Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Proposal to Break Ethiopia’s Traditions of Accident and Force as Methods of Power Transfer

Proposal to Break Ethiopia’s Traditions of Accident and Force as Methods of Power Transfer
Yonas Biru, PhD


In the last fifty some years, four governments have ruled Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selassie lasted in office for 44 years. Ultimately it was his failure to reform the throne and the land tenure system that led to his and his government’s demise. Consequently, Derg rose to power by accident and force.

Derg lasted in office for 17 years. Three factors contributed to its demise: Communism, Mengistu and the fall of the Soviet Union. The accidental heir to the throne was the TPLF-led EPRDF government.

The EPRDF lasted for 27 years. What brought it down was the decaying of an inherently flawed tribal constitution and its refusal to reform it. The Oromo-led government at whose apex Prime Minister Abiy sits was the accidental heir.

In five years, the Abiy government is decaying to a point of collapse not only because of a fundamentally unsustainable constitution, but also because of the vitriolic hate Oromo intellectuals harbor against Amhara.

Three systems – monarchist, communist, and tribalist – submitted to the impulses of accident and force. The pregnant question “WHAT IS NEXT” imposes itself on us and a host of questions bubble out of it. Who would be the next accidental heir? Why is Ethiopia doomed to be governed by accident and force rather than by reflection and choice? What prohibits political institutions and coalitions from forming to avoid the accidental rise to power of random and destructive forces? A quick glance of the various Ethiopian social media discussion forums shows that such questions do not get sufficient attention. The focus is on demonizing the government and seeking its removal from office. The question of who will come to power and how is left for accident and force.

For 50 years Oromo politicians used grotesquely falsified and hate-filled grievance propaganda to present themselves as victims. Consequently, they made themselves psychologically traumatized. What Ethiopians are witnessing is the Oromo political class rebelling against a government whose levers of power it controls. The damage they have caused to the nation is unprecedented in its scope, dimensions, and destructiveness. It could well be irreversible.

The priority of first order facing Ethiopians is managing the spiraling crisis before seeking a solution. In pursuing these tasks, Ethiopians need to keep in mind that Oromo tribal extremists exist in a country they hate with passion, and hellbent to reinvent it in their image or destroy it trying. Ethiopians at large have a country they love and are duty-bound to save. Much as Ethiopians wish to get rid of the Prime Minister, they need to navigate this turbulent time with care.

Growing up in Ethiopia, I remember my mother repeating an Oromo proverb “ኢትዮጵያ ፊ በላ ዋቃቱ ኤጋ” (God protects Ethiopia and the Blind). Americans say: “God works in mysterious ways.” Both the Oromo and American proverbs inspire confidence that there is always hope even when hope seems hopelessly hopeless. When all appears lost, God used the Ethiopian Orthodox Holy Synod as a vessel of resolve and revelation of deliverance for a new trajectory.

A Vessel of Resolve and Revelation of Deliverance for a New Trajectory.

The crisis that befell the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) and the government’s inexplicable attacks against peaceful civilians at the Adwa celebration have revealed six disturbing phenomena. Together, they lay bare the nation’s political fault lines and throw light on the contours of hope for change. The revelations are:

First, an out-of-control Oromo extremist group is increasingly turning the country into an epicenter of crisis and chaos. The government has gone from missing in action to supporting the extremist cabals as was the case with the EOTC crisis. Even worse, the government is taking it up on itself to start deadly conflicts. This was manifested in its willful disturbance of the peaceful celebration of Adwa. The line between the federal government, the Oromo tribal government and Oromo-Shene is increasingly blurring to a point of convergence.

Second, the Prime Minister has become reckless and autocratic. This was demonstrated in his ominous and unprecedented threat against the EOTC and its faithful followers that he would clamp down any protest with “means that the public has never seen before.”

Third, the Prime Minister has no cloth. This was evidenced in his capitulation when confronted with the EOTC’s overwhelming pushback to defend and uphold its integrity and sovereignty.

Fourth, the federal government is disarray, and the ensuing impunity has led to a breakdown in law and order. What Ethiopians see not an organized and systemic implementation of the Oromummaa project to create an Oromo hegemonic state but a growing vacuum that is filled by rogue extremists.

