Amaras at Cross Roads: Abiy’s Complacency and ADP’s Weak Leadership

By Mekuria Gize

“The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities.” Benjamin E. Mays

PM Abiy’s early office days

When Abiy came to the helm of power in the 100% EPRDF controlled Ethiopian government, we witnessed many positive developments which were not imaginable in Ethiopia, even by the most optimistic people. Gossip spread across the country that PM Abiy is going to be a lame Prime Mister, and he was taken to be no better than Hailemariam Desalegn. Many reasons were cited: EPRDF’s political business is democratic centralism, the military and security apparatus and the economy are controlled by TPLF, and so on kind of excuses. Albeit this, few including myself had faith in him citing his personality is different from Hailemariam and many other opportunists within EPRDF. Hailemariam is a very shameful person who was more TPLF than the TPLF (even the much respected ESAT people have crocodile tears for him – often heard of them saying he is not in charge as if he has the desire to be in charge). Many Oromos and Amaras died under his direct command of the military. Worst than that he comes out regularly to the international media and proclaims that democracy is not luxury to Ethiopia but a matter of survival. This is a sickening statement. Anyhow, against all odds, PM Abiy brought fundamental changes in curbing the power of TPLF to nothing. My hats off!! He chased out the prominent old TPLF guards like Seyoum Mesfin, Abay Tehaye, Sebhat Nega, Samora Yenus, Getachew Assefa, Getachew Reda, Bereket Simon and etc with a stroke of a pen. This brought self imposition of the TPLFites to hide in the state of Tigray, in Makelle to be specific.  Makelle became the new Dedebit cave for many TPLF criminals.

 

Abiy’s complacency

As time passes however, PM Abiy seems to be immersed in self satisfaction, and as a result bypassed many serious law transgressions in the country. It started out first by the displacements of over 800,000 Gedions by Guji Oromos in South Ethiopia,  and followed by village warriors in Awassa who displaced thousands of Wolayita people; PM Abiy’s response was a carrot instead of a carrot and a stick. The lawless Somali leader, Abdi Ille who noticed nothing happening to criminals decided to expel and kill those non-Somali Ethiopians living in his capital Gigjiga. Many churches and businesses were burned or robbed as a result of this irresponsible action. PM Abiy took action only after two weeks and after the death of 90 innocent civilians. The excuse given by PM Abiy’s apologists was, “the Somali region, that committed the crime, did not invite the Federal Government to interfere; doing so will be breaking the constitution” according to the apologists. Come on!!! What constitution are we talking about? The constitution is broken by the regional state when life is lost and when huge property damage resulted in. Following the action of Abdi Ille, Benishangule warlords displaced over 100, 000 non-Benishangule Ethiopians. PM Abiy’s response was – people who lost power did that. No serious action was undertaken until very recently against Benishangule warlords. Also OLF die-hard supporters, motivated by Jawar Mohammed’s speech all over Oromia brought unimaginable damage both in life and property as near as to the nation’s capital. Jawar is now an invincible warlord of Oromia that he says he will change loss in election to victory by Fiticha or confrontation, to a party he likes (the law does not matter to him because he is the law).

Subsequent to this chaos, the OLF who observed PM Abiy’s inaction changed western Ethiopia to a war field. For the first time in the 50 years of OLF history, it managed to rob hundreds of millions of birr from 17 banks in just two hours, the first-large scale security failure in a functioning society. The manner the problem temporarily resolved was a mere reconciliation without bringing crime instigators to justice.

Another area of PM Abiy’s hesitation is lack of taking any major action against the TPLF and its economic interests, in response to the day to day disturbance TPLF is running. The TPLF has decided to harbour criminals and the response from PM Abiy is appeasement.  Today civil rights are violated by TPLF; Raya and Wolkayit people are being killed, and arrested as terrorists. The federal government must protect civil rights. TPLF is constantly engaged on propaganda work against the federal government. Yet, Tigray continues to get its 80% budget from PM Abiy’s government. Many delusional politicians either ethnic or pan Ethiopianists are heard asking for a road map from Abiy’s government. The road map is first to defeat TPLF, and you do not put a road map on how to defeat TPLF. Our worry is, are there any good days ahead we can think of PM Abiy will use his power to stop instability, particularly in Amara region? We do not see him recruiting decisive defenders the revolution he ignited. He has kept putting previous corrupt TPLF officials in high positions. This is despite his consistent and unwavering stand to push the reform ahead which many of us still have a high regard.

