Tadesse is a 28-year-old Ethiopian from the capital, Addis Ababa. Like thousands of others he took part in demonstrations over the last three years, and together with family members, refused to pledge support for the Ethiopian government. Such displays of political dissent led to him being repeatedly imprisoned, tortured and cruelly mistreated. Now safe in Europe, he is in physical pain and psychological anguish as a result of the barbaric way he was treated in prison.
His experience is typical of contemporary Ethiopia where state violence and human rights abuses are commonplace. For the last 27 years the country has been ruled by the TPLF dominated EPRDF coalition; a totalitarian regime supported and lauded by the west – principally America, Britain and to a lesser degree the European Union – as a model for developing countries. The government has suppressed the people, reigned through fear and attempted to divide communities along ancient ethnic lines.
Despite attempts to control the population, since late 2015 a powerful protest movement has swept the country. Huge demonstrations have been taking place in Oromya and Amhara (the largest regions) and after years of despair many sense that fundamental change is now a real possibility. Unable to respond to this democratic explosion, on 15th February Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (who many say is little more than a mouthpiece for the TPLF men in grey suits) announced his resignation. The following day, in a state of confusion and desperation, the regime imposed a six-month State of Emergency – the second such measure in the last two years.
The ruling party talks glibly of democracy and freedom, but there are scant signs of either in Ethiopia – no matter what ex-US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may say. On a recent visit Tillerson made a deluded statement that has angered many Ethiopians. “I want to acknowledge this voluntary transfer of power. We [the US] think that’s a very powerful symbol to the strength of the democratic process here in Ethiopia, and we think it’s important that the parliament, which has been elected by the Ethiopian people, decide who the next leadership be. That’s the way democracies should perform.” Well ex-Secretary of State, Ethiopia is not a democracy and legitimate elections have never taken place.
Regime Duplicity and Murder
The imposition of a SoE, which has been universally condemned, was essential according to Hirut Zemene, a senior Foreign Ministry official, to “ install law and order […] and continue the wide ranging political and democratic reform the government has started to undertake.” In an address to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, she claimed that, “considerable changes have taken place in Ethiopia with regard to promotion and protection of human rights,” and that, “the demand for better governance, wider democratic space, and effective delivery of basic services has not fallen on deaf ears but prompted extensive reform measures to address them.” It is unclear what these reforms are, or why a state of emergency, the very antithesis of freedom and democracy, is necessary for their introduction.
Do these regime representatives actually believe their own rhetoric? Nothing supports her fantastical comments, while there is a great deal of evidence that the ruling party’s violent methodology remains intact: Arrests and killing of civilians, a hallmark of TPLF rule, continues unabated; in Moyale, an Ethiopian town straddling the border with Kenya, ESAT news reports that “Agazi security forces (made up of ethnic Tigrayans, same as the ruling TPLF) killed at least 13 people in Moyale town, in the restive Oromo region of Southern Ethiopia; at least 25 others were wounded according to a report by the Oromia Media Network (OMN).”
Thousands have fled Mayole and are now displaced in Kenya. Local sources inside Ethiopia estimate up to 30,000 have been driven from their homes, many of which have been burnt to the ground. In the rush to escape livestock was left behind, whilst some animals were shot and killed by security personnel. According to a press release from The Kenyan Red Cross, who are distributing food and “non-food items alongside the provision of integrated medical outreaches, health education, among other support,” the “number of displaced persons from Ethiopia has risen to 8,592. Reports indicate that the number may keep increasing in the coming days.” The majority are women and children. “These include pregnant and lactating mothers, chronically ill persons, those abled differently and the elderly.”
Those displaced tell of indiscriminate killings by TPLF security forces, these accounts published in Today ng; “Mr Harsame Halakhe, a 68-year-old father of 19, said that when the soldiers raided their homes, they ordered them to lie down and shot some of them dead. Even places of worship, including mosques, became chambers of death. ‘People were killed in a mosque as we watched. We escaped death narrowly and fled with children and cattle,’ he said. Ms Kashure Guyo, 18, said soldiers attacked them on Saturday at Shawa-bare, a town three kilometres from the Kenya-Ethiopia border. She said the soldiers shot at anyone they came across. She was injured in the leg and hand as she fled. “They just came to the market and started shooting. We had to flee for our lives with bullets flying all over.”
The ruling party issued a statement saying the civilian deaths in Moyale were an accident – the result of ‘wrong intelligence’. Apparently the security forces were meant to be killing members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an opposition group branded terrorists by the TPLF, although the label has little meaning in Ethiopia, where it is applied to everyone and anyone who dissents or demands the observation of human rights.
This appalling incident is but the latest of such acts of state aggression. On 5th March three people were killed and two days earlier security forces killed “at least six” people. “Residents of Ambo, Metu and Guder, who spoke to ESAT say armed soldiers of Agazi were going door to door. They shot and killed those who refused orders, according to residents of the towns.” It’s hard to see how this and similar acts constitutes the ‘promotion and protection of human rights and good governance,’ which the government says it is working towards. Such words are simply propaganda churned out for the international audience; the majority of Ethiopians don’t believe a word the government utters.
The TPLF is in chaos; they have no idea how to respond to the popular movement that has engulfed the country and the legitimate demands of protestors and opposition groups. A new Prime Minister and spurious reforms will not silence the cries for change. The SoE is another antagonistic mistake: it should be lifted immediately, all political prisoners released and early general elections announced – a year hence would be reasonable, thus enabling all political parties to prepare properly. Simultaneously, greater unity is needed amongst the many opposition movements: ethnic/tribal concerns, affiliations and historic grievances need to be laid aside in favour of a unified vision of the country, one that celebrates cultural diversity but works to establish lasting unity. Such an approach would enrich the lives of all Ethiopians and create true stability in the country and the wider region. Unity is the way forward for Ethiopia and indeed the world – the greatest degree of unity with the broadest level of diversity.
Scan the mainstream media for news about Ethiopia and discover headline after headline describing the country’s economic successes: double-digit economic growth, foreign investment and aspirations to become a middle-income country by 2030. Ethiopia, we are told, is a functioning democracy, an African tiger economy and an important ally of Western governments.
According to such eminent sources as the BBC, CNN, the World Bank and the US State Department, Ethiopia is an African success story; a beacon of stability and growing prosperity in a region of dysfunctional states. Dig a little deeper, speak to Ethiopians inside the country or within the diaspora and a different, darker image surfaces: A violent picture of brutal state suppression, state corruption, widespread human rights violations and increasing levels of hardship as the cost of living escalates.
For a country to be regarded as broadly democratic a series of foundational pillars and interconnected principles are required to exist and be in operation: the observation of human rights, political pluralism, a flourishing independent media, an autonomous judiciary and police force, a vibrant civil society and a pervasive atmosphere of tolerance, inclusion and freedom. Where these are found to be absent so too is democracy.
The Ethiopian government – the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) maintains that it governs in accordance with democratic ideals: a brief overview of their methods however makes clear this is far from the truth. The EPRDF rules in a highly suppressive manner and has created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion throughout the country, employing a largely uneducated security apparatus to keep the increasingly mobilized populace in order, and a state-run judiciary to lock troublemakers away.
Political dissent is all but outlawed, and should protestors take to the streets they are shot at, beaten and/or arbitrarily arrested; opposition leaders are imprisoned, branded terrorists, intimidated and persecuted; all major media outlets as well as the sole telecommunications company are state owned or controlled — outspoken journalists are routinely jailed, trade unions are controlled by the government, and humanitarian aid, including food and fertilizer is distributed on a partisan basis, as are employment opportunities and university places. Refuse to pledge allegiance to the EPRDF and see that job offer withdrawn, the seeds, fertilizer and humanitarian support withheld.
In justification of this tyrannical rule, the government states that Ethiopia is an evolving democracy, that change takes time and that economic growth is their primary concern and not the annoying niceties of universal human rights law, much of which is written into the liberally worded, systematically ignored constitution. And whilst the EPRDF commits wide-ranging human rights violations, and acts of state terrorism, the country’s major donors, America, Britain and the European Union, remain virtually silent. Indeed their irresponsible actions go beyond mere silence — they promote the fictitious image of democracy and stability in Ethiopia, and in some cases conspire with the regime against opposition party activists, as many believe the UK has done in the case of Tadesse Kersmo, a British citizen and leading member of the opposition party Ginbot 7 – Movement for Unity and Democracy in Ethiopia. He was recently arrested at Heathrow on vague terrorism charges, as well as Andargachew Tsege another British citizen. Tsege was kidnapped while transiting through Sanaan airport in Yemen, and rendered to Ethiopia as part of a brutal crackdown on political opponents and civil rights activists. He has been imprisoned inside Ethiopia ever since, and the British government, to their utter shame, has said little and done nothing.
Development aid from these and other benefactors, including the World Bank, flows through and supports “a virtual one-party state with a deplorable human rights record,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) states in it’s aptly named report, Development without Freedom. The Ethiopian government’s “practices include jailing and silencing critics and media, enacting laws to undermine human rights activity, and hobbling the political opposition.”
