2018 revisitedAfricaEPRDFEthiopiaPM Abiy Ahmed

2018: From nervous January to historic July to daunting December: Ethiopia’s extraordinary year revisited

 Team Addis Standard

Addis Abeba, January 02/ 2019 – By all standards, the year 2018 can be categorized as Ethiopia’s extraordinary year. Each month was packed with eventful events: from the pleasing to the shocking, from the utopian to the daunting. For Ethiopia and Ethiopians, 2018 was a year like no other. Here are some of the major events that led as, at Addis Standard, to call the year “Ethiopia’s extraordinary year.”

Declaimer: The events listed below are not by any means exhaustive, but capture the events that define PM Abiy’s EPRDF.

Nervous January

After 17 chocking days in December 2017, which was preceded by years of countrywide protests, four leaders of the EPRDF announced serious of measures that forever changes EPRDF & perhaps Ethiopia.

  • But protests continue paralyzing the state & the country
  • Oromia-Somali regions violence leaves more than a million internally displaced
  • In the midst of the crisis, in mid-January, 528 prisoners of conscience were released, including prominent Oromo opposition party leader Merera Gudina
  • The release signals change was inevitable

February surprise  

On February 15, former PM Hailemariam Desalegn announced his resignation as prime minister, sending shockwaves throughout the country & the world.

  • The next day EPRDF declared a second state of emergency
  • But more turmoil, more killings and more resistance continue
  • Release of more prisoners of conscience including members of Ethiopian Muslim arbitration committee, activists, journalists and political dissidents follows

Prayers in March

In the wake of Hailemariam’s resignation, the executive and council of EPRDF locks themselves in endless closed door party talks to replace outgoing PM Hailemariam Desalegn; Ethiopians and the world stay on edge as many predict to possible scenarios of state collapse

  • Protests continued throughout the country; Ethiopians across the country pray for peace
  • After weeks of rustle for power and internal bickering, on March 27, EPRDF elects Abiy Ahmed as its next chairman, a de facto position for premiership
  • The election process reveals TPLF’s protest against Abiy Ahmed
  • But for millions of Ethiopians, it bring a collective sigh of relief

New PM in April

On April 02, Parliament approves Abiy Ahmed as Ethiopia’s next Prime Minister

  • In his maiden speech PM Abiy leaves many dazzled
  • He speaks of the importance of unity, love and forgiveness
  • Acknowledges EPRDF’s failure and promises to mend it
  • He also promises to free the political space; the media and the civil society

After his swearing in, PM Abiy goes on a flurry of in-country tour starting from Jigjiga, the capital of Somali regional state, followed by a tour to Mekelle, the capital of Tigray regional state.

  • Other in country tours follow, most importantly, to his own constituency in Ambo and elsewhere in Oromia
  • Everywhere he goes he revives hope; makes many Ethiopians believe in mending the broken trust in EPRDF as governing party

Ups and downs in May

PM Abiy set his eyes on foreign diplomacy in the Horn of Africa; visits Sudan and Djibouti and secures the release of 1400 Ethiopians immigrants from Sudan.

  • But first sign of tragedy struck when armed men kill Dangote Cement country manager Deep Kamara and two of his Ethiopian colleagues: his assistant Beakal Alelign & his driver Tsegaye Gidey
  • Clouds of lawlessness begins gathering
  • Shortly after, hundreds killed in ethnic clashes in Gedeo in SNNPR and west Guji in Oromia; violence leaves more than a million displaced
  • As he continue shaping his foreign diplomacy, PM Abiy meets with leaders of the UAE and KSA
  • Meanwhile, the first batch exiled opposition party members of ODF, led by veteran politician Lencho leta arrive home. Move comes after the first peace deal between the government and exiled opposition party was signed prior to that
  • Continuing with promises made, the government releases 500 more prisoners of conscience, including death row inmate, Andargachew Tsige, a British citizen.
  • PM Abiy meets Andargachew Tsige, takes the Ethiopian cyber space by sensation

Eventful June

Parliament lifts the second State of Emergency earlier than its due date as major economic reform, including privatization of SOEs, is announced by EPRDF.In a speech delivered to the parliament, PM Abiy also announces the end of the near two decades “No War, No Peace” status with neighboring Eritrea

