Ethiopia on its toes: A year of political upheaval
Two days ago, Ethiopians bid farewell to another year (according to Ethiopian calendar). It was not an easy year to say the least. The past one year,by most accounts, was full of political drama (with far reaching consequences) and gut-wrenching human tragedy.However, the year largely started with positive news regarding the opening of the long-sealed Ethio-Eritrean border, which stayed closed for about two decades as a result of the bloody border war between the two nations. The opening of the border was truly cause for jubilation among residents of towns located on both side of the border;that much was evident from a euphoric level of celebration involving the waving of the flags of the two countries at the opening ceremony. The euphoria, however,lasted for not more than four months, after which time the long-anticipated border-opening was reversed, without so much as a simple statement from the authorities justifying the border closure.
September was full of political occurrences; it was during this month that the formerly outlawed political organization namely Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) headed by DawudIbsacame back home after 26 years in exile. Its arrival also was a cause for clashes between youth in Addis Ababa and youth who came to attend the grand welcoming ceremony held in Meskel Squarefrom the Oromia Regional State and the surrounding Special Zonal towns.
Although a rarity in Addis Ababa, the clashes between the youth of the city and of the surrounding towns of the Oromia Special Zone erupted ahead of the return of leaders of the formerly outlawed political organization, the OLF, leading to an unknown number of youth injured in a three-day confrontation. The reason for the hostilities revolved around the various colorful decoration depicting flags of different types, which was been put up in many parts of the city.
Apart from the hoisting of flags symbolizing the Oromo resistance movement and an Ethiopian flag without the star, the confrontation was also over the painting of sidewalks, roads, fences and other places with various combinations of the colors: red and green and yellow by the youth from Oromia and the city.
The soldiers marchingon to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), infull military gear, unexpectedly, was also one of the major events of the departed year.Members of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), who were on a mission to quell a deadly clash that claimed the lives of many civiliansin the town of Burayo, in the outskirts of Addis Ababa, in the Oromia Special Zone,reportedly just marched on the OPM and demanded to meet Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed(PhD) apparently to discuss salary and benefits of soldiers and other related issues. Well this was true, as far as the PM’s account of the event immediately after it ended is concerned.Right after the event, the PM was on the national television saying things are under control and the incident is not that serious.Meanwhile, in his response to questions from Members of the Parliament, a week later,Abiy let on to the fact that the incident had been very irritating to him and that it was in fact a foiled attempt at ousting the young PM.
Surpassing countries with a longstanding civil strife such as Syria, Yemen and, the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Ethiopia’s latest figures on internally displaced people for the first half of 2018 was nearlyat a new height.
Ethnic clashes in the southern regional state involving the Gedeo and West Guji of the Oromia Regional State, along with internal border disputes at the southeastern Somali border has forced 1.4 million people to flee their homes since the start of 2018, making it the world’s highest level of violence-related internal displacement, so far.
The Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), which rebranded itself to the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), has also decided to see its notable veterans and founders off to their retirement there by consolidating the leadership of the young generation. And hence,officials of the party who were announced to have retired include veteran members of the Party including Abadula Gemeda, Kuma Demekssa, GirmaBirru, and GiftyAbasiya (Amb.).Other prominent figures also include Diriba Kuma, GetachewBedane, Eshetu Dessie, TeferiTiyaru, ShiferawJarsso, Degife Bula, AberaHailu, SuleymanDedefo (Amb.), ItafaTola, and DagnachewShiferaw.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy was the third head of state to visit Ethiopia since the coming into power of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) on April 2, 2018. His one-day visit to Addis Ababa on October 11, 2018 was the shortest of the previous two conducted during Abiy’s premiership, namely by Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea.
It was also this years that President of Slovenia,BorutPahor made a historic visit to Ethiopia and was accorded full honor in the presence of President MulatuTeshome (PhD) and later held a bilateral discussion on a slew of issues, including on trade and technology transfer and agriculture.
The new administration of PM Abiy also introduced its reformed cabinet in front of the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) during the year in question; the gender balance of the cabinet was acclaimed by many in the international arena. The new and shiny cabinet, composed of 50 percent female ministers, was a source of appreciation to the PM at the international level.
