RLPB 492. Ethiopia: Communal Violence Threatens Progress
— By Elizabeth Kendal
Cff Director of Advocacy
Originating in the Abyssinian regions of the north, Ethiopia expanded over centuries to become a mighty empire. Today it is home to 109 million citizens from 87 ethnic groups. As a long-repressed, ethno-federation, the great and immediate danger facing Ethiopia today is ethnic fragmentation and communal conflict. New-found liberties bring risks, as does the threat of backlash from those who have lost power through the reforms of new Prime Minster Dr Abiy Ahmed (41). [For full background see: Reforms and Resistance, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 25 June 2018.] This is the context in which communal violence has escalated. Ethiopia now has more than 2.4 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), 1.4 million of whom were displaced by communal violence in the first six months of 2018 — the highest level of internal displacement in 2018 anywhere the world! While most of the violence is inter-ethnic — with ethnic minorities coming under attack — there is a real risk that religious violence could become more widespread, especially in areas where ethnic incitement has failed. Critically, it is generally the case that when minorities (ethnic or religious) are attacked, the local police do not intervene.
On 4 February two mosques were torched in Esta woreda (district), South Gondar zone of Amhara region. North of Addis Ababa, South Gondar zone is roughly 96.5 percent Ethiopian Orthodox and 3.5 percent Muslim. Muslims decorating a venue for a wedding had found a Christian image among their shredded papers. Eager to avoid any misunderstanding, they met with Christian leaders and resolved the matter peacefully. It was later that afternoon that the two mosques were burned. The Sheik is convinced that people with political motives incited the unprecedented attack, hoping to trigger sectarian unrest. On 10 February a mosque was torched in Endabet Jara Gedo woreda of Southern Gondar. Local residents joined together to put the fire out before the building was engulfed.
Meanwhile, on 9 February, at least 10 churches were burnt in Alaba Kulito town in Alaba zone of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region. South of Addis Ababa, Alaba zone is 93.9 percent Muslim, 4.6 percent Ethiopian Orthodox and 1.2 percent Protestant. It seems the Muslim youths who led the attack had been fed a false report that a mosque in a nearby village had been burnt. The attack appeared highly organised, leading many to suspect it was incited in the mosque and carefully orchestrated to ensure there would be no deaths and no damage to Muslim property. While Kale Hiwot Galeto church’s building was razed to the ground, most other properties had their furniture and bibles removed and burnt in the street. There were no fatalities, but two church workers required hospitalisation. Alaba Kulito’s churches are attended by some 9,000 Christians, most of whom have migrated into the town from the surrounding rural areas in search of work. Tensions are high.
On Saturday 2 March Ethiopians celebrated the 123-year anniversary of the Battle of Adwa. In 1896, at least 73,000 Ethiopians from every tribe and tongue united to defeat a 20,000-strong well-armed Italian army eager to expand Italy’s fledgling 19th century colonial empire. With its victory, Ethiopia secured its independence. It was ‘the first victory of black people against Western invaders’. Eager to foster a stronger sense of national unity and shared fortunes, PM Abiy has revived the event. Promoted under the motto, ‘Adwa, the stamp of our unity’, PM Abiy encouraged Ethiopians, especially youths, to join together to defeat current challenges.
In 1974, Protestant Christianity comprised 5 percent of the population. In the 2007 census, it comprised 18.6 percent. Most growth has occurred this century, and many new Protestants are (like PM Abiy Ahmed) converts from Islam. There is also a growing renewal movement within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This work of the Spirit is gravely imperilled by the current threat. A fierce spiritual battle for Ethiopia is under way.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL
* raise up strong leadership in Christian communities; leaders who can guide impressionable and vulnerable youths to reject incitement and grow in grace.
* bless and protect vulnerable Christian minorities in hostile regions; may incitement against them come to nought; may grace abound as those who bear the cross ‘shine like stars in the universe’ (from Philippians 2:12-18)
* complete the good work that he has begun in the nation of Ethiopia; may no plan of God’s be thwarted. May the Lord bless PM Abiy Ahmed and keep him safe and humble with ‘eyes fixed on Jesus’ (Hebrews 12:2).
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
COMMUNAL VIOLENCE THREATENS PROGRESS IN ETHIOPIA
The great reform work being done by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed could be undone if escalating communal violence cannot be contained. More than 2.4 million Ethiopians are now displaced because of communal violence, much of which is believed to be incited by political elements opposed to PM Abiy’s reforms. In early February, three mosques were burnt in a majority Christian region in the north, while at least ten churches were burnt in a majority Muslim region in the south. As in the more numerous cases of pure ethnic violence, majorities are attacking minorities and local police are not intervening. In each case of religious violence, it was incited by a false report and then carefully organised. Please pray that God will complete the good work he has begun in Ethiopia.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).