By Alem Mamo
The regime is employing a Damascus strategy by creating fortress Addis Ababa as popular discontent sweeps the countryside
Following the July 2015 visit by President Obama to Ethiopia and Kenya the United States National Security Advisor Susan Rice was asked about the national election result of Ethiopia (which took place just less than three months before President Obama’s visit to Ethiopia) in which the regime in Addis Ababa claimed 100 % percent victory. Ms. Rice’s answer to the question was rather thoughtless, irresponsible and an insult to the hundred million Ethiopians who continue their half a century long struggle for democracy, freedom and justice. Ms. Rice said, “The Prime Minister of Ethiopia was just elected with the 100% of the vote, which I think suggests as we stated in our policy statement some concern for the integrity of the electoral process at least, if not in the outcome then in some of the mechanisms that supported the process and freedom for the opposition to campaign.”
The reporter who asked the initial question posed a follow up, “Does he (the President) think that was democratic election?”
Ms. Rice replied, “100%” with raucous laughter.
The problem with Ms. Rice’s laughter was that the issue raised by the reporter was a serious matter for one hundred million Ethiopians. Nothing funny or entertaining about their long and painful yearning for democracy, freedom and justice. The general public in Ethiopia was astounded and angered by her response because they felt they were mocked and ignored as they continue to plea at least for a verbal recognition of injustice and suffering from a nation that publicly claims to be “the leader of the free world.”
Sadly, but not surprisingly, not too long after the President’s visit, which was considered by the regime in Addis Ababa as an endorsement of their one-party authoritarian rule, the country’s political and economic order that benefited a few and ignored the majority is up in flames. Popular discontent is sweeping all four corners of the nation. Fed up with the ruthless authoritarian regime that has terrorized and brutalized innocent and unarmed civilians for twenty-five years, citizens are dismantling the regime’s unjust governance structure and setting up their own local administration. As usual, the regime is employing brute force against citizens who are demanding a ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people.’
Despite the indiscriminate use of force against citizens by forces loyal to the regime, the popular uprising is moving with lightening-speed reaching cities, towns and villages and moving to the central lowland and the capital Addis Ababa. Political observers say it won’t be too long before the entire security apparatus collapses and the country descends into a large and protracted conflict. The unfolding situation in Ethiopia, if left to run its own course, could result in catastrophic crises which could include multidimensional civil war, influx of refugees, total institutional collapse (which has already begun in some parts of the country), and regional instability with some serious implications for global peace and security.
As the regime continues to lose control of the countryside to popular uprisings in the eastern, northern and western parts of the country, it is becoming clear that the regime’s strategy is similar to Syria’s Bashir Al Assad approach of conceding the rest of the country and fortressing the capital. There are visible signs of heavy artillery, tanks and machine guns surrounding all sides of Addis Ababa to prevent the march of citizens from the surrounding suburbs and towns entering the capital. Furthermore, there are numerous indicators of institutional collapse under way in various parts of the country, such as administrators leaving their post and being replaced by new leadership from the population. Prisoners are being set free as prison guards abandon their posts, banks and other government institutions are becoming dysfunctional. Local security forces are refusing to turn their weapons on civilians and are joining the popular uprising.
The United Nations Security Council should call an emergency meeting to assess the political and security crisis in Ethiopia. More importantly, the deteriorating political and security situation could only be curbed from further deterioration if the international community and all stakeholders immediately engage in a multi-track diplomatic push to bring all political actors into dialogue through a third-party facilitated process. Furthermore, through this dialogue a transitional political arrangement must be set up as a provisional caretaker administration until free, fair and credible national elections are held to determine the next democratically elected government. In the meantime, the international community must send a clear and unambiguous message to the regime saying it must immediately cease mass killings and use of brute force against civilians.
This dialogue should include religious leaders, particularly the Ethiopian Catholic Church, representatives of a neutral government, and seasoned mediators with a strong knowledge and experience of history and politics of Ethiopia. It should also involve observers from international organizations, such as the United Nations and institutions with experience in conflict prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding activities.
The prevailing political and security situation in the Horn of Africa as a whole is already serious and very alarming. South Sudan is teetering on the verge of a civil war; in Somalia the status quo of the last twenty-five years remains more or less unchanged. Sudan is still in political and economic instability as the president is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Eritrea and Djibouti have their internal problems.
It is against this regional background the political and security crisis in Ethiopia is taking place. It’s size, population and regional and global strategic importance makes Ethiopia a critical and dangerous addition to an already crisis ridden region. The international community cannot remain a bystander and a distant observer while a deteriorating political crisis with enormous consequences is emerging both for Ethiopia and the region. The question of democracy, freedom and justice is not a laughing matter, and it requires mature and urgent leadership from the international community.