By Fayessa A
The events of the last five years have demonstrated beyond doubt that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s crisis-laden government has become outright dangerous not only for Ethiopia but for regional peace and stability. Despite coming to power with promises of democratic opening, national reconciliation, unity, peace, and development and rare widespread popular support, it didn’t take Abiy much time to shutter the promising window and throw the country into darkness. Afflicted with conflicting, narcissistic, and dictatorial tendencies and unrestrained by institutional and or intraparty guardrails, Abiy has transformed Ethiopia (a country with immense potential) into a failed state. Abiy and a few zealot Oromo extremists are determined to reconfigure Ethiopia into an Oromo-dominated state. They are pushing an extremist agenda at breakneck speed and no part of Ethiopia is immune from their destructive force. They have seized complete control of the federal government and key intelligence, law enforcement, and defense institutions and are purposely manufacturing conflict and instability to confuse and distract while pursuing their hegemonic plan. Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonen and other leaders of the governing Prosperity Party coalition have let the people of Ethiopia down by allowing Abiy and his cohort run roughshod over the country. At minimum, they should resign and not be instruments of extremists.
Abiy and his extremist cohort didn’t have to start from scratch to pursue their agenda. The TPLF has handed them down a radically defective constitution (that empowers nation/nationalities over individual citizens) that they are using to continue to divide and rule the country. The TPLF was removed from power largely because its 27-years of ethnic-based governance system failed to bring neither peace, democracy, nor sustainable development. Instead of learning from this failed experiment and reforming the defective system, Abiy and the zealots around him have put ethnic politics on steroids and are purposely engineering communal and religious conflicts to perpetually throw the country into turmoil with the aim of forestalling unified resistance against their sinister plan. This plan and Abiy’s proclivity to resolve political differences through force has brought total lawlessness, endless war, mass atrocities, displacements, corruption, and has pushed the economy near to collapse. The Amhara people have been the primary targets of Abiy’s excesses and before that the TPLF’s. In response, the Fano, a popular grassroots local Amhara militia force, has emerged as a vanguard and is staging justifiable fierce resistance.
The Short and Incredible Story of the Fano
The Fano is a traditional homegrown alliance of ordinary people formed to counter external intervention. Historically, it played crucial role in defending the country’s freedom, sovereignty, and territorial integrity against foreign aggression, such as during the Italian invasion. The Fano tradition has experienced a rebirth, initially due to TPLF’s aggression and now due to Abiy’s expansionist agenda. The highly mobile and tactical Fano have, in a short period of time, demonstrated not only their mettle on the battlefield but also their respect for civilian life, public and private institutions/property, and other international rules of engagement. This has given them admiration and support beyond the Amhara region. Given the Amhara region’s vastness, populations size (second largest), economic and political importance, the government is using all tools at its disposal to regain control of the region. It has deployed full military power to quell the resistance, including ground and aerial bombardment, at times targeting civilians. The government is accused of committing gross human rights violations, including suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity. This brutal heavy-handedness is likely to worsen the situation.
Despite his military efforts, Abiy has lost control of almost two-thirds of the country (Tigray, parts of Amhara, Oromia, Gambela, and Benishangul). With vast swathes of the country in turmoil, productivity, inter-regional trade, and tax revenues are declining. Donor support, foreign direct investment, foreign currency reserves, tourism, and remittance inflows are shrinking. Factor in the ballooning cost of debt repayment and cost of borrowing in dollars, the government doesn’t have the fiscal space to wage the costly war for long. People are being pushed to the limit due to maladministration, corruption, runaway inflation, skyrocketing cost of living, and worsening unemployment. The federal army is exhausted and demoralized from endless such wars and unlikely to pacify the conflict-ridden country anytime soon. The disaffection with Abiy and his government is only going to inspire and strengthen movements like Fano in other regions. But Abiy seems gung-ho to impose his contorted will rather than finding a negotiated settlement. Given the country’s fracture along ethnic lines and years of radicalization, there is a real possibility for a civil war with unimaginable consequences. The Fano are hugely popular, and the young seem to be joining them in droves. The Fano need to urgently consolidate their ranks and complement their military capabilities with fresh, forward looking, and astute political leadership. They need to work together with other compatriots to help end the common misery and create a bright future for all.
