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What A year!

What A year!

As part of its Ethiopian New Year’s special edition, The Reporter has set out to offer its readership a comprehensive review of the year 2010 EC. In this context, Asrat Seyoum compiled all the major political happenings in Ethiopia, for one of the most event-packed years in recent memory.

Imagine you went into a deep comma one year ago this week and just happen to wake up. Obviously, it is not a pleasant thought; but just bear with the experiment. Again, imagine yourself lying on a bed with television set in front of you airing a program, rather a documentary film, regarding the sluggish progress of Ethiopia’s mega hydropower dam: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The documentary continues to grasp your attention exposing the poor performance of the mammoth and almighty Metal and Engineering Corporation (MetEC); its failure in management, wastage of time and resources; and an all-out mockery of the Corporation’s “we learn by doing” philosophy.

However, the scrutiny is not limited to the GERD; it goes deeper to show how most of the flagship projects under MetEC’s wings have proven to be epic failures and a blackhole for billions of hard-earned public resources. Noticing that all these issues are actually raised in a government-affiliated broadcaster might finally push you to the limit, and you might end up wondering if you are actually fully awake; or if it is all a weirdly life-like dream that you are having. Well, if you zoom out once in a while and reevaluate the changes, mostly political changes that has taken place in Ethiopia in last one year, you might get the feeling of that imaginary comma patient.

The Fiscal Year 2010 E.C., a year of political roller-coaster, started out as heavy as it could be. Just two weeks after celebrating the New Year, the nation was once more shocked to its cores by the revival of conflict along the disputed border of Ethio-Somali and Oromia regions. It was shocking because this bloody skirmish was thought be done and buried five months ago with the two regional presidents shaking hands and agreeing to resolve their issues by implementing the 2005 referendum.

But this time around, the two regions seemed to have been beyond reproach with Oromia accusing the Ethio-Somali regional administration of hiring foreign agents to destabilize the country and the Ethio-Somalis returning the favor by leveling accusations their own by linking leaders of Oromia to the killings of 50 Somalis in Awoday town.

Meanwhile, few days later, the federal government revealed a surprise of its own. Gripped with foreign currency shortage and external debt stress, the National Bank of Ethiopia has announced a radical 15 percent devaluation of the birr with the intention of improving the nation’s export intake. In the same month, however, two cement factories in Oromia reported temporary suspension of their operations following a dispute with local youth and the destruction of their properties as a result. Indeed, the protest fervor in Oromia seemed to have picked up where it has left off last year. Around the end of October, in a deadly clash with security forces, some 10 people were reported to have lost their lives and 23 others sustain heavy injuries in the town of Ambo. Apparently, the clash was started after the local youth intercepted what they claimed to be a truck transporting sugar from MetEC constructed sugar plant in west Ethiopia to Addis Ababa and on to Tigray.  

In early November, the Ruling Party EPRDF, among speculation of internal strife and disagreement, stroke a vital agreement with some 15 opposition political parties in Ethiopia to passed the landmark decision of amending the Ethiopian electoral rule resulting in the shift from first past the post to mixed electoral system with proportion of 80 percent first past post and 20 percent proportional. Meanwhile, the protest in Oromia and other towns looks to be escalating each day. In panic and as last-ditch effort the National Security Council, a federal body established to oversee deteriorating security condition in the country, gave stern warning to regional state administrators to control the unrests in their jurisdictions or be held accountable for all the damages. While this was happening unexpected news hits the nation: the well-known Ethiopian born Saudi business tycoon Sheik Mohammed Al Moudi incarcerated in the Middle East in connection to corruption. Also quietly at work in the background was a shuttle diplomacy by a seasoned US diplomate Donald Yamomoto between Ethiopia and Eritrea; and his first public pronouncement of his country’s intention to diffuse the age-long hostilities between the two nations.

At the center, things were also happening fast with Ethiopian parliament as it has become increasingly obvious that it is struggling to get its members to attend its regular session and at times to meet the required quorum.

The last month of 2017, nevertheless, was dominated by the ruling party politics. For instance, TPLF undertook a somewhat radical leadership overhauls at the very top, replacing its chairman and deputy, Abay Woldu and Addisalem Balema, with Debretsion G/Michael and Fetlework G/egziabiher; furthermore, the party removed the influential executive committee member Azeb Mesfim, widow of late PM Meles Zenawi, from all party activities.   

Mid December saw further simmering of the political unrest in the country. However, following the killing of dozes in the Eastern Harege town of Chelenko by security forces and in clear defiance to the National Security Council directives and measures, president of Oromia Lemma Megerssa openly denounced the involvement of federal forces in his region and the killing that ensued after that. Meanwhile, against its wishes, the federal government head by PM Hailemariam Dessalegn was forced to deploy security forces in most of the public universities across the country to just to keep the teaching and learning process going. At the end of December, the executive committee of the ruling party EPRDF well into its most important 17-day marathon meeting in the capital and towards the end it announced the return of two veterans, Abadulla Gemeda and Bereket Simon, who have left the party very openly a couple of months ago, disapproving the direction the party was going.

