune that fighters had rocket propelled grenades in their arsenal. The South Sudanese attackers retreated sometime in the afternoon. State owned Radio Fana reported that the Ethiopian army arrived on the scene and managed to kill sixty of the attackers. Ethiopia’s Communication Affairs Minister Getachew Reda added that in addition to the army’s counter attack that resulted in the “bandits” running for their lives and retreating into South Sudan, the army may launch an offensive in South Sudan to punish the perpetrators.
But according to the Sudan Tribune, it wasn’t Ethiopian army operations that sent the murderers running. The attackers were hardly “bandits.” They were a highly organised military unit and members of the South Sudanese Murle tribe. After hours of killing, they finally met opposition not from the national army but from neighbouring villagers of the Cieng Nyajani clan. These fellow Ethiopians killed up to fifty of the attackers as they tried to return with over “600 heads of cattle.” The Ethiopians couldn’t prevent the kidnapping of girls and women, 32 in all according to Ethiopian state television.
Communication Affairs Minister Getachew Reda’s account is full of holes and leaves us with even more unanswered questions. If there was really an Ethiopian army operation launched to fend off the attack, how could they arrive so late, approximately six to nine hours after the killing commenced despite the presence of nearby military bases in Gambella state? How could they let the bulk of the self defense and rescue operation be shouldered by a local militia? With the common knowledge that the South Sudanese government is incapable of controlling its borders and that the country is teeming with armed groups and tribal militias, how could Ethiopia not have a sizable security force at the border keeping watch over our citizens? Were the country’s security officials content with gambling with the lives of people living near and around the border? How on earth were Ethiopia’s intelligence forces, so often the heroes in state television documentaries not able to pick up the movements of THOUSANDS of heavily armed invaders moving at full steam in the direction of our border?
The Ethiopian army has long been known for its expertise in fending off cross border attacks and security threats. Al Shabab and the short lived Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) group have tried on countless occasions to gain access to a third fighting front, one on Ethiopian soil. Somali armed groups regularly defile Kenyan sovereignty and commit murders and even execute kidnappings of Kenyan diplomats, civilians and security personnel. Al Shabab have never attempted to engineer a raid into Ethiopia’s Somali state without being met at the border by Ethiopian security forces and taking heavy casualties. Intelligence tends to stay a step ahead of them, despite their constant threat, their seemingly endless source of funds and foreign fighters and their control of vast swathes of Somalia’s countryside. According to a 2011 UN Security Council report focusing on East Africa, in 2010, over two hundred armed members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) a group fighting for the secession of the Somali State from Ethiopia, made an attempt at illegally entering the country. Travelling from Eritrea, the group named the “Alanside force” entered Somaliland from Djibouti before making a run for the Ethiopian border. The BBC would later report that 123 of them were killed by Ethiopian border troops while another 90 were surrounded. The UN Security Council report team was able to interview 76 members of the defeated group.
One occasion where Ethiopia was unable to prevent a costly border infringement was the 2012 Ertale Afar attack by ARDUF Afar rebels. The rebels killed five western tourists and kidnapped two Germans and two Ethiopians before fleeing towards the Eritrean border. Still, two months later, the Ethiopian military exacted revenge, attacking and destroying three ARDUF bases within Eritrea. The group have been unable to regroup since then. The four hostages would be released later that year.
For the most part, these incidents highlight the Ethiopian army’s efficiency at decimating armed militant groups approaching Ethiopian soil with nefarious intentions. So how exactly would this army be HOURS late in responding to an incursion of thousands of armed fighters advancing past the border and 15 kilometers deep into the country? Something doesn’t add up here.
