On Thursday afternoon, five high level officers of the Ethiopian Military appeared before cameras in what was thought to be an unusual occasion for the media shy Ethiopian Defense Forces. It seemed more like an introduction to the public. The list of the military brass included the head of the Northern Command, Getachew Gudina (Maj. Gen.), head of the Defense Intelligence, Hassan Ibrahim (Leut. Gen.), Head of Special Operations, Molla Hailemariam (Leut. Gen.), head of the Western Command, Asrat Denero (Maj. Gen.) and head of the Eastern Command, Zewdu Belay (Maj. Gen.).
In a marathon press conference session held at the Defense Officers’ Club located around Tor Hailoch, the officers dealt with two major subjects–the reform that the military is carrying out and the military’s effort to bring about peace and security in the country.
The issue of reforming the military which came to the spotlight immediately following the appointment of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has been a point of discussion among the public as the military was viewed as untouchable entity for so many years.
In his introductory briefing to journalists, Molla spoke about the so called structural gaps in the military establishment despite the proud accomplishments it has registered over the years. These gaps, Molla explained, would eventually start eroding its strength. Hence, the reform is targeted to address these structural gaps.
The reform focused on six core issues, according to the generals. The first one is to build a military that is obedient to the Constitution and free of political alignment; the second is to ensure allegiance to the rules and regulations of the military than individual interests; the third one has to do with strengthening the military through recruitment of capable personnel; the fourth is about the improvement of the armament which entails arming the military with modern and technologically advanced weapons enhancing operational success in all fronts; whereas the fifth and sixth focus areas include capacity building through training as well as ensuring accountability and transparency in the military.
To this effect, the military has prepared a short-and long-term road map which will begin with the amendment of the military proclamation as well as other laws including directives and regulations. The military has also restructured itself into naval, air, special operations and infantry force divisions. Consequently, the number of major commands in the military has decreased to four, consequently reducing the number of army divisions in Ethiopia’s National Defense Force.
“The recent unusually high military activity observed in the country is due to this reconfiguration and the resultant movement from place to place. For instance, there was huge military presence at the Ethio-Eritrean border and a significant number was also located in the Eastern part of the country,” Molla said at the press conference.
Similarly, the military’s internal composition was also made to resemble the diversity of the country at large.
Adding that the reform is not an overnight task and reminding that it will rather take longer time, Hassan underscored that the current Ethiopian year is fully dedicated to the reform and in the years ahead they will focus on deepening the reforms for which the fundamentals have already been laid down. He also added that ensuring transparency and accountability, civilian and democratic oversight, as well as enabling the military to carry out operations effectively are the principles of the reform.
He also added that the reform process is largely based on the country’s national security policy and strategy which is also under revision now. He, however, defended the fact that the reform is not waiting for the revision of the strategy assuring the public that the reform would incorporate any feedback form the revision as it continue to deepen the changes.
In addition to its internal structures and capacity, the military is also preparing standards on how regional security forces will be made capable of implementing their tasks with the proper training as well as armament.
“It will be irrelevant if our reform does not go along with the regional security forces,” Molla said. “Because of the lack of standards, security forces in regions do not have consistent form and capability.”
In connection to this, the reform process is also working to provide clear definition as to what sort of security challenges constitute grounds for inviting the federal defense forces to restore peace and security in the regions.
Apart from this, integrating security intelligence institutions in the country and enabling better analysis of security issues both in the country and outside is another target of the reform. Mentioning that there are about seven security institutions in the country and that they are less integrated so far, Hassan said that their analysis and threat identification has not been complete and satisfactory, which the reform seeks to resolve.