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HomeOpinionEthiopia –Plate Tectonics? (By Solomon Hailemariam)

Ethiopia –Plate Tectonics? (By Solomon Hailemariam)

Google Map of Ethiopia

Solomon Hailemariam
October 28, 2020

While thinking about the Ethiopian current political situation, what comes to my mind is a basic concept from geography. Plate Tectonics. You can Google this concept and find that it is “a scientific theory describing the large-scale motion of seven large plates and the movements of a larger number of smaller plates of Earth’s lithosphere, since tectonic processes began on Earth between 3.3 and 3.5 billion years ago…”

Some might say the political commotion is more like an active volcano than plate tectonics. I don’t want to be semantic here. I don’t think I am a pessimist or a dooms day conspirator either. 

I have three friends who would like to be identified as an Oromo, a Tigrayan and an Amhara.  Obviously, they do not represent the overwhelming majority of the Tigrayan, Amhara and

Oromo population or even the elites but one can get a glimpse of what the minority Oromo, Amhara and Tigray elites may thinking. All of them, in equal measure, would like to see the current government disappear overnight, but why? and is it helpful for Ethiopia and its people?

The Oromo friend tells me that Abiy’s government “betrayed the cause of Oromo revolt.” My

Tigrayan friend confirmed that Abiy is a “traitor” and must go. My Amhara friend tells me that Abiy is working “to replace (Tigrayian TPLF and establish Oromo hegemony.” Let us examine the claims of these friends.

For the last 27 years the TPLF has been in power and many believed that the TPLF attempted or even succeeded in establishing Tigrayan hegemony which TPLF denied. Whether TPLF admitted or denied it, most of TPLF members were at the helm of power for the last 27 years and it was fact. Now losing that power obviously has been inconceivable for them and as a result they are working round the clock to topple the federal government. They don’t hide it at all. TPLF officials called the current government ‘enemy’ several times. 

They have conducted regional election contravening their own constitution and are arming commando brigades completely against the constitution and federal arrangement. The TPLF seems now preparing for ‘war’ with the federal government.

Why do they call, the Prosperity Party in general and Abiy in particular a ‘traitor’? One of the reasons is that before forming the Prosperity Party, the change leaders exposed TPLF’s 27 years of ‘crime’ and ‘corruption’. Although the TPLF defended itself on the grounds that such ‘crime’ and ‘corruption’ had been committed in collaboration with Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Party(OPDO) and the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), [1]the lion share goes to TPLF and the majority of the population rejected TPLF out rightly and gave huge support to Abiy’s government at least for the first 12 or more months.

The TPLF felt the rejection and its leaders repeatedly were heard to say that ‘if we are not respected but hated, we’ll be forced to create our own de facto state’; a position which article 39 of the constitution supports as well.

During the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s time, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) conducted research and agreed to establish one party constituting all the members of EPRDF. However, for some reason, good or bad, they delayed for over 7 years. As soon as Abiy seized power, he dusted off the planned one-party project, implemented it accordingly and named it ‘Prosperity Party’. The TPLF was invited to join but declined as the new party would not allow continuation of the TPLF’s hegemonic ambition.

Despite the fact that the TPLF had planned and agreed to establish one party out of EPRDF’s membership, now. They called the establishment of one party “illegal” and “unacceptable”. Many agreed that TPLF attempted to introduce a double standard regarding the establishment of one party out of the EPRDF.

Because of these indications and many other reasons one can see why the TPLF elites considered Abiy’s government an ‘enemy’ or ‘traitor’. Abiy effectively dismantled the TPLF hegemonic aspiration and exposed the TPLF ‘crime’ and ‘corruption’. Many people including the writer of this article considered the TPLF behind most, if not all of the instability and chaos happening in the country. Therefore, the TPLF has its own reasons to oppose and conspire against the Abiy government.

