By Eyob Beyene
Addis Abeba, June 12, 2021 – Ever since Abiy Ahmed was installed as Prime Minister in 2018 by the then ruling EPRDF party, following the 2016-2018 popular unrest, Ethiopia and Ethiopians have been continuously experiencing massive displacements, political violence, conflicts, and wars of varying scales. Although the brutal war in Tigray has rightly overshadowed the ongoing violence and atrocities across Ethiopia due to its scale and intensity, other regions of Ethiopia have not seen much in the way of peace and stability. To fully appreciate the scale and the intensity of the national turmoil and the dire implications for the future of the country, it is important that the escalating pattern of violence across Ethiopia is viewed as a continuum, demonstrating the failed leadership of Abiy’s government.
The ongoing armed conflict in Tigray was preceded by intra communal violence and massive internal displacements in the Gedeo, Somali, Oromia, and Amhara regions. In fact, Tigray was the only region that was consistently stable and peaceful until the breakout of a full-blown conflict on November 4, 2020. Even now, there are ongoing conflicts, violence, and displacements in Oromia, Amhara, SNNP, Benishangul Gumuz, and other regions, which will have major bearings on Ethiopia’s future and prospects as a viable and stable country. Women and children continue to bear the brunt of these massive displacements and violence as about 16 million Ethiopians need humanitarian assistance. As much as I condemn the devastating armed conflict in Tigray, I also unequivocally denounce all these ongoing atrocities and violence on civilians.
As much as I condemn the devastating armed conflict in Tigray, I also unequivocally denounce all these ongoing atrocities and violence on civilians.
I would like to emphasize that the continuously unfolding political violence, and armed conflicts in many parts of Ethiopia are symptoms of the major underlying malaise that are being sustained by a leadership crisis and political emergencies. Most of the political violence, and armed conflicts in Ethiopia could have been averted through peaceful dialogue and reconciliation. Indeed, government inaction and politically motivated counter-productive activities are fueling the already fragile ethnic relationships among communities.
As much as I hope and demand that these episodes of political and atrocities that accompany them stop immediately, I am also cognizant that averting them would entail addressing the underlying causes of these conflicts. I strongly believe that Abiy’s authoritarian ambitions and associated efforts to consolidate power are driving Ethiopia into dangerous territories characterized by massive displacement and unmanageable conflicts. This is particularly worrisome because Abiy is deploying divisive tactics to appease different groups in society, mainly by exploiting already contentious issues. For example, Abiy in Tigray’s armed conflict mobilized neighboring Amhara region forces with the promise of offering them land from Western and Southern Tigray. Similarly, Abiy is trying to quell another conflict in Metekel, Benishangul Gumuz, by using Amhara forces who have an interest in the area. The recent intra communal violence in Attaye, Amhara region, which claimed the life of more than 200 civilians, involves interests and conflicts between Oromo and Amhara communities in the area. Recent and ongoing conflicts between Afar and Somali region forces are also triggered by Abiy’s mismanagement of cross border relationships among communities, as are the ongoing conflicts in Wollega and other parts of Oromia.
Indeed, many members within the PP have not bought Abiy’s personal vision, but see their alliance as a tactical one that can change with events.
At the center of Abiy’s authoritarian ambition is his vision of reinstituting an “imperial” Ethiopia, which many people interpret as a return to a political framework dominated by a singular identity, culture, and language. Many historically marginalized groups in Ethiopia are rightly concerned by this regressive vision.
Administratively, although Abiy claims that he has assembled a more “unified” party by demolishing the previous coalition, his new hastily formed Prosperity Party (PP) proves to be much more divided and unorganized than its predecessor, the EPRDF. Indeed, many members within the PP have not bought Abiy’s personal vision, but see their alliance as a tactical one that can change with events. This lack of unified agenda and inept leadership is costing thousands of lives and threatens the very existence of Ethiopia as a viable entity. In fact, it is possible to argue that those regions and groups supporting the current federal structure are against Abiy’s vision. However, Abiy has shown a desire to demolish the current federal structure and abolish the current constitution of the country. This will only facilitate Ethiopia’s demise because I believe that Ethiopia’s unity can only be ensured and maintained through the consensus of the regions and nations – not by forced and narrowly defined assimilation. This coercive approach led to many civil wars in the past, and it is doomed to failure now, especially since the rationale for the unrest that led to Abiy’s emergence was more about the effective implementation of the federal system and not its dissolution.
