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HomeOpinionDo Not Close the Door on a Negotiated Settlement Just Yet

Do Not Close the Door on a Negotiated Settlement Just Yet

negotiated settlement _ Yonas _ Ethiopian Politics
The author (file)

Yonas Biru, PhD

My earlier brief comment on Lidetu Ayalew’s proposal for a transitional government ignited varied reactions from different quarters. His proposal was titled “ምን ዓይነት የሽግግር ሒደት? ለምን እና እንዴት? Loosely translated: “The Need for a Transitional Government: Why and How?” 

My rejoinder was titled “The Odds Stand Infinitely Against Lidetu’s Proposal for a Transitional Government.” Lidetu’s proposal is a google search away. So is my rejoinder. The purpose of this article is to show the Transitional government has become a sexy name for an inevitable armed conflict. The danger lurking behind Lidetu’s proposal is that on its face value it appears to be a form of a peaceful engagement. Nonetheless, in reality, it lends itself to an inevitable armed conflict. 

Lidetu’s proposal identifies three doers and makers who can potentially translate the proposal into reality, namely the Prime Minister (PM), the governing Prosperity Party (PP), and the opposition. For those who are new to Ethiopian politic, the PM is a narcissist and psychopathic maniac. The PP as a governing body exists between neither and nor hinterland of legislative independence. And the opposition is stuck in strategic paralysis. While acknowledging the defects and blemishes of the three forces, Lidetu still hopes against hope states that “እነዚህ ሥስት አካላት አገሪቱን ወደ አዲስ የሽግግር ሂደት የማስገባት እድል ያላቸው ኃይሎች ናቸው.” 

The transition proposal has four pillars to stand on. 

Lidetu’s proposal gives the PM a 0% likelihood to support a peaceful transition process. Obviously, if the probability that the PM will relinquish power voluntarily is zero, and if Lidetu’s proposal is predicated on the PM’s removal from office, the unsaid option is his removal by force. 

Lidetu gives the PP a 10 percent probability to act in support of a transitional government and 20 percent to the opposition. What is the likelihood for the probability of the two independent forces to act together in support of a transitional government? The formula statisticians use is Probability (PP ∩ opposition) = the probability that the PP will seize the moment multiplied by the probability that the opposition will rise to the occasion. This means 10% multiplied by 20% or 0.1*0.2. This comes to 0.02 or 2%. 

If one includes the PM in the equation, the probability of success for Lidetu’s proposal becomes a flat 0%. Even if we take out the PM from the equation, the probability of success is 2%. This is what quantitative statistics tells us based on Lidetu’s figures. 

It is plausible to assume that the opposition will support Lidetu’s proposal. We cannot assume the PP will do the same. Based on the probability that Lidetu attaches to the two forces, it is plausible to assume only the opposition can be counted on to push for a transitional government. This means, the opposition will have to force both the PM and PP out of the way. This can only be done by force.

Lidetu is not the only one who proposes a transitional government without tackling the implications of the calculus of consent of the PM and PP alike. The Imbylta Group’s “A Citizen-Centered Roadmap for Systemic Political Transition in Ethiopia” suffers from a similar handicap.  The same is the case with Aklog Birara’s recent article titled “What Do Ethiopia and Vietnam Have in Common.” 

Aklog suggests “it is time for a transitional government of national unity.” In the meantime, he suggests: “On their part, the country’s quarreling elites and the Ethiopian people must set aside minor differences, come together, and overhaul the oppressive system that keeps them divided, suspicious of one another…”

My reading of the three proposals (Lidetu, Imbylta and Aklog) is that they are no more than wishful thinking and mighty short on developing the mechanics of the transitional process. It appears to me that the only current opposition that has the potential (albeit limited) to give life to Lidetu’s proposal is Amhara Fano. But Amhara Fano has its own debilitating handicap. More on this below. 

The Quest for “What Is in It for Me” in the Transition

The Prime Minister who is all but king for life in the late Bokassa mold is running the country as his personal property. The fact that he is the kingpin of the nation’s institutional corruption is a public secret. How much of a cut he personally takes from secretive financial dealing with the UAE and China and what he is selling to them in return is known only to him. Parliamentarians who dared to ask him about his hush-hush transactions are currently languishing in prison that the US described as “harsh and life-threatening conditions.” 

When we talk about transitional government, the overriding question to the PM is “what is in it for me.” The answer is nothing of value. But it comes with a potential cost of accountability for the crime his administration has committed in Tigray, Oromo, and Amhara and other tribal homelands. His secretive financial dealings will also be exposed. Short of a godly miracle, the only viable option to institutionalize a transition government requires dragging the PM out of office dead or alive.

How about the PP of the legislative branch that Lidetu expects to act in terms of (1) relieving the PM of his power, (2) legislating a transition charter, and (3) declaring a ceasefire, and releasing political prisoners. These are the same legislators who clap and laugh as the PM insults them on national TV. These are people who see the PM as kindergartners see their teacher with awe and reverence. 

For all practical purposes, they have accepted the PM as equal to ስላሴዎች with the divine power of being አንድም ሶስተም. Lidetu acknowledges this and gives them a 10% likelihood that they will respond to the call of the country.

Their lack of courage and sense of duty aside, they, too, operate with “What is in it for me” rent-seeking calculus. Lidetu assumes self-preservation will lead them to jump the PM’s ship and join the opposition. This undermines four critical points. 

First, the transitional government will require the PP colony to relinquish their positions and their access to a super-lucrative rent seeking enterprise. 

