The new administration’s multifaceted problems
In the months leading to Abiy Ahmed’s (PhD) election as chairman of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) eventually becoming Prime Minister of Ethiopia, many countries, groups and even individuals, who were observing the matters closely, were expressing their concerns and fear that there might be a possibility of a Yugoslav-style fragmentation in Ethiopia. However, the election of the new Prime Minister somehow gave some sort of relief to such concerns. Nevertheless, due to the recent clashes witnessed in different parts of the country, the relief was short-lived and fears and concerns have relapsed, writes Neamin Ashenafi.
Ethiopia was rocked by prolonged waves of protest in the past three years. Those protests played a significant role in shaping the political landscape of the country that resulted in the resignation of the Prime Minister and the introduction of a new one. The new PM has promised to restore peace and stability in the country and was received by a very warm welcome from the public irrespective of political ideology, political affiliation and social status.
So far, the PM has not detailed in concrete terms his vision of the country’s political future. Even though there are some indications that the new PM is inclined to liberal thoughts, it is difficult to say that his aspirations for Ethiopia is to become a liberal democracy abandoning the Front’s revolutionary democracy ideology.
This will be important when it comes to dealing with real challenges after the euphoria subsides. According to commentators, when there are no more prisoners to release and no political parties are labeled as a terrorists, and when the rhetoric of unity fades away, the people will start asking about the promises of radical democratic change in the country focusing on political pluralism, an independent judiciary, vibrant civil society, free and independent media and normalizing ethnic tensions.
However, prior to efforts made by the new PM to translate his promises into reality, different clashes erupted in different parts of the country. Clashes were witnessed in Hawassa, Welkite, Harari, Assosa, Gedeo and West Guji zones and more recently in the Ethio-Somali-Oromia border.
Prime Minister Abiy stated that the groups that are not happy with the ongoing efforts of change orchestrated such incidents so as to obstruct the process. He urged the public to defend its security and peace so as to realize the grand aspirations planned by the new leadership.
Adding insult to injury, violence in southern Ethiopia since June has forced more than 800,000 people to flee their homes and they need food and other aid, according to the report by the United Nations.
The violence erupted in April around 400km south of the capital and in general more than 1.2 million people have been forced to flee, the report said.
"Renewed violence along the border areas of Gedeo and West Guji zones since early June has led to the displacement of over 642,152 Internally Displaced Person's (IDPs) in Gedeo zone and 176,098 IDP's in West Guji zone of Oromia region," the report said.
Though traditional leaders encouraged the movement of people back to their homes after the initial fighting in April, many fled again in June, the report said.
The IDPs – added with the previous ones from Ethio-Somali-Oromia border conflict – have made the country host to a large number of IDPs.
Following the recent clashes in different parts of the country, many have started to ask why such problems occurred at this monumental moment. What are the causes and who is behind this problem? Though these are the general questions shared among many Ethiopians and other observers the response for such questions remains different.
“All these incidents and clashes are not new to the country,” Yilikal Getnet, president of the newly-established political party – the Ethiopian National Movement (ENM) – says. For him such incidents are the result of power struggle within the ruling party.
“There were so many questions in the past. And eventually the questions got favorable ground to be enhanced. It was the seekers of change within the EPRDF, who spread these questions. Now, those who propagated change came to power and those who lost their power might be behind the recent clashes in different parts of the country. This is the political game in my view,” Yilikal told The Reporter.
On the contrary, for constitutional lawyer Endlakachew Geremew, the problem is the result of constitutional failure. “The recent problem is associated with the design of the constitution. For example, if we look at the case of the Southern Regional State, from the onset, some six regions were merged to become one. The ruling partly in the region, the Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM) is not effectively and efficiently administering the region as it was supposed to do. For so long, the party was staggering due the structure that it was handed. So the question remains, ‘How come the region remained calm when there were two states of emergency while the rest of the country was in chaos and is now undergoing chaos? What happened now?” asks the constitutional lawyer.
Even though there are contending views regarding the recent clashes in different parts of the country, it is a mere fact that people are suffering due to these clashes. Unlike any other time, the recent clashes are being witnessed in areas that enjoyed relative peace. And according to commentators, it might be related to the internal political strife within the ruling coalition.
For Adane Alemayehu, a lecturer at Addis Ababa University Department of Political Science and International Relations, the recent clash is because of two main reasons. The first one is the longstanding mistrust and to some extent hostile relationship between the different parties forming the EPRDF. The second reason from him relates to maintaining the status quo.
“It is very difficult to easily eliminate the existing mistrust and hostility; therefore, the recent unrest might be the manifestation of the problem within the Front. What we have seen now is pouring old wine in a new bottle. The problems have not been addressed properly. It might take time but ethnic reconciliation should be implemented in the country so as to avoid such clashes in different parts of the country,” the lecturer highlighted.
“Who brought about this change? Who is going to benefit from this change? It is obvious that there are some groups that go empty handed by the results of the winds of change. It could be at an organizational, individual or group level and hence these groups might be behind the recent clashes in different parts of the country. In the process they might even try to abort the change so as to escape consequences that are coming their way,” Adane further argued.
Many observers also believe that failing to establish strong institutions is one major reason for the intensifying clashes. These observers recommend that the administration of Prime Minister Abiy should give priority to establishing strong institutions, which are guided by rules, and regulations.
In this regard Endalkachew argues that institutions should be reformed based on laws and procedures. “The government is saying that it is undergoing deep reform. In my view, the talk of reform from the government’s side doesn’t recognize the federal system; moreover, if the reform follows the top down approach, the problems will remain the same. Therefore, the reform should follow a bottom up approach where the public has an ample say and is a major player in the reform process.”
Apart from this, the efforts made by the new administration, which is trying to build a legitimate government, should conduct its business based on the existing laws and procedures. “You can’t get away from deficit of legitimacy by simply trying to build legitimacy. By now the team of the PM and others are trying to build legitimacy by showing that there was a deficit in legitimacy, which is very wrong in my view; two wrongs cannot make one right,” the constitutional lawyer emphasized.
Similarly, Yilikal stated that the promises and motivational words of the PM should be substantiated with rules, policies and regulations. “We don’t see any law, policy or procedure on how to change his words into reality.
“We don’t see or hear these problems will be addressed. The PM doesn’t show us his roadmap on how to deal with the multifaceted problems of the country. All he has said is just providing a temporal solution just to discharge tensions,” Yilikal highlighted.
According to him, addressing and tackling the multifaceted problems of the country is beyond the capacity of the EPRDF, and therefore recommend the establishment of national political dialogue forum that includes all political forces. “If not, then struggle might be terminated,” Yilikal warns
To the contrary, for the political science lecturer, the issue is beyond establishing strong institutions. For him, the major bottleneck in addressing the multifaceted problems of the country at this particular time in history is identifying how to deal with the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) in the internal party politics.
“TPLF’s deviation from the Front is very dangerous; therefore, it is required to have a proper negotiation and discussion within the party. Addressing and sorting problems should get priority in order to address other complex political problems that the country is facing.”
Many argued that restoring order, trust in government and the sense of optimism about Ethiopia's domestic transformation and regional ascendancy is surely the pressing challenges that the new PM is facing.
In order to address all these complex political and social problems, Professor Harry Verhoeven, who teaches at the School of Foreign Service in Qatar, Georgetown University, recommends that, Ethiopia's new leader must urgently address his biggest problem: the internal fractures in the EPRDF, still widely considered one of Africa's most formidable party machines, but riven with contradictions and personal rivalries that have deepened in recent months.