Meanwhile, PM Hailemaraim Dessalegn had to excuse himself from the party meeting to go down to House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR )following a mass boycott by MPs from OPDO and ANDM who demanded the PM answer their questions regarding the unrests and conflicts in different part of the nation. In days that followed, the government scrambled to pick up the pieces form the wide range of unrest and turmoil in the nation. With mounting number of internally displaced people, the federal government allocated billions and established a national steering committee to deal with problem.

The year 2018 came bearing gifts to most Ethiopians. Having completed its marathon 17-day meeting executive committee of the ruling EPRDF announced its decisions to grant a blanket pardon and release all political prisoners in Ethiopia ion top of shutting down the most feared detention and interrogation center Meakelawi. The news resonated across the globe and the party was praised for its reform measures. The lengthy communique issued by the party at the time and the explanations offered by the chairmen of each party in the front spoke of deep sense of admittance of guilt by the all-powerful ruling Front. It also hinted a silent internal strife in the Front and possible power struggle. Following the party’s decision, the Attorney General made public that a total of 512 charges against politicians and individuals will be dropped and the suspects be released. The blanket pardon saw prominent politicians like Merera Gudina leaving the prison.

Meanwhile, the unrest and protest in the various parts of the nation was still raging. Clashes between the youth and some business entities and manufacturing companies had intensified in Oromia with government owned mining and manufacturing facilities feeling the brunt of the local unemployed youth. On the other hand, the protest has spread to previously calm regions like Northern Wollo in Amhara Regional State with protestors in Woldia, Kobo, Meresa and others clashing with security forces and damaging public and private properties.

As a result, UNOCHA and other organizations have announced that the number of IDPs in Ethiopia has surpassed one million and immediate assistance is badly needed by these victims. Keeping up with the tempo the EPRDF led government handed some 716 additional prisoners their release papers in early February among whom were well-known names like Eskindir Nega and Andualem Arage. While in one hand, people cheered the release of politicians and relatives from prison, on the other, they protested unrelentingly.

And then, boom goes the dynamite, as they say; in mid-February, 2018, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn has announced his decision to step down from his post as prime minister and chairman of the Front. Unusually, the announcement was aired during the noon newscast of the state broadcaster sending shock waves across the nation. Hailemariam said at the time that he resigned wanting to be part of the solution to lead the country out of the political quagmire. However, he also vowed to stay and serve the nation until the party finds a replacement to him. PM’s resignation was accompanied by another State of Emergency (SoE) decree by the Council of Minister, which was to be the second one in the space of two years. Pursuant to the law, the House is to review the SoE and approve it 48 hours (if in regular session) or 15 days (if in recess). However, the SoE, when it was presented in the House for approval it become the most divisive and hotly contested law in the history of the nation. Accordingly, some 88 Nays and 7 abstentions were registered against the SoE, which was unprecedented in Ethiopian Parliament. Notwithstanding, the vote counting mix up, the SoE finally passed with 395 support.

Meanwhile, the whole of March was dominated by the internal party politics of the ruling party and in contestation of the EPRDF chairmanship election. Earlier in the month, the popular OPDO leader Lemma Megerssa made a strategic move in galvanizing support for his colleague Abiy Ahmed (PhD), who was the deputy chairman at the time, to be elected as new party leader. Lemma is speculated to have taken a strategic decision in supporting Abiy’s election since his part has an eye on the chairmanship of the Front. Then, SEPDM followed suit with the election of Shiferaw Shiguta, replacing Hailemariam and throwing his hat into the race. With the Demeke intact as ANDM chair and Debretsion presiding over TPLF, the four leaders faced off to clinch the chairmanship. The weeks running up to the election were quite brutal and filled with speculations.

Finally, it started to become clear that the three— Shiferaw, Demeke and Abiy— were to be front runner for the chairman job, with Debretsion speculated to have expressed his interest to stay out of the race.

Although the election is conducted behind closed-doors, sources close to process asserted that Demeke has opted to drop out of the race in the last minute favoring the election of Abiy as chairman. Shiferaw could not muster enough votes to overtake the OPDO chairman and finally Abiy Ahmed was elected to be Chairman of the party and Prime Minister of the country.

On April 2, 2018, Abiy Ahmed, 41, was sworn-in as Prime Minister of Ethiopia in the Front the House, invited guests, diplomates and representatives of the Ethiopian opposition camp. What followed could easily be the single most important moment in the new Prime Minister’s political life: he went on to deliver one of the most widely accepted and celebrated speeches in recent history. His statement addressed various sections of the society including what was considered to be traditional enemies of the ruling EPRDF such as the opposition political forces in the diaspora and Eritrea. Needless to say Abiy’s speeches was widely accepted among opposition, foreign governments and local people alike.

