By Badhaasaa Taaddasaa, Ph.D. | December 27, 2018
In a fictional story, Alice the Wonderland, Alice (a mouse) who was sitting with her sister outdoors, spies a White Rabbit with a pocket watch. Fascinated by the sight, Alice follows the rabbit down a winding hole just to find herself in a hallway full of doors. Using a key she finds on the table, she unlocks a tiny door, spies a beautiful garden; longs to get there, but the door is too small for her to get through. She finds a drink with a note that asks her to drink it; a cake with a note that tells her to eat it. Alice uses both, but she cannot seem to get a handle on things, as she finds that she is either too large to get through the door or too small to reach the key. She begins to cry again…. Welcome to Ethiopia, my country of birth, and the world of enigmatic leaders (Aby and Lamma)
In their quest to explain the cause(s) of the current instability in Ethiopia, many offer us plausible reasons. Long before we came to this day, though, many of us thought that Abiy and Lamma meant what they said. Their messages of hope and reconciliation conveyed on various stages have created a level of euphoria not seen in the country for more than a century. I have heard highly respected people vow to help them succeed. I have seen elders bless them. I have noticed political leaders who spent a significant part of their lives toiling for just causes showing an unparalleled interest to work with them.
Less than nine months into their current position, the duo have once again surprised us by waging war on the Oromo people, inciting violence in the words of one elder “not expected of a government”, and flying military helicopters for the first time over certain cities and villages in Oromia. Relying on a state machinery (military and media) built to broadcast falsehood and deceit, and filled with talking heads trained to misinform the public, Abiy and Lamma have launched a massive campaign on the OLF. They declared the WBO (OLF fighters) as boggy men and evil doers.
These observations would force any rational person to ask: who really are Abiy and Lamma? how did they came into being? what is the motive behind their actions? where are they taking the country? Depending on our motives and views, each of us may have different answers. Albeit the differences, I believe that we have many answers that overlap. Here is my own take, formed based on the basis of my observations of their undertakings, however, different they might be from yours. I would like to hear yours.
I want to be wrong; however, it is my observation that Abiy and Lamma are not the kind of leaders they often project they are. Their actions are neither thorough nor well planned. Their becoming is the product of a trial and error, and an accidental discovery. Although they have surprised the country by doing what is unimaginable (admitting wrongdoing, letting go political prisoners, and making peace with neighboring countries), politics is not monetary policy that has the element of surprise. None of their actions stems from a strategy that follows from the depth of their knowledge, a rigorous debate, or lessons from history. The image they try to portray of themselves as though they are honest, methodical, and driven by a resolve to address structural problems facing the country is rather concocted (fake). It is not reflective of their their true self, and their understanding of the country’s problems either. It is not a reflection of humility as well, for humbleness requires being genuine and treating others with respect at all times.
As I see it, Abiy and Lamma are the making of their own unflinching ambition to exploit the hopes and aspirations of millions of people who have suffered from a long and systemic abuse. They are the outcome of public yearning for peace and tranquility, in an environment with no formal institutions that can handle different opinions. They are people surrounded by hypocrites with little or no respect for law and order, or the average person. They are the product of a system that has molded hundreds into creatures who see no one else, but themselves in the mirror. It is this belief that makes me feel that we can be counsel them to take the right path.
Therefore, it suffices to say that no one knows where Abiy and Lamma are taking the country. Hence, it is time for cooler heads to align with a goal of developing solutions that exclude all forms of drum beating, deceit, and mobilization of the army. A grand scheme that originates from a resolve to addressing structural problems of the country for the benefit of all. One that involves dismantling chronic issues of a moribund system that fostered Abiy, Lamma, and their likes, and paves the way for creating intellectual and political space for emanating alternative ideas of liberty, democracy, the rule of law, and self-government: ideas that are freely articulated, debated, discussed, and agreed upon by the public.
Badhaasaa Taaddasaa, Ph.D.
University of Minnesota-Duluth,