Days after approving a gender-balanced cabinet, lawmakers of both the upper and lower houses–the HPRand the House of the Federation (HoF) also unanimously elected Sahlework Zewde as the first female President of Ethiopia, replacing the outgoing president, MulatuTeshome (PhD).
Largely a ceremonial role, lawmakers picked the 68-year- old career diplomat as the 4th President of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
With female leaders assuming the highest rolesat different levels of government, the Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce & Sectoral Associations was also the next to elect its first ever female president, MesebetShenkute, a former Bank executive with years of experience in the sector.
Mesenbet was Abay Bank’s president for almost five years since its establishment back in 2010. She left her position at the Bank in 2015.Before her tenure at AbayBank, she worked with the Development Bank of Ethiopia for more than two decades in different positions including Vice President for Credit Support. She left the DBE in 2009.
Taking the nation in a sweeping fashion, the nomination and election of women to key posts reached the Federal Supreme Court with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) nominating Meaza Ashenafi – the renowned legal expert and human rights activist – as the first ever female president of the Supreme Court of Ethiopia. The HPR approved the nominee making her the Federal Supreme Court’s first ever female president in the country’s history.
The former opposition leader, BirtukanMideksa who has been at odds with the ruling government for long was also chosen to lead the controversial and perhaps one of the most important democratic institutions in Ethiopia– the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) in the just ended year. On the nomination of Prime Minister, the House has moved to endorsed Birtukan’s appointment with a majority vote replacing SamiaZekaria, former chairwomen of NEBE.
The year also saw the national flag carrier Ethiopian Airlines reestablishing its regular scheduled flights to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu which has been suspended since the 1970s due to political tensions between the two countries. As peace is restored and diplomatic ties are deepening, Ethiopian Airlines has made the decision to resumed thrice-weekly flights to Mogadishu on November 9, 2018. Ethiopian now connects Somalia with its vast international network of 116 destinations with a short stopover at its main hub, Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.
KinfeDagnew (Major. Gen), former Director General of MetEC, a mammoth government enterprise with a military origin,was reportedly arrested in Humera, Tigray Regional State, by the special police force of the Tigray Regional State. His detention was met with a staunch opposition from one of the parties in the ruling Front Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF)as senior leaders of the party claimed the detention to bemotivated politically.
The departed year also witnessed the detention of the former Deputy Head of NISS and Commissioner General of the Federal Police for a short while, YaredZerihun. Yared,who was arrested over human rights abuse and corruption,was apprehended in Dukem, some 30 km south of Addis Ababa.
The HPRalso approved a controversial bill to establish a separate commission with a mandate to carry out scientific findings and recommendations related to identity and regional boundaries issue during the year under review. However, a heated debate was sparked after the bill was presented before the House reflecting a political dispute among MPs in the House and by extension among members of the ruling EPRDF.
The fierce debate opposing the bill came mainly from members of parliament representing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkarcame to Ethiopia onan official three-day visit during the past year.Looking to expand the partnership between the two nations beyond foreign aid, the Irish PM met with the political leadership of the nation, including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President SahleworkZewde announcing a new partnership in Lalibela UNESCO Heritage site and on refugee camp in Tigray region.
The statue of the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I was also unveiled at the headquarters of the African Union (AU), this year. The statue was unveiled during the General Assembly of the Heads of State and Government, which was held in Addis Ababa on February 10, 2019.
Becoming the first leader from West Africa to conduct an official visit to Ethiopia since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) took office, Alfa Condé, President of Guinea, also arrived in Addis Ababa, in the just ended year. Abiy received Condé at his newly refurbished office where Abiy insisted the two heads of states pose for a photo next to a model Ethiopian Airlines plane named after the PM.
The Legetafo-Legedadi administration of the Oromia Regional States was also funds embroiled in the controversy involving the demolishing of 930 houses in the town, which it said were constructed on a piece of land reserved for a green area under town’s master plan. The spark controversy as it led to the displacement of thousands of residents from the area, causing widespread public outcry.
