From Nigeria to Ethiopia, Christians Face an Uncertain Future Amid Ongoing Genocides

22 July 2021 | By Sarah Bassil

Screenshot of video of Boko Haram fighters


The International Criminal Court defines the crime of genocide as the “specific intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group by killing its members or by other means.”


Christians in Nigeria and Ethiopia face nothing short of genocide. Religious and ethnic carnage have become an all-too-familiar reality in both countries, with no end in sight.


Across Nigeria, Christians are being kidnapped, raped, and murdered on a daily basis because of their faith. Regularly, terrorist groups ranging from Boko Haram to the Islamic State of West Africa abduct and hold for ransom Christian pastors and their families. When the ransom cannot be paid—and sometimes, even when it can—the victims meet a horrific fate. The Council on Foreign Relations estimates that since May 2011, Boko Haram has murdered nearly 35,000 Nigerians, despite Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari wishfully thinking that the terrorist group was defeated in 2018.


According to a Nigerian civil society group, at least 1,470 Christians were murdered, and another 2,200 were abducted in Nigeria during the first four months of 2021. There is no other way to categorize this than to call it exactly what it is: genocide.


It is also important to acknowledge the Nigerian government’s role in these conflicts. On one end of the spectrum, President Buhari’s government turns a blind eye to the murder of its own citizens by Fulani herdsman. On another, it actively engages in the killing of scores of Nigerians protesting the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS. This group is a corrupt, murderous branch of the Nigerian government, and it has played a substantial role in enforcing Buhari’s amoral policies.


Simply put, Buhari and his corrupt government both ignore and engage in the slaughter of any Nigerians attempting to shape their future. There is no difference between Boko Haram kidnapping and imprisoning nearly 300 schoolgirls and the Nigerian government allowing a systematic genocide of Christians to continue. Violence is violence, regardless of the perpetrator.


USCIRF Commissioner James W. Carr highlighted this concern in the 2021 Annual USCIRF Report when he stated, “I am concerned about the country’s inability, or reluctance, to protect the Christian community.”


It is crucial to note that these crimes are being committed against Christian and Muslim Nigerians alike as the country slowly, but surely, heads into full scale war.


Also on the African continent, Christians in the Tigray region of Ethiopia face a similar yet different predicament. Ethno-religious tensions affect both countries in a distinct manner.

Since November 2020, both the Tigray Regional Government and the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) have engaged in an armed conflict across the region. Both sides have committed countless war crimes, including the blocking of food sources to civilians. The history of the conflict between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan leadership is one of ethnic tensions, and the ENDF’s commitment to decimating Tigray can be argued as acts of genocide. The Eritrean government has also actively supported the ENDF in these crimes against humanity.


The United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP) estimates that 4 million people in the Tigray region face severe hunger, 350,000 of whom are facing famine, while armed groups are blocking aid. Despite the claims of those complicit, it stands to reason that the atrocities in the Tigray region rise to the level of genocide. The active denial of food and essential resources to a population of millions is tantamount to murder. Most recently, a World Food Programme aid convoy headed to Semera in Afar was attacked, forcing the UNWFP to suspend operations in the region.


Calls for a ceasefire from the international community, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Pope Francis, went largely unheard for months until the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was able to recapture Mekelle, capital of Tigray, and called for a ceasefire. However, the TPLF has now begun attacking the neighboring Afar region, renewing the conflict that has plagued the country.


Despite the widespread human suffering, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed continues to enjoy relatively wide support across the country. Ahmed faced an election in late June in a nation where nearly one-fifth of the otherwise eligible population cannot vote due to disenfranchisement and the pandemic. Ahmed’s wartime leadership is overshadowed by the state of the country, as it battles internal conflict and a pandemic.


The crimes against humanity in Nigeria and Ethiopia are, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon. However, it is time to reconsider the role of the international community in conflicts of this nature. Simply condemning the violence is not enough, and unconditional aid must be reconsidered. This assistance overwhelmingly includes humanitarian and military aid.


The foreign policy of the United States must be reshaped to reflect the values and morals that we, as a nation, hope to influence the world with. In fiscal year 2020, Nigeria, one of the most corrupt countries in the world, received $362 million in humanitarian assistance alone. Meanwhile, Ethiopia received $343 million in humanitarian assistance.


This aid cannot continue without strings attached, and it’s time for the United States and the rest of the world to force reforms in Nigeria and Ethiopia.


© 2021 The Institute on Religion and Democracy. All rights reserved.

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