Ethiopia : ‘Is Dr. Abiy still the way forward?

Abiy Ahmed _ Ethiopia
Abiy Ahmed making a speech after he was sworn in as Prime Minister in April 2010 (SM)

By Alex Bekele

Absolute disregard for human rights, massive corruption, ethnic-based nepotism, and an army and police system that were more loyal to TPLF than to the nation at large were the hallmarks of the EPDRF government dominated by TPLF.  Ethiopians resisted peacefully all through the 27 years of EPDRF’s rule to change all these.  Out of the crack this continuous popular resistance created within the ruling party was born the Abiy administration, promising a new day in Ethiopia.  Dr. Abiy released all political prisoners, pardoned all asylees, promised to change the constitution, and hold a free and fair election.  He also showed his determination to root out corruption, and bring about the rule of law. He even made peace with Eritrea. We, Ethiopians, supported him with boundless enthusiasm, and thought the way forward was following his leadership.  He, however, failed us by continuing making ethnic and party affiliation as the only criteria for serving in important offices, by protecting the pernicious constitution that TPLF concocted to divide and rule us as his own, by totally misunderstanding or misusing how a federal government works, by not understanding the true nature of Addis Ababa, by allowing a massive land grab and a mind-boggling condominium theft, and by tolerating genocide on his watch.

A la the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, Dr. Abiy’s primary measure of a candidate for office becomes whether one is an Oromo, or servile enough to obediently serve the Oromo agenda.  As a result, all strategic cabinet positions are always occupied by Oromos or their proven lackeys, who in turn employ other Oromos into the bureaucracies they lead.  Qualifications, experience, and merit-based competitions for employment are scorned as impediment to the Oromo agenda.  Many are the examples that show the harmful effect of such unmerited appointments to our nation.  The first one that comes to mind is General Berhanu Jula, head of the National Defense Force, under whose leadership the army could not even control the ever-growing banditry all over south-western Ethiopia, forget defending the country from such regional threats that may come from our traditional enemies such as Egypt.  The other, of course,   is the Minister of Peace that presides over a country that has been in perpetual chaos.  Little or nothing did she do to bring about peace anywhere.  No less harmful is the appointment of the Federal Chief Justice, under whose oversight a federal court not only forced so-called criminal defendants to defend themselves, despite their informed and express unwillingness not to, but it also deprived them of their fundamental right to confront witnesses against them.  In an unprecedented travesty, this court even allowed witnesses to testify behind the curtain.  Think also of that caricature of an attorney general who jailed a world-renowned peaceful activist, Eskinder Nega, on trumped-up charges of outright violence just to please her boss, the Prime Minister, who had publicly expressed his contempt for him.  No less harmful is to have a Vice President who ostensibly represents the so-called Amhara Prosperity Party but says nothing when the people of Amhara are massacred in mass all over the Oromia Kilil.  The list goes on.  It is the combined effect of such incompetent appointees that has weakened our country from its core.  A few years ago, we had our TPLF overlords crushing our back; our Oromo Prosperity Party overlords, in exactly the same fashion, only more bluntly and crudely, are now kneeling on our necks.  But this is not all.

Dr. Abiy also failed us by accepting the pernicious TPLF document of divide-and-rule, dubbed the Constitution of Ethiopia.  Unfortunately, the Ethiopian people have never expressed their acceptances of it directly or, indirectly through their legitimate representatives.  They never freely debated on it and willingly approved it.  It has been imposed on them.  As the law of the land, as a foundation of all other laws, as a constitution that will endure generations to come, getting the informed approval of the people should have been imperative.  Without such debates and well-informed approval, just calling it the Constitution of Ethiopia does not make it one.  Besides, one has only to observe what crimes are committed by our leaders in the guise of this so-called constitution.  Be it the ethnic Bantustans TPLF created, or the unprofessional ethnocentric national defense forces, or the ethnocentric federal police and security institution, they are all the pernicious products of this eclectic document. The people of Ethiopia should be laser focused on changing it.  Do not expect Dr. Abiy to do that for you; he has embraced it as his own.

