Ethiopia’s revolution: from creeping to real

Ethiopia’s revolution: from creeping to real

By Melakou Tegegn (PhD)- It is essential to situate events that led to the creeping revolution when the ruling TPLF was compelled to give up power at the national level. Was TPLF’s surrender of federal power a coincidence? My reading of the history and orientation of the TPLF informs me otherwise.

The TPLF only moved to its erstwhile Plan B which, in actual fact, had been its primary objective, -formation of the Tigrayan Republic- (1976 Manifesto), before it ventures to form the EPRDF as a united front in 1983. As capturing political power in Addis was not its original objective, the formation of the EPRDF and eventually the federal republic was conjunctural or experimental in nature.

Within this context, TPLF’s objectives were to exhaust all possibilities from federal sources to make Tigray powerful politically, economically, financially and militarily, and be prepared for any eventual showdown if the political experiment at the federal levels fails.

Politically, such a plan cannot be attained unless the rest of the country outside Tigray is divided at any possible level. The most likely instrument of division is certainly a strategy that aims to divide the population with their primary identities, i.e. ethnicity. Thus, the resort to ethnic federalism, ethnic-based kilils, formation of Special Forces per ethnic kilils, etc… Consequently, TPLF’s sinister strategy gave Ethiopia a hundred years of homework as the elite in the kilils resorted to grab political power at the local level as acquisition of power has proved to be the gateway to personal prosperity and grandeur.

Such rule of ambivalence by TPLF accentuated social and political contradictions within society that finally led to an implosion in 2015-16 when Ethiopian Muslims hit the streets of Addis Ababa with protest demonstrations against government’s interference in their internal affairs. This was followed by a massive protest movement by Oromo and Amhara youth in 2017-18 which the TPLF could not quell. It declared state of emergency twice; it failed in both cases.

The uprising could not be stopped unless political changes were introduced. That created schism within the ruling EPRDF upon which leading members of the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization and the Amharic Peoples Democratic Movement literally sided with the people’s revolt upon which the Prime Minister, Haile Miriam Dessalegn, resigned paving the way for Abiy Ahmed’s election as the next prime minister. That marked the beginning of a creeping revolution with dual power reigning; the federal government in Addis and the TPLF regime in Mekelle as the leaders of the latter gave up their flirtation with federalism.

The most noticeable fact of the creeping revolution is the fact that Abbey’s power evolved out of the structures of the ruling EPRDF. That necessitated, among other things, upholding the TPLF federal Constitution. The latest revolution, unlike the ones in 1974 that ended imperial rule and 1991 that ended the military junta, had to respect the laws of the land.

Thus, Abbey’s government has also to abide by the laws of the land. The creeping revolution had to continue until it gives rise to a decisive stage; either to reign supreme somehow or to be bogged down with constitutionality in face of a fierce public critique on the one hand and by a multifarious provocations by extremists supported by the TPLF who resorted to a campaign of ethnic cleansing specifically targeting members of the Amharic community outside Amhara region.

In effect, the TPLF was involved in a counter-revolution with the aspiration of coming back to power at the federal level. That, in actual fact was the contradiction created by the creeping nature of the revolution. Somehow, the revolution had to traverse with a leap to become real.

In the mean time, it was obvious that the policies that the TPLF followed at the federal level for 27 years began to bear ‘fruit’ with the creation of multifarious contradictions that throttled the country for over two years. ‘Politicians’ with the agenda of ethnicity-based ‘self-determination’ emerged in a number of regions such as Oromiya, Southern region, Amhara, Somali, etc…

The most serious threat came from Oromo ethnic politicians. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) that was amnestied by the new government returned from exile but with a dubious agenda very similar to what the IRA adopted in Ireland, i.e. the Official Sin Fein and the Irish Republican Army operating in parallel the earlier being the political wing operating legally while the IRA continued as a guerrilla army engaged in armed struggle.

Similarly, OLF’s armed wing known as the OLF-Shone, started to be involved in a terror campaign through a violent act that has no other description than genocide against ethnic Amharas in Oromiya region. Gruesome attacks against Amharic became its principal preoccupation while the official OLF in Addis Ababa denied involvement. Its leader, Dawud Isa, had all the way preached ‘peace and solidarity’ until a revolt within its ranks broke out and ousted him from power mainly because of his complicity with OLF-Shine’s genocide.

The TPLF had already cemented collaboration with OLF-Shone and supported the latter’s genocide activities against Amharas in Oromiya region. Captured OLF-Shine’s guerrillas confessed that they had received arms and ammunition from TPLF while others admitted that their military leaders were trained by TPLF.

In June, a massive uprising was organized by OLF, OLF Shone and leading members of the Oromo Federalist Congress following the assassination of a well known Oromo musician, Achalu Hundessa.

Oromo youth destroyed factories and other institutions of production and businesses in a number of towns including the capital Addis Ababa. Abbey’s regime, which had hitherto been reluctant to use force, was forced to quell the rebellion and arrest leading Oromo politicians directly involved in instigating violence and genocide such as Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba.

Until then, the public at large had been frustrated with Abbey’s regime that refrained from enforcing the rule of law and a great deal of support rendered to him at the beginning dwindles and in many cases people who had supported him earlier stood against him and accused him of cultivating “Oromo supremacy”.

On top of all Abbey’s inaction against the genocide in Oromiya region, the genocide continued unabated in Oromiya with gruesome attacks against ethnic Amharic including in Benin Seagull regions. Reports came attesting to the fact that all these atrocities were committed by OLF- Shone with active support by TPLF.

