Plans to hold demonstrations tomorrow have led to the authorities cutting social media links.

Below are three reports, which I am sharing them as background.


Social media restricted in Ethiopia after church rift turns violent


Ethiopian Orthodox faithful attend Epiphany celebration to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ on Lake Dambal in Batu town of Oromia Region
Ethiopian Orthodox faithful attend Epiphany celebration to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ on Lake Dambal in Batu town of Oromia Region, Ethiopia January 19, 2023. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

NAIROBI, Feb 10 (Reuters) – Access to social media platforms has been restricted in Ethiopia, Internet watchdog NetBlocks said, following violent protests sparked by a rift within the country’s Orthodox Church.

The protests broke out in the Oromiya region when three church officials declared themselves archbishops last month and set up their own governing body. Some demonstrators have opposed their move while others have supported it.

At least 30 people have been killed in protests since Feb. 4, the church said in a statement on Thursday.

The statement called for demonstrations on Sunday, accusing the Ethiopian government of “meddling” in the church’s internal affairs after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed asked his ministers to stay out of the dispute.

The Ethiopian state has traditionally maintained close ties to the Orthodox Church, to which more than 40% of the population adheres.

Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday. The government said in a statement on Thursday that the upcoming protest was banned to prevent violence.

Access to Facebook, Messenger, TikTok and Telegram was severely restricted, NetBlocks said in statement late on Thursday, citing network data it had collected.

Ethiopian authorities have previously shut down or restricted access to the internet during periods of political unrest, including in response to protests in 2020 that followed the killing of a popular singer from Oromiya.

Internet and phone communications were also shut down in the northern Tigray region for most of a two-year war that ended in a ceasefire in November.

The Orthodox Church vowed in its statement that Sunday’s protest would go ahead. It said the government’s ban constituted “a declaration to destroy the church once and for all”.

Oromiya, home to Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, has experienced violent conflict for many years, part of wider unrest in Ethiopia, a multi-ethnic country where power has long been contested between federal and regional authorities.

Making sense of the history of dominance and injustice in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church

Girma GutemaBy GIRMA GUTEMA February 2, 20237168 views

@Sinoodoosii Oromiyaa

A rift within the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) has triggered a political earthquake, gripping the attention of believers and nonbelievers alike across Ethiopia. The events of Sunday, January 22, 2023, are unprecedented in magnitude and likely to determine the future of Ethiopia itself. The aftershock of this watershed moment has been the subject of all discussions and discourses on both social media and legacy platforms in Ethiopia and abroad.

The deeply consequential decision by three senior archbishops to appoint 26 bishops to Oromia and other areas in southern Ethiopia is unraveling societal, as well as church-state relations, and it must be handled with extreme care and utmost responsibility. In a worrying escalation, on February 1, 2023, the EOTC accused Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of taking sides and criticized his public comments, which urged the two sides to settle differences through dialogue.

This article attempts to unpack what is at stake in these fast-tracked developments while keeping cautious of the sensitivity that the religious issue at hand warrants.

The Church and State in Ethiopia 

Christianity arrived in ancient Abyssinia during the first quarter of the 4th  century A.D., but the year 1270 is a relevant starting point in the history of church and state, as suggested by the late Tadesse Tamirat, one of the pioneering Ethiopian historians and a distinguished scholarly authority on the hagiographies of the Church and the State during much of the so-called “Solomonic Dynasty,” which ruled the Abyssinian Christian kingdom from 1270 to 1974.

In his brilliant Ph.D. dissertation titled “Church and State in Ethiopia: 1270-1527”, submitted to the University of London in 1968, Tadesse outlines two major reasons why 1270 or the 13th century ushered in active developments both in the church and the state within the Abyssinian kingdom: 1) the literary awakening of the church which led to the revival of monasticism and brought about a series of reform movements initiated by the new monastic leadership. 2) The rising political power of the Solomonic dynasty kings—starting with Yikuno Amlak who seized power in 1270–due to the tremendous increase in wealth of the kingdom and its vassals.

The period marked an important epoch in Abyssinian history because a deal that was struck between the church and the state profoundly shaped the subsequent trajectories of both entities. The pact between Yikuno Amlak, the king, and Abune Tekle Haymanot, the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church—and the uncle of the king—united the church and the state in a common pursuit of territorial expansion. The impact was not only significant at the time but it continues to reverberate even in contemporary Ethiopian society.