The other problem with Dr. Abiy is his understanding, or misunderstanding, or misusing of the federal government.  This may also be a problem of the so-called constitution he fully embraced.  The federal government should have a much larger resource, and a far greater military and security strength that it should deploy when needed.  This is because it has the responsibility of settling disputes among the regions, and ensuring the inalienable rights of citizens all over the Federation.  Yet, our federal government is incapable of doing either.  Disappointingly, our Prime Minister believes Kilils in Tigrai and Oromia can do anything in their Kilil with impunity, including maiming and killing their citizens at will.  The fact that they are primarily citizens of Ethiopia does not matter.  He appears to believe that he has no obligation to defend them; partly because he is afraid of the Special Military Forces they have organized using money from the federal government, and partly because he does not understand this difficult, but necessary responsibility for them.  A good example of his abdication of his responsibility in this regard is his continued failure to resolve the conflict between the Amhara and the Tigrai Kilils, and the other one between the Tigrai Kilil and the people of Afar.  Under his watch, the TPLF bandits who were on the run when he came to power have now strengthened their army enough to intimidate the federal defense force.  The Oromia Prosperity Party – the most astute imitator of the TPLF – has already built a massive Special Military Force in order to do whatever it wants in its Kilil.  From all the chaos in the region, you can easily deduce that the federal government has lost any control over there, too.  Ideally, in any federal system, national defense is the domain of the federal government. The parts should be satisfied with a proportionate police and emergency paramilitary forces that are nowhere near their federal counterparts. Only in our upside-down Ethiopia will one of the parts controls the federal defense force and still builds incessantly to have the largest Special Military Force of its Kilil as well.  This is a typical example of the tail wagging the dog.  This has made the Prime Minister a junior officer of the two militarily strong Kilils, unable to exercise power in either of them.  They cajole him around as they wish.

Not understanding the history of Addis Ababa, its diversity, its entrepreneurial spirit, and its cosmopolitan character is another failure of Abiy and company.  The claim that Addis Ababa was built on Oromo land is a fiction fabricated by the narrow-minded Oromo Elite.  To reserve certain privileges for the Oromos, based on this fiction, was a mechanism TPLF designed, after losing The City of Addis Ababa’s election in 1997, to keep the Amharas and the Oromos at loggerheads.  This gave TPLF a respite then and an ally now.  But, allowing special privileges for the Oromos will make all others second class citizens.  In effect, it pits the Oromos against all other Ethiopians on the ownership of Addis Ababa.  Please note, TPLF’S scheme of divide and rule is working.  Mind you, there is no ethnic group that is not represented in Addis Ababa, and they all love Addis.  Their relation, outside their respective families, is not based on tribe or blood.  Most of them know only their friends’ name, not their primordial tribal affiliations.  Almost all of them consider themselves Ethiopian first and Addis Ababian second. Their relation is based on the school they go to, the business they are in, the sports team they play for, the neighborhood they belong in, or the project they carry out together, etc.  Most of them consider themselves members of the global community, too.   A few of them travel for trade and scholarship overseas, others learn about what is going on in the rest of the world from social media and contacts elsewhere in the world.  Most work to get into business or acquire some technical know how.  In short, they have broader outlook and calmer attitudes. They are not used to sitting and griping. They do not wait for someone to come and give them somebody else’s condominiums. They cannot even imagine such an outlandish travesty.  They have long ago given up on their government; nor are they willing to be a burden on their poor families.  The only thing they have is the self-confidence that comes from within and their belief in their country.  They hassle day and day out to make it on their own.  Tell this youth to fight strangers they never met, hell no! They will say.  Tell them to harm and kill them, they will run away from you shocked. Tell them that this city is not theirs but of others who had never put a foot in it, they will look at you as delusional.  Tell them to study the Geda System as a compulsory subject in schools; they will be bewildered.  When they find out with a little research what the Geda System espoused and encouraged – war, murder, slavery and women’s domination – they will hate the leader for whom they were once willing to die; they will be disgusted.  This was not the change they dreamt. They see injustice, they fight it, no matter where.  Remember, how they felt for the persecuted masses of Legetaffo and wanted to help; they never asked what their ethnicity was.  They just wanted to help.  Unfortunately, they had languished in Dr. Abiy’s concentration camps for months for all their good hearts.  For whom they believed to be a good leader they will bite the hand grenade. “Anything good for Ethiopia” is their guiding principle.

