Ethiopia in the last 12 months: change and challenges

by Solomon Hailemariam

Ethiopia’s Prime minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a press conference at his office in Addis Ababa, on August 25, 2018. (Photo by Michael Tewelde / AFP) (Photo credit should read MICHAEL TEWELDE/AFP/Getty Images)

What is happening in Ethiopia is mesmerizing for all Ethiopians and now for Eritreans as well. History is in the making and unfolding. So many of us are absorbed by what is going on in Ethiopia. Some of my friends tell me that they have been having sleepless night since the advent of the new prime minister in Ethiopia. I know many Ethiopians have been following what is going on in Ethiopia for over 30 years. But the intensity and dramatic events happening in Ethiopia right now are monumental, and may be comparable to the colossal 1974 popular revolution which toppled the Emperor Haileselassie and ended the so called Solomonic Dynasty.

One of my other friends said “we need break from the breaking news”. It is indeed a phenomenal time for many Ethiopians both inside Ethiopia and in the diaspora.

Such a time is an inspiration for poets, writers and artist and one can see many artistic productions related to the current events. Some of the famous media networks in the world are even reporting about Ethiopia and in a positive manner.

Ethiopians sustained unimaginable suffering for many decades as a result of mal administration, poor policy, poverty, lack of tolerance and respect for one another, arrogance, disease and lack of education. Ethiopia is not unique in facing such adversity. Most countries in the world have suffered similar hardship at some point in their history. Nonetheless, what makes Ethiopia unique is our stubbornness, our refusal to learn from our own past history or from the world history.

In March 2016, in one of my articles under the title of “The Oromo Revolt: Time for a paradigm shift for all of us “http://www.ethiomedia.com/1011issues/5175.html I tried to indicate some of our own recent historical events we should remember at this historical juncture:

“The Emperor was advised by his closer associates and advisors to introduce a constitutional monarchy again and again. He has refused to do so because he thought that, without him; no one could lead the country properly. He thought without him the country would crumble and all his efforts would be in vain. There was an attempted coup in 1960 and after 14 years, he had to go violently. Almost all his legacies and his people have disappeared.

Obviously, dictators never learn from the past, even their immediate predecessor, the military dictators were also advised to negotiate with the rebels and introduce dramatic change to the country. They introduced a ‘mixed economy’ at the 11th hour but the change was too little and too late. There was another attempted coup in 1989 and the junta was not worried by it as it was able to control it. The junta thought so long as the military continued with its brutal rule; it could stay in power indefinitely. We all know what happened to the regime and even to the country after its famous collapse.

Both regimes could have reversed history to some extent and could have helped the country move so many steps forward. That didn’t happen. Now we are faced with an almost similar situation” …

The evidence of the last 12 months indicates that Ethiopia is moving quickly to re-assert principles of democracy and effective statehood. These include protecting the rule of law, making peace with a neighbouring state and establishing a parliamentary democracy.

England’s Magna Carta, signed in 1215 by King John ensured that even the King had to follow the law of the land and the rights of individuals could be guaranteed even when the king objected. In Ethiopia we don’t have king and in fact, I don’t want to have one in our country, no, never! But the new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, promised in his series of speeches the all-important elements necessary to institutionalize democracy in Ethiopia. For instance, he promised that the Prime Minister’s term in office will be limited to two terms. He promised an independent judiciary, free, fair and independent elections, the state apparatus to be independent of the political parties and he called opposition parties “brothers and competing parties”. In a country where opposition parties have been considered “enemy” this was revolutionary.

It is not just a series of paper promises; he has already started delivering on them. Abiy Ahmed, in office for only in 12 months, has already introduced a number of reforms which rocked the status quo. He invited all competing parties including those who had been labelled “terrorist” by the former government. He released thousands of political prisoners including journalists and religious leaders. He openly admitted that the government used “terrorism to remain in power”.

In Abiy government women will now run key dockets including defence, trade, transport, and the newly-established ministry of peace. Abiy appointed first female president, supreme court president, and election board chairwoman. The record 50% female representation is a win for the new premier.

History has shown us that even longstanding wars between neighbouring countries can be brought to an end by treaties.

