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The Difficult Question of a Transitional Government

Abiy Ahmed ( Photo source : Foreign Policy )

Tesfa ZeMichael

Confronting the most genocidal African Tyrant

The historian Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD) wrote, “Out of Africa, there is always something new.” Pliny is right:  Abiy Ahmed is the first and only Nobel Peace Laureate who is an active genocider and organizer of a death squad, the Koree Nageenyaa!  Were he to be apprised of this, Alfred Nobel would have advised the future nominees not to accept the Nobel Peace Prize for it is now stained forever with the blood of the innocent children of Ethiopia.

To be sure, Africa has known many sanguinary dictators. Among the most vicious and corrupt are Jean-Bédel Bokassa (Central African Republic,1966–1979), Francisco Macías Nguema (Equatorial Guinea,1968–1979), Idi Amin (Uganda, 1971–1979),Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (Equatorial Guinea (1979–present), Hissène Habré (Chad, 1982–1990), Idriss Déby (Chad, 1990–2021), and Charles G. Taylor (Liberia, 1997–2003). But compared to Dr. Abiy, these dictators are novices.

Dr. Abiy is the most Machiavellian dictator that Africa has ever produced. Unlike the other monochromic African tyrants, he has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character. He likes charming foreign visitors and holding their hands, but is inhabited by an evil alter ego who drone-bombs innocent Amharas, Tigreans, and Oromos without batting an eye. The likes of Ndindiliyimana committed genocide in Ruanda without any disguise. Dr. Abiy commits genocide under the cover of “law and order,” “prosperity,” and “democracy.”

That Dr. Abiy’s genocidal regime must be evicted is the wish of all Ethiopians, except those who are reaping wealth and prestige by scraping and serving him. Currently, concerned Ethiopians are examining the idea of a transitional government as a way of rescuing Ethiopians from Dr. Abiy’s political, economic, and human disasters. But the idea of transitional government raises a number of questions that need to be answered clearly if it is to be feasible.  The literature on transitional or provisional or interim government (the literature uses these terms interchangeably) is quite extensive since Talleyrand introduced the notion in 1814. 

The arduous road to a transitional government

The main types of transitional governments are the following. Type A: Revolutionary transitional government. It is formed when the incumbent government is overthrown and power is appropriated by those who overthrow it. Type B: Power sharing transitional government. It is the  outcome of a power-sharing agreement between the incumbent government and those that are trying to overthrow it. Type C: Incumbent transitional government. It is formed when the incumbent regime agrees to form a transitional government during the institution of a new regime. Type D: International transitional government. It is formed when power during the transition is exercised by the international community. Type E: A foreign power imposed provisional government. This was formed after a military defeat such as  the interim government in Korea set up by the United States (1945-8).

Two issues arise here. The first bears on the kind of “transitional government” that is feasible in the present Ethiopian context. The second concerns whether the process of forming a transitional government fosters a democratic or an authoritarian Ethiopian government as its outcome. 

Regarding the first issue. Given Dr. Abiy’s “dark triad personality” (Machiavellian, narcissistic, and sadistic) and his current grip on power, it is very difficult to see him disposed to either Type B or C transitional government. Moreover, given the current situation and the historical background of Ethiopia, type D and  E transitional governments are out of the equation. Left then is the A-type transition. The Congress of Ethiopian Civic Associations’ (CECA) proposal seems to opt for a “Fanno-led” type-A transition. Other proposals seem also to presuppose  an A-type transitional government. The difficulties that litter the road to this type of transition in Ethiopia are serious and merit thoughtful consideration.

First, Dr. Abiy has created a system reminiscent of Hitler’s Judenrat: a system he established in occupied Europe to facilitate his genocide project. Let me take the case of Amhara to make the point. Dr. Abiy has facilitated his pursuit of Amhara genocide by establishing an “Amhararat” (Arega Kebede, his administration, and the Amhara Prosperity Party) in the Amhara Kilil, something similar to  the Judenrat. Dr. Abiy has created a Kililrat in every kilil the exception being Tigrai where the TPLF is still holding its ground. However, Machiavellian as he is, Dr. Abiy is inflating the vanity of the TPLF by treating it as an equal partner, even though it lost its war against Dr. Abiy, and forging its loyalty with the intent of making it join his genocidal war against the Amhara by dangling in its face Walkait and Raya as bait. 