Would the TPLF succeed in toppling Abiy’s government or separate Tigray as a de facto state? Would the TPLF wage war against the federal government as it did 30 years ago? The facts and figures don’t support such schemes. The scenario has been changed dramatically. The TPLF elite and leaders are where they were 40 years ago. Still sleeping 40 years back in time. Their Marxist mentality is still intact except that they are practically corrupt and running an oligarchy. The Tigray people they claimed to know them like the back of their hands, will never succumb to their senseless propaganda and deny their Ethiopian identity even for a split of second. TPLF leaders will be hold responsible for forcing young people in Tigray to go to war and shade their blood for no reason. They meager resources they have in Tigray, partly looted over the last 27 years, will dissipate if they chose the avenue of war. Eventually they’ll be defeated and history will harshly judge them even more harshly than the current verdict. The TPLF holds now the Tigray people as a human shield. Time will come when the Tigray people to say “enough is enough”. 

 It is true that the Oromo people particularly the young and not yet married (or Querro), played vital role in bringing about change in Ethiopia. The former OPDO from where the current prime minister emerged and now the Prosperity Party equally, claimed that it played a vital role in bring about change in Ethiopia by mobilizing the youth and encouraging its member by actively not cooperating with the former TPLF regime.

Hardliners who support Jawar Mohammed, the media mogul, who is now in detention, do not agree with such claim. They do agree that Querro played a vital role but believed that the OPDO was a collaborator and in fact was behind many killings and has compromised Oromo interest for the last 27 years. Whatever the controversy here, one thing is clear; that the OPDO members and leaders instigated and took decisive final measures to bring about the current change. Had it not been for the OPDO, the regime could have continued for many years to come. Even Jawar himself is quoted to say that he was working with OPDO leaders and members to bring about the current change.

OPDO is now the Oromo Prosperity Party and its leader is Abiy. However, Oromo is divided.

There are Oromos in power; the Oromo Prosperity Party, there are Oromos in jail: – Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba and other OLF members; and there are Oromos who have chosen barbaric armed struggle, OLF Shene.

The Oromo Prosperity Party believes that it is possible to bring democratic change in collaboration with all other ethnic groups in Ethiopia, understanding different nationalities’ questions and also taking in to consideration national unity. The party has seemed to believe in equality, tolerance, and forgiveness. 

However, for some, the recurrent off the cuff remarks by Oromo regional V/President cast doubt on the sincerity of the Oromo Prosperity Party. The vice president at one point said “we have broken the ‘Neftegna’ ” and on another occasion he is quoted as saying “we confused and convinced them”. Whether the vice president was forgiven in the party internal inquiry, it is not clear but so far, he made neither public apology nor retracted his public statement which offended any Amhara nationalist, even the Amhara Regional President, for that matter. The Amhara President, in his social media platform, wrote “we are neither confused nor convinced”. The statement seemed a direct reply to the Oromo Regional v/president. Amhara nationalists were equally confused when the Oromo vice president was honored in Bahirdar and many thought he must have apologized in one of their internal meetings.

Every one in Ethiopia, and particularly Amhara nationalists and people who ardently advocate for Ethiopian unity, were appalled and outraged by the mass killings which looked like massacre carried out in Oromia regions in the last two years and directed toward settlers. Feelings were particularly strong specifically after the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, one of the prominent and brave singers in Ethiopia.

Such merciless killings made many people in Ethiopia blame the government for not taking seriously its basic duty, to maintain law and order in the country. The government, however, detained over 6000 people including hundreds of government officials where the perpetrators committed the atrocity.

The Oromos in jail, claimed that they are political prisoners and the Oromo Prosperity Party is afraid of them as they have an overwhelming support in Oromia. Jawar held himself as an equal sometimes even better than the current Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, as he is convinced that he was the one who singlehandedly brought about change in Ethiopia by mobilizing Querro using his media platforms. Many Oromo elites both in the diaspora and at home share Jawar’s opinion. Even moderate Amharas and others, however, considered Jawar and his supporters responsible for the sufferings of Amharas in the Oromia region by propagating differences rather than unity in their media platforms. These people whispered that he and his group are working to separate Oromia from the rest of Ethiopia. By Jawar’s standards, the Oromo Prosperity Party is very much liberal and pro-unity.

