By Graham Peebles
Ethiopia is hailed as a shining example of African economic growth.
Major donors and followers of the International Monetary Fund / World Bank development model (an imposed ideological vision that measures everything in terms of a nation’s GDP) see the country as an island of potential prosperity and stability in a region of Failed states and violent conflict.
“Economic performance in recent years has been solid, with average double-digit economic growth since 2004,” says the IMF country report. The economic model (a hybrid of Western capitalism and Chinese control) adopted by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government is a centralized system that denies democracy – consultation and participation in “development plans” are unheard of. – and ignores and violates human rights. rights.
A staunch ally in the “war on terror,” Ethiopia is a strategically convenient base from which the United States launches its lethal Reaper drones over Yemen and Somalia, carrying out “targeted assassinations” against perceived threats. to “national security” and the American way of life. In return, perhaps, irresponsible benefactors – Britain, America and the European Union – are turning a blind eye and turning a deaf ear to the human rights buses perpetrated across the country by the highly dictatorship. repressive enthroned in Addis Ababa.
Although there are state-fueled fires in various parts of the country, arguably the worst atrocities are taking place in the Ogaden, where Genocide Watch said the Ethiopian government has “launched a genocidal campaign against the Somali population of Ogaden”.
The Ogaden is a harsh region that is prone to drought and famine where, according to human rights groups and firsthand accounts, innocent men, women and children are murdered, raped, imprisoned and brutally tortured by government forces.
The region borders Somalia and is largely populated by ethnic Somalis, many of whom do not consider themselves Ethiopians at all and see the Ethiopian military operating in the region as an occupying force. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) has been engaged in a struggle for independence for 22 years. He was elected to power in the 1992 regional elections; however, after having the democratic nerve to propose a referendum on self-determination, the central government under the leadership of former prime minister Meles Zenawi dispatched the military. Subsequently, leading members of the newly elected regional authority and their supporters were executed and arrested, and the army took control of the area. The ONLF, labeled a terrorist by a government that labels all individuals and dissident groups with the “T” word, has been driven into the bush from where it has been leading armed and diplomatic resistance.
Since 2007, all international media and prying and prying aid groups have been banned from the area, making it extremely difficult to collect up-to-date information on the situation. The main source of data comes from courageous refugees and defected military personnel who found their way to Kenya or Yemen. Most of those fleeing the area end up in one of the five sites that make up the vast Dadaab refugee camp, run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in northeast Kenya. Established in 1992 to accommodate 100,000 people for 10 years, it is often described as the largest refugee camp in the world and is now home to around 500,000 people, although the Kenyan government’s manipulated figures are much lower.
Maryama arrived in Dadaab with her son and daughter in May 2014 after fleeing her homeland in Ethiopia. She had been the victim of terrible physical and sexual abuse by the Ethiopian army. Her shocking story echoes the experiences of thousands of innocent women – many of whom are just children – in the affected regions of the Ogaden.
I met Maryama at the UNHCR field office at the Dagahaley site in October 2014. She told me about her life in Ogaden and the violence she had suffered. We sat on the floor in the shade of a UN office building. She spoke with clarity and passion for over an hour, her two-year-old son on her lap.
Like many people in the Ogaden, Maryama lived a simple life as a pastor. Caring for her goats and camels, she moved from place to place with her family. She has never been to school, can neither read nor write, and knows little or nothing about the politics of her country. In 2012, she was arrested when a large group of armed Ethiopian army soldiers descended on the family encampment of Dagahmadow, in Dagahbuur district.
“They came to see us one day while we were going about our business in our village and they accused us of being supporters of the ONLF as well as of having relatives in the ONLF. The troops
gathered all the villagers and started to persecute. They took anything of value, including property and livestock, by force and torched houses in the process. I had just given birth seven days earlier when they entered my home and they asked me why I am inside the house [a small semi-circular wooden structure made from branches and mud] all alone [she was bathing her son at the time]. They saw footsteps near my house, which they followed and concluded that it should be left by the ONLF [the prints were in fact made by the military]. We were all taken out of our homes and questioned about the ONLF. We have all denied any involvement. Our houses were then set on fire.
