August 19, 2022

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A leaked video raises questions about Ethiopian forces & militias

Ethiopian force

Ethiopian Forces have been under fire since the leakage of a disturbing video a few hours ago. Are Ethiopian security forces professional and disciplined? Are the acts shown in the video individual acts?

Ethiopian security force

Last night a video was uploaded on social media platforms showing human beings set on fire. Several security force officials and militia members can be seen in the video burning humans alive. At least one of the victims being set on fire is alive.

The security officials seem to be from more than one Ethiopian regional force. Two security officials are clad in uniforms with badges worn by members of SNNPR regional force. Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR) is one of the Ethiopian region states. According to some experts, members of the Amhara regional force are also visible. Armed people in civies seen in the video are members of some militia

Where did this incident happen? The incident happened where there is the deployment of more than one regional force in Ethiopia. In September last year, it was reported by officials in the Benishangul Gumuz (BG) region of Ethiopia that there was a deployment of different regional forces in BG. Regional forces from Amhara, Sidama, Gambela and SNNPR were deployed to BG to protect the Ethiopian GERD dam site. The video could be from the Metekel zone of the Benishangul Gumuz region where there is the deployment of these regional forces.

For years, an armed insurgency has been raging on in the Benishangul Gumuz region of Ethiopia. Benishangul-Gumuz is a regional state in northwestern Ethiopia. It shares a border with Sudan. The name of the region comes from two peoples – Berta (also called Benishangul) and Gumuz.

The region is home to Africa’s largest hydroelectric power project (GERD). Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) started generating electricity last month. It is situated in Metekel zone of the regional state.

An armed group Benishangul People’s Liberation Movement or BPLM has been operating in the region for years. Though BPLM signed peace deals with the federal Ethiopian government in 2005 and 2013, the armed insurgency is still underway in Metekel, Kamashi, and Asosa zones of Benishangul Gumuz. BPLM claimed in 2018 that the Berta people and the Gumuz people were “oppressed by all three of Ethiopia’s most powerful communities and that the Oromo Liberation Front had attacked local inhabitants in Kamashi Zone.

But lately, Gumuz fighters stuck an alliance with Oromia-based armed group Oromo Liberation Army OLA. Three armed groups are now operating in collaboration in border areas of the Benishangul-Gumuz, Oromia, and Gambela regions of Ethiopia. Fighters of Oromia-based Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), Gambela-based Gambela Liberation Front (GLF), and BG-based Benishangul Gumuz Liberation fighters are conducting joint operations in these areas.

Last week, a convoy of buses carrying GERD dam workers was ambushed by Gumuz fighters. The attack happened in Dangur woreda. The convoy was being escorted by Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) members. Dozens of persons were killed in the attack. Among the victims were GERD dam workers and ENDF officials. Local Gumuz fighters are said to be behind the attack. Read more..

Who are the victims and perpetrators shown in the video? Perpetrators are members of regional security forces whose exact identities can be revealed after thorough investigation. The same is the case with victims. A detailed inquiry would help determine the identity of the victims who were set on fire. In the video, the perpetrators can be heard communicating in the Amharic language which is widely spoken in different regions of Ethiopia. Analysis of the conversation among security officials suggests the victims were set on fire as revenge for the killing of some high-level Ethiopian officer.

The act of setting alive human beings on fire does not look like an individual’s act. If the crime is a manifestation of the institutional mindset of Ethiopian regional forces, it is an alarming development. Since November 2020, Ethiopian regional and security forces have been involved in a deadly conflict in the northern part of the country. Due to this ongoing Tigray conflict, hundreds have been killed, thousands injured, tens of thousands displaced, and million in need of humanitarian assistance.

It seems that the entire Ethiopian security apparatus is in need of an overhaul. The institutional savagery on display in the video could have serious repercussions for a country where large-scale recruitment in federal, regional forces, and militias is underway. Armed groups are not far behind in recruiting, training, and arming new members.

Armed groups and some political players could exploit the video to further their political agendas. There is a dire need for a detailed inquiry into the video. Identities of perpetrators and victims must be established to start the process of accountability.