Some say that worsening ethnic tensions in Ethiopia, and the maneuvers politicians are making based on them, could result in worse fighting. They warn that the new prime minister must do more to protect ordinary Tigrayans and show that they are not the enemy if Ethiopia is to transition peacefully to an effective democracy.

“The prime minister needs to be careful not to allow his targeting of anti-reform elements within the TPLF, to become an attack on the people of Tigray,” Soliman says. “The region has a history of resolute peoples and will have to be included with all other regions, in order for Abiy to accomplish his goals of reconciliation, socio-political integration and regional development, as well as long-term peace with Eritrea.”

The current swirl of frustrations, demands, and grievances extend beyond Ethiopia’s borders. The Ethiopian diaspora is particularly active, and while it has done much to speak truth to the power of the former regime, it is in its realm of social media that, perhaps not surprisingly, anti-Tigrayan sentiment has become the most toxic.

“I hope all of you ‘civil servants,’ police, army, members and cleaners, whores, pimps, gigolos working for #EPRDF die from diarrhoea today,” remarked one lady back in 2017.

Such vitriol has contributed to making the country’s inherent ethnic fault lines more fragile and susceptible. Walk into an Internet café in Ethiopia, and the majority at computers are young men hoovering up posts on Facebook or other social media sites, many of whom are out of work and without much chance of improving their prospects.

“Tigrayans and other minorities have been targeted in part because of perceptions and even aspirations of other communities, and which have been hammered into people’s minds through organized and persistent propaganda for two decades by domestic and diaspora media and political groupings,” says Addis Ababa-based Daniel Berhane, a blogger and founder of the online magazine Horn Affairs.

In 1990s Rwanda, radio programs such as Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines spread much of the toxic hatred that fueled the country’s genocide. In today’s Ethiopia, social media appears similarly capable of spreading untruths and stoking tensions.

Thus there are Ethiopians across all ethnic groups saying that the time has come to look beyond just criticizing the government and face up to the inherent prejudices and problems that lie at the core of Ethiopian society.

“It’s about the people being willing and taking individual responsibility—the government can’t do everything,” Weyanay says. “People need to read more and challenge their assumptions and get new perspectives.”

The threat posed by ethnic rancor looms large and forebodingly. It’s generally agreed that civil war is unlikely and that comparisons to the likes of Rwanda are clumsy and inappropriate. At the same time, though, surely it is better to err on the side of caution and be heedful of the warning signs.

“Ethnic tensions are the biggest problem for Ethiopia right now,” says Tewodrose Tirfe, chair of the Amhara Association of America, a U.S.-based advocacy group. “You’ve got millions of people displaced—it’s a humanitarian crisis, and it could get out of control.”

/The American Conservative

By James Jeffrey is a freelance journalist who splits his time between the Horn of Africa, the U.S., and the UK, and writes for various international media. Follow him on Twitter @jrfjeffrey.