Sunday, July 11, 2021

Ethiopia's Future Hangs the Balance

by Elizabeth Kendal 

On 28 June, in what seemed to be an instantaneous and inexplicable reversal of fortunes, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – the Marxist organisation that dominated, terrorised and robbed Ethiopia for three decades – regained control of Mekelle (the Tigray capital). 

The TPLF’s boast, that it had routed the far superior Ethiopian military, is pure propaganda, nothing but a lie. 

Captives on parade.
Photo by Finbarr O'Reillyfor The New York Times

As it turns out, the TPLF entered Mekelle after the Ethiopian government announced a unilateral ceasefire having already withdrawn Tigray’s interim administration.

After being paraded through the streets, some 6000 captured Ethiopian troops were imprisoned in Tigray. 

In a 2 July Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) President Gregory Copley explains: “Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali on June 28, 2021, called a unilateral ceasefire in military operations against the Tigré (Tigray) Popular Liberation Front (TPLF) forces in Tigré Region of Ethiopia. This allowed TPLF forces unfettered access to the regional capital, Mekelle, and the prospect that the region would once again attempt to seal itself of hermetically from the rest of Ethiopia. 

“It is believed that Dr Abiy gave in to immense pressure from the US government, which had threatened to propose – through the UN Security Council – an armed intervention in Ethiopia to stop an ‘humanitarian crisis’ in the region. The TPLF rejected the ceasefire, and said that it would continue to fight against Ethiopian Government forces, confident in its backing from the US. The TPLF also said that it would continue its war against the adjacent Amhara people…

“What is significant,” notes Copley, “is that there has been no independent verification of the claims of Ethiopian and Eritrean government atrocities against the Tigrean people.” 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Caves to US Pressure on Tigré, Opening the Region to Major Instability
Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, by Gregory Copley, via Borkena, 2 July 2021

Pressure from US and EU Gives Wrong Signal: Violence Pays Off
By International Affairs Expert Simo-Pekka Parviainen (Finland), 7 July 2021 

Critically, as Stratfor (geopolitical intelligence) notes (1 July), the TPLF victory in Tigray “risks triggering more conflict elsewhere in the country [e.g. Oromia Region and Ogaden/Somali Region], placing both Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s political future and his economic reform plans in peril… 

“The conflict in Ethiopia will likely worsen over the coming months.” 

A Rebel Victory in Tigray Leaves Ethiopia’s Abiy in Hot Water,
Stratfor Worldview, 1 July 2021 (subscription) 


“Despite the TPLF’s quick seizure of Mekelle and the ENDF’s [Ethiopian National Defense Force’s] unilateral cease-fire, the conflict in Ethiopia will likely worsen over the coming months. The TPLF has said it will not stop its offensive operation until all ENDF and ENDF-allied forces can no longer threaten Tigray, including the forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region and the troops from neighboring country Eritrea that both joined the ENDF during its November offensive. Eritrea and Amhara, however, are unlikely to accept a permanent re-entrenchment of the TPLF in Tigray. Eritrea views the TPLF as an existential threat, given its role in the two countries’ 1998-2000 conflict that took place along Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Amhara nationalists had also hoped to use the TPLF’s decline to expand their influence within Ethiopia. The Amhara branch of Ethiopia’s ruling Prosperity Party has already said that the four former TPLF-controlled territories it seized after the November offensive will remain in Amhara, raising the risk for potential clashes in the future.”


To understand why “Eritrea and Amhara are unlikely to accept a permanent re-entrenchment of the TPLF in Tigray”; and why “Eritrea views the TPLF as an existential threat”; and why “the four former TPLF-controlled territories it seized after the November offensive will remain in Amhara” (ensuring conflict will continue); we need to understand something of history and ideology of the TPLF in Ethiopia. 

