Defense and National Security comes a head of everything in so many countries. However, for the motherland Ethiopia, that may be in question if not by all Ethiopian citizens but in no doubt, the Nuer people of Gambella would not buy into it. For quite too long, the people of Gambella particularly the Nuer have been subjected to deal with matters that are of a national concern since the Derg regime.
In 1985, 1986 and 1987 GC, the former Sudanese rebels, the Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) under the late leader, John Garang, carried out massive violations of human right abuses in the entire Gambella Awraja, in then Illubabor.
In the districts (weredas) of the present day Lare, Jokow and Makuey, the SPLA burnt down houses, confiscated cattle the same style the Murle did in recent attacks and killed anyone they could get. Elderly people and children who were unable to run for their lives were killed some burnt alive.
Those mass atrocities were carried under the so called “Guad” Mengistu Haile Mariam’s watch and former governor of Illubabor (now an Oromia Zone), Ato Thowath Pal. The problem of SPLA against the people of Gambella was not only confined to the Nuer. The Anyuak were not spared either. In both Gok and Jor weredas, people still held some vivid memories of the SPLA mayhems.
They were killed and their houses were burnt the same way acted upon their Nuer counterparts. Women and girls as young as 9 years old were raped. Yet the Derg regime was incapable to correct or do anything about the behaviour of its friend (SPLA) in the region.
Initially the Derg harboured the SPLA in their quest for freedom from the Arab dominated government of Sudan but the SPLA turned soar toward the host population. What does that tell about protecting Ethiopians who happen to be in danger from the hands of somebody and in fact a foreigner, their government tried to help?
Well that is the question many people of Gambella were left to grasp with. It is a question which they find very hard to get an answer for and which make them to question Mengistu administration.
Quite frankly many were left with the dilemma but came to the notion that the reign of Mengistu was in fact guided by greed for power and resource seek as well as self-actualization rather than the desire and motivation to serve the people of Ethiopia and defending them whenever and wherever danger arise.
Many Gambella people were happy to see the downfall of Derg because they think it had a double standard on Gambella identity part of the reason why they think it allowed the SPLA to terrorize Ethiopians.
With the Derg gone so was the extinguishment of the SPLA in the whole of Gambella region. That was enough to make the people of Gambella feel relieved especially seeing the Ethiopian Military under the EPDRF driving the SPLA forces out along the Gambella bridge in May 1991.
This should be a stance many Ethiopian citizens would like to see happen seeing their military taking Ethiopian lives very seriously. But that seemed to be short-lived especially for many families in Gambella’s Nuer zone who are always victimized by the primitive tribe of Murle of South Sudan for quite too long.
In 2006, G.C, a massive attack was carried on Lare weredas by Murle gun men in Ngor, Palbol and Metduerkoang villages. Over 50 people were killed. Even though the death toll was not as huge as that of last week, those who died were Ethiopians. Therefore, those who murdered them should not have been allowed to roam freely unpunished as that begged another crime for them to strike again.
The Ethiopian Defense force should have stood up against them and chased them up to where they came from. But that did not happen because the base in Lare Wereda was a small contingent which was neither capable nor large enough to cross the border in pursuit of the culprits. More importantly it was ill equipped while the attackers were so large in number and had sophisticated weapons.
If both the regional as well as the federal governments had been serious about that attack like the measures now undertaken, the Murle would have learnt that when you touch Ethiopians, then you make yourself a wanted person by their military because it is not going to sit idle by watching their population slaughtered.
Furthermore, we could have had plans about protecting the Ethiopian lives particularly in those areas which are a hot spot of Murle raids. We could have put some strategies in place as to how we could best deal with situations like this nature. Bases and barracks could have been established in the border adjacent to routes which these people use to carry out the cross-border raids in Gambella. However, our Defense and National Security Department went about their business without any post reparation.
Therefore, in 2008, similar attack happened again in Lare Wereda in the villages of Nip Nip and Tandaar. Over a dozen people lost their lives. Yet again the Ethiopian Military did not pursue the attackers who crossed the border and murdered innocent Ethiopians.