 

PM Abiy’s sometimes unorthodox leadership

Whereas PM Abiy has made tremendous progress as far as the reform goes, from choosing the president of the Justice system to the head of Election commissioner and many other notable undertakings, he is not without faults. He committed serious errors from electing personnel in his government cabinet to the newly constituted institutions such as the Boundary Commission and the Peace and Reconciliation Commissions. PM Abiy has kept symbols of TPLF atrocities such as Shiferaw Shigutie, Workineh Gebeyehu, Siraj Fegessa, Redan Hussien, Getachew Ambaye, Alemneh mekonen, General Abiyu Geleta, Asmelash Weldeselassie, Hailemariam Desalegn and other prominent human right abusers. PM Abiy has given a normal courts systems (with 14 days appointments), a privilege that should not have been given for criminals. A special court should be established in a way the Derg officials were tried. PM Abiy has enough votes in parliament to enact laws to help him fight TPLF atrocities. Today PM Abiy still uses TPLF’s corrupt judges and court system that give order for the release of criminals. This is a mockery of justice. All TPLF affiliate judges should be removed and replaced

The immediate task now is to push the reform ahead vigorously; not even democracy is a matter of such urgency in today’s Ethiopia. In this context he is expected to bring determined change agents around him, clean from TPLF in any form. As a trained military, PM Abiy is expected to seal the border between the so called western Tigray (confiscated Amara lands) in order to control the flow of armaments. TPLF is going to use this route to import military hardware to the interior of Tigray. It has a good long-time connection with corrupted Sudanese military personnel including the president of Sudan. The federal government has the legal right to do that without getting permission from anybody. Not acting against TPLF is allowing TPLF to capture the gates of Addis Ababa, and eventually Abiy’s own government.

Peace and Reconciliation, and Boundary Commissions

PM Abiy has selected members to the newly formed commissions. The inclusion of Hailemariam Desalegn in the Reconciliation Commission is worrying. Who would think our prime minister will choose greedy and opportunist Hailemariam, the very symbol of the TPLF suppression in such kind of commission? More than the nomination, I am amused by the muted response of opposition parties, victims and Ethiopian human right activists. Amara parties and Amaras who suffered the most under Hailemariam premiership should automatically reject Hailemariam’s nomination if he does not withdraw from the Commission.  The other area of concern is the nomination of the members of the Boundary Commission composition. For instance Tigray is more represented in this commission than its ethnic percentage. Whether we like it or not everything in today’s Ethiopia is evaluated along ethnic thinking. An Amara grieves about the loss of his/her land, a Tigre insist they own the land. I would expect an Amara party would detail such overrepresentation and reject as it sees fit.

 

ODP’s undemocratic attitude

The ODP committed two unexpected controversial measures just within the last 3 days: controversial press release and the displacement of poor people in Legetafo and other parts of Addis Ababa.  Whereas the ODP have the right to choose its election platform, including firm position in the current federal system, its recent press release meant to imply it is not going to accept the people’s decision even if  it is defeated by the ballot box. If the ODP is not governed by the will of the people what is the purpose of going into an election in 2020? No Ethiopian asked you to abandon your Oromoness. Personally I take ODP’s press release as an overreaction to pressure from fundamentalists and therefore won’t take it as serious issue.

