Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopia is on the brink of a civil war
By Regassa Oljirra*, October 15, 2020
The rule of law in Ethiopia has never materialized the essence of what it was supposed to mean in its literary meaning and politico-legal context. Arbitrariness and dictatorship had remained the hallmark of the country for over one hundred and fifty years of its formation. This multi ethnic polity of over 110 million people, Ethiopia has never known democratic governance since it took its present day shape and form beginning from the last quarter of the 19th century. The fall of the barbaric feudal system gave way to the military junta that ruled the country with a brute force for 17 years. The Junta was overthrown again, and for the first time a multi-ethnic coalition transitional arrangement was established in 1991 to chart a new multi-ethnic federal structure that was architected to ease a century long conflict and hegemony of one single ethnic culture.
Among the major rebel forces that contributed to the fall of the Military Junta in 1991were the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) that agreed up on a platform to establish an all-inclusive transitional government in Ethiopia. The EPLF opted out of Ethiopia’s transitional government and chose to declare the former Ethiopia’s province to be the present day independent State of Eritrea that was concluded with a referendum in 1993.
Though the OLF had played a major role in overthrowing the military regime and in crafting the transitional charter, the first of its type that defined Ethiopia’s typical characteristic features as a true multi-national state, its continued role in nurturing multinationalism did not last long. The TPLF had created a satellite Oromo organization composed of prisoners of war to act as a rival to the OLF within TPLF’s umbrella coalition known as the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The TPLF has used this coalition to wage a war against the OLF which ended up with the OLF being purged out of the transitional government. Even though, the transitional charter of 1991 was the basis for the 1995 Constitution of Ethiopia’s multi ethnic federation to which the OLF had immensely contributed, the marginalization of this major political force meant another beginning of a prolonged war between the ruling EPRDF and the OLF that lasted until 2018.
Ethiopia, again fell under the grip of the TPLF, assisted by its subordinates within the EPRDF coalition. The OLF has been waging an armed struggle, organized popular revolts, clandestine student resistance, and eventually a mass uprising led by the Oromo youth known as QEERROO that lasted from 2011 to 2018. It was the coordinated effort of OLF’s armed rebellion and the corresponding mass movements that eventually forced the EPRDF to kneel down.
Unfortunately, when the hegemony of the TPLF within the EPRDF ended, the revolution was usurped by those who were serving the TPLF from within that emerged under the guise of reforming the EPRDF. This was how the now defunct Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was crowned as the country’s new ruler in April 2018. Abiy, the confidant of former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the chief executor of all the atrocities the EPRDF regime has been perpetrating against the Oromo people in particular and the Ethiopian people in general was not part of the revolution until the day he swiftly changed sides on the eve of the demise of the TPLF’s conglomerate, otherwise known as the EPRDF.
Immediately after he was selected to replace an outgoing EPRDF chief, Abiy vowed to restore the glory of the old imperial Ethiopia that was known for its racist and hegemonic system of government headed by the Amharic speaking highland Christian kingdom alone. That was, in fact, the whole source of all evils that has been stirring Ethiopia to this date. However unpromising Abiy Ahmed’s gestures were from the very beginning, most opposition political groups and the OLF among others consented to working with the new regime peacefully to arrange a new transition that could preserve the multi-ethnic federation whose foundation was laid down in the early 1990s. The OLF has agreed to a permanent ceasefire and to demobilize its armed forces either by incorporating them in to the country’s defense and security forces or by rehabilitating them into a civilian life with the help of the government as well.
OLF, the major Political Organization that represented the Oromo People for over four decades has been the target of successive Ethiopian regimes. Abiy was no different when he abrogated all the agreements and concessions he has made with the OLF in August of 2018 in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara. The usual culture of intimidation started as soon as the OLF leadership moved its head quarter to Addis Ababa on September 15, 2018. This was the day when over seven million Oromos rallied in support of OLF’s homecoming after years of clandestine operation. Abiy and his cronies felt threatened by the overwhelming support the OLF commands within the Oromo society.