  • Shortly after, the first shake up within the army takes place as General Seare Mekonnen becomes the new Chief of Staff, replacing long time serving Samora Yenus
  • PM Abiy travels to Egypt and meets with President Al Sisi
  • More exiled opposition politicians of the OLF faction Col. Abebe Geresu, Yonatan Dubisa and Ethiopian refugees who were in prison come home from Egypt in the same plane with PM Abiy
  • Soon, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, visits Ethiopia, pledges $3 billion in financial assistance
  • Yet another tragedy at home as many civilians killed in ethnic clashes involving the Sidama and Welayita ethnic groups in the Hawassa, the capital of SNNPRS & its environs. Shocking pictures and videos of violent attacks on Welayitas surface
  • In the midst of this PM Abiy visits Mogadishu in an attempt to rekindle Horn of Africa’s geopolitics
  • At the same time at home, he hosts South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his rival Dr. Riek Machar for peace talks
  • In a quick succession, government announces the unblocking 264 previously blocked websites
  • On June 23, a massive rally takes place in Addis Abeba in support of the radical changes happening under the leadership of PM Abiy
  • At the rally, a bomb explosion kills at least two, wounds more than 50. Incident was described by the police as assassination attempt on the life of PM Abiy.
  • After three weeks of silence, Eritrea accepts peace offer and sends delegates led by its foreign minister Osman Saleh for historic talks
  • Shortly after the start of the Ethio-Eritrea peace talks in Addis Abeba, the Council of ministers sends a bill to Parliament requesting parliament to lift terrorist designations from OLF, ONLF and Patriotic Ginbot 7,three major rebel groups persecuted and prosecuted by pre-Abiy’s EPRDF

Historic July

After the mass rally in Addis Abeba, and many parts of the country, Bahir Dar hosts its own massive rally in support of the reform and PM Abiy.

Soon PM Abiy meets the leaders of the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council and Ethiopian Muslim Arbitration Committee members who once were sentenced for lengthy years in prison. On July 17, Takele Uma Banti, is appointed by the council of the Addis Abeba City Administration to become the city’s next mayor with a rank of deputy mayor.

Historic July comes to its peak when PM Abiy leaves for Asmara, Eritrea and is received warmly by President Isaias Afwerki and a large crowd of Eritreans lined up in the streets of the capital Asmara.  Mid-July President Isaias Afwerki arrives in Addis Abeba and is received by PM Abiy and thousands of people in the streets of Addis.

  • The two leaders make series of announcements to normalize relations
  • Eritrea opens its embassy in Addis Abeba; direct phone lines are restored between Ethiopia and Eritrea
  • As a reward, the same month, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi awards Presidential Medal to PM Abiy & President Isaias at his palace

Enter July 26, a tragedy struck when Simegnew Bekele, the chief engineer of the GERD, is found dead in his car at Mesqel Square.

Meanwhile, PM Abiy, who was on his way to the US when Simegnew was found dead, arrives in the US and witnesses the reunification of the two Synods of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church after 27 years in Washington DC.

  • Major events that brought Ethiopian community in the US take place in Washington DC. and Minnesota. Abiymania catches up with thousands of Ethiopian diaspora as they come out to welcome him
  • While in the US, PM Abiy meets PG7 leader Berhanu Nega twice; he also meet exiled former judge and opposition political leader Birtukan Mideksa

Mixed August

The 4th Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, His Holiness Abune Merkorios returns home after 27 years in exile. But in the east, trouble struck Jigjiga, the capital of Somali regional state

  • Meanwhile in Jigjiga and elsewhere many killed, churches burned, businesses looted
  • Federal army intervenes and ousts a once all too power regional president Abdi Mohamoud Omar
  • On August 05, prominent Oromo activist & OMN executive director Jawar Mohammed returns home to a rapturous reception
  • A week later a religious violence hits Bale Robe, followed by a gruesome violence in Shashemene city in Oromia regional state; the later shock Ethiopians
  • In the east, at least a dozen ethnic Somalis killed in a fresh violence in Babile, Tulli Guled and Chinaksen in east Hararghe zone of the Oromia regional state bordering the Somali region, the first violence after the ousting of Abdi Mohamoud Omar.
  • Meanwhile in Addis Abeba, the executive & council members of the Somali People Democratic Party (SPDP) as well as leaders of various clans unanimously decide to assign former human rights activists and UN staffer, Mustafa Muhumed Omer, to be the incoming acting president of the troubled Somali regional state until elections are held in 2020.
  • The Somali regional state parliament also meets in Jigjiga, revokes the immunity from prosecution of the embattled ex-president Abdi Mohamoud Omar and Six other senior officials
  • On August 27 Federal forces detain Abdi Mohamoud Omar from a house in Addis Abeba; national TV broadcasts the dramatic arrest of the once untouchable authority

New Year,new fear in September

PM Abiy travels to China and meets with Premier Li Keqiang on September 3. Premier Li assures Chinese enterprises to continue investing in Ethiopia. Back from China, PM Abiy travels back to Eritrea for a two day visit. He visits the Ports of Assab and Massawa.

