Progress, uncertainty ahead
Abdulkadir Adem (PhD) is the president of the Freedom and Equality Party, which registered the third highest candidates next to the Prosperity Party (PP) and Ezema in the 2021 national election. Two years after losing the election to the PP, Abdulkadir is concerned that Ethiopia’s political space has shrunk even further. He emphasizes that a national dialogue is the key to establishing continuous stability and achieving lasting peace that has reached a breaking point.
In modern politics, political forces require civilized politics and peaceful dispute resolution, as armed conflict does not offer a sustainable solution, argues Abdulkadir, emphasizing the significance of peace and security for a nation. Abraham Tekle of The Reporter spoke with him about the country’s political affairs and practices, as well as the geopolitics of the surrounding area. EXCERPTS:
The Reporter: In the past five years, militant groups have proliferated, violence has become commonplace, and political space has shrunk. What are your thoughts on this?
Abdulkadir Adem (PhD): Ethiopia has undergone significant political and socio-economic changes in the past five years. Conflicts have plagued the nation, and the war in Tigray that has spread to the Amhara and Afar regions were the biggest security challenge. The conflict has resulted in the loss of millions of lives, displacement, and significant resource depletion. There are also continuous conflicts in the Oromia region and Wollega zone, with many lives being lost.
The Freedom and Equality Party’s stance is clear: we believe that peace is the only way to achieve our political aspirations, and civil war can never be a solution. Ethiopia has a long history of internal strife, but none of these conflicts has yielded a lasting solution.
We urge the government and opposition groups, whether political or armed, to prioritize peace and reconciliation. We’ve consistently called for peace in Tigray and encouraged both sides to engage in dialogue. Violence should always be the last resort. We commend the government’s efforts to negotiate with OLA/Shene but hope for better results in future talks.
It is disheartening to consider the economic impact that Ethiopia has experienced. The country has been hit with inflation, high unemployment rates, a shortage of foreign reserves, and a mounting debt crisis. Unfortunately, these challenges are deeply rooted in Ethiopia’s struggling economy, which heavily relies on the agricultural sector.
Could it be argued that the economy has been a factor in both historical and contemporary conflicts in the country?
Certainly, they bear a significant portion of the problem.
In what ways do they exacerbate the problem?
Various studies strongly support the link between poverty and conflict, and Ethiopia is no exception. Areas with high poverty rates are more prone to experiencing conflict, particularly affecting the younger generation, who struggle to make ends meet and face a higher risk of unemployment, leading to potential conflict. Others can also easily influence these vulnerable youths. Ethnic and political diversity can exacerbate these issues. Open discussions are necessary to address the country’s historical, economic, and political problems in the long term.
Can the recent economic downturn, manifested by ever rising inflationary pressure and critical shortage of forex, among other macroeconomic woes, can be attributed to the presence of competing ethnic nationalism, or does it contribute to the current state of instability?
Conflicts harm economic performance. To overcome challenges, we should use resources wisely. This is especially important in hostile countries like Ethiopia. Sadly, this is a reality for many people on a daily basis, and it severely hampers economic growth. Therefore, conflict and economic performance are intertwined.
Ethiopia’s power shift reportedly creates security issues for regional states. When regional states in the federation feel the federal government is weak to protect them from the neighboring region, a security dilemma arose. They armed themselves to defend themselves, as some political experts argue. Can this power shift explain all conflicts?
It has a contributing factor. This is because we all agreed that the federal government should have the monopoly of power and be better equipped to maintain peace and security throughout Ethiopia. But in recent years, the problem of special forces has produced a conundrum in which regions desire to develop stronger special forces in order to compete with others nearby.
Some of the regions built a very strong special force that almost leveled the national defense force. Therefore, the federal government’s decision to disarm the special forces of each region is the best way to achieve national peace and security, as there is no constitutional arrangement to have such a force.
Do you mean that the government should always have a monopoly of power?
Yes, that is a general idea and a constitutional-based practice.
So, you support the disarmament efforts currently underway among regional powers. Is it timely?
As an opposition party, we have long held that special forces have negatively impacted the last five years. For us, there is no better time than now to proceed with the disarmament of such forces. This is because they are always part of the problem but not on the side of the solution.
The refusal of members of some special forces of Amhara region not to disarm is due to the standing security threats from the surrounding areas, especially from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). The problem has to be resolved intelligently to avoid another regional threat. Thus, the government, regional administration, and special forces leaders should act wisely.
What are your thoughts regarding the Pretoria peace process? What is your overall assessment?
For us, the most pressing need is the cessation of hostilities and the end of the brutal conflict. Other political, administrative, legal, and procedural issues may take time to settle. At least we have achieved peace, and the war is over. Key settlements include the end of hostilities, the handover of heavy weapons, the establishment of an interim government, the TPLF’s removal from the terrorist list, and the provision of essential services to war-torn areas. Both parties should keep their pledges.
That brings us to the latest OLA-federal government peace talks. Both parties declared the first phase of the peace process ended without agreement, and hostilities and suffering continued. What’s your assessment of the region and the peace process?
Our position in such affairs is consistent, whether it is in the Tigray or Oromia regions. We want any conflict in Ethiopia to be solved through negotiation and discussion. As we have been calling for peace and stability in the Tigray region, we are now calling for the two parties to end hostilities in the Oromia region. We welcome the government’s call for peace and the OLF’s commitment to peace. The start was good, even though the results were bad. We hope to hear a better result from the negotiation in the upcoming meetings and agree on the remaining agenda items.