The regime’s misguided conflict resolution and management strategies are also aggravating existing tensions. For every conflict that arises, Abiy is instituting an emergency command post – now set up in almost all parts of the country. Conflict resolution and management practices that involve communities and relevant political actors are likely to be more effective than imposing a military administration against the will of communities, which is ultimately unsustainable. The involvement of foreign forces and regional forces from other parts of the country are also fueling further grievances and divisions across communities. The involvement of Eritrean forces in Tigray and recently in Oromia, in particular, has compromised Ethiopia’s sovereignty while also angering many Ethiopians. Similarly, segregation and purging within the security forces is undermining Ethiopia’s capacity to handle these conflicts.
Unfortunately, some civil societies and religious institutions have been pursuing the divisive agenda of the regime, to the extent that they have supported military interventions to resolve political crises.
Peaceful dialogue, negotiations and reconciliation are the only feasible solutions to address the current deadlock in Ethiopian politics. This is particularly crucial and critical for maintaining Ethiopia’s integrity and unity. Indeed, we believe that the domestic conflicts and involvement of the brutal regime in Eritrea has compromised Ethiopia’s sovereignty while also undermining Ethiopia’s diplomatic and military capacity and investment in the region. These episodes of political violence are likely to descend into full-fledged nationwide civil conflict that can tear the country apart. Whether Ethiopia continues united or not, these conflicts will likely haunt Ethiopia and Ethiopians for generations to come.
Unfortunately, Abiy’s administration has proven to be unwilling and incapable of managing the multi-faceted challenges of the country and of leading the much-promised reform towards a more democratic and inclusive Ethiopia. Two major issues exemplify this failure. First, instead of facilitating national dialogue and reconciliation, the regime is busy trying to execute a “sham” election that excludes all major and credible stakeholders. The National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) is currently organizing an election that excludes all opposition political parties from Oromia and Tigray. This type of election can only symbolically legitimize Abiy’s failures and further trigger new conflicts. Second, we recently learned that the regime has labeled major Oromo and Tigray-affiliated political parties as “terrorist” organizations. This is another move in the wrong direction, serving only to push peace out of reach. Similar accusations and allegations did not serve the previous Ethiopia’s regimes let alone the very unstable and fragile administration led by Prime Minister Aby.
Political regimes come and go but communities will ultimately continue to co-exist, as members of the same country or as neighbors.
Of course, the current challenges in Ethiopia demand the attention of many actors. I believe that civil societies, religious institutions, and even ordinary citizens should contribute to nurturing and advocating for peace among communities. These stakeholders should also pressure the regime to make peace with credible forces that have significant constituencies. Unfortunately, some civil societies and religious institutions have been pursuing the divisive agenda of the regime, to the extent that they have supported military interventions to resolve political crises. These tendencies have tarnished the credibility and overall image of these civil societies and religious institutions. However, there is still a narrow window of opportunity that civil societies and institutions can play too, at least, to avert some of the looming conflicts. Missing this window of opportunity will cost Ethiopia as well as these institutions. Ordinary Ethiopians also have a duty to condemn these conflicts and acknowledge the pain and suffering of affected communities. Political regimes come and go but communities will ultimately continue to co-exist, as members of the same country or as neighbors.
Finally, I want to conclude this note by applauding those Ethiopians, Eritreans, and members of the international community who are diligently advocating for peace as well as those working to deter or minimize the disastrous consequences of the political crises and wars in Ethiopia. I am aware that several actors from the international community are launching significant efforts to find a political solution to the war in Tigray and other parts of Ethiopia. All these positive actions by individuals, communities, and countries with conscience give a ray of hope against the backdrop of the tragic and dangerous times we all find ourselves in. AS
Editor’s Note: Eyob Beyene is an economist with a broad interest in the development and political economy of Africa and the Middle East. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org