  • In Asmara, the first tripartite meeting is held between PM Abiy Ahmed, President Isaias Afwerki and President Farmajo of Somalia
  • Ethiopia opens its embassy in Asmara
  • Berhanu Nega of PG7 returns home to another rapturous reception
  • Meanwhile, Ethiopians prepare to welcome their New Year, 2011.
  • New Year eve is celebrated by Abiy and other senior officials with thousands in attendance at the Millennium hall; attendees include previously exiled politicians such as Lencho Lata and Berhanu Nega.

On September 11 New Year day, PM Abiy and President Isaias visit the Bure Front along the Ethio-Eritrean border and celebrate the Ethiopian New Year with members of the Ethiopian and Eritrean defense forces. They officially opened the Debay Sima – Bure border crossing.

  • On September 15 a delegation of OLF-SG leaders headed by Dawud Ibssa arrive in Addis Abeba another rapturous reception by hundreds of thousands
  • But violent confrontations between Oromo youth who came from far and near & city residents in various places mark pre welcoming event
  • Confrontations lead to deaths, and a mass arrest in Addis Abeba
  • Meanwhile a Khakhi-clad Abiy and co. arrive in Jeddah to for a second meeting with MBS.
  • At home, another tragedy struck again this time in the outskirts of Addis Abeba, in Burayu
  • A spate of day & night organized attacks and robbery in Burayu leaves several dead, thousands feeling for their lives
  • The incident triggers a mass rally in Addis Abeba, with activists calling for the newly appointed Mayor to “get out” of the city, creating one of the poisons cyber vitriolic
  • As ordinary Ethiopians reel from the Burayu tragedy elders & community members of the targeted Gamo ethnic group make history in Arba Minch when they prevented vengeful counterattacks
  • But in different place still in SNNPR, another communal violence struck at the heart of the Gurage zone between Miskan and Mareko ethnic groups over claims of land. The violence claims the lives of many, and more than 30, 000 displaced (In November, the same violence would revisit the community, bringing in more death and displacement).
  • In the midst of this, the organizational conference of the Oromo People Democratic Organization (OPDO), chaired by PM Abiy Ahmed begins in Jimma. It ends by re-electing PM Abiy and Lemma Megerssa as chairman and deputy chairman respectively; OPDO changes its name to Oromo Democratic Party (ODP); it reduces its central committee number from 82 to 55; retires 17 of its officials, including party stalwarts; and changes its logo & anthem.
  • On September 28, a killing of four senior officials of Kemashe zone of Bensgagul-Gumz region sets in motion the beginning of a dangerous hiccup in the peace deal between the government of OLF-SG
  • In the wake of the attack, several people were killed, hundreds of thousands displaced from bordering towns of the Bensgagul-Gumz and Oromia regional states
  • The latest displacement number makes Ethiopia top global list of highest internal displacement in 2018, overtaking Yemen and Syria
  • Yet, September ends with the colorful celebrations of Ireechaa, the Oromo thanksgivin

October on Roller-coaster

As political pundits continue speculating the demise of EPRDF as a collective, most in part owing to the radically unusual changes brought by its chairman Abiy Ahmed, October sees a flurry of sister party meetings.

After ODP, the 10th SEPDM organization conference takes place; it elects Muferiat Kemil, Now minister of Peace, as the first female chairperson of the party; it retires also senior party members including former Prime Minister Hailemaiam Desalegn.

The 12th organizational congress of the Amhara National Democratic Movement, ANDM, also ends with the party changing its name to Amhara Democratic Party (ADP). It also changes its logo and at last re-elects Demeke Mekonnen & Gedu Andargachew as chairman and deputy chairman of the party.

And the 13th Organizational conference of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) takes place in Mekelle; the party re-elects Debretsion Gebremichael and Fetlework Gebregziabher as Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson; it also elects its executive and Central Committee members; among members of both the central and executive is controversial ex-spy Chief Getachew Assefa, another signal showing TPLF’s increasing defiance against changes within EPRDF.

On Oct. 03, EPRDF hosts its congress in Hawassa, and on October 05 it renders a massive vote of confidence to Abiy’s leadership when it re-elects him as party chairman and Demeke Mekonnen as his deputy, sealing his premiership until the next general elections

But in just one week hundreds of fully armed soldiers march to the national palace to ‘express grievances related to pay and other benefits they receive during periods of deployment’ to the prime minister.