Per the pact, outlined in Fitiha Negest –  a medieval era theocratic legal code compiled in the Arabic language by an Egyptian Coptic Christian writer named Abu’l-Fada’il ibn al-Assal in1240 –  the church shares material wealth secured by the kingdom as it wages brutal and expansionist wars to conquer new territories in what Tadesse terms the “outward movements of expansion of both the church and the state.” In turn, the church provided the king with politico-spiritual service of anointment that the king needed for political legitimacy and consolidation of power.

For providing this important service, the patriarch of the church retained a designated seat, supposed to be placed on the right side of the king when they had to publicly lead congregations together. Interestingly, this incredibly important seat in the political power corridors of the Abyssinian medieval era still retains the name of the patriarch who brokered the deal—Abune Tekle Haymanot—in parts of the official and lengthy title of the patriarch of the Church (ዘ መንበረ ተክለ ሃይማኖት—meaning ‘the seat of Tekle Haymanot’). For example, the official title of the current patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Mathias, is “His Holiness Abune Mathias I, Sixth Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Archbishop of Axum and Ichege of the See of Saint Tekle Haymanot.”

In direct reference to these developments in medieval Abyssinia in shaping further developments in other parts of the wider Horn of Africa, the late Tadesse Tamirat wrote: “Of much importance to the history of the whole areas of the Horn of Africa was the rapid expansion of the territorial limits of the Christian kingdom and the evangelization of many of the conquered areas.”

The church and the southern imperial march

Despite repeated attempts, the Abyssinian Christian kingdom could not encroach beyond the highland territories of the Shawan Amhara areas, the southern tip of which was what is today the Debre Birhan town and its environs. Until the third quarter of the 19th century, the brutal expansion of Amhara chiefs was checked by the Tulama Oromo. While the Christian kingdom could not bring the Tulama Oromo hinterlands under its political control, Orthodox Christianity did penetrate Oromo areas as far back as 1284 when the Debre Libanos monastery was established in Salale, in the north Shawa zone of the Oromia State.

The early influences of the church in these north-western frontiers of the Tulama Oromo areas are still visible, particularly along the Muger river valley extending across the Salale-Meta-Ada’a Barga-continuum up until the Entoto mountain escarpment of Finfinne, as demonstrated by the presence of medieval era monasteries and the predominately Orthodox Christian Oromo populations.

Fast forward, the mid-19th century brought good fortune for the Amhara king Sahle Selassie, who managed to establish contacts with Europeans and secure the weapons he needed to forcefully conquer the outlying Oromo territories. He waged seasonal campaigns to raid cattle and other material resources by rampaging the Oromo population in these areas. Historical evidence is lacking on the exact role of the church in Sahle Selassie’s military raids but it comes into clear view under his grandson, Menilek II, who launched his brutal imperial march to the south in the second half of the 19th century, effectively joining the European colonial scramble for Africa. Menilek prosecuted his imperial wars using the firepower he obtained from European colonialists, and the Orthodox Church played a pivotal role in the grand scheme.

As Menilek’s army conquered new territories and engaged in bloody battles, the EOTC priests followed the army, serving as spiritual councilors and military psychologists. In return, the church shared up to a third of what was acquired during the military conquest of the new territories, including lands and other material wealth. The symbiotic relationship between the church and the Solomonic dynasty was sustained until the 1974 revolution seriously severed this relationship.

EOTC and the revolutions of 1974 and 1991

The 1974 regime change in Ethiopia was caused by both evolutionary deadlock and revolutionary upheavals. This is to say, that the historic regime change was revolutionary because it abolished the economic base that hitherto sustained the predatory feudal system of the Solomonic dynasty for more than seven centuries. On the other hand, it was caused by an evolutionary deadlock because although emperor Haile Selassie progressed much in bureaucratizing his empire in the name of modernization, the monarchy had run its course and reached the terminal point of its reign, so much so that it was impossible to continue ruling Ethiopia using a backward feudal system of governance which was abandoned in other parts of the world two or three centuries earlier. Haile Selassie’s modernization project was an inherently self-defeating endeavor as an empire cannot be bureaucratized, and it was destined to destroy his empire.

The decaying monarchy also faced popular struggles including those championed by university students and the peasantry in Oromia and the wider south. But it is also true that had the regime had an iota of political and social basis to outlast the revolution, the combined forces of those popular struggles were not sufficient to depose a consolidated monarchy that counts in thousands of years of its continuity.

The collapse of the imperial regime and the subsequent seizure of power by the military junta in March 1974 severed the ties between the church and the modern Ethiopian state. However, it did not decouple the church from the state. As such, even under the communist-inspired military regime, the church continued to command the soul of the state, leading a New York Times correspondent to report: “Once in power, the Marxists here did not directly attack the Orthodox Church. There were few church closings and few arrests of priests. Instead, the state moved to co-opt the church.”