In 1995 the then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi stated that the plan was for Ethiopia to “sustain current double-digit rates of growth for the next 15 years, so that by 2025 we become a middle income country.” And they would achieve this in a manner that would “allow us to have zero net carbon emissions by 2030.” Economic reforms and growth controlled by a highly centralized political system, mirroring, many have suggested, the methodology of China, is the EPRDF’s approach. It is largely Chinese money and organization that has built the new dams, roads and railways. Industrial parks have sprung up offering new jobs at increased wages, and the government plans to build another nine such facilities. But manufacturing is a tiny part of the country’s economy: almost 85% of the workforce is employed in agriculture, which accounts for 41% of GDP, coffee being the main export.
Certainly there have been some economic achievements over the past 25 years and the country’s carbon emissions during the period 1999 to 2012, have, according to the World Bank, remained static. This is indeed positive, as is the commitment to hydro, geo-thermal, wind and solar power. Overall unemployment has fallen slightly to 19.8% (from 2009 when it was 20.4%), but 50% of young people remain unemployed, and Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the famous ‘double-digit growth rates’, has been consistently high, averaging 11.35% in the years since 2010, according to Trading Economic, although this dropped to 8% in 2015/16. The UN relates that there has also been substantial progress in the achievement of Millennium Development Goals, particularly relating to those living in extreme poverty. This figure has fallen from 45% in 1995/6 to 30%.
Whilst these figures and the commitment of sustained investment are encouraging, no level of economic growth, green or otherwise, can justify violent, suppressive governance, as is being perpetrated in Ethiopia, and a nation’s GDP is only one measure of a country’s health, and a narrow one at that. It reveals nothing of the political landscape, the human rights conditions under which people are forced to live, the dire levels of poverty or where any new wealth has settled. Many claim ‘crony capitalism’ abounds in Ethiopia, that the principle beneficiaries of economic growth have been government members and close supporters and people from Tigray, the regional home of the majority of the government and senior members of the armed forces.
Desperate for change
With a population of almost 100 million, Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa after Nigeria. And with a population growth rate at a tad under 3% it’s growing apace (in the EU e.g. its 0.23%, the US 0.81%), meaning over the coming five years the country will have around 20 million more people to feed.
The median age is a mere 17 years of age (44% are under 14), life expectancy is just 67 years of age (158th out of 198 countries) and the country (according to the US State Department) is still regarded as one of the 10 poorest nations in the world, with some of the lowest per capita income figures on the planet – just $590 (World Bank): it’s hard to live on $49 a month anywhere. The combination of low income, low life expectancy and poor education levels – only 39% of adults are literate and 85% of rural youth don’t complete primary school – means that Ethiopia is ranked 174th (of 198 countries) on the United Nations Human Development Index.
None of this, plus other stark details of daily life, the inflated cost of living for example, increased taxes, or the lowest level of Internet access in Africa – just 3.7%, is featured in the country’s routinely championed GDP figures. Headline numbers which mean nothing to the majority of people: most can barely feed themselves and their families, are increasingly angry at the level of state suppression and live in fear of government retribution should they dare to express dissent. As HRW correctly states, “visitors and diplomats alike are impressed with the double-digit economic growth, the progress on development indicators, and the apparent political stability. But in many ways, this is a smokescreen: many Ethiopians live in fear.”
Fear that has kept the people silent and cowering for years, but, encouraged by movements elsewhere, long-held frustration and anger spilled over in 2015 and 2016, when large-scale demonstrations erupted. Unprecedented demonstrations that followed hard on the heel of elections in May 2015, which, despite widespread discontent with the ruling party saw the EPRDF miraculously win 100% of the seats in both the federal and regional parliaments.
Thousands marched; firstly in the Oromia region then in parts of Amhara (areas that constitute the two largest ethnic groups in the country), until in October, after scores of people were killed in a stampede at Bishoftu in Oromia, a State of Emergency was announced by the ruling regime. Extreme measures of control were contained in the clampdown that lasted for 10 months. Draconian rules, which undermined the rights of free expression and peaceful assembly, and prohibited any association with groups labeled terrorist organizations, such as independent media stations, ESAT TV and Radio and the Oromia Media Network. Break the rules and face up to five years in jail, where torture is commonplace.
HRW made clear that the Directive, which was lifted in August, went “far beyond what is permissible under international human rights law,” and “signaled a continuation of the militarized response” that characterized the government’s reaction to people’s legitimate grievances, peacefully expressed. Tens of thousands of protestors, including opposition party leaders, were arrested and detained without due process. Hundreds of people killed, many more beaten by security forces that act with total impunity. None of this is contained in the World Bank data, the IMF forecasts or the BBC news headlines, nor is the state terrorism taking place in the Ogaden region and elsewhere, where murder and false imprisonment of pastoralists is routine and women tell of multiple rapes at the hands of soldiers and the quasi Para-military group the Liyu Police.
Ethiopia desperately needs a renaissance, true development built on a firm foundation of human rights, inclusion and political pluralism. Human development that caters to the needs of all its citizens, not economic growth based on a prescribed outdated, unjust economic model, which inevitably benefits a few, strengthens inequality and fosters corruption.
Far from building a democratic society in which freedoms are observed and valued, an atmosphere of fear, suspicion, and inhibition has been cultivated by the EPRDF government, a brutal regime that is determined to maintain power, no matter the cost to the people of Ethiopia, the vast majority of whom are desperate for democratic change.
What began as a regional protest movement in November 2015, is in danger of becoming a fully-fledged armed uprising in Ethiopia.
Angered and exasperated by the governments intransigence and duplicity, small guerrilla groups made up of local armed people have formed in Amhara and elsewhere, and are conducting hit and run attacks on security forces. Fighting at the beginning of January in the North West region of Benishangul Gumuz saw 51 regime soldiers killed, ESAT News reported, and in the Amhara region a spate of incidents has occurred, notably a grenade attack on a hotel in Gondar and an explosion in Bahir-Dah.
In what appears to be an escalation in violence, in Belesa, an area north of Gondar, a firefight between ‘freedom fighters’, as they are calling themselves, and the military resulted in deaths on both sides. There have also been incidents in Afar, where people are suffering the effects of drought; two people were recently killed by security personnel, others arrested. The Afar Human Rights Organization told ESAT that the government has stationed up to 6000 troops in the region, which has heightened tensions and fuelled resentment.
Given the government’s obduracy, the troubling turn of events was perhaps to be expected. However, such developments do not bode well for stability in the country or the wider region, and enable the ruling regime to slander opposition groups as ‘terrorists’, and implement more extreme measures to clamp down on public assembly in the name of ‘national security’.
Until recently those calling for change had done so in a peaceful manner; security in the country – the security of the people – is threatened not by opposition groups demanding human rights be observed and the constitution be upheld, but by acts of State Terrorism, the real and pervasive menace in Ethiopia.
Oppressive State of Emergency
Oromia and Amhara are homelands to the country’s two biggest ethnic groups, together comprising around 65% of the population. Demonstrations began in Oromia: thousands took to the streets over a government scheme to expand Addis Ababa onto Oromo farmland (plans later dropped), and complaints that the Oromo people had been politically marginalised. Protests expanded into the Amhara region in July 2016, concerning the appropriation of fertile land in the region by the authorities in Tigray – a largely arid area.
The regime’s response has been consistently violent and has fuelled more protests, motivated more people to take part, and brought supressed anger towards the ruling EPRDF to the surface. Regional, issue-based actions, quickly turned into a nationwide protest movement calling for the ruling party, which many view as a dictatorship, to step down, and for democratic elections to be held.
Unwilling to enter into dialogue with opposition groups, and unable to contain the movement that swept through the country, in October 2016 the government imposed a six-month ‘State of Emergency’. This was necessary, the Prime Minister claimed, because, “we want to put an end to the damage that is being carried out against infrastructure projects, education institutions, health centers, administration and justice buildings,” and claimed, that “we put our citizens’ safety first”.
The extraordinary directive, which has dramatically increased tensions in the country, allows for even tighter restrictions to be applied – post an update on Facebook about the unrest and face five years imprisonment – and is further evidence of both the government’s resistance to reform and its disregard for the views of large sections of the population.
The directive places stifling restrictions on basic human rights, and as Human Rights Watch (HRW) states, goes “far beyond what is permissible under international law and signals an increased militarized response to the situation.”
Among the 31 Articles in the directive, ‘Communication instigating Protest and Unrest’ is banned, which includes using social media to organize public gatherings; so too is ‘Communication with Terrorist Groups’, this doesn’t mean the likes of ISIS, which would be reasonable, but relates to any individual or group who the regime themselves define as ‘terrorists’, i.e. anyone who publicly disagrees with them.
The independent radio/TV channel, ESAT (based in Europe and America) as well as Oromia Media meet the terrorist criteria and are high up the excluded list. Public assembly without authorization from the ‘Command Post’ is not allowed; there is even a ban on making certain gestures, “without permission”. Specifically crossing arms above the head to form an ‘X’, which has become a sign of national unity against the regime, and was bravely displayed by Ethiopian marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa, at the Rio Olympics (where he won a silver medal).
If anyone is found to have violated any of the draconian articles they can be arrested without charge and imprisoned without due process. The ruling regime, which repeatedly blames so called ‘outside forces’ for fueling the uprising – Eritrea and Egypt are cited – says the new laws will be used to coordinate the security forces against what it ambiguously calls “anti-peace elements”, that want to “destabilize the country”.
