The Peoples of the World Foundation

Education for and about Indigenous Peoples

Op-Ed August, 2018: Milito Estas For!
Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

Despite my travels having taken me close to each of their borders, I have never visited Eritrea, North Korea or South Sudan. Had I been born a few generations earlier I would never have had the opportunity. Because these countries did not exist. Until recently, Eritrea was part of Ethiopia; North Korea was part of Korea and South Sudan was part of Sudan. They are each countries born out of conflict.

When John Lennon and Yoko Ono released the song Happy Xmas (War is Over) in 1971, it was mainly a protest song against the American war in Vietnam. It asserts that "war is over if you want it." In the United States at the time, majority public support for that war was beginning to decline. I believe the song played a part in swaying public opinion against that war. Accompanied by an unusual, global advertising campaign that continues, on a much smaller scale, today, Lennon and Ono made it clear at the time that they were talking about all wars.

The song also cautions that "the road is so long." Almost fifty years after it was released war is still not over even though that is what the majority of people in war zones want.

Yet there has been progress. Few can be unaware of the recent changing tides in North Korea — even though that war is not officially over. Even last month further progress was made (and apparently set back again just two days ago). Many are likely less aware of the recent changing tides in South Sudan since, despite great similarity with the situation in Syria, the country gets far less mainstream press coverage. Like North Korea, there have been failed attempts in the past to end the horrific suffering of the people most affected. Last month a tenuous, non-inclusive peace agreement was announced. The final agreement is expected to be signed a few days from now. But the biggest surprise last month came from the Horn of Africa. Eritrea and Ethiopia, after twenty years, formally declared the end of their war.

Between them, these three wars have resulted in millions of deaths and displaced people. Caught in the crossfire of such wars are, often, indigenous people. In the case of Eritrea and Ethiopia the most affected indigenous people are the Afar. For twenty years divided family members could not visit, write or even talk to each other by telephone.

When I visited the Afar region of Ethiopia at the end of last year I was only a few kilometers from the Eritrean border. I was accompanied throughout my journey by Afar security personnel like this man. Some in my group speculated as to whether their presence was truly necessary for our safety. A few days after I left, a German tourist, who was not accompanied by security personnel, was shot dead in the area by Eritrean rebels.

None of these events from last month happened because of the will of the people impacted. Instead they have more pragmatic explanations. Although I chose to title this opinion "War is Over!" using the Esperanto language, I hope that Lennon and Ono's sentiment does not prove as futile as that language's attempt to unite us under a common voice.

Learn more about the Afar people.

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