By Sisay (Amoraw)
The past five years of turmoil in Ethiopia proved that overthrowing an autocrat doesn’t mean everything will be fine in the country that threw it out. After the fall of the TPLF-led autocratic regime, the problems in Ethiopia are far from over – on the contrary, it’s just the beginning of a new struggle, and it has become even harder.
April 2, 2023, marked five years since Abiy Ahmed Ali came to the premiership in Ethiopia. Five years after the end of TPLFs brutal regime, there are ominous signs of looming disaster again. Is history about to repeat itself? Will Ethiopia survive the latest threat? Do the brazen acts of imposing Abiy Ahmed’s regime not portend assured destruction of Ethiopia?
How did we get here?
The Dangers of Political Sanctification of Abiy Ahmed
When Thomas Carlyle wrote that “the history of the world is but the biography of great men,” he spoke to common sentiment. Though this ‘great man’ theory of history has seemingly gone out of fashion recently, it has not receded from an instinctive understanding of politics in Ethiopia. Much of present-day Ethiopia’s political discourse is shaped by powerful, epoch-defining individuals believed to have single-handedly kick-started a radical reform of direction in the tide of Ethiopian historical affairs. Menelik II, love or loathe him, remains a towering figure in Africa and beyond, let alone in Ethiopia.
Undeniably, powerful individuals play a vital role in shaping Ethiopians’ historical and contemporary imaginations. A good example can be explained by our obsession with counterfactuals: What if Meles Zenawi was still alive? What if HIM Haile Selassie gave up his throne early on? What if Mengistu Haile Mariam passed political power to civilian administration? So on and so forth.
Is there anything wrong with this trend? The short answer is yes, and perhaps particularly for present-day Ethiopians, for two reasons.
First, when a major political event is attached to a few individuals, the role of collective action is often overlooked. Reducing the public resistance against the TPLF tyrannical rule to a handful of individuals, who emerged from the same authoritarian system, ignores the sacrifice of thousands of activists, journalists, political oppositions, and human rights activists whose daily resistance steadily undermined the TPLF regime. The moment we overemphasized Abiy, Demeke, Gedu, and Lemma as champions of reform, we lost sight of the collective actions we have all shaped—and will continue to shape—in the arc of radical reform Ethiopia desperately needed. The individuals we praised are now the first ones to remind us of this lesson.
Second, if we are to find the right place for individual stories in our political thinking, we need to see our heroes—particularly those who wield power—through a critical lens. This is because politics is deeply complex, and success in politics requires an uneasy combination of principle and deceit.
Any progress in a political struggle requires a wide range of political skills—and not just ‘honorable’ ones. Let alone in Ethiopia, where democratic political culture is absent, strong principles, courage, and eloquence anywhere don’t always get very far without compromise, fudging, and even outright deception.
But when an exciting political figure emerges (and succeeds), we often forget this lesson and succumb to their ploys.
Abiy Ahmed is a typical example. Formerly applauded as a beacon of hope for Africa, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and heralded as a champion of change across the global political spectrum, he is now profiled on opinion pages as a Nobel peace laureate who turns out to be a war criminal. His refusal to stop or condemn, among others, the ongoing genocidal massacres of ethnic Amharas in the Oromia region, the Tigray crisis, the encroachment of the Oromia region to Addis Ababa, the ongoing attacks on innocent civilians in different parts of the country has extinguished his saintly reputation.
Amid the betrayal and cynicism that often defines politics in every country, Abiy Ahmed easily won public trust, mainly for two reasons. First, the 27 years of TPLF-led tyranny resulted in social desperation forcing Ethiopians to seek extreme options by championing a new face from the same political party that promised to save Ethiopia from its political woes. The focus was to eliminate TPLF with no clear roadmap to the aftermath and unforeseen cost of electing Abiy, who was part of the same ejected system his entire political life.
If politics is like driving a car, one must look through the windshield and the rear mirror when needed. When we were so obsessed with yesterday, we were getting away from tomorrow.
Second, Abiy played the Ethiopian psyche very well by feeding what they longed to hear from a head of government, luring the public to trust him unwarily. When Abiy publicly proclaimed that he was the one to transcend Ethiopia to ‘medemer’, prosperity, and egalitarian democracy, even many seasoned politicians didn’t have a single dose of skepticism.
His flaws were ignored, power plays were excused, dirty tricks were rationalized, and his silence amid atrocious genocidal violence was justified. And when we look back on the past five years of turmoil in Ethiopia, our critical instincts were diminished further. When many sanctified Abiy Ahmed as transcender-in-chief and turned deaf ears to his blunders, it was a testament that they were in deep mass amnesia, or as Abiy Ahmed would like to describe it himself, the Ethiopian public suffered from short-term memory impairment.
