Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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The Strategic Blunders of PM Abiy Ahmed

Abiy Ahmed _ Ethiopia _ politics
Abiy Ahmed

By Addissu Admas

For many, if not most western observers of Ethiopia, Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s greatest political accomplishment remains his formal ending of the Ethiopian-Eritrean war, and the consequent Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded for it. It is something they keep hammering every time his name is mentioned. For most of us Ethiopians, his greatest achievement is and remains without a doubt his decisive role in bringing down the TPLF regime, which had ruled Ethiopia for over 27 years with an iron fist and utter disregard for human and civil rights. I, like many of my compatriots, in this and other Ethiopian opinion weblogs, have expressed in detail why the TPLF, from a presumed liberator, had transformed itself into an ugly oppressor. I need not repeat here what everyone knows. Suffice to say that TPLF’s ethnofascism, extreme corruption and complete lack of vision for Ethiopia, has resulted in the disarray we live in today. Instead of having a country with strong institutions that could weather the vagaries of political change, the TPLF has left only institutions that could only shore-up its own survival and that of the people it claimed to represent. 

No Ethiopian head of government or head of state has garnered so much political capital, and a clear mandate from the people in living memory as PM Abiy. And no one has squandered them so mindlessly as he did. I am not sure if there is any Ethiopian who would remember Meskel/Abyot square, or another square for that matter, filled to the brim spontaneously with people in support of a new or established leader, as it was done for him. The ruling party of both previous regimes invariably sanctioned all gatherings, as we all remember. Yet, six years on, the PM cannot put together a crowd of any significance or for any cause. How did a much beloved leader fell so hard so fast? I believe that it has to do more with his strategies than his faulty visions. Or is it perhaps, to put it more precisely, the fact that his visions or goals remain unclear lead him to unpardonable strategic blunders?

Dr. Abiy Ahmed has expressed his vision or philosophy in his book titled Medemer. This Amharic word has been translated variously as synergy, unity, togetherness, etc… However it has been translated, my intention here is not to discuss the contents of this book, but to critically review the strategies he adopted to pursue his goals or presumed aims. 

To begin from the beginning, when the PM had his first confrontation with the TPLF, he did it rather from a position that was not wholly secure and of strength. Unquestionably, he had the backing of the Ethiopian people, but he did not have the complete command of the military and security apparatus, which were overwhelmingly dominated by TPLF cadres and cronies. To perhaps circumvent this major hurdle, the prime minister entered into a Faustian bargain with Isaias Afewerki. Whether sensing their impending doom, or suspecting sinister machinations, the TPLF leaders engaged in a most horrific selective slaughter of Ethiopian soldiers of the Northern Command, stationed in Tigray. This incident is taken as the primary cause of the start of the Tigray war. In reality, this was only the trigger. The fact of the matter is that the TPLF had been preparing for any eventual conflict with the federal government or with Eritrea at the very least since it had effectively lost power over all Ethiopia. I suspect that the TPLF, being more shrewd than visionary, had always known that its days were numbered, even though it behaved otherwise. How else can one explain the fact that its ruling cadre found themselves all of a sudden huddled in Tigray?

Even though PM Abiy was besieged by the immediate urgency to counter the onslaught of the TPLF, he would have done better not involving Isaias Afewerki. He should have instead focused on purging the Ethiopian Defense and Security of TPLF members and cronies, and reconstituting them as truly national, apolitical institutions. Waging a war against the TPLF with its members still occupying key positions in the Ethiopian military and security systems, has only led to the most bloody war since the Italian invasion. It is an absurdity which all of us witnessed with horror and anguish.

I contend that the war, if not avoidable altogether, could have been postponed at the very least until a truly all-inclusive and representative military and security were established. It may have taken far more time, and would have involved enormous difficulties; however, it would have prevented the unnecessary slaughter of tens of thousands of Ethiopians, and caused untold destruction. Moreover, the unhealthy alliance with Isaias Afewerki could have been avoided altogether. 

