For five months, the Ethiopian government has been tracking down citizens of Eritrean descent and expelling them by the thousands. This is a peaceful and mild version of ethnic cleansing, so far without the mass murder and rape characteristic of the disintegration of Yugoslavia. It comes in the wake of fighting along the border between the two countries in May and June, and so is fueled by wartime anxieties. But it is nonetheless an effort to purge the population of a country on criteria of ethnicity alone. As such it should disturb the international community much more than it has so far.
Ethiopia is one of the world’s most ethnically heterogeneous societies. Throughout the twentieth century, its leaders have been engaged in projects of trying to forge national unity among the peoples brought together by centuries of empire building. Perhaps the greatest progress in this direction was made by reformers under Emperor Haile Selassie, especially in the decades just after World War II. Agendas of national development, however, also fueled the communist revolution that toppled the emperor in 1973. The ensuing government of Haile Mariam Menghistu was extraordinarily ruthless and violent, but nonetheless committed to nationa...
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