Abiy made history when he struck a peace deal with Eritrea after 20 years where almost 100,000 people died in both sides in the brutal war between the two closely-related countries. The new prime minister of Ethiopia seems to understand the value of peace and reconciliation. He has been extending an olive branch to all oppositions at home and abroad. Even those who thought they could succeed using a military option have got a chance now to promote their cause peacefully, OLF, ONLF and Ginbot 7 are the cases in point.

What is happening in the last 4, 5 months in Ethiopia?

After almost 12 months in office, I feel that the new Prime Minister, Dr.Abiy Ahmed and his team are experiencing a very grueling time in office.

It is depressing to see the original bright change in governance confronted by so many stratagems. I have a feeling many share these nuisances. There is a deluge coming in Ethiopia from all directions. Some are using this deluge for evil purposes, others for narrow interest, and still others using it for sectarian interest. Unfortunately, the only viable way to tame the deluge is creating irrigations everywhere from the rivers and tributaries. The deluge here is mostly the youth in Ethiopia, who are unemployed, the under employed, and the Internally Displaced People (IDP). The irrigations are obviously job and wealth creation, which requires time and stability. Ethiopia has neither time nor stability and that is the dilemma of the change agents currently face in Ethiopia.

The Sidama are trying to strangle the Federal government by requesting state hood. The Oromo spearheaded by Jawar Mohammed, who is very controversial in terms of the role he is playing, are trying to correct blemished history. The OLF is trying to achieve its age-old agenda, to separate Oromia from the rest of Ethiopia. The TPLF is trying to destabilize the country by fanning all instability. The TPLF is undertaking to return to its notoriety and power or subvert the country. The Amhara National Movement (ANM) is trying to reclaim the outmoded pre-eminence in the Amhara region. The newly established Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) is worried that OLF and OFC might snatch its constituency, hence making knee-jerk decisions. The Amhara Democratic Party (ADP) in one way surprised and cautious by ODP confusing decisions, in another way, preparing itself for a potential war with TPLF. Ginbot 7 whose major constituency are in cities, is also confused about what to do as it supports wholeheartedly the new Prime Minister and the new change. The IDP is suffering here and there and it is impossible to ignore them and it is a challenge for the new government as well. There are many opportunists around who are willing to do anything bad so long as they benefit.

Former Southern Ethiopian Democratic Movement (SEDM) officials who have been pushed from the apex of power and who are still in power but in pit positions are using all their connections, local knowledge and resources to return to power indirectly but in a decisive manner as regional presidents and regional dignitaries. Sidama and others might have a genuine cause to form a new state in the SEDM but the timing is not right at all. There is a big speculation that those who are pushing the people of Sidama to revolt against the Federal government, using the question of state hood as an excuse are, nurtured, and supported by TPLF and its cronies.

The controversial Jawar Mohammed, who is the Owner/Director? Of Oromia Media Network and who is claimed to lead the Oromo youth (KERRO), has been behind the latest Oromia wide demonstrations against the distribution of condominiums for Addis Ababa low-income residents.

Eskinder Nega who has previously been tried for treason following post-election protests in 2005 was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2012 on trumped up terrorism charges. Eskinder has been released when Abiy Ahmed released thousands of political prisoners and journalist and dismissed charges against diaspora-based media outlets. Eskinder is now doing his journalistic work in Ethiopia but what is alarming is that he is slowly but surely engaging in activism which doesn’t seem to go in the right direction. He staged public gathering and make political statements regarding Addis Ababa.

The 51,229 condominium units which were built in the last 4 or 5 years in the outskirt of Addis Ababa was a long-time project by EPRDF government to alleviate the housing problem in the city. The low-income residents have been saving for over 5 years hoping to get government subsidized housing. The condominiums have already been constructed for these desperate low-income residents, who have been suffering as a tenant in the city. The Addis Ababa city Deputy Mayor, who is also from ODP and a stanch supporter of the new prime minister, had to distribute the condominium as, in one hand people are demanding to get the new condominium and in the other hand the condominiums are still unoccupied after spending millions of dollars. After waiting until the Mayor start distributing the condominium, the next day Jawar organized Oromia wide demonstrations.