The second major blunder of PM Abiy is of course allowing the TPLF to not only continue to exist, but to be effectively in charge of Tigray after all that slaughter and destruction! I am not privy to any backdoor dealings with the U.S., the TPLF’s staunch ally, or any other power. However, even though the Pretoria and Nairobi accords may have led to the cessation of the Tigray war, they have definitely laid the groundwork, not only for TPLF’s resurgence, but also for further conflicts in the future.

It is not necessary to go into the details of the accord to find some redeeming element. In point of fact, the war should have ended with the total capitulation of the TPLF, i.e. the complete demobilization of its fighting force, and the surrender of the party ruling cadre. What we have instead is a party that sent the flower of Tigray’s youth to slaughter their fellow Ethiopians, and to be slaughtered, perhaps in greater numbers, by their compatriots! After all this, instead of being punished, the party was rewarded to stay in power and rule again over Tigray! What has been achieved? Tomorrow the TPLF will become stronger and will forever be a challenge to Ethiopia’s unity, and to the power of the Federal government. What has been achieved with all that blood spilt mindlessly on the battlefields? Nothing!

What should have happened instead was the complete replacement of Tigray’s administration and bureaucracy with the opposition parties in coalition that could have ushered a totally new relation with the federal government. What we have now instead, is more of the same. Also, as long as the TPLF remains alive, all the contested zones, which are erroneously referred to by westerners as “Western Tigray”, will have no viable solution for any foreseeable future. 

The third strategic error, which is in fact closely associated with the previous one, is the PM’s intentional and unprovoked war on Amhara, specifically on the armed militia known as Fano. The war in Amhara started with a clear and premeditated ruse. When the PM demanded through an edict not only to integrate Fano and all other militias in the EFD, but the disarmament of the people, he acted both against the Constitution, and more to the point, against the Amhara people who have always considered bearing arm as their birthright. It was clear that the very same Nobel Peace Prize winner actually provoked an unnecessary and irresponsible war. It was unnecessary because whatever objective he had could have been achieved peacefully, and irresponsible because, as he must have experienced first hand, Fano fighters have been indispensable in defeating the TPLF, and the hardest group of fighters to engage. Moreover, this is the militia that has profound roots and very widespread support in the region. The question is why? To what end? Does the PM think he can subjugate Amhara by force, or is he trying to help his old comrades and bosses in the TPLF to achieve their goals? His end game is quite unclear.

Fourthly, Dr. Abiy has never made clear his stance vis a vis Oromummaa ideology and the extremists in his administration who have clearly espoused it. My reading of this newfangled ideology conceived by exiled Oromo intellectuals, some of whom with tenured positions at well-known universities, is nothing but a response or alternative to what they consider to be the Amhara ideology, i.e. Amharanization.  In point of fact, there was never a conscious, deliberate and programmatic ideology called Amharanization, but rather a practice which may be called so. The practice of Amharanization was intended to unify a vastly diverse population under one rule, one banner, an official language (Amharic), one defense force and security system, etc… Was this a colonial scheme as the proponents of Oromummaa maintain? Most non-Amhara intellectuals have tended to respond in the affirmative to such questions. However, in order to consider the Amhara rule over Ethiopia since the late 19th century, one has to expand the meaning of the word colonialism as it has been used to describe the 19th and 20th century relation of Western countries to their conquered territories. Rather than an indigenous colonialism at work in Ethiopia, I believe there was a hegemonic struggle between the major ethnicities of Ethiopia. The inevitable outcome of which has been Amharanization. 

Viewed from this perspective, Oromummaa is more “colonialist” than Amharanization because it consciously and methodically intends to transform and integrate Ethiopia’s minorities into the much larger Oromia. Let one thing be clear here, Oromummaa is not obviously intended for Ethiopia’s larger ethnicities, but for the smaller ones contiguous with Oromia.  This is intended more to augment the population size as well as the territory of this already large region!