The mass demolition of houses constructed by poor people in Legetafo and other parts of Addis Ababa is however inhuman. The reason behind mass eviction is illegal land grabing as explained by ODP officials. But the people said they bought from farmers and lived there for more than 10 years. Farmers have the right to sell rights of land use, and the people who bought those rights are legal well within their rights. Farmers prefer to sell their land to individuals because government often take away their land at cheap prices. This government gave chances for refuges in Gambella, tried to help people living in streets but why is it so adamant for  hasty measures on poor people? When I saw an old blind man crying, I can imagine how Jawar et al. are rejoicing but a ruling party like ODP should take a more balanced decision. The party of a prime minister who cares about the elderly and children would do such  cruel things? These poor people should be thanked for trying to support themselves without have to be dependent on the government. One would also expect the need to have court orders to demolish houses. Even TPLF’s criminals got better treatment than that. The ODP should not panic for pressures coming from Oromo radical parties and individuals. It can win enough votes in Oromia, and can still be the governing party in coalition with other parties.  The ODP is fooling itself if it thinks it can fight its way out by colluding with radical parties and individual activists. You are pushing your people  into unnecessary fight. We know Jawar said he will win Addis Ababa with Fiticha and the ODP’s action in Legetafo is that grand plot.

 

Pan Ethiopianists’ fault-finding attitude

Instead of stressing on  issues of displaced people in the outskirts of Addis Ababa by irresponsible ODP cadres, Pan Ethiopianists are all over the social media overreacting and protesting ODP’s press release regarding its position on the current federal arrangement. What pan Ethiopianists do not understand is ODP is a regional party that depends on Oromo vote for its legitimacy in Oromia. The party has fundamental right to choose it own election platform, not us. Even not doing this could lead to the removal of  ODP from power,  and endanger the political liberalization we are currently enjoying. Understand that ODP is in  stiff competition with other Oromo parties such as the OLF and OFC. To begin with, expecting ODP to dismantle the current federal arrangement and organise it in geographically based federation is unrealistic. Pan Ethiopian activists, and constitutional scholars who fanfare this fight on  social media  against ODP’s choice should put up your own party or choose a party they want to campaign with in Oromia. Win an election and install a government of your liking. There is no other short route. Pan Ethiopianists have a fair chance to get votes in Oromiya from regular citizens even though the educated youth is highly radicalized by the OLF and Jawar et al. What we should do is to focus on the election process: the election should be free and fair, parties should be able to freely campaign. In the event the environment for political campaign  is not suitable, opposition parties should get the instrument to overcome it, such as police protection, disqualifying the election through Election Board, and through other measures. Pan Ethiopianists should coordinate their energies against any form of suppression in violation of democratic principles, and should pay less attention to other party internal affairs. The way forward to defeat EPRDF is coalition politics; there is no time we waste on unnecessary topics.

 

Threat from fundamentalist Oromos and Tigray’s ethnocentrism

The Oromo fundamentalists ring leader Jawar is restless until he takes the people’s vote if the party he supports is not elected. He has publicly made statements after statements in his media, OMN saying that he will send qeerro to do his dirty job to realize his goals. Contrary to the practice and culture of the civilized world, and any descent country, Jawar is determined to create an Oromia where other Ethiopians will be reduced to second class citizens. This Oromo activist, and an American by citizenship, has been treated in America like any American without discrimination. Yet he wants Ethiopians in their own country to own only leftovers after the Oromo fundamentalists have everything. Having come 600 km from near the foot of Bale highlands, he wants to chase Amaras that came to Addis just from within 50 km radius merely because they do not speak Afan Oromo or he thinks the land does not belong to them. Fundamentalist Oromos, be it activists like Jawar, Tsegaye Ararsa, Dereje Hawas, Etana Habte, Henok Gabissa,  and prof Eskial Gabissa and some from the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) are not interested to play by  the rules of the game – accept the will of the people through election.  They tell us Addis Ababa is their sole ownership without getting the votes from the people.

