Dealing with collective trauma: the uphill battle facing the Amhara

Ethiopia has been in an active war since November 2020, when the northern command of the Ethiopian national defense force was attacked by forces affiliated with the Tigrayan people liberation front (TPLF). Since then the war has spilled over to the territories of Afar and Amhara regions, the counter insurgency launched by the Tigrayan forces late June 2021, succeeded in occupying vast territories of Amhara region (Northern and Southern Gonder, Northern and Southern Wollo and parts of Northern Shewa) and wreaking havoc and unleashing a reign of terror in the occupied areas, until they were pushed back by the Ethiopian allied forces in December 2021. Since then several reports and testimonies has come to light regarding the horrible conditions residents of the occupied areas had to endure during those hellish months. From gut-wrenching gang rape testimonies to summary execution of civilians were the headlines in both the local and international media outlets. These horrific events compounded with the general outcome of the war have left a lasting scar on the victims and the community at large. This article tries to discuss the effect of collective trauma and identify possible remedies and interventions.

Psychologist Allaya Campbell define collective trauma as “a psychological distress that a group, usually an entire culture, community or other large group of people experience in response to a shared trauma” collective traumas are the direct results of different man-made and natural catastrophes, including War, Genocide, Slavery, Terrorism and Natural disasters and has a tendency to be transmitted across generations. Symptoms of collective trauma include rage, depression, survivor’s guilt, chronic disease and internalized oppression. According to psychologist Gilad Hirschberge, collective memory of trauma is different from individual memory because collective memory persists beyond the lives of the direct survivors of the events, and is remembered by group members that may be far removed from the traumatic events in time and space. The notion of collective trauma has begun to take center stage in recent years due to the effect of the covid 19 pandemic but collective trauma has had an impact on human life long before covid 19, the long standing battle between India and Pakistan over Kashmir has put its residents on the center of collective trauma studies over the years. The 2001, 9/11 attacks on United States of America, shock the whole country to its core which ultimately endured the weight of collective trauma as a nation.

Researches conducted in countries where war was held not so long ago indicate communities residing there facing collective trauma which makes our case no exception. Communities residing in different parts of war torn Amhara region faced displacements, death, humiliations, separation and rape to name a few. Children were forced to watch their mother while they were gang raped, a father was held at gun point while his wife and daughter were raped, entire villages were set ablaze, community elders and religious leaders were humiliated and religious institutions disgraced and shelled, young men were intimidated and were shot at indiscriminately and many more.

As mentioned above the residents will exhibit the symptoms of collective trauma once things get back to relative normalcy. Anxiety is among the most prevalent symptoms, it’s reported that children are having nightmares, panic episodes when they encounter a military personal and having difficulties integrating back to their old lives. Collective trauma has a Trans-generational effect and leaves a lasting impact on the memories of growing children. Since many places have been ransacked beyond recognition, many will feel a sense of alienation and estrangement in their own neighborhoods, their life style and overall identity were defined by their villages, losing that hampers the reintegration process. During the war and the subsequent months of occupation many have lost their loved ones in the process, which makes some susceptible to survivors guilt, cursing their luck and feeling guilt that they remain alive, which leads to depression and many more psychological problems.

This neglected phenomenon will have a serious consequence unless the government and other stakeholders nip it in the bud as soon as possible. Community level interventions from stakeholders is key to address the matter at hand, instead of solely focusing on economic reinforcements, a great deal of emphasis should be given to re-constructing communities and the sense of belongingness, the community’s values and norms will find their way back in the process. Family and individual counseling sessions by trained professionals should be provided to the residents along with community empowerment programs. Reinstating the cultural and spiritual ideals and by encouraging and implementing indigenous coping mechanisms we can curb the looming psychological catastrophe.

By ethionegari@gmail.com

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