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A Candid Open Letter to PM Abiy:  Ethiopia Needs a Statesman Not a Party Leader  

Yonas Biru Letter to PM Abiy
Yonas Biru

Yonas Biru (PhD) 

It is estimated that the current war has cost Ethiopia over 500,000 lives in just 14 months and is  still counting on the Afar front. Only God knows the number of the wounded and maimed. During the two-year Ethio-Eritrean war, the number of dead was estimated to be below 100,000. Evidently, God was more merciful then than now. Even God seems to have given up hope on us and resigned from Ethiopia’s affair. 

This is my umpteenth Open Letter to you. My first was published on June 16, 2018, a bit over two months after you took the prime ministership. It read in part: 

Ethiopia gave birth to you out of pain, with a cacophony of ኡኡታ. She awaits to be born out of you with a symphony of እልልታ. The stars are aligned, the birds are chirping, the rainbow is sparkling across the sky and the spring flowers have painted a masterpiece mosaic of colors using the earth as their canvas. 

Truth be told, there will be challenges. The melancholy and vagaries of tribal politics cannot be wished away. But one thing I know for sure. Dawn has arrived to announce the arrival soon of a high noon for change. 

You have come to office as the US and Europe are witnessing major social and political transformations. Supporting Africa’s development has become a strategic policy anchored in national interest fueled by anti-immigration sentiments and the need to combat the threat of terrorism, not to mention competition from China. 

Europe and America are trumpeting your economic and political reforms in their newspapers. Conservative newspapers who do not normally clamor to cover African stories are giving you coverage, some of them several times a week. 

Ethiopia needs to do its part. It must position herself as a grand experiment to showcase an African success story. Your administration should proactively leverage Ethiopia’s aggressive development agenda and position its strategic development framework at the nexus of the emerging global geopolitics and the ensuing international development policy. 

Historically, consequential leaders are those who are the right people at the right time. You emerged  along Dr. Lemma, Ato Gedu and Ato Demeke rather abruptly onto the Ethiopian political landscape.

As the leader of the pack, you said and did all the right things at the right time. You calmed the cacophonous environment and lifted the dark cloud from what had been a country of horror. Indeed, the stars were aligned for you to lead. Ethiopians at home and abroad gave you unconditional support. Their euphoria gave birth to Abiy-Mania. 

Ethiopians at home and in the diaspora hoped for a statesman but, as time went by, they realized what they got is a party leader. Four years into your stewardship, you have not risen to the mantle of statesmanship. You are increasingly losing the people’s confidence and trust, including those who want to see you succeed. 

Unfortunately, you have shown no interest in seeking the guidance and counsel of subject matter experts and experienced practitioners. Sadly, you have allowed yourself to be sandwiched between a rotating roster of activist intellectuals who praise every step you take, and tribalist Amhara and Oromo extremists who see nothing right in what you do. Thank God TPLF is like an old truck run out  

of gas and parked on a roadside with deflated wheels. Grass has started to grow on its body. 

The Ethiopian political landscape echoes the cacophony of the stampedes of የጉራጌ ጭፈራ from your supporters and the symphony orchestra of ደረት ድለቃ and ሙሾ ወረዳ from your Amhara and Oromo tribal detractors. People of reason and knowledge are crowded out by the noise and marginalized by your indifference. 

Independent advisory expert councils you have established such as the Economic Advisory Council have not met with you or your Macro Economic Team. The Privatization Council you have established in 2018 is another example. After four years, you have not summoned it for consultation or advice even though the privatization process is in progress, albeit in slow motion. 

I continue to believe you have genuine interest in transforming Ethiopia. Some of the things you are  doing such as planting trees and beautifying Addis are more transformative both in the physical and  psychological  spheres  than  people  give  you  credit  for. You  have  also  done  a  lot  more  in  gradually  shifting the center of gravity of the Oromo political sentiment from tribal to pan-Ethiopian than people  acknowledge. Today,  the Oromo  tribal land is calmer  than before you came  to power, barring some  areas in Welega. I continue to believe that you have vision to make Ethiopia reclaim its great history. 

Obviously, visions alone are not sufficient. They need to be articulated and supported with well-developed strategies, road maps, goalposts, policies, and  implementation, follow through and monitoring plans. You cannot do it alone. The task is too much for any one individual  to tackle. The last four years are more than enough to ascertain this. Allow me to reiterate part of my April 2019 open letter addressed to you.

The success of every President or Prime Minister hinges on the Office of the Chief of Staff (COS). It is widely acknowledged that “When government works, it is usually because the COS understands the fabric of power, threading the needle where policy and politics converge.” 