The last week attack in the entire Nuer zone’s three weredas was overwhelming and by far the biggest single attack carried on a single day by Murle gun men. Many lives were lost and shattered. Some people are still dying in the hospital because of wounds sustained in the onslaught as the attack was so heavy.
Unlike in 2005 when the communication system was too poor, this time round, lives could have been saved if the Gambella Regional Government and the Defense Force had acted swiftly. The battle lasted for several hours yet the Gambella Regional government and the Ethiopian Defense Force, despite knowing what was happening on the ground, were a no show at the scene and came only after everything was over.
Had they acted promptly, they could have rescued the kids who were abducted as well as the cattle. What they may not have saved were the lives lost due to the speed of the attack. But in contrary, they did nothing leaving the poor villagers to face up with those attackers.
The attackers came deep into the Gambella region. For them to make it back into their territory in South Sudan walking on foot with the kids and cattle which slowly move unengaged by the bulk of our military is unbelievable.
A friend of mine who happen to be a white guy could not believe what I told him. His first question was where was the military? When I replied to him that the military was in a bit far distance, then he said what about the helicopters? Doesn’t your country’s Defense Force have helicopters?
It was heartbreaking and too much of a narration between us to defend the indefensible. But one thing I said to him was that could you imagine this attack is carried out by Mexican criminals on Southern Texas state of the USA? Do you think those gangs or whatever you call them would make it back to Mexico?
His answer was a straight big NO, no way, he said. ‘They would never make it back alive to Mexico especially when they have children and cattle which cannot hide and cannot move very fast. The American Air force would be up in the air bombarding them while on the ground their marine plus their dogs, horses and everything else they got would be chasing them not to beg them to get the kids back but to actually bring them to justice whether dead or alive.
As for our case, we are not shortage of everything that the Americans got. We have got the best airline in Africa and have Africa’s best military. We have got the population behind us and with that we could be the strongest military in Africa because with population comes economy and military strength.
Look at the Chinese Military for example. Out of 1.3 billion people, their military budget double the US military budget and the US could have some difficulties if it goes to war against China.
So what are we doing with everything that God blessed us with. You cannot be a strong team if you sit in the bottom of the ladder. The same is true to our military. If we allow fellow Ethiopians being slain every year and do nothing, then how does that transpire to our strength and the need to protect the sovereignty of Ethiopia?
What does that articulate about us? What does that tell about Our population and our military? Our military could not take the role of a judge. We can defend our nation as much as needed and let the judges do what they do in relation to our response if it becomes any harsher toward the perpetrators.
Our country is not an open park and should not be made to be like an open park or a killing zone by these primitive tribe of South Sudan. Things we see at the movie are now happening in Gambella because of all these evils murdering Ethiopians whether it is a village like Lare, Jor or a refugee camp like Jewi.
We have to stand strong and straight up with these criminals that when you murder an Ethiopian, we will not arrest you but burnt you alive because they do not understand that putting them in a jail cell is worse than putting them to death. We have the mean and the will to do it.
We surfaced Kenya to be the largest economy in East Africa and with economy comes military strength as we can pay our troops and purchase our weapons and more importantly protect our borders better.
Yet we are allowing the criminals from East Africa region to dictate our way of life such as what has happened in the Nuer zone of Gambella. People have abandoned villages and now hides in the bushes. As a child from that region, this is the fourth time in my life the villagers of Gambella’s Nuer zone had to abandon their homes to hide in the forest. It happened in 1985, 1986, 1987 and now in 2016.
All these happened because of foreign criminals who always try to murder anyone they could get in Gambella. With murders committed prior to the coming of EPDRF to power, the villagers were not that angry knowing what Mengistu and his regime was like to the people of Gambella. the Derg does not care about their lives.
But right now they are starting to think that the EPDRF government actually care and in fact is an inclusive government which love all Ethiopians equally whether they speak ‘Gambellagna’ or “Afarnga’. We are all one and united under the cover of green yellow and the red flag.
This is the reason now why we have seen the Defense Force in pursuit of these criminals to get back the Ethiopian kids as swiftly as possible. That would never have happened under the Derg.
But as doctors say prevention is always better than cure, two times or three times of attack on the Nuer villages would have already sent a signal as those attacks were too many. There is no way we could have been unresponsive when Ethiopian lives are endangered.