The events that have taken place in the just concluded Ethiopian year can be summed up by the Danish proverb: “The year has a wide mouth and a big belly.” Through its wide-open mouth and a cavernous belly, the past year ingested a lot filling the pit with everything ranging from euphoria to despair. In this piece, The Reporter walks its esteemed readers through a rollercoaster year for Ethiopian politics.
In one of the most action-packed years in the country’s recent history, the just concluded year witnessed multiple events that put the survival of the country in question. The majority of citizens are still bewildered and do not know what to except in the new year with pressing issues left outstanding. The country, in the past five years, has dealt with mounting death of innocent civilians, destruction of public and private properties, war in Tigray, Amhara and Afar and natural disasters such as locust infestation, flood and COVID-19.
The past year also witnessed major reshuffles in government appointees. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), Commander-in-chief of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), relieved General Adem Mohammad, Chief of staff of the Defense Forces, Demelash Gebremichael, Director General of the National Information Security Services and Endashaw Tasew, Commissioner General of the Federal Police, off their duties and appointed new officials.
Demeke Mekonnen was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in addition to his role as Deputy Prime Minister; Gen. Birhanu Jula has become Chief of Staff of the Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Abebaw Tadesse as Deputy Chief of Staff of the Defense Forces, Temesgen Tirunehas as Director General of the National Information Security Services (NISS) and Demelash Gebremichael as Federal Police Commissioner.
Even though the year was filled with tragedy, it also witnessed some positive moments such as the launching of Ethiopia’s second satellite called ET-Smart-RSS into orbit, the issuance of a license of operation for the International Consortium of telecom service providers for USD 850 million and the second filling of the GERD reservoir. Despite the fact that these were meant to be a stepping stone into a new era, the following issues have become thorns to fellow citizens and the international community.
The Tigray war, its genesis and current status
In the months before the war broke out in Tigray region, the volley of strong words, criticism and counter criticism between the federal government and the regional administrator, the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF), was rife. This confrontational relation between the two took on a new shape and direction when the region conducted a unilateral regional election ignoring the federal government’s call for postponement of the elections.
Disregarding the threats concerning holding the election, the regional state held its 6th regional election on Wednesday, September 9, 2020. 2.7 million People, who were registered to vote in the regional elections, headed to 2,672 polling stations to cast their votes. According to the commissioner of the regional electoral commission, the turnout for the election was more than 98 percent.
To this end, a month or so before the war, the House of Federation (HoF) passed a rare decision directing the federal government to halt all forms of relations with the new administration of the Tigray Regional State, which was accused of holding illegal regional elections against the constitutional order.
The decision came following a resolution passed by the HoF on September 2020, declaring the regional election in Tigray null and void. The HoF then passed a three-point decision, which entails: suspension of any form of relations with the Tigray regional council and higher executive bodies formed after the illegal election carried out in the region; maintaining working relations with the legal structure including city/town and Kebele administrations that focus on development and the provision of basic services to the Tigray people; and monitoring the decision shall be carried out by the Speaker of the HoF and the relevant standing committee.
Strong words and critiques turned into a full scale war in November 2020. In a live address to the Ethiopian people after midnight of November 4, 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) announced that he had ordered the ENDF to defend the country and its citizens following “attempts by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces to loot weapons from the Northern Command of the Ethiopian Army stationed in Tigray region.” The PM further stated that the TPLF forces also attacked the Dansha area of Amhara regional state, noting that the forces in the region blocked the attack.
Ten days after the start of the war, in a five-minute video message delivered in Tigrigna language, the PM called on the Special Forces and the security apparatus of Tigray region to surrender to the ENDF within two to three days to save themselves from the war in the region. The PM also called on the people of Tigray not to stand with the TPLF group and sacrifice their lives for the interests of the group whose demise was imminent.
Similarly, Demeke Mekonnen also stated that his government would settle the fighting in Tigray region as soon as possible. In a diplomatic briefing held at Sheraton Addis on November 13, 2020, the new Foreign Minister assured diplomats that the government would achieve its goals of restoring rule of law, apprehend the criminal clique and make sure that they face justice within a very short period of time.
On November 28, the Tigray war entered a new phase. On this particular date, Abiy announced that the ENDF controlled the capital of the Tigray region, Mekelle and said: “The people of Tigray demonstrated their love for their country and the defense forces.” He then expressed his gratitude for the support given by the people of Tigray and promised to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure.
Subsequently, the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR) endorsed a resolution by the Council of Ministers designating the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Shene as terrorist organizations.
The endorsement by the House follows repetitive identity-based attacks, killings and property damage in various corners of the country, allegedly committed by the two groups and a mounting pressure from MPs on the Executive to designate the two organizations as ‘terrorists’.
The resolution branded the two groups as terrorists for orchestrating, arming, training and financing other violent elements. Organizations and individuals who collaborate, have links with, or relate to the ideas and actions of the organizations would also be held accountable, decreed the anti-terror proclamation.
