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HomeOpinionPrime Misstep: How Abiy Ahmed Became Ethiopia's Number One Threat

Prime Misstep: How Abiy Ahmed Became Ethiopia’s Number One Threat

Sisay Mulu (The author)

By Sisay Mulu (Amoraw) 

Ethiopia’s primary challenge currently centers around the very individual who was expected to steer it to safety. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has become the most significant threat to the nation’s security. Initially elected on a platform of reform and unity, Abiy Ahmed now epitomizes division and turmoil. Since assuming office, his leadership has not delivered the peace he promised; instead, his tenure has been characterized by increasingly divisive rhetoric and actions that have exacerbated ethnic conflicts, led to bloody wars, ethnic cleansing, genocidal massacres, massive displacement, social chaos, and escalating conflicts, resulting in an economic downturn and a seemingly endless crisis. His approach to handling opposition, marked by aggressive and dehumanizing language followed by conflict, mass detention and torture, starkly contrasts with the expected demeanor of a statesman. 

Tragically, early warning signs of these developments were overlooked. Many Ethiopians, exhausted by the TPLF’s harsh 27-year rule, were eager for change and willing to support anyone but the TPLF, missing the ominous indications of a leader who was not as he appeared. The first striking example occurred following the incident on June 23, 2018, at Meskel Square in Addis Ababa. At a rally that was organized to show support for him, an explosive was hurled toward him and his entourage, igniting a firestorm of controversy. Many speculated that Abiy himself might have staged the attack—a conjecture that, although unconfirmed, invites a critical analysis of how such an event could bolster his political base and garner profound sympathy among his supporters. The truth of what happened remains shrouded in mystery, further complicating the narrative in a regime that thrives on maintaining public confusion and conviction.

In the aftermath of the attack, Abiy appeared on public television wearing a green T-shirt and his hat, quickly condemning the attackers as “የቀን ጅብ” loosely translated as”desperate hyenas.” This characterization not only struck a chord with his then-undisputed supporters but also effectively demonized all of Abiy’s critics. From that point on, opposing Abiy was synonymous with hindering so-called reform and being labeled an enemy of the state or a representative of the TPLF. This incident was an early indication of Abiy’s readiness to dehumanize his opponents, a tactic that eschews peace and reconciliation in favor of consolidating power through division and inflammatory rhetoric.

Labeling opponents as “desperate hyenas” served multiple purposes. First, it dehumanized his adversaries, framing them not just as political opponents but as dangerous and morally bankrupt entities, thus justifying harsh measures against them. The animalistic metaphor of a hyena, often associated with scavenging and desperation, painted a picture of irrational and aggressive opposition. This approach has been counterproductive to peace and reconciliation as it closed the door to constructive dialogue, casting any opposition as not just wrong, but evil and less than human. Such rhetoric highlights a strategy focused not on fostering an inclusive national identity or healing divisions but on securing and reinforcing power by sowing discord, mistrust, and conflict.

Fast forward to September 2020, a troubling aspect of Abiy Ahmed’s leadership was highlighted during a national broadcast. During this event, Abiy openly threatened to wage war against anyone who supported Eskinder Nega and his Balderas Political Party. Eskinder had been actively organizing the residents of Addis Ababa to oppose displacement and overreach by the Oromia region, which threatened their homes and communities. In his response, Abiy dismissed Eskinder as a “madman,” suggesting that his efforts were merely attempts to gain fame and political power by stirring controversy and provoking his own arrest. This incident marked a pivotal moment for some observers, who began to seriously question Abiy’s character. Despite these revelations, many of Abiy’s supporters seemed to overlook these warning signs, failing to recognize the potential emergence of a future dictator.

Ahmed’s portrayal of Eskinder was not merely an offhand comment but a calculated attempt to undermine Eskinder’s valid concerns regarding civil rights and urban governance. The prime minister’s willingness to engage in conflict with political adversaries, particularly evident during his television appearance, sharply contrasted with his reputation as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate celebrated for his peace initiatives. This contradiction exposed a disconcerting aspect of Abiy’s leadership, indicating a tendency toward authoritarian governance characterized by suppression and confrontation, rather than promoting dialogue and unity.

