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How nations stay together

Nations come with a vast array of peoples, languages and histories, but the strong ones share three simple things
Bamangwato chief Seretse Khama addresses a tribal council meeting in March 1950. Under his leadership, between 1966 and 1980 Botswana had the fastest-growing economy in the world. Photo by Margarte Bourke-White/Time Life/Getty

Andreas Wimmer

is the Lieber professor of sociology and political philosophy at Columbia University. For Princeton University Press, he edits the book series Studies in Global and Comparative Sociology. His latest book is Nation Building: Why Some Countries Come Together While Others Fall Apart (2018).

Edited by Sam Haselby
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Why do some countries fall apart, often along their ethnic fault lines, while others have held together over decades and centuries, despite governing a diverse population as well? Why is it, in other words, that nation-building succeeded in some places while it failed in others? The current tragedy in Syria illustrates the possibly murderous consequences of failed nation-building. Outside of the media spotlight, South Sudan and the Central African Republic went through similar experiences in recent years. In some rich and democratic countries in western Europe, such as Spain, Belgium and the United Kingdom, longstanding secessionist movements have regained momentum. Within our lifetimes, they might well succeed in breaking apart these states. On the other hand, there is no secessionist movement among the Cantonese speakers of southern China or among the Tamils of India. And why has no serious politician ever questioned national unity in such diverse countries as Switzerland or Burkina Faso?

Before answering these questions, it is necessary to define nation-building more precisely. It goes beyond the mere existence of an independent country with a flag, an anthem and an army. Some old countries (such as Belgium) haven’t come together as a nation, while other more recently founded states (such as India) have done so. There are two sides to the nation-building coin: the extension of political alliances across the terrain of a country, and the identification with and loyalty to the institutions of the state, independent of who currently governs. The former is the political-integration aspect, the latter the political-identity aspect of nation-building. To foster both, political ties between citizens and the state should reach across ethnic divides.

Such ties of alliance connect national governments with individual citizens, sometimes through intermediary political organisations such as voluntary associations, parties, professional groups, etc. Ideally, these ties link all citizens into networks of alliances centred on the state. In such countries, all citizens see themselves represented at the centre of power, even if their preferred party or political patron is not currently occupying one of the seats of government. Intellectuals, political elites, as well as the average individual will eventually see all citizens, irrespective of their racial or ethnic background, as equal members of the national community.

Effective nation-building brings important and positive consequences. Alliances that cut across the entire territory of a country depoliticise ethnic divisions. Politics is not perceived as a zero-sum game in which ethnic groups struggle for control of the state. Instead, more substantial policy issues concerning what the state should actually do come to the foreground of the debate. Inclusive political coalitions also foster a sense of ownership of the state and promote the ideal of a collective purpose beyond one’s family, village, clan or profession. Conformingly, citizens who identify with their nation are less resistant to paying taxes, more likely to support welfare policies, and are governed by more effective states. We also know that inclusive coalitions comprising ethnic minorities and majorities alike greatly reduce the risk of civil war and promote economic growth.

In the United States, most foreign-policy makers equate nation-building with democratisation. They believe that democracy is the best tool to achieve political cohesion in the global South. The argument goes like this: democratic elections draw diverse ethnic constituencies towards the political centre and encourage politicians to build broad coalitions beyond the pool of voters who share their own ethnic background. And it is true that most states that failed at nation-building and are governed by the elites of a small minority, such as the Alawi of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, are autocratic. Conversely, democratic countries are on average more likely to include minority representatives in their ruling coalitions.

However, ruling coalitions do not necessarily become more inclusionary over time after a country has transitioned to democracy. In many recently democratised countries, ethnic majorities sweep to power only to take revenge on hitherto dominant elites and their ethnic communities. Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein showed this clearly: much of Al-Qaeda’s and later ISIS’s domestic support came from the former Baath elites and from disaffected Sunni tribes who resented their loss of power. The US maintained slavery during the first 70 years of its democratic existence, and for another century after emancipation denied African Americans any meaningful form of political representation. The association between democracy and inclusion comes about because countries that are already governed by a more inclusive coalition will democratise earlier and easier than exclusionary regimes that fight democracy tooth and nail. In other words: democracy doesn’t build nations, but nations that are already built are more likely to transition to democracy.

Rather than free and competitive elections, I want to highlight three other factors that develop more slowly – over generations – but are most effective in building political ties across ethnic lines. The first factor refers to how such ties are organised. It is easiest to establish political alliances across ethnic divides if they can build on already existing voluntary organisations, such as reading circles, trade unions, political clubs and so forth. Voluntary organisations often enter into horizontal alliances with each other – such as a coalition of local nursing associations in California. By contrast, in hierarchical patronage systems, ties proliferate vertically between patrons and clients who in turn become the patrons of other clients further down the pyramid of power and influence. Alliance networks built on voluntary organisations can therefore proliferate across the territory and reach across ethnic divides more easily than patronage systems. For example, a nationwide umbrella organisation of all nursing associations is relatively easy to establish. This umbrella organisation can then seek an alliance with the ministry of health or a national political party.

How far such voluntary organisations have already developed matters especially in the early years of a country’s modern existence, that is, after an absolutist monarchy is overthrown (in much of Europe) or a former colony becomes independent (in much of the rest of the world). If a dense web of such organisations already exists, the new power-holders will rely on these networks to mobilise supporters and to recruit political leaders. Under these circumstances, the political exclusion of ethnic minorities or even majorities becomes less likely: voluntary organisations have already developed branches in different parts of the country inhabited by different ethnic communities. When the new leaders rely on these organisations to gain political support, this leadership is more likely to be recruited from diverse ethnic communities as well.

A comparison between Switzerland and Belgium, two countries of similar size, with a similar linguistic composition of the population, and comparable levels of economic development, provides an example. In Switzerland, civil society organisations – such as shooting clubs, reading circles and choral societies – developed throughout the territory during the late 18th and first half of the 19th century. They spread evenly throughout the country because modern industries emerged across all the major regions, and because Switzerland’s city-states lacked both the capacity and the motivation to suppress them. In Belgium, by contrast, Napoleon, as well as the Dutch king who succeeded him, recognised the revolutionary potential of such voluntary associations, and suppressed them. Even more importantly, the associations that did exist in Belgium were confined to the more economically developed and more educated French-speaking regions and segments of the population.

In 1831, when Belgium became independent of the kingdom of the Netherlands, most of the new rulers of the country had long been members of these French-speaking associational networks. Without giving it much thought, they declared French the official language of the administration, army and judiciary. Despite forming a slight demographic majority, those who spoke only Flemish were not part of these networks, and were therefore excluded from the central government. Until the end of the 19th century, the Flemish were ruled as an internal colony of Francophone Belgium. Early nation-building failed, the language divide became heavily politicised during the 20th century, and the country is now close to breaking apart.

In Switzerland, the transition to the nation-state occurred after a brief civil war in 1848. The liberal elites who won the war and dominated the country for generations relied on the cross-regional, multi-ethnic networks of civil society organisations to recruit followers and leaders. The emerging power structure therefore included majorities and minorities alike. From the beginning, each language group was represented at the highest level of government as well as the federal administration, roughly according to the size of its population. Again without giving it much thought, French, German and Italian all became official languages of the state. During most of the subsequent political history of Switzerland, and to this day, language diversity remained a political non-issue.

There is little evidence that bureaucrats favoured ethnic kin when allocating resources

The second factor concerns the resources that citizens exchange with the state. Citizens are more likely to politically support a government that provides public goods in exchange for taxing them. If taxes are exchanged for public goods, the nature of the relationship between government and citizens changes. It is then no longer based on extraction under the threat of force – as was typically the case with the more coercive regimes that preceded the nation-state, such as an absolutist kingdom, an imperial governor or a colonial administration. The more a government is capable of providing public goods across all regions of a country, the more attractive it will be as an exchange partner, and the more citizens will want to establish an alliance with it. The ruling coalition will reflect such encompassing alliance structures and thus the ethnic diversity of the population.

A comparison between Somalia and Botswana offers an illustration. They are both arid countries with similar economic foundations, based on the export of cattle, and comparable colonial histories. When Botswana became an independent country in 1966, its government efficiently created and managed export opportunities for cattle breeders, massively expanded transportation infrastructure, schools and health facilities, and created emergency programmes for the periods of drought that periodically devastated the cattle economy. These public goods benefitted all regions equally. There is little evidence that bureaucrats favoured their ethnic kin when allocating these resources to villages or districts. Correspondingly, the ruling party gained support across regions and ethnic constituencies, which in turn translated into a parliament and cabinet in which ethnic majorities and minorities were roughly represented according to their population size. This inclusionary power configuration then produced, over time, a strong identification with the state and the Tswana majority. More and more minority citizens assimilated into and identified with the Tswana majority.

In Somalia, conditions for nation-building through public goods provision were much less favourable. After the formerly British and Italian colonies were unified into an independent Somalia, the state enjoyed very little capacity to provide public goods to the population. Foreign aid – rather than taxes or customs – nourished the rapidly expanding bureaucracy. When it came to distributing government projects, bureaucrats favoured those who could afford the highest bribe or members of their own clan and lineage. Mohamed Siad Barre’s 1969 military coup only temporarily changed this state of affairs. Given the lack of institutional capacity, Barre’s regime tried to provide public goods through short-lasting, military-style campaigns, such as teaching the nomad population how to read and write or the delivery of relief to drought victims. No durable political alliances centred on the central government could be built in this way. Instead, Barre increasingly based his rule on loyal followers from his own clan coalition as well as that of his mother. Those excluded from the inner circles of power soon took up arms. Pitting changing alliances of clans and warlords against each other, decades of civil war broke the country into pieces.

The third aspect of the alliance relationships between citizens and the state refers to how they communicate with each other. Establishing ties across regions and ethnic divides is easier if individuals can converse in a shared language. This decreases ‘transaction costs’, meaning the effort needed to understand each other’s intentions, to solve disagreements and to negotiate compromise, all of which are crucial for building durable relationships based on trust. Therefore, linguistic divides slow down the spread of political networks across the territory of a country.

The past two centuries of history in China and Russia illustrate how a shared means of communication facilitates nation-building. At the beginning of the 19th century, both China and Russia looked back on generations of absolutist rule by imperial dynasties, comprised enormous and diverse populations, and had never been subject to foreign rule. China’s population speaks many different tongues, which should make nation-building more difficult. However, letters, newspapers and books are written in a uniform script. This script is not closer to any of the various spoken languages, and thus allows individuals from different corners of the vast country to understand each other effortlessly. Scriptural homogeneity also enabled the state, throughout the imperial period, to recruit bureaucrats, through a system of written examinations, from all corners of the country. As a result, China’s bureaucratic elite was as polyglot as the population at large.

When totalitarian rule started to melt, the country fractured along linguistic fault lines

The same held true for the political factions that formed among this bureaucratic elite, as men who wouldn’t be able to understand each other when speaking could correspond in writing to exchange ideas and form an alliance. The same held true for the anti-imperial, republican associations that emerged in late 19th-century China. They were joined by individuals who spoke different tongues and came from all over China. In 1911, these groups rose to power under the Kuomintang and overthrew the imperial dynasty. The Kuomintang leadership therefore was as linguistically diverse as had been the ruling elites under the Qing dynasty. The Communist Party that took power in 1949 also had recruited leaders from all over China who spoke different mother tongues. Given the inclusive, multilingual nature of the ruling coalitions, from the Qing through to the Kuomintang regime all the way to contemporary Communist China, the non-Mandarin-speaking linguistic minorities among the Han Chinese had no reason to secede from China and seek a state under their own control. Generations of political ties across linguistic divides allowed nationalist intellectuals and politicians to imagine the Han nation as multilingual, but ethnically homogenous. The dogs of linguistic nationalism never barked among China’s Han majority.

In the Russian empire, language difference played a very different role. The empire twice fell apart along ethno-linguistic lines: after the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917 and again in the thaw of reforms by the Soviet Union’s leader Mikhail Gorbachev around 1989. Russian and Soviet nation-builders faced a much greater challenge because the various languages – from Finnish to German, from Russian to Turkic, from Korean to Romanian – were not only from entirely different linguistic stock, but also written in different scripts, including Cyrillic, Latin, Arabic, and Mongolian. When the age of mass politics set in in late 19th-century Russia, alliance networks clustered along linguistic divides. Then as now, reaching a literate public through propaganda and newspapers demands a shared script and language. The popular parties that emerged during the last decade of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th centuries therefore catered exclusively to specific linguistic communities (Armenians, Georgians, Finns, Poles, etc). Or they resembled a patchwork of linguistically confined alliance networks, as did the Menshevik. National consciousness took shape in dozens of separate, linguistically defined moulds – rather than in an overarching identity comparable to that of the Han Chinese.

The Soviet nationalities policy after the revolution of 1917 cemented this state of affairs by teaching minorities how to read and write, and educating them, up to the 1950s, in their own language. Under tight supervision of Moscow, minority elites were allowed to rule the new, linguistically defined provinces and districts of the Soviet Union. As a consequence, the newly emerging clientelist alliance networks formed within separate ethnic compartments. Non-Russian minorities were heavily underrepresented in the party leadership, the highest ranks of the bureaucracy, and the army, all of which were dominated by Russians. It is not surprising, then, that the leaders of the USSR were not able to forge an integrated ‘Soviet people’ when, under Nikita Khrushchev some 40 years after the revolution, they tried to shift to a more assimilationist policy. Politically, the Soviet Union continued to resemble a patchwork of ethnic alliance networks. When the ice of totalitarian rule started to melt under Gorbachev, the country fractured along these linguistic fault lines into the independent states of Latvia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and so on.

Looking further back into history, one might wonder why some countries developed a uniform language or script while others didn’t, and why some governments were able to provide public goods across the territory while others didn’t. Both linguistic diversity and the capacity to provide public goods are deeply shaped by the legacies of centralised states already built before the age of mass politics set in in the late 19th century. In the global South, this refers to the period before these countries were colonised by the Western (and Japanese) empires during the last quarter of the 19th century. Where highly centralised polities had developed in previous centuries, bureaucratic administrations emerged that learned how to organisationally integrate and politically control the various regions of the state.

The governments both of colonial states and of the newly formed nation-states that succeeded them could rely on this knowhow and bureaucratic infrastructure to provide public goods equitably across regions. Over the long run, such highly centralised states also encouraged peripheral elites and their followers to adopt the language (or in the Chinese case: the script) of the central elites. Learning the language of the ruling circles in the capital was an effective way to promote their careers and interests, and – for the average subject – it also proved advantageous to speak the language of the bureaucrats interfering in daily life.

For example, in pre-colonial Botswana, a series of centralised and tightly integrated kingdoms had emerged from the 17th century onwards. They were all ruled by Tswana-speaking noblemen. The independent, post-colonial government integrated these kingdoms into its administrative system by reducing the power of the kings, all the while making them and their small bureaucracies part of the governing structure. In this way, the kingdoms provided the new government with the legitimacy to rule (the country’s new president was himself a royal) and encouraged citizens to comply with the rulings of the modern state. Both greatly facilitated public goods provision by the post-colonial governments. The kingdoms also promoted, from the pre-colonial period all the way to the present day, the assimilation of non-Tswana populations, which had still formed a demographic majority in most kingdoms in the 19th century, into the dominant Tswana culture and language, which now represents a solid majority.

An established political infrastructure and a uniform language make nation-building easier

In Somalia’s history, no state capable of governing over the country’s nomad majority ever emerged. This represented a notable impediment to post-colonial public goods provision. The independent Somali government had to rule over a population never accustomed to statehood, and it could not rely on a class of administrators that had learned to serve the public good, rather than their own families.

In China, an extraordinarily high level of political centralisation over millennia provided the background for the emergence and empire-wide adoption of the unified script. It also encouraged a wide variety of political elites, from all over China, to adopt the neo-Confucian canons of the empire. Centuries of highly centralised, bureaucratic administration also left a legacy of organisational infrastructure that the Communist government could use to provide the population with public goods after the Second World War. Centralised indigenous states, on which colonial rule often rested, thus facilitate nation-building in the contemporary period. The dual legacy of an established bureaucratic-political infrastructure, and a uniform language or script, does not in and of itself guarantee political integration across ethnic divides. But they make the task of modern nation-builders much easier.

The examples I’ve singled out don’t account for how voluntary associations, public goods provision, and communication interact with each other or substitute for each other. Somalians, for example, all speak the same language, while Switzerland is linguistically more diverse – and yet the two histories of nation-building diverge in opposite directions. There are also additional factors that could hinder or foster nation-building. Many historians would argue that the colonial experience makes a difference. Somalia and Botswana both suffered from the divide-and-rule policies of colonial powers, which should make the task of national political integration more difficult once the colonial powers leave. Neither Russia nor Switzerland were ever under foreign rule during the past centuries.

Economists might argue that nation-building is mainly a matter of economic development. Would Switzerland look more like Somalia had its export industry not been as successful, or had it not become a highly profitable global centre for banking and insurance? It also might be easier to build nations in countries such as Switzerland, where religious differences and language boundaries do not overlap and reinforce each other. In Romanov Russia, by contrast, most linguistic minorities also adhered to a different religion than the Russian-speaking and Russian Orthodox majority.

Finally, we might take a more sober perspective and consider that nation-building succeeds where countries have fought many wars with other countries, binding their populations together through shared sacrifice. Similarly, it could be that European governments could build their nations more easily because centuries of boundary adjustments and ethnic cleansings led to more homogenous populations, easier to integrate into a national polity.

These are empirical questions. To answer them, we can analyse datasets with information on countries from around the world. This helps to determine whether any of these four alternative factors might be crucial for understanding where nation-building succeeded and where it failed – or if voluntary organisations, public goods provision and linguistic homogeneity fostered inclusive ruling coalitions in countries beyond Switzerland, Belgium, Somalia, Botswana, China and Russia. For such a quantitative analysis, we need a figure that indicates how far nation-building has succeeded for each country. To that end, I measure the population share of the ethnic communities not represented at the highest level of government. This data is available from 1946 to 2005 and for 155 countries.

Ethnopolitical exclusion, measured in this way, is less pronounced where voluntary associations have proliferated, where the state provides public goods effectively, and where the linguistic landscape is more uniform. A comparison between three sets of countries helps to illustrate the results of this analysis. To measure public goods provision, I use literacy rates, because literacy is strongly influenced by public education. The global mean for the 155 countries is 65 per cent literates among the adult population; if 80 per cent of the population in a country can read and write, then the share of the population excluded from national government will be roughly 30 per cent lower than in a country in which only half the population is literate.

Countries are not more likely to fail at nation-building if they were subjected to colonial rule

To measure linguistic diversity, we can calculate the chances that two randomly chosen citizens speak the same language. If it is 52 per cent (14 per cent above the mean rate of 38 per cent), the share of the excluded population will again be about 30 per cent lower than in a country where the likelihood is only 25 per cent (14 per cent below the mean). The share of the excluded population is also reduced by roughly 30 per cent if we add one more voluntary association per each five individuals.