With the government’s claim of victory and the leaders of the TPLF left in no position to give orders and their demise seemingly inevitable, the announcement of the unilateral ceasefire by the Ethiopian government in late June brought another perspective to the war.
The federal government declared a unilateral ceasefire to “allow farmers in the region to conduct their farming peacefully during this ceasefire, so that they don’t miss the rainy season.” With the defense forces out of Tigray and into Amhara and Afar regions, TPLF ignored the calls for ceasefire and mounted attacks into Afar and Amhara regions.
Following reports of advances by TPLF forces into Afar and Amhara regions, both the federal and the regional governments called on an orchestrated effort to tackle the expansion. Subsequently, all regional security forces sent their forces to the war fronts.
The major warning by international humanitarian organizations since the onset of the war was that the number of people in need of food and humanitarian assistance would rise drastically. The dire problems presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, massive flooding and a desert locust outbreak destroying crops, coupled with the war, will lead to a humanitarian crisis and increased food insecurity.
International partners piled on the leverage of the international community on the Ethiopian government while the latter grew to doubt their intentions were clearly humanitarian. With a few of such organizations allegedly found to have hired staff that do not have Ethiopian work permits, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Al Maktoum Foundation and Doctors Without Borders Holland were suspended for three months.
The situation in one of the most populous countries in Africa prompted Senators and MPs from the West to be involved calling for a resolution or sanctions targeting the Ethiopian military and political officials. Millions are said to be on the brink of starvation in Northern Ethiopia with the war spreading into other regions.
With the year winding down, TPLF seems to have its advances checked in the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar. The group claims it has “withdrawn” from Afar while the Ethiopian government insists it has been “routed out” of the region. The group has also lost some of the places in Amhara region that it controlled for quite a time.
The endless carnage of civilians
Among the major headlines broadcasted this year were the wanton killings of innocent civilians in Oromia region, and other parts of the country, even prior to the Tigray war. East and West Wollega zones have especially been notorious for identity based attacks while the trend has been shared in all corners of the region.
The anarchy in Benishangul-Gumuz region increased like never before, where the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) called for the full control of Metekel Zone of the Benishangul-Gumuz region by federal security forces, since the security situation is beyond the region’s capacity to control.
By the same token, in a closed-door meeting, the HPR also called for an immediate report on the incessant deaths of innocent civilians and insecurity in Metekel Zone of Benishangul-Gumz. The regional branch of Prosperity Party (PP) also issued an apology for the ethnic based tragic killings and destruction in Metekel Zone.
Apart from the parliament and rights body, the All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP) also condemned the killing of ethnic Amharas in Horou Goduru Zone in Oromia Regional State, and pointed its fingers at the federal and regional government for the killings and destruction of property.
Denouncing the killings of 70 civilians who are ethnic Amharas, Abraham Getu, Vice President of the Party, said many more people remain abducted and their properties have either been looted or burnt down to ashes. The killings and destruction came even closer to the capital, where gunmen opened fire on workers, while the victims were on their way from a bridge maintenance work to their camps located in Ouro town of West Shoa, killing 10 individuals. The deceased were sent by the Ethiopian Roads Authority (ERA) for maintenance work and included eight engineers, their driver and one local woman who served the engineers coffee and tea.
Some 47 political parties and 125 independent candidates were vying for seats in the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR) and regional councils. Of the 50 million projected voters, the Board announced that around 38 million voters registered to vote.
The Ethiopian national elections, scheduled for May, 2020, were postponed as a result of the threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The postponement of the elections was a controversial move among Ethiopian political parties with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) hosting regional elections in defiance of federal government decisions to postpone.
After the postponement of the election from its original schedule due to different reasons mainly related to security and logistics, the Board pushed its initial timeline twice but finally held the election on June 21, 2021. Even though the election was conducted in the majority of the constituencies, there are places where elections have not been held.
The ruling Prosperity Party (PP) won a landslide victory, securing 410 seats in the federal parliament out of the 436 up for grabs. Opposition parties and independent candidates won a small number of seats. However, the board is still busy trying to conduct another round of elections in the areas where elections have not been held. The second round of elections is going to take place in Somali, Afar, Oromia, Harari, SNNP and Amhara regions.
The Board announced that the date for the second round elections has also been pushed further to September 30. Somali, Harari, and SNNP regions are scheduled to go to polls on the same day, along with the referendum of the South Western People of Ethiopia. Even though the board specifically stated the areas where polling would take place, some constituencies are still left out of the schedule. The fate of the constituencies in Amhara and Oromia region where elections have not been conducted remains uncertain.
Following the announcement of election results, some parties like Balderas have filed a lawsuit. The election, together with the war, still remains an unfinished task which will undoubtedly roll onto the New Year.