Addis Abeba has been caught by a rare but collective lividness last week…

Addis Abeba has been caught by a rare but collective lividness last week, following the news that people were killed and children were abducted from the country’s western-most frontiers. The indignation felt by the administration of Hailemariam Desalegn was so much so that the Prime Minister convened a National Security Council meeting on Tuesday, before he took off for New York the following day, gossip disclosed.

Comprising the Defense Minister, the Army’s Chief of Staff, and head of the National Intelligence Service, and his National Security Adviser, the Council meets occasionally, in particular when there are emergency matters such as the one that occurred in the Gambella Regional State last week.

What those at the gossip corridors said was an unusually large body of armed men of the Murule militia, a few bearing rocket propelled grenade (RPG) weapons, crossed the Ethiopian border with South Sudan in the early morning of April 15, 2016, and attacked 10 weredas of the Gaajaak Nuer, killing close to 221 people, and abducting over 100 children. On their way back to South Sudan with the abducted children and large herd of cattle, they had met resistance not from the Ethiopian army but Cie-Nyajaani, a subsection of the Nuer community. No less than 50 of the Murule were killed during the shoot out. Nonetheless, the indignation provoked in the capital, Addis Abeba, took a couple of days to hit home before people felt mortified, gossip observed.

Yet, the collective feeling of national dishonour is partly less informed by history. It was not the first time this happened, nor will this be the last.

On the Ethiopian New Year of 1989, a large contingent of militiamen from the Murule community, under the command of the SPLA, rampaged the small town of Pinyudo, following a dispute over market closure with the local population of the Anywaa community. No less than 100 people from Anywaa were killed in just one day. Addis Abeba remained quiet and its authorities, under the Derg regime, decided not to take action and punish the culprits. Six days later, the Murule came back with more zeal to loot shops, and killed many shopkeepers. The authorities at the central government disarmed the Aynwaa community, blaming them for instigating the conflict in the first place, gossip recalled.

For a community that had to endure the carnage by a mercenary army under the command of the Syrian Majid Aboud, hired by Addis Abeba in 1916 to subdue them for submission, what the Derg did was taken as another act of betrayal.

Not many raids of this magnitude have taken place for over a decade now, although occasional raids by different communities in the pastoralist areas of the country, bordering neighbouring countries, are all too common. The attack last week, however, was bigger in size and the deployment of weapons more sophisticated. The administration is now trying to determine whether foreign powers bent on destabilizing Ethiopia may have had a hand in it, claims gossip.

It appears that it is difficult to point fingers at anyone right away for the area where the Murule mounted their attacks, Jonglei State, is under the control of a local “warlord” who had signed a deal with the troubled government in Juba, not to attack each other. Neither is the embattled rebel leader in South Sudan, Riek Machar, in control of the area where the Murule are populated. Machar is stuck in Gambella, waiting to enter into Juba. Having agreed to serve as First Vice President of South Sudan, he will have a bizarre entry to Juba that is neither triumphant nor humiliated for a rebel leader to be escorted by 195 soldiers armed with 20 PKMs [PK machine guns] and 20 RPGs, gossip disclosed.

Hailemariam’s critics may say he is not assertive in exercising power or he is a politician who rather wants to lead by consensus, but his moral upstanding when it comes to the welfare of children is evident in this case, claims gossip. Despite his administration’s belated sensitivities to the importance of paying homage to domestic politics – Parliament declared two days of national mourning – the Prime Minister was resolute when ordering the national defense forces to go after the militias and get the kids back, gossip disclosed.

It may also compensate for the political mistake his administration committed in disarming, a few months ago, the region’s special force, which could have responded to the assault last week, claims gossip. That the army was not able to reach the place of carnage in time, which infuriated many here, may also be absolved by its possible success in rescuing the children, claims gossip.

Published on May 05,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 835]



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