Even some officials including the head of the Somali region expressed their frustration by the lack of action by Abbey in face of such genocide taking place in a country supposed to be the seat of the African Union. Surprisingly, after all these atrocities in Oromiya and Benin Shingle, the TPLF attacked the units of the Northern Command in Mekelle killing many in a characteristic fashion of betrayal and crime.

“The last straw broke the back of the camel” as the saying goes; Abbey finally resolved to crush the TPLF in its own turf and declared war against it. With the military advances that the federal army made crushing TPLF’s resistance so far, Ethiopians all over the country were overjoyed with the relief that the TPLF would be finally wiped out irreversibly. With victory in the offing by the federal army over the TPLF, it is now time to reflect on the principal question “quo Vadis Ethiopia?” (Which Way Ethiopia?). We have to divide this question into two: in the immediate? And in the long run?

From the political perspective, the TPLF should be disbanded forever. That is the starting point for our the propositions we are making below.
I. There are a number of crucial issues to be addressed in the immediate that require unambiguous answers. These questions address pertinent problems whose answers feed into the answers to be given for the long term problems.

At the political level, we need to ride roughshod over the demise of TPLF who was behind the many troubles in throughout the country. In other words, we need to take advantage of the triumph over the TPLF and institutionalize a few changes that of strategic significance in the long term.

De-ethnicization: this is the time that we all need to hammer out de-ethnicizing politics that the TPLF had institutionalized as the political gospel of this country. Ethiopia hasn’t suffered as much from ethnicization of politics than from anything else. So many lives have been lost, property destroyed and millions and millions suffered from the most deformed construction of ethnicity that we have never witnessed in any other country.

In a nutshell, ethnicization of politics is Ethiopia’s shame. None other than the TPLF has constructed ethnicization of politics for obvious strategic reasons: “we are the minority; our supremacy depends on the division of the people”. The day Oromos and Amharas unite, Meless Zenawi once warned his fellows, “That will be the day of our demise”. We all now know the consequences of this policy: Ethiopia has never been as divided.

Therefore, the immediate task at the political level is to de-ethnicize politics as much as possible. Hit the iron when it is still hot, as the saying has it. What does de-ethnicization mean anyway? This involves doing away with all the structures/institutions set up outside the parameters of the Constitution but with huge impact on accentuating ethnic division and those that can still be used by power monger ethnic-based politicians. We should not be self-complacent.

Ethiopia still has so many problems even after the TPLF is gone as we still are prisoners of the ethnicization of politics that it institutionalized for 30 years. First and foremost, the so called Special Forces under kilil administrations should be dissolved and integrated in the national army. The power of the kills should not exceed than the ones stated in the Constitution. This should be accompanied by series of public discussion broadcast on TV and radio for the purpose of accentuating de-ethnicization and for unified structures of power.

Elections: this is a crucial undertaking that should take place as planned. The election is crucial among other things because it is only under the new parliament that revising the Constitution can be done. Secondly and most important is: we will have a legitimate government voted in office by the people, the first of its kind in our country. This legitimacy gives all the power that the government requires to have the rule of law observed throughout the country.

Constitutional review: indeed, one of the biggest challenges that we are going to face is when we are trying to review the Constitution. Needless to say that there are a number of articles of the Constitution that need to be changed and revised. Therefore, the constitutional review process should start right after the elections.

The necessary bodies that lead the review must be set up, the principal being a Constitutional Review Commission. The Commission needs to be composed of constitutional law experts, representatives of various sectors of the population, government officials and so on. The final draft must be subject to public discussion throughout the country.

Constituent assembly: to forge further unity within the country and prevent unnecessary schisms or conflicts, setting up a Constituent Assembly as a national forum for policy prescriptions is essential. A Constituent Assembly made up of scholars, government officials, civic representatives (unions, NGOs, professional associations, etc…) need to meet on regular basis to discuss issues that require forging policies and prescribe to the government.

Developing institutions of the state: Initial steps toward formation of state institutions must be taken as soon as possible. Institutions that are now government-controlled need to be transformed into public institutions accountable directly to the parliament as opposed to the central government.

Ethiopia needs to take the first steps toward transforming these institutions that are now under the government into public institutions answerable to the parliament. These institutions include government media institutions, the election board and other institutions that need to be directly under the parliament. The transformation of these institutions from government to parliament will mark the first steps toward forming a modern state.

Economic challenges: a panel of development experts, economists and other social scientists should be established to discuss debate and come up with policy prescriptions to the government regarding the policies that the country should follow to generate social development. The same panel should also tackle issues such as ending violence against women, protection of the environment, public education and the plight of children, pastoralism, population issues and other similar pertinent development issues and come up with policy prescriptions.

Foreign policy: one crucial area for Ethiopia’s security and its development concerns is foreign policy. In this respect too, there needs to be a panel of experts that advise the central government on foreign policy issues. This body must be composed of academics of political science and international relations in particular, prominent personalities from the ministries of foreign affairs and defence and personalities knowledgeable on certain countries with geographical proximity with Ethiopia or on specific countries relevant to Ethiopia’s foreign diplomacy.

II. Long-term: the area we need to look at in the long-term should all deal with the subject of undoing poverty and under-development. These are grand issues of transformation that need to be tackled after the elections and when a government elected by the majority of the population sits in office. We should only mention the mains issues to be addressed as the principal and structural challenges that Ethiopia faces to mitigate poverty and under-development and finally attain social development.
These are:
o The process of evolution towards formation of a modern state
o evolution towards emergence of civil society
o the environment challenge
o the perennial disease: gender inequality and VAW
o agrarian revolution (peasant agriculture and pastoral livestock production system)
o the population challenge
o children and youth

These are only preliminary ideas to provoke public discussion and inform the government which direction to take toward realization of social development.