There is not much support for the alternative explanations of nation-building briefly discussed above, such as a history of colonial rule, or a country’s wealth. According to further statistical analysis, countries are not more likely to fail at nation-building if they were subjected to colonial rule for a very long time or if that rule had assumed a specific form (such as settler colonialism or indirect rule such as in British colonies). If their economies are underdeveloped; if they fought few interstate wars or ethno-nationalist conflicts; or if religious and linguistic cleavages overlap the same holds true: the data don’t show a significant influence on nation-building.

Finally, where highly centralised states had emerged before the colonial interlude and before the transition to the modern nation-state, contemporary governments provide more public goods and the population speaks fewer tongues. To show this, I use two different measures of the previous history of state formation. The first is available for 74 countries of Asia and Africa whose pre-colonial political structures were documented by social anthropologists. The second data, collected by economists, covers 141 countries and measures how far an indigenous state controlled the territory of a current country during the second half of the 19th century.

Quite obviously, the past cannot be engineered retrospectively to create a centralised state in the 19th century that would favour nation-building during the 20th. Nor can a state’s capacity to provide public goods be improved in a couple of years. A population needs at least two generations to become fluent in a new language of communication. Voluntary organisations around which political alliances coalesce will not take root in a society over the short run either. For these three crucial factors that facilitate nation-building, time is measured in generations, not years. Fixing failed states or building nations therefore cannot be done within the time span of a US presidency or two.

Over at least two decades or so, global institutions such as the World Bank have focused on strengthening the capacity of developing countries to provide public goods. The steady emphasis on institutional development and good governance represents a welcome corrective to the more erratic foreign policies that elected governments of Western countries often pursue. A consistent and long-term commitment to strengthening government institutions and making them more efficient at public goods delivery represents the most promising international policy to help nation-building around the world.

Public goods are best provided by national and local governments. Private companies, foreign NGOs or intervening armies might sometimes be more economically efficient. But public goods provisioning by outside forces does little to enhance the legitimacy of the national government. This is shown by the Survey of the Afghan People, conducted annually by the Asia Foundation from 2006 to 2015. Public goods projects carried out by foreigners made Afghans less satisfied with their national government, compared with projects implemented by government agencies. Foreign projects were also not nearly as effective in motivating citizens to turn to government institutions to solve their local disputes, rather than to traditional authorities or warlords. Even more disheartening, the survey reveals that Afghans are more likely to justify the violence committed by the Taliban if they live in districts where foreigners have sponsored public goods projects. In other words, foreign public goods projects might have lost the ‘hearts and minds’ of Afghans, rather than winning them.

To build nations from the outside is next to impossible if local conditions are not conducive

A unified national school system is another long-term strategy for effective nation-building. Around the world, countries have come a long way in schooling their populations and teaching them to speak a common language. Continued support for national school systems in the face of budgetary pressures goes a long way not only to achieving sustained economic growth and gender equity, but also to helping to establish political ties across ethnic divides.

Supporting civil society organisations can lead to backlash against foreign influence and political interference. The recent crackdown on foreign-funded NGOs in many eastern European countries is just one example of the risks run by a strategy of cultivating civil society organisations from outside. In the long run, however, such organisations help to provide a political infrastructure to establish ties across ethnic divides and move toward national political integration. A consistent and long-term strategy, such as that pursued by Germany’s political foundations or the Soros foundation, might still be the best way to help citizens connect with each other based on a shared cause, rather than shared ethnicity.

Few observers today would harbour the illusion that helping nation-building in faraway places is an easy task. The difficulties of forcing feuding political factions into shared government are well-illustrated by the case of Iraq, and perhaps even more dramatically in the case of Bosnia, which would have long fallen apart if left to its own prospects. Policy-makers should therefore reject the idea that it is legitimate and feasible to ‘teach other people to govern themselves’, as Francis Fukuyama put it in an article for The Atlantic in January 2004, at the height of the nation-building enthusiasm of the George W Bush era. To build nations from the outside is next to impossible if local conditions are not conducive to putting minorities and majorities on an equal political footing and establishing inclusive governing coalitions. Nation-building needs to be accomplished by the citizens and politicians of each individual country.
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#ርዕሰ ዜና #የኢትዮጵያ ፖለቲካን የሚተራምሱት ባእዳን ኃይሎች ናቸው ተባለ #ፅንስ በማቋረጥ  ለሞት የሚዳረጉ ለጋ ልጃገረዶች ቁጥር እየጨመረ መሆኑ ተሰማ #የኤሌክትሪክ ኃይል መቆራረጥ  እየተባባሰ መሆኑ እየተነግረ ነው #በኦጋዴን በተለያዩ ስፍራዎች የእርስ በእርስ ግጭት መከሰቱ ታወቀ #ደብዛቸው ለጠፋው የኢሕአፓ አመራር አባላትና አባላት ድምጽ ማሰማት ይገባል #በዚህ ዓመት ብቻ ወደ አንድ ቢሊዮን የሚጠጋ ገንዘብ መጥፋቱ ይፋ ሆነ #በአዲስ አበባ ቤቶቻቸው የፈረሱባቸው ኗሪዎች  እሮሮ እያሰሙ ናቸው #በፖለቲካ እስረኞች ስም የሙስና እስረኞችን በጅምላ የመፍታቱ ጉዳይ እያነጋጋረ ነው ተባለ ##ዝርዝር ዜናዎች##

#የኢትዮጵያ ፖለቲካን የሚተራምሱት ባእዳን ኃይሎች ናቸው ተባለ

ሕዝባዊ  አመጾች  እንደ  ሰደድ  እሳት  መላዋን  ኢትዮጵያን  እያዳረሱ  ባለበት  የዘረኛው  የወያኔ  አገዛዝን  በሥልጣን ለማቆየት የተለያዩ ባእዳን ኃይሎች ሴራ ሲተበትቡ እንደነበር  አንዳንድ ምስጢራዊ  ፍንጮች እየታዩ መሆናቸው እና አነጋጋሪ  መሆናቸው  ታውቋል፡፡  በአሁኑ  ወቅት  በወያኔ  የተሾመው  ቁንጮ  ለሀገርና  ለሕዝብ  ለውጥ  ሊያመጣ እንደሚችል  ተደርጎ  እንዲታሰብ  የተለያዩ  መያዣ  መጨበጫ  የሌላቸውን  ወሬዎች  በመርጨት  የኢትዮጵያ  ሕዝብ ግለሰቡን  ከወንጀለኛው ድርጅት ነጥሎ  እንዲያይ መጠነ­ሰፊ  የፕሮፓጋንዳ  ዘመቻ  እየተካሄደ  መሆኑ  ልብ  ሊባል እንደሚገባው  በርካቶች  ያሳስባሉ፡፡    የወያኔ  ቁንጮ  የተደረገው  ግለሰብ  እያደረጋቸው  ያሉት  የሀገራት  ጉብኝትና ሌሎች  ተዛማጅ  ጉዳዮች  የሕዝብን  ድጋፍ  ለመሸመት  እንዲያስችል  በሚል  አስቀድመው  በባእዳን  ኃሎች  የቀረቡ ቀመሮች መሆናቸውን የሚያስረዱ ሰነዶች እየወጡ መሆናቸው ታውቋል፡፡ በዚህ ሰሞን በህዝብ ውስጥ እንዲሰራጩ ከተደረጉት  አንዱ    ወያኔ/ህወሓቶች  እራሳቸው  የሰየሙትን  ቁንጮ  አያሰሩትም  የሚል  ሲሆን  ይሀ  ሆን  ተብሎ የህዝብን ትኩረት ለመሸርሸር ከሚደረጉ ሴራዎች ውስጥ  አንዱ መሆኑን፤ ይህንን የወያኔን ከመቃብር አፍ የመመለስ ፖለቲካን በቅጡ የሚያወቁ ያስረዳሉ፡፡ ይህ በአሁኑ ወቅት ወያኔ ላይ እስትንፋስ እንዲዘራበት የረቀቀ ደባ ከሰሩት ባዕዳን ኃይሎች የአሜሪካው የስለላ ድርጅት ሲአይኤ በግንባር ቀደምነት እንደሚገኝ በርካቶች በአንክሮ ያስረዳሉ፡፡

#ፅንስ በማቋረጥ ለሞት የሚዳረጉ ለጋ ልጃገረዶች ቁጥር እየጨመረ መሆኑ ተሰማ

 በዚህ  የኤች  አይቪ  ኤድስ  ስርጭት  በአስደንጋጭ  ሁኔታ  እየተስፋፋ  ባለበት  የወጣቶች  ለልቅ  የወሲብ  ግንኙነት መጋለጥ  እየጨመረ  መሆኑን  የሚያስረዱ  ጥናቶች  ይፋ  እየሆኑ  መሆናቸው  ታወቀ፡፡  በዚህ  ባሳለፍነው  ሳምንት ለሕዝብ ይፋ ከተደረጉ ጥናቶች መረዳት የተቻለው  ከአስራ ሦስት እስከ ከስራ ሰባት እድሜ ክልል ውስጥ የሚገኙ ለጋ  ወጣት  ልጃገረዶች  ላልተፈለገ  እርግዝና  እየተጋለጡ  በመሆናቸውና  ፅንሱን  ለማስወረድ  የሚጠቀሙት  ለጤና አደገኛ የሆኑ አማራጮችን በመሆኑ በርካታ ታዳጊ ወጣት ሴቶች በሞት እየተቀጠፉ መሆናቸውን ከጥናቱ መረዳት ተችሏል፡፡  ብዙዎች፣  ይህ  የወጣት  ሴት  ህይወት  በእንዲህ  ከእርግዝና  ጋር  በተያያዘ  ሁኔታ  መቀጠፍ  አጠቃላይ ተጠያቂው ደግሞ ዘረኛው የወያኔ አገዛዝ መሆኑን በቁጭት ያስረዳሉ፡፡
#የኤሌክትሪክ ኃይል መቆራረጥ እየተባባሰ መሆኑ እየተነግረ ነው

 የኤሌክትሪክ  ኃይል  እየጨመረ  መሄዱ  ተደጋግሞ  እየተነገረ  ቢሆንም  ለተጠቃሚው  ሕዝብ  በአስተማማኝ  ሁኔታ እየተዳረሰ አለመሆኑን መገንዘብ ተችሏል፡፡ ሰሞኑን የተከሰተው የኤሌክትሪክ መቆራረጥ በተለያዩ ቦታዎች ከአምስት ቀናት  እና  ከዚያ  በላይ  በመሆኑ  ዘርፈ  ብዙ  ችግሮች  ማስከተሉ  ታውቋል፡፡  በመሀል  ብልጭ  ድርግም  ስለሚደረግ በርካታ መገልገያ ቁሳቁሶችን ማቃጠሉን የጉዳቱ ሰለባዎች በምሬት ሲናገሩ ተደምጠዋል፡፡ ሰሞኑን የአዲስ አበባ ዋና ዋና መንገዶች  ዳር  የሚገኙ  የንግድ ቤቶች፣  በጀኔሬተር  ለመጠቀም  በመገደዳቸው  በየቦታው  የጄኔሬተሮቹ  ዶቅዷቃ ድምጽና የሚያወጡት ጭስ ቀድሞውንም በመኪናዎች ብዛትና በየቦታው በተከመረው ቆሻሻ ከባቢ አየሯ በከፋ ሁኔታ የተበከለው  አዲስ  አበባ ተጨማሪ ብክልት  ገጥሟታል ተብሏል፡፡  የኤሌክትሪኩ መቆራረጥ፣ ሥራቸው  ከኤሌክትሪክ ጋር የተቆራኘ የሆኑ በርካታ ድርጅቶችን ለኪሳራ መዳረጉ ታውቋል፡፡

#በኦጋዴን በተለያዩ ስፍራዎች የእርስ በእርስ ግጭት መከሰቱ ታወቀ

 ወያኔ ከዚህ ቀደም በሐረርጌ ኦሮሞዎችንና ሶማሌዎችን በማጋጨት የበርካቶች ህይወትን ቀጥፏል፣ በርካቶች የአካል ጉዳተኞች  እንዲሆኑ  አድርጓል፤  ወደ  ሁለት ሚሊዮን  የሚጠጉ  ከቀያቸው  እና  ከቤቶቻቸው  እንዲፈናቀሉ  ማድረጉ እስካሁንም ወደ መኖሪያቸው መመለስ አለመቻላቸው የሚታወስ ነው፡፡ በአሁኑ ወቅትም ይኸው የማጋጨት ዘመቻ ቀጥሎ  በሞያሌ  በቅርቡ  የሶማሌ  ልዩ  ኃይል  የተባለው  ጦር  በድንገት  ተኩስ  ከፍቶ  ግድያ  ፈጽሟል፣  በርካቶችን  አቁስሏል፡፡ በዚህ ባሳለፍነው ሳምንት ሁኔታው ተቀይሮ በኦጋዴንና በአካባቢው ጎሳን ከጎሳ ጋር በማጋጨት በርካታ ጉዳት እየደረሰ መሆኑን ተገንዝበናል፡፡በዶሎ ኦዶ ሦስት ሰዎች መገደላቸው ሲታወቅ ከአስር የሚበልጡ ደግሞ በጽኑ መቁሰላቸውን ከአካባቢው ከወጡ መረጃዎች መገንዘብ ተችሏል፡፡ግጭቱ በጭንሀክሰን፣ በቱሉ ጉሌድ እና በቀብሪ በያህም ተከስቶ እንደነበር ለማወቅ ተችሏል።

#ደብዛቸው ለጠፋው የኢሕአፓ አመራር አባላትና አባላት ድምጽ ማሰማት ይገባል

 ከሁለት  አሥርተ  አመታት  በላይ  በትግራይ  የጨለማ  እስር  ቤቶች  ታስረው  እየማቀቁ  የሚገኙት  ጸገየ­ወይን ገብረ­ መድህን፣  አበራሽ  በርታ  እና  ጓዶቻቸው  ይፈቱ  የሚል  ዓለም  አቀፍ  ዘመቻ  እንዲጠራ  ከእየአቅጣጫው  ማሳሰቢያ እየተነዘረ  መሆኑን  መገንዘብ  ችለናል፡፡  እነዚህ  አስረኞች  እስከ  ዛሬ  ፍርድ  ቤት  ሊቀርቡ  ቀርቶ  የፀሀይ  ብርሀንን ተነፋጓቸው በትግራይ የጉድጓድ ጭለማ እስር ቤቶች መታሰራቸው የሚታወቅ ሲሆን ከዚህ በተጨማሪም ምግብና ውሀ ተነፍጓቸው በርሀብና በጥም እንደሚሰቃዩ የታወቀ ነው፡፡  የእነዚህ የኢሕአፓ እስረኞች ሁኔታ ለዓለም በስፋት መጋለጥ  ይገባዋል  ተብሏል፡፡  የእነዚህ  የኢሕአፓ  እስረኞች ቤተሰቦች  ይህን  ሁሉ  ዓመታት ሌላው  ቀርቶ  በህይወት መኖራቸው እንኳ ሳይነገራቸው ሁሌ በሀዘን እና በትካዜ ውስጥ እንደሚገኙ የሚታወቅ በመሆኑ ወያኔ በጭለማ ቤት አሰቃይቶ ገድሏቸው ከሆነም ለዓለም ህብረተሰብ እንዲገልጽ በሶሻል ሚዲያዎች ሰፊ ዘመቻ መጀመር ይገባዋል የሚል ጥሪ ቀርቧል፡፡
#በአዲስ አበባ ቤቶቻቸው የፈረሱባቸው ኗሪዎች  እሮሮ እያሰሙ ነው ተባለ

 ሰሞኑን  በአዲስ  አበባ፣  በንፋስ  ስልክ  ላፍቶ  ክፍለ­ከተማ፣  ማንጎ  ጨፌ­ግራር  በተባለ  የመኖሪያ  መንደር  ከሃያ አመታት በላይ ያስቆጠሩ መኖሪያ ቤቶች በወያኔ የፌደራል ፖሊስ ኃይል አስገዳጅነት ፈርሰው ኗሪዎቹ ሜዳ ላይ መውደቃቸው  ታውቋል፡፡  ጥቂት  የማይባሉ  ኗሪዎች  ቤቶቻቸው  ውስጥ  ባሉበት  ቤቶቻቸው  በላያቸው  ላይ መፍረሳቸውን  በምሬት  ሲገልጹ  የተሰሙ  ሲሆን  በዚህ  ሳቢያም  ሦስት  እናቶች  በድንጋጤው  ጽንሶቻቸው እንደወረዱባቸው  ለማወቅ  ተችሏል፡፡  እነኚህ  ኗሪዎች፣  አካባቢው  ዳገታማ  በመሆኑ  አስቸጋሪነቱን  በመግለጽ ክፍለ­ከተማው  መንገድ  እንዲሠሩ  ለተጠየቁት  ምላሽ  ስለፈቀደላቸው  አካባቢውን  ደልድለው  መሥራታቸውንና የባለ  ይዞታ  ግብርና  የመሳሰሉትን  እየገበሩ  መኖራቸው  ሕጋዊ  እንደሚያደርጋቸው  በመግለጥ  ቤቶቻቸው የፈረሱባቸው በግፍ መሆኑን በምሬት ሲገልጹ ተሰምተዋል፡፡
#በፖለቲካ እስረኞች ስም የሙስና እስረኞች በጅምላ የመፈታቱ ጉዳይ እያነጋጋሪ ነው ተባለ

 ወያኔ የፖለቲካ እስረኞችን በመፍታት ስም እራሱ በእያንዳንዱ ተጠርጣሪ በመቶ ሚሊዮኖች በሚቆጠር ብር ክስ መመስረቱ የሚታወቅ ሲሆን አሁን ከፖለቲካ እስረኞች ጋር ክሳቸውን እየዘጋ መልቀቁ ወያኔ ሙስናን ለማጠናከር የፖለቲካ ቁማር እየተጫወተ መሆኑን ያሳያል የሚል አስተያየት እየተሰነዘረ መሆኑን መገንዘብ ተችሏል፡፡ አንዳንዶቹ እንደ ዓለማየሁ ጎጆ የመሰሉት በባንክ ከግማሽ ቢሊዮን ብር በላይ ማከማቸታቸው፣ እንደ ገብረዋህድ ገ/ጊዮርጊስ የመሰሉት  ከመኖሪያ  ቤታቸው  በመቶ ሚሊዮን  የሚቆጠር  ብር  እና  በበርካታ  ሺዎች  የሚቆጠር  ዩሮና  የአሜሪካ ዶላር  ተገኝቶ፣  ሌሎቹም  በተመሳሳይ  የሀገርን  ኤኮኖሚ  ማጅራት  መምታቸው  በተጨባጭ  የታወቀ  ሆኖ  ሳለ በፖለቲካ  እስረኛ  ስም  መለቀቃቸው  የወያኔን  ፍርደ­ገምድልነት  ቁልጭ  እርጎ  ያሳያል  ተብሏል፡፡  ይህን  ጉዳይ አስመልክተው የፖለቲካ አዋቂዎች፣ በሙስና የታሰሩ የወያኔ ሹመኞች እና ነጋዴዎች የወንጀሉ መረብ ከቁንጮዎቹ ከስብሀት፣  ከበረከት፣  ከዐባይ  ጸሐዬ፣  ከደብረጽዮን፣  ከአባዱላ፣  ከአዜብ፣  ...ወዘተ  ጋር  የተተበተበ  በመሆኑ  ሆን ተብሎ የቁንጮዎቹን ወንጀል ለመሸፈን እየተደረገ ያለ ዘመቻ መሆኑን ያስረዳሉ፡፡ የሙስና ወንጀለኞችን ክስ መሻር ሀገርን ለዘራፊ ወሮበላዎች አሳልፎ መስጠት በመሆኑ የወያኔን የዘራፊ ስርዓትነት ይከስታል፤ ይመሰክራል ተብሏል፡፡

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Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopia: Anatomy of an African enigmatic polity

Odomaro Mubangizi
May 15, 2018

This paper offers an aspirational and prescriptive analysis to the the current political trajectory that Dr. Abiy Ahmed, the new prime minister of Ethiopia, has embarked on, as a young, dynamic, forwarding looking, and Pan-African, peace and security analyst. However, it is too early to tell what his political and economic performance will be in the years to come, as Ethiopia remains an enigmatic polity that defies clear-cut categorisation and conceptualisation.