Shortly after the directive was passed, the government arrested “1,645 people”, the New York Times reported, of which an astonishing 1,220 “were described as ringleaders, the rest coordinators, suspects and bandits.”
All of this is taking place in what the ruling regime and their international benefactors laughably describe as a democracy. Ethiopia is not, nor has it even been a democratic country. The ruling EPRDF party, which, like the military, is dominated by men from the small Tigray region (6% of the population) in the North of the country, came to power in the traditional manner – by force; since its accession in 1992 it has stolen every ‘election’.
No party anywhere legitimately wins 100% of the parliamentary seats in an election, but the EPRDF, knowing their principle donors – the USA and UK – would sanction the result anyway, claimed to do so in 2015. The European Union, also a major benefactor, did, criticise the result; however, much to the fury of Ethiopians around the world, President Obama speaking after the whitewash, declared that the “elections put forward a democratically elected government.”
Since the start of the protests the Government has responded with force. Nobody knows the exact number of people killed, hundreds certainly (HRW say around 500), thousands possibly. Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, probably tortured, definitely mistreated; family members of protestors, journalists and opposition politicians, are intimidated and routinely persecuted. And whilst 10,000 people have recently been released, local groups estimate a further 70,000 remain incarcerated and the government has initiated a new wave of arrests in which young people have been specifically targeted.
Amongst the list of violen t state actions – none of which have been independently investigated – the incident at Bishoftu, which many Ethiopians describe as a massacre, stands out. On 2nd October millions of ethnic Oromos gathered to celebrate at the annual Irreecha cultural festival. There was a heavy, intimidating military presence including an army helicopter; anti-government chants broke out, people took to the stage and crossed their arms in unity. At this democratic act, security forces responded by firing live ammunition and teargas into the crowd.
The number of casualties varies depending on the source; the government would have us believe 55 people died, though local people and opposition groups claim 250 people were killed by security forces. The ruling regime makes it impossible to independently investigate such incidences or to verify those killed and injured, but HRW states that, “based on the information from witnesses and hospital staff…it is clear that the number of dead is much higher than government estimates.”
A week after the Nightmare at Bishoftu, the ruling party enforced its State of Emergency. Another ill-judged pronouncement that has entrenched divisions, strengthened resolve and plunged the country into deeper chaos. Such actions reveal a level of paranoia, and a failure to understand the impact of repressive rule. With every controlling violent action the Government takes, with every innocent person that it kills or maims, opposition spreads, resistance intensifies, resolve grows stronger.
The Ethiopian revolt comes after over two decades of rule by the EPRDF, a party whose approach, despite its democratic persona, has been intensely autocratic. Human rights declared in the liberally worded constitution are totally ignored: dissent is not allowed nor is political debate or regional secession – a major issue for the Ogaden region, which is under military control.
There is no independent media – it is all state owned or controlled, as is access to the Internet; journalists who express any criticism of the ruling regime are routinely arrested, and the only truly autonomous media group, ESAT is now classed as a terrorist organization. Add to this list the displacement of indigenous people to make way for international industrial farms; the partisan distribution of aid, employment opportunities and higher education places; the promulgation of ethnic politics in schools, plus the soaring cost of living, and a different, less polished Ethiopian picture begins to surface than the one painted by the regime and donor nations – benefactors who, by their silence and duplicity are complicit in the actions of the EPRDF government.
People have had enough of such injustices. Inhibited and contained for so long, they have now found the strength to demand their rights and stand up to the bully enthroned in Addis Ababa. The hope must be that change can be brought about by peaceful means and not descend into a bloody conflict. For this to happen the government needs to adopt a more conciliatory position and listen to the people’s legitimate concerns.
This unprecedented uprising may be held at bay for a time, restrained by force and unjust legislation, but people rightly sense this is the moment for change; they will no longer cower and be silenced for too much has been sacrificed by too many.
Millions of the poorest, most vulnerable people in Ethiopia are once again at risk of starvation. Elderly men and women, weak and desperate, wait for food and water; malnourished children lie dying; livestock, bones protruding, perish.
According to a statement issued by the World Food Programme (WFP) on 6th February, over 10 million of the most vulnerable require urgent humanitarian assistance. This figure was published in the Joint Government and Humanitarian Partners’ Document (HRD) in December last year, and does not take into account the seven and a half million people who annually receive support from Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme – PSNP, (established in 2005 to enable, “the rural poor facing chronic food insecurity to resist shocks, create assets and become food self- sufficient), taking the total in need to almost 18 million. The worst affected areas, according to USAID, are the pastoral areas of Afar and Ogaden Region – where people rely totally on their livestock – and the agricultural lowlands of East and West Haraghe – close to the capital Addis Ababa.
The WFP explain that the level of humanitarian need in Ethiopia has “tripled since early 2015…caused by successive harvest failures and widespread livestock deaths. Acute malnutrition has risen sharply, and one quarter of Ethiopia’s districts are now officially classified as facing a nutrition crisis.” With a shortage of food, families are forced to make children drop out of school to take up menial jobs to survive; such children, lacking a decent education, are unable to find well-paid jobs in adulthood, and so the spiral of exclusion, poverty and deprivation continues.
Poverty and Chronic Food Insecurity
Ethiopia is a large country (385,925 sq. miles), with a population of just over 101 million (13th largest in the world), which is growing at a yearly rate of around 2.5% (over double the world-wide average). Conflicts resulting in migration from the neighbouring states of Sudan, South Sudan, and Eritrea has brought an influx of refugees and asylum seekers, which according to USAID amount to more than 733,000.
More than half the population live on less than $1 a day; over 80% of the population live in rural areas (where birth-rates are highest), and work in agriculture, the majority being smallholder farmers who rely on the crops they grow to feed themselves and their families.
The people of Ethiopia have suffered chronic food insecurity for generations: the major reason, as is the case throughout the world, is poverty. Other causes are complex; some due to climate change, others result from the ruling regime’s policies. Action Aid (AA) reports that unequal trading systems are a factor. The Ethiopian government purchases crops from farmers at low, fixed prices. International organisations encourage Ethiopia to produce cash crops to export, which reduces the land available for growing domestic crops – yes, Ethiopia – where millions rely on food aid every year – exports food. The country’s top exports are Gold (21%) Coffee(19%), vegetables and oily seeds, followed closely by live animals and khat – a highly addictive narcotic.
The agricultural system itself is another major cause. Individuals do not own land; it is assigned, AA states, “according to the size of a family, and redistributed every few years.” This means that every time land is redistributed “it is divided between more people”, so each farmer gets less. The lack of investment, combined with the need for large yields from a small area, leads to soil degradation, resulting in poor harvests.
The Oakland Institute (OI) in their report on the country’s land sales makes clear that drought (15 droughts since 1965), state-fuelled armed conflict, as well as “inappropriate government policies (land tenure, access to markets, etc.), rapid population growth and lack of infrastructure,” add to the list of causes.
Land grabbing and hunger
Since 2008 the EPRDF government has been leasing huge amounts of fertile agricultural land to so-called “foreign investors’’: international corporations, domestic agents, fund managers, and nations anxious to secure their own future food security.
Detailed research by the OI in 2011 estimated that “3,619,509ha of land have been transferred to investors, although the actual number may be higher.” Incentives to investors include exemption from import taxes, income taxes and custom duties as well as ‘easy access to credit’; the Ethiopian Development Bank will contribute up to 70% towards land costs – which are extremely cheap to begin with.
Land is sold with the understanding that it is totally cleared of everything – including people, by government forces. Indigenous communities, who have lived on the same land for generations are displaced and herded into camps – the universally condemned ‘Villagization’ programme. OI state that over a million people have been affected, and that, “the loss of farmland, the degradation and destruction of natural resources, and the reduction of water supplies are expected to result in the loss of livelihoods of affected communities.” Despite this, the ruling regime maintains that the land sold – all land is state owned (with formal and informal land rights) – is unused, and is being leased off ‘without affecting farmers’.
Industrial size farms have been built and foodstuffs (not eaten by the native population) grown for export, – back to their homeland – India for example. Very little, if any, of the food grown is going into the Ethiopian food market, and there are attractive government incentives in place to ‘ensure that food production is exported, providing foreign exchange for the country at the expense of local food supplies’. Oakland found that these commercial agricultural investments, by national and multi-national companies “increase rates of food insecurity” in Ethiopia, and that, despite “endemic poverty and food insecurity, there are no mechanisms in place to ensure that these investments contribute to improved food security.” OI makes clear that in addition to these land sales, ‘state-fuelled armed conflict’ is an underlying cause of food insecurity. One of the worst affected areas in the current famine is the Ogaden (or Somali) region in the Southeast corner of the country. The majority ethnic Somali population has been under military control since 1992. People fleeing the area report large-scale arrests of civilians, torture, rape and murder, as well as the destruction of land, cattle and property, and confiscation of humanitarian aid by government military and Para-military forces. With international media and most humanitarian aid groups denied access to the region since 2007, independent information on the conflict and the impact and extent of the current famine is in short supply.
The ruling regime, that appears to be more concerned with its international image than the suffering of those in need, has presented an ambiguous, contradictory picture of the famine.