The COS’s primary duties fall into two broad areas: Strategic overview and program execution, including crisis management. Strategic overview comprises bridging the leader’s visions and weaving together his strategy and priorities into a coherent policy. Program execution involves translating the leader’s agenda into a reality. 

The position not only demands vast experiences in administration and management, but also requires intelligence and strong personal character and integrity with courage to remind the President or the Prime Minister when his actions undermine his agenda. 

As you reflect on the year past and look ahead, there is no office that should command your attention more than the Office of the COS. Is it fully empowered, adequately funded, capably led, and up to par with its duties and responsibilities? The success of your reform hinges on your answer to these questions. 

Since you came to office in 2018, you are functioning without a COS. In the US and many other nations, the COS is a cabinet level position. What you have is a personal assistant. This is the source of the general management and governance dysfunction that we see in many areas of your administration. In short, you tend to concentrate power in your hands and surround yourself with obedient assistants rather than recruiting capable people and empowering them. 

What we currently have in Ethiopia is a system you have developed to dictate your wishes, not a deliberative constitutional governing culture. I respectfully invite you my article titled “Prime Minister  Abiy’s Problem is Partly Rooted in Religion”. You are running the country like a private corporation or  an evangelical ministry. This is plenty wrong and dangerous, no matter how good your intentions may  be.  

Your governing style has led to grave mistakes before, during and after the war. One of the colossal mistakes was entering Mekele in the first place. The time to reach a negotiated settlement was after the Ethiopian forces took over Adwa, Shire, and other strategic places. TPLF was militarily defeated and all but politically dead. 

Some of us warned the danger of entering Mekele, stressing (1) it would be an overkill and will change the social psychology of the people of Tigray, (2) your decision to destroy TPLF and capture or kill its leaders was not worth the cost, and (3) the only solution to the crisis was a negotiated settlement. Sadly, you seem  to  have  come  to  understand  the wisdom of these  points after we

sustained unimaginable loss in life and treasure. This is the cost of not considering alternative views  and the lack of a deliberative process in decision making.  

The Cost of Lack of Transparency, Credibility and Trustworthiness 

Increasingly, your statements have become neither credible nor believable. It took you three days after you withdrew from Tigray to make an official statement, long after the international media and TPLF had a field day spinning their spins. Your subsequent denial that we did not sustain loss when we pulled out of Tigray conflicted with reality. 

True, the decision to leave may have been political, but Ethiopia sustained a heavy loss when you pulled out. TPLF captured and paraded over 10,000 military personnel along with heavy equipment which it later used to invade the Amhara and Afar tribal lands. 

More recently, speaking at a diaspora dinner in Addis, you explained why you kept all Ethiopians in the dark about the status and progress of the war. Your explanation did not inspire confidence. 

“በተፈቱት ሰዎች እኔ የተማርኩት ነገር ቢኖር እንኳንም ለዲሞክራሲ ብየ፤ እንኳንም ዳይስፖራዎች እንዳይከፋችሁ ብየ፤ እንኳንም አንዳንድ እትዮጵያን ወዳድ አችቲቪስቶችና ነጋዴዎች እንዳይከፋችሁ ብየ የጦርናት እቅድ ያላወያየሁዋችሁ። እውነቴን ነው የምነግራችሁ አውያይችህችሁ ቢሆን ኖሮ እስካሁን ደብረሲና እና ደብረብራህን ውጊያ ይኖር ነበር።”  

Truth be  told,  this was an absurd explanation. Ethiopians at home and/or in the diaspora never demanded to see your military strategy, let alone to debate it for approval. Democracy requires you to be transparent and truthful about the nation’s affair without exposing military strategy or national security. The problem is that you tend to be opaque when you need to be transparent, and you are silent when the people want you to communicate with them. 

Please allow me to reiterate a recommendation I provided you in my April 6, 2019, open letter. 

If there is one specific area that your administration needs to focus on with a fierce urgency of now, it is setting up an agile communication facility and establishing an effective public relations strategy. Your communication officials need to explain, promote, and defend your agenda constantly. Your supporters need to be kept abreast of the progress your administration has made. You also have duty and obligation to be transparent and forthright about the challenges the nation faces. 

Your focus seems to be on building the Prosperity Party (PP). You seem to treat the people as background props, forgetting the nation’s sovereignty and the legitimacy of your authority to govern

it are vested in them. You should remember that TPLF did not crumble for lack of card-carrying members. It crumbled because its leaders ignored the concerns and desires of the people. They felt they had the right answer to every challenge. When the day of reckoning came, they had no chance to weather the storm. 