Now let’s take a closer look at the Murle tribal army who by all accounts committed the massacre. In the last decade, about a dozen massacres of fellow South Sudanese citizens have been accredited to Murle tribal armies, mostly committed over longstanding ethnic grudges and stolen cattle. In 2011, the governer of South Sudan’s Jonglei state Kuol Manyang told the BBC that up to 600 South Sudanese Nuer had been butchered in a Murle tribal army cattle raid. Two years prior in 2009, armed Murle men were blamed for a massacre of 350 mostly elderly women and children of South Sudanese Nuer descent in the Akobo County. If anything, Murle tribal cattle rustlers have long proven to be a menace to the security of the entire region and more of a threat to East Africa than Al Shabab and Daesh combined. Since the Murle militias have yet to kill or kidnap any tourists or westerners, it’s unlikely that their rampages will ever get the sort of hype and publicity that terrorism committed by groups in the Middle East tend to receive. But statistically speaking, these Murle cattle thieves have killed and maimed on a much larger scale than anything committed by non state parties in Iraq or Syria.
When South Sudan and Sudan signed the UN sponsored civil war ending treaty in 2005, President Salva Kiir embarked on a campaign to disarm the civilian population, as according to his belief, the South Sudanese nation wasn’t at war with itself. According to a communiqué by the Nuer White Army rebel group released in 2012, this campaign only further emboldened the Murle. Salva Kiir’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), had poor representation of the ethnic Murle in its ranks throughout its struggle. This was an underlying source of friction between the Murle people and the SPLM that the Kiir government seemed to downplay. According to the Nuer White Army, while the peoples of the Nuer, Anyuak and Dinka communities in Jonglei State willingly disarmed, the SPLM failed to disarm the Murle population. For years afterwards, the people neighbouring the Murle were left as defenseless sitting ducks every time a Murle raiding party came their way. And so often, hundreds of people at a time would be killed in cold blood.
In recent years, the Murle have become more and more militarized as a result of South Sudan’s internal politics getting more and more destructive. After a falling out with the government over power sharing, Murle politician David Yau Yau decided to create an armed rebellion and started the South Sudanese Democratic Movement (SSDM) Cobra Faction. Portraying itself as a pro democracy movement, the Cobra Faction committed massacres against the Nuer and Dinka peoples of the region. Cobra Faction of Murle rebels were now stronger than before, with arms and funds coming from North Sudan. David Yau Yau, eventually signed a peace agreement and rejoined the government. But that didn’t stop the warring Murle from continuing with their existence of mayhem.
Because in February 2015, the Murle faction of the SSDM rejected any talk of a peace treaty, and declared its loyalty to opposition forces controlled by Riek Machar.
This is where Ethiopia comes in.
Machar has long provoked the ire of Ethiopian politicians even before he allegedly pushed an exasperated Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to threaten to arrest both him and Salva Kiir in Addis Ababa if both refused to sign a peace deal in 2014. Machar, who is on the verge of a planned return to Juba, is supposed to rejoin the Kiir government in a power sharing deal. But he is a shady character that Addis Ababa understandably, doesn’t trust. His rebellion against Kiir put him in contact with leaderships in Eritrea and Egypt. A Wikileaks cable dated 2011 talks of the Saudi and Egyptian governments’ attempts at planning Kiir’s assassination. Some three years later in 2014, the son of the late John Garang was arrested in Addis Ababa, armed and planning on assassinating Salva Kiir who was also in Addis. Machar was suspected of being complicit in that plot.
A trip to Cairo in February of this year may have been seen as Machar and his sponsoring allies setting up an agenda ahead of the planned setting up of the transitional government. Riek Machar is most likely back in Juba to further his faction’s interests and since the August 2016 peace deal involves Machar arriving in Juba accompanied by some 1600 of his rebel forces, there’s the real possibility that he’s still seeking Salva Kiir’s downfall with the help of foreign power players.
Despite being renounced by rebels who oppose his signing a peace deal with Kiir, Ethiopia can and may decide to hold him accountable for yesterday’s Jikawo massacre. With the reports of the killers of hundreds of Ethiopians wearing South Sudanese uniforms and RPG wielding fighters, it’s highly likely that the massacre was committed by the Murle faction of the Machar allied SSDM.