In a recent interview Arkebe OQubay, the ‘special adviser to the Prime-Minister’ told Bloomberg that the countries greatest achievement since 1984, was that “we are being able to feed ourselves. In 1984 we were struggling to feed our 40 million-population, but now we have 95 million population and we have food security.” This is pure fantasy: Ethiopia (according to most recent, 2012 figures) remains the largest recipient of food aid in the world, and millions are today at risk of starvation.
Shortly after this claim from his ‘special adviser’, the Prime Minister himself, Hailemariam Desalegn appealed for help in supplying humanitarian aid to the millions in need, sayin g, ESAT News report; “it is the responsibility of the international community to intervene before things get out of hand.”
The EPRDF government owns most of the media inside the country, exerts tight controls on any marginally ‘independent’ publications and seeks to restrict and condition reporting by international media. Interviewed by foreign news agencies, officials smugly reject claims of widespread human rights violations and paint themselves as a democratic government bringing economic prosperity, opportunity and stability to the country: A fabricated image, far from the truth.
With the government more or less controlling the flow of news about the situation in the drought-hit areas, detailed, open and honest information is hard to come by. The sole independent Ethiopian broadcaster ESAT News, which has reliable contacts in the country, carries the account of an aid worker who recently spent time in the worst affected regions – Afar in the North East and Ogaden in the South East. He reports that, “the famine was already taking its toll on humans and livestock………[and] that the situation in places near Jijiga and Shinile in Somali [or Ogaden] region was very serious.” He saw, children whose skins were fused with their bones at feeding centers in the regions,” and at a health center in Afdem (in central east part of the Ogaden), met “hunger stricken bony children.”
The government proudly boasts that the Ethiopian economy has been growing, by between 7% and 8% (UK GOV figures) for almost a decade, that malnutrition and famine are no longer possible and that within a decade Ethiopia will be a middle ranking power. Nevertheless Ethiopia finds itself ranked 174th out of 188 countries in the UN Human Development Index (inequality adjusted). This suggests that whatever ‘growth’ the country has achieved, it has not changed the lives of the majority of Ethiopians, and, as is evidenced by the millions suffering from hunger and malnutrition, has clearly not eradicated food insecurity – which should be the first priority of the government. Donor response
The scale of the current crisis has led the UNOHCA to call for $1.4 billion of funding to supply emergency food and water, to ‘in excess of 15 million’ people. So far donors have been slow to come forward, prompting Save the Children’s Ethiopia Director to describe the reaction as “the worst international response to a drought that he has seen.”
Around 45% of the total has been donated, including $200 million from the ruling regime. However the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) says it has less than a third of the money it needs to keep the aid coming.
America has offered some small-scale additional support, sending, CNN reports, “20 disaster experts to provide technical assistance, conduct humanitarian assessments and coordinate relief efforts with partners on the ground,” as well as “$4 million in maize and wheat seed for more than 226,000 households.” This level of assistance, whilst welcome, is nowhere near enough, and it seems the motive is far from pure. “Climate-related threats pose an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows and potential conflicts over basic resources like food and water,” said USAID spokesman Ben Edwards. It seems the US is concerned about ‘stability’ in Ethiopia and the wider region, not human welfare; fearing that a lack of food and work may drive young people into the hands of extremist groups, and encourage migration, adding to the huge refugee flows.
The UNOCHA estimates the total current cost of worldwide humanitarian demand to be $21 billion. With Syria on fire, a huge refugee crisis in Europe, urgent demand in Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to ongoing international development commitments (including Ethiopia), donor nation resources (and attention) is turned elsewhere.
The need for sharing
It is the poor who die of hunger related causes throughout the world; it is the poorest people in rural Ethiopia – who constitute some of the poorest people on Earth – who are currently at risk. Every day 35,000 children in the world die of starvation and its attendant causes, but we live in a world of plenty; there is no need for a single man, woman, or child, – in Ethiopia or anywhere else, to die because they do not have enough food or water to survive. Oxfam report that, the world now “produces 17% more food per person today than 30 years ago. But close to a billion people go to sleep hungry every night.” And they all live, more or less, in seven countries: India, China, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Pakistan.
Food, like water, shelter, access to education and health-care is a human right, and is enshrined as such in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Like all natural resources it should be shared equitably amongst the people of the world, so that nobody, anywhere – specifically the famine-affected regions of Ethiopia, where so many are once again in dire need – experiences food-insecurity and dies of hunger.
After being frightened into silence for over two decades, the people of Ethiopia are finding their voice and calling for fundamental political change.
Thousands have been taking to the streets in recent weeks and months to peacefully protest against the ruling party. Expressing their collective anger at the injustices and widespread human rights violations taking place throughout the country and calling for democratic elections.
The People are Rising Up
The people have awakened, and overcoming fear and historic differences are beginning to unite. The two main ethnic groups are rallying under a common cause: freedom, justice, and the observation of their constitutionally acknowledged human rights. And the two major opposition parties, the Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) and Patriotic Ginbot 7 for Unity and Democracy (PG7) have formed an alliance in the fight to overthrow the incumbent regime, and are seeking to bring other opposition groups together.
The protests are dominated by people under 25 – 30 years of age; young people, connected to the world via social media who are no longer prepared to live in fear, as Seyoum Teshome, a university lecturer in central Ethiopia told the New York Times, “The whole youth is protesting. A generation is protesting.”
At the moment demonstrations are largely confined to Oromia and Ahmara, but as confidence grows there is every possibility that other regions could become involved, swelling numbers of protestors, overwhelming security forces.
When there is unity, and consistent, peaceful collective action, governments are eventually forced to listen (as has been demonstrated elsewhere in the world), and the attention of the international community is garnered. Ethiopia receives between a third and half of its federal budget in various aid packages from international donors; irresponsible donor countries which see Ethiopia as an ally in the so-called ‘war on terror’, a stable country in a region of instability – the illusion of stability maintained by keeping the populace suppressed.
To their shame utter the countries shame primary donors – America, Britain and the European Union – have repeatedly ignored the cries of the people, and turned a blind eye to human rights abuses perpetrated by the ruling party, which in many cases constitute state terrorism. It is neglect bordering on complicity.
This is a historic moment that could result in the overthrow of the government – a day longed for by the majority of Ethiopians – and usher in what activists and opposition groups have been campaigning for; democratic fair elections, and open political debate. None of which, despite the false pronouncements of Barack Obama and the like, have taken place under the EPRDF. Indeed Ethiopia has never known democracy.
It is essential that protestors remain largely peaceful, in spite of the government’s brutal response – and it has been brutal – and this does not turn into an ethnic conflict, with Tigrayan military forces loyal to the government pitched against groups from Oromo, Amhara, Ogaden and elsewhere. To take up arms on any significant scale would not only risk large numbers of casualties and national chaos, but would also allow the regime to propagate false claims of terrorism, attribute the uprising to destabilising influences and ignore the demands of protestors and opposition parties.
The government owns the sole telecommunications company as well as virtually all media outlets in the country, and seeks in every way possible to condition reporting by international media. They regularly close down the Internet in an attempt to make it difficult for protestors to communicate, and will no doubt attempt to manipulate the narrative surrounding the protests. But given the coverage flooding social media – much of which shows so-called ‘security personnel’ indiscriminately beating protestors – as well as first hand accounts, they will not be able to suppress or contaminate the truth.
Government’s Brutal Reaction
Ethiopia is made up of dozens of tribes and a variety of ethnic groups. The people of Oromo and Amhara (at 35% and 27% respectively of the population) make up the majority, and rightly feel they have been ignored and marginalised by the Tigray (6% of the population) TPLF dominated government – who also run the military. And it is in Oromia and the city of Gondar in Amhara that the protests have concentrated in recent weeks and months. Protests that the government has responded to with predictable violence.
It is impossible to state the exact numbers of protestors killed by government forces over the last week or two; Al Jazeera reports that “between 48 to 50 protesters were killed in Oromia,” but the satellite broadcaster, ESAT News, says that “several sources revealed that in the last few days alone [up to 10th August] at least 130 people have been murdered in the Oromo region…while 70 others have been massacred in Amhara.” No doubt the actual figure is a great deal higher than either of these.
Residents of the city of Bahir-Dar told The Guardian that, “soldiers fired live rounds at protesters. Hospitals have been filled by dead and wounded victims.” Thousands have been arrested, and ESAT reports, security forces have been demanding ransom payments from the families of young people who were detained after protesting in the capital Addis Ababa.
Despite the fact that freedom of assembly is clearly spelt out in the Ethiopian constitution (Article 30), the Prime Minister, Haile Mariam Dessalegn, announced a blanket ban on demonstrations, which, he said, “threaten national unity”. He called on the police – who need no encouragement to behave like thugs – to use all means at their disposal to stop protests occurring. The Communications Minister Getachew Reda chipped in, and called the protests illegal. All of which is irrelevant and of course misses the point completely.
Shocked and appalled at the ruling regime’s violent reaction to the protests, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged “the government to allow access for international observers into the affected regions to be able to establish what exactly transpired.” The spokesperson described information coming out of Amhara and Ormoia as “extremely alarming”, saying there had been “no genuine attempt at ensuring accountability” since reports of abuses by security forces began emerging back in December. The government’s arrogant, not to say cowardly reply was to reject the request; Getachew Reda, without a whiff of irony, told Al Jazeera that “the UN was entitled to its opinion but the government of Ethiopia was responsible for the safety of its own people.” Perhaps if Ethiopia’s main benefactors began to do their donor duty and apply pressure to the regime, they would be more conciliatory.
