Death Foretold: The killing of my brother
TWO HOURS after midnight, on Oct. 29, my father Muhumed Omer Dubbad and my brother Faysal Muhumed Omer were picked up from my parents’ home in Degahbour, a small town in the eastern part of Ethiopia, by Special Police from the Somali Regional State of Ethiopia. No one knew where they were taken to. By 9:00 a.m. the following morning, my father called from a policeman’s cellphone and said he and my brother were safe and were on their way to Godey, a town 430 kilometers to the southeast of my parent’s hometown.
As we later learned, that phone call was made from Qabridahar, which lies between Degahbour and Godey. At Qabridahar, my father and brother were transferred from the Police car that took them from their home into a Toyota pickup owned by a businesswoman. On their way to Godey, Faysal was shot and thrown from the speeding car. My father and the man who shot my brother together carried the body of the deceased to the car. At about 10:30 a.m. the same day, the police called from Godey and told my family that my brother threw himself from a car and died.
I have strong reasons to believe that my brother’s killing was ordered by the President of the Somali Region of Ethiopia, Abdi Mohamud Omer – a man who has consistently been linked to extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, displacement and other violations by human rights activists and refugees who escaped the turmoil in the region since 2007.
As gruesome as it is, this death isn’t an isolated incident in that restive region of Ethiopia where an insurgency has been going on from around 1994. Neither the method of the killing nor the motive is new or unique. My brother was killed as part of a common guilty-by-association campaign of collective punishment practiced in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. He was killed because of my alleged political views.
I know this sounds like an accusation or a hyperbole. But the prelude to this murder, which I will tell shortly, is so revealing that it will leave the most skeptical of minds with no option other than to agree with my bizarre story. This is not about establishing guilt or innocence. That is the job of a court of law. I have enough evidence to take the accused to court but won’t discuss this here lest I undermine my own legal case. This is about publicizing a horror story of epic proportions and a medieval-style vicarious injustice that is being practiced in this age and time in my part of the world!
My brother’s killing was a death foretold – a real life story reminiscent of the magical realism fictions of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Like the central character in the “Chronicles of Death Foretold” – Santiago Nasar – everybody in my families’ hometown and those who followed my frantic narrations on my Facebook page about my families’ ordeal in the nine days that preceded the killing, know who killed Faysal and why he was killed. But unlike the mythical Santiago, whose fate was hypothetically in own hands, my brother Faysal could have done nothing to save himself. His was a fate more poignant and miserable than what even the insanely creative mind of the acclaimed Colombian writer could conjure up. Faysal’s life was in my hands – or more accurately on my lips.
Ten days before the murder of my brother, President Abdi Mohamud Omer, through his aides, gave me an ultimatum: I must post on my Facebook page that my “criticisms” of the political situation in the Somali Region and the larger Ethiopia were wrong and that I support the “development” and “good governance” the region has witnessed under his leadership or else my families inside Ethiopia will pay a heavy price for my defiance.
I refused to oblige the ultimatum, because a) I didn’t agree with the notion that my personal views on developments in the world and in my own country constitute criticisms against a government or ruling party; b) I knew this demand was not going to be the end of the blackmail and didn’t want to put myself in a situation where I have to do things that I don’t agree with.
As it became clear that I was not prepared to do what was asked of me, the family ordeal begun.
On Oct. 23, my father and the murdered brother were picked up by police, taken to the outskirt of their hometown, stripped from the waist up, slapped, spat on, endured a mock execution, were videotaped and told to tell me that if I don’t comply, the next will be real execution.
On Oct. 24, my mother Asli Mohamud and two sisters, Farhan and Nuura, were told to leave the towns they live in and to go to different distant towns. Each of them were given a name and telephone number of a man they have to go and see. I was then told that since I refused to “listen,” the rape of my mother and sisters will be the next punishment. I told my mother and sisters to move into my house in the regional capital Jigjiga and face their fate together rather than experience the pain of rape in isolation.
On Oct. 25, my sister Nuura was evicted from my house in Jigjiga with a notice of less than a day. Prior to that, two trucks owned by my brothers were confiscated. For a week, my sisters and brothers spent most of their day in police stations, continuously interrogated and threatened. I have been posting all of these events in real time on Facebook, which is why I said my brother’s death was in many ways foretold.
My family took this entire ordeal with remarkable grace and equanimity. My indestructible father refused to disown me as he was tortured to do so before the killing or to blame me for the death afterwards. It is my father’s unconditional love and my family’s understanding that keeps me going as I struggle with the pain of 9 years of unwarranted exile and the excruciating trauma of the last week of October 2016.
I conclude this extraordinary ordeal of an ordinary family with the following message. The Federal Government of Ethiopia did not order or condone my brother’s death or my family’s harassment. They did their best to prevent it and I thank them for protecting the rest of my family. However, my brother’s killing is yet another test for the Ethiopian justice system and the status of the rule of law in the country. I am finalizing preparations to seek legal redress through local courts. I do this despite the ridicule and chagrin of many who think my efforts are in vain. If there is rule of law, I will get justice. If there is no rule of law, my country faces a problem bigger than my family’s tragedy – for a country with no law cannot continue to exist. It portends national collapse. God forbid!
Mustafa M. Omer is an Ethiopian national and works for the United Nations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Sahan Journal’s editorial policy or his employer’s position.