Worried by the implications of the demonstration and recalling what had happened after the three years Kerro demonstrations, the ODP denounced the distribution and decided to stop the process of handing over the condominiums. What is more, the ODP promised to do more to make the Oromo radicals happier by mentioning it will work hard to realize the Oromia special interest in Addis Ababa.

This shows clearly that the ODP didn’t anticipate such strong opposition and was shocked to learn that OLF and other Oromo parties such as OFC could easily snatch away its constituency. So the ODP wanted to be more radical than the radicals themselves.

If Jawar and Eskinder Nega were wiser, mature and farsighted, they wouldn’t orchestrate the demonstration in Oromia and Addis Ababa even if they think what was happening was wrong. I do completely agree that the Oromo farmers who lost their land for the condominiums must be compensated dearly. Make no mistake, they must be protected but to unleash such antagonisms against the Abiy government is unprecedented and not fair at all.

I do understand the economic need of the Oromo people living around Addis Ababa City. One of the arguments is that garbage has been dumped in the surrounding Oromo satellite cities. Another issue voiced by Oromo elites has been the displacement of Oromo farmers from the surrounding cities. These and many other issues can be discussed and solved by matured politicians rather than creating unnecessary tension between people who have been living in Addis Ababa for over 120 years. The major reason why the Ethiopian people are yearning for democracy is to solve such huge age- old problems in Addis Ababa peacefully and to address other political issues like the Raya and Wolkait problems.

Jawar and Eskinder made a huge mistake when they refused to see the timing and condition in Ethiopia. ODP also shouldn’t take the knee-jerk decision without sufficient deliberations. The combination of all these are recipe for disaster in Ethiopia.

We, Africans in general, Ethiopians in particular are not cursed to fight each other, to hate each other eternally. If Europeans and many other peoples have been able to bring to a close the age of hate, conflict and brutality long ago, why not us? Why do we hate each other? Is it because of poverty? If we forgive each other and if we choose peace, as Prime Minister Abiy put it “we have enough for all of us”. There are many examples in history – Why don’t we learn from them?

I am not here writing and lamenting about the fate of our country. I am here to write action and suggest what I think is right to avert the country from collapsing. Obviously writing/saying is easier than done. But in the meantime, something is better than nothing. I hope, at least one of the leaders of the new change, in the current Ethiopia, will read this article and may find even a single point useful for their strenuous historic responsibility.

Humble suggestions for the Abiy government to consider in such trying times?

  1. ODP, ADP, TPLF and SEDM must make a serious dialogue and must reach in consensus in the direction of the new change.
  2. Engage TPLF members who have accepted the change sincerely and be vigilant of those who are working day and night to topple the Abiy government.
  3. For each problem a separate committee should be set.
  4. Well-educated people from the Diaspora who support the Abiy government must be included in each committee.
  5. Grassroots involvement should be mandatory for the committee and must find bottom up solution.
  6. The committee should use well-known scientific methods to approach the problem and to come up with the solution.
  7. The solutions should be presented to the prime minister office in a specific timetable for decision and action.
  8. Make sure that the committee is free from “cronies” and TPLF spies.
  9. People with competing interest or vested interest should not be member of the committee.
  10. Stay away from knee-jerk decisions and unnecessary public relations exercises.
  11. Make sure the economy and state apparatus operate regularly and efficiently.
  12. Delay the election.
  13. Government should clearly set/define what is activism and what is journalism.
  14. Create jobs as much as possible.
  15. Mobilize and use your supporters in a regular manner and systematically.
  16. Transform your neighboring friendship in to a new level, such as creating security alliance.
  17. Make sure law and order upholds outstandingly all the time and use deterrence policy.
  18. Take decisive action against those who are trying to sabotage the government from inside.
  19. The Prime Minster should broach new faces and competent individuals who are leading the new change.
  20. Monitor the mainstream and social media and analyze it in a realistic manner.
  21. Do not respond for face book and social media issues.
  22. Communicate clearly

The Writer can be reached at:solgosole@gmail.com

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