You seem to be oblivious to the signs of national disaster looming heavy on the horizon. Led by local and diaspora extremists, a Shene-Amhara movement is gathering momentum. Your failure to address the genuine concerns of the Amhara tribal land and your inability to reign in some Oromo extremists in your party is putting Amhara politicians in a difficult position. On the other hand, it is  

fattening extremist Amhara forces like steroids and giving birth to conspiracy theorists.  

It is important to know that the political dynamics that you feel confident about will start to change the moment the growth rate of PP membership is overtaken by the growth rate of the number of people who lost hope in you and your government. The equilibrium will break the moment the number of people who see you as part of the problem becomes more than the number of card carrying members of PP. 

The PP party is your tool to carry out your agenda. It is not a bulwark against dissent. Ethiopia  came  close  to  the  brink  of  collapse  during  the  war  but  was  saved  by  the  sacrifice  of  hundreds  of  thousands  of people. You  owe  them  to change course. You  owe  yourself and  your legacy  to change  course. You owe  the nation you genuinely love  to change course. የኢትዮጵያ አንጀቷም፤ ድርና ማጓም፤ የስሪት እሴቷም ሳስቷል. The next political crisis may break her. 

Ethiopias Foreign Policy at Its Historical Worst  

The success of your reforms depended heavily on foreign aid, but your foreign policy is the worst Ethiopia has ever seen. This should not come as a surprise, considering the people you routinely appoint to lead the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Even worse, our foreign emissaries are out of their league and unprepared to navigate through a complex geopolitical universe. 

Ethiopia was the Mecca of Africa’s diplomatic relations. Today, Nairobi is increasingly becoming the go-to African capital. This was evident when US Secretary of State Blinken visited Nairobi to talk  about regional issues and flew to Senegal skipping Addis. Candor obliges me to repeat what I have stated in various published articles. Your administration has degraded the quality of our nation’s international public diplomacy to a level that would make the likes of Yilma Deressa and Ketema Yifru roll in their graves. 

Your administration’s poor performance on the international arena has damaged Ethiopia’s image.  It is also undermining Ethiopia’s once in a generation opportunity for peace and prosperity.

Soon after you took office, the international media cheered you with a cascade of accolades for opening Ethiopia’s “path for prosperity.” The US-based Freedom House flagged Ethiopia as one of the five “most encouraging examples of democratic progress over the past two years.” They hoped your success could ignite economic transformation in Africa “through emulation equivalent to South Korea’s influence on Asia in the 1970s.” In October 2019, you won the Nobel Prize for Peace for ushering in “important reforms that give many citizens hope for a better life and a brighter future,” among other things. 

The world was your oyster. Head of States from far and near including Austria, France, and Germany visited you in Addis during your first year in office. This was followed by the President of France and President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in 2019 and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2020. No African leader has seen such a recognition in such a short period. 

They all rooted for your success and provided you with an unprecedented level of financial aid. This was the case even in 2021 when the Biden administration was engaged in saber rattling gimmick about sanctioning Ethiopia. In 2021, the top three US aid recipient countries were Ethiopia ($1.13 billion), Jordan ($1.03 billion) and Afghanistan ($860 million). 

In 2019, Ethiopia was the second largest recipient of aid from the UK, next only to Pakistan that got a mere £5 million more. In 2020, Ethiopia was the number one African country to receive aid form the UK. In General, Ethiopia is the only Sub-Saharan Africa in the top 10 aid recipients countries in the world. It is the 5th largest recipient, following India, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Syria. South Sudan (11), Jordan (12), Tanzania (13), Nigeria (14) and Kenya (15) round up the top 15 positions. 

Since you came to office, Ethiopia received $8.92 billion generously low interest rate loans from the World Bank. During the same year Nigeria, which has twice the population of Ethiopia and far more loan absorbing and paying capability, received $8.38 billion. Egypt got $5.77 billion. In addition, the World Bank provided you with a near $1 billion grant to reduce the burden of additional loans. In 2019, the IMF approved a $2.9 billion loan that was 700 percent larger than Ethiopia’s quota. 

The West was willing and ready to bankroll your reforms. Your mismanagement of the war and the international public diplomacy squandered the once in a lifetime opportunity. 

Your administration and the  ignorant diaspora establishment  accused  the  West  of  perpetrating  a  regime  change  to  put  TPLF  back  to  power.  Sadly,  this  gave  birth  to  the  cacophonous and idiotic #NoMore movement.