Ethiopia’s Radically Defective Constitution Needs Fixing
Ethiopia’s constitution is structurally defective. It gives precedence to ethnic groups over individuals, and hence unable to guarantee foundations of democracy: individual liberty, autonomy, equality, and justice. This constitution has its roots in the failed experiment of the former Soviet Union, hardly a model for a modern democratic society. TPLF imposed this constitution on the country without credible consent of the people and failed to reform it despite uncontestable evidence of its failure to fairly, equitably, and justly governing a diverse nation of over 80 ethnic groups. TPLF failed to do so for selfish political reasons, and in 2018, it was overthrown by popular unrest, although it unsuccessfully tried to comeback to power through a costly military misadventure. This misadventure has cost the region (and the rest of Ethiopia) incalculable human and material losses. In a tragic twist of irony, the TPLF culprits of this calamity are currently claiming to be mourning and grieving with the mothers and fathers of hundreds of thousands that they senselessly sacrificed in their selfish pursuit of power. Sooner or later the foxy culprits must be held accountable.
Even though the TPLF was militarily defeated, its ill legacy continues to haunt Ethiopia. Unless the defective constitution is rectified through political dialogue and consensus, it would remain a convenient vehicle for any extremist group to exploit and tear the country apart. In a prescient 2015 speech delivered in Kenya, President Obama put the inherent dangers of ethnic/tribal politics in the following terms: “I want to be very clear here — a politics that’s based solely on tribe and ethnicity is a politics that’s doomed to tear a country apart.” [Emphasis mine]. At Abiy’s own inauguration in 2021, even Museveni of Uganda, hardly a model democrat by any stretch of the imagination, advised ditching ethnic politics and adopting one organized around ideas.
Ethiopians don’t need outside preachers to tell them the consequences of tribal/ethnic politics; they are experiencing them in their everyday deteriorating lives. The two-year war with the TPLF is one clear example of the deadly consequences of ethnic politics. That war, triggered by the TPLF, has resulted in the death and displacement of millions, gross human rights violations, and economic ruin. It will take decades for Tigray and the rest of Ethiopia to recover from that avoidable internecine war. And this time around, a few extremist Oromo chauvinists led by Abiy are waging war against political dissidents in Amhara, Oromia, and other regions to similar disastrous outcome. Such differences, unless settled through negotiation and legal means, none of the actors will benefit from the eventual broken outcome. Ethiopians need to fix their defective constitution through a paradigm shift by developing an idea-centered governance framework that guarantees cultural and linguistic autonomy while giving precedence to individual liberty, freedom, and equality.
An Argument for a Merit-based System
A meritocratic system is sine qua non for peace, social harmony, healthy politics, and sustainable economic development. The world is racing towards a technologically advanced and digitally enabled world, driven by empowered creators, entrepreneurs, and innovators. While countries are moving forward and dispensing development and prosperity for their peoples, Ethiopia is stuck in underdevelopment, pestilence, and surviving on dehumanizing foreign aid. In that sense, Ethiopians of today are worse than their forefathers. They need to look inwards to reverse their descent into the abyss.