One of the avenues used by Oromo fundamentalists to suffocate Amara is to bring the issue of  Minilik, who happen to be the ruler of Ethiopia some 150 years ago. The Oromo fundamentalists are still obsessed with the story of Minilik cutting breasts in Arsi. It is true King Minilik expanded to the south to prevent European colonialists from advancing to his kingdom. He was determined to get back old Ethiopia territories once ruled by his ancestors. He sent his army in every direction to ask small kingdoms to get unified under his authority.  Kingdoms who agreed were spared (e.g. King Aba Jiffar of Jimma). Those who resisted were made to surrender through militarily action. This was the practice of the days King Minilik lived in.  Arsi was one region that resisted and there was heavy return from Minilik’s army mostly composed of Shewa Oromos. Minilik himself was not a part of the battle. The battle was made between male soldiers and not with women. In this regard, the story of breast cutting was an invented story. Moreover it was not a practice to cut human organs in Minilik’s Christian kingdom. Minilik had a battle with the Gojam Kingdom. Gojam Amaras are not hateful of Minilik for one thing local rulers were more harsh than Minilik; second they understand it was made to unify the country. It was Minilik who prevented Aba Jiffar (who used to sell his own people) not to do slave trade. Prior to Minilik, King Tewodros came to Shewa and cut hands but no Shewa Amaras are hateful of Tewodros or Gonderes  by extension. King Yohannes killed thousands of Amaras in Gojam and Wello and no Amaras are hateful of Yohannes or Tigray people for this reason.  Minilik on the other hand after defeating every local king, put them back to their throne only asking their loyalty (e.g.,  Negus Tona and Negus Tekle Haymanot can be cited). He was a 21st century politician in 19th century so to speak.

The Amaras are being blamed by Tigray and Oromo activists for all faults under the skies. The irony of the matter is they blame Amara kings in today’s mentality. They think their issue should have been answered in a round table during the time such things are unknown. When Abba Jiffar was selling slaves, Minilik is blamed for not introducing democracy to Ethiopia. When France, Italy and England were encroaching Ethiopia, they blame Minilik for not establishing today’s type of kilils. For instance the Oromia people would have been divided into three parts, Sudan, Somalia and Kenya were it not due to the resistance of King Minilik. This constant barrage of Ethiopian past kings is not merely to chastise the dead bodies but to undermine the proud people of Amara. The extension of this day to day blaming is to deprive Amaras of their rights as members of the federal system.

How did we remove TPLF? The chief mechanism for the removal of TPLF as state actor is through the determination of President Lemma to correct past political mistakes, mistakes that portray Amaras as enemies. Lemma Megerssa learned this quickly after observing the displacement of his one million people from Somali region. His travel to Bahir Dar, and announcement of fraternity with Gedu cemented the first sign of the death of TPLF dictatorship. Are we to continue this legacy or fall into unnecessary friction? Unrestricted Oromo fundamentalist’s propaganda for sure is heading toward that direction. They defy every democratic principle and are prisoners of past perceived grievance. Amara people paid their fair share for the right of the oppressed since the King’s days. Over 80% of the red terror victims (assumed 500, 000) during the Derg time were Amaras. What are Oromo fundamentalists demanding from Amara? It was Me-eson, dominated by Oromos elites,  in support of the Derg. Amaras interests are democracy and rule of law, nothing more nothing less.

One of the invented stories by Tigray elites is Minilik did not want to fight Italians and he only went to Adwa because he was forced by his wife, Tayitu. They lie as far as saying he never participated in the battle and was in the church praying. According to Tigray elites Alula’s  soldiers, and the master spy Awalom defeated Italy at Adwa. Contrary to their bravery bragging,  Tigray elites accuse King Minilik of him going to Mereb river and ordering his soldiers not to cross into Eritrea and chase the Italians because he had a sinister motive of weakening Tigray people albeit the lack of logistics to furthering the war and the imminent famine of that year.  If the Tigray soldiers were the one that defeated Italy, who prevented them from following Italy and decisively conquering them out of Eritrea? Today’s Tigray elites are such self contradictory and blatant liars (not withstanding ordinary Tigres have no axe to grind with Minilik, according to the late Sebhat Gebre-Egziabher, a famous writer of Tigrian origin).

 

Failures of Amara regional government and the suffering of Amaras

In All this political drama, the Amaras were the most who suffered from PM Abiy’s failure to keep law and order in many regional states. Now the security breakdown has come to the Amara kilil itself. In all this suffering of the Amara people, Gedu’s leadership has been one of in action and opted for a cowardly approach. To the eminent problem, Gedu chose to come out with day to day political statements that read out – certain people in other regions whose advantage has been curbed by the reform have hands in the security problem of the Amara region. Over 80,000 Amaras are now internally displaced despite the fact that no single person has been displaced internally in Tigray, the state that became the scapegoat for Amara displacement. The region that lost land would be expected to run proxy war in Tigray region but ironically this happened to the victim Amara region, all as a result of Gedu’s cowardly leadership in the face of vivid Tigray’s readiness for a war against Amara.

