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The Solution to Ethiopia’s Crisis Resides in PM Abiy and the Amhara Tribal Land   

Editor’s note : views reflected in the essay represent the views of the author, not that of borkena.com

Ethiopia _ Amhara _ PM Abiy Ahmed

 

Yonas Biru, PhD 

I.  Executive Summary 

In 2018, Ethiopia’s future was bright with both local and international stars aligned in her favor. Its citizens were beaming with hope and enthusiasm for peace, security, progress, and prosperity. The international community was opening its wallet wide to finance Prime Minister (PM) Abiy’s reforms with unprecedentedly generous loans and grants. Those days are gone, and the hope both Ethiopians and the international community had on the PM given way to despair and vexation. 

Today, Ethiopia is at a crossroad. One road leads us to a stagnant economy with little hope to escape from poverty and the other points to a future of uncertainty with a conflict-triggered existential crisis looming heavy on the horizon. Ethiopia should take neither road. Instead, it must find it possible to forge a path back-to-the-future. This requires us to: (1) come to terms with what derailed us from the 2018 hope for change, and (2) identify and thwart the sources of the tribal inertia and momentum that are pushing the nation toward existential crisis. 

The answer to the question “what derailed us from the path of a bright future” is unequivocal: It is  PM Abiy. He pushed the nation into an inevitably predictable and totally avoidable crisis on many fronts. His four years in office should have given him ample humbling experience to reflect back and  work on the areas where he needs improvement. Instead, with a sense of infallibility and certainly one  of accountability to no one, he forges forward with his failed ways. Ironically, the speech he gave to high-brass military officers last week suggests he has given up on his democratic experiment. In his  speech, he was flirting with the military for support. 

Hope is the only hope Ethiopia has. The hope that, in 2018, made Ethiopians of all creed and greed forget past reproaches and hope for a bright future needs to be resuscitated. Courting the military  establishment is a sign of regression not of progress.  

The PM is a visionary leader. For the most part, his problems are management related and are fixable,  but I have little confidence that he is amenable for change on his own volition. Ethiopians of all  stripes must exert pressure to force a path correction. Time is running out.  

Another troubling dynamic is a dangerous conflict brewing between Amhara and Oromo tribalists. Lurking beneath this conflict is a quantum energy gathering strength like the crackle of electricity before a lightning storm. Understanding this dynamic is critical to find an entry-point to defuse the two groups’ self-destructive energy. 

Anyone who understands how tribal tensions can spiral down with an  entropic inertia will understand the danger of an escalating conflict extremist forces. The question whether it is Amhara or Oromo extremists at fault is not as important as the dynamic that can spiral out of control as  the two groups escalate their conflict, drawing energy from their hate to, and fear of, each other.  

Politics that is based on hate and fear by nature leads to grievance and seeing every conflict large or small as an existential threat. Each group tries to portray itself as a victim of past and present atrocities and in danger of extinction. That is why tribal extremists portray their tribes as victims of genocide. Consequently, the national psychology is dominated by a deep sense of despair and addiction to anger, feeding the flames of discord, recrimination, and retribution. 

This  dynamic  is  best  explained  by  the second law of thermodynamics (a natural tendency to degenerate into disorder) and entropy (the lack of predictability of the degenerative process). If we fail to short-circuit the transmission line that allows radical Amhara and Oromo forces to feed off of each other’s negative energy, Ethiopia will enter a zone of entropic disorder. Regardless of who  is at fault, who did what to whom, when and why, the solution is not giving support to our tribe, but  introducing new energy that will defuse the gathering entropic tornedo. 

The two relevant parties in whose hands the future of Ethiopia primarily resides are the PM and the Amhara tribal land. It is only if the two fail to seize the moment that the crisis would be doomed  to become an existential.  

II.  Back to the Future: Reflecting on Past Missed Opportunities  

Someone, whose name I have long forgotten, said political assessments and clarion calls for action that do not conform to popular opinion go through three phases. First, they are ridiculed as crackpots, then they are opposed as misguided, and eventually they are accepted as being self evident truths. All too often, however, it would be too late to respond to political assessments and clarion calls for change by the time they become accepted as self-evident truths. 

