In an earlier article – call for freedom (published under the title ´Liberate the Shekacho Nation from the Abyssinian Tyranny – Stop the Shekacho Genocide Now!´ – http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/66247), I focused on the tyrannized nation of Shekachos, and published an ´Appeal to International Community to help the Innocent Shekacho People in South Western Ethiopia´ released by Alemayehu Dasho, a Human Rights advocate.
As the Appeal referred to the Tepi killings, carried out by the ruling Amhara and Tigray Mobnophysitic Abyssinians, I believe it will be quite illuminating to republish here an earlier report published by IRIN on this topic (integrally reproduced in the website http://debub.net/voices/what_happened.htm).
I also publish an Introduction on the Shekachos, first published in the SEPAG website. The Southern Ethiopian People´s Action Group (SEPAG) is based in Reading in the UK and in the town of Masha, Sheka Zone, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples´ State (SNNPS), Ethiopia. SEPAG is a registered Charity in England and Wales (charity registration number 1070812); SEPAG was founded by members of the Shekacho ethnic group, but it is committed to working for the benefit of all people from the southwest of Ethiopia. In further articles, I will complete the portrait of the Shekachos, one more nation passionately desiring to secede from the Cemetery of African Nations “Ethiopia”.
EU calls for public inquiry into Tepi, Awasa killings
NAIROBI, 17 Jul 2002 (IRIN) – The European Union has called on Ethiopia to hold a public inquiry into clashes between security forces and protesters that left 128 dead, diplomats told IRIN on Wednesday.
Three ambassadors representing the EU member states urged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure an “open transparent and public” inquiry into the incident. The clashes erupted after an ethnic group in the Tepi Region, some 700 km southwest of Addis Ababa, protested over the result of local elections.
The EU’s call comes after Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi discussed the killings with EU head Romano Prodi. They also discussed the May shootings in Awasa in which at least 17 people were killed in clashes between demonstrators and police. The EU has also called for an inquiry into that incident. Diplomats said that Zenawi was “deeply concerned” by the killings.
The appeal by the EU also follows a weeklong diplomatic mission it sent to Tepi to establish what had happened. The Netherlands Embassy led the five-member team. It presented its findings last week to the president of the region, Haile Mariam Dessalegn, and urged him to support an open inquiry.
“We don’t want this pushed under the carpet,” a senior diplomat told IRIN. “We want an investigation and the people responsible for ordering the killings, both for Awasa and Tepi, to be held to account.”
The EU is one of the largest donors of development aid to Ethiopia, and has pledged some US $480 million over the next five years. They have also given money for the establishment of a Human Rights Commission and an Ombudsman.
The Tepi killings, in March, erupted after the Sheko-Mezhenger People’s Democratic Union Organisation demonstrated against the outcome of the December 2001 elections, saying it won more than one of the local districts – known as Woredas. After an investigation, the National Election Board ruled that the elections were fair; sparking tensions between the local administration and the union. Then, around 300 demonstrators marched into Tepi, capital of Yeki District; armed with spears, machetes and rifles, the Ethiopian Human Rights Council said.
In the fighting that followed between police, the Sheko, and the Mezehenger ethnic groups; 24 people were killed among them five policemen and an official from the local administration. Then, special police were deployed into the area, the rights council said, along with troops from neighbouring Gambella Region. After the initial skirmishes a month-long wave of retaliation against the Sheko left 128 dead, although opposition groups put that figure higher.
Sources who visited Tepi – a fertile coffee growing region in the Southern Nations and Nationalities People’s Region – told IRIN that locals had complained that a mass grave existed although the diplomats had not seen any evidence of this.
“One village were visited was effectively razed to the ground,” one source said. “Scorch marks were on the tress were their houses had been burned. The villages we visited were empty. Clearly people had fled.”
The rights council estimated that 1,177 houses were set ablaze in the first days of the incident.
“We welcome the move by the European Union,” Hailu Makonnan, the secretary-general of rights council, said. “We will have to see if it bears fruit.” A spokesman from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said local authorities were conducting an investigation whose findings would be submitted to the federal government.
The Shekachos – Introduction
European and American people tend to think of Ethiopia as a dry, barren land. This is the image promoted by most Non Governmental Organizations. Western tourists who visit Ethiopia generally visit Addis Ababa and the ancient Christian sites in the north, an itinerary which inevitably confirms this belief.Yet the south of the country, particularly the south-west is not a dry and barren place – it is green and fertile. Unfortunately the area is also remote and under-resourced, and the forests are in imminent danger of disappearing. This tragedy is happening because of the pressure placed on environment by a rapidly expanding but poverty-stricken native population, government sponsored immigrants from the north and tea and coffee companies who are stripping out vast areas for short-term commercial gain. SEPAG, in Ethiopia, is based in the Shekacho zone, in the heart of this environmentally threatened area.
Ethiopia is currently divided into eight regional states and three city states. The Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples State is the most ethnically diverse state in Ethiopia. It has a population of roughly 11 million and is home to 45 ethno-linguistic groups, of which none comprises 20% of the regional population – only the Sidamo, Gurage and Walaita make up more than 10% each. It covers an area of 112, 323 km2. The Shekacho zone is home to the Shekacho people, who number about 500,000. The Shekacho people are related to the more numerous Kaffa people, who live further to the east and who number about 1 million.
In the past 50 years forest cover in Ethiopia has been reduced from 40% of the land area to 3%. This surviving remnant is largely in the south-west of the country. Until the 1970s there were few roads in the area and access was by horseback, but the construction of roads means that even this relatively tiny area of moist broad leaved and bamboo forests is likely to disappear very soon. Like much Ethiopia the area has a high altitude. The weather is relatively mild – warm, with plenty of rainfall. At times there can be torrential rain and even hail storms – these latter can, at the wrong time, destroy standing crops. Sometimes the landscape, with its woods and pastures, looks deceptively like England!
Most of the population was, and still is, involved in subsistence farming. The area is home to a web of ethnic/linguistic groups. Many of the indigenous ethnic groups think of themselves as forest people. ‘The forest is like our dress, it is our shelter. We want to inherit it to our children …’ (quoted from p. 6 of Hartmann’s paper – see Links).
Until the 1970s most people lived on scattered farms in the forests. They herded some cows, but the staple food was a kind of bread (called kocho), which was made from the fermented pulp of Ensete ventricosum, a tree in the banana family. The other notable products of the forest are honey and coffee.
Hartmann estimates that there are 10 million been colonies in Africa and that Ethiopia has the largest bee population of the continent. Cylindrical bee hives are a common sight scattered high in the tree tops of the forest in this area. The contents of the hives are used for both wax and as food. Ownership of hives confers social status.
Coffee is also widely grown and drunk in the region. Indeed, this area is the source of Coffea arabica . In fact, the name coffee is derived from the word Kaffa – the name of a region and ethnic group in the area. Traditionally coffee is grown in the shade of larger trees, but the modern plantations which are spreading over the landscape involve clear-cutting, followed by a monoculture of coffee. Coffee is generally drunk with a good helping of coarsely ground salt – a habit which European visitors take a while to adjust to.
The people of the area also use the timber of the forests for building and as a source of fuel. Trees were also felled to create pastures. Humans also drove out lions and other animals considered threatening or destructive. Nevertheless, until very recently the forests of the south-west were in no danger of destruction.
Picture: A Shekacho lady still awaits the world to wake up, condemn the appalling butchery “Ethiopia”, and help liberate the tyrannized nations of Abyssinia.