Fifth, when faced with well-organized pressure and strategic challenge, the Prime Minister’s survival instinct and lust for staying in power leads him to respond positively.

Sixth, the international community plays a positive role for the peace and stability of Ethiopia. Whereas the Ethiopian political class showed lack of geopolitical savviness (as demonstrated in its #NoMore campaign) the EOTC showed sophistication and skill in seeking and harnessing international leverage. The French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville calls this the art of “harmonizing earth with heaven.”

These revelations and their consequences should be seen in the context of the state of the nation’s political, economic, security and law and order ecosystems. According to an independent international report, over 38 million people need international food aid, accounting for 31 percent of the population. Of which 11.2 million are under severe humanitarian situation. Furthermore, 4.3 million people are forcefully displaced.

In addition, the Prime Minister’s report card shows loss of over a million lives to war and hunger. Extrajudicial killings have become ubiquitous in the Oromo tribal land where Oromo-Shene is reigning with impunity. Naked corruption has been normalized and institutionalized, allowing high-level Oromo officials to ransack the nation's natural resources and international aid.

A total breakdown of law and order has become the hallmark of the Abiy administration. The Prime Minister’s narcissistic and psychopathic traits make him a continuing danger with no concern or remorse for human suffering.

Taken in sum, these developments suggest any discussion about Ethiopia must start with the possibility of a total collapse of the federal government that entails a calamitous, and potentially irreversible, crisis not only in Ethiopia, but also in the entire Horn of Africa region. Ethiopians from all corners of the country are dutybound to save their country. In the meantime, the possibility of regional instability burdens the international community with security concerns to intervene. At this critical junction, the two most urgent tasks in the order of priority are:

•A robust international campaign for sanction and international investigation needs to be launched as a priority of first order. The results of sanction will be immediate and impactful. The demand for international investigation for crime against humanity will put a break on the prevailing culture of impunity.

•A national coalition to mobilize the silent majority from every corner of the nation. This is critical to arrest the spiraling crisis and facilitate a paradigm shift away from the hate-driven and Oromummaa-drugged extremism.

This requires a sober diagnosis of the nation’s political fault lines from which the crises spring, a prognosis with clear steps to prevent unforeseen developments from causing irreversible harm, and a robust strategy to put the nation on the road to recovery.

This article is divided into four chapters. Chapter one provides an in-depth presentation of the state of the nation’s political crises and their underlying causes and immediate and long-term consequences.

Chapter two sheds light how and why Ethiopians fail to force the Prime Minister correct course and or leave office. The chapter address the failure of the Ethiopian political class to build credible and

powerful institutions and mount effective opposition. It also addresses the opposition’s malfeasance and misfeasance. Demonizing Oromo intellectuals and Oromo-Shene without addressing hermitized Amhara intellectuals and Amhara-Shene would limit the utility and credibility of any discussion.

Chapter three discusses the overarching principles underlining the success of the EOTC in defusing the tribalist forces’ assault against its unity in trinity. The chapter sheds light on two fundamental questions: “What made the silent majority rise up in support of the EOTC?” and “Why is it still silent on political issues as Ethiopia is tittering at the brink of disintegration?” The second question is critical because there is no EOTC without Ethiopia and the KEY to a peaceful resolution is with the silent majority not politicians.

Chapter 4 proposes specific courses of action to engage the silent majority and mobilize international pressure to hold the Prime Minister accountable and combat Oromo extremism. This section is aimed to initiate discussion to further develop the campaign’s substantive content, organizational structure, and execution modality right.

Chapter One

The Anatomy of Abiy Ahmed’s Crisis: Understanding Its Causes and Consequences

This chapter presents the evolving power dynamics in Ethiopia and the shrinking down of a once towering Prime Minister. It addresses key questions, including

•How did Oromo-Shene Grew so fast?

•Why is the Government Acting Like Oromo-Shene?

•Is the problem an organized and systemic Oromummaa enterprise or a chaotic crisis caused by Oromo extremists sleepwalking and breaking everything in their path?

•What is the story behind the story of the Adwa day military parade and the Prime Minister’s attempt to play the TPLF card?