Dr. Abiy’s other problem is the land grab and the condominium theft the party he leads is carrying out in Addis Ababa.  Acres and acres of prime real estate that were designated for public use are being looted by private individuals and groups, more often than not with the help of prominent Government officials.  Condominiums that were built by over a decade of individual contributions were scrambled by the ruling party officials who contributed nothing.  Tens of thousands more were freely given to newly settled Oromos who were brought to the capital to change the demography for the upcoming election.  Tragically, those who played by the rule, made monthly contributions for over a decade to build them, and won the drawing were left holding the bag.  This is worse than what TPLF did, at least in appearance.  The Prime Minister, who once called the TPLF thugs ‘the-broad-day-light hyena,’ thus presided over the ugliest form of theft and robbery all too soon. How short-sighted can he be?  The people of Addis Ababa are watching.  The youth in Addis are watching your greed-driven madness.  The masses all over Ethiopia are seeing your true intentions you are trying to cover by perpetual chaos and tumult.

Last but not least is the recent genocide Dr. Abiy failed to acknowledge consistently.  The on-again-off-again massacre of the Amhara people finally morphed into large scale well calculated genocides in Arsi, Shashemene, and Balle.  Amharas and Guragais were killed in the most grotesque manner often in their houses.  Their houses and businesses were looted and burned.  Oromos of Orthodox Christian faith were also senselessly killed.  The Kilils security forces aided and abetted the perpetrators.  A specter of similar genocides hangs over the horizon.  Yet, Dr. Abiy prevaricate even to call it what it is.

All these, and some more, happened under his watchful eyes that needed decisive actions.  But, he could not hold the bull by the horn and deal with it.  Every time, moments of decision come his way, he dodged them, and preferred lighter tasks such as planting trees, or beautifying the parks around his palace, or talking to needy children.  Ethiopia is becoming an inferno for millions in the meantime.  Enough is enough to expect any change from this Prime minister.  He has decided to surround himself with sycophants, to embrace the so-called constitution, as-is, and to allow the federal government to be dominated by the OLF.  Using the cover of his hand-picked officials, Oromo organizations are busy changing the demography of Addis Ababa, illegally grabbing land and occupying condominiums built by money from other Ethiopians.  With a long-term plan of Oromizing the children of Addis Ababa, they have decided to teach the Geda system in the schools of the City of Addis Ababa.  If the past is any guide to the future, it will be sheer folly to expect anything significantly good from this administration any longer.

If there is any way to turn the tide, it is by organizing at every level everywhere in Ethiopia.  Of course, organizing is even more important In Addis Ababa, for the Oromo extremists have set their eyes on this city as their biggest prize.  All professions need to organize professional associations to protect their interests from our new lords.  Workers have to organize unions to vouch for what they deserve.  Neighborhood associations have to flourish to protect their interests and demand what they need.  Women should organize even more, for we now have leaders who really believe the Geda System is even more democratic than any modern democratic institutions.  They are determined to pull us backward.  The youth should organize, and help organize others, underground, until it reaches that critical mass to operate overtly.  Create networking with towns and cities outside of Addis Ababa.  Join and strengthen existing organizations such as Balddras.  Injustice is spreading like a wildfire all over the country.  Resentment is building up like never before.  This gives us a fertile ground to organize. For agitation purposes, we need to stay focused on two things.  Land should be permanently redistributed to its users.  Neither the state nor the Kilil had any rational justification to be the new landlords.  Ethiopia is not China.  The other is the so-called constitution that is imposed from above. It has to go. Nothing good came of it in our 30 years experiment with it; nothing good but disaster would come of it after now.  These two – ownership of land by the state and the so-called constitution – are the sources of all the miseries of our people.  And yes, let’s organize.   It is not going to be easy, though.  There are already all the signs of a dangerously repressive state.  Plan for the long haul.  Never forget that we are starting the organizing very late, and the road forward is full of obstacles.  Put extra effort to make up.  Stop believing Dr. Abiy is transitioning us to better governance, because he is not.  Be resilient.  Only organizing for a popular struggle is the way forward.

 From a concerned Ethiopian.



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