As we speak now, more than two rounds of soldier recruits (nearly 60,000) are ready for the war against Amara along the Raya front alone. A region like Amara that has immense manpower and motivated youth to defend the public’s security has been useless due to lack of organisers. As a result even sacred worship institutions are being burned down and people are now running for shelter elsewhere, a very shameful situation. The talk of the town now in Mekelle by the Tegaru elites is “Gedu’s untrained and inexperienced army, which is defeated by Kimant and Benishangule, is no match to the battle hardened TPLF army, and if Gedu mistakenly starts the first bullet, we will catch his hands from his comfortable palace in Bahir Dar.”  Mind you, Amaras and Kimant are genetically the same except minor cultural changes through time.

Abin (NAMA) a very young inexperienced political organization neither is seen trying to alert and mobilize the young to defend itself and the public. It can create the link within the military wing of the Amara state and look for alternatives to stop the unending suffering of the Amara people if it is serious enough. The Amara people’s option now is to organise in the form of ye gobez aleka. Once they organise themselves in this manner they can request training from military personnel in order to be a more potent force. Amara intellectuals must avoid unnecessary squabble whether on social media or otherwise with other ethnic groups and avoid to be the guardian of Ethiopian unity. It undermines Amara’s cause, detracts us from the main goal, – creating a self sufficient proud people. Our people are the most impoverished by any standard. Look at their faces in TV screens and watch them walking bare footed, all indicators of poverty. Let us understand that there is no one we beg to stay in Ethiopia. Amara has a unique geographic position to continue as a self-sustaining and a functioning state if we are resolute enough, and know what we are doing from A to Z.

Right now Gedu’s leadership is failing Amaras. One of the reasons for this is his regional state has no adequate representation in the central government to take action against the TPLF. Amara regional state has no significant leaders in the military. Much of the leadership is either still occupied by the TPLF or some Oromo generals. PM Abiy’s government may be accountable for this, but primarily Gedu’s party takes the blame since it is less enthusiastic for power sharing. For decades, Amara regional state has been a victim of inequality both in the political and economic fronts. There are many Amara villages within 50-70  km distance from Addis Ababa that can easily be developed, and Gedu’s party has got no idea how to get the share of Addis Ababa’s wealth by virtue of being close to it. If such villages and towns are developed, Oromo fundamentalist like Jawar Mohammed, Tsegaye Ararsa and Prof. Eskial Gabissa  would not dare to come out on OMN and irresponsibly brag that they can easily  strangle Addis Ababa to death.

Option for Amaras

The first and foremost concern of the Amara people is to regain the lost territories like Metekel of Gojam  Wolkayit-Tegede-Setit Humera of Gonder, and Raya of Wello. The criterion to reclaim these lost territories is historical ownership. Language has nothing to do in this equation. As Oromos of Kenya are not part of Ethiopia’s Oromia, As Tigrigna speakers of Eritrea are not part of Ethiopia’s Tigray; and as Gumuz, Agnuak, Neur of Sudan are not part of Gambella or Benishangule, so are other ethnic groups within Amara. They have been part of Amara administration since thousands of years. Ethiopian kilils are not merely administrative regions as PM Abiy often cites. They have the right to secede from the federal government as they wish. In this context they can take somebody’s land under the disguise of ethnicity and go away. It seems they also have the right to expel or kill  (almost there is no accountability) other Ethiopians they do not like, without any consequences from the central government. These are manifestations of rights of sovereignty empowered by the crazy Ethiopian constitution.