For OLF Shene, the intention of this group is not clear. They have killed Oromo Prosperity Party leaders; they organized the youth to became ‘Aba Torbe’ meaning ‘someone who is in line to be killed next week’. They have robbed banks, terrorized Oromo who do not support them, and looted and burned down government offices many believe they are behind the barbaric act of merciless killings, destruction, burning of properties and looting in Oromia region after the murder of Hachalu. Many are suspicious of this group as the armed wing of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) which has been legally registered and working as a peaceful political party. The legal OLF, however, has vehemently denied such accusations. The government and many others believed that OLF Shene is a terrorist organization which has not yet been officially labeled as such by parliament.

Now, what do Jawar and his supporters want? Why have they labelled Abiy and the Prosperity Party as the ones who betrayed the Oromo struggle? It is complicated, sometimes they claimed that Abiy is not an Oromo and the Oromo Prosperity Party is a front for the Amhara Prosperity Party, so that it does not represent Oromo. The challenge is that Jawar and his supporters were not elected by Oromo people either. Both of them claimed to represent Oromo but the former has currently seized political power. Jawar and his supporters were unhappy because they were not able to lead the change and wanted revenge against their age-old ‘adversary’ which they have called ‘Neftegna’. They are not happy to hear time and again about Ethiopian unity, thinking that such rhetoric might bring disrespect for the Oromo people. Apart from this, I do not see a fundamental reason to believe Abiy or his Property Party have hurt the interests of Oromo people in particular or the Ethiopian people in general. 

The Amhara are equally divided. There are Amhara who support the Prosperity Party, there is the Amhara Prosperity Party itself, there is the Amhara National Movement (ANM), a hardliner by many standards compared to the Prosperity Party, and there is a substantial number of Amharas who believe in Ethiopian unity and do not want to be associated with national elements.

Those who support the Prosperity Party trust that Abiys government will bring genuine democracy and harmony in the country. As no survey has been conducted, it is very difficult to gauge the size of this group but we cannot underestimate them at all. The Amhara Prosperity Party is the former Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM). They have a solid political structure and they have the means to deliver. They believed the Amhara national interest will be maintained under the Amhara Prosperity Party. They consider their party played a vital role in bringing about the current change. They take particular satisfaction that the TPLF was pushed from the helm of the power as it hit harder and manipulated them more than any other party. In fact, if, the current Deputy Prime Minister didn’t vote for Abiy during Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) leadership election, the current political landscape would be completely different. For this and many other reasons, ANDM played an indispensable role in bringing about the current change. One cannot afford to forget the Fano’s (youth in Amhara region) vital contribution to bring about the current change as well. I do not accept as true for a split second that the current change came about as the result of a single entity or group. So many groups, underlying forces played equally vital roles in bringing about changes to the country. Journalists, civil society operatives, academics, opposition and even members of the former ruling party played an indispensable role in bringing about the current change. It is completely impossible to give the credit to one single entity.

ANM is relatively a new face in the Ethiopian political sphere but it has proved itself to be radical and with great potential. ANM would like to bring back the old glory of the Amhara people; I really do not understand what this means but they have claimed to be a true descendant of the Amhara struggle. They have declared in their official writings that they want to reclaim Raya, Wolkiet and other Amhara territories unlawfully taken by the TPLF when they seized power in 1991. They wanted to outlaw the TPLF as a terrorist organization and would like to work to get compensation for the atrocities directed against the Amhara people by the TPLF for over 27 years. Although they have sizable supporter and are able to successfully radicalize a substantial number of young people in the Amhara region, so far apart from issuing press releases and occasionally threatening the government for calling a huge rally, they have not done much that we can discuss here.