Second, if they try and the transition fails, the cost to them is exorbitant. They know the psychopathic PM enough what a failed attempt entails in terms of life and limb. Part of the reason he took his cabinet members and the speaker of the House of Representatives to Nekemte is to show them his Oromo powerbase even in Wellega, the supposed home of Oromo Shene. 

Third, their Shakespearean “to do, or not to do” calculus includes taking into consideration that the opposition is too fragmented, weak, and bereft of a broad political powerbase to rely on.  

Fourth, Lidetu completely ignores the role that the army plays. The PM has made the military part of the rent-seeking enterprise. Many of the generals whose official salaries are meager are building high-rises and villas in Addis Ababa. They know if the PM sinks, they, too, will sink. 

When one takes the PM, the PP and the army out of the transition equation, the only thing left is the opposition. The only way the opposition can enforce a transitional government is using armed insurrection. In sum, when stripped of its unrealistic assumptions, Lidetu’s proposed transition is inevitable to turn into an armed insurrection. 

Do Not Close the Door on Negotiated Settlement Just Yet

There is simply no peaceful path for a transitional government. As I have written before, ኢትዮጵያ አንጀቷም፤ ድርና ማጓም፤ የስሪት እሴቷም ሳስቷል. The next political crisis may break her.  Anyone who understands the risk for a civil war understands the risk for total disintegration. 

Lidetu suggests there is 70% chance of “ከህልውና ጥፋት መትረፍ ያለመቻል” [an existential disintegration of Ethiopia as a nation]. It is not clear how he came up with the inflated 70% figure. Even if one accepts the 70% figure on face value, the risk is high and alternative options need to be investigated. In this regard, I am not sure of the wisdom in Lidetu’s assertions that that transitional government is “የመጨረሻና ብቸኛ አማራጫ.”

Given the impending existential threat of national disintegration, Ethiopians should not give up on a negotiated settlement as one of the possible options. In my view it has a higher probability of success and less potential cost than a transitional government. 

I support Fano’s armed uprising. But it should not be seen as the only means for a transformative change. Armed insurrection must be seen as a strategic leverage to push the government toward a settlement. 

As I have highlighted in my Proposal for Fano Manifesto (August 2023), Fano is faced with the tension between two conflicting end-goals. First is its uncompromising position for self-preservation and democratic rights, while being cognizant and careful not to allow the crisis turn into a civil war. Second is its determination that a potential civil war should not mean allowing the current status quo to continue without a transformative change. 

The question that is imposing itself on them is: How do we delicately balance this tension? The need to avoid a civil war requires it, and the nation’s survival and political transformation depend on it. 

The opposition must stress that its demands are to: (1) rein in the government’s dictatorship and rampant violation of human rights, (2) holding those who were involved in crime against humanity accountable, and (3) enforcing a democratic constitutional reform by “we the people of Ethiopia.” 

Reigning in the government requires guardrails to make sure that:

  • all democratic rights will be observed and honored, 
  • the government aggress to withdraw its disarmament demand until confidence building measures are taken to protect victims of the government, 
  • the government will not use the lull time to regroup and launch another round of war on the people, 
  • the government will grant international human rights violation investigators an unfettered access without any restriction or interference on their investigative undertakings,
  • the government allow international observers and the opposition to monitor the preparation and undertaking of the next elections, and 
  • The government and the opposition will jointly form a constitutional drafting commission through a democratic means.

Such a position will disarm the PM of his political narrative that the opposition is trying to overthrow a duly elected government, and help the opposition win the confidence and support of both national and international forces.

Fano Must Step Up Its Game

Two factors determine if the opposition can drag the government to the negotiation table and force it to accept institutional gridlines that will reign in the PM’s innate dictatorial instincts. The first critical step is Fanno’s ability to develop a unifying Amhara political agenda along with a robust political strategy and flexible roadmap. The second critical step is developing a national agenda and a broad coalition with non-Amhara forces. 

Anyone who believes Fano can form a winning coalition and bring the PM to his knees without a well-developed political strategy and a broad coalition is an emblem of political idiocy. Fano’s success in this regard depends on its willingness and ability to reject the idiotic diaspora Amhara Shene intellectuals. 

Saving the PM v. Saving Ethiopia

Proponents of removing the PM by force argue, any form of transitional government that can potentially keep the PM will save him from accountability and therefore must be rejected. First, as long as there is an unfettered international investigation, accountability can be established. This means the PM can be held accountable either through a judicial process or via a truth and reconciliation process following South Africa’s model. 

Second, Ethiopians must balance the need to save the nation from an escalating civil war and the desire to see the PM being dragged out of office and into the dark prison cells that he has built and used to house his opponents. 

Those who push for armed conflict bear responsibility to show Ethiopians a clear path to avoid a civil war that can push the nation over the proverbial cliff.  Diaspora intellectuals who are pushing for war without a clear path to a transformative change and guardrails to avoid an existential civil war are no less reckless than the PM who is pushing the nation toward a civil war. 

In Conclusion 

Armed uprising is justified to protect Ethiopia from a psychopathic and maniac PM. It is also justified as a leverage to force a peaceful resolution. Only when the government rejects all efforts toward a peaceful resolution, can Ethiopians use war as the only option. However, they should never give up on a negotiated settlement as a better option because it is less costly to the people. Closing the door for a negotiated settlement is reckless. Failing to leverage war as a tool toward a negotiated settlement is a strategic blunder.

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


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