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Abiy’s Pan Africanism Spirit under Threat

Pan Africanism _ ABiy Ahmed _ Ethiopia

By Dr. Berhanu Bulcha and Dr. Tsega Solomo

In Africa, the cradle of humankind, interactions with foreign powers have historically only served  to reduce freedom and independence. The late 19th century saw a movement towards  attempting to revive territorial integrity in Africa through the spirit of pan-Africanism – the belief  that all Africans share a common history and a common destiny, and that African unity is  imperative for progress. By this time, Ethiopia was already recognized as an independent nation,  having repelled an Italian invasion at the battle of Adwa, thereby cementing its position as a  paragon of African independence. With its long history dating back to the Solomonic dynasties,  from Emperor Menelik to Haile Selassie, Ethiopia remains a primary artery of pan-Africanism  thanks to the current government of Prime Minister Abiy and his predilections towards the  integration and liberalization of Ethiopia and the rest of Africa. 

Abiy’s quest to revive the spirit of pan-Africanism has had far-reaching effects on economic  integration, peace and development in Africa. However, he has faced external and internal  resistance, compounded by foreign influence and sabotage from his predecessors, which raises  questions as to why such an exemplary leader would be discussed within global communities not  for his achievements but for atrocities in the ongoing Tigray crisis. The prime minister’s treatment  necessitates a deliberate investigation of his particular brand of pan-Africanism, as well as the  various events compounding his woes, not to mention the reasons for the constant pressure from  the West to negotiate with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) insurgents, with  apparently little regard for the potential implications of doing so. 

Transforming Ethiopia into a more united nation meant that the economy would have to be open  to everybody. To achieve this, Abiy dismantled the TPLF coalition in favor of a more inclusive  party. His Prosperity Party was not well received by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary  Democratic Front (EPRDF). The EPRDF, a TPLF-led party, had controlled Ethiopia for 27 years and  was made up of Tigrayans – an ethnic group that comprises only 6% of the total population. The  formation of the Prosperity Party left TPLF proponents with a choice: support the new and  inclusive government, or opt-out. They chose the latter, and their unwillingness to cooperate has  been illustrated by their tireless work in instigating ethnic conflicts and threatening national  security. 

Following this tension, the TPLF ignored the postponement of the national and regional elections  by Ethiopia’s Election Commission due to the COVID pandemic, and proceeded with the election  of a regional government. This escalated tension exploded into civil war on November 4, 2020,  when TPLF attacked a military base triggering Abiy’s government to send federal forces.  Sustained provocation by the TPLF forced Ethiopia’s national government to destroy Tigray  weaponry near the regional capital of Mekele, and a few days later, a full-scale civil war ensued.  Since then, the death toll in the Tigray conflict has risen to at least 52,000, while the United  Nations estimates that more than 61,000 Ethiopians have fled into Sudan.  

To a large extent, this conflict stems from the TPLF’S refusal to recognize the national  government, which is directly contrary to the spirit of pan-Africanism – as is their separatist 

agitation and fomenting of ethnic conflict. Moreover, the TPLF has thwarted Abiy’s efforts to  begin peace negotiations by rejecting the involvement of the African Union (AU) as negotiators,  a slap in the face for Abiy’s instinct towards a pan-African spirit of unity and dialogue in solving  African problems. 

Abiy’s trajectory has followed the footstep of Haile Selassie in championing pan-Africanism  through regional integration and advocacy for peace and unity among Ethiopians and the rest of  Africa. Despite facing daunting challenges on domestic fronts, Abiy has been instrumental in  fostering peace and security in the Horn of Africa. Upon his election, he stated his willingness to  negotiate and compromise to bring about the end of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border crisis. Abiy also  helped broker a peace deal between other neighboring countries, notably easing the standoff  between South Sudanese vice president Reek Machar and President Salva Kiir and mediating  between Kenya and Somalia in a protracted maritime dispute. 

By believing that charity begins at home, Abiy has widely promoted peace, reconciliation and  justice in Ethiopia. Even though he has had headwinds to navigate, he lifted the state of  emergency that existed in the latter stages of TPLF rule, granted amnesty to political prisoners,  increased media freedom, increased civil participation, promoted the role of women in political  life and reviewed civil law to expand freedom of expression. Abiy can be seen as a liberal-minded  person who believes in transparent and fair elections, clarifying why he was accorded a Peace  and Reconciliation award by the Ethiopian Church in 2018. In addition to introducing political  reforms to Ethiopia, the Prime Minister’s rhetoric of unity and progress for all citizens revitalized  the spirit of Ethiopians that had been long suppressed over the previous 50 years during the  communist Derg and tyrannical TPLF regimes. 

