The year 1991 was a turning point in the history of Ethiopia. It was a turning point for the reason that after seventeen years of civil war, an ethnic-based Tigray People’s Liberation Front took control of power in the central government. At the same time, the country was divided absolutely along ethnic lines. The 1994 constitution of the front also assured that ethnicity was taken as the only criteria for the political restructuring of the country into nine regional states. Each regional state bears the name of the dominant ethnic group regardless of the presence of minorities. Following this systematic divide and conquer policy of TPLF, the political landscape in Ethiopia was overwhelmed by a number of ethnic-based fronts and opposition parties, as well as emerging civil groups including human rights organizations eagerly moved to occupy the so-called democratic spaces created by these constitutional and legal reforms. However, it became increasingly clear that they could only do so within the limits and controls drawn by the new rulers. The ruling TPLF dominated the political system by favoring regional parties affiliated with it and clamping down on opposition groups. It also sought to dominate the emerging civil society through bureaucratic and legal restrictions and various forms of harassment of activists. Consequently, the net result of this historical turning point made the struggle of Ethiopians for democracy more complex than ever before.
This article explores some of the emerging challenges in the current political arena of Ethiopia. To begin with, after 25 years of ethnic federalism, Ethiopia is on the brink of complete collapse and disintegration due to the failure of the ethnic federal experiment of the TPLF. Several studies indicated that the TPLF minority regime has gone further than any other rebel group in using ethnicity as the fundamental organizing principle of a federal system of government. Even thought, this experiment has been largely criticized in the growing literature on democratization and ethnicity in Africa and on the accommodation of ethnic diversity in democratic states. However, the minority regime of TPLF has refused to accept the criticism. As a result, the failed experiment of the TPLF minority regime has brought a number of new challenges to Ethiopia. At the root of these challenges there are three fundamental issues: identity, democracy and inequality. Therefore, how we are handling these critical issues will lead us down to the road of democracy, division or dictatorship?
Ethiopia has more than 80 ethnic groups and over 200 languages and dialects. This diversity has been a source of strength, as demonstrated by the unity of all the ethnic groups in the fight against the Italian invasion in the 1890s and 1930s as well as the Somali incursion in the 1970s. At the same time, ethnic diversity has led the country to extended wars between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in the north and the rest of the country. Since, the front was fighting for the liberation of its own ethnic territory from the central government of Ethiopian; it is unwilling to change its guerilla name let alone to bring democracy, justice and freedom for the people, even after 25 years of power monopoly. As a result, the two largest ethnic groups, the Amhara and Oromo, are defying against the Tigrean ethnic group that controls the government and the military, despite being only 6 percent of the total population in the country. As it was mentioned above, at the root of the current popular uprising there are three fundamental issues: identity, democracy and inequality. The immediate triggers, such as the disputes in administrative boundaries in Amhara and the proposed expansion of the Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan that was threaten million farmers in Oromia also originated from the three fundamental issues mentioned above.
The nonviolent resistance in the last one year has been dominated by masses of unarmed people. They have challenged the present political establishment and refused to obey orders. Even though, the recent resistance is different from the traditional armed struggle the state security forces has been using lethal forces to kill civilians indiscriminately. Since November 2015, more than 2000 protesters have been killed and thousands are allegedly injured. Furthermore, tens of thousands arrested, and hundreds, likely more, have been victims of enforced disappearances.
Under the current circumstances in Ethiopia, the ongoing nonviolent revolution has both encouraging and discouraging news about the near future for the country. First, the discouraging news: although it is hard to predict the future, now it seems that opposition groups are unable to formulate common political agendas and strategies to advance the resistance against the TPLF. The other discouraging features of the nonviolent resistance includes: massacres of innocent civilians by the TPLF and the neglect of the atrocity by Western Media. Second, encouraging features of the resistance includes: the revolution is ignited and ushered by millions of determined young people. It is a grassroots movement against repression and corruption. The revolution also has created some sort of solidarity between the two largest ethnic groups Amhara and Oromo. For these reasons, the resistance against dictatorship has entered into its irreversible phase and will consolidate democracy in Ethiopia. This makes the repressive regime of TPLF to remains under frustration and state of emergency.
In light of this, the future of Ethiopia will depend on the extent to which the opposition groups are ready to play a leading role in the struggle against the regime. Depending on their determination dictatorship, democracy or division will be three of the most possible outcomes of the ongoing revolution in the country. The state of emergency declared by the TPLF will be one of the most possible challenges that can change the course of the resistance. Until the primary pillars of the regime are undermined, neutralized or destroyed, there is little prospect of regime change. I see greater danger ahead of us if we don’t take necessary step in time to overcome the state of emergency, minority dictatorship will gain the momentum to survive the revolution. The serious division and polarization among the Ethiopian opposition groups has been another contributing factor that to this end.
Given the scenarios discussed above, the success of the recent nonviolent revolution in Ethiopia will bring a true national unity and a more free democratic political system in the country once for all. Therefore, let’s come together to overcome the restrictions of the state of emergency declared by the TPLF to make a successful revolution.