Talk of Ethiopia conjures a whole range of metaphors and contradictory perceptions and misconceptions.  With the ascendance to power of Dr. Abiy Ahmed, as Prime Minister of Ethiopia on 2 April 2018, the strategic Horn of Africa country is back in the global limelight.  The political excitement in Ethiopia has not yet died out even though there is guarded or cautious optimism.  Part of the reason why there is such great excitement about both Ethiopia and Dr. Abiy is the manner in which the political transition took place.  First, there were massive protests across the country that nearly tore the country apart.  Second, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn did the honourable thing and resigned amidst rising political tensions, supposedly to pave way for radical political reforms and to be part of such process.  Analysts are still guessing what this process would be.  What is well known is that the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)—a coalition of ethnically based parties—painstakingly held lengthy meetings and finally settled for Dr. Abiy as the chairperson of the ruling party and subsequently was endorsed as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.  The rest, as they say, is history.

While Dr. Abiy’s political honeymoon is still on, it is important to ponder and ruminate over the mythical and mysterious polity known as Ethiopia, which has puzzled scholars for centuries if not millennia.  A lot has been written and will continue to be written about this fascinating African polity, popularly nicknamed the “Land of origins.”  This is because of the archaeological findings of the oldest hominid called “Lucy” or “Dinknesh” in Amharic.  By this fact alone, Ethiopia is placed in an interesting historical epoch and stands in a class of its own in the entire world. Not to forget that Ethiopia also is very much talked about in the Biblical narratives right from the Old Testament (Cush in Genesis, Moses having married an Ethiopia in Exodus, the Queen of Sheba’s historical visit to Jerusalem to seek the wisdom of King Solomon, the Ethiopian Eunuch of the Acts of the Apostles who was baptised by the Apostle Philip, after he had read from the book of prophet Isaiah).

I will use Pan-African and Afropolitan conceptual and theoretical frameworks to shed some light on Dr. Abiy’s Ethiopia in the broader global political economy.  It is important to state right away that Ethiopia remains an enigmatic polity that defies clear-cut categorisation and conceptualisation.  One of the main goals for this piece is to start what will be a long discourse about Ethiopia amidst the current political trajectory that Dr. Abiy has embarked on, as a dynamic, forwarding looking, Pan-African, peace and security analyst and young leader. This is an aspirational and prescriptive approach since it is too early to tell what Dr. Abiy’s political and economic performance will be in the years to come.

The continental context and mood is that of the much talked about Africa rising narrative, Agenda 2063, Sustainable Development Goals, demographic dividend, African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and the increasing attractiveness of Africa as a choice destination for foreign direct investment.  Since Dr. Abiy’s Ethiopia is home to the African Union (AU), one cannot talk about the destiny and fortunes of one ignoring the other.  Ethiopia is, in a way, the mirror of the entire African continent’s paradoxes and contradictions: (1) rich and complex cultural diversity; (2) simmering ethno-politics;  (3) underdevelopment amidst enormous natural resources and financial illicit flows;  (4) brain-drain amidst limited capacity; (5) nascent democratic and governance institutions; (6) tension between tradition and modernity; (7) centrifugal and centripetal political and economic forces; (8) tension between the sacred and the secular; (9) increasing gap between rich and poor; (10) quest for home-grown solutions while heavily relying on foreign aid, foreign direct investment and imported goods and services.  We can call these challenges as ten problems with African development.  Fix them and you claim the 21st century.

Dr. Abiy’s Ethiopia: A paradoxical mythical and mystical polity with manifest destiny in global affairs

That Ethiopia still fascinates scholars, politicians and development agents, is not in dispute.  But it also intrigues many in equal measure.  It is a political enigma in the Horn of Africa, and no scholar has been able to fully grasp the territory that was once referred to as the “Land of Prester John.”  Few countries on earth can claim to have a history that goes back to the mythical biblical times, share narratives with ancient Egypt, provide one source of the might Nile river (the other source being in Uganda), be home to ancient and medieval monasteries, host dozens of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation world heritage sites, have the hottest area on earth, be home to all major world religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), have its own alphabet, be home to over 80 ethnic communities each with a distinct language, and be both modern and ancient.

Psalm 68 states that Ethiopia shall lift up its hands in prayer to God. This prophetic pronouncement that reappears in other forms in other Old Testament passages, situates Ethiopia in the divine plan of God.  And truly in Ethiopia hands are lifted up in prayer to God.  Numerous Orthodox and other Christian churches decorate the entire expansive land of Ethiopia, followed by numerous mosques.  There are also animist religious traditions that are not usually spoken about.  The most dramatic religious monuments are the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela and the controversial belief that the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant is kept securely in Axum at the Church of Our Lady of Sion.  Millions of pilgrims and tourists have flocked to Axum and Lalibela to catch a glimpse of these amazing sacred spaces.

The connection of Ethiopia to the Solomonic dynasty is narrated in the famous ancient book Kibre Negest [] or the Glory of the Kings, that claims that when the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon, [[ii]] she conceived a son with King Solomon. [[iii]] This son, it is believed, was Menelik I.  The veracity of these claims defies verification since historians have not reached consensus on what in fact was Ethiopia of that time, or even where Sheba was actually located.  However, if you cannot prove something to be true, you also cannot categorically deny it to be true.  Joseph Flavius, a famous Jewish historian also narrates the story of the Queen of Sheba whom he says was a queen both of Egypt and Ethiopia: “There was then a woman Queen of Egypt and Ethiopia; she was inquisitive into philosophy, and one that on other accounts also was to be admired.”[[iv]] Ethiopia will remain a land where myth, mystery and history meet, for centuries to come.

It is not only the Old Testament that speaks a lot about Ethiopia (regardless of how one defines Ethiopia of the Old Testament), even the New Testament has several references to it.  Philip the Apostle met an Ethiopia treasurer of Queen Candace who was reading a book of Isaiah (Acts of the Apostles 8:26-39), and after explaining to him what he was reading without understanding, he baptised him.  Tradition has it that it is this convert who brought Christianity to Ethiopia. [[v]]   

A terrain where you have all major world religions converging, you will definitely have world civilisations converging, if not competing.  So you will find Chinese, Indians, Americans, Europeans, and Africans, side by side on the wide and recently tiled streets of Addis Ababa.  This is not Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” but the convergence of civilisations, for the moment.  Chinese, Indian, Ethiopian, Turkish, French, Kenyan, and Italian restaurants are shoulder to shoulder in the streets of Addis Ababa.  A stop at Edna Mall around Bole will bring you face to face with Hollywood Movies like Black Panther, and if you move a few meters away you will be at Yod Abyssinia watching traditional cultural music and dance from the various ethnic communities of Ethiopia.  Food at Yod Abyssinia will be traditional Dolo wat, Injera, Kitiffo, tebs and traditional gomen vegetable.  While at Edna Mall the main food and drinks will be chicken, chips, popcorns and coke.  A few meters away from Edna Mall you will find an imposing Orthodox Church.  Tradition and modernity live side by side—malls as temples of global capitalism and churches or mosques as temples of global faiths.

And yes, even matters of health and wellness carry the consistent paradox.  Spas with sauna and massage parlours for the affluent Afropolitans and expatriates provide stress relief, while ordinary pious Orthodox and other Christians immerse themselves in or sign themselves with holy water at the entrance of churches.  Hot springs near Hilton and in Sodere in Nazareth are choice destinations for those who seek wellness infused with divine aroma aqua therapy.  On the feast of Timkat or Epiphany (celebrated by millions of people from Ethiopia and abroad), the pious faithful are sprinkled with Holy water, while others immerse themselves in the pool of water in Gondar.

You may hold you own beliefs on the supernatural, but I do not see how such a country fully immersed and imbued with sacred and religious symbolism can decline in reverence and awe for the divine.  Forget the once trending scholars’ secularisation thesis that dominated Western academia.  Even during the tense times of the mass protects, state of emergency that rocked the country since 2016, religion and divine invocation was a dominant theme.  When there was some claim of a supernatural phenomenon in Bole Bulbula to the effect that Mary might (since the investigation is still going on) have appeared to a Salesian Polish Nun Alexandra, those who strongly believe in such supernatural phenomena were quick to link the phenomenon with divine intervention to save Ethiopia from a political cataclysm.  And indeed hundreds of devout Christians (both Catholic and Orthodox) flocked to Bole Bulbula to see the alleged apparition but also to pray for peace in Ethiopia.  The image of Our Lady that supposedly appeared on a piece of cloth has since gone viral.  The cloth was taken to the Vatican for careful examination.  This phenomenon, if it is validated, will also add to the global visibility of Ethiopia and contribute to the sacred global political economy of the Land of Prester John.       

Dr. Abiy’s Ethiopia: Recent scholarship but the mystery and enigma still remain

I start with small anecdote.  In some remote area of Ethiopia around Dembidollo, a UN policy expert was trying to impress upon the community the need for evidence-based interventions.  “You need to know right information, accurate statistics, history, and behaviour patterns.” One elder asked through an interpreter: “And why should we know all these?”  The UN expert said: “Once you have all this accurate data and information, then you will plan better for your projects.”  Then the elder pushed further: “Why should we plan better for our projects?”  The UN expert said: “with better planning and good projects like better farming methods, and water supply, you will have increased food production and better income.”  The elder further asked: “But why should we increase food production and increase our income?” The UN expert replied: “Then you will be able to educate your children, have good health, and live a happy life without much difficulties.” The elder replied: “My son, what you have just said about good health and a happy life, is what we have been enjoying all our life since centuries ago. So we do not need your statistics, data, planning for projects, and your so-called better farming methods.”

The short anecdote on knowledge is warning not to exaggerate the role of research and the conventional models of planning that policy makers usually peddle around.  Having said that, we still have to grapple with the issue of scholarship on Ethiopia to be able to discern what Dr. Abiy will have to wrestle with during his term as Prime Minister of Ethiopia.  Fortunately, scholars still have great intellectual appetite for Ethiopian studies.  It needs to be stated at the outset that Ethiopia has always posed serious methodological hurdles as an entity for scholarly investigation.  Research is not done in a political and economic vacuum—there is such a thing as the political economy of knowledge production.  After all, whose knowledge and whose methodology?

With the rise in mass protests across Ethiopia, that eventually gave rise to the shift in power dynamics, the EPRDF itself admitted that there were mistakes in governance and democratic participation.  With this admission, the suggestion was that there should be more inclusive participation—widening the political space.  Political prisoners were released and some of the most critical independent journalists who had been imprisoned such as Nege (on terrorism charges) were released.  One famous political scientist turned politician Dr. Merera Gudina, who had been arrested after his trip from Europe, was also released from prison.  In a situation where political and economic spaces are tightly controlled, do not expect free flow of ideas and knowledge guided by objective and rigorous research.  Intellectual and academic freedom require political and economic freedom.  The most obvious challenge that researchers face in a highly controlled state systems is the limited access to the Internet and current literature.  Dr. Abiy being an intellectual and scholar in his own right, it is hoped that he will be more at home with press freedom and frank intellectual exchange.  This will be another litmus test of his commitment to opening political space.

Scholarly interest in Ethiopia is not something new.  Apart from Egypt, Ethiopia ranks number one in terms of scholarship on ancient African societies.  When scholars speak about African studies, they exclude Ethiopia and create a separate category of Ethiopian Studies, given the unique history and geographical location.  The controversy and polemics on this categorisation will not detain us.  Philosophers and theologians have also tried to do scientific research on Ethiopian manuscripts hidden in ancient monasteries that date to the medieval period.  Due to the fact that these manuscripts are written in an ancient language known as Ge’ez, it is exceedingly difficult to unravel the hidden mysteries in these manuscripts.  Some scholars have even traced Ethiopian philosophy to the modern period of René Descartes.

The much-studied Ethiopian philosopher Zara Yacob occupies a special place in knowledge production.  Surprisingly, it was a Canadian Jesuit philosopher Prof. Claude Sumner who popularised Ethiopian philosophy and wrote several volumes about it. [[vi]] He studied both Zara Yacob’s philosophy and also Oromo wisdom literature as expressed in proverbs and folk tales. [[vii]] The type of philosophy found in proverbs and folk tales is what some call ethno or sage philosophy.  Another Jesuit researcher Van de Loo studied Guji customs and proverbs. [[viii]] A close look at these studies reveals how all the research so far done on Ethiopia is just a scratch on the surface.  Ethiopia is not just layers of time but also layers of truth that one keeps unearthing with time.  A question is usually posed: “how long does it take to understand Ethiopia for research?” The answer goes like this: “One year to understand the language Amharic (and there are other over 80 languages); two years to understand the culture; three years to understand the economy; four years to understand politics; five years to understand religion; and eternity to understand the whole country and its people!” Then the conclusion is that it is only God who understands Ethiopia.  This makes it exciting since there is always something hidden to learn.

As way back as the 17th century a famous Jesuit by the name of Pedro Paez (1564-1622) dared to write a comprehensive history of Ethiopia in two massive volumes covering anthropology, botany, geography, religion, politics, culture and even theology. This history has been recently translated into English for the first time. [[ix]] With this scholarly publication, some of the myths and legends about Ethiopia have been laid to rest, and a foundation for further inquiry has been laid.  The main reason why Ethiopia has been a great source of fascination among scholars and international relations experts is its strategic location close to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, and in a very strategic geopolitical location known as the Horn of Africa.

As early as the 16th and 17th centuries, European imperial powers, explorers and missionaries were busy figuring out the legend of priestly and royal King Prester John.  The deeper motive for fascination with Prester John was the challenging advance and expansion of Islam in the backdrop of Christian crusades.  Not surprisingly, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) got entangled in the dramatic quest of Prester John, and used this intriguing phenomenon to strategically explore possibilities of consolidating the Christian faith in Ethiopia.  St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits took a personal interest in the question of Prester John, and dispatched some of his most talented Jesuits to Ethiopia in the 16th and 17th centuries.  By that time, Ethiopia had become a theatre of complex geopolitical rivalry and theological debates on the nature of Christ—whether he was both human and divine.

Jesuits who were working closely with the kings of the time, naturally found themselves in the middle of these protracted debates.  Because of intimate interaction with the Ethiopian rulers and elites of the time, Jesuits contributed immensely to the intellectual and cultural production of medieval Ethiopia. [
  • ] The journeys of Jesuits in Ethiopia, especially Fathers Antonio Fernadez, Almeida, martyrdom of Fathers Francisco Machado and Bernado Pereira, their interaction with Kings of the time, are meticulously documented in Almeida’s History, Books VII-VIII. [[xi]]

What is paradoxical about Ethiopia’s medieval era is the exposure to the then imperial powers of the time such as Portugal, Spain and the Papacy, and at the same time Ethiopia being sheltered from the rest of Africa.  The well-documented correspondences between Ethiopian Kings and Popes of the time suggest a great deal of interaction between Ethiopia and Europe.  Some papal legates commonly known as Nuncios were being sent from the Vatican to Ethiopia.  One wonders why the vibrant Christian faith that flourished in Ethiopia since the Acts of the Apostles did not spread to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

The challenge that all Christian missionaries who come to Ethiopia have to grapple with is what role they have to play in a country that has had a vibrant Christian life since the 4th century when King Ezana officially declared Ethiopia a Christian country.  Confronted by such a challenge, some expatriate missionaries settle for the provision of social services and try to steer away from trying to make converts. But still this does not solve the issue since not all parts of Ethiopia have been evangelised.  Quite a bit of studies have been made on missionary strategies in Ethiopia, with special focus on the role of Jesuits. [[xii]] Just to demonstrate how Ethiopia has been of great interest for the then Christendom of the 16th century, St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote three documents between 1553 and 1556, instructing Jesuits on how to go about their missionary work in Ethiopia. [[xiii]] In 1553, St. Ignatius wrote a letter to King João III (1521–1557) that contains instructions on whom among Jesuits should be sent for the mission in Ethiopia, and especially, who should be appointed the Patriarch, as well as succession procedure.  This first document is called Information for His Highness on the people of our Company who seem to be suitable for the kingdoms of Prester John.

The second document was written in 1554—Instructions which may help to bring the kingdoms of Prester John into union with the Catholic faith and Church—following the decision to appoint João Nunes Barreto (1520–1568) to become Patriarch of Ethiopia.  Given the complicated history and traditions of Ethiopia that outsiders could not easily understand, some of the instructions and recommendations in this document led to some serious misunderstandings between Jesuits and the Orthodox Christians of Ethiopia.  The third and final document that was written in 1556—Summary of things necessary for Ethiopia—was more of practical procedures for Jesuits who were sent to Emperor Galawdéwos (1540–1559).   St. Ignatius of Loyola, who was a man of details and a strategist, spelt out how Jesuits were to relate with the local clergy and also how bishops were to be consecrated in Ethiopia.

Even though Ethiopia of the global middle ages is largely the Ethiopia of Kings and imperial European rivalry and missionary adventures, it is still being studied by historians up to today.  Since most of the writings of this period were written in Latin, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish, the English-speaking world looks at the recent English translations and works in English with a fresh look.   Among the leading scholars of Ethiopian studies, Professor Richard Pankhurst occupies pride of place.  He has written scholarly works on Ethiopia’s economic history, towns, medicine, education, slave trade, trade, and culture. [[xiv]] Paul B. Henze took bold step to write Ethiopian history form the remote past to the modern time addressing issues such as: [[xv]] the rise and fall of Aksum, Zagwe and Solomonic dynasties, architecture, painting, handcrafts, and Ethiopia’s interaction with the Near East, Arabia, and the Indian Ocean.

In all these interactions, what is commendable is Ethiopia’s resilience and keeping her culture and beliefs intact to a great extent.  Matteo Salvadore, Assistant Professor of History at the American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, recently published an excellent work that can be considered the best intellectual history of Ethiopia during the middle ages. [[xvi]] Salvadore’s writing in 2017 digs deep into Italian and Portuguese sources to unravel Ethiopian and European relations between 1402 and 1555. [[xvii]] A close look at both religious and political motives of the time reveals how Europe influenced and was influenced by Ethiopia in equal measure.  Sites of mutual influence were royal palaces, monasteries, and markets around the Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean, Lisbon, Jerusalem, Venice and Goa.  Important to recall that Portugal intervened in support of the Christian monarchy in the Ethiopian Adali War.

