In southern Ethiopia, tens of thousands of people are enduring what aid workers say is a full-blown humanitarian crisis. But the government of the new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, appears not to be listening.
It is a stain on the record of an administration that, since Abiy’s appointment last April, has been lauded for opening up Ethiopia’s political space and making peace with neighboring Eritrea. Last month, Abiy was nominated for a Nobel peace prize. His government has also been praised for passing a new refugee policy hailed as a model of compassion and forward-thinking. Yet the dire situation facing millions of people forced from their homes by conflict, and the new regime’s approach to their plight, has invited a more skeptical response from some observers.
One settlement, in the village of Gotiti, hosts 20-30,000 ethnic Gedeos who have been denied humanitarian assistance – above all food aid – since last August.
More than a million Ethiopians were forced from their homes by ethnic violence in 2018 – the highest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) of any country last year. The worst of it took place in the south, where an estimated 800,000mostly ethnic Gedeos fled the district of West Guji in Oromia, the country’s largest region. This is a higher number, and over a shorter period of time, that occurred at the height of Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis in 2017.
The conflict looked, on the surface, like a Malthusian eruption – in which population outstrips food supply. Gedeos and Guji Oromos share some of the country’s most densely populated farmland, and both groups are fast growing in number. But gruesome reports of lynchings, rapes, and beheadings, and of complicity among local officials, police, and militia, makes it seem more like organized ethnic cleansing than an ordinary tribal clash.
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