Politics, Africa

Ethiopian government silent as hate crimes flourish

At least 4 Mosques set ablaze; more than 150 Muslim shops, properties vandalized, robbed since last December

Sadik Kedir Abdu  | 27.01.2020 - Update : 29.01.2020
Ethiopian government silent as hate crimes flourish A screenshot of live torching of a mosque in northern Ethiopia (Source- The Ethiopian Muslims Affairs Supreme Council)


In Ethiopia, an environment of fear prevails amid ongoing religious and ethnic conflicts.

Political experts and residents of the East African country told Anadolu Agency the government has remained silent amid a spate of hate crimes.

Idris Yeba, a political analyst living in Turkey’s capital Ankara, believes the government is busy focusing on secondary issues when its primary function should be maintaining law and order.

"Rather than rebuilding institutions and addressing popular demand, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has been busy dismantling party institutions and recentralizing state power," Idris said. 

On Jan. 21, unknown attackers vandalized and destroyed Muslim shops and properties and spray-painted hate slogans on parked cars. Yet the media and government officials neither denounced it nor took legal action.

The hate crime took place during the celebration of Ethiopian epiphany after a group of people refused to allow Christians to hang flags on a mosque's walls a day before the holiday.

Yared Getachew -- a resident of Addis Ababa who once lived in Harar, the city which saw the recent hate crime -- told Anadolu Agency that Harar was a city known for peaceful and harmonious co-existence between Muslims and Christians.

"Things are becoming worse, especially after the change," he said, referring to the recent action.

"The elite is playing at the expense of the community," he said, adding people had been living peacefully in spite of their religious and ethnic differences.

Deterioration amid positive reforms

Neima Salih, 25, an Ethiopian citizen, said religion was the “red line” that the community respected for years.

"Respect towards religion was very impressive, but it is deteriorating these days," she said, noting these horrible ethnic and religious conflicts are creating frustration despite the positive reforms.

Ethiopia was dubbed a nation exhibiting democratization during the past year amid the astonishing reforms brought by Abiy, the country’s Nobel laureate prime minister.

The release of detained journalists and politicians, peace diplomacy with neighboring countries and a more inclusive Cabinet reshuffle in terms of gender, religion and ethnicity were among the major reforms he initiated after coming to office in 2018.

But since last December, following the torching of mosques in the Christian-dominated northern state of Amhara, religious extremism has become a major factor that have damaged the positive view towards the country’s recent political reforms.

On Dec. 20, at least four mosques were set ablaze and more than 150 Muslim shops and properties were robbed or damaged, according to a report by the Ethiopian Muslim Affairs Supreme Council.

Christians also claim that several churches have been torched by “Muslim extremists”.

On Jan. 23, Ethiopia’s Council of Ministers in its 78th regular session passed several bills to be approved by parliament, including one to tackle the organized crime that has recently been spreading throughout the country.

Stressing that this is the nature of transition, such problems could be addressed by restructuring the whole security system of the country, according to a politician who requested anonymity.

Mobilized by religious 'elites'

Ustaz Bedru Hussein, an acclaimed religious preacher and public figure, underlined that these hate crimes were the work of long efforts by so-called religious leaders.

Hussain is one of the 17 leaders who represented Ethiopian Muslims in 2011 to request the government for solutions of long mourned problems of them through different ways, including a face-to-face meeting. He was imprisoned for over five years due to false allegations.

Referring to the hate crimes in the Amhara region and vandalization in Harar, he told Anadolu Agency that such kind of hate crimes were deliberately inculcated by some Islamophobic government officials and preachers.

"There are spread of hate speeches lined with orchestrated Islamophobic videos in churches, leading some emotional youth act upon it.” Hussein said.

He also said there is a plan to mobilize worldwide fundraising coming Friday to support those who lost their properties due to these actions.

Aba Michael Gebru, an Ethiopian cleric serving at a church in Istanbul also told Anadolu Agency that many discourteous individuals want to destroy the solidarity between Muslims and Christians in the country. 

Remembering multiple scenarios that demonstrated Muslim-Christian unity, he underlined that the recent turmoil were deliberate actions of those who are seeking political gains.

"We are a model to any other country in our tolerance and harmonious life, but recent problems are inculcated to avert this centuries-old solidarity for a tiny political gain,"he said, stressing the government is making a mistake by being silent over such unacceptable issues.

Legacy of authoritarian regime

Habib Yesuf, a constitutional law expert, said Ethiopia is facing the aftermath of an authoritarian regime before government reform.

Referring to the current ethnic and religious tensions, he said that could be seen as the hangover of 30 years of an authoritarian regime added to the mismanagement by the current administration.

He told Anadolu Agency that real constitutional federalism was not implemented in the country, adding federalism is being used as a means of dividing the citizens.

"Ethnic and religious identity have been mobilized for political advantage against minorities which tend to turn everything into an ethnic and religious issue, increasing chaos and polarization," he added.

Habib, pursuing a doctoral degree in the field of constitutional law, underlines that the politics of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) are irreconcilable with the ideals of human rights and democracy as it is clearly stated in the constitution.

"The EPRDF has never been applying federalism as is stipulated in the federal supreme constitution. Citation of federalism and human rights here and there was only rhetoric," he said.

Ethiopia, home to at least 80 ethnic groups and four religions, is facing decades-long debate over a prejudiced political and bureaucratic structure.

According to experts, Ethiopia has two political idealists which are believed to be the cause of such problems.

Idris said one of them is the ethno-nationalists, which he said are those who claim to be conservative nationalists but are accused of focusing on one religion and cultural standards.

The other is the federalist team, which is supposed to believe in self-determination and the proper inclusivity of all ethnic groups in Ethiopia. However, they are also ascribed with having separatist ideas.

Idris said the future of Ethiopia depends on an open discussion and a common understanding of these main political idealists.

The Ethiopian government officials did not respond to Anadolu Agency's request for comments.

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