From what Ethiopia experienced in the past 12 months, it is evident ethnic politics has become an existential threat. Now government admitted it officially that it constitutes national security risk.
Amid countrywide protest in the months before Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the ruling coalition, Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), was in the business of critical self-evaluation.
And one of the things that members of the coalition agreed was that the rights of nations and nationalities were implemented in a way to undermine the collective identity and national identity. Consequently, and as a way out from the problem, the party decided to work on fostering shared national identity.
However, the decision appeared rather late. In the ensuing months after Abiy Ahmed took office as prime minister, ethnic-based violence became pervasive phenomena in different parts of the country claiming dozens and dozens of lives and displacing millions of people. Ethiopia has now well over 2 million internally displaced citizens.
On Friday, April 5, 2019, the Ethiopian government officially admitted that ethnic politics has now turned out to be the major National Security risk for Ethiopia.
In a Press Conference organized in the Office of the Prime Minister, National Security Adviser Minister, Temesgen Tiruneh, explicitly stated that ethnic politics has become a major security concern.
“As we all know, the major concern which is also the causes of violence in different parts of the country is ethnic politics,” he said when Voice of America Amharic service journalist, Eskinder Firew, asked him as to what constitutes the major national security concern for Ethiopia.
Even individual conflict could escalate to an ethnic-based one, he added.
Before Abiy Ahmed’s administration, Shabiya (a reference used to denote Eritrean government), Al-Shabab, Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) were considered threats to national security. All these organizations, however, except Al-Shabab, were removed from the list of terrorists. All those rebel forces returned to the country for a peaceful struggle after what looked like a ceremonial negotiation with the new government of Abiy Ahmed.
The Ethiopian government has openly admitted, in recent weeks that maintaining rule of law and protecting the safety of citizens has become a major challenge. But the fact that the problem has a lot to do with radicalized ethnic politics was overlooked.
Now, the government seems to face reality. The mobility of citizens, for work or otherwise, from one part of the country to the other is now causing a safety concern.
Besides, Ethiopians who have been living for ages in the part of Ethiopia to which they do not belong ethnically are becoming targets of ethnic-based attacks. There was even a situation where ethnically based regional states overtly facilitated such attacks, as in the case of Ethio-Somali region, against other Ethiopians – which triggered a military response from the Federal government leading to the arrest of the head of the regional state in late August 2018.
In Oromo and Benishangul regions, ethnic-based attacks and displacement have become a recurrent problem. In Guji, Oromo region of Ethiopia, nearly a million ethnic Gedeos were displaced, and many seem to think that it is a sort of ethnic cleansing effort.
In Amhara region, violence between Amhara and Qimant community in Gonder region caused dozens of deaths and displacement of well over 40,000 people.
The sentiment for ethnic violence is still there. Activists with a conviction of unstated radical ethno-nationalism with huge followings on social media could cause a lot of damage to the country. Some of them seem to be more or at least as influential as government officials including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed which is why, apparently, the government has been fearful to hold them legally accountable and reduce their influence through administrative measures. In consequence, ethnic-tension in the country is taking root so much so that now the government is considering it as a national security concern.
“We have to create a system where every single citizen can live in peace and live in dignity,” said the national security advisor the Prime Minister, Temesgen Tiruneh.
Yet, he admits that tackling the threat that ethnic politics posed to the nation requires extensive work and a political solution.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been roving Ethiopian cities preaching “love” but no major policy response is introduced as yet except that his government has established a ministry of peace – which seem to be dealing with the effects of ethnic politics rather than dealing with the cause of the problem. Even the approach to deal with by-products of ethnic-politics is divorced from strong desire and commitment to ensure the rule of law as it is focusing the same approach that the prime minister is pursuing; preaching love and unity.
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