It would not be a hyperbole to say Prime Minister Abiy’s remarkable ascension to fame and fast fall to disgrace is unprecedented in Ethiopian history. His 2018 rapid rise to become the nation’s inspiration for hope and a Nobel Laureate for Peace was short lived. His fall that is attributable to his narcissistic and untrustworthy characteristics is self-inflicted and deserved.

Considering his rapid loss of control, the state of the dilapidated Tigray and the fact that the Amhara tribal land lacks strategy and organized opposition, one reality describes the state of politics in Ethiopia. As Oromo goes, so goes the nation. How goes Oromo is the question. To answer this, we need to explore how the Prime Minister’s power dynamics has evolved overtime.

Up until the war with the TPLF, the Prime Minister had the upper hand over competing Oromo power centers. This was evident from his uncontested power when he transformed the Oromo People Democratic Organization (OPDO) to the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) and purged extremist elements, in 2018. He consolidated his power further in 2019 when he dissolved ODP and established the Oromo Prosperity Party (Oromo-PP). By mid 2020, he has all but completely defeated tribalist Oromo forces, including Team Jawar and the party he was associated with – the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC).

After the war, his utterly incompetent and corrupt bureaucracy, his lack of modesty to seek advice and guidance from subject matter experts, and his failure to provide security to victims of Oromo extremists turned him from the nation’s hope to its despair. In the meantime, the war with the TPLF turned him from a poster image of hope for peace and prosperity to an epitome of an international pariah.

The more his national and international support base eroded, the more he cozied up to (or avoided confrontation with) extremist Oromo tribalist forces. This led to two narratives of his political propensity. On the one hand, even his former ardent supporters started suspecting or believing that he

has shelved or altogether orphaned his Pan Ethiopianist reform and embraced the Oromummaa agenda. On the other hand, those who maintain the view that he was all along a part of the Oromummaa project bask in “we told you so” exaltation.

The story is more complex than the simplistic and gratuitous outlooks of the two groups. One important thing that we have learned from the averted EOTC crisis is that the Prime Minister’s actions are driven by political expediency rather than by tribal kinship. He was as quick to embrace Oromo tribalists as he was to go against them.

The Metamorphosis of the Prime Minister

The problem in Ethiopian politics is that everything is viewed either through an enemy lens (as a betrayer, sellout, traitor, and even an evil) or through a friend lens (trust, reverence, and honor). Politics is the art of perfecting the middle ground and working out compromises. In Ethiopian politics there is no middle ground. Amhara extremists lump Oromo-Shene and Amhara moderates in the same baskets. Similarly, Oromo extremists see the Prime Minister and Pan Ethiopianists, and Oromo moderates as one.

People who five years ago saw the Prime Minister with reverence and were part of the Abiy-mania phenomena are now accusing him of being the evil architect and executive mastermind of the Oromummaa enterprise. Missing in the political narrative is the Prime Minister’s lust for power that is signified by his tendency to turn on a dime. He is as quick to embrace the Oromummaa culture as he is to champion a pan Ethiopianist movement.

This is crucial to understand the Oromo political dynamics and develop a counter strategy. Abiy’s track record from 2018 to 2021 shows his pan Ethiopianist streak. His decision to publicly praise Emperors Menilik and Haile Selassie as modernizers of Ethiopia and erect their statutes prominently in the Addis Ababa palace cannot be overlooked.

In a critical essay in Foreign Policy, Milkessa M. Gemechu, a former member of the Central Committee of the Oromo Democratic Party wrote made this clear, stating: “Not even one year into his premiership, he was openly regarded as a traitor in Oromia.” Milkessa accused the PM of: (1) purging “hardcore Oromo nationalists from any role in his government at federal, regional, and local government levels”;

(2)demonizing the Qeerroo as an “ungovernable pestilence that must be dealt with”; and (3) shifting the Oromo Democratic Party “dramatically toward the public dominance of Ethiopian nationalists who are organized around Amharic language and culture...”

