Tensions in Ethiopia Impacting Religious Communities

10/30/2020 Ethiopia (International Christian Concern) – Tensions do not seem to be easing in Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country and home to over 80 distinct ethnic groups. The tensions are deep and complex, modern-day manifestations of centuries-old ethnic, religious, and political disagreements.

Confirmed in April 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promised to bring reform and peace to Ethiopia. Just a year and a half later he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in a groundbreaking peace deal between Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea, which ended a 20-year conflict and helped to set the stage for more amicable relations going forward. Mr. Ahmed has also taken a public stance against the oppressive techniques of his predecessors, freeing journalists and members of the political opposition soon after taking office and promising to reopen the country to outside human rights observers.

However, much still must be done to advance human rights and religious freedom in Ethiopia and some of Mr. Ahmed’s more recent actions have raised speculation that his commitment to human rights may not be as deep as he once promised.

On the religious freedom front, the widespread violence around the country has included the burning of places of worship, just one example of how religion finds itself in the crossfire. A number of churches have been burned down by mobs, and some Christians have been accused of heresy. In other incidents, mobs have burned down mosques, further exacerbating the religious tensions at play and highlighting the need to protect vulnerable faith communities of all kinds.

While Mr. Ahmed has officially condemned the violence, it isn’t clear that he is taking appropriate steps to stop it. In fact, reports are surfacing that his security forces have engaged in “horrendous human rights violations” with impunity while responding to incidents of violence, according to an Amnesty International report. Other reports suggest that Mr. Ahmed himself is, increasingly, shutting down political dissent, including protests.

If Mr. Ahmed is serious about making good on his claim to be a champion of human rights he must take bold steps not only to quell the community-based violence in Ethiopia but also to stop the violence committed by his own security forces if he is to create a free and open society.

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