Of course it is a mistake to assume that European encounter with Ethiopia took place only in the Northern Highlands and around palaces of Kings, or that Ethiopia is one monolithic culture, as some people wrongly assume. Far from it.  A social and cultural historical analysis reveals the contrary.  For instance from 1846 until 1880, Massaja, a Capuchin missionary served as Vicar Apostolic among the Oromo of East Africa for over three decades. [[xviii]] It is during this period that the Italian interest in Ethiopia got consolidated.  The issues that Cardinal Massaja struggled with such as Muslim-Christian relations and Orthodox-Catholic relations, are still of great concern in Ethiopia even today. [[xix]] In those days, prominent missionaries played both political and diplomatic roles.  Another missionary who played a similar role in the Apostolic Vicariate of Abyssinia is Giustino de Jacobis. [[xx]] Bishop Daniel Comboni played a similar role in Sudan. On the role of priests in Ethiopia during between 1830 and 1868, Donald Crummey has done an impressive study, focusing on: [[xxi]] political interaction; the central role of missionaries in the genesis of modern Afro-European relations; Ethiopian leaders dealings with representatives of a foreign society; missionary strategies; attitudes towards the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; and identification of Christianity with European culture.

In the 20th century, scholars started to expand discourse on Ethiopia to include other ethnic communities in an attempt to comprehend the evolution of a complex multi-ethnic society and polity we call Ethiopia.  A few illustrations will suffice.  Budge E. A. W., explored the history of Ethiopia from Nubian and Abyssinian perspectives. [[xxii]] Donald Levine, once a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, tried to synthesise the Ethiopian multi-ethnic reality, by exploring the Semitic civilisation, differentiation of peoples and cultures, Amhara, Oromo and Tigrean legacies, and emerged with Greater Ethiopia project. [[xxiii]] William A. Shack studied kinship, local organisation, family, marriage, clanship and ritual, and religious organisation of the Gurage. [[xxiv]] Picking up from where William A. Shack stopped, Daniel Teferra took the study of the Gurage a step further and developed what can be called an “indigenous African economic philosophy” by studying Gurage entrepreneurship. [[xxv]] Teferra’s conclusion is that of a peaceful and cooperative work ethic that includes frugality.  As a result they are one of the most enterprising people in Ethiopia.  To paraphrase Max Weber, one can posit a thesis: Gurage ethic and the spirit of capitalism! If there is such a thing as Africapitalism (a fusion of African values of solidarity, hard work and sharing with capitalist spirit of competition, saving and free enterprise), then the Gurage would be its best manifestation.

Influenced by post-modernism and subaltern analysis, some scholars have tried to expose the scholarship of erasure where some marginalised minority communities have been neglected from mainstream Ethiopian studies.  This is what Dena Freeman and Alula Pankhusrt, in their edited work, Peripheral People: The Excluded Minorities of Ethiopia, written in 2003, tried to do. [[xxvi]] So who are these excluded minorities? It is the Southern Ethiopia craft-workers and hunters, blacksmiths, potters, tanners, woodworkers, and weavers.  Not only is their contribution to the economy of the country not recognised, they are also considered as less human, outcastes, and they are even considered and feared as purveyors of evil and supernatural powers.  They are marginalised socially, economically and politically. [[xxvii]] These excluded and marginalised groups are spread across Ethiopia and live among the major ethnic communities: The North-East: Gurage, Yem, Kambata; North-West: Kafa, Shekacho, Dawro; South-West: Malo, Oyda; Centre-South: Gamo, Wolaita; South-East: Sidama, Konso; Urban or Semi-Urban Areas: Shashemene and Woliso.  Politics of exclusion and marginalisation can very easily move from minorities and subtly cross over to majorities, as long as the logic of domination and marginalisation is the operative mode.     

Dr. Abiy’s Ethiopia: A contested intellectual and political terrain

The sub-title of this article is “An anatomy of an enigmatic African polity.”  This was deliberate.  The discussion so far has steered away from controversies around Ethiopian studies and the politics of knowledge.  The discussion has also not touched on the political economy of Ethiopia and its democratisation process.  It is now appropriate to embark on a cursory look at Ethiopia’s contested intellectual terrain in the backdrop of its long match to modernisation and democratisation.  Important to state at the outset that some of the contradictions hinted at in the previous sections such as complex and diverse ethnic identities, contested historiography, foreign relations, and religion, play a crucial role in complicating the process of nation building and consolidation of democracy in Ethiopia.

From a geopolitical point of view, there is a contestation on where Ethiopia lies—Eastern Africa or Horn of Africa? By the fact that Ethiopia is the headquarters of the AU, this gives it a strategic position within the African continent.  But there is some centrifugal force (real or imagined) that tends to pull Ethiopia to the Orient.  One obvious factor is religion. Both Orthodox Christianity and Islam are global faiths that enjoy a universal appeal and try to extend their influence globally.  Ethiopia is therefore tied to the Near Eastern and Middle Eastern religious loci.  No intellectual discourse can ignore this fact.  This is both an advantage and a challenge.  Intellectually, this makes Ethiopia like a moving target that defies easy conceptualisation.

Just to site another example from regional integration discourse.  Ethiopia is part of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), but Ethiopia is not part of the East African Community.  Two of the main countries of the East African Community Kenya and Uganda are very close to Ethiopia, with Kenya sharing a border with Ethiopia to the North.  If there were a road linking South Sudan to Ethiopia, Uganda would be a few hours from Ethiopia by road.  Has the epistemic gap generated a geopolitical barrier in the Horn of Africa? The fact that Ethiopia was not colonised during the scramble for the rest of Africa, does not cushion it from the negative impact of colonisation chief among them being the balkanisation of Africa into small unviable states.  Using a Pan-Africanist discourse, it is easy to notice that colonial architecture that curved Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, South Sudan, Uganda and Sudan out of the Horn of Africa or East Africa, also affected Ethiopia directly.  The much talked about Ethiopian isolationism can be traced to this colonial project that created spheres of influence for Italy, Britain and France around Ethiopia, in a territory that would be one large geopolitical entity.   

What about inside Ethiopia? Inside Ethiopia there are some intellectual currents of contestations along philosophical and ideological lines.  Ethiopia like other states in Africa, regardless of the influence of colonialism or lack of it, faces the challenge of state formation, national cohesion and democratic consolidation.  The other key challenge is the model of development to be followed.  All these issues are still haunting Ethiopia and the new Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed will have to figure out how to address them.

Ezekiel Gebissa and his colleagues, in a captivating title, Contested Terrain: The Oromo and Ethiopian Studies, have laid a foundation for radical discourse on identity politics in the context of Ethiopian studies that commenced in the 1950s. [[xxviii]] Truth be told, when Eritrea got independence from Ethiopia (some would say this is regrettable), there has been some real or imagined threat of disintegration under the banner of self-determination by other ethno-national groups. There is a question of dissenting scholarship amidst hegemonic and dominating discourse.  And with it comes a related issue of democratising intellectual discourse.  There is much talk about widening democratic space in Ethiopia, but a precondition for political participation is free exchange of ideas and opinions, including dissent.  Free and democratic discourse should be able to candidly address issues such as: history, conquest, resistance, land question, political consciousness, nationalism, diaspora, human rights and national reconciliation.  Struggles for expression and participation as demonstrated by Ethiopian student movements, have been an essential ingredient in Ethiopia’s recurring revolutions. [[xxix]] One can even coin an aphorism that “All history of hitherto existing societies is a history of struggles for expression and participation.”  If you suppress expression and participation, you attract a revolution. [[xxx]]

Right at the heart of the juridical framework that holds the Ethiopian state together, one can detect some inherent contradictions, that if not well handled can lead to serious political challenges that can threaten national cohesion.  For instance article 39 of Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia of December 1994 states: “Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession.”  If such a provision is made in a country that has over 80 ethnic communities that are loosely brought together, while they have unique identities and histories, it can increase the appetite for secession, especially when economic benefits are not equitably distributed in the country.  The same article also provides for equal recognition of all languages, but kept Amharic as the working language of the federal government.  What happened is that each state was left free to choose its working language.  Those who carefully observe the country have noticed that as other ethnic communities emphasise their own language, fluency in Amharic diminishes. This can easily undermine national cohesion and unity in the long run.

Still looking inside the enigmatic polity of Ethiopia, the national question has remained defiant.  Merera Gudina argues that the underlying issue undermining democracy in Ethiopia is an autocratic and authoritarian culture that can be traced to ancient monarchical style of rule, consolidated by the Derg Military regime, and further reinforced by ethnic federalism that was adopted by the 1994 constitution. [[xxxi]] Merera Gudina was rather prophetic in identifying ethnic rivalry and tensions engendered by an ill-conceived decentralisation policy: “The ruling party’s decentralisation drive carries in itself the tendency of heightening the competing ethnic nationalisms which have further provoked intra- and inter-elite rivalry across the board.”[[xxxii]]

We may have to look to philosophy and political economy for some sort of working synthesis to make sense of the Ethiopian enigma.  One scholar who has tried to subject Ethiopia to a philosophical inquiry from a historical and political perspective is Professor Messay Kebede. [[xxxiii]] It is quite interesting that Messay Kebede sites the conviction that Ethiopians have been the elect of God (theme of manifest destiny), and further suggests that Ethiopians consider ancient borders of Ethiopia to extend to “…Egypt in the north, Kenya and Uganda in the South, and Yemen across the Red Sea.”[[xxxiv]] Two problems of Ethiopia that many scholars agree about are: “the weakness of political unity and the persistence of ethnic loyalties—by the geographical configuration.”[[xxxv]] In concluding his study, Messay Kebede calls for a modernisation that entails celebrating ethnic and religious diversity, and that cherishes the values of mutual respect and tolerance of the other. [[xxxvi]]

Ethiopia as one diverse and complex polity: Towards a political-economic philosophical synthesis

The empirical evidence and some conceptual elements so far discussed can provide us with a foundation for a preface of political and economic theory of the enigmatic polity called Ethiopia.  The complex diversity that has marked Ethiopia for millennia will not go way any time soon.  It is a reality to be contended with.  Any politician or political collective that aspires to govern Ethiopia will have to grapple with this phenomenon.  A mishandling of this reality, as history has shown, will inevitably lead to regime collapse.  Ethiopia has an old social, religious, economic, legal and political framework that has stood the test of time.  It is deeply imbedded in the psyche of the ordinary people regardless of intellectual or economic status.  Just as an example from legal studies, Aberra Jembere wrote a scholarly work on Ethiopia’s legal history—An Introduction to the Legal History of Ethiopia 1434-1974, in 2012.  No country in Africa has such a long history of documented legal practice and indigenous jurisprudence.  All the major ethnic communities have their customary laws from time immemorial: Tigry, Amhara, Oromo, Kunama, Gurage, Afar, Somali, Wolaitta, Kafecho, and Anuak, to name a few. [[xxxvii]] The other sources of Ethiopian modern law are religious edicts and the teachings of scholars—Judaism and Christianity, Islam, and teaching of scholars.  Also recall the Fetha Negest—The Law of the Kings—that was introduced to Ethiopia from Coptic Egypt. [[xxxviii]]

Bearing in mind the social, cultural, economic, religious and political history of Ethiopia, the Charter of 1991 and the 1994 constitution arrived at a philosophical synthesis that settled for federalism, as the most viable form of political organisation that ensures unity in diversity, self-rule, inclusivity, participation, without one ethnic community dominating the others, at least in theory.  The philosophy behind a federal arrangement that has, over two hundred years, been adopted by about a third of the world’s countries, is that it is the only best option for governing conflict-prone multi-ethnic societies.  Power is balanced between federal government and states, with neither taking away power and authority granted by the constitution. [[xxxix]]

The best and sure way to have a stable and prosperous polity that is prone to conflict is to put in place a political arrangement that guarantees equitable distribution of power and resources.  This is what federalism tries to do.  But care has to be taken that such a federal arrangement is indeed decentralising power and services, and not just in name or on paper.  If this federal arrangement is ethnicised, it will also tend to lead to fragmentation and ethnic exclusion.  Those who have observed Ethiopia keenly suspect that the recent upheavals that took the country by storm for about three years, are a result of ethnic federalism—a distortion of an otherwise noble political theory, whose main goal is to decongest political power from the centre and to limit any propensity to authoritarianism and monopoly of economic and political power by any one group.

The other key element of Ethiopian philosophical synthesis is the role of Ethiopia in global political and the African continental integration dynamics.  Right from the time of Emperor Haile Selassie [[xl]] up to the regime of Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia has enjoyed a robust international relations status globally.  Meles Zenawi continued the diplomatic charm offensive and placed Ethiopia at the centre of Western interests in Africa but still kept his philosophy of a developmental state model and revolutionary democracy. [[xli]] Whether he succeeded in his effort, the jury is out there.  But the double-digit economic growth, infrastructure development across Ethiopia and the road to industrialisation that Ethiopia has embarked on, are all attributed to Meles Zenawi’s astute economic and political policies.  But he was also blamed for heavy handedness in dealing with opposition forces and independent media.

Be it soft power such as the appeal of Ethiopia’s coffee, colourful attire, religious festivities that attract millions every year, world heritage sites, or hard power of economic influence in the region such as the Ethiopian Airlines that hovers over the skies in all directions of the world, and contribution to peace-keeping operations in distressed countries of Africa such as Somalia and South Sudan, Ethiopia is a force to contend with.  Ethiopia is home the AU and every year, AU summits are held in Addis Ababa, coming up with fantastic and at times over ambitious plans such as Agenda 2063 and AfCFTA.  Ethiopia can therefore be considered the synthesis of the aspirations and dreams of the African continent. After all Ethiopia is the cradle of humanity—and of origins.       

Two other scholars who have helped shed some more light on the Ethiopian enigma, and who have to some extent contributed to the synthesis discussed in this section, are Gérard Prunier and Ficquet in their co-edited Understanding Contemporary Ethiopia: Monarchy, Revolution and the Legacy of Meles Zenawi, that we just cited above.  All the strands of the Ethiopian enigma fall into place—monarchy and territorial expansion, demography, economics, politics, international relations, culture, religion (Islam, Evangelical movement, and Orthodox), pan-Africanism, Eritrean question, democracy and development, electoral politics (2005-2010), urbanisation, and former regimes.  The editors assembled a team of experts on different aspects of Ethiopia of today.  The result is an unprecedented scholarly work.

What else then do we know? We shall touch on a few salient features of the Ethiopian enigma as a gradual introduction to the events that gave rise to Dr. Abiy Ahmed as the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia.  Federalism and revolutionary democracy has been the operating political theory since 1991, with its main dynamics of decentralisation, democratisation, and liberalisation. This arrangement has persisted for over 25 years but with political tensions ever rising. [[xlii]] It is these political tensions that reached a crescendo and became uncontrollable leading to Prime Minister Hailemariam’s resignation in 2018.

Religion and demography, which have been major factors in Ethiopia’s social, economic and political life have undergone some radical shift.  By 2012 Ethiopia’s population reached 91.2 million, being the second largest in Africa following Nigeria.  The infrastructural transformation by way of excellent road networks, and air travel have increased the country’s cohesion but have also facilitated easy mobilisation of the population for political activism.  The three major religions Christianity, Islam, and Judaism continue to live side by side.  The major religious shift in religion has been the rise in numbers of Evangelical Protestants (close to 20 percent) and Moslem (close to 33 percent), when combined, displacing the Christian Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Ethiopia as the dominant religious framework for understanding Ethiopia. [[xliii]] While the Catholic Church is still the minority (about 0.8 percent), it far outranks others in terms of social services provision such as schools, humanitarian projects and hospitals.  Islam is now accorded equal rights under the secular constitution even though once in a while you hear of veiled comments about unsubstantiated links with Islamic fundamentalist groups.

The most dramatic and colourful group among the various religions of Ethiopia that has gained currency are the various protestant movements. Gérard Prunier and Ficquet characterise them aptly: “By their assertiveness, capacity for entrepreneurship, discourse against traditional beliefs and conduct, and use of the resources they get from their transnational networks, the various Protestant movements have become one of the major forces contributing to the birth of a “new Ethiopian man”, in accordance with the developmental stance of the government.”[[xliv]] While Prunier and Ficquet express some concern that such radical transformation may have potential destabilising consequences that are often overlooked, their potential to be agents of democratisation has also been overlooked.

What about bread and butter issues or political economy and elections? There is much talk of Ethiopia as an “African Lion”, given its rapid economic growth (at 11.6 percent in 2007/8.)  Ethiopia has also adopted a climate resilient green economy covering both agriculture and forestry. [[xlv]] There is the much talked about “Growth and Transformation Plan”. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is talk of the town and it is on course even though Egypt keeps making some trouble about this grand project. Skyscrapers are all over the capital, Addis Ababa for all to see. Clothes factories have been opened, Chinese investments have grown by leaps and bounds.  Ethiopia has also embarked on an ambitious industrialisation plan that is home-grown, using its model of the developmental state.  Areas that Ethiopia has embarked on include: agro-processing, light industries, industrial zones, textiles, infrastructure, energy-centred investment, floriculture, and import substitution. [[xlvi]]

However, the major question to raise about the rapid economic growth is its largely state controlled nature and concentrating all major investments in parastatals that, in the words of Gérard Prunier and Ficquet, “…throttles the capacity of private investors to enter Ethiopia’s market.”[[xlvii]] Sectors such as telecommunications and finance are no-go areas, since they are the exclusive reserve of the state.  One does not need to be an expert in economics to see that such an arrangement will lead to shortage of foreign currency, promotes rent-seeking and corruption, distorts the economy, and limits the growth of the private sector, that the government also admits in rhetoric, is the engine of growth.

Electoral politics is probably the most contested area of Ethiopia’s long march to democratisation.  If the 2005 and 2010 elections are anything to go by, then it seems the political playing field is not level.  This is an area that needs some thorough thinking.  Broadening political space and allowing health competition is the way to go.  Along with this widening political space comes freedom of expression and association.  Ethiopia should be commended for subjecting itself to New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)’s Africa’s Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) that aims at improving good governance and supporting socio-economic development in the continent.

While introducing the 2011 NEPAD’s APRM Report for Ethiopia the then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said: “In a relatively short period of two decades, Ethiopia has successfully shifted from a unitary state to a federal system, established a fledgling democracy, and achieved a relatively high economic growth rate.”[[xlviii]] Among the commendable practices that Ethiopia was praised for include: overhauling and developing road networks, assertiveness on self-reliant planning, pro-poor expenditure patterns of the governmental budget, with emphasis on agriculture, food security, irrigation, primary education, and health, and sanitation, Ethiopian Commodity Exchange, microfinance, access to markets, and strong micro-economic policy, that have yielded broad-based economic growth. [[xlix]] The challenges or areas of improvement that NEPAD highlighted are: relations with Eritrea, democracy, governance and building the private sector.