Tigray Conflict: Homework Not Done by Western Countries Has Led to Wrong Policy Action
Simo-Pekka Parviainen, 18 May 2021


In October 2016, Aleksandra W. Gadzala wrote concerning Ethiopia’s anti-government protests (which ran from 2015 to February 2018): 

“Ethiopia is made up of nine dominant ethnic groups and approximately eighty others. Historically, the Amhara people … were the country’s governing force. Emperor Haile Selassie, Emperor Menilek (1889–1913) before him, and Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Derg regime (1974–89) [a Marxist-Leninist military junta backed by the Soviet Union] after him were all Amhara. Each sought to establish a unified Ethiopia with Amharic as the official language and the Amhara culture as the foundation of Ethiopian identity. All other identities were to be eliminated – either by way of assimilation, or by force. In this the Derg [Amharic for Committee], was especially merciless. It perceived ethnic diversity as a threat to state unity; through its Red Terror campaign, it brutally slaughtered over five hundred thousand people – all, in its eyes, enemies of the Amhara state…

“Years of repression ultimately gave way to resentment of the Amhara and, by extension, the state. It also gave rise to what Ethiopian historian Gebru Tareke calls ‘dissent nationalism,’ and the emergence of ethno-nationalist groups like the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). For the TPLF, the state was an oppressive and colonizing force from which the country’s ethnicities had to be liberated. In 1975 the group waged what amounted to a secessionist struggle: its 1976 manifesto established ‘the first task of the national struggle will be the establishment of an independent democratic republic of Tigray.’ When in 1989 the TPLF, then already under the direction of Meles Zenawi, successfully overthrew the Derg and in 1991 merged with three other political factions to form the EPRDF [Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front], Ethiopia was subdivided into nine mostly ethnic regions, each with the right to independent lawmaking, executive, and judicial powers. Enshrined in Article 39.3 of the constitution is the right of all ethnicities to ‘self-government.’ 

Gadzala explains how the TPLF-dominated EPRDF government then proceeded – by way of violent repression – to centralise governance to the point that ethnic federalism became meaningless. “In this way,” writes Gadzala (2016), “decades of Amhara control have given way to decades of Tigray control. The presidential office, the parliament, central government ministries and agencies – including public enterprises – and financial institutions have since 1991 all been controlled by the TPLF. So too the military.” 

Ethiopia Opens a Pandora’s Box of Ethnic Tensions
By Aleksandra W. Gadzala, The National Interest, 12 Oct 2016.


In 1983, at the height of the Cold War, the US government of President Ronald Reagan issued National Security Directive 75, which summarised US policy towards the Soviet Union.  US policy was designed, “To contain and over time reverse Soviet expansionism by competing effectively on a sustained basis with the Soviet Union in all international arenas – particularly in the overall military balance and in geographical regions of priority concern to the United States. . .” while working towards “a more pluralistic political and economic system” within the Soviet Union.

At that time, Ethiopia was ruled by the Derg, a Marxist-Leninist military junta backed by the Soviet Union. In line with Directive 75, the US backed the Marxist-Leninist TPLF as it led the fight against the Soviet-backed Derg. To paraphrase the thinking of President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “They might be sons of bitches [in this case neither Fascists nor Islamists but Marxists], but they are our sons of bitches.” 

This mindset outlived the collapse of Communism in Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union to continue into the War on Terror, proving that the US is as capable as any Great Power of unprincipled pragmatism in pursuit of geostrategic and economic interests. 

Despite US backing, the TPLF was still little more than a separatist guerrilla force from an ethnic minority fighting against a Soviet-backed military junta. In 1989, fortunes reversed as communism collapsed in Europe. In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and the TPLF-led Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) – comprising the TPLF, the Amhara Democratic Party, the Oromo Democratic Party, and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement – took control of Ethiopia. 

A 2004 paper by Matthew McCracken brings to light “the hidden agenda of Ethiopia’s central government” [i.e. the US-backed TPLF-dominated EPRDF]. 