History teaches us that Galileo was summoned to “the Holy Office” and put on trial for opining that the Earth revolves around the sun. Rome was not prepared to unlearn its national identity anchored in its religion that the Earth is the uncontestable center of the universe. Galileo was forced to plead  guilty and condemned to house arrest where he languished for nearly a decade before his death in 1642.  Today, what Galileo said in 1663 is a self-evident truth. 

A closer look at Ethiopia’s perpetual socio-economic and political problems shows a  similar phenomenon in the 21st century. As I have noted in my article titled “Ethiopia’s Political Problems Reside in Its Mythological National Identity”, our general outlook that is simmered in our mythological  and theological national identity is the story behind our misery. 

Our mythological identity leads us to see every local or geopolitical disagreement as a conspiracy to dismember our nation. Our nation, we are quick to note, is recognized in the Bible, the Quran, and Greek mythology. Our  greatness,  we  believe, is  affirmed  by  Adwa. Our  past is  supposed  to  be  our  history.  But  we  insist  on  making  our  history  and  our  mythology  our  present.  Furthermore,  our  antiquated and backward-looking national identity explains our failure to resolve conflicts through a  forward-looking dialogue. Oromo intellectuals are preoccupied with the obsession to resurrect Geda. 

Tigrayan intellectuals go even further to the 4th century to exhume the Axumite empire from the grave  to build their “Tigrayan exceptionalism” identity around it.  

This explains how an Ethiopian can be a distinguished professor in matters of nuclear physics and  geopolitics and turn into a cross between a 19th century tribal warrior and a reclusive monk at the drop of a hat when it comes to Ethiopian politics. He seamlessly aligns himself with his village’s Qerros  and Fannos and effortlessly draws his energy from the orthodoxy of his anachronistic belief system. 

I have written political commentaries since 1992. Quite often my commentaries and predictions go contrary to popular opinion. Though time has proven them right in almost all cases, they are often  seen as detached from Ethiopia’s reality, an affront to the Ethiopian culture or even treasonous. Ethio 360 had a special program on me, labeling me as “the most dangerous Ethiopian” for venturing out of  the gridlines of our antiquated collective outlook. 

I will provide five examples from my commentaries (One from 1998 and the rest from 2018 to  2022) and discuss them at length. This is necessary for three reasons. First, it is critical to understand  our current crisis was inevitably predictable and totally avoidable. Second, it will show the problem  is  not  only  the PM’s  failed  management, but  also with the  Ethiopian mindset that  has  chained  the  intellectual nomenklatura to anachronistic belief system from distant centuries. Third, it will help us  to reflect on the past and chart our back-to-the-future endeavor. 

II.1. Ethiopias Missed Opportunity to Side with EPLF and Defeat TPLF in 1998    

Ethiopia is where it is today because of many missed opportunities. The most damning missed opportunity that allowed tribalism to take root in Ethiopia was our failure to side with Eritrea to defeat TPLF in the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean war. The popular opinion at the time was that Eritrea war working in cahoots with the US and TPLF to dismember Ethiopia. 

I was the lone voice arguing against the paranoic outlook and advocating to side with Eritrea in an article titled “Sacred Sin: Beyond Political Razzle Dazzle.” The sin was siding with Eritrea to defeat our government. I saw it as a sacred sin because the ultimate objective was to save Ethiopia from the evils of TPLF. Just like  today’s #NoMore diaspora,  the diaspora  forces of  the  time invaded the streets  of  Western  nations  wrapped  up  with  green,  yellow,  and  red,  and  jumping  up  and  down,  condemning the US and Eritrea. One can only imagine what  the  turn of events could have been had  Ethiopians joined forces with Eritrea. Today, the wisdom to side with Eritrea is a self-evident truth. 

II.2. A Nation Without a PR Complex  

From the time the PM took office in 2018, the danger with his failure to build robust public relations (PR) and communication ecosystems was inevitably  obvious. In the absence of a robust PR ecosystem, Tigray, Oromo, and Amhara tribal leaders monopolized the media with polarizing narratives and destabilized the nation. The Prime Minister held the view that all the lies and polarizing narratives will create አቧራ not አሻራ, following the time old Ethiopian idiom “እውነት እና ዉሃ እያደር ይጠራል.” TPLF turned the አቧራ into a tsunami that threw the PM around like a rag doll. 