We deluded ourselves by projecting qualities onto a handful of politicians who have no intention of embodying them.
For Ethiopians, a key takeaway from the past five years is that our politics should have encouraged skeptical views rooted in the conviction that the best way to appreciate any political leader is to humanize and politicize them, not to sanctify them.
The Perilous Slide: from a Champion of Reform to an Oromo-Dominated Dictatorship
Abiy Ahmed’s occupation of Ethiopia’s most exalted political office has led to his demystification. A man with a messianic complex, he has failed abysmally in fixing our country’s hydra-headed national problems. Sadly, his aides and acolytes are not helping matters. They have continued to bury their heads in the sand regarding the dangerous and pitiable political situation into which the rudderless Abiy Ahmed – led government got Ethiopia.
Even by the standards of Ethiopia’s perpetually unstable politics, the last five years in the country have been exceptionally turbulent. Ethnic genocide of Amharas in Oromia, government-sponsored ethnic cleansing campaigns through displacement (in Oromia region and Addis Ababa), civil war, abysmal poverty, massive corruption, and a sense of entitlement among the Oromo ruling elites: Ethiopians have been left feeling like so many things have spiraled out of control and that those charged with addressing them can’t – or won’t – fix them. To put it simply: Ethiopia is facing a crisis on top of a crisis.
In just five years, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has morphed from being Ethiopia’s expected Messiah to the most pathologically and shambolically misfit head of government this nation ever had. After 27 years of TPLF dictatorship, Ethiopians, in their worst omniscient mistake, never bargained for the unfolding shenanigans coiling around their polity like poison ivy. Prime Minister Abiy is rowing backward badly in the rough waters of Ethiopia’s politics.
His political promises are disappearing into a plughole of amnesia. Ethiopians’ hope that Abiy Ahmed will remoralize a demoralized and broken political culture is but now a sinking, wishful thinking. Our impulse has now shifted from hope to despair, from an excess of trust to an excess of suspicion; many exalted his integrity, but he has shamed all by his failure. The huge sense of his political malice is hurting millions of trusting lives who trusted him.
Our raving anxiety is slipping into despair at losing an irreplaceable opportunity. The seed of our collective peril is frighteningly imminent. We are entering the zone of a tragedy of which Abiy Ahmed alone must be the villain. Consider this. An apathetic public now watches the erosion of a great historical nation into global nonentity. Abiy has singlehandedly unplugged from the immediate priorities besetting this nation to embrace the fantasy of Oromization.
A band of satanically energized rag-tag cowards masquerading as Oromo liberators continue to cleanse ethnic Amharas in the Oromia region. Abiy Ahmed and Shimelis Abdisa, President of the Oromia Regional State, comply with the ongoing Amhara genocide In Oromia by ignoring the ongoing brutal massacres and massive displacement. Millions of Ethiopians are shocked and awed while Abiy continues to embrace an over-cautious, timid, cumulative process of unacceptable placidity with the ongoing Amhara Genocide in Oromia region, the recent massive expulsion of residents in and around Addis Ababa, his cover-up for the recent attack on Ethiopian Orthodox Church. There is a thorough absence of millions of struggling Ethiopians, those unseen others who inhabit the other side of the political divide. I mean those unseen others who are daily mired in poverty, helplessness, decay, and pessimism – the very victims of the insecurity and massive government-sponsored displacement blighting Ethiopia and, recently, in and around the capital Addis Ababa.
Abiy’s politics of isolating the public through fanatic Oromo-centric elitism presents a clear and present danger to the integrity of Ethiopia’s statehood. The recent government-sponsored attacks on the Ethiopian orthodox church and the Oromia regional state government’s brazen acts of engulfing Addis Ababa are enough fodder to ignite a social and political revolution. How can Ethiopians remain suppliant in the face of unabated Amhara massacre at a genocidal scale, engulfment of Addis Ababa, mass insecurity, poverty, the demonization of popular protests, starvation, stupidity, incompetent leadership, tyranny, armed kidnappers, Oromo hegemony and police impunity?