The 1991 revolution, which toppled the military regime redefined the state structure and federalized it, while tactically ignoring the church and its reactionary influences on the political developments underway, particularly in Oromia and the country’s south. A notable event that happened within the church under the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) regime was the exile of the patriarch, Abune Merkorios, whom many believe was appointed by the Derg after killing his predecessor allegedly for refusing to abandon his loyalty to emperor Haile Selassie. Abune Merkorios went on to establish his own “synod in exile”, effectively splitting the church into two.

This problem remained the source of division among the Orthodox faithful until 2018 when Abiy Ahmed, the new Prime Minister, intervened to reconcile the two synods. The synods reconciled under vague circumstances, and the murky process may have sown the seeds of future conflicts as many radicalized Amhara members of the “synod in exile” returned home to take over key positions within the EOTC, including the executive of the church’s clergy council office and the synod’s secretariat, while nominally keeping the patriarch, Abune Mathias. Abune Mathias replaced the late patriarch Abune Paulos, who some say was appointed by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated the EPRDF, upon the latter’s death in the summer of 2012.

It’s conceivable that the latest rift within the ranks of the EOTC leadership got direct bearings from the developments described above; it carries a profoundly significant consequence for church-state and church-society relations in Ethiopia.

Holy Synod of Oromia and Nations and Nationalities

Oromo leaders in the EOTC have long complained about the obsolete administrative structures of the church in the Oromia state. The imperial-era administrative structures and governance of the church failed to sufficiently reach out to and serve the faithful in their mother tongue. As a result, tens of millions of the church’s followers flocked to the protestant and evangelical denominations that have a history of tailoring their religious teachings and other church services to local vernaculars. The resulting exodus from the Orthodox Church diminished its influence in Oromia and many parts of the country’s south. For years, the EOTC ignored, dismissed, and misrepresented as tribalism and anti-Ethiopian calls by the Orthodox faithful and leaders within its ranks to adapt to the demographic, linguistic, and political changes taking shape since the 1974 revolution.

Ethiopia has so far conducted only three official population and housing censuses (in 1984, 1994, and 2007) and the data show that at the national level, the percentage of Orthodox church followers decreased from 54 percent in the first census to 43.5 percent in the third census. Tailored data for Oromia and other places in the south are lacking. However, it’s reasonable to assume that the decline in the number of Orthodox followers in these regions is much higher than the national average.

In effect, the Church failed to respond to the reality on the ground and the recommendations of the Oromo leaders in the synod and other administrative structures of the church; its failure to make structural adjustments in the governance of the church and bring its teachings in line with the times pushed followers to leave the church in droves. Ethnic Amharas always had absolute dominance over the administrative and governance structures of the church, but the 2018 reconciliation appears to have emboldened formerly exiled radical Amhara elements to take full control of the synod. Their efforts to consolidate the control of the church effectively killed any practical possibility, even on a remote horizon, that the legitimate question of Oromo and other leaders of the church will get feasible answers.

The current patriarch, Abune Mathias, remains virtually muzzled by the synod and its Amhara functionaries. Oromo leaders of the church say about 84 percent of the synod’s leaders are from the Amhara region with an extremely skewed distribution toward those from Gonder. As a result, the patriarch remains practically paralyzed to make his own decisions in responding to the just questions of the Oromo and others within the church leadership.

Apparently, it was this state of affairs within the church’s paralyzed and unresponsive administrative structures that pushed the Oromo leaders to the limits—to appoint bishops without altering the dogma and teachings of the church. Accordingly, three senior Oromo archbishops sitting in the synod of the church appointed, on January 22, 2023, about two dozen bishops to address longstanding linguistic and spiritual questions in Oromia and other parts of southern Ethiopia. It is important to note here that the bishops’ appointments were made in line with the seven-century-old canon of the church itself, as outlined by the three archbishops in their press release.

The Amhara-dominated synod has since excommunicated the Oromo leaders from the church and the latter has also reciprocated the excommunication.

The Orthodox faithful across Oromia are cheerfully receiving the newly appointed religious leaders as they arrive at their local churches. The hardliner Amhara political camp has panicked in the face of fast-moving developments and an outpouring of public support for the Holy Synod of Oromia and Nations and Nationalities.