Abin (NAMA) leaders must be polished, carefully choose their words,  when they come out to national media and must use their best and articulate speakers such as Gashaw Goshu and the head of Abin’s political strategy and research unit. They must pay less attention to propaganda on social and completely desist from fanatic Amaras engaged in racial slur on social media.  They should keep on exposing the TPLF atrocities on Amara in the economic and socio-political fronts. The self confidence seen in the president, vice president and public relation head of Abin is admirable. They are the kind of leaders who walk the talk. There are still rooms for improvement. They must focus as the brain of the party giving priority to organizational tasks, party plans and programs. They must do the diplomacy work with the rest of the Ethiopian people. It has to start its work by meeting with well respected people from Oromia, Afar and the South, starting with the Gurages. Addis Ababa is a rallying point for any well intentioned Ethiopian, and Abin should use this common interest to advance relationships by working with people of the South, Afar, and with  well respected Oromo community leaders in order to annihilate the threat coming from Oromo fundamentalists such as Jawar Mohammed, Tsegaye Ararsa and Prof Eskial Gabissa. Finally Abin (NAMA) has to transform itself to a new more inclusive party like Semien Ethiopia Democratic Party (SEP or SEDP)

 

Conclusions

PM Abiy is a descent and well respected leader in Ethiopia that still enjoys enormous support from all Ethiopians in general, and from Amaras in particular. But his complacency and sometimes unorthodox leadership is endangering the change he helped to advance. Amaras suffering has continued day by day. This is largely due to Abiy’s government refusal to resist TPLF in any form. This is not ordinary time to sleep for Amara people. When a party like the TPLF should have been banned in Ethiopia, it continued to enjoy appeasement from Abiy’s government.  There is no punishment despite it harbours criminals needed by the country’s justice system.

The Amara people have lost confidence in Gedu’s party. It has no appetite or the courage to face the TPLF. The solution for Gedu’s party is to call for an early election or voluntarily pass power to a transitional local government, and negotiate their exit.  Alternatively, the younger and more energetic members of ADP could merge with Abin, whereas Gedu et al. remain behind the scene as advisors. This is a double win for both the Amara people and Gedu’s party.

Since the current form of  ethnic politics (not a preferred venue for political organization) is here to stay for some time in Ethiopia,  Abin must be more proactive and take the lead in mobilizing the youth to defend Amara region interests as well as stop TPLF attacks. Teach our people, and engage in talks with other Ethiopians outside of Amara for a coalition, and transform the party  in to Semien Ethiopia Party (SEP). Amaras must understand that they do not need Oromia or the rest of Ethiopia for their survival, and hence should not overreact. It is a mutual benefit for all Ethiopians to live together.

Oromo fundamentalist must believe in democracy and should not try to be obstacles on Amara-Oromo alliance. I tell them to win everything they want by the ballot box.  We know when Amaras and Oromos make alliance they can move the mountains, and make the enemy trembling from afar. This has been witnessed in Adwa, Ogaden and all over Ethiopia in 1896, 1977, and 2018 respectively. Somalia’s Siad Barre claimed the whole of present-day eastern Oromia up to Nazret and he nearly realized that dream until the joint Oromo-Amara militia’s response decisively annihilated his forces. The basis of the alliance is democracy, accepting the will of the people. The Amaras do abide by the peoples’ decision through voting.  We expect the same from our Oromo brothers and sisters. If Oromo and Amara elites are keen to maintaining the interest of their people, it makes sense to work closely as brothers and sisters. Fundamentalist Oromos attitude, not heeding to the obvious cooperation that gave us victory, is not in any way useful to the Oromo people. The Oromos share border with many ethnic groups and are going to face unrelenting war in every direction. That means Ethiopia will not attract foreign capital if there is no harmony between people. So the middle ground (cooperation) is in the footsteps of Lemma Megerssa et al. The choice ahead is either to reject or to  listen to Oromo fundamentalists who continue to scare Amaras. Amaras hope the scaring tactics will be rejected and the two people will live side by side with respect and peacefully. I challenge both Oromo and Amara governing parties and elites alike, if they care about their people to recognise the right to property including land by changing the constitution. That is the best instrument to keep the interest of farmers and other property owners. Both ANDM and OPDO were the principal tools for TPLF who displaced poor Addis Ababa residents and Oromo farmers; fundamentalist should know this better. Finally I recommend Oromia (not Oromo) Democratic Party and Semien Ethiopia Democratic Party  (ODP & SEP or SEDP) for any two leading parties in Oromia and Amara regions respectively, instead of using ethnic names which isolate other ethnic groups living in the two regions. These two parties can form a coalition,  and eventually convert  the coalition to a pan-Ethiopian party.

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