True, the US has intervened to end the war. As misguided and myopic, and may be even dangerous as the US intervention may have been, their objective was far from getting you out of power. Part of the problem can be attributed to your failure to play by the rules of geo political engagement.  

You refused to hire lobbyists and media influencers. There is no country that is closer to the  US  than  Israel.  Pro-Israel groups  spend  $100  million  a  year on  lobbying  politicians  and  sending members of Congress on trips to Israel. You refused to spend $5 million, when TPLF was  spending  millions  a  year.  TPLF  lobbyists  controlled  the  narrative  and  methodically  influenced US Senators and Congressmen and women.  

In  an  increasingly  integrated  and  globalized  world,  nations  take  into  consideration  the  geopolitical concerns of other nations. This does not mean compromising their sovereignty.  As a member  of  the global  community and a geopolitically  critical  nation  to  boot,  Ethiopia  cannot  live  in  isolation.  Your  administration  must  recognize  Ethiopia’s collapse  will  have  regional and global repercussions. This is the reason the international community is spending  billions to prop up our economy.  

In  short,  as  the  leader  of  such  an  important  geo-strategic  nation  you need to be a reliable and predictable partner in the geopolitical theater. You need powerful lobbyists to represent Ethiopia.  Every million you spend on them will bring hundreds of millions. If countries such as South Sudan could  spend nearly $2 million per year, Ethiopia must find it possible to spend $5 million.  

Ethiopia’s geo-political location is a blessing if you can strategically harness it. Ethiopia can learn a lot  from  the  Four  Asia  Tigers  (Korea,  Hong  Kong,  Taiwan,  and  Singapore) who  leveraged  their  geo strategic  opportunities  to  mobilize  development  funds  and  attract  foreign  direct  investment.  No  country  has  used  lobbying  more  effectively  than  Israel  and  Korea.  Governmental  and  non governmental Korean entities spent about $70.5 million on lobbying in just two years (2017 and 2018).  In  the 1960s, Koreas GDP per capita was lower  than several African countries. Today it is  $31,000.  Thanks to its brilliant strategy to leverage its geopolitical blessings. Your failure to assemble seasoned  diplomats along with your refusal to spend $5 million a year on lobbying is costing the nation billions  in terms of lot opportunities.  

Global powers tolerate a geo-political country whose policy they do not always agree with than one that is unpredictable, unreliable, or parochially reclusive. You must raise your administration’s diplomatic skills to the level that the nation’s geopolitical importance demands. 

Let me conclude with seven words: There is still time to change course.

Editor’s note : The author shared the open letter on P2P forum on March 20,2022 

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Abiy Ahemd YOU LIED, LAID, LAID, LAID AND WILL LYE, LYE, LYE.
    ABIY the infamous lair and deceiver must GO!!!
    Ethiopians hate ABIY AHMED THE LIAR TYRANT!!!
    ABIY AHEMD the incompetent talkative STEP DOWN!! SHAME ON DICTATOR ABIY AHEMD!!!!

    Abiy Ahemd, the Oromuma greedy collection who hate Addis Ababa non-Oromo citizens, the anti-Amhara, Butcher of Amhara people and the anti-Ethiopia criminal groups are harassing and abusing Addis Ababa, Adwa Victory peaceful protesters.
    The plan is the greedy Addis Ababa Kegna greedy Oromo Caders plot of Abiy Ahmed, Adanech Abebe has no right to run the city administration. Addis Ababa Police must represent Addis Ababa residents.
    Remove Oromo Police and Querro criminals from Addis Ababa and Addis Ababa University!!!!!

    Amharas are daily butchered in Wollega and Benishangul Gumez under the command of Criminal Abiy Ahmed.
    Afar people are suffering and dying by TPLF war where Criminal Abiy Ahmed deliberatly neglaeting and denying military support to Afar and Amhara regions.

    Orommuma Cadres are running around scrambling to loot Addis Ababa. The fake Prosperity Party is a cover for Orommuma to steal to prosper by impoverishing first the Amharas whom they fear for its highest number of population then to go to the less number of ethnic population.
    The Oromomus ugly greediness has come out blatantly and without a shame or any restraint.

    ADDIS ABABANS, ETHIOPIANS Keep the PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST until ABIY IS REMOVED!!!
    Remove Abiy Ahemd the infamous lair in the world who stole the NOBLE PRICE by lying
    !!