The demolition of the houses, which were inhabited by thousands of families, is a part of the town administration’s bid to clear various riverside settlements composed of 12,000 houses, argued to be in violation of the master plan and brands as “illegal settlements”.
The Oromia Regional State, which has been the epicenter of public protest from 2015 to 2018 propelling the reformist government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and co. to power, was also rocked by a new wave of protest in the departed year in relation to a planned transfer of condominium housing units to residents of Addis Ababa, apparently constructed in the outskirts of Addis Ababa inside the special Zone of the Oromia Regional State.
The protests began after the Addis Ababa City administration’s announcement to handover thousands of condominium units to residents. The houses, around 55,000 units, were built in and around Addis Ababa City Administration, where some were inside Oromia Regional State’s special zones.
In the early morning of Sunday March10, 2019, YaredGetachew (Capt.), who was in command of the ill-fated Ethiopian Boeing 737-8MAX jetliner phoned his mother who lives in Nairobi, Kenya to tell her that he was coming home. Sadly he could not make it.
Few minutes after departing from the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport the aircraft with registration number ET- AVJ encountered a problem with the flight control system. Before reaching the cruising altitude allotted for Flight ET302 Yared contacted the Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCs) at Addis Ababa Airport informing them of the problem he had faced with the flight control system and that he wishes to gain clearance for landing. However, the doomed Max jetliner never made to the runway as it was forced to take a nose and dive and crashed not so far from where it took off.
The debris of the aircraft was found in a locality called Ijeresome 70 KMs south east of Addis Ababa. 149 passengers and eight crew members perished in the tragic accident that shocked the world.
The year also saw French President Emmanuel Macron, rear visit from a French head of state, in Addis Ababa for a two-day official visit as part of his East African debut tour since taking the presidency. Macron, an age-mate of PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD), visited the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela, to which preservation he has committed a considerable level of financial support. After a joint press conference at the OPM, Abiy drove Macron to the National Palace where they attended a state dinner ceremony hosted by President Sahlework Zewude in the visiting president’s honor. The two-day visit saw signing of different agreements and Memoranda of Understandings between the nations to cooperate in the fields of trade, investment and military.
The Census Commission, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen, also made the somewhat anticipated decision to postpone the much contested Fourth National Housing and Population Census around the middle of the just ended budget year.The Census was put off until such time that the concerns raised around itwere fully addressed.
In fact, the original timetable for the census was November, 2017. However, a number of factors such as security, displacement of people as well as a lengthy procurement process have hindered the government from conducting the census as per the initial time. Forced to reconsider the timeframe given the aforementioned factors,the government then decided that it would take place in April, 2019.
This fateful year also witnessed the endorsement of the nomination put forth by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) in his bid to shuffle his working Cabinet. Accordingly, Lemma Megerssa and Gedu Andargachew, former heads of the Oromia and Amhara Regional States, were chosen to assume key ministerial positions of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), respectively.
It was also in the departed year that the ChefeOromia in its extra ordinary meeting approved ShimelisAbdisa as the new deputy president of the region, filling the vacancy left by Lemma Megerssa, who left to occupy a key Ministerial portfolio: Ministry of Defense.
The newly established Ethiopian Citizens Party for Social Justice (ECPSJ) also elected BerhanuNega (Prof.) and AndualemArage, as Leader and Deputy Leader of the party during the same year. The appointment bears a unique form of political arrangement where the so called Leaders are elected to assume the top position in the newly formed party. The top two, Berhanu from defunct Ginbot 7 and Adualem from the dissolved Unity for Democracy Justice (UDJ), are expected to spearhead the ECPSJ which is planning to mainstream citizenship and social justice politics in Ethiopia and mount a formidable competition in the upcoming national election.
Perhaps a bit unorthodoxly, YeshiwasAssefa, former leader of Blue Party, has also been elected as chairperson of ECPSJ, while ChaneKebede (PhD), former leader of Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP), was made to assume a deputy chairperson’s role.