Refusing to engage with opposition groups and believing totally in the power of force and fear to control populations, dictatorships like the EPRDF instinctively respond to calls for freedom and justice by intensifying the very suppressive measures that are driving the popular uprising: The days of such totalitarian regime’s is fast coming to an end, it is a disintegrating body moving towards certain extinction.
Unstoppable Momentum for Change
For years the Ethiopian government and the country’s major donors have been propagating the lie that democracy and social development were flowering inside the country. As the people march that myth is now beginning to totally unravel.
The plain truth is that the EPRDF government, in power since 1991, is a vicious, undemocratic regime that has systematically suppressed the population for the last twenty-five years. There is no freedom of expression, the judiciary is a puppet of the state, political opposition leaders as well as journalists and anyone who openly expresses dissent areimprisoned (often tortured), their families persecuted. Humanitarian aid, employment and higher education opportunities are distributed on a partisan basis; and what economic growth there has been (dramatically downgraded by the IMF recently) has largely flowed into the coffers of government officials and supporters.
A social protest movement has been building with growing intensity since the 2010 general election (which like the ones before it, and since, was stolen by the EPRDF), and now the momentum appears to be unstoppable.
No matter how many courageous protesters the police and military shoot – and they will no doubt continue killing – arrest and intimidate, this time there is a real chance that the people will not be put down; they will no longer be denied their rights. They sense, as large numbers of people do everywhere, that an energy of change is sweeping through the world, that they are in tune with the times, and that this is the moment to unite and act.
Beginning in Oromia in March 2014 and intensified last November, large demonstrations were staged in opposition to government plans to expand the capital Addis Ababa onto agricultural land in Oromia. They began in Ginchi, a small town southwest of the capital, and spread to over 400 locations throughout the 17 zones of Oromia. At the same time demonstrators were marching in Gondar demanding, amongst other things, academic rights.
The ERDF reacted by deploying armed police and military that used “excessive and lethal force against largely peaceful protests.” Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that over 400 innocent people were killed; ESAT, however, puts the number even higher, saying that “at least 600 protesters were killed in the last nine months” in the Oromia region.
The protests in Oromia and Amhara have been ignited by specific issues – territory, land use, the stolen 2015 elections and the EPRD’s paranoid undemocratic hold on power – however these are not the underlying causes, but triggers, a series of final straws laid on top of two decades of violent suppression and injustice. Such violations are not just confined to these major regions, but are experienced more or less throughout the country; in Gambella, and the Ogaden region for example, where all manner of State-sponsored atrocities have been taking place.
The EPRDF government has attempted to rule Ethiopia through intimidation and fear. Such violent, crude methods will only succeed for so long: eventually the people will unite and revolt, as they are now doing, and all strength to their cause, which is wholly just.
Usually the 11th September, or 1st of Meskerem on the Ethiopian calendar, is a day of celebration. It is the Ethiopian new-year. However, this year there was a distinct shortage of happy gatherings or collective jubilation to mark the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, either inside the country or amongst the diaspora.
The country is in crisis and the majority of Ethiopians believe there is little to celebrate, instead many people spent the day in quiet reflection, dressed in black. Prayers were said at church services in Ethiopia and abroad for those who have been killed protesting (a constitutional right), by security forces of the ruling regime.
As the movement for democratic change grows, the government continues to try to put it down by violent means. Security forces indiscriminately shoot peaceful protestors in the streets, beat and intimidate others. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says they receive “daily accounts of killings and arbitrary arrests”, and estimate that up to 500 protestors have been killed since November 2015, although many inside the country put the figure higher.
Thousands have been arrested and falsely imprisoned; young people – who are leading the charge for democracy – are being specifically targeted. Torture is widespread in Ethiopian prisons, and for those detainees who have expressed political dissent, it is virtually guaranteed. Witnesses have told ESAT News (an independent broadcaster based in Europe and America) that some detained protestors have died as the result of torture, and are buried in the prison grounds.
The ruling EPRDF party (in power since 1991) was not democratically elected, and has remained in power by stealing one election after another. They demonstrate no concern for democratic principles or human rights, and like all dictatorships, will do anything to remain in power. They seem unable to grasp the severity of the current situation, or understand the feeling among the population, the vast majority of whom despise the regime and are desperate for fundamental change. Protestors are calling on the government to step down, and for real and honest democratic elections to be held.
Government ministers and spokespersons repeatedly claim that ‘outside forces’, and ‘anti peace elements’ (whatever they may be) are behind the popular uprising. This of course is nothing more than propaganda; complete lies promulgated to appease the EPRDF’s benefactors and maintain the false image of a democratic government, concerned with national and regional stability and the wellbeing of its citizens. They refuse to enter into meaningful discussions with opposition leaders and activists, and have sanctioned a policy of violence, which they presumably hope will frighten the people into collective submission once more. But the democratic genie is out of the bottle and the regimes heavy-handed, not to say criminal actions, are only serving to inflame the situation.
In an action that reveals their crude and bullish approach, over a thousand regime soldiers have now been stationed in Bahir-Dar in the Amhara region, where a dignified ‘stay-at-home’ protest has been taking place for weeks. Such an intimidating presence will further antagonise local people, and strengthen already existing anger. Troops were transported on Ethiopia Airlines commercial planes on 1st September, and are now receiving their deadly orders from the Chief of Staff, Samora Yunis, who has set up base in the city. The Internet (which is controlled by the government) in the region remains largely shut down, and locals suspect telephone calls are being monitored.
Freedom and justice are like healthy seeds – once planted there growth and realization is inevitable, it is a question of when they blossom, not if. The desire for these basic human rights, so long denied, is now firmly rooted in the hearts and minds of Ethiopians throughout the country. People from various ethnic, tribal and religious groups are coming together, and despite the governments attempts to divide communities, a growing sense of unity and shared purpose is evolving, strengthening the movement for change. There is a danger however that the anger felt towards the regime, which is dominated by men from the Tigray region, will spill over into hatred for all people from Tigray, fuelling an ethnic conflict. This would be a terrible mistake and should be avoided at all costs. Unity of all ethnic and tribal groups is the key for peaceful change in the country, and the signs are encouraging.
The people of Oromia and Amhara, who together constitute the majority of the population, are combining their efforts; two opposition parties – the Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) and Patriotic Ginbot 7 for Unity and Democracy (PG7) have formed an alliance, and on the sacred Islamic day of Eid-Al-Adha, the Ethiopian Muslim Arbitration Committee “called on all Ethiopians to stand in unison regardless of ethnic and religious background in the struggle to restore justice in the country”, report ESAT News. The committee went on to make clear that no amount of government force would ‘stop the people from reclaiming their freedom’.
Predictably the government responded to this call for national solidarity with violence, attacking and detaining members of the Laity, as well as Muslims in Dire Dawa and Aweday in Eastern Ethiopia. The EPRDF’s sole response to calls for freedom and justice is to try to silence by any means, those making such democratic demands.
What started as a regional dispute in the region of Oromia (central Ethiopia) is turning into a nationwide movement that is increasingly well coordinated and determined. Throughout the country different groups have different grievances, but one enemy – the EPRDF government. Inter-related democratic fires have been erupting up and down the land as groups protest against a range of unjust government policies; unconstitutional policies that have been violently enforced for over two decades.
In the town of Konso in southwest Ethiopia, over 50,000 residents signed a petition calling for self-determination – a constitutional right. The regional council dismissed the request without discussion. Insulted and angered the people went on strike, causing government offices and businesses to close down. Security forces were brought in and, ESAT News report, killed scores of people, forcibly displaced up to 300 Amharas whose village homes were set on fire, and attempted to “incite ethnic violence” between Amharas and local indigenous groups. Frightened for their lives “over 4,000 [Amhara] people have left Konso”, with many more planning to migrate to neighboring regions.
Protests over territorial land have been taking place in the city of Gondar in the North–West of the country for months. There is a huge military presence in the area now and residents had been ordered to hand over any guns held for self-defense. However far from complying with the decree to disarm, furious locals attacked soldiers and gun battles ensued. In the Lower-Omo Valley (south-west), people from the Bodi and Mursi tribes united blocking roads in protest at the government’s land-grab policy. Large tracts of ancestral land are being sold off by the regime to national and international companies, causing the displacement of thousands of indigenous people. In the second incident to take place in a prison in a matter of weeks, a fire broke out at the high security Qilinto prison on the outskirts of the capital Addis Ababa. Under cover of the fire special-forces personnel, who were brought in to replace prison guards, killed a number of inmates. Whilst the BBC carries the (government influenced) figure of 23 dead, other sources claim military snipers shot at least 60 prisoners. Opposition party members, journalists and protestors are amongst those held in Qilinto.
It took the authorities over a week to release the bodies of those killed; a week in which the names of victims were also withheld, causing intentional anguish to families and friends of those detained.
The Ethiopian diaspora has also been active, protesting throughout the western world. And in what appears to have been a coordinated action, Ethiopians living in London, Frankfurt and Stockholm stormed the Ethiopian Embassies. Protestors took down the (current) national standard, which bears the regimes emblem, replaced it with the countries original flag and called for an end to the killing and arrests taking place in the country.
