Washington, DC – I had an opportunity to meet last week with Ambassador Hilda Suka-Mafudze, the Permanent Representative of the African Union to the United States of America. Speaking on behalf of the Ethiopian-American community, he called attention to attacks on the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and requested assistance from the African Union. The African Union has played an important role in helping to stop the violence in Tigray. The war in Tigray affected about 6 percent of Ethiopia’s territory.
Unfortunately, another ongoing conflict encompasses Ethiopia and poses an existential threat to the Ethiopian state and its people. Renegade Oromo clergy members, with the support of the Abiy government, are trying to split the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in two.
A group calling itself the ‘Holy Synod of Oromia and Nations and Nationalities’ has, with the support of the Abiy government, split from the Orthodox Church. Protests have occurred in the Oromiya region, where church officials declared themselves archbishops of the splinter group last month and set up their own governing body.
The government has arrested several Orthodox clergy members and peaceful Abiy critics, including Memhir Meheretab Asefa, Pastor Biniam Shitaye, Mr. Natnael Yalemzewd, Lij Bini, and Mr. Sintayehu Chekol.
Interfering in the activities of the Orthodox Church and arresting clergymen is without precedent in Ethiopia. It risks creating schisms in society and possibly triggering civil war.
On behalf of the Ethiopian people, I urged Ambassador Suka-Mafudze to mobilize the African Union to intervene with Prime Minister Abiy and his government. She noted that Ethiopia has been a model of religious tolerance for all of Africa and acknowledged the dangers of fomenting religious divisions.
Tony R. Culley- Foster, an advisor to the African Union and Founder and President of CFCO International, expressed appreciation on the ambassador’s behalf. “Ambassador Hilda informed me how much she appreciated the opportunity for a private discussion with you concerning further need for conflict prevention and resolution and peace-building in your beloved nation of Ethiopia.”
He added: “YOU exemplify the difference that constructive Diaspora ACTIVISM can advance to help your Democratic government and its military to peacefully resolve any tribal & ethnic-based conflict in a 21 st Century Ethiopia with the support of the African Union.”
While the war in Tigray has dominated US government views of Ethiopia, the State Department is aware of the Abiy government’s attempts to create divisions in the Orthodox church. Responding to a question from a Global Strat View reporter about the Ethiopian government’s attempts to split the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, a US State Department spokesperson said: “We are aware of ongoing discussion between the synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Government of Ethiopia. Dialogue is essential to heal divisions and advance reconciliation as Ethiopians seek a more peaceful future to their country.”
The future of Ethiopia depends on unity, on resisting efforts to divide the country and pit religious and ethnic groups against each other. Divide-and-rule policies will lead to the destruction of Ethiopia.
Mesfin Mekonen is a Washington, DC based Ethiopian-American writer.