The EOTC synod is vacillating between accusing the government of enabling the split and calls for government intervention to stop the new synod. Abiy has warned his cabinet and government not to intervene in the affairs of the church, and called on leaders of the two synods to find a negotiated settlement.

Meanwhile, the Oromo people have lined up in unison in support of the leaders resisting linguistic, spiritual, and cultural injustice within EOTC. In the end, regardless of whether or not the Holy Synod of Oromia and Nations and Nationalities succeeds in its mission of decolonizing the church, their defiant and courageous act is set to define an important epoch in the history of the Oromo struggle for justice and equality in Ethiopia.

Source: Addis Standard

News: Joint Security, Intelligence Task Force cautions against unauthorized rallies, threatens to take actions as Orthodox Church Schism takes toll

FEBRUARY 9, 2023

Addis Abeba – The Ethiopian Joint Security and Intelligence Task Force cautioned both dissenting groups of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) to restrain from calling for unauthorized demonstration to be conducted in Addis Abeba, and elsewhere in the country, to deliberately “create unrest” among the faithful.

In a statement it released on Wednesday, the Task Force said that it has reviewed the recent situation in the EOTC and it strongly believes all efforts must be exerted to resolve the dispute through peaceful means.

The Joint Security and Intelligence Task Force that consists National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), the Federal Police Commission, and Information Network Security Agency (INSA), further blamed the social media activists for steering the situation and inciting violence.

The joint task force also warned the entire population to abstain from the “illegal demonstration and conflict-inciting activities” taking into consideration that there is no any kind of demonstration authorized by the concerned body.

“Any force that acts illegally and those who try to coordinate and participate in the demonstrations” are responsible for any damage up on citizens and the country. The joint task force will take the necessary legal measure in a bid to ensure the peace and security of the country,” the statement said.

It also stated that the joint task force will continue to “strengthen the security protection for the religious fathers and the followers of the faith”.

On 01 February, the Synod of the EOTC issued ultimatum to the government threatening to call for a worldwide protest if corrective measures were not to be taken with regard to “upholding the institutional supremacy of the Church, the rights and interests given to it by law, and by giving appropriate correction to the illegal actions” of the breakaway Archbishops.

The ultimatum was followed by an announcement on 04 February, of plans to stage nationwide protest rallies to be led by Patriarch of the EOTC, Abuna Mathias, beginning from 12 February. The breakaway archbishops have also called on their followers for a support rallies on the same day, in Addis Abeba and elsewhere in the country.

The statement by the Joint Security and Intelligence Task Force warned that different “agitations are being made to use the opportunity to take the lives of citizens and other conflict-provoking activities”, adding that, “this approach is opening the door for anti-peace forces working to destroy our country by using the incident as a cover”.

“Different illegal activities have been made to make the demonstration bloody and many weapons were being circulated in a coordinated operation in different areas…”the statement emphasized.

The joint task force also pinpointed that at the time when preparations are being completed to hold the annual heads of states summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa, organizing illegal demonstrations under the guise of religion is a deliberate act of trying to disrupt the assembly and giving image that there is insecurity in the country.

It called on the entire nation, religious fathers and the followers of the faith to comprehend the situation and restrain from being the execution of the “evil intentions for our historical enemies” who are working together with the internal terrorist forces, individuals who operate on social media, and with some political parties who want to take power to bring “unrelenting violence” in the country.

On Monday the Addis Abeba Police said that, “19 police leaders and officers sustained serious and light injuries” during a confrontation with a group of people who gathered at St. Lideta of the Orthodox Church, located in Philidoro, a location bordering Addis Abeba City and Oromia Regional State Special Zone Surrounding Finnfine, escalating tensions between the Synod and government.

On Saturday, 04 February, clashes between followers of Orthodox Christianity and the local police in West Arsi zone, Shashemene city of the Oromia Region “claimed the lives of many people.” The clashes erupted at St. Michael Church during a reception ceremony for members clergy appointed by the new “Holy Synod of Oromia and Nations and Nationalities.

These confrontations are happening in the backdrop of tensions between the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church (EOTC) and the government following differences over three breakaway Archbishops and 25 appointee episcopate, whom the Holy Synod accused of involving in “illegal anointment” and subsequently decided to excommunicate the group. The Holy Synod also accused the government of direct involvement in the crisis.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) has filed a request to the Federal High Court, Lideta division, fundamental rights, and freedoms bench to ban the three breakaway archbishops and the 25 appointee episcopate from accessing the church’s possessions for three months until it prepares to file formal lawsuit against them. The court on Wednesday for the second time adjourned the ruling on a request for Friday.