Change is coming
Ethiopia is regularly cited as an African success story and receives huge support from western donors – both financial and political. The countries primary donors are the USA, Britain and the European Union, all of who have allowed the ruling EPRDF to violate human rights on a colossal scale. The ‘allies’ – of the government not the people – to their utter shame, have (with their virtual silence) continued to support the regime as it slays innocent people in the streets. The US, it is said, has raised “grave concerns” about the use of force against protesters; ‘concerns’, which unless backed up with actions to influence the regime, are simply hollow words, insincerely spoken.
All pressure needs to be brought to bear on the Ethiopia government to stop the violence, listen to the people and enter into serious dialogue with opposition groups. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights request for access to affected areas of the country was denied, and leading human rights groups including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders have written to the U.N. Human Rights Council, calling for an immediate halt to “excessive” use of force by Ethiopian security forces against protestors.
The ruling party of Ethiopia will no doubt ignore such reasonable calls and continue with their violent response, they seem unable to react in any other way. But whatever the EPRDF may do, the movement for change is sweeping through the country and the struggle for freedom will go on. The fear that hung over the population for so long is at last loosing its grip; people sense that the momentum is with them, and that with consistent, united action, change is a real possibility.
Division and fear are the age-old tools of tyrants; unity and peaceful coordinated action the most powerful weapons against them.
Frightened and downtrodden for so long, there are positive signs that the Ethiopian people are beginning to come together, – peacefully uniting in their anger at the ruling party: – the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF); a paranoid brutal regime, that suppresses the people, is guilty of wide-ranging human rights violations, and has systematically encouraged ethnic divisions and rivalries.
Anti-government protests have been growing over the last few years, and in recent months large-scale demonstrations have taken place throughout Oromia; also in Gondar, where university students have been demonstrating, demanding, academic rights, freedom, democracy and justice.
Tribal groups, particularly the peoples of Amhara and Oromia (the largest ethnic group – accounting for 35% of the population) have come together: thousands have been marching, running, sitting, shouting and screaming.
Government slays Peaceful Protestors
The EPRDF’s response to the demonstrator’s democratic gall has been crudely predictable: brand protestors ‘anti-peace forces’ and terrorists, then shoot, arrest and imprison them.
Whilst Human Rights Watch (HRW) say security forces have killed at least 140 people, independent broadcaster ESAT news estimate, the number to be over 200. The government, which human rights groups state, authorised the police and military to use “excessive force, including…live ammunition against protesters, among them children as young as 12”, has so far admitted 22 fatalities.
ESAT report at least 1,500 have been injured and to date over 5,000 arrested (in Oromia alone), including Bekele Gerba, deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), Oromia’s largest legally registered political party and his son. Senior members of the OFC, as well as members of other opposition parties and their families, have also been imprisoned; scores more people are harassed, their homes searched. Acting on behalf of an unaccountable government, security forces are “on a mission of wanton destruction of human lives and properties”.
State plan cancelled by protest
The under-reported protests in Gondar (in the Amhara region) were triggered by two separate, but related issues: government cession of an expanse of fertile land – up to 1,600 square km, to Sudan under new demarcation proposals; and the widespread belief that state forces are responsible for a mass killing that took place in November 2015 against the people of Qimant. Leaders of The Gondar Union Association told ESAT news they believed the murders were “committed by TPLF [government] cadres, who then blamed it on the Amhara people to incite violence among the two groups.”
In Oromia, where protests began in April 2014 throughout the region, it was the government’s plan to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, onto agricultural land: hundreds of smallholders would have been displaced, villages destroyed, livelihoods shattered. Following months of demonstrations the government has announced, that the plan is to be scrapped. The official statement virtually dismissed the protestor’s opposition, claiming it was “based on a simple misunderstanding” created by a “lack of transparency”.
Activists reacted with derision to the government’s condescension, and vowed to continue protesting unless their longstanding grievances of political exclusion are addressed. Sit-ins and peaceful demonstrations have continued in various locations across Oromo, evoking more violence from the ruling party’s henchmen.
The Oromo people see the government’s violence as part of a systematic attempt to oppress and marginalise them. As Amnesty International (AI) states in its report ‘Because I am Oromo’: “thousands of Oromo people have been subjected to unlawful killings, torture and enforced disappearance.” People without any political affiliation are arrested on suspicion that they do not support the government – “between 2011 and 2014, at least 5,000 Oromos have been arrested”. Amnesty asserts that recent regime violence was “the latest and bloodiest in a long pattern of suppression”. This description of government intimidation and brutality will sound familiar to most Ethiopians.
Whilst it was the ‘master-plan’ for Addis Ababa that brought thousands onto the streets, anger and discontent has been fermenting throughout the country for years. Feelings fuelled by restrictions on fundamental freedoms, and human rights violations, many of which can only be described as State Terrorism.
The EPRDF have been in power for 25 long, and for many people, painful years. The ruling party was formed from the four armed groups that seized power in May 1991, including the now dominant Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Despite the theatre of national “elections” being staged every five years since 1995, the EPRDF has never been elected. Last year’s sham saw them take all 547 parliamentary seats. In order to convince a suspicious, if largely indifferent watching world (the EU refused to send a team of observers to legitimise proceedings) one might have expected a token seat or two for an opposition party, but the government decided they could steal every one and get away with it; their arrogance confirming their guilt.
The Tigrean ethnic group makes up a mere 6% of the countries 95 million population, but the TPLF (or Weyane as they are commonly called) and their cohorts dominate the government, the senior military, the judiciary, and, according to Genocide Watch, intend “to internally colonize the country”. A claim that the ethnic Somalis living in the Ogaden region, as well as the people of Amhara and Oromia, all of whom are subjected to appalling levels of persecution, would agree with.
Undemocratic, repressive regime
The Government claims to adhere to democracy, but says the introduction of democratic principles will take time. ‘Outsiders’ (critics such as HRW, Amnesty International and the EU) ‘don’t understand’ the country: thus Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn pretends: Ethiopia “is a fledgling democracy – a house in the making”.
Well it is not a house being built on any recognizable democratic foundations: human rights, civil society, justice and freedom for example. Indeed there is no evidence of democracy actual or potential on the government’s part in Ethiopia. On the contrary, despite a liberally-worded constitution, the ruling party tramples on human rights, uses violence and fear to suppress the people and governs in a highly centralised manner: Opposition parties are ignored, their leaders often imprisoned or forced to live abroad; the government, Amnesty International (AI) states, routinely uses “arbitrary arrest and detention, often without charge, to suppress suggestions of dissent in many parts of the country.”
The judiciary is a puppet, as is the “investigative branch of the police”, Amnesty records, making it impossible “to receive a fair hearing in politically motivated trials”, or any other case for that matter. Federal and regional security services operate with “near total impunity” and are “responsible for violations throughout the country, including…the use of excessive force, torture and extrajudicial executions.”
There is no media freedom; virtually all press, television and radio outlets are state-owned, as is the sole telecommunications company – allowing unfettered surveillance of the Internet. The only independent broadcaster is internationally based ESAT; the Government routinely blocks its satellite signal, and employee family members who live in Ethiopia are persecuted, imprisoned, their homes ransacked.
Journalists who challenge the government are intimidated, arrested or forced abroad. Ethiopia is the fourth most censored country in the world (after Eritrea, North Korea and Saudi Arabia) according to The Committee to Protect Journalists, and “the third worst jailer of journalists on the African continent”. The widely criticized, conveniently vague “2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation” – used to silence journalists – and “The Charities and Societies Proclamation”, make up the government’s principle legislative weapons of suppression, which are wielded without restraint.
The vast majority of Ethiopian people – domestic and expatriate – are desperate for change, freedom, justice and adherence to human rights; liberties that the EPRDF have total contempt for: their primary concern is manifestly holding onto power, generating wealth for themselves, and their cohorts, and ensuring no space for political debate, dissent or democratic development.
Without a functioning electoral system or independent media, and given government hostility to open dialogue with opposition parties and community activists, there are only two options available for the discontented majority. An armed uprising against the EPRDF – and there are many loud voices advocating this – or the more positive alternative: peaceful, consistent, well-organized activism, building on the huge demonstrations in Oromia and Gondar, uniting the people and driving an unstoppable momentum for change.
Ethiopia is a richly diverse country, composed of dozens of tribal groups speaking a variety of languages and dialects. Traditions and cultures may vary, but the needs and aspirations of the people are the same, as are their grievances and fears. Tolerance and understanding of differences, cooperation and shared objectives could build a powerful coalition, establishing a platform for true democracy to take root in a country that has never known it.
People can only be trapped under a cloak of suppression for so long, eventually they must and will rise up. Throughout the world there is a movement for change: for freedom, justice and participatory democracy, in which the 99% have a voice. The recent demonstrations in Ethiopia show that the people are at last beginning to unite and are part of this collective cry.
A shadow of fear and panic is creeping through villages in North Eastern, central and Southern Ethiopia, where once again famine staks the land. The seasonal rains that usually fall between June and September did not arrive, and now, with the ‘dry season’ here the already severe situation can only deteriorate.
According to the UN, Ethiopia “is experiencing its worst drought in 30 years;” in some areas the poorest, most vulnerable infants are already dying at a rate of two per day.