The promised demobilization agreement was changed to detention, dismemberment and killing of former OLF soldiers who came home to be part of the peaceful transition in the country. Others were rounded up and declared bandits by the Abiy administration, thereby, widening the rift between the ruling coalition and the OLF. Subsequently, the government of Abiy Ahmed declared a total war of annihilation on the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) which was the armed wing of the OLF. This war has been raging since 2018 in the Southern, Central and Westerns regions of Oromia which is basically about to engulf the whole of Oromia soon. Things went back to the old order of defaming and destroying any dissenting view. EPRDF was dismantled and replaced by a so called Prosperity Party that declared itself as Ethiopia’s new ruling oligarchy.
The last two years marked an all-out war against the OLF and the Oromo people. Oromos are rounded up everywhere in towns, are abducted from their homes and their work places and are being hoarded in concentration camp like premises or prison camps with below standard facilities to house human beings. Members of OLF high officials as well as its regional representatives, Oromo youth, prominent Oromo elders, Oromo intellectuals and Oromo entrepreneurs, all fell prey to Abiy Ahmed’s police state he has inherited from his TPLF masters. He has published a gibberish known as MEDEMER (a fairy tale like sub-standard children’s book) to be the guiding spirit of his imaginary & paradoxically glorious ‘IMPERIAL REPUBLIC of Ethiopia’. Things went from bad to worse.
It was in the midst of such precarious state of affairs that the OLF called for a comprehensive transitional government in Oromia as well as Ethiopia. The compelling reasons for the transitional government are twofold: For one Abiy Ahmed’s interim term has ended on September 30, 2020 because he was supposed to complete the five years term his ruling EPRDF coalition was mandated to rule with the end date described above. Secondly, Abiy and his ruling oligarchy are in shambles and have no stamina to handle the simmering conflict to begin with and, the newly minted Prosperity Party had no idea about the agreement reached between the OLF and its predecessor, the EPRDF.
It has become almost impossible for the OLF to undertake its daily routine duties as an organization that represents the Oromo people, the number one single majority in the country. Even though, it was assigned a subservient position within the EPRDF from the very outset, at least nominally, Oromia was represented by the satellite Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) until it was diluted when the so called Prosperity club was minted. As its vanguard organization born out of despair and superbly crafted by Oromo’s best & brightest, it was natural for the OLF to come forward to represent Oromia in all matters. Abiy’s naiveté, coupled with the crude ignorance of his henchmen’s arbitrary actions are brewing a recipe for disaster in Ethiopia. We are, in fact, worried about the looming crisis that could potentially lead to an outbreak of a civil war, if Abiy continues his current course of madness unabated. Among the most recent blatant acts of interim Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, his attack on OLF chairman, Mr. Dawud Ibsaa, the most decent, resilient, by far popular and a fierce fighter but a peaceful Man at his residence is going to be the beginning of the end. Such an attack on the OLF chairman did not occur for the first time. But the recent one is more alarming due to various reasons.
On October 12, 2020, Ethiopia’s former interim Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, who clinged to power by force has dispatched his Armed forces to the Residence of OLF Chairman, Mr. Dawud Ibsaa, in Finfinne/Addis Ababa. The chairman was briefing guests and journalists at his residence on the scope of the transitional government the OLF has proposed earlier last month. One has to bear in mind that OLF office was unlawfully closed by the Ethiopian security forces under the direction of the Prime minister in July 2020. It was in light of Abiy Ahemd’s continued harassment that Mr. Dawud was obliged to conduct his official duties from his residence. On the day Mr. Dawud’s home was raided, Renowned Oromo elders, Oromo political figures and community leaders along with some non-government affiliated media Journalists were among the guests. All of them were rounded up by Ethiopia’s federal police and security personnel with no court order simply because they were deemed illegal or criminal for being at the OLF Chairman’s residence. Five of the journalists and some of the other leaders among the community elders and prominent personalities were detained for no reason.
OLF, the major Political Organization that represented the Oromo People for over four decades has endured the incessant attacks by the successive Ethiopian regimes. But, this last bastion of Imperial Ethiopia headed by Abiy Ahmed has made it clear that he no longer tolerates the very idea of the Oromo People’s quest for the right to self-determination. Hence, he vowed to wipe out the OLF and all Oromo political forces once and for all. To this effect, he has imprisoned almost all of OLF’s Executive & Central Committee members, representatives of the various OLF regional Offices throughout Oromia and prominent leaders of the other major Oromo Political organization, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC).