McCracken explains how the TPLF abused its power to further its illegitimate aims: diverting aid to Tigray in order to enrich the state, and using Ethiopian soldiers to fight a war against Eritrea on its behalf in an attempt to expand the borders of Tigray.

Abusing Self-Determination and Democracy: How the TPLF Is Looting Ethiopia
By Matthew J. McCracken 
Case Western Reserve University, Journal of International Law, Vol 36, issue 1, 2004. (40 pages)

Excerpts from the introduction:

“After Eritrean and Tigrayan rebels overthrew Ethiopia’s socialist-military government in 1991, members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (or ‘TPLF’) reorganized into a new political party known as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (or ‘EPRDF’) and assumed control of Ethiopia’s central government. After 100 years of domination by the Amhara tribe, Ethiopia’s new government, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, claimed to usher in a new era of political openness.

“This so-called ‘Revolutionary Era’ produced many significant political changes…

“When Ethiopia’s Constitution was ratified in 1994, it established Ethiopia as a federal republic, and embraced the principle of self-determination through democratic rule… the Constitution granted all ‘Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ in Ethiopia the unconditional right to secede from the nation. To Ethiopian minorities and observers in the international community, the country seemed poised for democratic reform that would end decades of oppression.

“However, soon after the new Constitution was ratified, some legal scholars criticized its provision that allows regions within Ethiopia to secede. According to these scholars, the provision, articulated in Article 39, creates an unworkable form of central government by making it too easy for the country to break apart. Under Article 39, all a region needs to exercise its right of secession is a referendum passed by a two-thirds majority of its regional parliament and a separate referendum passed by a simple majority of the national parliament.

“Most of the scholars who have criticized Article 39 assume that its inclusion in the 1994 Constitution came about as a compromise between the EPRDF and other regional representatives. Under this assumption, the EPRDF reluctantly included Article 39 in the Constitution in order to appease regional calls for self-determination rights by minority populations who were inspired by Eritrea’s secession in 1993. In other words, the EPRDF needed to include Article 39 in order to garner support from Ethiopia’s regional governments and preserve the country's national integrity.

“However, recent developments have demonstrated that this assumption is probably incorrect. A new theory regarding the EPRDF’s purpose behind Article 39 is quietly gaining acceptance in Ethiopian and international circles. Although this theory is highly speculative, it is also potentially illuminating and explosive. It has all the hallmarks of a grand conspiracy theory: it implicates the highest levels of the Ethiopian [TPLF-dominated EPRDF] government; it involves a far-reaching plan with long-term goals; and it involves the use of violence and under-handed politics in order to perpetrate a fraud on the Ethiopian people and the international community. Worst of all, it is probably correct.

“In brief, the new theory is this: the TPLF-dominated EPRDF intentionally included Article 39 in Ethiopia’s 1994 Constitution so that the Tigray region could loot Ethiopia of its resources, use the Ethiopian military to expand the borders of Tigray, and then secede from Ethiopia. Underlying this theory is the widely held opinion that the TPLF and EPRDF are not independent organizations, but symbiotic.

“The evidence supporting this theory comes from several sources. Most importantly, the TPLF put its intentions in writing in the organization’s manifesto known as the ‘Republic of Greater Tigrai’. Drafted by TPLF leaders in 1976, the manifesto sets forth an elaborate plan for the liberation of Tigray from Ethiopian rule. The plan involves two main steps: 1) re-demarcating Tigray’s borders to expand the region’s borders within Ethiopia, and 2) acquiring coastal lands within Eritrea [reaching all the way to the Red Sea] and seceding as an independent nation…”

Having written the right to self-governance and even secession into the constitution, the TPLF-dominated EPRDF then used every repressive and violent means in its arsenal to frustrate that right, while never surrendering its own vision of an independence Republic of Greater Tigray. “It seems likely,” writes McCracken, “that the TPLF/EPRDF, like the Derg before it, never had any intention of allowing other regions [e.g. Oromia Region or Ogaden/Somali Region] to secede from Ethiopia…” 

Rather, it seems the TPLF’s plan was always enrichment, enlargement, and then secession by way of Article 39. 