  • Internet was shut down throughout the country for hours
  • PM Abiy appears on National TV doing disciplinary press ups with soldiers
  • Later on, he says it was an attempt on his life
  • In the midst of the confusion though President Isaias Afwerki is back in Addis Abeba for yet another two day visit.
  • Soon, PM Abiy grabs international headlines when he names his new 20-member cabinet. In historic move he gives half of the appointments including the Ministry of Defense and the newly formed Ministry of Peace, to women.
  • October 25 sees another historic appointment as veteran UN diplomat Sahlework Zewde becomes the first ever female President of the Republic
  • On October 29 PM Abiy arrives in Paris for his first European tour that included Germany. In Paris, he meets with President Emmanuel Macron, who invited PM Abiy to visit France. The next day, he travels to Germany and meets Chancellor Angela Merkel.
  • In Frankfurt the PM addresses yet another gathering of Ethiopians living in Europe; makes another passionate plea for peace and unity
  • At home October sees another tragedy as the Historic city of Harar is was hit by water crisis as a result of deliberate tampering to cut water supplies to the city in exchange for payment

More women (also arrests) in November

On November 01, Parliament approves Meaza Ashenafi as the first ever female Federal Supreme Court Chief.

  • Ten days later an unexpected move by federal forces sees more than 40 senior leaders of METEC, business corporate run by the army, and senior members of the intelligence, NISS, arrested
  • A spectacular scene of a televised arrest of former boss of MeTEC Maj. General Kinfe Dagnew and former deputy head of NISS & short time Federal Police Commissioner General, Yared Zerihun causes national gasps
  • Move unravels yet another souring spot in the relations between Tigray regional state and the federal government
  • Trials of more than 60 former MeTEC and NISS officials begin; court warrant is issued to arrest ex-spy chief Getachew Assefa who is also a member of the TPLF’s central and executive committees
  • While Ethiopians let the dramatic crackdown on MeTEC and NISS officials sink in, on November 22 Parliament convenes for yet another historic session and approves Birtukan Mideksa, a former opposition leader and political prisoner, to chair the Ethiopian National Electoral Board (ENEB)
  • Up in the north, another sign of deepening dissatisfaction sees mass rallies in multiple cities and towns in Tigray regional state; rally goers denounce arrests of those suspected on corruption and rights abusers; decry the crackdown as selective justice

Before November comes to an end representatives from 81 opposition parties meet PM Abiy in his office and discussed among other, the highly anticipated general elections in 2020.

Daunting December

By all accounts, December sees events sobering events. Several state Universities continue being breeding grounds of ethnic clashes as fresh ethnically motivated attacks in Assosa University leave at least five dead. Tension also escalate in Bule Hora University which is now closed by a senate decision.

Renewed attack also leaves around a dozen Oromia police officers dead in western Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz regional state as thousands continued to be displaced.

  • Aid organizations say they are unable to reach the more than 250, 000 displaced in western Ethiopia
  • Dozens suspected of the violence in western Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz regions are arrested
  • The National Security Council decides for federal forces to intervene and take over security from local forces in western Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz regional states.
  • OLF-SG, led by Dawud Ibssa, denounces deployment, signaling heightened tensions with federal government and ODP, the party governing Oromia
  • But simultaneously, December also sees increased recognition of PM Abiy’s leadership by western governments as flurry of financial supports are announced
  • Meanwhile, in the north, on December 08, a regional government-organized rally takes place in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray regional state; rally goers once again denounce arrests of suspects and call for “respect the constitution.”
  • On the same day, President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti and President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan join PM Abiy to visit development projects in Jimma, inaugurate a hospital and Jimma Industrial Park
  • But elsewhere another tragedy: a severe violence hits Ethiopia’s Moyale city and lasts for days
  • Soon mass demonstrations take place in various cities and towns in Oromia regional state calling for federal government to protect civilians from ongoing onslaught in Western Oromia
  • Relations between OLF-SG and PM Abiy’s party ODP continue spiraling down; accusations and counter accusations escalate. For the first time ODP officials also openly began calling OLF-SG for violence that included the killing of the four officials in kemashe, Benishangul Gumuz.
  • ODP also begins holding OLF-SG responsible for mayhem in western Ethiopia; accuses the group of assassinating up to 30 of its officials, robbing banks and disarming local militia.
  • OLF-SG on its part begins accusing “the EPRDF led army” of killing civilians, and conducting purges of its armed wing OLA.
  • Office of the PM Abiy publishes pictures displaying a show of force by newly formed Republican Guard, protection detail of the PM
  • Last week of December, federal forces begin military offensives in western Oromia. December 30, OLF-SG issues statement accusing federal forces for the death of 36 civilians in Qellem Wellega, western Wellega and Western Guji.
  • As the ODP-OLF-SG stalemate continue, elders, Abba Gadaa and other senior community members travel to Western Oromia to give peace another chance.

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