Ethiopia Walking a Thin Line
March 20, 2019 (Ezega.com) -- Ethiopia’s problem lie in its governance structure and the ethnic-federal system, which divided the nation into linguistic and ethnic factions in which exclusion has been normalized. Consequently, as things stand right now, it will be impossible to realize a democratic Ethiopia devoid of ethnic identity and ethnic-federalism. Once again, it appears to be a failed experiment in democracy.
The ethnic polarization concocted and perfected by the EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front) in the past decades ignored the divine, cultural, social and economic fabric that glued Ethiopians together for centuries. Today, vigilante groups and ethnic zealots are continuing to exacerbate the already polarized political space.
There’s been an escalation in ethnic-motivated violence, land and property grabbing and the displacement of people - unheard of in Ethiopian society in prior decades. The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has failed to draw the line, as the situation remains catastrophic.
The Prime Minister appears to be beholden to special interest groups, primarly his own Oromo-affiliated groups, who are pursuing more and more regional objectives, rather than national one, as promised early in their power. Thousands of Southern Ethiopians were forced to flee their homes (after some were killed, raped and tortured) for months, which the central government did not even fully acknowledge until recently. Stories abound about lack of transparency, forcible returns, and outright coverup in this tragedy.
There is also a talk of resettlement of some ethnic groups away from their natural habitat. The Derg regime tried this some 40 years ago. It did not go well, this won't be different. Local and federal governments must not initiate demographic or structural policy changes abruptly.
Addis Ababa is also increasingly under siege by some groups with expansionist agendas. The 5 million residents of Addis Ababa should be allowed to exercise their democratic rights via a free and fair electoral process. Also, let's not forget that Addis Ababa is a diplomatic hub which hosts many entities, including the African Union (AU) headquarters.
Where is Abiy Ahmed?
Having led the country for almost a year, Abiy Ahmed’s litmus test is whether he can (and is willing to) resolve the systemic problems stemming from Ethiopia’s ethnic-based politics. Tribal zealots managing their ethnic states feel they have grown to become independent nations: Tigray region for Tigrayans, Amhara for Amharas, Oromia for Oromos, and Somali region Somali people. In this perspective, Ethiopia is no longer a country.
No Ethiopian leader delivered so much promise and received so much support (even adulation to messianic proportions) from all over Ethiopia and yet failed to meet the basic functions of government - peace and security. Something appears to be wrong, and profoundly.
The sustained ethnic polarization is not only dangerous for Ethiopia but to the Horn of Africa as well. This ethnic-based politics is leading the country in the path of Balkanization, which will be catastrophic to Ethiopia and its neighbors.
Past performance do not augur well for Abiy’s administration:
- The number of internally displaced persons has increased, and the majority are Oromos. According to reports, the IDPs have exceeded 3 million.
- There is a breakdown of law and order in many areas where vigilantes rule, including in Oromia, Southern Ethiopia, Amhara, etc., seisure of properties and even bank robberies.
- Residents in areas like Legetafo were forcefully evicted from their homes, and thousands of houses were demolished, unlawfully, by the reigional government.
- There are various areas when boundary and identity tensions are mounting, including in Benishangul-Oromia, Amhara-Tigray, Oromia-Southern Ethiopia.
- Groups are growing antagonistic in Southern Ethiopia, some wanting separate state, others against, with the regional government at times even unable to meet.
- Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has essentially disbanded the EPRDF without securing something in place; his hold on the military is also questionable, given the ethnicization of Ethiopian institutions.
In 2018, many families fled their homes due to ethnic violence. The worst happened in the south, where approximately 800,000 Gedeos fled West Gurji in Oromia. This is a significant number compared to what has been witnessed in Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis and in Syria.
Reports of lynching, beheadings, rape, and the complicity of the militia and security forces make it look like an organized ethnic cleansing than a tribal skirmish. It is clear suppression and oppression have been camouflaged under the parenthesis of artificial decentralization.
People recall the short-lived euphoria so bitterly. "We sang and danced when Abiy became the prime minister. In our hearts, we believed the days of bad government, corruption and ethnic profiling was over. In his acceptance speech, Abiy mentioned “Ethiopia” 63 times. We felt proud to be called Ethiopians. He instituted reforms that were welcomed by many and reached out to Ethiopians living in the diaspora to invest in their country."
Now, words such as 'love,' 'forgiveness,' and 'medemer' sound so remote and so hollow - all in a period of just under one year.
The question now is where is Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and what will he do next?
By Solomon O. for Ezega News