Around “350,000 children are in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition,” UNICEF relates, and up to 8.2 million people (out of a population of 95 million) urgently require relief assistance. This number is expected to rise to a staggering 15 million by early 2016.
A villager near Wallo in the north of the country, told the BBC, “although this drought has just started, it’s going to get worse…It’s already really severe. Some people have died of hunger, others are sick in their beds – right now it’s just like 1984,” – when almost half a million people starved to death.
The drought is caused by the El Nino weather system, and has resulted in a 90% reduction in crop yields; the famine, though, is brought about by various factors, some of which are the result of poor governance and State neglect.
El Nino is characterised by warming sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, causing “extremes such as scorching weather in some regions of the globe and heavy rains and flooding in others,” Reuter reports. Scientists say it has been with us for millennia, but is intensifying and becoming more frequent due to global climate change; last year’s phenomenon is said to be one of the worst on record.
Government duplicity and deceit
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs say that the EPRDF government has “earmarked $192 [£127] million for emergency food and other assistance, diverting money from projects such as road construction,” and IRIN relate that $163 million has been pledged by the ‘international community’. Whilst this is to be welcomed, it’s nowhere near enough – according to aid agencies $600 million is needed.
The amount set aside by the EPRDF inadequate and there is growing anger at the way food aid is being distributed, with some people inside the country and within the diaspora making allegations of State corruption. ESAT news spoke to a farmer from Raya Qobo in Afar who claims that, “Government officials tell us that aid is coming soon; however no aid has so far been delivered and we are pondering to migrate to towns.” The ruling regime “has gone to the extent of kidnapping people who enquire about the food aid even at this critical time.”
Partisan food distribution is consistent with the manner in which all humanitarian support, as well as employment opportunities, homes, medicine and university places are given. Those who openly oppose the EPRDF receiving little or nothing – small-holder farmers denied fertilizer; families refused food; students forbidden university places; men and women not allowed to work.
Not only are people on the verge of starvation, farmers, whose crops have failed due to the lack of rainfall, are being hounded by government thugs for loan repayments (taken to buy fertilizer that in all likelihood should have been given as aid) they cannot now make. ESAT news reports that, “local government officials jail farmers who could not pay their loans”.
Consumed with vain ideals of regional status, economic development (despite some growth, the country ranks as the third poorest in the world) and a distorted national image, the ruling party – a brutal dictatorship, despite democratic pretensions – lacks the political will and compassionate honesty to deal with the situation openly. They have stopped people in Addis Ababa and elsewhere collecting funds for famine victims, and, consistent with past denials, Deputy Prime Minister, Demeke Mekonen, commenting on a BBC programme discussing the crisis, is reported to have told a local journalist that “there is no such thing as famine in Ethiopia these days”. The BBC news coverage was also condemned by the Ethiopian Embassy in London, which contradicted the UN’s information, that children are dying from malnutrition in drought affected areas, and said the BBC report was ‘sensational’.
The government’s propaganda is most commonly churned out by communications minister Getachew Reda, who, IRIN relates, has stated that, “there is no one that we know of that has lost their life as a result of the drought-induced crisis”. Well tell that to Bertukan Ali, whose five-year old son died “when the family ran out of food because the rains did not come,” the BBC record.
Such dishonesty is reminiscent of 2012, when Prime-Minister, Meles Zenawi, died, and the government kept it hidden for months; or when thousands were dying of starvation in 1973 but Emperor Halie Selassie denied there was famine in the country, or in 1984 when the military ruler Mengistu Hailemariam attempted to conceal the starving millions from the world.
Irrespective of the era or the rulers, duplicity is it seems a characteristic of the State; so too is regime apathy, neglect and corruption.
The EPRDF will no doubt continue to try to control and manipulate the media coverage of the crisis – local, national and international; allowing only restricted access to affected areas of the country, and silencing aid organisations in an attempt to lessen the ‘political’ impact of what they see as negative images of the country. Stark images of parched land; dried up wells and dead cattle; malnourished children crying with hunger, and desperate, anxious men and women waiting for food aid, praying for help and support.
A history of State fed famine
Ethiopia has been plagued by famine going back to the 16th century. In recent times it struck the country in 1973 (40,000 starved in the North East and around 55,000 died in the Ogaden region), and, most notoriously between 1983 – 85, when areas of Northern Ethiopia and Eritrea where affected in what is regarded as the worst famine to hit the country in a century.
Although the United Nations’ estimate that one million people died in the ‘Great Famine’ (’83 – ’85), scholar Alex De Waal states that the number of fatalities was between 400,000-500,000. Millions of others were made destitute, lives shattered. Whilst climatic conditions resulting in drought are widely blamed, many believe the famine was caused, in large part, by Government policies.
In his highly detailed report for Africa Watch – Evil Days: Thirty Years of War and Famine in Ethiopia, De Waal makes clear that “one consequence of the government’s military policies particularly during the early 1980’s was famine.” Widespread drought occurred “months after the famine was already under way”, and that “information on food production and prices gives an account which contradicts important elements of the drought hypothesis.”
The key factors explaining the famine (many of which are similarly taking place today, such as selling off land to international corporations for industrial farming) De Waal explains were “the counter-insurgency strategy adopted by the government [much like the State violence currently taking place in Amhara, Oromia, Gambella and the Ogaden], and restrictions and burdens imposed on the population of non-insurgent areas in the name of social transformation.” As well as the government’s “repeated military offensives, which destroyed the crops in surplus producing areas, and with them much rural employment.”
The Mengistu government bombed market places, which stopped “rural trade and exchange”, hindering the redistribution of surplus foods. Other government-made causes of the famine where the “punitively high delivery quotas of staple grains to the Agricultural Marketing Corporation and heavy taxation,” plus the fact that the majority of food relief was channeled though the “government side”, this despite them only having access to a minority of the “famine stricken population” in the north.
De Waal estimates that over half of the 400,000 who died in the famine can be attributed to “human rights abuses causing the famine to come earlier and strike harder, and extend further than would otherwise have been the case.” Human rights abuses that are just as acute, if not more so, under the present regime and are perhaps even more widespread.
Planning for famine
Although the Ethiopian government has made some provision to mitigate the impact of poor harvests, such as establishing a sort of Social Security net so poorer farmers can access funds for public works such as digging water holes, many have been critical of the EPRDF’s response, and their inability to foresee and plan for the current crisis.
Given the country’s exposure to drought, as well as the intensifying, ongoing threat caused by climate change and El Nino weather patterns, long term plans need to be put in place to mitigate the effects.
The answer to famine is not increased levels of food aid, but strategic planning to enable communities to survive the impact of extreme weather, made more acute by climate change. As Thabani Maphosa, World Vision’s Vice President of Food Assistance Programmes, states, “food assistance interventions must be designed to empower poor people to build productive assets such as water harvesting tanks, dams and irrigation projects,” as well as strengthening and consolidating small holder-farming – not allowing foreign companies to build industrial-sized farms and grow crops for export only (which is going on apace in Ethiopia) – in order to help them become self-sufficient in the long term.
The first duty of any government is the safety and wellbeing of its citizens: to this end much more should and could have been done to safeguard the people of Ethiopia against the risk of low yields and resulting food poverty. But the priorities of the ruling regime are not (and they consistently prove this), the security, freedom and happiness of the population, but control – often violent, holding onto power and the accumulation of personal wealth.
Donor countries also have a long-term responsibility to the people they purport to support; to this end the governments of Britain, America and the European Union (who collectively give over half of Ethiopia’s annual federal budget in various aid packages) must ensure that the Ethiopian government, whoever it may be, put in place visionary plans to mitigate the impact of any future drought, which, with climate change a fact for us all, will undoubtedly take place.
Every five years the Ethiopian people are invited by the ruling party to take part in a democratic pantomime called ‘General Elections’. Sunday 24th May saw the latest production take to the national stage.
With most opposition party leaders either in prison or abroad, the populace living under a suffocating blanket of fear, and the ruling party having total control over the media, the election result was a foregone conclusion. The European Union, which had observed the 2005 and 2010 elections, refused to send a delegation this time, maintaining their presence would legitimise the farce, and give credibility to the government.
With most ballots counted, the National Election Board of Ethiopia announced the incumbent party to have ‘won’ all “442 seats declared [from a total of 547], leaving the opposition empty-handed…the remaining 105 seats are yet to be announced.” ‘Won’ is not really an accurate description of the election result; as the chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress, Merera Gudina, put it, this “was not an election, it was an organised armed robbery”.
The days leading up to the election saw a regimented display of state arrogance and paranoia, as the government deployed huge numbers of camouflaged security personnel and tanks onto the streets of Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar. For months beforehand anyone suspected of political dissent had been arrested and imprisoned; fabricated charges drawn up with extreme sentencing for the courts, which operate as an extension of the government, to dutifully enforce.
Despite the ruling party’s claims to the contrary, this was not a democratic election and Ethiopia is not, nor has it ever been a democracy.
The country is governed by a brutal dictatorship in the form of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) that has been in power since 1991, when they violently overthrew the repressive Derg regime. The EPRDF speaks generously of democracy and freedom, but they act in violation of democratic principles, trample on universal human rights, ignore international law, and violently control the people.
Independent international bodies and financial donors, from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to the European Union and the US State Department, are well aware of the nature and methods of the EPRDF, which is one of the most repressive regimes in Africa. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that Ethiopia is “the fourth most heavily censored country in the World”, with more journalists forced to leave the country last year than anywhere except Iran.