During the just ended fiscal year, a new report indicated that Ethiopia is globally ranked the top country with regard to the largest number of conflict induced internal displacements. According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Center’s (IDMC) 2019 Global report on internal displacement, 16.5 million people are living in internal displacements in Sub-Saharan Africa as the result of conflicts. “Against a backdrop of important and many positive political changes, 2.9 million new displacements associated with conflict were recorded in Ethiopia, the highest figure in the world and four times as many as in 2017,” reads the report.
This year also entertained another shocking security problem with Ethiopia’s army chief of staff, General SeareMekonnen, and President of the Amhara Regional State, AmbachewMekonnen (PhD), were killed, in Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar, respectively,in an apparently foiled coup attempt against the Amhara regional government, on a Saturday, June 22, 2019. The incident in Bahir Dar also claimed the lives of EzezWassie, the president’s senior advisor, and MigbaruKebede, the region’s Attorney General. The bodyguard of the chief of staff, Corporal MesafintTigabu, who also killed visiting retired Major-General Geza’eAbera, shot Seare dead at his home on that fateful evening. The deadly attacks in Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar occurred only few hours apart from one-another, sending shockwaves across the nation.
Following the tragic killings of senior political and military leaders in the country, the Prime Minister moved quickly to appoint, General Adem Mohammed, who was the head of the newly structured National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) for few months, as Chief of the General Staff of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) whereas his deputy at NISS, DemelashGebremichaelwas assigned as the Director of the Intelligence Services.
During the just ended year,the Ethiopian Media Council, which has been in the works for a decade,was formally recognized as an independent civil society organization (CSO) under the newly amended proclamation that governs CSOs. The Council was formed following a general assembly held on January 12, 2016 at the assembly hall of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
The Council, whose members include publishers, broadcasters as well as media associations, has been struggling to register as a legal entity under the now defunct CSO proclamation. But, their efforts were futile because of the inability of the proclamation to register them under the generic name CSOs.
Furthermore, the year also saw the once-exiled human rights activist, Daniel Bekele (PhD), appointed by the HPR to lead the controversial Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The appointment once again marked another bold move by Prime Minister Abiy, picking prominent figure that were once considered as either a dissident or an anti-peace activists by the ruling government.
Prior to his new role, Daniel was working for Amnesty International and then the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and two other rights group that have undertaken an extensive work on the human rights situation in Ethiopia over the last few years.
Days after the electoral board issued a statement where it said it will hold the much-talked about referendum to decide on the long-standing Sidama zone’s quest for statehood, a deadly violence swept across some parts of Southern Regional State. Cities like Hawassa, YirbaBorichcha, Hula (Agereselam), WotaraRassa and other areas in the Sidama Zonal administration witnessed deadly confrontations between the youth and security officers starting from July 18, 2019. In addition, reports claim that several houses and business of non-Sidama residents as well as government offices were attacked, ransacked and robbed by an organized group.
As the year progress on, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), two of the four political parties forming the ruling Front, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), were seen entangled in a heated verbal exchange, where they blamed each other for recent or past political narratives leading to the current crisis in the country.
Nevertheless, the years also entertained TemesgenTiruneh, ex-security advisor to the Prime Minister, being named the new head of the Amhara Regional State, which has undergone a security crisis due to an attempted coup d’état against the regional administration resulting in the assassination of the regional head and two more cabinet members together with the head of the national army and another retired general. The regional council endorsed his appointment on July 22, 2019.
Temesgen was serving as a security adviser to Prime Minister Abiy following his brief stay as the head of Information Network Security Agency (INSA) after the reform. His relationship with the Prime Minister is said to go back to more than a decade ago where both worked at INSA.
Towards the end of the year, the House, in its third special session,has moved to endorse the contentious bill of the Ethiopian Electoral and Political Parties Proclamation. The bill entertained an opposition from the opposition political parties of the country on the basis of selected provisions that set the requirement to become a national or regional political party in Ethiopia.
All in all, arguably, the Ethiopian year 2011 was as momentous as some of the notable reform periods in nation’s history. Sadly, the just ended Ethiopian year was indeed one of the toughest and most challenging years to the administration of PM Abiy and the unity of the nation. Who know? The upcoming year could even be more eventful, or could be the year where things could start to settle down; one only hopes to bear witness.