NEPAD’s APRM of 2011came up with quite instructive and useful recommendations for Ethiopia.  Few of them will suffice.  On the federal system, the major criticism is that it has tended to “…essentialise” ethnic identities, “privileging” them over other identity types and, in the process, heightening ethnic tension and conflict.”[[l]] At the same time, Ethiopia’s federalism is praised as  “…refreshing approach to governance,” and that “…it emphasises the positively creative, crosscutting, utilitarian value of ethnicity for democracy and development.”[
  • ]

    Key issues to be addressed if Ethiopia is to be a vibrant modern democracy with its brand of development theory. [[lii]] First, addressing regional inequalities especially in education and public services.  Second, addressing the challenges of capacity at the wereda and kebele levels and fix corruption and inefficiency.  Third, respect the principle of decentralisation that informs federal arrangement and avoid the top-down governance that can lead to intolerance of dissenting views.  This also entails separating party from government.  Fourth, strengthening and democratising oversight institutions such as National Election Board, the Human Rights Commission, the Ombudsman, the Federal Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission. These agencies need to be accorded some independence for them to be effective.  Fifth, a political culture that allows for rule of law, separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, legislature and executive arms of government, allowing competitive electoral politics and a strong civil society.  Sixth, political pluralism and political tolerance.  Working for common ground and unity among all the political actors is the way to go.

    While addressing the issue of mass protests and riots as the “new normal” in Africa, Tana Forum 2018 zeroed down on Ethiopia and analysed what caused the mass protests in 2017.  The Forum’s findings are on target.  The protests that erupted in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa in 2017 were considered to be caused by a combination of both political and economic factors: “Across the three countries, a varying combination of issues such as poor governance, assault on civil liberties, poor social service delivery, poverty, issues of land rights, corruption, brutality by security forces and political inequality triggered mass protests.”[[liii]] With specific reference to Ethiopia, the remote causes of the mass protests and riots were what NEPAD has hinted at, and these are: [[liv]] tensions between the federal government and federal units; failure to manage diverse groups; instigated rivalries between and among ethnic nationalities; lack of inclusion, political inequality, and unequal distribution of social and economic opportunities.

    The state of emergency that was declared in August 2016 only provided some respite to the protest and disruptions.  The issues were much deeper.  The second state of emergency was declared, but this also just reduced the tensions for a while.  Important to note how information and communication technologies (ICTs) and social media played a key role in mobilising protesters both at home and in the diaspora by use of Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and others.  Restricting and shutting down the Internet helped a bit to reduce the protests, but only for a while.  The anger and frustration had reached a climax already.  These are the circumstances that led to the rise of Dr. Abiy on the political scene.

    Ethiopia’s Dr. Abiy Ahmed: Challenges and prospects ahead

    After some detailed discussion of Dr. Abiy’s Ethiopia it is now time to turn to the man himself, who has taken over the mantle to govern the enigmatic polity of Ethiopia.  Both the global and local media have spent quite some time analysing and prescribing solutions for Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister.  He has a job well cut out for him and the expectations are quite high and he is rating is also high.  Fortune did an opinion poll and 59.49 percent of Ethiopian support him, while 39.66 percent are indifferent, and 0.84 are against him. [[lv]] The mood in the country is that of cautious optimism, waiting to see if the rhetoric and euphoria will turn into genuine democratic and economic reforms.

    Dr. Abiy started off with a charm offensive visiting the massive country of Ethiopia, spreading good-will, assuring the population and preaching unity.  This is clearly a good start given that the country had become polarised and was on the verge of collapse.  Calm has been restored. [[lvi]] He has started by projecting himself as a statesman and a unifier.  He has already made official state visits to Kenya and Djibouti. [[lvii]]

    But who is Dr. Abiy Ahmed? [[lviii]] He was born in a South Western Ethiopian town of Beshasha (in Runyankore-Rukiga of South Western Uganda, Beshasha means those who make sacrifices—ethno-linguistics may investigate if there is any link) on 23 April 1976 and he is now 42, being one of the youngest heads of state in the world.  He can bring his youthful energy to the political realm and be a game changer, as some have predicted.  By party affiliation he belongs to the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organisation (OPDO), and he is also a member of the EPRDF—a coalition of the ruling party, that he now heads.  Dr. Abiy has several academic qualifications: Bachelor’s of Arts, Master of Business Administration (Leadstar College of Management and Leadership in partnership with Ashland University), Masters of Arts (University of Greenwich, specialising in transformational leadership, PhD (Addis Ababa University—Institute of Peace and Security Studies).  His PhD. thesis entitled “Social Capital and its Role in Traditional Conflict Resolution in Ethiopia: The Case of Inter-Religious Conflict In Jimma Zone State”.  Issues of inter-religious conflict are at his heart and he can be an excellent bridge builder in a country such as Ethiopia that is multi-religious and multi-ethnic. 

    With the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Dr. Abiy has served in the Ethiopian armed forces since 1991-2010.  He is known for helping to set up the Information Network Security Agency. His distinguished military career has taken him to battlefields during the Ethiopian civil war, United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, and Ethiopian-Eritrea War.

    Dr. Abiy is a typical multicultural Ethiopian who shares the main identity markers that matter.  He was born in Beshasha town near Agaro town Jimma Zone, in Oromia Region.  Having grown in a Muslim family, and some of his grandparents being Muslim while others are Christian.  His amiable personality can be discerned from some of his words.   For instance, during the farewell dinner for his predecessor former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, he said: “Hailemariam is an honest leader who taught leadership is possible through love and dignity.”  He was clearly alluding to Hailemariam’s courage to resign when things were not going well. Another leader would have steered the course and apply more brute force at the risk of plunging the country into deeper trouble. Dr. Abiy further demonstrated his human side: “Unlike me, Hailemariam was not lucky when he came to power. He had no one to support him and call every night to ask how his day passed.”[[lix]] These are some signs of an empathetic person who can feel with the person who endured severe political stress.

    He has gradually risen in the political ranks as well.  Dr. Abiy served at the Executive Committee of OPDO and was also a Member of Parliament, a position that enabled him to be a candidate for the post of Prime Minister.  Then he also served as Minister of Science and Technology.  The vast leadership experience he has marshalled for years will come handy as steers through the political waters.

    The challenges that Dr. Abiy will face in years ahead are still the same as his predecessors have faced.  Ethiopia still has issues of rising inflation, unbalanced terms of trade, forex crunch, [[lx]] great expectations from impatient youth and masses of poor people, unequal distribution of wealth and development.  The private sector is still in its nascent stage and he will have to make radical steps to turn this challenge around.

    The challenge of national cohesion and unity will be around for some time. A lot of effort to heal and reconcile the entire country will be needed. It might even be necessary to organise some sort of Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission so as to bring to a closure the past wounds and hurts that have kept the country in a state of suspicion of a likely return to the dark past days.

    At the level of regional politics, Egypt will continue to complain about the use of the waters of the Nile, so Dr. Abiy will have to continue rallying the Nile Basin countries to pile pressure on Egypt to be fair in its demands with regard to the Nile waters.  This might also entail Ethiopia getting more aggressive in joining regional blocks such as the East African Community, the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa, and above all acting in a way that will give confidence the rest of Africa that Ethiopia is indeed the champion of Pan-Africanism.  Issues such as visa on arrival for all African countries as some have done (Rwanda, Ghana, and Kenya among others).  The newly formed AfCFTA is an opportunity for Dr. Abiy to show leadership in encouraging other African countries to expedite the ratification and implementation of this game changer.

    Opportunities and prospects abound. Dr. Abiy can take advantage of the new mood and enthusiasm in the country and rally the citizens, donors and development partners to work for new dawn in Ethiopia. Both the region and the international community will be willing and eager to invest massively in a country of over 100 million people that is of great strategic location. But, the caveat is that they should be assured that the Internet will keep working, the telecommunications will be reliable, and the private property will be secure.  All these possible but they require political will and some rethinking of the statist economic model and highly centralised planning model that leaves little room for the private sector.

    The most important resource that Ethiopia has is its human resource—people.  Ethiopians in generally patriotic, law-abiding, courteous, almost superstitiously God-fearing, proudly Ethiopian—all these until provoked by unscrupulous politicians.  The Ethiopian population is by and large youthful with almost 60 percent being youth below the age of 35.  When we hear of demographic dividend as an engine for economic growth, it is in Ethiopia where this demographic dividend can be harvested.  The equally youthful new Prime Minister needs to warm up to the youth and engage in a structured conversation with them and listen to what they want or what they can contribute to their society.

    Addis Ababa, the capital city is home to key think tanks and policy hubs of the continent—the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, AU, Institute of Peace and Security Studies, [[lxi]] IGAD.  These are great opportunities. One does not need to invent the wheel when it comes to complex policy issues on climate change, security, industrialisation, governance, social and economic transformation, urbanisation, ICTs, innovation and financing for development.  All these issues have been researched and documented by the named agencies.


    We tried to present a cursory look at an enigmatic polity called Ethiopia.  We call it a preface to social, political and economic theory of Ethiopia from the Queen of Sheba to Dr. Abiy Ahmed. Those hearing about Ethiopia for the first time will learn one or two things about this polity that defies definition and easy conceptualisation.  And for those who have made a profession studying Ethiopia, few more questions may be formulated.  For the Ethiopians, it may be an opportunity to wonder and say: “We never thought of ourselves this way!”     

    Ethiopia, has great potential and its new Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed has come at the right time when the country needs fresh insights to propel the country into the middle income level by 2025.  The key elements for this economic take off are there. But the political dynamics and economic policy bottlenecks need to be addressed. Some of these challenges have been addressed in these pages.  The prospects have also been explored.

    In the broader framework of “Africa rising narrative”, Ethiopia offers a paradigm of what the rest of Africa can become, with some coordinated efforts and resilience.  For the investors who are looking for where to put their money, strike while the iron is hot.  Ethiopia, more than ever before, is ripe for massive foreign direct investment.  It will be a regional economic hub in the not so distant future.  To bless this new mood, even the little known regional body of Catholic Bishops of Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern and Africa will be having their 19th Plenary Assembly from 13 to 23 July 2018, in Addis Ababa.  While this might on the surface look like a small religious event, it has a positive impact in boosting the image of Ethiopia on the global scene.  The Catholic Church has a following of over 1.2 billion members and still counting.  Even if a small section of this large constituency gathers, the impact is felt world-wide.  This event will also help to boost Ethiopia’s tourism industry, especially sacred tourism, in which for historical reasons, it has comparative advantage.   

    If Ethiopia can fix its social, economic and political challenges, it will provide a paradigm for the rest of the continent.  Ethiopia is a land of vibrant diversity, but it needs to promote equal dignity and peaceful unity, inspired by the cultural and religious values that mark Ethiopia.

    These qualities form a foundation for social capital that is key to development. In a way Dr. Abiy embodies these qualities. If he continues on the current trajectory, there is no reason why he will not join the rest of distinguished leaders that have gone before him (their limitations not withstanding).  May the words of the Psalmist come true: “Ethiopia shall lift up its hands in prayer to God”, to celebrate the economic and political prosperity for all, but also to embrace divergent views and opinions.


    * Dr. Odomaro Mubangizi teaches social and political philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy and Theology, and he is Dean of the Department of Philosophy at the same institute. He is also Editor of the Justice, Peace and Environment Bulletin.


    See, Baye Felleke, Questions about the Kibre Negest.

    [ii] This visit is recorded in 1Kings 10:1-1-13 and 2 Chronicles 9:1-12. Even Jesus quotes the visit in Mathew 12:42, Luke 11:31.

    [iii] For a full narrative of this episode see Sir E. A. Wallis Budge (Trans.), The Queen of Sheba and He Only Son Menyelik  (Kebra Nagast), (Cambridge, Ontario: In Parenthesis Publications, 2000), pp. 21-40.

    [iv] See, William Whiston (Translator), The Works of Josephus (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988), p. 224.

    [v] Felleke, op. cit. p. 10.

    [vi] For a scholarly discussion on Ethiopian Philosophy and its impact on African philosophy see, “The significance of Ethiopian philosophy for the problematics of an african philosophy”  in Claude Sumner & Samuel Wolde Yohannes (eds.), Perspectives in African Philosophy: An Anthology on "Problematics of an African Philosophy: Twenty Years After, 1976-1996". Addis Ababa University 2002.

    [vii] See Claude Sumner, African Philosophy (Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University, 1998); Claude Sumner, Living Springs of Wisdom and Philosophy Volume II  The Ethiopian Sources of African Philosophy (Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University, 1999); Claude Sumner, Living Springs of Wisdom and Philosophy Volume I Problematics of an African Philosophy (Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University, 1
Arts, Culture and Community Affairs / Ethiopia: The last Greeks of Addis Ababa
« Last post by staff3 on April 10, 2018, 08:42:10 AM »
Ethiopia: The last Greeks of Addis Ababa

Ethiopia and Greece's relationship dates back to ancient times, and a small community is keeping both cultures alive.

by Alice McCool

Ethiopia: The last Greeks of Addis Ababa
Ambassador Nikolaos Patakias takes a photo on the eve of Hellenic National Day [Thomas Lewton/Al Jazeera]
more on Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - "Did you know that Ethiopia gets its name from the Greek word Aethiopia, first used by Homer?" Greek Ambassador to Ethiopia Nikolaos Patakias says proudly.

Sitting in his office in the capital Addis Ababa, Patakias shows an ancient Greek romantic novel, The Aethiopica. It's a love story about the relationship between the daughter of the queen of Ethiopia and a Greek descendant of Achilles.

Also in his possession are photographs of relics from the ancient Ethiopian Kingdom of Axum. These include the famous Ezana Stone and some gold coins, both of which have ancient Greek scripture written on them.

"Tradition counts for a lot in Ethiopia and Greece, we follow it by the book," says businessman Odysseas Parris, 57, sitting in a Greek restaurant close to the ambassador's residence.

"We're very lucky because we get to enjoy festivities from both cultures."

As he sips his frappe - Greek iced coffee - and his wife Anastasia Mitsopoulou smokes and talks expressively with friends, they are unmistakably Mediterranean.

Anastasia Mitsopoulou and Odysseas Parris [Alice McCool/Al Jazeera]

Yet Parris and Mitsopoulou are two of Addis Ababa's second generation Ethio-Greeks. Both of Parris' grandfathers were Greek and grandmothers Ethiopian. He, and his parents before him, were born in Ethiopia.

Mitsopoulou's story is similar, though she is also part Italian. But being part of what are arguably two of the world's proudest and most ancient cultures isn't always easy, says Mitsopoulou, a teacher at the Greek Community School.

"Neither country really accepts us as one of them. In Greece we are Ethiopians, and in Ethiopia we are Greeks," she says with a sigh.

Greek sailors and merchants began emigrating to Ethiopia in significant numbers in the late 1800s. It is likely some were refugees of the Greek Genocide, Greek Civil War, and later the military dictatorship.

In its heyday, the embassy here estimates the Greek community numbered between 5,000 and 6,000 people.
Influential members of society

Eleni Tsimas, 80, is at the Greek Orthodox Church in Piazza, Addis' old Italian quarter. Although an ethnic Greek, Tsimas was born in Ethiopia to parents who ran a small business. Asked if she feels more Ethiopian or more Greek, she quickly replies, "I am Ethiopian. In Greece I am a foreigner. What to do?"

From age 18, she worked at Bambis, a pharmacy, grocery and eventually supermarket owned by a rich Greek family who moved to Addis in 1890. In the subsequent decades, Greeks became influential members of Ethiopian society and were among the closest advisers to Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian emperor and Rastafarian messiah famous for resisting Italian dictator Mussolini's invasion.

"I met him many times, we'd go to the palace. He was something special. He would stop the car and give us golden coins," remembers Tsimas, who ended up marrying into the Bambis family.

But like thousands of other Greeks, the Bambis fled Ethiopia in the '70s following a revolution that overthrew the royal family, installing the Derg communist dictatorship that ruled the country from 1974 to 1987. With this came the nationalisation of all property and hostility towards foreigners, so most of the Ethio-Greek community left.

This included Tsimas and her husband. "They came with guns to take over the shop, claiming it as public property," she recalls.
Eleni Tsimas [Alice McCool/Al Jazeera]

Always yearning to return to Ethiopia during their 20 years in Greece, after the Derg regime fell Tsimas' husband saw Bambis was up for auction and won the bid. Today, they run the supermarket together.

"I started at age 18 and at age 80 I am back again. Yesterday I worked from eight in the morning until eight in the evening. I always work. I even delivered my children in the grocery," Tsimas says with a chuckle.
Greek community today

On the eve of Greek Independence Day there is a buzz in the Santorini Greek Restaurant as members and friends of the community drop in and out, frenetically discussing celebration plans. As everyone sits at one big table chatting, popcorn - made traditionally as part of Ethiopian coffee ceremonies - is brought as a snack to have with drinks. Greek salads, souvlaki and tzatziki soon follow.

Around the table are second generation Ethio-Greeks, half-Ethiopian Greeks who have recently moved to Addis, and Ethiopians who are in some way connected to Greece through study, work or marriage.

Later in the evening, Ambassador Patakias and his family swing by for dinner and to show off posters they have made for the celebration, set to be even bigger than usual this year. As well as a special ceremony at the Greek Orthodox Church, and a showcase of Greek dancing and poetry at the Greek Community School, an official party is being held at the Greek Club - and Alternate Foreign Minister for European Affairs George Katrougalos will be in attendance.

These institutions in the city are at the heart of the now 500-person small Greek community in Addis. But a number of those interviewed said infighting has left some Ethio-Greeks feeling excluded. Community leaders, some say, lead with an iron fist and resist change. Some spoke of financial disputes, others of backward attitudes, such as prejudice against Turkish people who came to play a friendly sports match at the Greek Club.

Gabriel Shebale, an Ethiopian doctor who lived in Athens for nearly 30 years, is a friend of the community. He agrees there are issues "because they often only interact with each other, and are not the largest community. They develop a ghetto-like system. The infighting makes the community weaker," he says.
The new Ethio-Greeks

Barbara Gembiaou owns the restaurant, which she runs with the help of her brother Filippos. Born in Greece but half-Ethiopian, Gembiaou moved to Addis eight years ago and set up Santorini shortly afterwards. Filippos followed a year later.

Both now have families in Ethiopia (new Ethio-Greeks) and they seem settled for now. Painted the Greek national colours of blue and white, the mainly al fresco restaurant full of dusty trinkets and old postcards has the homely feel of a Greek taverna.

The siblings are two of an increasing number of Greeks - some with Ethiopian heritage, others not - who moved to Ethiopia after the start of the Greek financial crisis in 2007. This is what brought back Shebale, the Ethiopian doctor, who said that with the crisis came increasingly negative attitudes towards foreigners.

Meanwhile, the embassy is encouraging Greeks to invest in Ethiopia's agriculture, technology, textile and export industries. Ambassador Patakias recently stated in the local media that trade between the two countries has risen from 12 million euros (roughly $14.7m today) in 2013 to 22.5 euros million (roughly $27.6m today) in 2016, and he expects it to increase at an even faster rate over the next few years.
Filippos Gembiaou at the Santorini Greek Restaurant [Thomas Lewton/Al Jazeera]
'Magical culture'

But Gembiaou makes it clear she didn't set up her restaurant solely for business reasons.

"It's our house and we invite people in. As you've seen this place doesn't feel like a restaurant - you're only reminded it is when you have to pay before you leave," she says, adding, "It's the soul of this place that makes it Greek."

"Ethiopian culture is something magical for me and I still haven't discovered it all yet," explains Gembiaou, who sees many similarities between the two cultures.

"First there's the religion which gives you a culture, even if you don't believe. The fact that Ethiopia was never colonised is also important. They are very proud, as the Greeks are of how they freed their heritage from the Ottomans. So that makes our connection stronger."

