Abiy’s Ethiopia may collapse during the pandemic
In Ethiopia, the killing of a popular musician and activist has led to protests in the country’s largest region, writes Teshome Hunduma. In addition, a marginalized group has triggered an armed conflict in the west of the country. The risk of destabilizing violence is now high, writes Hunduma.
By Teshome Hunduma Mulesa Last updated: 07.07.2020
On Monday, June 29, Hachalu Hundessa, a popular musician and activist, was shot and killed in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. The killing has led to protests in the Oromia region, Ethiopia’s largest region. The reason for the protests is the way Prime Minister and last year’s Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed has chosen to govern the country. He’s on the wrong track.
Hachalu belonged to the Oromo ethnic group, and was a well-known figure in the fight against oppression through his protest songs. Since 2015 he mobilized Qeeroo (youth) in the Oromia region. This led to the resignation of then Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, and in April 2018 Abiy Ahmed Ali came to power.
The new hope has begun to fade
During the first nine months, Ahmed introduced impressive liberalizing reforms in Ethiopia, a country with strict political control. He released thousands of activists, youth and political prisoners out of prison. He invited parties and politicians who remained in exile to Ethiopia to contribute to a common democratic spirit for the country’s prosperity. He appointed several women to prominent positions and adopted many other good political reforms.
In addition, he made peace with the “enemy” Eritrea, which led him to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. The Nobel Committee justified the award that “the award was testimony and support for his ideals of unity, cooperation and mutual coexistence among the Ethiopian people and the Horn of Africa” .
However, the hope the reforms and the peace award gave us began to weaken 10 months after Abiy took office as prime minister. The new head of state chose to associate with selected nationalist elites from the diaspora and his own party. In addition, he began to characterize federalist forces as chauvinistic and destabilizing. As a result, Abiy failed to see the causes of the protests that brought him to power. He cannot solve the problems that led to people protesting, that is inequality, lack of freedom, widespread unemployment, corruption and self-enrichment.
New statues created anger
Instead of involving everyone involved in pragmatic and inclusive socio-political and economic reforms, Abiy began to rule the country from the top down. He created a new ideological recipe or philosophy of governance which he called “medemer” and which he published in 2019. Translated from Amharic, the word “medemer” means “synergy” or “to join together”.
Abiy also implemented a project where statues were built by former emperors and dictators. These statues were built instead of fighting poverty and employing young people.
The statues and the new ideology created anger among both oromos and other peoples groups who suffered under these former rulers. Although the Peace Prize winner justifies the project with the intention of curbing the contradictions between the various peoples of the country, he ignores the deep historical wound many marginalized Ethiopians have experienced over time.
Marginalization triggered new struggles
Before the corona pandemic came to Ethiopia, power was gradually centralized through Abi’s recently rebuilt political party, the Prosperity Party. Those who objected to this approach, such as the “Oromo Liberation Front” and the “Tigrian People’s Liberation Front” were marginalized. One of the marginalized groups from the Oromo Liberation Front has started a new armed struggle in western Ethiopia.
Famous artist Hachalu Hundessa was killed the same day Amnesty released a new report on the serious human rights violations Ethiopian security forces have committed in connection with the new armed struggle. This shows that the lack of genuine negotiation for multi-party democracy is why all the positive that Abiy started now collapses.
Over the last couple of days, tensions have increased and the internet has been shut down. The turmoil lasts longer than one has experienced during previous protests.
The day after Hachalu’s death, an unknown number of people were killed. On July 1, his uncle was shot with another person in the city of Ambo because they refused to give the singer’s remains to security forces. It was not known why these forces wanted Hachalus equal. The uncle was declared dead. All this I myself have been confirmed by friends in Ambo who I have talked to over the phone.
Several other people have also been killed in various places in the Oromia region in the past few days. In total, as many as 88 people have been killed so far. In addition, prominent pro-democracy activist Jawar Mohammed has been arrested and imprisoned with his colleague Bekele Gerba. The Oromia Media Network (OMN) TV station is also closed, and journalists have been arrested by the Addis Ababa authorities. It is no longer possible to avoid the risk of an outbreak of violence that will destabilize the country and the region.
Should take the management problems more seriously
Many of those who boasted of the Nobel Prize winner – myself included – have now given up. The killing of Hachalu Hundessa was over the line for a majority of the Oromans and the other ethnic groups in Ethiopia. The Prime Minister is unable to live up to the obligations arising from the purpose of the Nobel Prize. It is unfortunate that some winners who perform short-term miracles are rewarded with such a prestigious award as the Nobel Peace Prize.
Norway should take Ethiopia’s governance problems more seriously than previously. It is especially important that Norway now takes a more principled attitude towards the Ethiopian government.
In 2019, Norway provided NOK 698 million in aid money to Ethiopia. Norway has also promised to support both the strengthening of human rights and the building of a democratic and good governance in Ethiopia. Education for girls, environment and climate