Abiy Ahmed, then assigned his security personnel to meddle in the internal affairs of the organization that blatantly violated OLF’s autonomous organizational status. His surrogates plotted on sowing discord among the remaining OLF rank & file. Abiy financed a splinter-group within the OLF and equipped them to revolt against the Leadership. This was followed by the unlawful closure of OLF’s Headquarter Offices at the Historic Gullalle district of Finfinnee/Addis Ababa. In spite of the intimidation, OLF leaders including the chairman continued their daily duties from their homes, even while the Chairman was blockaded for two weeks in his residence back in July.
It must be noted that a young & popular Oromo Artist Hacaalu Hundessa, was assassinated by Abiy Ahmed’s henchmen, only to wreak havoc within the Oromo society at home and abroad. With that assassination as a precondition for wreaking havoc against his perceived enemies, Abiy declared almost all Oromo politicians, community leaders, Oromo youth known as QEERRO, and Oromo journalists as primary suspects of his own machination of assassination. The young Oromo artist has become a sacrificial lamb, only to serve Abiy as a pretext for a crackdown.
It was with this pretext that he ordered a nationwide crackdown on Oromos in the immediate aftermath of Artist Hacaalu Hundeessa’s state sponsored assassination. Abiy’s deadly hoax has triggered an international anger and frustration because he ordered the killing of the renowned artist for a very cheap political gain of charging his opponents as suspects. The world has witnessed how Oromo communities across the globe had been protesting against this rising fascist state in Ethiopia following the brute killing. #OromoProtests had occupied the regimes embassies in London, Berlin, Washington DC, and beyond to make it clear to the world that Ethiopia is simply under siege. The protest, in its fourth month, is still going on in different parts of the world wherever there are Oromo communities, however large or small, as a continuum to a protest against Abiy Ahmed’s iron grip on the country.
The October 12, 2020 acts of state terrorism on a peaceful gathering at a private residence marks the beginning of a fullfledged fascist state in Ethiopia that openly targeted the Oromo people as the “enemy of the Ethiopian State”. It is a fascistic ideology whose stated goal it is “to safeguard Ethiopia from the Oromo people.” This is a very dangerous and fascistic Anti-Oromo sentiment, explicitly, espoused by the palace based Abiy Ahmed’s club of the old imperial era establishment. . This stated goal of “wiping out the Oromo out of Ethiopia” has been stated verbatim by the EZEMA party’s chief ideologue who is disguised as an opposition party leader but a de facto member of Abiy’s ruling oligarchy that is bent on the project of rescuing Ethiopia from Oromos. Nothing more could be alarming than just watching the history of human atrocity gearing to repeat itself.
If one fails to learn from a past mistake in history, he/she is doomed to repeat it. Nazi party ascended to power in 1933 but no one knew what Adolf Hitler had in store for the Jews until the bell rang on the Reich’s Kristallnacht of November 9, 1938. Yet, Hitler had done a step by step elimination of all parties, only to aggrandize his own National Socialist Party. The world powers appeased Hitler by consenting to all of his claims, months before the Kristallnacht at a gathering in Munich (The Munich Deal). The moral of the story is that holocaust did not happen overnight but it declared its outburst on one particular night.
Abiy Ahmed’s actions are implying the same trend if not contained on time. His legitimacy has ended weeks ago but he is still the chief intimidator and killer at will. He has suspended national and regional elections in the country with the exception of the Semi-Autonomous Tigray regional state. Tigray just conducted a regional election and formed a new regional government of its own. It is unknown when the standoff between Abiy Ahmed and his former masters in Tigray is going to breakout. It is unknown when and who is going to pull the trigger. Abiy seems to be soliciting neighboring Eritrea, an arch enemy of the TPLF, for help so that Eritrea could lend him hands to his rescue. This could amount to an act of treason unless and otherwise Tigray has already seceded from Ethiopia.