The soldiers moved from house to house, questioning people about the footprints. A young mother, who had given birth the day before and was holding her child in her arms, was questioned, but she did not know anything and said so. An elderly woman came to his aid; she was taken by the throat and questioned about the footprints – she knew nothing. They shot her. Two men from the village arrived and were immediately questioned. One of the men responded by denying any connection with the ONLF; two soldiers tied his hands together, threw a rope around his neck, and pulled on each end until he choked.
Maryama was ordered to hold the strangled man upright and not drop him to the side. When, exhausted after two hours, she let go of the body, she was “arrested along with six other girls, including my sister – one of the girls had given birth that day.” The first night of captivity in an abandoned village
she was forced to stand up by two soldiers, one of them kicked her in the stomach – she fell to the ground, overturned and died instantly. They also shot my sister in front of us. I watched her bleed to death next to the other girl who had succumbed to the beatings.
Maryama recounted how after witnessing these atrocities. The soldiers put a plastic bag over her head and tied a rope around her throat until she lost consciousness. When she recovered, she found herself outside in a deep pit; she was naked and in great pain; she was having trouble moving. Her son was nowhere to be found. Eight other people were with her, five were deceased – one was a cousin, two were neighbors. These people had disappeared 10 days earlier; it was assumed that they were in prison. She cried hysterically.
Maryama, as well as other prisoners, were regularly tortured by soldiers; Undressed, they were forced to crawl on all fours on a ground of sharp stones.
After 28 days in the pit, her son was brought to her and they were both taken to jail. She was held captive at Ogaden Prison in the regional capital Jigjiga for approximately two and a half years, during which time she was subjected to extreme torture and sexual abuse. There were, she told me, over 1,000 women in the prison. At this point, it may be worth stating the obvious: this woman had not broken any laws, had not been charged with any offense, or had obtained any of her constitutional or human rights.
Maryama, as well as other prisoners, were regularly tortured by soldiers; Undressed, they were forced to crawl on all fours on a ground of sharp stones. Their knees were collapsing and bleeding; if they stopped, they were verbally insulted and beaten with wooden sticks or the butt of a rifle. Another preferred method of torture was to undress the women and take them to the latrines where toilet waste was thrown on them. At the same time, they were beaten with sticks, belts and hit with the butt of a rifle. They were not allowed to wash and were forced to sleep covered in this garbage.
Maryama, who was around 18 when she was first arrested, has been repeatedly raped by groups of soldiers while in prison. They like that women are young – 15 to 20 years old – and semi-conscious when raped so that girls cannot resist and the perpetrator cannot be identified; partial strangulation with a rope or a blow to the head with the butt of a rifle renders the innocent victim unconscious. Soldiers who have defected have told me that soldiers are told to use the penis as a weapon and that they are “trained” to rape women and “break a virgin”; violent demonstrations on teenage girls are given by training agents. They are told to eat hot peppers before going on patrol, so that their sperm burn the raped women. A division commander who defected from Liyu’s government-sponsored police force, Dahir, recounted how, during his five years in the force, he witnessed 1,200 to 1,500 rapes in the Ogaden.
The creation of a climate of fear among the population is the objective of the government and the army; they employ a carefully planned, albeit crude, methodology to achieve their vile goal. False arrests and detentions of men and women, arbitrary assassinations and torture, rape and destruction of property and livestock constitute the arsenal of control and intimidation employed by the EPRDF government.
The Ethiopian regime maintains that nothing untoward is happening in the Ogaden region. Liyu’s army and police, they tell us, protect civilians against the terrorist organization operating there, namely the ONLF. Soldiers in training are brainwashed to view the people of the region – men, women and children – as enemies of the state. Stories like Maryama’s are pure fiction, say government spokespersons, and sorry guys the area is dangerous for members of the international media or human rights groups and you can’t go there. enter. And if you do, you will be arrested.
Terrorism is indeed rife in a large part of the Ogaden and elsewhere in the country. It is state terrorism perpetrated by a brutal regime that is guilty of widespread criminality, much of which constitutes crimes against humanity.