It is not farfetched to argue that a robust PR ecosystem could have changed the trajectory of the confrontation between the government and TPLF. For two years before the war, TPLF was preparing  its region for war through a militaristic PR campaign, following Japan’s and Germany’s Pre-World War  II psychological warfare. One can argue as I have that a robust PR could have altered TPLF’s war calculus. Short of that it could have mitigated the war’s damage. 

In April 2019, I wrote an open letter to the PM, stating: “The highways of history are riddled with corpses of excellent government visions, reforms and policies that were killed by unanswered negative propaganda. The fate of your brilliant reform agenda depends on your success in having a robust communication ecosystem.” 

TPLF with  the help  of hired lobbyists and media influencers knew it was hard  to criticize  the PM’s  transformative  reforms.  Brilliantly,  they  went  after  him  as  a  proxy  to  thwart  his  reforms.  They  rebranded  him as  anti-democratic  and  genocider.  Their  unanswered  propaganda  campaign  took  traction internationally. Their strategy was as obvious as a daylight. The PM was oblivious. 

Today, the PM’s image is tarnished both at home and internationally, and his reform agenda is crippled and gasping for air. Even worse, Ethiopia is increasingly exposed to existential crisis. In 2022, the PM established a PR office with a head who holds a cabinet position. The PM’s recent ሙዝ በዳቦ ግመጡ statement and his Power Point assisted lecture to high-brass military officers show he remains oblivious to the concept of PR. Even worse, judging by the overheated international PR campaign against Ethiopia and the deafening silence from Ethiopia shows the new PR is stillborn.  The electronic life support control and biometric monitoring for PR shows no sign of life. 

II.3. A Geopolitically Blessed Nation Without a Geopolitical Strategy  

For at least two years, I wrote about the damage Ethiopia will suffer because of the PM’s inexplicable refusal to hire lobbyists in the US. In March 2021, I reiterated my worries in a petition titled “It is a Matter of National Emergency.” The overwhelming majority  of  Ethiopian  diaspora  organizations and political leaders refused to sign the petition. Some did not want to criticize the PM  in public. Others were not interested in having the PM change course. They wanted him out. 

TPLF lobbyists mopped the proverbial floor with our green, yellow, and red flag that the #NoShow PM and the #NoMore diaspora handed them. A manageable geopolitical issue that could have been addressed with geopolitical tools was turned into a “David v. Goliad” street theatre with #NoMore ሆያ ሆየ. The US was branded as an enemy bent on dismembering Ethiopia. It was Déjà vu — a rerun  of the 1998 street melodrama.   

I also warned about the danger of flirting with Pan Africanism that ill-informed Ethiopian intellectuals both on the home front and the diaspora peddled as a panacea  for our geopolitical  problem. At one point the PM seemed all but the 21st Century version of Thomas Sankara – a Marxist military junta who at age 33 took power in Burkina Fasso by way of a coup d’état and tried to set up a revolutionary government inspired by Cuba’s Castro. 

The lack of a national strategy and the utter incompetence in our foreign affairs team led Ethiopia to random walk down the geopolitical landscape guided by confusion and sense of betrayal. Professor Al Mariam, a barometer for Ethiopians’ sentiment towards outsiders, wrote series of articles with such titles as “Susan Rice’s Revenge and Last Hurrah: Jeffrey TPLFeltman (Hitman) Is Itching for a Fight in Ethiopia/Horn of Africa!”; and “Clashes of Civilizations: Ethiopia and the U.S.” Ethiopia, the colorful Professor said, is the “cradle of humankind” and “the tip of the spear and steel shield in confronting white supremacy.” 

Crowded out in the Professor’s “ዱብ ዱብ ይላል እንደ በረዶ በልጅነቱ በርሃ ለምዶ” narrative is a hard reality that Ethiopia depends on food aid, budget aid, development aid and God-knows-what aid from the very nations that he calls the  cabals of white supremacy bent on destroying Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s extraordinary geopolitical spectacle is epitomized with a thick stick in one hand for the “ዱብ ዱብ ይላል” defiant dance and a hat in the other hand for panhandling. 

It did not take long before the PM realized emotional reactions and saber-rattling for a duel with the US produce cacophony and heat not light. The deterioration of the nation’s economy and the crippling shortage of foreign exchange (both of which were totally predictable) left the PM no option but to change path. Late in the game, he agreed to hire a lobbyist. Even then he provided limited resources in a stop and go fashion – way too little, way too late, and too haphazard. The firm, Squire  Patton Boggs, LLC, the PM hired for 6 months at $60,000 a month is second tier. 