The new PM did not waste time to deep into some of the most trying challenges of the past three years: the Oromia-EthioSomali border conflict. And hence, Jigjiga was the first stop for Abiy in what he called a “peace tour” around the nation and the neighboring countries. To make the long story short, there is hardly any regional capital that the young PM has not visited and delivered his signature speech about peace and love and forgiveness. Abiy crushed most of his public meetings, maybe with the exception of some challenging questions in the town of Gondor and Bahir Dar.

Meanwhile, the political turmoil in Oromia and the rest of the country was not yet settled. But, the focus seemed to have shifted slowly to an organized youth taking action against what they thought to be exploitative private and government companies in their locality. MIDROC Gold seems to be on the forefront of this ordeal. Subsequently, MIDROC’s mining license was suspended by the supervisory ministry pending investigation into the alleged environmental concerns raised by the local community around its concession area in the Legedembi, Southern Oromia. Similarly, another company which continued to have problems with local community was Dangote Cement. This conflict went even further and ended up in the murder of the Indian-born country manager of Dangote, Deep Kamara, together with his secretary and driver.

MetEC was also under the radar of the Oromia region for an alleged abuse of region’s mining resources. This has to do with the Yayu Fertilizer Factory, one of the flagship projects under MetEC, and which has gone terribly wrong. In fact, reports accused MetEC of exploiting Yayu Coal Deposit and exporting coal without the knowledge of the authorities although the deposit was earmarked to serve the fertilizer factory as raw material source.

In the meantime, the government made another bold move by releasing its most-controversial prisoner: Andargachew Tsiga. A British national and member of the Ginbot 7, Andargachew’s release resonated across the world. Nevertheless, the new PM was busy doing a little in-house cleaning of his own with the removal of the long-time intelligence chief, Getachew Assefa, and Army chief of staff, Samoura Yinus, and replacing them with Adem Mohammed (Gen.) and Seare Mekonnen. After month or so, the army also got additional appointees like Berhanu Jula (Gen.), logistic head, and Yilma Meredassa (Moj. Gen.), taking the leadership of the Ethiopian air force.

In fact, June, 2018 was very consequential month since the EPRDF executive committee under the chairmanship of Abiy Ahmed took another critical step to extend an olive branch to Eritrea. The Party announced country’s readiness to implement the so called the Algiers agreement without any precondition and to try and normalize relations. This was accompanied by a plan to privatize some of the biggest state-owned companies in the country. Mostly criticized by its central committee, the TPLF executive committee members supported the decision to accept the peace accord. After initial hesitation, the Eritrean side finally responded favorably by sending Osman Saleh, Foreign Minister, and Yemane G/meskel, close aide and advisor to the president, to Addis Ababa at a letter date.

June was also far more consequential in a sense that it saw the brutal ethnic conflict and the killings of civilians in Hawassa, Wolaita and Guraghe areas; the shocking bomb attack at Meskel Square which targeted the PM, the crude oil discovery at Ogaden basin and many others.

Early July, the Ethiopia Parliament stripped off the terrorist designation of the groups such as OLF, ONLF and Ginbot 7. Later in the month, the House also passed an amnesty law. In fact, opposition groups like ODF headed by veteran Leencho Leta and Dima Negawo made their way home as early as May to engage in the peaceful political struggle in the country. But, after July, various groups and individuals who have been cornerstones for diaspora based opposition started to make their way back home namely Jawar Mohammed, Tamagn Beyene, Alemtsehai Wodajo and armed groups waging war on the government and those affiliated with the Derg regime. With OLF being the only group continued to wage armed struggle.

July also saw Abiy Ahmed and top government officials making trips to Asmara and opening up of the airspace and phone lines between the two countries; the national flag carrier, Ethiopian Airlines also resuming flights to the Eritrean capital after two decades in the same month.  

However, July ended with the tragic death of Semegenew Bekele, chief engineer of the GERD causing public uproar. In the meantime, the PM finally made his most anticipated US trip to meet the diaspora. Abiy toured three states in the US –Washington, Los Angeles and Minnesota, Minneapolis— delivering landmark addresses and galvanized its support in the Diaspora. During his stay at the US the PM also managed to bring together the divided synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and bring back the exiled pope Abune Merkorios.

August was largely dominated by propping up of mob violence here and there and the internal turmoil of the Somali Regional State where a number of civilians have lost their lives. Towards the end of the month, Abdi Illey, president and most influential politicians in the region, has ended up in the hands of the federal security forces and away from the region. And the regional council named a new leader to restore peace and stability back to the Eastern boarder of Ethiopia.

Well, this brings us to this week, where MetEC’s ill-fated involvements in the number of projects in Ethiopia are being scrutinized heavily and may be if you put yourself in the shoes of the comma patient for the last time, you probably think that this indeed was the wrong year to fall into a deep slumber.