ANM supporters and the group of newly radicalized youth are very suspicious of Abiy’s government and they think the Amhara Prosperity Party has been undeservedly dominated by the Oromo Prosperity Party and is not capable of maintaining Amhara national interest. Sometimes the ANM works with Amhara Prosperity Party but it has never trusted them. It appears that ANM is waiting for the opportunity to nip the Amhara Prosperity Party in the bud mostly by voting them out.

There is a substantial number of people who were born and raised in the conventional Amhara region (Gojjam, Gonder, Shewa, Wollo and other places) but who declined to be identified as Amhara.They are proud to be called Ethiopian and they consider the focus on Amhara nationalism, as regressive and diverting progress. Most of them seemed to support the Abiy government and others are cautiously optimistic. As this group is mostly well educated and financially well off, when they act in unison, they can make a difference. So far, this group has chosen to be the silent majority.

The Southern nation and nationalities where so many nationalities live in one regional state has started to disintegrate as well. Like the Sidama, Wolayta and others have profound interest in having their own states. There are many serious issues in Benishangule Gumuz, Gambella and even in a relatively peaceful Somali region, discussing these regional states is beyond the scope of this article.

Finally, what does my reactionary Amhara friend want? He wants to make sure the Amhara maintain the status quo, What does my reactionary Oromo friend want? He wants the status quo changed for example that Oromiffa should be the official language of Ethiopia alongside the Amharic language, and he would like to see implemented the special interest of Oromo in Addis Ababa as stipulated in the constitution, among other things. What does my reactionary Tigrayan friend want? He wants to see the TPLF regain its lost status. It might not be that simple to generalize their demands as easily as I have just done but I am not very far from the truth.

What do we generalize about the fate of the country arising from overview the above?

Ethiopia will disintegrate? I do not think so, even if there are diametrically opposing interests in the country right now, the economic situation that exist in the country  as well as the political psychology of Ethiopian people living in south, north, east or west do not allow disintegration to  happen; but it is likely the attempt to change the status quo will continue in vain and with needless human and resource destruction until the change process matures and people come back to their senses. There is intense pressure from different directions against the Abiy government, without a doubt, but if handled well there is also an opportunity to come to terms with diverse groups to forge a genuine democratic and federal state. 

Is Ethiopia on a tectonic plate? May be a little exaggerated but something similar vibration is happening as you read this article. Such vibration eventually will settle and unquestionably affecting some of the entities which refused to accept the reality on the ground and stood against the truth. It is the writer’s deep aspiration when this plate tectonic or the vibration conciliate, that Ethiopian people start to live in peace and harmony honoring their differences. As the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”. Ethiopia will not crumble as some nihilists might wish, but will prevail, stronger where diversity is appreciated and valued, where people respect each other and the rule of law prescribed.

Let Tigray and Amhara region, let Oromo and Amhara regional states, let Afar and Somali region compete, but compete in training their youth in science and technology rather than in training special forces and commandos. Let each regional state compete with the others in bringing advanced technology, science and economic progress and even collaborate rather than conspiring against each other. It is very sad that politicians in Ethiopia are fighting among themselves for political power when people do not have enough to eat. How long is such absurdity to continue? I hope those politicians who claimed to represent Amhara, Oromo, Tigray, Somali, Benishangule, Gambella, Sidama, Afar and others come to their senses and start working for the people rather than their own position. 

Solomon Hailemariam is President of PEN Ethiopia. He can be reached: 

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  1. Good insight but lacks balance. When I see articles written in Ethiopians is that It is not who are the friends of the writer, what matters is who is the writer? Did you see what u have said about how the change came? The change came not because of the contribution of different stakeholders because Qerro paid sacrifice to topple the TPLF regime. This is a practical problem in Ethiopia. I can say loud and clear the Change has come by Qerro Non-Violent Struggle.
    The other thing is that how you described ANM!ANM is a Nazy organization, which claims Amhara Nationals was the one who created Ethiopia and other Ethiopians should bow to Amhara. And Amhara is the measure of being a human. The role the party played to destabilize the transition was not mentioned by the article.


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