McCracken writes: “In addition to diverting money from the rest of Ethiopia to Tigray, international aid organizations suspect that the TPLF has also misappropriated donated monies. Since overthrowing the socialist Derg, the ostensibly-democratic EPRDF has been able to secure large amounts of aid from Western nations such as the United States. According to the international advocacy group Human Rights Watch (or ‘HRW’), Western nations have poured in funding to help the country develop, but turned a blind eye to human rights violations … not wishing to jeopardize Ethiopia’s cooperation in fighting terrorism.”

In 2010 a BBC investigation found  that the TPLF had indeed misappropriated donated monies, and that “Millions of dollars in Western aid for victims of the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85 was siphoned off by rebels to buy weapons.”

This begs the question; “Does the TPLF actually care about Tigreans?” 


The Ethiopian government has been accused of engineering famine and using food as a weapon. It is a horrendous accusation, one the government firmly denies, rejecting the claims as “baseless and politically motivated”. 

In November 2020, when the TPLF triggered this war by massacring hundreds of ethnic Amhara soldiers and then civilians in Mai-Kadra (Mycadra), western Tigray state, Tigreans were struggling to deal with the region’s worst locust plague in 25 years. That famine was already closing in on Tigray before the TPLF started the war shows just how much the TPLF cares for Tigreans (about as much as Hamas cares for Palestinians)! 

What's more, Copley notes, “there has been no independent verification of the claims of Ethiopian and Eritrean government atrocities against the Tigrean population”.

Rather, continues Copley, “The TPLF has, with some of the estimated $30-billion stolen from Ethiopian funds (and much of that coming from US direct and covert aid during the US Barack Obama-Joe Biden Administration), engaged in a major, professional information warfare campaign against the Abiy Government which replaced the Marxist TPLF Government. This has been assisted by the reality that the TPLF retained great friendships in Washington, DC, as a result of the [Dec 2009] deal which the former TPLF Meles Zenawi Government did with Washington to train and equip the TPLF’s private, 30,000-man army in exchange for US use of Ethiopian air basing, particularly at Arba Minch, in Southern Ethiopia.” (emphasis mine)

Indeed, the US Air Force invested tens of millions of dollars to upgrade the Arba Minch Airport runway and build an annex where it housed a fleet of Reaper drones which it used in the battle against al-Shabaab in Somalia between 2011-2016

But for the US to have the Meles/TPLF-led EPRDF regime as an ally in the War on Terror it had to turn a blind eye to endemic corruption and gross human rights abuses. For while the US was fighting actual terrorists, the TPLF-dominated EPRDF was using its anti-terror laws to crack down on political dissent, incarcerating thousands political prisoners, many of whom were severely tortured. 

Copley continues: “Senior TPLF officials – many of whom were given US passports by the Obama Administration – boast often of their friendship with senior US officials, but particularly with Dr Susan Rice, the former National Security Advisor to the Obama-Biden White House (July 1, 2013 to January 20, 2017). During her tenure as National Security Advisor, Dr Rice’s deputy was Antony Blinken, now the US Secretary of State in the Joe Biden Administration. But Dr Rice, who is currently Director of the Domestic Policy Council which reports to Pres. Biden, had a long history of engagement with the TPLF, particularly dating from her years as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the William Clinton Administration, and as Ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013... Now, the same team of Obama-Clinton officials are back in power in Washington, DC.”


This might seem like a lot of information and a lot of background, but it really is important. For a narrative is being promulgated, and disseminated by Western politicians and mainstream media that is essentially an inversion of the truth. What’s more, this narrative – that PM Abiy is essentially a genocidal war criminal against whom the heroic TPLF must fight to liberate its oppressed people – can only take Ethiopia and the whole Horn of Africa into a place of unparalleled catastrophe; something one would assume is not in the West’s interests!  