  2. Hello,

    First off this is a great letter to PM Dr. Abiy. Although I think it should be less harsh, the letter’s purpose of being honest was achieved well. I somewhat agree with you on the first part, but I especially agree with you on the last part. Such as your opinions on the “#NoMore” Movement, and the current Ethiopian foreign policy. The government should do more lobbying and should open up rather than hide in a corner, stand with people like Western Communists and dictators, and expect democratic nations to side with them, then when they condemn them, they cry and complain about racism. It doesn’t work like that. The victim mentality has been promoted by NoMore and that is the main thing I dislike about the movement. They are pulling Ethiopians to the far-left hellhole and it is cringe, to say the least. I think that Abiy should increase the funding of the defense force to help make Ethiopia stronger and protect its citizens. He should also give more money to lobbyists because it’s sad how little we are paying for those important things. We spend 0.8% of our money on DEFENSE while we are in a war, while we need to be stronger as a whole nation due to the issues we are facing nowadays. The anti-American anti-Western rhetoric will not help us get to where we wish to be. Now I think that the West is biased towards TPLF but it is because the TPLF knows how to communicate, they know what to do, who to speak with, and the loopholes. The government should do something similar but more honest than the TPLF has and will ever be. And Kenya knows what to do and how to do it. Ethiopia should be doing way better than all of them. We should be one of the most known nations in Africa, we should be one of the best in Africa, but we aren’t and it is tragic. We need to try to not be a country known for being poor and starving to death and etc. I can go on and on but I will stop for now. I would love to chat. So send me an email at any time.

    kalebnegasi9@gmail.com

    Sincerely,
    K.B

  3. Yonas Biru (PhD)
    I agreed with most of your comments but found your comment to wrong and misleading that says ” Sadly, you have allowed yourself to be sandwiched between a rotating roster of activist intellectuals who praise every step you take, and tribalist Amhara and Oromo extremists who see nothing right in what you do.”

    Abiy has never been sandwiched between triablist Amhara and Oromo. He praised and used Amharas as loyal fighters when he needed their help to save him from TPLF fighters who got close to Addis Ababa. Besides that especially now he is clearly standing on OLF/OLA/OPDO side running the operational agenda of OLF, killing Amhara people. More Amhara lives and children senselessly and viscously have perished and many displaced, disappeared, college girls abducted and disappeared forever, robbed of their dignity, land and wealth, burnt in their home during asleep all done by Abiy’s buddies, the Oromo Prosperity Party cadres.

    He never cared, showed remorse or respect when Amhara are slaughtered on a daily bases in the 3+ years in power as a PM. He never condemned the OLF/OLA/Prosperity Party for such heinous crimes.
    He never placed punitive measures and punishments against the Genocide perpetrators that gave signal to the perpetrators to go ahead with the killings.
    He never acknowledged that Amharas are targeted for criminal attacks and Genocide.
    He never tried to protect and help victims of Genocide and displaced Amharas from their homes and work places.

    Today Ethiopia is a living hell for millions of Amharas under Abiy misrule. Abiy and his tribal Oromo groups are working hard to pull Amharas down not only in numbers but also in education, economy, social services and everything. Now we know why Amhara students are abducted and disappeared while Abiy is totally okay with it, keeping his cool not even want to mention it.
    The recent collage entrance exam is also evident of Abiy and OPDO scheme to make Amharas ignorant like them because Amhara are known and hated for being good students, scholars and having respect for education. Instead of encouraging he is promoting ignorance and poverty.

    You cannot go without taking about Amharas sufferings placed by Abiy and his groups when you talk about Abiy Ahmed and his misruling’s and failures. He is never a person of peace but a criminal that must go to JAIL!!!

  4. PM faced huge challenges from the get go, compounded by coalition of junta, junta supporters, Egype, America, and white Europeans, all bent on destroying Ethiopia. Abye was able to manage the challenges and transition to democracy successful, all in very short time measured by historical standards. He needs to be congratulated and encouraged, rather than being demonized as per this “open letter”. I do not subscribe to the contents of this letter.

    The country needs a very strong, united, and visionary party to plant democratic governance as the future norm for Ethiopia, rather than thuggery as per junta and all the children of confused and immature ‘revolutionaries’. It takes several decades to build strong democracies and economies, not mere three years. Abiye and his cohorts realize that much better than the confused, immature predecessors combined. Let us be patient and give them chance to succeed, rather than trying to kill the flicker of hope.

    • Dear Worqu

      Thanks, I started to write a brief comment to give my opinion, but reading yours, I realized we are in the same boat. I hope the so called intellectuals that hail from our country take a pause, and examine their thinking and views. Of course, I’m assuming they are genuinely concerned for the well being of the Country and its people.

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