June 20, 2019
Ethiopians across the board were elated when Prime Minister Dr. Abiy took power and made his inaugural speech. His speeches and what he is doing resonate with what most Ethiopians have been demanding for the last 27 years – ensuring the unity of the country and upholding the rule of law. His rapid acceptance was, in fact, a sign of how worried Ethiopians were about the state of the country under TPLF.
Action speaks louder than words. The Prime Minister and his change agents unquestionably achieved major milestones since they have taken power. His actions have shown a significant departure from the TPLF’s policy. To mention few, he admitted that EPRDF was terrorizing the citizens and he apologized for that. He released all political prisoners, allowed all opposition parties into the country, reconciled the religious leaders, removed laws that used to incriminate innocent citizens; and allowed free media and freedom of expressions. He wowed all of us for what he did in his first year in office.
Some citizens are leery of how he is going to translate his words into action. They question how can he effect significant and sustainable changes within the discriminatory structure and institutions established by TPLF. Many of those who brought the country into crisis are still holding government offices. Moreover, without any preconditions, the Prime Minister allowed into the country organizations and individuals who publicly swore to destabilize Ethiopia. Some of this group like OLF are currently engaged in robbing government banks, killing citizens, causing thousands of displacements, and disrupting public institutions while their leaders are enjoying in luxurious hotels in Addis Ababa. Dr. Abiy is criticized for showing too much patience for this group and TPLF officials suspected of crimes.
The threat and resistance to Dr. Abiy come from different sources in addition to that of TPLF. The self-proclaimed activist like Jawar Mohammed, who is known for his infamous speeches like “Ethiopia out of Oromia” is undermining the Prime Minister’s priorities and position and obstructing his efforts by manipulating the grievances of unemployed youth in Oromia. While living in the United States, Jawar publicly identified Oromos with Islam and encouraged the Oromo Muslims to behead other Ethiopians with a machete. Some Ethiopians doubted the integrity of the Prime Minister when they see Jawar along with government officials protected by government security officers. On the other hand, many of the suspects charged for the June 23, 2018 assassination attempt of the Prime Minister are from the Oromo ethnic group. Looking at this and the threats from Jawar and the bank-robber OLF posed on Dr. Abiy’s efforts, one can easily see the fallacy of ethnic-based politics. Belonging to one ethnic group does not necessarily ensure unity of purpose and support to one another.
The underpinnings of the TPLF-EPRDF system is ethnic discrimination. Ethnic identity politics is a time bomb planted in Ethiopia by TPLF and OLF. Now, Prime Minister Dr. Abiy and Ethiopians are faced with a huge challenge of undoing the wrongs done by TPLF. Ethiopia should come out triumphant by stopping this constitutional ethnic discrimination. The Dr. Abiy leadership is trying to heal the wounds caused by ethnic division and conflicts while OLF and other extremists perpetuate ethnic conflicts in different parts of the country like western Wolega and Gedeo zone.
Dr. Abiy is committed to bringing peace and stability in Ethiopia. Reconciliation needs finding the truth and acknowledging it. This, however, can happen by having capable individuals in the leadership positions who can bring Ethiopians together transcending ethnic and religious divisions. The leaders should be able to entertain diversity of thoughts. The leadership must distance itself from extremists who divide Ethiopians and incite violence.
It is not enough to tell the Prime Minister what he did not do; we need to tell him how he can do things better. Ethiopians also need to tell our leader when things go wrong. This is what helps him to stay on the right track and to achieve his shared vision for our country. Many people were not happy when he continued to have Dr. Workineh Gebeyehu as a foreign minister. Dr. Workineh was the head of police force when close to 200 peaceful protestors massacred in Addis Ababa. Instead of being investigated for the crimes committed while he was a police head, now, Dr. Workineh is appointed as a Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi. It is very unlikely that he was appointed to this high UN position without the recommendations of Dr. Abiy. PM Hailemariam did the same to Dr. Tewodros Adhanom, who is now the Director of the UN World Health Organization. While he was Minister of Health in Ethiopia, Dr. Tewodros was covering up the cholera outbreak in Ethiopia. He was one of the core members of TPLF that is responsible for most crimes perpetrated in Ethiopia. Officials should be held accountable for what they did.
The recent appointment of Dr. Birhanemeskel Abebe Segni as a Consulate-General in Los Angeles is another big mistake. Previously Dr. Birhanemeskel served as a diplomat in the US, appointed by TPLF. Ethiopians in the diaspora have shown their commitment to support Dr. Abiy and their homeland. Many Ethiopian Americans and the diplomatic community, however, will be doomed to a huge disappointment when they read the strategy that Dr. Birhanemeskel once laid out to put a multifaceted sanction on the people of Addis Ababa. With his ten-point strategy, he encouraged ethnic Oromos to hurt the residences of Addis Ababa. In his various Facebook posts, he repeatedly labeled the non-Oromo Addis Ababa residents as “settlers” who do not have the right to live in the capital. How on earth does he represent the interest of the majority of Ethiopia and Ethiopians in the United States? How can he bring the polarized Ethiopians in the US together? Advocating for freedom, equity, justice, and fair distribution of wealth is one thing; publicly mongering hate and inciting violence is another. Please see at the end of this commentary the screenshot of what Dr. Birhanemeskel Abebe Segni wrote on his facebook on June 30, 2017 and reach your own judgement.1
Such appointment can rob the credibility of Prime Minister Abiy. It is widely believed that the extremist ethnic entrepreneurs are infiltrating the government structures. The Prime Minister and his cabinet should carefully look into the appointment of government officials. Again, supplanting the TPLF-appointed officials by another crony, haters, or dilettante cadres following ethnic lines does not help. The Prime Minister will look like the People around him. The same people who caused the current problem should not be the policy actors again. Dr. Abiy should honor his promises; the government bureaucracy should be professionalized and the basis of appointment should be competence and merit.
I hope the Dr. Abiy government will address such issues and take necessary measures so that these kinds of mistakes do not happen again. Ethiopian in the diaspora still should continue supporting the Dr. Abiy’s effort to bring Ethiopia out of the current political crisis. Willful ignorance or information aversion does not help at all if we want a positive change to take place in Ethiopia. Identifying the areas for improvement in his administration and suggesting possible solutions should further be encouraged by his government. The positive changes we are currently witnessing by Dr. Abiy and Mustafa Omer of Somali Region exemplify the power of competence and commitment of individuals. Leaders matter. Ethiopia needs capable, ethical, and visionary leaders. The appointment and confirmation process of government officials should be more transparent and the public should be given a chance to give input.
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