Powerhouse lobbying firms go for $200,000 a month. They are the ones with access to the movers and  shakers of the US policy. In 2021, the PM hired a second-tier firm for three months at $50,000. It did  not do well. So, why go to another second-tier firm? The PM simply does not get it.  You don’t hire a  second-tier lobbyist when Egypt, TPLF and Sudan are represented with multiple powerhouse lobbying  firms commanding $200,000 a month each.  

On the positive side, the PM has toned down and even distanced himself from the Pan Africanism craze. With no other viable option, he submitted to the US and European demands for a peaceful resolution with an unequivocal phrase: “Effective Immediately!” The diaspora community who  pushed the PM to confront the West, promising to help mitigate Ethiopia’s foreign exchange shortage, went  into hibernation, hanging “#NoHear, #NoSee” sign on the door of their hibernating cave. 

The PM threw a wet blanket on #NoMore. In this speech before high-brass military officers, he compared  the #NoMore movement with  the student movement’s “Self-determination” and  “land  for  the  tiller”  slogans. He said: movement’s like #NoMore have neither concept nor sober analysis behind them.  

The lesson to be learned from this is that the PM could have been the driver of the peace agenda, rather than being a reluctant partner who is dragged to the negotiation table under international pressure, as I advised in 2021. He had all the opportunity to leverage Ethiopia’s geopolitical location as an asset. He turned it into a liability, with the Ethiopian elite class cheering him on, only to go into hibernation when to rubber hit the road and push came to shove. 

Read full essay in PDF format HERE

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Clearly too many missed opportunities & misleading the public in all arena. We now know the big 2018 excitement was diverted into planning the war by Andargachew Tsige & Eskinder Nega.

  2. After his arbitrarily less coherent analysis of the situation, the author forwarded two recommendations: one for Abiy and the other for Amhara tribe. Even if all the four recommendations forwarded to Abiy are drawn out of the blue, the following recommendation require some scrutiny:

    (1) getting the nation’s PR right with utmost urgency;

    The author ask the PM to get the nation’s PR right with utmost urgency. The author brought the recommendation out of the blue as there is no assessment about the existing PR, how it is working, what are its limitations, most importantly why it has remained weak in the time it was demanded most, where are the gaps, how can it be fixed, etc. What if there are many things that should be done before fixing the PR, what if there is something fundamentally wrong in the PM and/or the PP? The author didn’t care. The author simply claimed that the PR is wrong and ask to be fixed and fixed urgently.

    Furthermore, the author also reduce the problem into absence of a competent PR in the regime and shamelessly nominate himeself for the position. The author also express his willingness to offer a free service. In short, the recommendation is no more than an application for a position.

    The other recommendation is for Amhara tribalists

    The main problem with this recommendation resides with the authors’ deliberately biased analysis of the two group. The author analyzes the Oromo tribalists from the perspective of their stated cause which is largely based on myth and false history. But when he comes to the Amhara tribalists, he analyze them from the perspective of the responsibilities they should have played to save Ethiopia.

    The purpose is to obscure the real, and tangible crimes that are being commited by Oromo tribalists which is behind the emergence of Amhara tribalist and to systematically approve the fictional causes of Oromo tribalists as true. In addition, by relieving Oromo tribalists from any responsibility to save Ethiopia, he not only tried to dismiss the current destructive roles of Oromo tribalists, but he wanted to blame Amhara tribalists for the disintegration of Ethiopia.

    A mischievious act to shift the blame from Oromo tribalists to Amhara tribes. Moreover, in order to justify the special responsibility of Amhara tribalists to save Ethiopia, he not only undermined the now-and-tangible genocidal crimes committed by Oromo tribalists against Amhara tribes, he also demand the Amahara tribe to sacrifice further.

    The irony is he is asking the Amhara tribe to sacrifice further for their own destruction. This is because, whatever sacrifice they may commit to save Ethiopia, they will never succeed unless the Oromo tribalists havenot taken even more responsibilities than Amhara tribalists.

    In sum, the articule tried to promote the separatist agenda of Oromo tribalists by shamelessly asking Amhara tribe to work for their own distruction.

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