On 29 October 2020, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) released a report by its Senior Study Group on Peace and Security in the Red Sea Arena. The report notes that political transitions in Sudan and Ethiopia have “set the region on a transformative new trajectory toward reform and stability”. However, it warns that state failure “would send a tidal wave of instability across Africa and the Middle East” (page 4).  

“Given their populations of approximately 45 million and 105 million, Sudan and Ethiopia are respectively more than two times and six times the size of pre-war Syria. Fragmentation of either country would be the largest state collapse in modern history, likely leading to mass inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict; a dangerous vulnerability to exploitation by extremists [code for Islamic jihadists]; an acceleration of illicit trafficking, including of arms; as well as a humanitarian and security crisis at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East on a scale that would overshadow the existing conflicts in South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen” (page 10). 

Excerpt from McCracken’s conclusion (2004)

“It remains to be seen whether or not the TPLF will ever be able to realize the goals set forth in the ‘Republic of Greater Tigrai’. It is possible that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the other TPLF members remaining in Ethiopia’s central government have given up on ever asserting Tigray’s independence following Ethiopia’s failure to gain access to the Red Sea.

“The international community, led by the United States, has chosen to ignore [numerous questions] in the case of Ethiopia. Perhaps the United States is too concerned with preserving Ethiopia as an ally in the ‘war on terror’ to question the legitimacy of [EPRDF-ruled] Ethiopia’s ‘democracy’. By blindly aiding Ethiopia [i.e. the EPRDF] and the TPLF, the United States risks creating a populous in Ethiopia rich with anti-American sentiment. The secession of Tigray would only provoke more anger and ultimately create the potential for more terror directed at American interests. The world cannot afford to ignore the hidden agenda of the TPLF any longer.” 

In concluding his strategic analysis (2 July 2021), Copley wonders: 

Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed

 “… will the Government in Addis Ababa awaken to the reality that its chosen ally, the United States (for which it abandoned the Meles Government’s support for the People’s Republic of China), has, in fact, abandoned it. And would Dr Abiy, with that realization, resume attacks on the TPLF, regardless of US pressure? At that point, it seems likely that the US would do what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already threatened to do: to seek United Nations Security Council approval for an international military intervention into Ethiopia on ‘peacekeeping’ grounds, much as the same US team attempted to do (eventually getting some NATO support) in Yugoslavia during the 1990s?”

Ethiopia's future hangs in the balance.


Helpful Background: 

Ethiopia-Eritrea: Reforms and Resistance
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 25 June 2018

Ethiopia-Eritrea: rapprochement achieved; now for implementation.
The silver cloud (of peace) has a dark lining (the TPLF).
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 23 July 2018

Slaughter in Oromia: The Battle for Ethiopia Heats Up
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 14 June 2020

Ethiopia: Collapse Would Trigger Christian Crisis
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, 18 Nov 2020

Ethiopia: Pivotal Elections; Church Massacre
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, 17 March 2021 


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Papua (Indonesian): This is What State Terror Looks Like.

by Elizabeth Kendal 

On Sunday 25 April a small detachment of Indonesian security personnel was patrolling a crime scene in Puncak Regency, in the Central Highlands of Papua Province, when it was ambushed by Papuan rebels. A firefight ensued and Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) provincial intelligence chief Brig. Gen. I Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha was shot dead in what appears to have been a planned assassination

Indonesian President Joko Widodo immediately called for retaliation. 

On Thursday 29 April, police claimed to have killed nine Papuan fighters in Puncuk district on Tuesday 27 April in retaliation for Nugraha’s killing. However, the spokesman for the rebel group, Sebby Sambom denied the claim, calling it a “big lie” and “propaganda” designed to boost the Indonesian military’s (TNI) morale.  