Targeted ethnic attacks mainly on Amharas, a deep-seated political crisis exacerbated ethnic, regional, religious, and class cleavages. It was further compounded by the economic crisis that the country is immersed in. This, coupled with the attempt by a hegemonic bloc within the Oromo Prosperity Party to dominate the state and society through the Oromization of power, the willful manipulation and subversion of public institutions, and the brutal repression (sometimes elimination) of opposition groups (journalists and activists) is pushing Ethiopia to the point of no return. The purported “reform” of the Abiy regime and its drive against “Anti-reform elements” and “agents of foreign powers” assumed an acidic irony that ate deep into the state of siege, tension, and anxiety.
These national calamities have brought Ethiopians to a defining moment. The once sleepy citizens of Ethiopia, long subdued by Abiy Ahmed’s incompetent governance and tyranny, are waking up from their amnesia. The way Ethiopia is now, unless there is a revolution or a total overhaul of every aspect of the system, not even Angels descending from heaven can salvage the situation. We are tethering on the brink of total collapse.
Will Ethiopia survive under Abiy Ahmed?
No one needs to be told that one may describe the current Ethiopian political system as politics of the blind and sometimes brain-dead herdsmen, morbidly ethnocentric and kleptomaniacal Oromo bigots trying to rule a humongous geographical entity of some 80 plus such tribes and ethnic nationalities with”. They are trying to lead a country in the 21st century with a 16th-century mindset, values, and moral compass. Over the history of the world and politics in it, we have roughly passed through the stages of local autocrats, then through those of plutocracies, large scare autocrats of emperors or aristocracies (of kings and queens) and currently of democracies, with republicanism as its finest evolutionary stage. However, where the human heart refuses to accept this politics or non-partisanships (or bi- or multi-partisanship) at the higher levels of governance, such countries will continue to exist at all these other lower levels of political existence. We see this all over the world – whether in so-called advanced or non-advanced countries – now and again. In some of these countries, when these partisan, unjust, and therefore non-progressive and non-peaceful politics hold sway, such countries attain what are generally called failed states. Most obviously, this is where Ethiopia is now; and nobody needs to tell anybody else.
A failed state is one whose own government is in an outlandish campaign to make hundreds of thousands of its citizens homeless by destroying their residences. A failed state is one where security personnel turn guns on fellow citizens, where authorities are often implicated in high-class bribes, corruption, robbery, kidnapping, and assassinations- and doing so with absolute impunity. A failed state is one whose citizens can’t find good schools where parents choose what language their children can learn at school for a better future. That country is Ethiopia. A failed state is where thousands are massacred routinely for who they are, and no one even acknowledges it. A failed state is where millions are displaced simply for who they are, and not even a single government agency is taking responsibility for repatriating or permanently resettling them. That country is Ethiopia. It is a country whose prime minister operates outside its laws, keeping people who share views different from his in endless political detention. It is a country where only those outside the prime minister’s political party are termed corrupt, but the real thieves and treasury looters within his ethnic group are cleared of all offenses and rewarded with national political appointments. I am yet to read about a more despicable, forsaken, bedeviled space.
Abiy Ahmed is guilty of transforming a beautiful revolution of the people, of the forgotten people, of the dreaming youth, into a nightmare with more murders, more massacres, more tyranny, more displacement, and more impoverishment than under TPLF, with the same matrix of economic surrender, of appropriation of what belongs to all. That is something Abiy must pay for. The size of the pain he is causing will be directly proportional to the justice that the people will impose on him. Not as resentful revenge but as a legitimate quest for justice. Those millions who are crouched waiting for the moment deserve so.
The old articles of faith in one nation have suddenly dwindled by the terror and conceit of classic Oromo elites’ hubristic over-reach that had become obstinate, oppressive, deaf, blind, tyrannical, and dumb to voices of restraint, caution, and reason. Abiy is guilty of the Vietnamization of Ethiopia. Abiy is guilty of the ongoing Amhara genocide in Oromia. Abiy is guilty of the bloodbaths cascading across Ethiopia. He is guilty of displacing, dispossessing, and impoverishing millions of lives in and around Addis Ababa. He is guilty of arming, aiding, abetting, and defending the Oromo barbarians against other ethnic Amharas and Ethiopians. He must hear these charges loud and clear.
If anybody thinks that the solutions to Ethiopia’s problems lie with Abiy Ahmed or his prosperity party, they probably need a brain transplant to understand the nature of the problem. They are probably one of the less than 1% enjoying the status quo, the dominance of the Oromo elites, and the enslavement of the Ethiopian populace.
Time is running out, and the stock of options available for rekindling the dying embers of Ethiopia is getting steadily depleted.
Abiy Ahmed must resign now!
Editor’s note : views in the article reflect the views of the writer, not the views of borkena.com
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