Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Horn of Africa, Balkanization or dictatorship

I have been following Ethiopian politics for over 4 decades and the players are the same. Even if we dig and dive back in history, we will find the players are the same and never changed, they are always following the same ethnic lines. Back in the 18th century, Atse Yohannes IV the then emperor of Ethiopia was trying to expand north towards today Eritrea where it was ruled by local leaders, he sent Ras Alula who was doing the burning and the killing as he was advancing across the Eritrean regions. A second bigger army led by Atse Yohannes himself was marching to invade the Shewa region of Amhara which had been ruled by Menelik the II from Gondar. While Atse Yohannes was advancing to Shewa there was an invasion of the Darwish (Mahdya) coming from Sudan. Menelik was smart. He sent a message to Atse Yohannes saying “how come you are trying to invade Shewa while the real enemy is crossing the border invading all of us Ethiopians”, there, Atse Yohannes changed his plan and headed towards the border with Sudan and in Al Matamma met with the army of Darwish where his army was defeated and he got killed. Menelik seized the opportunity and led the Amhara on evading Tigray and entering Aksum defeating Ras Alula who rushed back to Tigray as Menelik was advancing across Tigray. Menelik expanded to so many territories’ and regions to create the current Ethiopia. He built his new capital in the land of Oromia in a place called Finfine, he renamed the place to Addis Ababa (The new flower) following the advice of his wife. Menelik wanted to humiliate Tigrayan by depriving them almost from everything. They became very poor and powerless but never defeated they were always with the sense of “we will be back one day”. Amhara’s humiliation to Tigrayans did not stop with Menelik but also continued during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie and the Derg, probably even worse.

In 1974 Tigrayans started their revolt against the Derg led by Tigrayans People Liberation Front “TPLF”. The ground was prepared, and people were ready just they were waiting for the trigger to be pulled. They fought side by side with the Eritrean fronts until they defeated the Amhara in 1991 and captured Addis Ababa Menelik’s capital. The dilemma was whether to rule all over Ethiopia or just to rule Tigray after separating from the rest of Ethiopia. It was a real issue but finally they got a solution for that by creating a coalition with the other ethnical entities and leading the umbrella of the ethnically divided groups, so by virtue they became the center of power in the coalition for almost 3 decades. During these three decades they were able to transform Ethiopia from a country producing famines and poverty to a country with the highest growth in the whole continent of Africa. A country with so many mega projects, so many new universities and so many other educational institutions. A country where infrastructure was almost expanding to all over the country, new highways, new railroads, new bridges, new mega dumps and over all still they were able to maintain Ethiopian Airline as one of the best airlines in Africa and one of the top competitors internationally. TPLF through EPRDF did a lot but also, they oppressed the people to maintain power, they oppressed oppositions and crushed all movements that were seeking for change and deeming to pose a challenge to their power. Tigrayans were a minority not more than 5% of the country’s population and they had always feared losing power to the majority, especially to the Oromo or to the Amhara. Youth movements from both ethnic groups erupted almost everywhere demanding for change in power. Although Oromo make the majority of the country’s population but never had a chance to govern Ethiopia. Power was always either on Tigray’s hand or in Amhara’s hand. Oromo believes it is their turn to rule the country, it is their time as their youth kept pushing hard through  demonstrations and though standing firm with their demands to change the regime until the then  prime minister resigned from power and left the EPRDF to choose a new prime minister. Thinking to give the Oromo a chance they chose Dr. Aby Ahmed who is half Oromo and half Amhara to lead the transitional period until a full election is carried over, but Dr. Aby Ahmed started to have his own agenda and dreams to fulfill. He set free all political prisoners, allowed and invited all opposition to return home even carrying their own arms. He connected factions and he presented himself as the man of peace by reaching out to neighboring countries especially arch enemy Eritrea and made a deal with Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki. In two short years he was able to accomplish a lot, he even won the Nobel Peace Prize. But few knew that he was working with a strict agenda. He was chosen to lead the transitional period peacefully to election but since he embedded his own dreams and agendas, now he has to find means and ways to achieve his dreams of being emperor number six of Ethiopia, the route to that passes by Mekele. He cannot become an emperor while Tigray still is strong, still in charge of the region and still has the mighty power of TPLF influencing the dynamic of politics in the entire Ethiopia. He cannot be an emperor while still EPRDF is in power. Ironically, he was brought by EPRDF and he was representing EPRDF but now EPRDF is the obstacle in his way to become Ethiopia’s next emperor. He cannot be emperor while Ethiopia is still a federal state of divided ethnic groups. His path to becoming Ethiopia’s next emperor will pass first by dismantling the federal system and uniting all the ethnically divided regions under one central state led by one party, for that he will need the Amhara beside him as they were the advocates to demolishing the federal system. He turned to be more Amhara than the Amhara themselves, he earned their support as he was advocating Amhara’s idea of one central government ruling the whole country. His path will pass by Asmara to build a coalition against the common enemy at least until he becomes an emperor. He will also need to build his own national party which he did by creating his Prosperity Party. The Oromo were the first to understand what was going on and they started to oppose his ideas of bringing Ethiopia back to the rule of Amhara, they felt that they were cheated as the system is gradually demolishing federalism and getting centralized under the grip of Amhara. He threw Jahar Mohamed Oromos opposition leader in prison. Mr. Jahar was advocating for federalism as the federal system was giving the ethnic regions some margin of freedom to use their own language and to have their own media and own parliament.

Dr. Aby Ahmed was chosen by EPRDF to lead peacefully the transitional period towards full federal election but instead he declared war against the Tigray region led by TPLF. He put all the mighty fire power of the federal army plus all the Amhara region militias to fight against Tigray as well as the full support of Asmara in the name of applying rules against TPLF. In doing so, Dr. Aby was taking a gamble to finish the war in a very short time before the American Election is over as all the attention was being focused on the election and the outcome of the election. It was not a coincidence to have the two events take place at the same time. This gamble was lost as TPLF prolonged the war by withdrawing from the major cities and keeping their force and the fire power intact so they could control the momentum of when and where to attack. The second gamble was to silence everyone including African Union, neighboring countries and international opinion by cutting Tigray from the rest of the world. No power, no internet and no one from the international media would be allowed to go there. This gamble also was lost as refugees started to flee across the border with Sudan by thousands telling horrific stories of war galvanizing the international attention and that started to fire back to the system of Dr. Aby Ahmed. The third gamble was to block any local or neighboring assistance or support to Tigray by silencing them and controlling all information about the on-going war, but different types of war erupted internally and externally making him lose that gamble as well. Internally fighting in Benishangul, Afar and Oromia regions between Amhara and local militias. Externally war with Sudan in the disputed area of Al-Fashqa.

Dr. Aby’s problem is that he doesn’t know how to finish this war before he loses everything including his dreams of being Ethiopia’s next emperor. He’s allying with the Amhara, but the Amhara have more enemies than friends, fighting against every neighboring region didn’t earn them the friendship of anyone. There is also the connection of the Ethiopian regions across the border with the neighboring countries like the Benishangul with South Sudan, the Ethiopian Somali with Somalia/Somaliland and the Afar with Djibouti and last the Tigray with the Tigrinya people of Eritrea. So much in task and so many complications in the map. It seems also that Dr. Aby forgot the international interest in the area and the dispute with Egypt over the Renaissance Dump and how that could play as a factor in the on-going war in prolonging it and weakening the central government of the country.

The question is, are we heading to the Balkanization of Ethiopia or will we wetness the reign of the next Ethiopian emperor?  


By M Issa