The restaurant owner goes on to highlight more day-to-day cultural similarities.

"Ethiopian and Greek TV dramas are similar. And coffee culture - we can both meet for coffee and pass three hours talking without realising it," she says with a laugh.

Gembiaou's initial reason for visiting Ethiopia was personal. "After my father died we discovered among his personal things that we have a brother here who he left behind, so I came to find him," she explains.

Gembiaou found her brother - and even ended up marrying the Ethio-Greek who helped her locate him. The two have one child together, though they are now divorced.

A captain in the Royal Ethiopian Navy, Barbara and Filippos' Ethiopian father travelled to Greece to train as part of a bilateral agreement between the two countries. He later went on to set up the first Ethiopian restaurant in the country.

"My father was one of the committee to sign the contract between the two navies 60 years ago," Gembiaou says with pride.

She adds this is particularly relevant today as the during the Greek minister's visit a similar agreement will be signed, giving young Ethiopian seafarers the opportunity to work on Greek vessels.

Gembiaou pauses for a minute and then adds: "I feel extremely happy about this because for me it's like history making circles."

The Greek Club in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia [Thomas Lewton/Al Jazeera]

SOURCE: Al Jazeera
AfCFTA: World’s largest free trade area born—Africa’s game changer
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Odomaro Mubangizi
Apr 06, 2018

African heads of state and government have recently signed what is now the world’s largest free trade area known as African Continental Free Trade Area. While the excitement is still in the air, it is important to reflect on what this landmark step means concretely, and also suggest some areas that need special attention. 


It is 21 March 2018, in Rwanda’s sparklingly clean capital city Kigali.  44 African heads of state and government or their representatives gathered to sign what is now the world’s largest free trade area known as African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).  African leaders in the spirit of pan-Africanism have time around done us proud—never mind the 11 who have not yet signed the much-awaited game changer in Africa’s structural transformation.  While the excitement is still in the air, it is important to reflect on what this landmark step in the implementation of Agenda 2063 means concretely, and also suggest some areas that need special attention.

Afro-pessimists beware! A trading block of close to 1.3 billion people, about 60 percent of whom are young, restless, and innovative youth, is a force to reckon with. We can safely conclude that finally the African “giant elephant” that has been sleeping in Africa’s tropical forests and grasslands has woken up and no one can stop it.  To put it simply, once the AfCFTA treaty is ratified by the respective African parliaments, African goods, services, people and ideas will freely roam the cradle of humanity from Cape to Cairo, from Somalia to Nigeria (I am still puzzled why Africa’s most populous country of over 180 million people can hesitate to sign the free trade treaty).  The benefits of a whole continental trading block are unfathomable.

Peace and political dividends to be reaped from a large African market can also not be underestimated.  With a sense of common purpose, unity, and free movement of African people both at home and in diaspora, this is the best time to celebrate Africanity.  An era of African renaissance and Afro-optimism has dawned.  This momentum should be sustained.

Background to AfCFTA   

The quest for a continental free trade area is part of the pan-African dream that dates back to luminaries such as George Padmore, Du Bois, Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Albert Lithuli, Julius Nyerere, Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, to name just a few.  The philosophical framework that underpins AfCFTA is clearly pan-Africanism.  Issa Shivji speaks of pan-Africanism with passion thus: “It is the Africanness of my village which binds us emotionally and arouses the whole bundle of perceptions, convictions, emotions and feelings associated with the phenomenon called nationalism.  Thus African nationalism is Pan-Africanism.  There is no, and cannot be, African nationalism outside of, apart from, or different from Pan-Africanism.”[] This political emotion and intense feeling of being African gave rise to a radical movement that consolidated political solidarity for all African peoples.

As Africa sought to free itself from the forces of colonialism, African nationalist thought emerged as a force against imperialism, whose main goal was African unity.  It is no surprise that Pan-Africanism was developed by Africans in diaspora in the 19th century by famous Afro-Americans as well as Afro-Caribbeans like Henry Sylvester Williams, George Padmore, W.E.B. Du Bois and C. L. R. James.  Key issues at that time revolved around cultural and racial concerns, aiming at racial equality and non-discrimination.  Some brief highlights of Pan-African Congresses will suffice. The 1923 congress, stated: “In fine, we ask in tall the world, that black folk be treated as men.” The Pan-African Federation was formed in Britain in 1945, that later organised the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester in the same year. The Fifth Pan-African Congress demanded Africa’s independence and coined the slogan: “African for Africans.”  [It is] important to recognise that the leading organisers of this congress were Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Jomo Kenyatta from Kenya.  [It is also worth to] note how the economic aspect of Pan-Africanism is well captured by one of the resolutions of the 5th Pan-African Congress: “We condemn the monopoly of capital and the rule of private wealth and industry for private profit alone.  We welcome economic democracy as the only real democracy.”

While the passion for African unity was not in doubt among post-colonial African leaders, the means to attain this unity were heavily contested.  Nkrumah, on the one hand, wanted a full-fledged political African union that he even termed the United States of Africa. Nyerere, on the other hand, wanted a gradual unification that would start from below through regional blocks such as the East African Community (EAC).  After several conferences and with Ghana’s independence in 1957, the Charter of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was adopted in May 1961, by 32 African states in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  With the OAU born, and several African countries independent, the cry for Pan-Africanism got toned down with the respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of African states.  Also the principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs was adopted.

The main challenge that post-colonial African leaders failed to resolve was on how to liberate Africa from colonialism and its impact without at the same time working for African unity.  Nkrumah and some others had rightly observed that you couldn’t address colonialism without dismantling the balkanisation of Africa into small unviable states.  The other major challenge still facing the African continent as far as the Pan-African vision is: what should come first—political union or economic union? Nkrumah had simplified it thus: “Seek you first the political union and the economic union shall be added thereunto.” With the African Union (AU) Constitutive Act adopted in 2001, the next task was economic union.  The Kigali Declaration of 21 March 2018, at the 10th Extraordinary Summit of the AU, is effectively the most decisive step towards economic union of the African continent.

AfCFTA has taken a while to come.  The original vision was contained in the Lagos Plan of Action that was adopted by African heads of state and government in 1980.  11 years later in 1991, the Abuja Treaty established the African Economic Community.  Since then nothing much had taken place, except the much-celebrated Agenda 2063.  A look at some major aspirations of Agenda 2063 demonstrates how attempts have been made to realise the age-old Pan-African vision: [[ii]] Aspiration 1. A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development; Aspiration 2. An integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan Africanism; Aspiration 7.  Africa as a strong, united, resilient and influential global partner and player.  This 7th aspiration is the one that is closely linked to the birth of AfCFTA.     

What AfCFTA means for the African continent

It is estimated that AfCFTA will bring together 55 AU member states, whose combined gross domestic product (GDP) is more than US $ 2 trillion.  Intra-African trade is expected to grow by over 50 percent in the days ahead.  Removing trade barriers among African states will no doubt enhance African integration, by reducing trade tariffs, and this will in the long run, enable Africa to compete with larger economies of the world such as China, India, the United States of America and the European Union (EU).  The exploitation of small African countries with their low bargaining power will come to an end.  The fact that some few African countries have large economies and will therefore have some advantage over the small economies, is an issue to contend with. But this is true even in the EU.  In the broader scheme of things, all will benefit.  The cost of intra-African trade is by far lower than African countries engaging in overseas trade.  But the greatest benefit of AfCFTA is the free movement of peoples, goods and services among African countries.

Africa is also expected to be home of close to 2.5 billion people by 2050.  With what has been termed a demographic dividend, Africa could also turn out to be the continent with the highest working age population of 26 percent worldwide.  It is also estimated that Africa’s economy will grow twice as fast as that of the developed world.  The benefits of economic integration that AfCFTA is all about have been praised by Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the AU Commission: “Economic integration thus responds not only to aspirations born out of Pan-Africanism, but also a practical imperative linked to the economic viability of the continent.”  Why should Africans doing business in Africa pay higher tariffs than when they are exporting outside Africa?

As for President Paul Kagame who hosted the historical summit in Kigali, he sees greater benefits including dignity and prosperity for all Africans: “What is at stake is the dignity and well-being of Africa’s farmers, workers, and entrepreneurs, particularly women and youth.  The promise of trade and free movement is prosperity for all Africans, because we are prioritising the production of value-added goods and services that are ‘Made in Africa.’”  And when President Kagame who now is Chair of AU speaks, you better take his word seriously.  He is also working very hard to ensure that the AU becomes self-reliant in terms of funding its major programmes.  If he can bring the same rigour and order he has established in post-genocide Rwanda to the entire African continent, the dignity of the African people can be restored sooner than we anticipated.

A borderless Africa has been born in AfCFTA.  Once at least 22 countries have ratified the treaty, it takes effect. This may take some months before we can traverse the huge continent, but the crucial step has been taken.

How to maximise the benefits of AfCFTA?

In line with the AU Agenda 2063 the strategic areas that all our countries should focus on should include the following: science, technology and innovation; modern agriculture for increased productivity; world-class infrastructure across Africa (hydro electric dams, high speed trains, information and communication technologies penetration, open skies for African airlines); skilled personnel trained in information technology and innovation.

Africa still lags behind in industrialisation.  Some policies are being worked on to change this situation. [[iii]] For massive industrialisation to happen across Africa, mechanisms for innovative financing of Africa are needed. [[iv]] Often times financing is not well-coordinated.

Development partners who are flocking to Africa will also need to harmonise their funding policies to the broader aspirations of the continent as an economic block.  Among the innovative strategies for financing Africa are: domestic financial resource mobilisation (oil revenues, metallic minerals); stopping illicit financial flows; and private equity.

In terms of capacity, Africa has quite a number of capacity building institutions such as the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) based in Harare, Zimbabwe, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Institute of Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Then add hundreds of African universities.  If these institutions were to collaborate and harmonise their research and policy studies with a focus on African solutions, a lot can be achieved.  One gets an impression that institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), AfDB, UNDP, UNECA, etc., are steering the African continent in divergent development and policy directions.  Why do development policies on Africa keep on changing when the challenges of poverty, inequality, illiteracy and disease are constant?

With the shift from Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new approach that emphasises an integrated and coherent approach to sustainable development in Africa has been adopted. [[v]] Even though some of these approaches reflect elements of the neoliberal agenda, Africa can still make good use of these approaches.  The eight MDGs of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development, should not be abandoned. AfCFTA will in fact make it easier for individual countries to meet these goals much faster.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to development policies and priorities.  Among the impressive list of the 17 SDGs I consider the following to be given priority: [[vi]] Goal 1—end poverty in all its forms everywhere (it is no longer poverty alleviation) by 2030; Goal 2—end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; Goal 4—ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all (free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education); Goal 5—achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; Goal 7—ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable  and modern energy for all; Goal 9—build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation (including regional and trans border infrastructure); Goal 10—reduce inequality within and among countries; Goal 11—make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; Goal 15—protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity; Goal 16—promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels (includes rule of law, reduction of illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets, reduction of corruption and bribery, effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels).

To these we could add massive investment in tourism and take advantage of free movement of peoples.  Intra-African tourism needs to be enhanced.  Although date is not readily available, not many Africans are known to make tourist trips within Africa due to visa restriction and cost of air travel. This will hopefully improve once the free movement of people is facilitated through a visa-on-arrival policy across Africa.

Within regard to industrialisation and urbanisation policy in Africa, UNECA has done some impressive research that just needs to be translated into policies for each country:  Urbanisation and Industrialisation for Africa’s Transformation (2017); Transformative Industrial Policy for Africa (2016); and Greening Africa’s Industrialisation (2016).

Another major area of focus will be regional integration that can enhance innovation and competitiveness.  Some of the already existing regional blocs such as the EAC, the Economic Community of West African States, the Community of Sahel-Saharan States, and Arab Maghreb Union have ratified protocols on free movement of persons up to more than 60 percent share. [[vii]] And as Africa becomes a more attractive investment destination, it is important to pay close attention to investment policies as well as investment treaties within Africa and how they affect regional integration. [[viii]] Reforms will be carried out to improve investment climate and especially remove protectionist policies, unpredictable political transitions and enhance the rule of law.  The challenge of some agreements that tend to offer more protection and rights to foreign investors (at times done through corrupt deals) needs to be addressed urgently.

Africa still faces the challenge of corruption and governance.  It is hoped that AfCFTA will not be used as a vehicle for the free movement of ill-gotten wealth across the continent. That is why governance has to be taken seriously.  The policy recommendations of Africa Governance Report IV are therefore commendable: enhancing ownership and participation in development planning; improving transparency and accountability; building credible governance institutions; and improving the regional and global governance architecture.[[ix]]

African economies need macroeconomic policies that will enable structural economic transformation to take place.  This will require an honest evaluation of the previous development policy frameworks since the 1960s.  What will macroeconomic policies address? [
  • ] First, there is need to scale up public investment and provision of public goods. Second, there is need to ensure macro stability to attract and sustain private investment.  Third, the need to coordinate investment and other development policies.  Fourth the need to mobilise local resources and reduce aid dependence.  And finally, the need to secure fiscal sustainability through fiscal legitimacy.  The crucial issue that UNECA recommends for maximising benefits of regional integration aptly stated thus: “To maximise benefits from regional integration and pan-African integration, development strategy and investment should be well coordinated with each regional bloc and between them (that is, continent-wide), allowing dense production networks to generate secure jobs as evenly as possible across the region.”[[xi]]

Finally, there is need for listening to African-focused intelligentsia and Afropolitans, who can offer constructive reflection on policy and practice both theoretically and empirically.  There are quite of a number of research centres across Africa doing this sort of thing, but they need to be better coordinated and avoid duplication.  Such centres include the Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa.  Some of the policy issues that need rigorous analysis with policy implications include: [[xii]] the role of higher education in Africa; land ownership and land-grabbing; gender inclusion; investment by the intellectual diaspora; globalisation; migration; rural-urban migration; agriculture and Africa’s structural transformation; the green economy and Africa’s economic transformation; and private-public partnership.

Conclusion: Enablers and spoilers

Now that AfCFTA is born, the work of implementation begins.  The first enabler is of course the ratification of the treaty by the respective parliaments.  Second, the self-inflicted visa restrictions on fellow Africans has to be replaced by free visa-on-arrival for all Africans across the continent.  Third, Africans in the diaspora also need to be part of this new dawn and bring home their business and intellectual skills they have honed for decades abroad.  Fourth, full participation of the civil society and private sector in the implementation of AfCFTA is a must.  Regional integration is a project for all and not just for the few elite or those in power.  Fifth, Internet connectivity and mobile telephones are a major enabler and everything should be done to ensure that the respective countries are well-connected.

What of spoilers? There are those who will want to spoil the party of regional integration. First, the numerous armed militias roaming across the continent especially in Somalia, Central Africa, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria’s Boko Haram, are a major negative force and need concerted efforts.  Also to watch out for are Islamic Militants such as Al Shabab in Somalia, who will want to once in a while make attacks on travellers.  The other category of spoilers are power-hungry politicians who will use AfCFTA to further their selfish political agenda instead of promoting the common good of their respective countries.  It is such people who will make use of the freedom of movement of goods, services and people to engage in illicit financial flows.

Some of the African countries that are too protective of their economies and are following a state-controlled economic model will still want to restrict use of telecommunication, media and control foreign currency as well as the financial sector.  Some standard rules and regulations should be agreed upon on these matters.                     

If Africa embraces AfCFTA with enthusiasm and puts in place mechanisms to maximise the benefits that have been highlighted, there is no reason why Africa will not claim the 21st century. Let all Afro-optimists mobilise their energies and resources around this new concept of AfCFTA.  Africa is on the verge of an economic take off.  Remember that there is always something new out of Africa.


* Doctor Odomaro Mubangizi teaches social and political philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where he is also Dean of the Department of Philosophy. He is also Editor of Justice, Peace and Environment Bulletin.


Issa G. Shivji, Where is Uhuru? Reflections on the Struggle for Democracy in Africa (Nairobi: Pambazuka Press, 2009), p. 197.

[ii] See Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, First Ten-Year Implementation Plan 2014-2023. (Addis Ababa: AU, 2015), Pp. 45-91.

[iii] See Arkebe Oqubay, Made in Africa: Industrial Policy in Ethiopia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[iv] See Abdalla Hamdok (Ed), Innovative Financing for the Economic Transformation of Africa, (Addis Ababa: UNECA, 2015).

[v] See ECA, AU, ADB, UNDP, MDGS to Agenda 2063/SDGs: Transition Report 2016 (Addis Ababa, 2016).

[vi] See ibid., pp. 114-134.

[vii] African Union, UNECA, ADB, Innovation, Competitiveness and Regional Integration: Assessing Regional Integration in Africa VII (Addis Ababa: ECA, 2016), p. 29

[viii] See UNECA, Investment Policies and Bilateral Investment Treaties in Africa (Addis Ababa: ECA, 2016).

[ix] UNECA, Measuring Corruption in Africa: The International Dimension Matters.  African Governance Report IV (Addis Ababa: ECA, 2016), pp. xiv-xv.

  • See UNECA, Macroeconomic Policy and Structural Transformation of African Economies (Addis Ababa: ECA, 2016), pp. 35- 52.
[xi] Ibid., p. 15.

