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Ethiopia's Persecution of Ethnic-Christians Threatens East Africa

Carlos Testa

For centuries, Ethiopia has played a major role in the political and cultural landscape of Africa. From having one of the longest reigning kingdoms on the African continent, playing an influential role in the socioeconomics of both the Middle East and Europe, to being the second nation in the world to accept Christianity, Ethiopia’s soil practically oozes history. However, a recent civil war between the current government and multiple ethnic groups in the region continues to ravage the nation, displacing thousands of people. Moreso, these acts of violence are part of a longer standing struggle between a multitude of ethnic and religious groups in the region. With seemingly no end in sight to the ongoing turmoil, the ball lies in the US’ court to bring peace back into the region. The US, and to a greater extent NATO, should provide humanitarian aid and conduct peacekeeping operations to help end the instability and ethnic-religous violence that’s tearing Ethiopia apart.

Ethiopia’s history is deeply intertwined with religion — particularly, Christianity. Dating back to the fourth century with King Ezana of Axum, great kings have played a role in the beginning of the nation’s rise in African affairs. By being the first state to fight wars alongside famous powers like the Byzantine empire and other European states during the Crusades, Ethiopia took full advantage of influencing geopolitics, even amidst the European conquests of Africa. Its culture has also impacted its role in religion. The Christian community in Ethiopia, widely known as the Tewahedo community, has given rise to beautiful art and history, and beholds some of the most precious sites in Christendom. In fact, many 4th century East African churches contain artifacts that verify sites like the tomb of the early Apostle St. Matthew, and even the Ark of the Covenant, under Ethiopia’s possession. Christianity’s long-standing acceptance in Ethiopia has been a driving force in the state’s rise as a political and cultural powerhouse, giving it the ability to contest many great powers in history. However, the government’s recent abandonment of these ideals preludes a new era of unwarranted suffering and persecution for Orthodox Christians. Recent years have shown that Ethiopian Christians in the country have faced horrific crimes, so much so that the UN stated the atrocities have finally reached the threshold to be recognized as genocide. And what has the government done to help protect one of their most historic people groups? Nothing; in fact, it even cooperates with their persecutors. This is very likely due to a mix of government corruption and warring ethnic groups such as Islamic extremists entering the country, who are fleeing from the ongoing refugee crisis in Somalia. Civil unrest has its firm grip on this region of the world, and it only continues to create more violence. On the afternoon of November 28th, 2020, members of the Eritrean Defense Force entered the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Within two days, the group killed and tortured an estimated 400 unarmed civilians; many of whom were held captive in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, which was later used to bury those who died during the massacre. This tragedy is only one of the many others that have taken place against Ethiopian Christians within the past decade. These onslaughts have also led to destruction of historical sites, including ruins of ancient cities and renowned pilgrimage sites for Christians around the world. In a similar incident, in February 2023, another group was inexplicably killed by Ethiopian forces that were on a “peacekeeping

mission.” In almost every case, Ethiopian Christians are perpetrated — not by their own fault, but because of pre-existing ethnic tensions and their unwillingness to shed other blood. While the chaos throughout the region continues, only a handful of nations have called out the atrocities that have been made against this group. Despite their lack of representation, the families and members of these communities have taken to the streets in opposition to their government's blatant crimes. In response, the government has only ignored the outcries for justice or placed crackdown laws to limit the number of protests in public, which includes cutting off foreign media outlets that would allow for information about these events from being publicized. Only recently has this made US headlines, as the last widely-read piece was published in January 2021. Ethiopia has been a founding member of the United Nations, and once upheld the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, with US support, Ethiopia has the opportunity to be a leading power that can help stabilize the region. Though the current regime has been known to be corrupt, the most tangible way to make a difference in the region is to be more intentional in our approach to foreign affairs. By working towards this, it may coax Ethiopia out of any western skepticism and strengthen ties, encouraging it to uphold its former commitment to human rights, as are we. The US shares the obligation, as a fellow member of the United Nations, to hold its other members accountable for their crimes. And if Ethiopia ceases its persecution of Orthodox Christians, then additional steps can be made to help the state and its people through their troubles. The US can administer aid by providing resources like food, water, infrastructure, and temporary medical care to displaced Ethiopians while also conducting NATO-sanctioned peacekeeping operations in order to quell inter-ethnic tensions. This policy would be based on the condition that aid would continue to be provided only if Ethiopia upholds its commitment to all of its people, which is a considerable source of leverage. The US would gain in helping in Ethiopia due to the role it plays in giving humanitarian aid to victims of the ongoing refugee crisis in Somalia, as many fled after their government’s collapse to corruption and military coups. With stabilization, the spread of stronger democratic values can commence, and the region can be developed, giving an economic and diplomatic boon to the entire free world with the untapped resources and strategic attributes Ethiopia can provide. A betterment between US-Ethiopian relations can also allow the US to achieve stronger ties with neighboring countries, as other powers like China have moved into Africa to offer underdeveloped countries a chance to gain influence over the continent, and in turn, recruited them to their causes. The current US-Ethiopia issue parallels many other parts of the world because in order to continue to gain influence in a region, the US must present a powerful and positive force that can contribute to the territory’s benefit. Such as any part of the world, if the US has a state to act as a “foothold” in a region, it can have a greater range of influence and prevent more atrocities, even while thousands of miles away. During the Cold War, the US’ foothold was Germany. In the Middle East, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait are our allies. In Asia: Japan and South Korea; in Latin America: Columbia and Mexico. If we cannot find a stable African state that will help ensure the protection of universal rights, the civil wars and genocide will continue. Ethiopia has the potential to become a beacon of light in a chaotic region of the world — all it may take to ignite it to extend Uncle Sam's long arm of support.

References Africanews. (2023, February 1). 15 foreign media outlets banned in Ethiopia. Africanews. Africa, R. M. (2023, February 6). Three Christians Killed by Government Forces in Ethiopia. International Christian Concern. ethiopia/ Bryan, J. (2019, November 4). Ethiopians Protest Church Burnings as Ethnic Tensions Rise. News & Reporting. ce-tewahedo-meskel-sidama.html Desta, A. (2020, February 25). Ethiopian Christians Endure Persecution. Providence. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (2023, April 16). Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Encyclopædia Britannica. Ethiopia: Eritrean troops’ massacre of hundreds of Axum civilians may amount to crime against humanity. Amnesty International. (2021, February 26). ndreds-of-axum-civilians-may-amount-to-crime-against-humanity/ Ethiopia: No Let Up in Crackdown on Protests. Human Rights Watch. (2016, February 21).

For the Martyrs: Support Persecuted Christians | For The Martyrs. (2021, September 8). For the Martyrs. Nderitu, A. W. (2021, July 30). Statement by Alice Wairimu Nderitu, United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide, on the continued deterioration of the situation in Ethiopia - ethiopia. UN. n-in-Ethiopia.pdf U.S. Department of State. (2022, June 2). 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom: Ethiopia. U.S. Department of State. United Nations. (n.d.). The United Nations in Ethiopia. United Nations. %20member,and%20programmes%20and%20specialized%20agencies. USA for UNHCR. (2022, October 19). Somalia Refugee Crisis Explained. USA for UNHCR.


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