As the advent of 2016, the new Ethiopian year, fast approaches, it’s prompting among Ethiopians the customary exchange of well wishes, festivities, and the adoption of resolutions to embark on a journey accomplish a personal goal or otherwise improve their behavior. But we are all glad to see the back of 2015 for it has been one of the most turbulent periods in the country’s recent history. The year saw the prolongation of intractable problems that had bedeviled it for decades and the flare-up of new sets of challenges. Chief among these, which have made life a living hell for the majority of the population, are the continuation of the interminable cycle of violence racking several parts of the country as well the persistence of difficult macroeconomic conditions. As Ethiopians look forward to 2016, it’s incumbent on each and every one of us to ponder on the failings of the outgoing year so that we draw the appropriate lessons and are not doomed to repeat them.
The single gravest challenge Ethiopia was confronted with in 2015 was the months of clashes between the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and the Fano, an irregular force that is composed of volunteer militiamen from the local populace in the Amhara region, prompting the declaration of a state of emergency in Ethiopia’s second largest region in early August. The conflict has resulted in unknown number of casualties, the destruction of properties, and the disruption of transport and internet services in swathes of the restive region. Although the federal and Amhara regional governments have ascribed the violence to “armed extremist groups” in the region which have posed an increasing threat to public security, endangered the constitutional order, and were causing significant economic damage”, there can be no denying the Fano enjoy the support of a substantial section of ethnic Amharas given they are perceived to be advocating the legitimate demands of a long-suffering people. The outbreak of the fighting, which some fear can develop into a full-fledged civil war, has left Ethiopians apprehensive about the future of their beloved nation.
2016 was also a year when the scourge of ethnically motivated violence and abduction that had largely blighted the western part of Ethiopia once again reared its ugly head. Consequently, thousands of innocent civilians, including children and the elderly, were killed while several more were displaced from their homes and robbed of their properties at the hands of armed groups like the terrorist designated “OLF-Shene” in some zones of the Oromia and other regional states. Though the atrocities ravaging these places may be instigated by Ethiopia’s strategic foes and carried out by local collaborators for the singular purpose of destabilizing the country, the primary reasons are closer to home and attributable to extremism, greed and bad governance. It would be meaningless to try to bring an end to the vicious cycle of violence without first addressing these underlying factors through a genuinely inclusive and constructive dialogue at the national level.
On the economic front, the exacerbation of the difficult macroeconomic conditions Ethiopia has been experiencing for decades made 2015 a particularly challenging year for Ethiopians. Coupled with the political crisis that engulfed the country, the backbreaking hike in the cost of basic goods and services proved to be a double whammy for the majority poor. True, during the year both the federal and regional governments undertook a raft of measures that they hoped would ease the burden of the rising inflation on ordinary citizens. However, by their own admission their efforts have not brought about the desired result in arresting or even reducing the prices of basic food items, utility bills, house rent, mass transit services, medical expenses, school fees and the like. Actually some had unintended consequences and made things worse. The upsurge in inflationary pressure can partly be laid at the door of various factors which are imported from abroad but by and large they are domestic in nature.
The past year was not all doom and gloom for Ethiopia though. It ended on a positive note with the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) in Pretoria, South Africa on November 2, 2022 in which the federal government and Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) agreed to permanently end the two-year war they fought. The subsequent agreements reached in Nairobi governing the implementation of the deal have further raised hopes of a lasting peace. While the commencement by both parties of the confidence-building measures set out in the CoHA augured well for 2015, the path to peace remains fragile. As we usher in 2016, one of the biggest challenges staring Ethiopia in the face is the absence of a willingness to settle the long-running dispute between the Amhara and Tigray regions over areas claimed by both but have been under the control of the former since the war broke out in November 2020. The continuing unrest in the Amhara region and the debilitating impact of the escalating inflation also spell trouble for the coming year. If 2016 is to be a year in which Ethiopians can enjoy a life of peace, dignity and inclusive economic growth, it’s imperative that we learn from of the failures of the past, build on the gains made so far and overcome the obstacles standing in the way of the realization of our aspirations. We wish all Ethiopians a happy new year.