Ethiopia is descending further into chaos as citizens of Tigrayan descent are being forced into detention centers. To identify them, the police are relying on surnames, driver’s licenses, identification cards, and how people speak Ethiopia’s national language (Dahir 2021). Contributing to this ethnic cleansing is hate speech found online—as well as how the Prime Minister of Ethiopia is waging a war against the entire region of Tigray (Dahir 2021; Dahir & Walsh 2020). To completely understand how Ethiopia has arrived at this point, we need to look at the history of the Tigrayans.
In the 1970s, Ethiopia was ruled by a Marxist military dictatorship. Tigrayans were long marginalized by the government, and a rebel group was born, called T.P.L.F., or Tigray People’s Liberation Front (Dahir & Walsh 2020). By the 1990s this rebel group had completely taken over the government by leading an alliance with other groups dissatisfied with the current government at the time. From 1991 to 2012 the head of the T.P.L.F. projected the image of an increasingly stable country in an otherwise volatile region. However, the country was ruled with a tight fist: political opponents of the T.P.L.F. were systematically repressed, free speech was curtailed, and torture was common within detention centers (Dahir & Walsh 2020). The authoritarian government was overthrown largely due to protests and this resulted in the current Prime Minister getting elected.
The Prime Minister began his rule by purging Tigrayan officials from the government, charging a few with human rights offenses, and creating a new party that excluded Tigrayans completely. War broke out at the beginning of 2020 between this party and the Tigrayan forces, and the Prime Minister has requested that all authority figures within the T.P.L.F. be captured or killed (Dahir & Walsh 2020). The T.P.L.F. was stripped of its official title as a party and labeled as a terrorist organization in the spring of 2020. The T.P.L.F. is the Prime Minister’s largest threat, and with the victories of the opposition, a state of emergency was declared on November 2. This state of emergency allowed for the current government to sweep towns and extract Tigrayans regardless of their affiliation with the rebellion.
Police officers need only have reasonable suspicion that someone is “cooperating” with terrorists in order to send them to a detention center. The repression extends to other groups; 10 members of the United Nations have been arrested and detained as well. All sides of this conflict have been denounced for committing massacres, widespread sexual assault, and ethnic cleansing. The civil war has rendered both sides villainous in some way, and many are scared to leave their homes or even to speak their native language. Innocent Tigrayans are destroying any evidence of their ethnicity, including music and documents. If someone does not pick up the phone it is feared that they have been detained, and others are afraid to even make the phone call, lest it becomes evidence to detain them as well.
Conditions in the detention centers are deplorable. There is no proper bedding, bathrooms, or food. Police stations are full and makeshift detention centers have been set up in prisons, warehouses, and youth recreational buildings. Relatives fear approaching the prisons to find their loved ones because it will mean they are brought in as well. Getting a lawyer is not an option (Dahir 2021).
Hate speech online by journalists and activists are calling for more Tigrayans to be placed in these “concentration camps.” The Prime Minister is calling for the burial of the opposition. Twitter has taken down Ethiopia as a trending topic due to a fear of making more violence occur (Dahir 2021).
When a country engages in ethnic cleansing, it means the worst for the democracy of that country. The situation in Ethiopia for the Tigrayans is going from bad to worse, from being a minority to being hunted down. Freedom House’s report on Ethiopia scores the country at a 9/40 for political rights, and 13/60 for civil liberties. With an overall score of 24/100, Freedom House ranks Ethiopia as not free. The reasoning for Ethiopia being not free can be easily ascertained from the ethnic cleansing of the Tigrayan people, but there are other issues such as illegally won elections, complete lack of due process rights, no protection of the innocents in the war, and there is no freedom of movement, as many roads are blocked off (Freedom House, 2021). Therefore, in this fight to eliminate the Tigrayans, everyone is suffering. The World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators do not show Ethiopia as doing any better than Freedom House’s assessment. Worst of all their scores is the rank for Political Stability and Absence of Violence or Terrorism. Overall, Ethiopia scores within the 6th percentile of Governance Indicators, meaning that this country is struggling more than 96% of the world (World Bank, 2020). According to R. Dahl (1998), a country needs to meet 6 criteria in order to be classified as a democracy. These include effective participation, voting equality, enlightened understanding, control of the agenda, the inclusion of adults, and inclusive citizenship. The last election has been canceled, so there is no effective participation or voting quality. If the Tigrayan people as an entire demographic are being arrested, they are not allowed to vote, meaning there is no voting equality nor inclusive citizenship, or inclusion of adults. Control of the agenda means there would be a chance for everyone to choose (Dahl, 1998). It appears that no one is allowed to choose, and there is no enlightened understanding given to the citizens of Ethiopia for what their Prime Minister has been choosing for his people (Dahir, 2021).
Dahir, A. L. (2021, November 17). Mass detentions of civilians fan ‘climate of fear’ in Ethiopia. The New York Times. Retrieved November 18, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/17/world/africa/ethiopia-tigrayan-detention.html.
Dahir, A. L., & Walsh, D. (2020, November 5). Why is Ethiopia at war with itself? The New York Times. Retrieved November 18, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/article/ethiopia-tigray-conflict-explained.html.
Dahl, Robert A. (1998). On Democracy. Yale University Press. pp. 37–38.
Freedom House. (2021). Ethiopia: Freedom in the world 2021 country report. Freedom House. Retrieved December 1, 2021, from https://freedomhouse.org/country/ethiopia/freedom-world/2021.
World Bank. (2020). Worldwide Governance Indicators. WGI-Interactive Data Access. Retrieved December 1, 2021, from https://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/Home/Reports.