Tensions between regions and boundary disputes are major problems haunting Ethiopia. Handling such situations seem a challenge for the administration. How do you think the government should settle such problems?
Any dispute in the country should be resolved in the same manner, through peaceful means, including negotiation. This is the only positive approach that should be implemented. The practice must be applied to all regional administrations with disputed borders. The disputed areas between Tigray and the Amhara region, for example, should be treated in the same way.The same procedure works for other regional states with border disputes.
What are the causes of these boundary disputes in Ethiopia, in your opinion? Is it administrative in nature or constitutional?
Both have contributed for the disputes. Historical flaws also played a significant role in the disagreement. When the present constitution went into effect, it established a new federal state that led to the establishment of states along ethnic lines. Some regions’ boundaries have been altered since it was applied. The constitution establishes regions and referendums to resolve disputes. But we don’t even agree on the importance of referendum. This indicates legal loopholes. Again, a working system would peacefully resolve legal system weaknesses without bloodshed. Constitutional arrangements should address administrative issues.
In our country, the problem is political manipulation, not the federal system. The Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) adopted divide and rule policy for 27 years. Historical narratives played a role in the ongoing tensions between communities in various sections of the country, which led to interethnic violence. So, the best way to end problems in Ethiopia would be to organize a thorough and inclusive national dialogue that addresses political, historical, constitutional, and economic challenges. If we continue in this manner, the outcome will be a zero-sum game.
How will the national dialogue help solve political problems in the country?
National dialogue, in my opinion, is a tool that can help resolve issues and avert disagreements in the country. Ethiopia has had a lot of disputes in the last 50 years, and several approaches have been explored to resolve those conflicts, but none have been successful. So, we need to have a working approach, and that is national dialogue.
But before that, it’s better to identify the root cause of the problems. That is why, since its inception, our party has repeatedly urged the use of national dialogue to build a sustainable country. The dialogue can help us solve significant problems, if not all of them.
How do you view transitional justice, peace, and reconciliation?
Ethiopia’s government recently announced a transitional justice policy. And we are currently engaged in the national dialogue process, which should result in transitional justice. A well-designed and profound national dialogue are important for peace and reconciliation. But it should be noted that a national dialogue cannot provide peace and security unless all stakeholders participate.
Abiy Ahmed (PhD) promised political stability and a more stable country in 2018. In his address to Parliamentarians, he stressed the need to allow opposition parties to participate in politics, allow freedom of the press and expression, improve relations with neighboring countries, including Eritrea, and allow terrorist armed forces to enter the country and freely express their needs and philosophies. Is his government keeping its promises?
It’s not only those. Abiy has made numerous promises. Those are the transition’s honeymoon promises. The PM has the undivided support of the majority of society. Unfortunately, those assurances do not last long. In truth, several significant steps were taken to open up the political arena and allow media organizations to exercise their freedom of expression, but the practice was gradually limited. The recent national election is a prime example of this. Several party members were arrested during the election, and the media and freedom of expression were not provided as planned.
Its extent of practice cannot even be compared to the EPRDF’s reign; it is far worse. There has been a significant breach of the transition leaders’ promises. Our country has seen a high number of wars and civilian casualties that were never seen before the transition. I believe it is preferable to take a step back and assess how the transition’s promises were broken, change them, and make those political promises a reality.
Ethiopia and Eritrea signed an agreement to strengthen their diplomatic ties. But nobody knows what the actual deal includes. What do you believe the agreement with Eritrea was? Do you believe that their participation in the Tigray War was part of the deal?
I believe Eritrea has played a significant role in the conflict and continues to hold control over some territories there. The relationship has actually improved in certain ways, but nothing is certain.
The normalization mechanism we have in place with Eritrea is not institutionalized and lacks transparency. It resembles more of a private agreement between two leaders. Therefore, it is challenging to categorize Eritrea’s participation in the Tigray War.
Can you describe the level of Eritrea’s involvement in the Tigray War?
We have been demanding the withdrawal of all military forces from Ethiopian soil because we believe the country is capable of defending and executing the law. The presence of foreign forces has nothing but negative consequences. For that, we must get rid of any external forces. So, we have been calling for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces. And the same is true for Sudan.
You stated that the presence of foreign forces would have nothing but negative repercussions. Is Eritrea to blame for the most recent instability in the Amhara region?
No. It’s not possible. Eritrea is one aspect of Ethiopia’s general insecurity and conflict, but there are several internal factors that equally contributed for the crisis. The political system that we have followed for the last 30 years or so has had an effect. The system has fostered ethnic animosity throughout the country.
I can state that the EPRDF has constructed a system that divides and dominates the country and that it has abused the federal structure to foment hostility among various ethnic groups. In fact, the Tigray conflict may be to blame for the current scenario in Ethiopia and the Amhara region, as unrest nearly began following the two-year-long battle that followed the peace treaty. However, we are unable to confirm Eritrea’s direct involvement.
What about the Sudanese conflict? What are the ramifications of this conflict for Ethiopia?
It will. The forced ousting of Al-Bashir and Abdala Hamdock years ago is the primary issue in Sudan. This inflamed security between the special forces and defense forces. Many say the turmoil may entice nearby nations, but Ethiopians must remain vigilant diplomatically and militarily until the conflict ends.