The escalation did not stop with mere words. It manifested in active ostracization and suppression of Eskinder and his party, including restrictions on holding meetings and rallying support within the capital. Eventually, these pressures pushed Eskinder to align with the Amhara Fano Freedom Fighters, marking a significant shift from his previous stance of peaceful activism. This trajectory shows a disturbing trend where peaceful opposition is not only discouraged but actively combated, indicating an ever-shrinking space for democratic engagement and civil discourse in Ethiopia. The consequences of Abiy Ahmed’s approach—framing political dissent as madness or treachery—have not only led to bloody wars but also compromised any opportunity for peace, reconciliation, and stability in the future.  

Another pivotal example is the actions and words of Abiy Ahmed during the Tigray conflict. In the tense moments at the beginning of the Tigray conflict, Abiy went on national television to not only address the situation but to distinctly frame the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as a hostile entity, labeling them as a “junta.” This terminology, while reflecting the TPLF’s lengthy and authoritarian governance, introduced a narrative steeped more in personal vendetta than political disagreement. Such language, moving beyond mere political opposition to personal and collective demonization, set a troubling tone for the unfolding conflict.

The escalation in vitriolic rhetoric from top government officials continued unabated. Daniel Kibret, a prominent social affairs advisor in Abiy Ahmed’s government and a member of parliament, intensified the tone by labeling the TPLF as a “cancer” that required surgical removal and should be “erased from the map.” Such statements, particularly from high-ranking officials, deviate markedly from the expected norms of governmental communication. These remarks go beyond mere breaches of decorum; they pose a real risk of sparking further conflict in a country characterized by significant ethnic and political diversity. The inflammatory language used by the Prime Minister and his advisors alarmed the Tigrayan community, providing the TPLF with ample opportunity to recruit and mobilize extensively, which became the bloodiest conflict in Ethiopia’s recent history. 

This type of rhetoric was indicative of anti-peace leadership, notably during a period when unity and measured dialogue were desperately needed. Ideally, leadership, particularly from a Nobel Peace Prize laureate like Abiy Ahmed, should strive toward reconciliation and foster a peaceful dialogue. Instead, the aggressive stances taken appeared to reflect a significant lapse in ethical governance, substituting potential constructive engagement with a strategy marked by expediency and personal grievances.

The consequences of such an approach were profound. By characterizing the TPLF in overtly personal and derogatory terms, the government not only alienated a considerable portion of the Tigrayan populace but also laid the groundwork for a conflict fraught with severe humanitarian ramifications. The language employed contributed to escalating the conflict, arguably deepening and prolonging the national crisis.

Leadership during such critical times demands a responsibility to transcend personal vendettas and prioritize the broader welfare of the nation’s diverse communities. This involves avoiding inflammatory rhetoric that could exacerbate divisions and seeking avenues for unity and reconciliation instead. Unfortunately, the approach taken by Abiy Ahmed and his administration seemed to neglect these principles, instead perpetuating a divisive and destructive narrative.

After six tumultuous years under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s leadership, it is disheartening to observe that little appears to have been learned from past errors in governance and public communication. A telling incident involves Daniel Kibret, a well-known advisor to the Prime Minister, who used allegorical language in a social media post that described Ethiopian opposition groups as “The dragon, the beast, and the ancient serpent.” These terms were not chosen at random; they are loaded with negative connotations and historical and biblical references to evil. Kibret linked these epithets to major Ethiopian ethnic and political groups: the Amhara Fano, the Oromo Liberation Front, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, respectively. 

A screenshot of a social media post
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The use of such language by a high-ranking official is more than irresponsible—it is an ethical breach that aggravates the already severe ethnic divisions and political strife within Ethiopia. In a country marred by frequent conflicts, the rhetoric employed by Daniel Kibret significantly influences public sentiment and incites more violence and aggression towards civilians where those groups belong. This incident exemplifies a pattern within the current administration, which seems to repeatedly fail to learn from its confrontations and controversies. The continual use of divisive language risks embedding deeper societal rifts, making the task of national reconciliation increasingly challenging.