PM Abiy has not made very clear where he stands on this issue. This has been the source of suspicion regarding his intentions: is he fulfilling the ultimate destructive aim of the TPLF? And that is, the effective end of Ethiopia leading to multiple smaller nations? Is his new alliance of Tigray with Oromia to counter Amhara’s supposed power? At the heart of much of the instability of Ethiopia is Dr Abiy’s constant shifting of alliances. This, rather than making him a savvy strategist, turns him into an unreliable and misleading leader. What is Dr. Abiy’s vision for Ethiopia? What does he want to achieve? He needs to tell us in clear and unambiguous terms. He needs to lay down his political agenda in clear terms!

Fifth, PM Abiy’s relation with the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church (ETOC) remains among the most ambiguous. To begin, he has an unusual and rare religious heritage: an Amhara mother belonging to the ETOC, and an Oromo Muslim father. Yet, he is a practicing Pentay – a wildly successful evangelical/protestant religious movement in Ethiopia, which, by some estimates claims some 16 to 18 percent of the religious demographics of the country. Even though the Pentay movement is well-established and continues to gain popularity and new memberships, it is far from being as powerful as the ETOC which, by conservative estimates wields power over 50 to 55 percent of the Ethiopian population. PM Abiy began his premiership with a shrewd move in ingratiating the goodwill of the members of the ETOC. Suffice to remember here his role in reconciling the two contending patriarchs and restoring the unity of the ETOC hierarchy. However, five years later, he was engaged, if not in causing but at least in exacerbating the divisions within the ETOC, by siding with the splintering group. The least he could have done was to not interfere with the affairs of the ETOC. Yet he chose to interfere, alienating in the process an institution that could have been to him and his administration an invaluable ally. PM Abiy should know clearly in advance where his support base stands! To date, his relationship to the ETOC remains undefined and ambiguous, if not antagonistic.

Lastly, one of the worst blunders he has done since he took office is, without a doubt, initiating the current debacle with Somalia. Is it necessary to start a war when Ethiopia has never been as unstable as today in decades? Was it hard to predict Somalia’s reaction? Is it really a good idea to use Ethiopian Airlines, the one institution Ethiopians of all walks of life take pride in, as a bargaining chip? As many have rightly observed, the PM’s move is intended more to evade the problems confronting him in the country than addressing the real problems of Ethiopia. A war with Somalia at this time will, I believe, precipitate a war of secession on multiple fronts in Ethiopia. Does anyone remember our last war with Somalia when all the liberation fronts set ablaze the country? Yes, it was 1977 and the Somali army was less than a hundred miles from Addis Ababa! If it weren’t for the help of the Soviet Union, Ethiopia would have turned into the Somalia of the past decades, i.e. a failed state.

The Ethiopian army is still in the process of being rebuilt. It will take a decade at least to reconstitute itself adequately. The best the PM can do is shape it into a veritable national institution embracing all the ethnicities of Ethiopia, and not turn it, as the TPLF has done, into the armed wing of its ruling party, or an institution completely dominated by one and only one ethnicity. It would be mindlessly cruel of the PM to fathom another war just to satisfy his pipe dream, i.e. a naval base on the shores of Somaliland. The most obvious, least costly and historically meaningful thing to do for him is to find some solution with Eritrea. Eritrea and Ethiopia could forge not only an economical alliance, but also a military one even though it may seem unfathomable at this time. Instead of solidifying and deepening Ethiopia’s relations with Eritrea after their historical and formal end of the Ethiopian-Eritrean war, the PM was only interested in securing the help of Eritrea to defeat the TPLF. Now that he has “supposedly” achieved his goal, he appears to have basically turned his back on Eritrea. Why and for what end? The erratic strategizing of the Prime Minister is unclear to even the most sophisticated diplomats. No wonder that the PM is today without any allies willing to come to his aid. He has in essence burned his bridges with all who could have helped him wade the difficult waters of Ethiopian politics. It is time for him to reclaim Ethiopia’s priorities and adopt strategies that could fulfill them. In order to do this, he must be open to dissenting and critical voices, and not be closed in his own Eco chamber!