On 29 April, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD announced that Papuan armed criminal groups (Kelompok Kriminal Bersenjata: KKB) would now be categorized as ‘terrorists’ in line with Counterterrorism Law No. 8/2018. The Counterterrorism Law grants security forces the power to authorise massive disproportionate surveillance, and detain suspects for longer periods without charge, increasing the risk that suspects will be abused and tortured. 

Papuan Governor Lukas Enembe immediately urged the government to reconsider. He warned that, rather than helping the situation, the “terrorist” designation could instead bring much harm. Governor Enembe “reiterated the Papua administration’s demand for the central government to tone down its heavy-handed approach in tackling problems in the province. ‘We want the security approach in Papua to be conducted in a more humane [manner], with an exchange of words and ideas, not an exchange of bullets,’ he said on Thursday [29 April]. He also urged the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police to thoroughly assess the armed groups’ strength, location and characteristics to avoid civilian casualties or wrongful arrests.”

Numerous human rights organisations and advocates – including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) – similarly denounced the move and expressed concerns that the terrorist designation could trigger racist violence against Papuans outside of Papua, and be used to justify mass, gross human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture and killings, much of it compounded by the extreme racial-religious hatred so many Javanese Muslims (especially in the Indonesian military) have for their Melanesian predominantly Christian compatriots. 

Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said that the designation only showed the government’s failure to address the root of Papua’s problems and most probably will hurt rather than help that Papuans. “Based on our monitoring, military and police personnel allegedly often justify the killing of Papuan people by claiming that they were members of the Free Papua Movement [OPM] or ‘armed criminal groups’ without providing clear evidence – claims that are often denied by local residents and church leaders,” he said in a statement. “The [new] ‘terrorist’ label will only serve as further justification for such terrible human rights abuses.” (Jakarta Post, 2 May)


On Sunday 2 May, Indonesian media reported that the Indonesian military (TNI) had deployed its 400-strong elite Infantry 315/Garuda Battalion to Papua. Video footage has been released of the battle-hardened battalion – which earned its nickname “Satan’s Forces” (pasukan setan) in East Timor where it came to known for its brutal methods – performing military drills in Papua in 1 May.  

'Satan's Forces' perform military drills in Papua, 1 May 2021

On 4 May, Papuan leader-in-exile Benny Wenda issued a statement in which he warned: “huge Indonesian military operations, some of the largest in years, are imminent in West Papua. The internet is being cut off, hundreds more troops are being deployed, and we are receiving reports that West Papuan civilians are fleeing from their villages in Intan Jaya, Puncak Jaya, and Nduga regencies . . . This looks like it will be the biggest military operation in West Papua since the late 1970s. . .” 

UK-based Wenda warned that along with Satan’s Forces, the Jala Mangkara Detachment (Denjaka), elite troops of the Indonesian Navy, are also being deployed for what he insists is “state terrorism”. 

On 6 May Reuters confirmed that internet services have been disrupted in the provincial capital of Jayapura and nearby Sentani (40km to the west) since 30 April. Exiled Indonesian rights activist Victoria Koman, said she had received reports that mobile and internet services in Puncak have also been disrupted. Papua has gone dark!

Andreas Harsono, a researcher with HRW’s Indonesia office is not alone in his assessment that, “The underlying problem in Papua is racism: racism against the dark skinned and curly haired people, and of course those that do most of the human rights abuses against ethnic Papuans, these dark-skinned, curly-haired people who are predominantly also Christian in Muslim-majority Indonesia, are Indonesian soldiers and police officers.” (RNZ, 7 May)

As tensions soared, Harsono urged the Indonesian government to put the threat posed by Papuan KKB into perspective. “According to Indonesian military estimate, they only have (around) 200 weapons. It is tiny, it is insignificant. Of course they are criminal, they kill people. Of course the police should act against them. But branding them as a terrorist organisation, these people who live in the forest who try to defend their forest, their culture, and their own people, mostly using bows and arrows, this is going to be ridiculous. This is going to affect these indigenous people so much.” 