The passage to  a transitional government means then overpowering not only Dr. Abiy’s  government but also the Kililraete, i.e.,  the kilil governments. The tentacular grip on Ethiopia that Dr. Abiy has through the Kililraete together with the federal powers that he has transmuted into an instrument of his personal rule make the quest for a transitional government a battle that needs to be fought on two fronts: the federal and the Kililraete. The Amhararat’s siding with Dr. Abiy’s forces to fight against Fanno makes the point.

Regarding the second issue. Historically, since the first transitional government, formed in the USA—Continental Congress (1776–1781)—more than a hundred transitional governments have been formed. However, few are the countries—USA, Australia, South Africa, Namibia, some post-Soviet East and Central European countries, etc.—whose transitional governments have given birth to stable democratic systems. The great majority have ushered in authoritarian governments, many of them unstable. Historically, whether a transitional government leads or not to political stability or instability, to democracy or authoritarianism, depends on the kind of processes and substantive issues that are adopted in the transitional period.

The transitional governments that have ushered in stable governments—democratic or authoritarian—tend to be led by a dominant party and not by a coalition of equally powerful parties., for obvious reasons Transitional governments led by a dominant party tend to be “transitional” in name only. For example, the Ethiopian  “Transitional Government” of 1991 was transitional only nominally. It was organized and led by the dominant party, the TPLF, which used the “transitional government”  to implement its monopoly of power through the crafting of an ethnic federation of Kililraete. Thus, when in 1992 the OLF tried to oppose the transformation of the Oromo Kilil into a Kililrata, the TPLF crushed it militarily. 

If the proposed transitional government is to bring about democracy, its organization and actions must be based on the universal principle of citizenship as in the few cases mentioned above (USA, Australia, South Africa, Namibia, etc.). There must be some consistency between the means and the end. If the end is democracy, the process of reaching it must have at least a democratic core. If the transitional government is organized on the basis of ethnic identity, we are back to 1991 and ethnic politics, and we will surely be reproducing the calamities of the last 33 years.

However, transiting from ethnic to citizen politics may not be that simple. After  33 years of ethnic politics, the sense of “citizenship” among Ethiopians has been whittled away and the self-definition of Ethiopians in terms of ethnic identity has found salience such that it may not be easily de-politicizedAnd yet, the depoliticization of ethnic identity is necessary if the content, process, and outcome of the transitional government is going to be democratic.

Historically, a transitional government in a multiethnic society leads to neither stability nor democracy unless the transition process is led by a dominant political party or movement that is based on citizenship and is national in scope. If the political party or movement that forms a transitional government is a coalition of ethnic parties, it leads to political instability unless one of the member parties has enough power to bend the others to its will as happened in 1991. But then democracy is sacrificed and we end up with an authoritarian government. 

Thus, it seems necessary that Ethiopians, be they Amhara, Oromo, Tigrayan, Somali, and others, committed to creating a democratic Ethiopia, work for the advent of a citizen-based pan-Ethiopian movement or party. Such an organization could have a civilian and military branch as well as a decentralized but a coordinated structure. History indicates that such a movement or party is generally successful in engendering a democratic government.

The above considerations lead to a crucial question: what party or movement could take the initiative in forming such a movement or party committed to a democratic transition in Ethiopia? The interesting proposal that is on the table is the one suggested by The Congress of Ethiopian Civic Associations (CECA).  It proposes a “A Fanno-led negotiated settlement among armed groups to restore peace and security,” and “A Fanno-backed but independent and broadly representative national salvation council….” However, after 33 years of demonization of the Amhara as “oppressors,” “colonialists,” and neftegna, a “Fanno-led” and a “Fanno-backed” negotiation to form a transitional government could be unpalatable to some. 

This may require considering a non-ethnocentric  approach (therefore a non-Fanno centric approach in the case of CECA’s proposal) in the creation of a pan-Ethiopian transitional movement, and, eventually, a pan-Ethiopian transitional government. Or, it may require exploring the possibility of settling for less: a negotiated settlement with Dr. Abiy that leaves him in power but expands the democratic space. Given Dr. Abiy’s dark triad personality, such a possibility seems remote. But even if Dr. Abiy accepts such a compromise, it means keeping the ethnic federation and its divisive 1995 Constitution. The compromise itself will become a new fertile ground for ethnic politics and lead to the resurrection of the conflicts and sufferings of the last 33 years.

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


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