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com


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  1. It is too late now!!!! There is nothing to reclaim or redeem here. abiy ahmed’s hands, nay, his entire body is soaked and drenched in the innocent blood of so many hundreds of thousands defenseless children, women, including pregnant women and the elderly.

    abiy ahmed MUST RESIGN!!!!!


  2. Addisu Admas

    When you describe Abiy ahmed, you mentioned, “To begin, he has an unusual and rare religious heritage: an Amhara mother belonging to the ETOC.” His mother could be Orthodox by faith, but where did you get his mother’s ethnicity? She is from West Shewa Oromo, as he himself admitted in an interview with Oromia Broadcasting Service. I am appalled that many learned men and women take it for granted that Abiy’s mother is Amhara, which is completely false.

    The main cause of our failures is a widespread misconception that Abiy will act in a way that suits our preferences, assuming he is one of us. Abiy came to power with a hidden agenda. He simply used the support he received from Ethiopians to defeat the TPLF. Abiy’s true intentions were revealed when he appointed Oromos to key security and military positions and brought Takele Uma in as the mayor of Addis Ababa. Yet, we failed to understand this and continued to support him. Only a few, like Eskinder, truly understood Abiy. The rest of us deliberately confused ourselves.

  3. In Defense of PM Abiy Ahmed’s Strategic Decisions…

    In response to Addisu Admasse’s critique of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, it is equally important to consider an alternative perspective that recognizes the complexities of governing Ethiopia and the challenges PM Abiy faces. While the article highlights some well grounded concerns, it is critical to acknowledge the affirmatives of Abiy’s leadership.

    Firstly, the decision to forge an alliance with Eritrea’s Isaias Afewerki is portrayed as a mistake, but it successfully ended the longstanding Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict and earned Abiy the Nobel Peace Prize. The peace dividend resulting from this alliance has the potential to foster regional stability and economic growth. While the Tigray war is indeed a tragic consequence, it is important to recognize the difficulty of navigating the delicate balance of alliances in the Horn of Africa.

    Secondly, the article criticizes Abiy for not purging the Ethiopian military and security apparatus of TPLF influence. However, it fails to consider the challenges associated with such a massive overhaul. Abiy’s prioritization of peace and stability over divisive purges may have been a strategic decision aimed at preventing internal conflict and further fragmentation of the country.

    Regarding the Tigray conflict, it is essential to understand the complexities involved in managing a post-war region. The decision to allow the TPLF to remain in control might be a pragmatic move to maintain a semblance of local governance and prevent power vacuums that could lead to further instability.

    The accusations of provoking a war with the Amhara armed militia Fano should be scrutinized in the context of internal security challenges. PM Abiy may be navigating a delicate balance between maintaining law and order and addressing grievances within different ethnic groups. Understanding the root causes of such conflicts is crucial for crafting effective solutions.

    Furthermore, Abiy’s stance on Oromummaa ideology should be recognized as an attempt to address the diverse cultural and ethnic landscape of Ethiopia. His approach might be an effort to foster inclusivity rather than a lack of vision. Similarly, the prime minister’s engagement with the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church may be seen as an attempt to strike a balance between respecting religious institutions and ensuring a secular state.

    Lastly, the confrontation with Somalia could be viewed as an effort to protect Ethiopia’s interests in the region. While disagreements with neighboring countries are challenging, they can also be seen as part of a broader strategy to secure Ethiopia’s stability and sovereignty.

    While acknowledging the valid concerns raised by the article, it is essential to consider the intricate challenges of governing a diverse and complex nation like Ethiopia. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s decisions, though imperfect, may reflect an understanding of the country’s intricate dynamics and a commitment to long-term stability.


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