If this is the case, then the Ethiopian Communication Affairs Minister Getachew Reda’s threat to launch a military operation within South Sudanese territory may be more than just an eye for eye tit for tat revenge mission and much more than a rescue mission to return the thirty something kidnapped women and children. It might actually be a mission to destroy Riek Machar’s military influence and render him incapable of carrying out orders he might be given by handlers in Cairo, Riyadh, or Asmara. What Machar may have designs on might not necessarily be in the best interests of Addis Ababa.
Another possibility might be the Ethiopian government losing sleep over growing cooperation between the militaries of Egypt and South Sudan. For two years now, the two nations have conducted joint military exercises, training programs, with Egypt playing the role of advisor to the Kiir government military. Seemingly out of nowhere, Egypt have established a military presence on South Sudanese soil. Egyptian President El Sisi has managed to dance around the fact that his country was the biggest opponent to South Sudanese independence and create military ties in Juba. From an Ethiopian viewpoint, this can only be seen as negative. Several years after a Wikileaks cable had exposed joint Sudanese Egyptian discussions over an attack launching pad against Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam project from Sudan during Hosni Mubarak’s tenure, this may be seen as an Egyptian rebound by the Ethiopians. So the massacre of hundreds of Ethiopian civilians would justify an Ethiopian military presence in South Sudan with no United Nations peacekeeping mission limiting the boundaries of their escapade. This of course would go in tandem with Minister Getachew’s statements that a “joint operation” between the militaries of South Sudan and Ethiopia might be possible. The goal here would be to weaken Egypt’s case for a military presence in the country and see their influence wane while Ethiopia’s rises up a notch.
In both cases, it would seem like the Ethiopian government may have willingly allowed yesterday’s Jikawo massacre to take place for the sake of preserving national interests. Although there is no suggestion that Ethiopia instigated anything, a willingness to sit back and let things play out may have been considered as beneficial in the long term. Because as it stands, the Ethiopian people are saddened, angered and more than willing to support a military operation that would appear to be launched in retaliation for the blood of the innocent men, women, children so senselessly spilled. Although this isn’t something that’s proven and written in stone, the inside job scenario isn’t as far fetched as what is being written and broadcast to the masses.
It would explain how the Ethiopian military appeared to have responded to the cries of Gambella’s residents in such a lackadaisical manner. Besides locals on the ground defending their people, the arrival of a noteworthy Ethiopian military force came too late. It can appear to be a conspiracy theory, but considering Ethiopia’s military finesse when it comes to dealing with foreign threats, it’s almost a conspiracy in itself to believe that thousands of men armed to the teeth would trespass the Ethiopian frontier 15 km deep without sounding a single alarm bell and avoid the gaze of one of the most sophisticated intelligence agencies in the region.
The Ethiopian government’s public expressing of sorrow on state media yesterday is a far cry from the staunch militant unapologetic tone it normally has when it faces accusations of having used disproportionate force against its own citizens, like the force that has resulted in the deaths of some four hundred unarmed demonstrators taking part in the Oromo protest movement over the past five months or so. So why the sudden shift in attitude? Are the lives of some Ethiopians worth more than the lives of others? What’s with the inconsistency? Killings of Ethiopians didn’t start on the 15th of April 2016.
There’s definitely more than meets the eye.
This article is in no way conclusive. It is impossible to determine if the Jikawo massacre was indeed an inside job unless someone from within spills the beans. But all in all it isn’t hard to see how the official sequence of events would leave one appalled and raising his or her eyebrows. In this day and age, accepting what we have been served is the utmost naivety. And with the points I’ve raised here, I hope you can see why it would be so.
The Ethiopian nation’s unofficial period of mourning continues, as the government is still to declare the deaths of hundreds of the people it was supposed to be serving as worthy of lowering national flags to half mast.
May the forcibly taken see the day they are reunited with their loved ones.
May all the fallen victims of the Jikawo massacre rest in peace.