[xii] See Journal of African Transformation: Reflections on Policy and Practice, Volume 1, No. 1, 2015, Volume 1, No. 2, 2015.
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የሕዝቡ ጥያቄ መሰረታዊ ለውጥ ነው::

የሰሞኑ የኢትዮጵያ ፖለቲካና ፖለቲከኞች የመወያያ ርዕስ የዶ/ር ዐቢይ አሕመድ የትግሬ-ወያኔው ጭምብል «ኢሕዴግ» ሊቀመንበር መሆንና፣ አይቀሬው የአገሪቱ ጠቅላይ ሚኒስቴር የመሆን ጉዳይ ነው። በተወሰነ  የሀገራችን  ሕዝብ  ዘንድ የማይጨበጥ  ተስፋ ማጫሩም የሚታይ ነው።  ይሁንና  ግን  የዶ/ዐብይ  ወደ ሥልጣን  መምጣት መታየት ያለበት ኢሕአዲግ ከገባበት ማጥ ውስጥ ቢያወጣኝ ብሎ ያደረገው ውስጠ ሹም ሽር አንፃር ነው። ይህ ውስጠ ሹም ሽር ይበልጥ የሚያተኩረው  ኢሕአዲግን ከማጡ ውስጥ ለማውጣት ድርጅታዊ የጥገና ለውጥን ማካሄድ ላይ ይሆናል።  ይህንን ለማድረግ ከዚህ በፊት ድርጅቱ በኢትዮጵያ ሕዝብ ላይ የጣላቸውን የአፋኝ ድንጋጌዎችን  ሊያነሳ ይችላል።  እራሱን ያደሰ አስመስለው ሊያሳዩት ይችላሉ ብሎ የሚያስባቸውን የመቀባባት እርምጃዎችን  ሊያደርግ ይችላል። ከነዚህም ወስጥ  ያለጥፋታቸው ያሠራቸውን መፍታት፣ ወታደሩ ከግድያው እንዲታቀብ የማድረግ፣ ለወጣቱ የተወሰነ ጊዜያዊ የሥራ ፈጠራ የማድረግ፣ እሱ በፈጠራቸው የጎሳ ግጭት የተፈናቀሉትን ወደ ቀያቸው የመመለስ ወዘተ ተግባሮችን  ሊያካሄድ ይችላል።   ይሁንና   እነዚህ መለስተኛ የሆኑ የጥገና መሰል ለውጦች ድርጂቱ ባለፉት 27 ዓመታት የፈጸማቸው ወንጀሎች ናቸው። ለኢትዮጵያ ሕዝብ እንደ መልካም ሥራ ተቆጥረው የሚሰጡት ከቶም ሊሆኑ አይችሉም። ሕዝቡ በወሰደው ትግሉ በግዴታ እራሱን ተመልሶ እንዲፈትሽ  መደረጉ ነው እውነቱ። ይህ መቀባባት  ሕዝቡ ከሚጠይቀው መሠረታዊ ለውጥ ጋር ምንም የሚያገናኛቸው ነገር የለም።

ኢሕአዲግ መለስም መራው ዐብይ ድርጅታዊ ቁመናውና የሚከተለው ረዕዮተ ዓለም ዲሞክራሲያዊ እርምጃን እንዲወስድ አይፈቅድለትም።ከላይ ወደታች በማዕከላዊ ዕዝ የተገነባ ወታደር መሰል ድርጅት ነው። በድርጅቱ ውስጥ የግለሰቦች ነፃነትና የፈጠራ ችሎታና ሚና  ቦታ የላቸውም።  በነዚህ ድርጅቶች የውስጥ አሠራረትም ሆነ፣ በግለሰቦች ላይ የመወሰን ሙሉ መብትና ሥልጣን ያለው ሁሉንም የመለመላቸውና ያደራጃቸው ሕወሓት ነው።  የግለሰቦችም ቦታና ሚና የሚወሰን በድርጅት ውሳኔ ነው። ኢሕአዲግ የኮሚኒስት ድርጅት በካፒታሊዝም ጭንብል ውስጥ ያለ ድርጅት መሆኑ ግንዛቤ ሊያገኝ ይገባል። ዐብይን ማየት ያለብን በኢሕአዲግ ውስጥ ያደገ፣ የተማረና ለሹመት የበቃ ማደጎው  መሆኑን ነው።  በርግጥ ድርጅቱ በመጥፊያው  ወቅት ውስጥ በመግባቱና  በተለይም ከመለስ ሞት በኋላ አመራር የለሽ ሆኖ መቆየቱ፣ በወያኔ ጥርነፋ ውስጥ ለነበሩት የኢሕአዲግ አባል ድርጅቶች፣ በድርጅቱ ውስጥ ዕኩልነትን ለማግኘት አጋጣሚው ተፈጥሯል።   ዐብይ የሚመጣበት የኦሕዴድ የዕኩልነት ጥያቄም መልስ የሚያገኝበት ጊዜም ዛሬ ሆኗል።  በመሁኑም ለዐብይ ሁለት የቤት ሥራዎች ቀርበውለታል።  የመጀመሪያው በኢሕአዲግ ውስጥ የቆየውን የሕወሓትን የበላይነት አስተንፍሶ ፣ በመካከላቸው ዕኩልነትን መፍጠር ነው።  ሌላው ሥራው  የኢሕአዲግን የወንጀል ገጽታውን በማሰማመር ለኢትዮጵያ ሕዝብ እንደ  ስጦታ ያንን አሳምሮ በማቅረብ  የኢሕአዲግን የውድቀት ጊዜን ማራዝም  ነው።   ይህ ጎዳና  ባጭር  ጊዜ ውስጥ የዐብይንን ማንነት  ፍንትው  አድርገው የሚያሳዩ ይሆናሉ።  የሕልም ተስፋ የጫረባቸው ዜጎችም  ወደ እውነተኛው  የትግል ዓለም ይመለሳሉ።
ዐቢይ መጪውን  አስፈሪ ጊዜ የሚገነዘብ ከሆነ፣  ድርጅቱንም ከመጥፋት፣ ሀገራችንንም  ከማያስፈልግ አደጋ ለመታደግ  የሚያስችል አመለካከት ባለቤት ከሆነ፣ ሌላ አማራጭ ጎዳናን ሊከተል እንደሚችል የዐማራ ኅልውና ለኢትዮጵያ አንድነት ድርጅት ሊጠቁመው ይወዳል። የሚከተለው ጎዳና  መልካሙ አማራጭ ነው። የሚወደውን  ኢሕአዲግን ለማሻሻል የሚያደርገውን ዘመቻ ይግፋበት። ይህም  መሻሻል  ማካተት ያለበት በድርጅቱ ውስጥ ያሉ በዘር ፍጅት ፣ በሀገር ክህደት ወንጀል፣በጦር ወንጀል፥ በሕዝብ ሀብት ዘረፋ፣ በሙስናና በቅሚያ የሚጠየቁ አባላቱን የማጥራት እርምጃ፤  ድርጅቱ ወደ ሀገራዊ ድርጅትነት ሊያደርግ  ለሚገባ ጉዞው የሚረዱት ተግባሮች ይሆናሉ።   ይህንን ውስጠ መሻሻል  ካደረገ ፣በሀገሪቱ ውስጥ ካሉ የተቃዋሚ ድርጅቶች ጋር በጠረጴዛ ዙሪያ ተቀምጦ፣ በሀገር የወደፊት ዕጣ ፈነታ ላይ ለመነጋገር ያስችለዋል።   በሕዝባዊ  የሽግግር መንግሥት አመሠራረት ላይም የማይናቅ ሚና ሊጫወት ይችላል።  ዐቢይ  ይህንን ጎዞ ከተከተለ፣ ያለምንም ጥርጥር  የጥገናዊ ለውጥ ፊታውራሪ  ሳይሆን፣  የመሠረታዊ ለውጥ አጋርነቱን አወጀ ማለት ይሆናል። ይህንን ዘመቻ እያደረገ፣ እሱን ገፍቶ ካላበት የሥልጣን ማማ ላይ ያወጣውን የሕዝብ ትግል ሳይቋረጥ የመቀጠሉን አይቀሬነት ለሱ የውስጥ ትግል እንደአጋር  አድርጎ ሊቆጥረው ይገባል። በሂደትም በሀገሪቱ  ዕጣ ፈንታ ያገባናል ለሚሉት ሁሉ ለሽግግር መንግሥት ምሥረታ ዕውን መሆን እንዲሰባሰቡ ጥሪ ሊያደርግ የግድ ይላል።እነዚህ ሁለት መሠረታዊ  የሆኑ  ድርጊቶች ዕውን  ሲሆኑ  ብቻ  ነው  የዐማራን ሕዝብ ጥያቄን ለመመለስ ከጎዳናው ውስጥ ገብተናል   የምንል። ከዚያ መለስ ያለ መቀባባት ኢሕአዲግን ከማይቀርው ውድመቱ ለማዳን የሚደረግ ያልሞት ባይ ተጋዳይ  መፍጨርጨር  ይሆናል።
ይሁንና  ዐቢይ አሕመድ ኮትኩቶ ካሳደገው እና አሁን ለደረሰበት ደረጃ ላበቃው የትግሬ ወያኔ ዓላማና ፍላጎት ተፃራሪ ሆኖ ይቆማል ማለት «ገለባ ያብባል» ከማለት የዘለለ አይሆንም።  ከወያኔ ፍልጎት ውጭ ሊንቀሳቀስ የማይችል መሆኑ ማሳያው፣ ኃላፊነቱን የሰጠው ወያኔ፣የራሱ ሰው መሆኑን በሚገባ አጥንቶና አምኖ ከመሆኑም ባሻገር፣ ሕገመንግሥቱ የሚፈቅድለትን፣የራሱን የካቢኔ አባላት እንኳ መምረጥ እንደማይችልና ኢሕአዴግ መርጦ የሰጠውን ብቻ እንደሚቀበል አምኖና ተማምኖ እንደሆነ ግልጽ ነው። ይህም ዐቢይ ሕገመንግሥቱ የሰጠውን ሥልጣንና ኃላፊነት፣ ልክ መለስ ያደርግ እንደነበረው የማድረግ መብቱን ከመጀመሪያው ተገፏል ማለት ነው።
  ዐቢይ ሥልጣኑን እንደተረከበ፣ ቢያንስ  በራሱ ውሳኔ  የራሱን አዲስ ካቢኔ ካላቋቋመ፣ የራሱን ፀሐፊ፣ ጠባቂዎች እና ረዳቶች ካልመረጠና ካልሾመ፣ የአስቸኳይ አዋጁን ካላነሳ፣ የታሰሩትን ሰዎች ካላንዳች ቅድመ ሁኔታ ካልፈታ፣ማናቸውንም የኢትዮጵያ ፖለቲካ ድርጅቶችና በአገራችን ያገባናል የሚሉ ወገኖችን ያላገለለ፣ አስቸኳይ አገራዊ መግባባትና የሽግግር መንግሥት ምሥረታ የሚያመራ የእንተባበርና የአንድነት ጥሪ ካላቀረበ፣ዐቢይ የኃይለማርያም ደሣለኝን ቦታ የወሰደ ሌላው የድርጅቱ ማደጎ ዐቢይ  ማለት ነው። ራሱን ካልሆነና፣ የሕልም ተስፋውን ለጣለበት  ደጋፊው  በትንሹ እንኳ በሕገመንግሥቱ የተሰጡትን የጠቅላይ ሚኒስቴርነት ኃላፊነቶች ለመወጣት ካልጣረ፣እስካሁን የዘመራቸው የኢትዮጵያዊነትና የአንድነን መዝሙሮች፣ ወያኔ አንጋሎ የጋተው የጊዜ መግዣና ጠላቶቼ ናቸው ብሎ የፈረጃቸውን ግለሰቦችና ቡድኖች አድኖ ማስጠፊያ ፣የተጋጋለ የሕዝባዊ እንቅስቃሴ ማዳፈኛ መሣሪያ ሮቦት እንደሆነ ማሳያ ነው። ይህን ለማረጋገጥ ደግሞ ብዙ ጊዜ አይፈጅም። ኃላፊነቱን በተረከበ ማግሥት የምናውቀው ጉዳይ ነው።
 ከዐቢይ መሠረታዊ ለውጥ የሚጠበቅ አይደለም። ይህን ለማድረግ የመጣበት መንገድና ለዚህ ኃላፊነት ያበቃው አደረጃጀት አይፈቅድም። ዐቢይ ብዙ የተዘመረለትን ያህል ሆኖ ለመገኘት ማድረግ የሚችለው፣ሥርዓቱን ተከራክሮ ማሸነፍ የሚያስችለው፣ ሕዝቡንም ከጎኑ ማሰለፍ የሚረዳው የትግሬ-ወያኔ፣ ታግየ፣ «ለብሔር ብሔረሰቦችና ሕዝቦች» ዕኩልነት ማረጋገጫ የሆነ ሕገመንግሥት በሕዝብ አጸድቄአለሁ እያለ የሚመካበትን መነሻና መድረሻ አድርጎ፣ ሕጉ በሚሰጠው ሥልጣን ተጠቅሞ፣ ከፍ ሲል ከተጠቀሱት በተጨማሪ፣በግፍ የተፈናቀሉ ዐማራ፣ ኦሮሞ፣ ሱማሌና አኙዋኮችን ወደ ነበሩበት ቦታ ከተመጣጣኛ ካሳ ጋር እንዲመለሱ ካደረገ፣ የዘር ማጥፋትና የዘር ማጽዳት ወንጀል የፈጸሙ ግለሰቦችና ቡድኖችን ለፍትሕ የሚያቀርብ ኮሚሽን እንዲቋቋም ያደረገ እንደሆነ፣ የዘመረው ኢትዮጵያዊነትና አንድነት ከመስቀልኛ መንገድ ለማውጣት አንድ እርምጃ ወደፊት እንደተራመደ ሊታይለት ይችላል።

ሕዝባችን ላለፉት 27 ዓመታ የታገለው ለመሠረታዊ ለውጥ ነው። የመሠረታዊ ለውጡም መገለጫው፣ የትግሬ-ወያኔ የዘረጋውን በዘር ላይ የተመሠረተ ሥርዓት አፍርሶ፣በምትኩ የኢትዮጵያ ሕዝብ የመከረበትና ፍላጎቱን የገለጸመት ፣የሕዝቡ የዜግነት መብቱና የግለሰብ ነፃነቱ የተረጋገጠባት ዲሞክራሲያዊት ኢትዮጵያን ማየት ነው። በቋንቋ ልዩነት ላይ የተመሠረተው ፌዴሬሽን መሰል አሃዳዊነት የመንግሥት አደረጃጀት ተለውጦ፣ሕዝቡ ለአንድነታችን፣ ለአብሮነታችን፣ ለሰላማችንና ለዕድገታችን ይበጀናል ብሎ በድምፁ ያጸደቀው የመንግሥት አደረጃጀትና የዚሁ ማስፈጸሚያ የሆነ ሕገመንግሥት ባለቤት ሲሆን ነው። የዘመናት ማንነቱ መታወቂያና የነጩ ዓለም የአይደፈሬነት ምልክት የሆነችው አረንጓዴ፣ ብጫና ቀይ ሰንደቅ ዓለላማችን የክብር ቦታዋን ስትይዝና በዓለም አደባባይ አየር ላይ መውለብለብ ስትችል ነው። ለነዚህ ሁሉ መሟላት ሕዝቡ በተወካዮቹ አማካኝነት የሚመክርበትና የሚወስንበት የሽግግር ሥርዓት ሲመቻች ነው። እነዚህ ሁኔታዎች ሲሟሉ የሕዝቡ መሠረታዊ የለውጥ ጥያቄ  ደረጃ በደረጃ እየተሟላ መሄዱን ለማየት እንችላለን።
የዐማራው ነገድና የዐማራው ፖለቲከኞችና አክቲቪስቶች በዐቢይ መመረጥ የዐማራው የኅልውና ችግር መፍትሔ ያገኛል ብለው  ያምናሉ፣ በዚህም ከትግላቸው ይዘናጋሉ ለማለት አይቻልም። የዐቢይ በዐማራው ላይ የዘር ማጥፋትና የዘር ማጽዳት ወንጀል እንዲፈጸም ፕሮግራም ቀርጾ የተንቀሳቀሰው ሥርዓት ዋና አስፈጻሚ ሆኖ የቆመ እንደመሆኑ፣ ለዐማራው የኅልውና ጥያቄ ይቆማል አይባልም። በዚህም የተነሳ ዐቢይ ተመረጠ ከተባለበት ሰዓት ጀምሮ የተቃውሞ ድምፅ እየተሰማ ያለው፣ ያው ወያኔና እህት ድርጅቶቹ በአውራ ጠላትነት የፈረጁት በዐማራው ልጆች አካባቢ ነው። የዚህ ተቃውሞ መቀጠል ዋና ምክንያቱም፣ አንደኛ የዐማራውን የማንነት ጥያቄ የዐቢይ መመረጥ ሁነኛ መልስ ያስገኝለታል ተብሎ አለመታመኑ ሲሆን፣ ሁለተኛው ምክንያት በሕዝቡ ተቃውሞና በዓለም አቀፉ ማኅበረሰብ ግፊት ከእስር ለቀኳቸው ያላቸውን ከሌሎች ነገድ ልጆች ነጥሎ መልሶ ማሰሩና ሌሎችን የዐማራ ወጣት ንቁ ልጆች በገፍ እያሰረ ማሰቃየቱን በማብዛቱ ነው። ይህም በመሆኑ የተዋቅሞው ድምፅ ቀጥሏል። መቀጠልም የግድ ነው።
የዐማራው የኅልውና ጥያቄ የተሟላ መልስ የሚያገኘው በዐማራው ሕዝብ ትግል ነው።የኃይለማርያም በዐቢይ መተካት፣ የሕዝቡ የተቃውሞ ትግል ያስገኘው መሆኑ ዕውነት ነው። ሕዝባዊ እንቅስቃሴው የወያኔን ፖለቲካዊ መርሕ ከማናጋት አልፎ፣ የስለላና የአፈና መዋቅሩን ከሥር መሠረቱ አናግቶታል። ከስለላ መዋቅሩ መናጋት በተጨማሪ፣ የወያኔ ባሕር የሆነው የትግራይን ሕዝብ ማዕበል ሆኖ እያናወጠው ነው። የትግሬ ሕዝብ እንደ ትናንቱ የወያኔ ቱባ ባለሥልጣኖች አድርግ ያሉትን ለማድረግ ፈቃደኛ አልሆነም። ለምን? እንዴ? ከሁሉም ጋር ደም አቃብታችሁ የት ልታስገቡን አስባችኋል? የሚሉ ጥያቄዎችን እያቀረበ ፊት ለፊት እየተጋፈጣቸው ነው። ይህም የሕዝቡ አመጽ የመግፋት ውጤት ነው።
ዐማራው መብቱንና ነፃነቱን የሚያረጋግጠው፣ በስጦታ፣ ወይም በችሮታ ከዐቢይ በሚቸር ቁርስራሽ መብት ሳይሆን፣ በራሱ ልጆች ትግል የሚያገኘው ተፈጥሮአዊ መብቱ ነው። ስለሆነም የዐማራው ተጋድሎ እንቅስቃሴ ኃይሎች፣ በዐማራ ስም የተደራጁ የፖለቲካ፣ የሲቪክ፣ የሙያና የዐማራ ማኅበራት ስብስቦች ኃይላቸውን አጠናክረውና አቀናጅተው በትግሬ-ወያኔ አገዛዝ ላይ ሁለንተናዊ ጫናቸውን ማሳደር ይጠበቅባቸዋል። አቅማዳ፣ቀልቀሎ፣ ቀልቀሎ አቅማዳ ነውና፣ የኃይለማርያም በዐቢይ መተካት የሕዝባችን መሠረታዊ የለውጥ ጥያቄ መመለስ አይችልምና ሳናዘናጋ የዐማራው ወገናችን አንግቦት ለተነሳው የማንነትና የኅልውና ጥያቄ አእምሮአችን ሰብሰብ፤ ኅሊናችን ቆጣ፣ አንድነታችን ጠበቅ፣ ጽናታችን በርታ፣ በማድረግ ለትግሉ አስፈላጊውን መስዋዕትነት ለመክፈል ዝግጁ እንድንሆነ የዐማራ ኅልውና ለኢትዮጵያ አንድነት ድርጅት ጥሪውን ያቀርባል።

የዐማራ ኅልውና መጠበቅ ፣ለኢትዮጵያ አንድነት ዋስትና ነው!

News and Current Events / Dr. Abiye Ahmed: Dear Prime Minister...
« Last post by staff3 on April 02, 2018, 06:54:21 PM »
Dr. Abiye Ahmed: Dear Prime Minister...
By the Mitmita Girls

The Mitmita Girls are back just in time for the inauguration balls in Addis—wegenoch! You guys! We have a new Prime Minister! Elelelele!

Have you booked your flight on Ethiopian Airlines? And what of your ball gowns? Ready for prova?

Everyone is atwitter about the new fella. Mitu cooed that not only is he smart, youngish (early forties!) but he is also handsome and bonus: he has a Ph.D. Be still our beating hearts!