The country’s ethnic based system is anathema to a merit-based meritocracy and hence unable to nurture and produce the talent that can devise solutions for addressing the country’s myriad governance and developmental challenges. The constitution is the main source of distrust, discord, disunity, and instability. It inhibits the free flow and exchange of ideas, capital, and talent. The results of 30 years of ethnic politics are right before us – deepening ignorance, intolerance, radicalism, and underdevelopment and endless war and abject poverty. According to a recent UN report, 28 million Ethiopians need aid, due to drought and conflict, to meet their basic daily needs. Drought and conflict are not new to Ethiopia, but you can’t address them with a dysfunctional government largely run by people chosen primarily on ethnic basis. Look no further than in the education sector to see what an ethnic-based system is doing to the country. Only about 3% of the country’s one million school-leavers attained a passing grade in last year’s national high school exit exam. This is a national shame, an indicator of the severe challenges ahead, and an uncontested proof that the current system is killing the future of the country and its people. Ethiopia needs to fix its constitution, the source of the problem, to be able to move forward and start to rebuild. Otherwise, it will remain the laughingstock of the world and the posterchild of self-induced perpetual conflict and poverty.
Abiy is Unfit to Lead the Nation
It is rare to find an example like Abiy’s government (and the TPLF’s before it) in modern history that actively works to undermine the country and the people that it governs. Some think Abiy came to power masquerading as a reformist. Others don’t doubt his initial good intentions but argue he was later co-opted by hardliners in his party. At this point, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is the fact that Abiy has become the uncontested face of extremism in Ethiopia. Although the TPLF was pushed out of power through a nationwide popular revolt, it didn’t take much for the party to scheme to return to power. Given this dynamic, citizens were left with two unpalatable choices: withdraw support from Abiy and aid the return of the TPLF (the architect of Ethiopia’s defective constitution), which by the way had avowed to avenge the country by “taking it to the depth of hell” or tolerate early red flags in Abiy’s wishy-washy positions in the hope that he would learn from the TPLF’s mistakes and deliver on the promises he made. Over time, it became clear that Abiy is not interested in reforms and in closing divisions purposely nurtured by the TPLF. For example, Abiy could have pursued genuine national dialogue and reconciliation. He could have taken practical and simple measures to foster cohesion, thrust, and unity. Instead, he has widened the chasm and is trying to gloss over his schemes with showy and questionable projects disconnected from the immediate needs of the country.
Abiy and his extremist cohort are instigating endless conflicts as a deliberate strategy for advancing their expansionist agenda. Witness the displacements and murderous rampages in Oromia, Tigray, Amhara, Somalia, and the south by Oromo paramilitary controlled by Abiy and rebel groups. Abiy has annexed peripheral parts of Addis Ababa into Oromia and created a new city (Sheger). He has attempted to split the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Muslim Majilis. These are not mere political missteps or the actions of low-level officials. They are part and parcel of the Abiy’s strategy to remake Ethiopia into an Oromo-dominated state. His government’s manifest incompetence and pervasive discrimination against non-Oromos has resulted in rampant injustice and corruption that is further splintering the country and corroding it inside out. Abiy has neither the goodwill, the capacity, nor credibility to continue to lead the country. He should be removed from power and held accountable.
Abiy’s fall from grace (a Nobel Peace Laurette) came as quickly as he was catapulted to fame. He is an incompetent manager and the instigator of discord and upheaval and a warmonger who has thrown the country and its noble people into dangerous territory. Nations near and far have seen him vacillate with no clear national values, ethos, and principles that deserve neither respect nor comity. His recent alignment with the BRICS economic blog is an example of this. His character and record make him an unreliable partner to anyone. With his credibility and trustworthiness in tatters, Abiy is not comfortable in international fora. Ethiopia, Africa, and the world cannot afford such an extremist chameleon to continue steering the levers of power in a populus and important country like Ethiopia.
Immediate and coordinated internal and external action is needed to stop him from pushing the country into a full-blown civil war with unimaginable consequences. The time to stop Abiy and his zealot cohort is now. The Ethiopian opposition should come together and devise a strategy to push him out of power. The international community should issue immediate and unrestrained condemnation of Abiy and his government for atrocities and war crimes they are committing. They should follow this with immediate and coordinated international assistance to victims, expand ongoing rights violations investigations of Abiy and his group, and facilitate a negotiated transitional order to a democratic future. The interests of Ethiopia and the region demand immediate action.
Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com
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