With its consistent emphasis on regional integration and economic cooperation with its  neighbors, the Abiy government practices what it preaches when it comes to the spirit of pan Africanism. This is further illustrated by his recent move to kick-start a visa-on-arrival regime for  all Africans to encourage economic participation all over the continent. He aims to unite Africa  with a common goal, as witnessed in a speech at the African Union summit in 2018, when he  stressed the need for leaders of the AU to stand together to survive changing global dynamics  instead of remaining isolated. With his tweet, “Our continental organization, with a Pan-African  spirit, is the right space to dialogue on issues that are of value to #Africa. The #GERD offers all  stakeholders the opportunity for unprecedented economic growth and mutual development.”  Abiy seems to encourage support for solving continental issues within the continent as well as  regional integration for self-sufficient development. Notably, he has struck several bilateral  agreements, such as the Djibouti port agreements, a 19% stake in Berbara port in the Republic  of Somaliland, and a bilateral agreement with the Sudanese government for a partnership in the  Port of Sudan. His Ethiopia-Djibouti agreement grants the Djiboutian government the option of  taking stakes in state-owned Ethiopian firms in return for services from Ethiopian Airlines and  Ethio-Telecom. Similarly, he negotiated a deal with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to allow  the construction of an Ethiopian logistics facility at Lamu Port as part of the Lamu Port and Lamu Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) project.

Despite his tireless efforts to take bold steps forward within Ethiopia and neighboring regions,  with a focus on the revival of the African spirit, Abiy has faced tremendous resistance to the point  where his opponents launched a petition to revoke his Nobel Peace Prize. Retracting his award  certainly would not resolve the current situation, and it is a worryingly revisionist attempt to  tarnish outstanding achievements by an African politician. Such acts suggest that the West sees  gaining political leverage as more valuable than stabilizing the region. 

According to the Anadolu Agency, the EU and the US are threatening to sanction Ethiopia if it fails  to engage in a dialogue with the already stiff-necked TPLF rebels. This counterproductive move  is likely to further destabilize the nation. Andale Belay, a lecturer in the Ethiopian Civil Service  University, warned that “the multipronged pressure has been defacing, confusing, intimidating  and alienating Ethiopia from its neighbors and global partners to subdue it [Ethiopia] to their  multifaceted hidden agendas” and that “the nonstarter position of the west can embolden the  TPLF and other insurgents to continue with their subversive acts, weaken the federal government  and derail the country’s reform and consequently destabilize Ethiopia”. Bringing the outlawed  TPLF into the equation will increase civil disobedience since it will embolden other insurgent  groups in the region. This kills the spirit of dialogue embraced by pan-Africanism and disrupts  Ethiopian progress while the West continues to spread its tentacles in the region. 

Ethiopia’s longstanding record in supporting the black identity movement and pan-Africanism  should not fade away because of the current crisis. Even though the atrocities alleged against  Abiy’s administration look absurd in the light of his broad pan-Africanism and passion for  Ethiopia, it does not mean that Ethiopia should be used as a specimen for breeding outlawed  insurgent groups or a card for political leverage by the West. If the West does not recognize  Hamas, Taliban, Al Qaeda or Al-Shabaab, why would they require Abiy to enter dialogue with the  TPLF? It’s high time that Ethiopians understood that Ethiopian problems can be solved in Ethiopia  or with a spirit of pan-Africanism. Mutual consent and support for Abiy’s ideological moves will  safeguard Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and reduce foreign interference. Increased Western  control of the situation can only bring about worst-case scenarios, as we have already witnessed  in Somalia, Libya and Afghanistan.

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  1. Shouldn’t regions have the right and authority to decide regional matters? Why do the federal government strive to control regional elections? Shouldn’t the states have power over regional matters?

  2. You wrote….”…….With its long history dating back to the Solomonic dynasties ….'” but, this has not been proven. Your statement is inaccurate. Of course, the dynasties had to start tales of blood relation with kings David and Solomon for their own political and power gain. Come on, such inaccuracies are not expected from PhD holders. It is a disservice to the reader.


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