What’s more, rumor has it that he has some fairly scandalous thoughts on women! Evidently he is progressive! Believes in women’s rights! Who allowed this roué into Arat Kilo? Woyane must have really been terrified of the Querro! These Oromo youth are Jegna! Warrior stock!

We couldn’t be sure that if he had a profile on Tinder, that Mitu wouldn’t swipe right! She is that smitten. In truth, we are all smitten. 

When was the last time we were this excited about an Ethiopian politician? (With apologies to Ato Lemma Megerssa whose very patriotic and romantic line about Ethiopia being like cocaine had us at addiction. You are right, nefsay, Ethiopia is a souse, a “can’t get her out of our mind”, omnipresent, all encompassing, overwhelming habit. Ethiopia is love. We don’t want to quit her. (If only we can get Woyane to quit all of us!)

To be sure our dearly departed Meles never conjured these types of feelings within us. And that’s not only because we are vain—the man had an uncanny resemblance to a goat, after all! It wasn’t simply his looks however—Meles did not love Ethiopia. He decimated her. His ethnocentric policies have caused damn near irreparable harm. He didn’t even pretend to be having an affair with our country. He used her, fleeced her of her resources, allowed neocolonialism to take root and fester. Meles sold our land—lock, stock and barrel—to the highest bidder. He discarded Ethiopia and all of us who love her.

Prime Minister Haile Desalegn, who came after him lacked Meles’ outward penchant for cruelty. Some may argue that he also didn’t have Meles’ snake oil salesman charm.

The Mitmita Girls have to admit that while he may have come in like a lamb, Haile Desalegn is walking out like a lion—an ambessa who attempted to wrangle some measure of humanity from the Woyane cabal — he called for the release of political prisoners. And for a few weeks some thought it possible that we can have reform—that prisoners would be released and we can protest the regime sans consequences. Alas, here we are with a state of emergency, the rearrest of political prisoners and the Ethiopian junta’s desperate attempts to cling to power no matter the cost.

Take heart, Prime Minister, mightier men have bled for Ethiopia.

It is into this space of chaos, unrest and the rearrest of political prisoners that Dr. Abiye is taking the helm as Prime Minister next week.

No doubt the Diaspora will ruin huluneger —everything—by its despondency. Before Abiye has finished his vows—promises of all he will do for Ethiopia—the Diaspora will be asking for accountability.  These people want to ruin this moment for us! Can we not just enjoy the tej at swearing day ceremonies without someone uttering revolution?

On our end, we will be hosting a watch party much like the Oscars and commenting on Dr. Abiye’s sartorial choices as he addresses the nation on Monday. Exactly what accoutrements would compliment the heavy weight that will rest on his shoulders?

Beware the corrupting influence of Woyane, hodae! As one of our friends commented, we expect the first two items of your  administration to be lifting the state of emergency and announcing the unconditional and immediate release of political prisoners.

We are not so enraptured by a handsome face that we forget the fundamentals: Sir, are your intentions towards our Ethiopia honorable?

Dr. Abiye: akkam jirta? We hope all is selam and that you come with peace and with an eye towards justice and freedom.

As the French would say bon courage! And more importantly as we would say: Berta!

The Mitmita Girls, and indeed the world, will be watching.

With lots of love,
The Mtimita Girls

We are celebrating 10 years! Read some classic Mitmita Girls musings on Ethiopia here!
Ethiopia: “Deceptive Facelift” Or “Full-Blown Change”?

The election of Abiy Ahmed, the Muslim leader of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) as the party’s chairman and presumably the country’s next Prime Minister could be more than just a “deceptive facelift” and might hint that full-blown change is on the horizon so long as Ethiopia properly applies the lessons of the Soviet-Russian precedents.

The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) emerged from an extraordinary meeting following Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn surprise resignation to announce that Abiy Ahmed, the Muslim leader of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), was elected as the national party’s new chairman, a position of power that likely means that he’ll eventually become Ethiopia’s next Prime Minister as well. This symbolically represents the first time that both an Oromo and a Muslim is leading the civilization-state, and this prudent decision was obviously made in response to the recent wave of Oromo unrest (which at times took on Hybrid War dimensions) and the resultant “deep state” crisis that it catalyzed within the governing coalition.

It’s plain to see that this is a visibly cosmetic change to the country’s leadership, seeing as how a relatively young Oromo Muslim is now poised to be the state steward following the post-civil war premiership of the comparatively older Tigrayan Christian revolutionary leader Meles Zenawi, with the transition between these two totally different men being smoothed somewhat by the rule of Southern Christian Hailemariam Desalegn in the interim. From the looks of it, Ethiopia has entered into an entirely new era of governance characterized by its largest ethnicity finally gaining control of the country and empowering its second-largest confessional group in the process.

Imperial Commonalities

There’s a “populist” perception among some Oromo that the late-imperial period of the 19th century was marked by this southern lowland people’s “colonization” by the northern highland Amhara, which sometimes also takes on a Christian-Muslim dimension depending on the narrative. Critics of this interpretation point to the parallels between the Ethiopian Empire and the Russian one when it comes to their incorporation of newly acquired ethnicities and faiths into the imperial framework, with the structural similarities between these two empires in the geo-historic sense of their expansion providing yet another reason apart from the overall strategic one as to why the Tsar helped his Horn of African counterpart in the First Italo-Ethiopian War by sending him military supplies and advisors.

Soviet Mistakes

The comparison between the two countries doesn’t end there, however, since the argument can convincingly be made that modern-day Ethiopia is experiencing its own forms of “glasnost” and “perestroika” (“openness” and “restructuring”) as it seeks to manage the growing unrest in the Oromia Region, though the precedent set in the twilight years of the USSR is instructive in showing Addis Ababa that the pace of change must be controlled in identity-diverse states such as itself and the former Soviet Union in order to avert an unintended collapse. Just like the USSR “Balkanized” along the lines of its administrative regions and then some of the them experienced “second-degree Balkanization” within their post-independence borders, so too could the same scenario unfold in Ethiopia as a result of Article 39 of its 1995 constitution.

That’s why Addis Ababa will try to learn from Moscow’s example in attempting to avoid the pitfalls that befell the Soviet Union during its dying days as it belatedly sought to reform its stagnant system, with the primary difference being that Ethiopia is presently exhibiting one of the world’s fastest rates of growth whereas the late-1980s collapse of the USSR’s economy was a precursor to what would ultimately happen to the state itself. In addition, while the Soviet Union was beset with an ever-widening array of ethno-regional conflicts within its borders prior to its fated dissolution, Ethiopia has kept its domestic disturbances largely under control through the use of its military and the related promulgation of states of emergency.

The Chechen Precedent

Another difference is that Ethiopia has yet to carry out a “federal intervention” on par with the two that the Russian Federation commenced in Chechnya, which eventually ended in the bestowment of broad autonomy and de-facto sharia law in the republic, but it can learn from this experience by understanding the need for actual decentralization and “compromise” in zones of simmering identity conflict so long as the state’s security interests can also be guaranteed. The Russian Federation relies on loyal Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to keep the peace in his region and provides him full financial and other forms of support to this end, which is an example that Addis Ababa could emulate by applying it to Oromia’s unique conditions if new EPDRF leader Ahmed can find a trusted individual to fulfill this role.

The final difference between Russia’s Chechnya and Ethiopia’s Oromia is that the former comprises a sliver of sparsely populated territory in a geographic extremity of the country while the latter is the state’s largest and most populous region located smack dab in the center of the country. This geopolitical fact means that Ethiopia can’t give Oromia any “special status” like Russia did with Chechnya and treat it as an “exception to the rule” but must consequently reform the entire state structure if it’s serious about sustainably resolving the legitimate problems that are giving rise to unrest in that region and tempting foreign forces to exploit it for their own reasons.

Ethiopia map

Concluding Thoughts

Bearing all of this in mind, Abiy Ahmed’s election by the EPDRF as their new chairman and most likely the country’s next Prime Minister appears to be more than just an insincere and hasty “band-aid solution” of elevating a “token” Oromo Muslim figure to power and seems to truly indicate that the country is on the cusp of full-blown change, albeit a transformation that will take time to unfold as security considerations are given the utmost attention during this crucial transitional phase. Addis Ababa’s municipal expansion, which triggered the Oromo violence that led to the 2016-2017 state of emergency, might still remain a non-negotiable issue for the state due to the national interests involved, but apart from that, observers can expect the government to be a lot more flexible towards mostly any other topic of significance as it works to reform the system and consequently turn Ethiopia into one of the Multipolar World Order’s newest Great Powers.

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.
The Many Layers of the Ethiopia Crisis

The Many Layers of the Ethiopia Crisis
By Mohammed Ademo

March 20, 2018

Protests in Ethiopia are the culmination of a long-simmering series of grievances and demands for greater freedom, equity, and opportunity.

Ethiopia protest
Photo: Andrew Heavens.

After 3 years of relentless protests, Ethiopia started 2018 with rare good news. On January 3, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and his party pledged to release political prisoners and shut down the notorious Maekelawi detention center in Addis Ababa. In a 3-hour-long press conference, leaders of the ruling Ethiopian People‘s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) also took responsibility for the myriad of political challenges facing the country. The aim, EPRDF leaders said, was to foster national reconciliation and to widen democratic space. The announcement was roundly welcomed, including by a leery opposition, as a crucial step in the right direction.

A series of mixed signals followed. More than 6,000 political prisoners, including key opposition figures, journalists, and leaders of the country’s Muslim community, were released from prison. Not long after, on February 15, Hailemariam resigned saying he wanted to pave the way for reforms. It appeared that Africa’s second most populous nation was truly poised to turn a page on its repressive past. Not a day later, however, on February 16, authorities imposed a sweeping 6-month-long state of emergency. The decree was ratified by the EPRDF-controlled Parliament in a disputed vote on March 2.

More than 60 casualties have been reported since the state of emergency came into effect. In southern Ethiopia, thousands have fled violence and sought shelter and urgent humanitarian assistance in Kenya. The latest displacement is in addition to the more than 1.2 million people internally displaced, most of them in 2017, by a tit-for-tat border conflict between Oromia and Somali States, two of the largest of Ethiopia‘s nine linguistically based regional states. The humanitarian, security, and political crises are the most serious facing Ethiopia since 1991, when the communist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam was overthrown.

To tackle these and other challenges, the 36-member executive leadership of the EPRDF held a series of high-stakes meetings. While they agree there is a problem, they are divided over how to respond to growing public pressure and ethnic discord. As a result, once a unified vanguard party, the EPRDF is now riven by a bitter power struggle. The heightened jostling for control of the party’s policy direction has brought to the fore long-suppressed questions of inequity in the EPRDF.

How Did Ethiopia Get to This Point?
To understand the current state of flux in Ethiopia, consider the EPRDF’s history. Founded in 1989, the EPRDF is, in theory, a coalition of four ethnically based political organizations: the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM).

Regions of Ethiopia
Regions of Ethiopia. Photo: NordNordWest.

At the time of the EPRDF’s founding, Mengistu Haile Mariam’s communist regime was on its last leg. The Cold War was coming to an end. Having set its sights on political power in Addis Ababa, the TPLF, which had led the armed insurgency against Mengistu, needed partners to cross into the vast region south of its base in northern Ethiopia. So it orchestrated the creation of the ANDM, the OPDO, and later the SEPDM.

Once the EPRDF came to power, a multinational federation, which promised self-determination for every nation, nationality, and people in Ethiopia, was forged as a compromise between ethnonationalists and unionists who favored a centralized Ethiopian polity. This approach, explicitly organizing the Ethiopian state along ethnic lines, was a stark departure from the emphasis on a single Ethiopian national identity promoted by the Mengistu regime and Emperor Haile Selassie before it. The 1995 Constitution called for decentralization and a significant degree of self-rule for states, promises that remained largely on paper.

From the beginning, the EPRDF proved to be a coalition of unequal partners. For example, each member party has 45 representatives in the powerful 180-member EPRDF Council, even though ethnic Tigrayans constitute just 6 percent of the country’s population. Moreover, the TPLF enjoys absolute control of the military and the security establishment as well as key economic sectors. The TPLF also controlled the office of Prime Minister until 2012, and the Foreign Ministry until 2015.

The power imbalance gave rise to charges of undue Tigrayan influence over the country’s political life. TPLF leaders vacillated between acknowledgement and entitlement, given the party’s outsized role in liberating Ethiopia from the tyranny of the Mengistu regime. The ascendancy of the minority Tigrayans displaced from power the more populous Amhara, who had played the dominant role in Ethiopian political life for most of the previous century.

This Tigrayan dominance was further fortified through strict party discipline known as democratic centralism, which encouraged constituent parties to engage in vigorous internal deliberations but mandated all to adhere to the ruling party’s policy direction once a vote was taken. Moreover, as EPRDF leaders have acknowledged, the TPLF maintained covert influence inside the EPRDF by propping up and empowering loyalists. These grievances gradually gave way to growing resentment against the TPLF and, more recently, ethnic Tigrayans.

The Context of Ongoing Protests
The Ethiopian protests are the culmination of a long-building series of grievances. After the disputed 2005 elections in which the EPRDF resorted to brutal violence to maintain power, the party embarked on a developmental state model, characterized by active state intervention in the economy as a way to boost its political legitimacy. But this effort was accompanied by a heightened muzzling of critics and the media as well as controlling access to information. It also meant the institutionalization of the instruments of repression.

Ethiopians in Addis Ababa protest the killing of Oromo students and expansion of the city into Oromo land
Ethiopians in May 2014 protest against the killing of Oromo students and expansion of the city into Oromo land. Photo:

While the EPRDF faced some level of opposition at every turn in its 25-year rule, the floodgates opened in 2014 when the Oromo, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, began protesting against the government’s land policy. The protests coalesced around a single Oromo axiom: “The matter of land is the matter of life.” The specific trigger was an urban master plan, which sought to expand Addis Ababa’s physical boundaries deep into the surrounding Oromia State. Surprisingly, the first sign of resistance came from within the OPDO, a one-time docile party seen among the Oromo as the TPLF’s puppet.

The EPRDF seemed to be caught off guard by the scale of the protests. Security forces responded to largely peaceful protests using disproportionate force. This engendered more outrage and protests. Many dozens of people were killed and thousands arrested.

Protests briefly subsided ahead of the May 2015 national elections, in which the EPRDF and its partners claimed 100 percent of the seats in Parliament. However, Oromo protests returned when authorities attempted to forge ahead with the Addis Ababa expansion plan. A massive security dragnet ensued, leading to the deaths of even more people and the arrest of tens of thousands. By then, the initial opposition to the “land grab” and concerns over the dispossession of Oromo farmers from Addis Ababa had grown to include protesting historic Oromo marginalization, the lack of freedom and economic opportunities, and demanding the release of political prisoners.

Under pressure, authorities shelved the urban master plan and made other cosmetic changes, including a cabinet reshuffle, which saw Tigrayans ceding control of the Foreign Ministry. But EPRDF leaders left popular demands for greater democratic rights, equal economic opportunities, and state autonomy virtually untouched.

In October 2016, the protests were curbed with the declaration of a state of emergency. When martial law was lifted 10 months later, the protests returned evermore vigorously. Crucially, the protests had by then spread to other regions, particularly Amhara State and a number of localities in the southern region.

Some of the grievances were localized but the overarching theme was the same: the gap between constitutional guarantees for democracy versus the existing centralized state and authoritarian party that controlled all aspects of life. For example, in Wolkait, an administrative district in Tigray State, ethnic Amharas wanted to be part of the Amhara State and send their children to school in Amharic. A two-decade effort to settle the matter through legal and political means was repeatedly frustrated. Those frustrations fed into wider resentment over Tigrayan hegemony.

Ethiopia protest
Photo: Elvert Barnes.

In Oromia, the epicenter of the opposition, the OPDO faced a legitimacy crisis. It was buckling under the weight of protests and accusations of corruption and incompetence from other EPRDF partners. This pressure helped bring to power a new generation of OPDO party cadres who were not wedded to the legacy of armed struggle. They made bold overtures to Oromo nationalism and embraced most of the protesters’ grievances, vowing to reform their party and the EPRDF to address the Oromo question or to join the protesters if their reform efforts failed.

As the OPDO positioned itself as a quasi-opposition party, the TPLF was also trying to clean its own house. Facing inevitable decline and waning influence, the TPLF held a 35-day-long evaluation session in October 2017 that culminated in demotions of top party officials and a rare public display of self-criticism.

It is against this backdrop that EPRDF leaders, in large part to meet the OPDO’s demands, agreed to free political prisoners in January 2018. The freed prisoners were welcomed by a groundswell of public support and homecoming celebrations.

“Some of the grievances were localized but the overarching theme was the same: the gap between constitutional guarantees for democracy versus the existing centralized state and authoritarian party that controlled all aspects of life.”

It is also important to recognize the leading role that youth, having come of age under the EPRDF’s one-party rule, have played in the protests. This underscores the major demographic transformations that have accompanied the calls for change. Ethiopia had an estimated total population of 52 million in 1990. It is now projected to be over 105 million with more than 70 percent of the population under the age of 30. Simultaneous to this was a rural-to-urban migration of young people. However, the pace of local job creation has not matched the number of college graduates. The influx in mobile phone usage and improved access to communications technology, meanwhile, means that this generation is far more connected to one another and to the outside world than any before it. These factors have all contributed to the resiliency of the protests.

The Way Forward
The EPRDF and, indeed, Ethiopia are at a crossroads. Resilient demands for greater freedom, equity, and opportunity indicate that the status quo is untenable. Reliance on military and security measures to quell opposition have proven futile. The EPRDF’s diagnosis of the problem in January was largely correct: the answer to Ethiopia’s malaise is greater democratic space and national reconciliation. This will require vacating the emergency decree, which has proven counterproductive to the party’s stated reform plans. It will also be necessary to address the root problems: the inequity within the governing coalition and the need for legitimacy.

A priority for reestablishing stability, therefore, should be to engage opposition parties in good faith negotiations setting forth a path for genuine popular dialogue and reconciliation. This process would entail freeing all political prisoners and setting in motion legal and political reforms to undo some of the most coercive measures that have brought the party and country to the precipice of collapse. These reforms would include the repeal of the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation, the Charities and Societies Proclamation, and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. These sweeping pieces of legislation have been used to curtail opposition activities, muzzle independent journalists, and silence government critics.

“A priority for reestablishing stability, therefore, should be to engage opposition parties in good faith negotiations setting forth a path for genuine popular dialogue and reconciliation.”

Through heavy state involvement in the economy, Ethiopia has registered modest growth over the last decade. Events of the last several years illustrate that this authoritarian developmental model has backfired and is coming to a dead end. Continued efforts to subdue an increasingly restive population through repressive measures now risk unraveling the economy and the country‘s fragile federation.

It is remarkable that despite the mounting grievances, the protests have largely remained peaceful. This suggests the crisis can be resolved without widespread instability. However, the continued tug-of-war between protesters and the security sector is testing public patience. It will also embolden those who insist on armed rebellion as the only way to bring about change—a quintessential story for Ethiopia, which in its long history has never had a peaceful transfer of power.

All parties committed to Ethiopia’s stability should emphasize that only genuine dialogue and reform can avert a further deterioration.

Mohammed Ademo is a freelance journalist and a Horn of Africa analyst
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