The responsibility of leaders to use language that fosters unity and peace cannot be overstated. Words are potent tools that can heal or divide. When government officials categorize whole groups as adversaries based purely on their ethnic or political identities, they not only fail in their moral and ethical duties but also threaten the stability of the nation they were supposed to lead. Such behavior raises serious questions about their suitability for office and their comprehension of their roles as leaders in a diverse and fractured society.

Similar instances in other countries underscore this point. For example, in Rwanda, the use of dehumanizing language during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi population had catastrophic consequences. Radio broadcasts and public statements often referred to Tutsi individuals as “cockroaches,” significantly contributing to the violence that resulted in the deaths of over 800,000 people. This historical example serves as a stark reminder of the potential consequences of hate speech and the imperative for leaders everywhere to promote discourse that unites rather than divides.

In the case of Ethiopia, it is crucial for leaders like Abiy Ahmed and his advisors to reflect on their use of language and its potential impacts on society. The path to healing and stability in a nation as ethnically and politically diverse as Ethiopia must involve a conscientious effort to promote inclusivity and respect in all forms of communication. The rhetoric used by officials should build bridges, not deepen divides, ensuring a more stable and united Ethiopian state. Similar patterns of inflammatory leadership can be observed in other historical and contemporary contexts. The use of dehumanizing language by political leaders, as seen in Rwanda prior to and during the genocide, similarly contributed to catastrophic outcomes. In these instances, leaders used language as a weapon to vilify and dehumanize other groups, escalating pre-existing tensions into violent conflicts.

In conclusion, the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has significantly shaped the discourse and dynamics of political engagement in Ethiopia. The repeated use of dehumanizing language to describe political adversaries, as detailed throughout various incidents, underscores a leadership style that is more divisive than unifying. This approach has not only perpetuated ethnic and political rifts but also diminished the prospects for peace and reconciliation within the country. As such, any effort to bring about peace in Ethiopia under the current administration appears futile. With a track record that contradicts the ideals of a Nobel Peace Laureate, Abiy Ahmed’s tenure has shown that without a profound shift in leadership approach, the hope for a peaceful and united Ethiopia remains dim. The continuation of this aggressive and exclusionary rhetoric threatens the very fabric of Ethiopian society, making it imperative to consider alternative pathways to peace that do not include him at the helm.

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

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Sisay Mulu (Amoraw)

    Your writing seems like Amora wedeje amora hoghalehu X 3 type of scenario.

    Dr Abiy only in power for 5 years, yet you blame him for 100 years old problems because of your stereo type attitude…..

    Just watch Dr Abiy’s work across Ethiopia with clear eye and review all the good things he did in such short period of time… NOTE you have to be free of backwardness and tribalism to see the work, otherwise the work will hide from your eye…. i guess

  2. Some adults with infantile minds like this one have the audacity to call themselves after brilliant patriots who bitterly fought the fascist invaders in the 1930’s. This one decided to call himself after one of the bravest freedom fighters Ras Wubneh Tessema known to his followers as Amoraw because he was like an uncatchable eagle to his enemies. So this writer assumed the name after sipping the last drop of his bourbon. Ras Wubneh fought those fascists on site but this one wants to do it thousands of miles away from the place of the action. What a scammer.

    • Brother/Sister Azbite,

      Such naming oneself after legends of the past is not confined in one ethnic group members only. In my own community, there were and still are many who named themselves after the king of the animal kingdom, the lion. At one point, there were more lions in the front that was having fits to liberate me and my noble Oromos than the lion population in the entire Chercher Highlands. There were Lencho this brand and Lencho of another accent. Their scheme of the game was the army of their enemy would run for its life just at the sound of their roar. I can tell you from childhood experience, when you hear a lion roaring in the wild, it terrorizes you witless. It sends chills down your spine. To this day, there has not been a single battle victory to their credit. None. What they did was murdering innocent and unarmed poor peasants.

  3. I agree that our leaders ought to be under public scrutiny. You mentioned, for example, “the repeated use of dehumanizing language” by PM Abiy and his Admin. It is revealing that you did not mention Amhara groups (the camp you are defending) engaging in, not just dehumanizing, but disturbingly fascistic and racist language and tactic. It could be you’re so part of it that you have become dead to the stench and noise that is polluting public space 24/7.

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