What do children at this Christian school in Papua
want to be when they grow up?
A Pastor, a missionary, a pilot . . . 
Photo by Jeremy Weber, for his article, 
Life and Death in ‘The Land of the Clouds’,
Christianity Today, November 2020.

Which brings us to the truth

The real goal of this totally disproportionate military offensive is not security! The real goal is not to neutralise an existential terrorist threat, for there isn’t one! To the contrary, the real goal of state terror is always political! The real goal is to eliminate resistance to Indonesian rule by massively increasing the cost. The real goal is to spiritually crush and intimidate into silence every indigenous, ethnic Melanesian, predominantly Christian Papuan who has ever so much as dreamt of Papuan freedom! 


In his book Useful Enemies: When Waging Wars is More Important than Winning Them, (Yale University Press, 2012), Professor David Keen explains how war and violence can have a political function. “This is war’s possible function in intimidating a broad swathe of the population – well beyond the rebels or named enemy.”  

Keen quotes Shelton David who wrote concerning Guatemala: “Most observers are in agreement that the purpose of the Guatemalan army’s counterinsurgency campaign was as much to teach the Indian population a psychological lesson as to wipe out a guerrilla movement that, at its height, had probably no more than 3,500 trained people in arms.” 

Keen also quotes a donor who told him, “There was never a huge guerrilla movement [in Guatemala] – it was more used by the army so they could do what they wanted.” 

What’s more, Keen adds, the counterinsurgency narrative “provided cover and legitimacy for violence against a broad range of political activists and human rights workers”.

Critically, Keen quotes the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Classification which assessed that, “at no time during the internal armed confrontation did the guerrilla groups have the military potential necessary to pose an immanent threat to the State. The number of insurgent combatants was too small to be able to compete in the military arena with the Guatemalan Army, which had more troops and superior weaponry, as well as better training and coordination . . .  The State deliberately magnified the military threat of the insurgency, a practice justified by the concept of the internal enemy. . . [an identification which] served to justify numerous and serious crimes . . . the vast majority of the victims of the acts committed by the State were not combatants in the guerrilla groups, but civilians.” 

While these excerpts (which are taken from pages 112-113), relate to the conflict in Guatemala (1969-1996), they could just as easily be written today in relation to the conflict in Papua (1969 – ongoing). For as was the case in Guatemala (and numerous other conflicts), the Indonesian State is intentionally exaggerating the threat so it can target “politically inconvenient opponents under the cover of a wider war”. 

And make no mistake, this is a war

On 11 May, the Guardian quoted Lanikwe, a women’s community leader, from Wamena, near Puncak, who said the situation for local people was dire. “Thousands are displaced in Puncak, five villages fled into the jungle. Health clinics and schools have been taken over by the military. Soldiers are everywhere. We are living in a war zone.”


Arrested: Victor Yeimo in handcuffs, 9 May 2021.

On Sunday 9 May, Indonesian police in Papua’s provincial capital, Jayapura, arrested Victor Yeimo (38), one of the most prominent leaders inside Papua. 

The Indonesian government is accusing Yeimo of treason, which as UK-based Wenda explains, is ridiculous. “He is accused of ‘masterminding’ the 2019 West Papua Uprising, which was started by Indonesian racism and violence [RLM (27 Aug 2019)] and ended in a bloodbath caused by Indonesian troops” [RLPB 521 (24 Sept 2019)]. 

Human rights lawyer Veronica Koman said the case against Yeimo “feels forced and baseless, but if it goes to court, there is a high chance that judges will find him guilty – even with weak evidence.” 

It might be ridiculous and it might be a sham, but as People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker, Bambang Soesatyo so shamelessly explained at the outset, the real goal is to ‘destroy them first’ and ‘discuss human rights matters later’. 


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).