Abiy has implicitly declared himself an authoritarian ruler of the country. Almost all Heads & Chief Executives of the Country’s major institutions including the National Election Board have lost their autonomy only to become Abiy’s proxies because, Abiy is the sole authority at the helm of everything in the country at this point in time. He almost incarcerated major opposition figures and vocal intellectuals. He has managed to incorporate renegades and some ‘yes men’ into his payroll who would keep ranting in his support for a while. He declared himself an emperor or ‘Der Führer’ right after his term has expired. The Oromo people in particular and the Ethiopian populace in general have vehemently rejected him as a ruler of the country.
This embattled former head of an interim regime has been busy crafting a police state for the last two years and squandered the golden opportunity to a peaceful transition. He was emboldened by the Nobel Peace Prize committee’s arbitrary decision that, temporarily, elevated his international image. But, at home, he is known for his childish persona among Ethiopians of all walks of life.
By now, Abiy Ahmed is simply a criminal at large that still presides over a very brutal armed gang, a considerable number of enablers and an international community that either cares less about the misery of the ‘masses’ or has not yet decided to take a position to avert the upcoming Armageddon in Ethiopia. Inaction from the international stakeholders is neither Realpolitik nor diplomacy. Appeasement is no longer the way forward.
The attack on Mr. Dawud Ibsaa, OLF Chairman, at his residence and any further belligerence will be the last bell to ring before the canon goes lose in the country. Because, Mr. Dauwd Ibsaa is not just a party leader, but also a symbol of the Oromo political capital that was built for over half a century and an icon of endurance, resilience, principle and resistance for which the best & the brightest Oromos paid their dues with their precious lives during the entire course of this agonizing last half century.
With Abiy Ahmed at its helm, Ethiopia is sitting on a time bomb that could explode at any time sooner or later. The Ethiopian society is extremely polarized more than any time in its history. The Oromo people have never felt as marginalized as they are today in Ethiopia because a state sponsored call for the annihilation of the Oromo people is, clearly, in the making under the banner of “Safeguarding Ethiopia from Oromos.” It is self-evident that fascism is in the making in Ethiopia.
One has to simply put in perspective that Ethiopia (a country of over 110 million out of which the Oromo alone roughly constitute 50 million) cannot afford an armed civil strife that could amount to the much feared imagination in the Hobbesian theory of the state of nature that no one could guarantee from not becoming real, given the current state of affairs in the country. Neighboring Somalia that disintegrated during the 1991 civil war only had a population of less than 10 million at that time. Thirty years later today, we still have an innumerable fiefdoms and mini-warlords with no viable state in sight for Somalia in a foreseeable future.
It is, therefore, incumbent upon all Oromos at home & abroad to respond to this alarming call, primarily for the purpose of safeguarding, not just a party leader or a politician, but also Oromumma from the swords of the fascist neo-Neftegnas and their cronies. Oromos are at a, uniquely, critical juncture that demands a concerted action in unison, an action that should transcend party politics and organizational affiliation.
It is incumbent upon the people of Ethiopia to stand with the Oromo people simply because, there will be no Ethiopia that needs to be rescued from the Oromos, unless the decimation of the people under discussion is deemed a necessity to the fulfillment of the much sang for ‘Old Glory.’ Any inaction against Abiy Ahmed’s declaration of war on the Oromo People is tantamount to an act of accomplice.
Last but not least, it is incumbent upon the international community to help avert the looming crisis in Ethiopia by intervening as outlined in OLF’s press statement of September 13, 2020 that called for an international arbitration of Ethiopia’s complex constellation of conflicts. The UN, AU, and major donor governments to the regime in Ethiopia must exert pressure as they have the leverage to stop Abiy Ahmed’s killing spree and mass crackdown from further going awry. The International community has all the leverages to help a peaceful transition succeed by providing the necessary material, financial, diplomatic and security assistance to the OLF and other national stakeholders as needed. Any inaction on the part of the international community to this call may be considered a willful desire to watch the repeat of the carnage in the Balkans and the tragedy in Rwanda that occurred during the first half of the 1990s in both instances.
*The author, Regassa Oljirra, is a Policy Analyst and currently a Doctoral Candidate (The Degree of Doctor of Education) at the University of Saint Thomas in Minnesota. He can be reached at email@example.com.