In the lead up to the recent election, CPJ found that, “the state systematically cracked down on the country’s remaining independent publications through the arrests of journalists and intimidation of printing and distribution companies. Filing lawsuits against editors and forcing publishers to cease production.” Various draconian laws are used to gag the media and stifle dissent, the Anti Terrorist Proclamation being the most common weapon deployed against anyone who dares speak out against the government, which rules through fear, and yet, riddled with guilt as they must surely be, seem themselves fearful.
Democracy and Development
The government proudly talks a great deal about economic development, which it believes to be more important than democracy, human rights and the rule of law, all of which are absent in the country. And yes, during the past decade the country has seen economic development, with between 4% and 9% (depending on who you believe) GDP growth per annum achieved, the CIA states “through government-led infrastructure expansion and commercial agriculture development.” It is growth, however, that depends, the Oakland Institute make clear, on “state force and the denial of human and civil rights.”
GDP figures are only one indicator of a country’s progress, and a very narrow one at that. The broader Ethiopian picture, beyond the debatable statistics, paints a less rosy image:
Around 50% of Ethiopia’s federal budget is met by various aid packages, totaling $3.5 billion annually. Making it “the world’s second-largest recipient of total external assistance, after Indonesia” (excluding war torn nations, Afghanistan and Iraq), Human Rights Watch states.The country remains 173rd (of 187 countries) in the UN Human Development Index and is one of the poorest nations in the world, with, the CIA says, over 39% of the population living below the low poverty line of $1.25 a day (the World Bank worldwide poverty line is $2 a day) – many Ethiopians question this figure and would put the number in dire need much higher.
Per capita income is among the lowest in the world and less than half the rest of sub-Sahara Africa, averaging, according to the World Bank, “$470 (£287)”. This statistic is also questionable, as Dr.Daniel Teferra (Professor of Economics, Emeritus at Ferris State University,) explains, “In 2008-2011 income per capita (after inflation), was only $131,” contrary to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) 2013 report, which put the figure at $320.
The cost of living has risen sharply (current inflation is around 8%) and, as The Guardian reports, “growing economic inequality threatens to undermine the political stability and popular legitimacy that a developmental state acutely needs. Who benefits from economic growth is a much-contested issue in contemporary Ethiopia.” Not amongst the majority of Ethiopians it isn’t: they know very well who the winners are. As ever it is the 1%, who sit in the seats of power, and have the education and the funds to capitalize on foreign investment and development opportunities.
Some of those suffering as a result of the government’s development policies are the 1.5 million threatened with ‘relocation’ as their land is taken – or ‘grabbed’ from them. Leveled and turned into industrial-sized farms by foreign multinationals which grow crops, not for local people, but for consumers in their home countries – India or China for example.
Indigenous people cleared from their land are violently herded into camps under the government’s universally criticised “Villagization” program, which is causing the erosion of ancient lifestyles, “increased food insecurity, destruction of livelihoods, and the loss of cultural heritage”, relates the Oakland Institute. Any resistance is met with a wooden baton or the butt or bullet of a rifle; reports of beatings, torture and rape by security forces are widespread. No compensation is paid to the affected people, who are abandoned in camps with no essential services, such as water, health care and education facilities – all of which are promised by the EPRDF in their hollow development rhetoric.
An Insult to the People
Economic development is not democracy, and whilst development is clearly essential to address the dire levels of poverty in Ethiopia, it needs to be democratic, sustainable development. First and foremost Human Rights must be observed, and there must be participation, and consultation, which – despite the Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s duplicitous comments to Al Jazeera that, “we make our people to be part and parcel of all the [developmental] engagements,”– never happens.
The Prime Minister describes Ethiopia as a “fledgling democracy”, and says the government is “on the right track in democratizing the country”. Nonsense. Democracy is rooted in the observation of Human Rights, freedom of expression, the rule of law and social participation. None of these values are currently to be found in Ethiopia.
Not only is the EPRDF universally denying the people their fundamental human rights, in many areas they are committing acts of state terrorism that amount to crimes against humanity.
The recent election was an insult to the people of Ethiopia, who are being intimidated, abused and suppressed by a brutal, arrogant regime that talks the democratic talk, but acts in violation of all democratic ideals.
The first duty of any government is to protect its citizens from harm, at home and abroad – no matter who they are, or where they are. This is the primary moral and constitutional responsibility of the EPRDF government of Ethiopia, which, as with a vast array of such obligations, they fail to meet, or even acknowledge.
In recent weeks a plethora of atrocities have befallen Ethiopians abroad: in Libya 30 Ethiopian Christians (whom we know of) were murdered (their beheadings shown on video) by demented, Islamic jihadists, marching under a black flag of hate and violence; hundreds of others shiver in fear of being discovered. Earlier this month Ethiopians (together with other African migrants) living in South Africa were dragged through the streets by gangs: burnt alive, beaten, their homes and businesses destroyed, their children attacked. Thousands of Ethiopian men and women are trapped and frightened inside Yemen as that country descends into civil war; hundreds more are amongst the thousands of desperate men and women trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe from Libya. And in the Middle East and Gulf States (MENA), Ethiopian girls, working as domestic workers, are routinely mistreated by employers; many are sexually abused, most suffer psychological violence, all are trapped into domestic slavery.
To each and every one of those Ethiopians suffering upon foreign soil, the ruling regime has offered little or no support. Not content with suppressing the people at home, violating their basic human rights and denying them freedom and justice, the EPRDF government ignores their cries for help. Unlike other nation states (Malaya, Sri Lanka, the Phillipines, for example) they provide no consular support to the vulnerable young workers in the Gulf countries; have failed to organise any major airlifts for those hiding in Yemen, have done nothing to protect migrants in Durban and Johannesburg; and have taken no significant action, save prime ministerial platitudes, to safeguard Ethiopian Christians in Libya.
The government’s neglect is shameful but not surprising, and has enraged the people, who took to the streets of Addis Ababa recently in huge numbers in a powerful display of collective grief and anger. Their peaceful protest was met – again not surprisingly, given the governments intolerance of public assembly – by baton wielding security personnel, who beat men, women and girls indiscriminately and broke up the demonstrations. According to constitutional principle demonstrations are allowed, but in practice they are all but outlawed, as are all types of free expression. The regime is paranoid, as all such totalitarian groups are.
Neither Home nor Country
The need for a quiet centre from where to face the world is common to us all. For many that haven of security is our country of birth, it comforts and reassures us, holds us gently in its sure embrace, protecting us from the uncertainties and dangers of life. Home is where we feel safe, secure and loved. A wooden hut or a Modernist mansion, home is the refuge we turn to in times of difficulty.
For the thousands of Ethiopian migrants abroad, they have neither home nor country. Abandoned by their government they are homeless, vulnerable and alone; they make easy prey for criminals: the traffickers and the gangs of rapists, kidnappers, jihadists and thugs who patrol the pathways along which the migrants walk.
To the untrained eye, the economy of Ethiopia appears to be developing, and the country gives the appearance of stability in a region of almost total instability. But this is a misleading image of development and hides deep-seated inequalities, endemic corruption, widespread bitterness and simmering fury towards the ruling party. Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world: it is ranked 173rd out of 187 countries in the UN human development index, and unprecedented numbers of its citizens are migrating in search of opportunity and freedom.
They travel north to Egypt and Libya – hoping to make it to Europe; south to Kenya and South Africa; east to Yemen, where some stay, others continue to try to crawl into Saudi Arabia. Many head to the other Gulf states, Lebanon, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates; countries with virtually no domestic labour laws, endemic racism and sexism, where naïve, uneducated young girls from rural Ethiopia enter into contracts (the Kafala system) with employers that trap them into domestic servitude, and, for many, sexual and psychological torture. Over two thirds make the journey out of the country illegally, entrusting their lives to human traffickers.
They migrate for one of two reasons, economical or political, or should we say humanitarian, for it is the violations of their basic human rights that drive many from their homeland.
Many see no way to build a decent life for themselves and their families: others, particularly journalists and political activists see no hope of freedom from tyranny and are persecuted by the security forces for holding views that differ from the government. For them Libya, Yemen or the Mediterranean are no more dangerous than Ethiopia, Islamic state no greater a threat than the police or military, and so they too step onto the migrant road of uncertainty, in search of a new home in a more peaceful place; a place where there are economic opportunities, better education, and where democracy, justice and freedom exist. All of which, despite the duplicitous, political rhetoric from the EPRDF government, are totally absent in Ethiopia.
The regime systematically violates fundamental human rights, silences all dissenting voices and rules the country in a suppressive violent fashion which is causing untold suffering to millions of people. The upcoming May election, contrary to US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s ignorant, misjudged and widely criticised comments (that “Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair and credible and open and inclusive”), is a hollow piece of democratic theatre; a total sham, with no credibility whatsoever. The result, as everyone in the country and amongst the diaspora knows, is a forgone conclusion.
The government of Ethiopia neglects and suppresses the people at home, ignores and abandons them abroad. They are in violation of a plethora of international covenants, as well as their own constitution, but perhaps more fundamentally they are in violation of their primary moral duty: To care for and protect their citizens, wherever they face intimidation, violence and abuse.