Hardliner Oromos still see the Prime Minister as an enemy. Deciphering the influence of different Oromo factions is important to understand the Prime Minister’s metamorphosis. This is a difficult undertaking because Oromo political factions display a symbiotic relationship despite having largely

irreconcilable interests. There are three important Oromo factions whose struggles for dominance are shaping Ethiopian politics.

•Shene-Oromo that dreams of giving birth to an independent Greater Oromia by force or referendum.

•Ethiopianist Oromos led by the Prime Minister. This comes with a caveat taking the Prime Minister’s flipping and flapping between a nationalist and tribalist agenda. For all practical reasons this agenda is either shelved or aborted, but extremist Oromos still see the Prime Minister as a champion of it. They believe if he gets the chance he will pick it up again.

•A shadow government within Oromo-PP that wants to recreate an Ethiopia under an Oromo hegemonic rule. This groups tolerates and even supports Shene-Oromo as an insurance policy to thwart the Prime Minister’s pan Ethiopianist reform agenda. In the meantime, it tries to ensure Oromo-Shene will not be strong enough to topple Oromo-PP.

An interesting question that shades light on the current crisis is: “How did Oromo-Shene Grew so Fast?” In 2018 and 2019, Jawar was asking the government to use force to disarm the Shene colony. Even OLF was against it. Oromo-Shene grew fast aided by the collapse of TPLF. How so?

Oromo federalist groups were counting on TPLF as a hope of last resort to force the Prime Minister for national dialogue with all federalist forces. TPLF was supposed to either dethrone the Prime Minister and organize such a dialogue or weaken him militarily and compel him to accept the federalist forces’ demand for national dialogue to agree on the form and content of any economic, political, and constitutional reform. They demand an interim government to decide on all matters of significance.

For obvious reasons, TPLF supported Oromo-Shene directly and indirectly with help from Egypt. After TPLF was weakened and saw its dream of enforcing its will on Ethiopia fade, Oromo federalist forces threw their weight behind Oromo-Shene. Shene inherited TPLF’s role as the hope of last resort to inherit TPLF’s place as a potent force again the Abiy administration.

Before the EOTC crisis, the relationship between the Oromo-PP and Shene Oromo was a topic of raging dispute. Some see Prime Minister Abiy and President Shimelis behind Shene-Oromo as a deceitful good-cop and bad-cop political strategy. In this scenario, Oromo-Shene can serve the Prime Minister as a strategic fallback position to keep the Oromo tribal land as a sanctuary if the national Prosperity Party and the Prime Minister’s pan Ethiopianist agenda falls apart.

Others see that Shimeles and/or other high-level Oromo-PP officials are running a shadow government to slow down the Prime Minister’s pan-Ethiopianist agenda. Therefore, the Shadow government has

vested interest to use Oromo-Shene as an insurance policy to keep the Prime Minister on his toes to hang on to power rather than pushing his pan Ethiopianist reform agenda.

The good-cop and bad-cop perspective and the shadow government narrative have one thing in common. Both lead to the conclusion that the Oromo political balance hangs on the assumption that the Prime Minister and Shimeles are tolerating or supporting Oromo-Shene for political reasons.

The outcome of the EOTC crisis has made this debate irrelevant by fundamentally breaching the Oromo political status quo that depended on avoiding head-on collision with Oromo-Shene.

The Breakdown of the Political Status Quo

The timing of the assault against the EOTC came at the time of the Prime Minister’s weakness. Oromo extremists saw him allowing the TPLF to breach the core elements of the Pretoria agreement without any consequence. Another factor that encouraged them was the albatross the international community has around the Prime Minister’s neck to avoid any action that would lead to conflict or instability.

The well -planned strike against the EOTC assumed that the Prime Minister will not risk exacerbating a plethora of conflicts in the Oromo tribal land by acting against them. They also understood, considering the political impotence of the Ethiopianist and Amhara forces, the Prime Minister will not pay heed to their concerns and protests. Their strategy was to force the Prime Minister to accept and defend their extremist agenda.

Initially, he behaved exactly as they expected. He accepted their narrative of the problem as a language issue and defended the renegade Orthodox Group, including having a parallel Oromo Orthodox Synod, violating the Synod’s “One Church, One Synod, One Patriarch” principle. Within days, he was forced to reverse his position and go against the renegade group.

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