By Abegaz Wondimu
In a scathing editorial written only two days after Abiy received his Nobel Peace Prize for 2019, Addis Standard decried that ‘ the award can best be describe(sic) as a bitter sweet moment. On one hand it is a reminder of the short lived period when popular protests won and ushered in a new Prime Minister …But on the other hand it is a reminder of the uncertain and confused political state Ethiopia is in today”
One wonders if ‘the staff and management of Addis Standard ‘ who heartily congratulated Abiy on being awarded the Peace Prize are the same people who wrote this editorial, or a ghost/guest writer was recruited for this effort.
The fundamental error of the editors of Addis Standard lies in the fact that they are believers of the false narrative, that claims that the popular protests are the ones that ushered in Abiy, hence their disappointment in him not fulfilling the agenda of the popular protesters, and partnering with claimants who believe they’ve ushered in this new era in Ethiopia.
Surely, popular, peaceful struggles conducted by Ethiopian Moslems for over seven years combined with latterly heightened popular protests in Oromia, Amhara and Konso regions, not to speak of the 2005 Elections and its aftermath, shook the ruling EPRDF to its foundations. These occurrences coupled with the misrule and growing dysfunction within the EPRDF created a favorable atmosphere for reform minded elements within to come to the forefront, culminating in the election of Abiy Ahmed as the Prime Minister.
At the end of the day, what transpired is a change of leadership within the ruling EPRDF, and nothing else, and Abiy’s eighteen months in office are to be judged within this context.
Seen from this perspective, it becomes evident that there is a sea change between the EPRDF of the past and the one that has been led by Abiy. When it comes to the bold measures Abiy took in opening up the political space and initiation of an overall liberalization as well as fruitful engagement with our neighbors, and most importantly with Eritrea, we can not but give thumbs up to his administration.
And it is these bold initiatives that Abiy took in regards to Eritrea and some of the reforms he introduced in Ethiopia that convinced the Nobel Committee to award him with the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
However, if we are to believe the editors of Addis Standard, not only are ‘both the peace process with Eritrea and political reforms within Ethiopia are facing serious challenges” but this is so “due in large part to his own inability and/or unwillingness to follow through, institutionalize and consolidate the gains achieved in the first few months of his time in office.”
Putting the editors’ claim of Abiy’s personal inability or unwillingness aside it will be instructive to observe what is on the ground to see how the hyperbolic assertions in the editorial are devoid of facts.
The case of rapprochement with Eritrea.
The Prime Minister in his first address to the nation from the parliament declared his intention to make peace with Eritrea after what he said were a wasted twenty years of no war no peace that was not beneficial to both nations and was in fact a case of squandered opportunities.
On what basis this declaration of intent for a peaceful reconciliation with Eritrea could be understood as “PM Abiy’s call for peace kicked off by excluding a key stakeholder, the Tigrean political elites’ is an explanation the editors of Addis Standard have to make.
The editors further claim that “Abiy’s subsequent call for the peace talks made a deliberate attempt to sidestep the TPLF.” Forgetting maybe that in one of the Eritrean leader’s visit the head of TPLF had actually accompanied him! In the end though it has been my understanding, and I dare say of most people, that the rapprochement was/is between two countries and not the Tigray killil and Eritrea, and this complaint is meritless.
In as much as TPLF was part of the ruling governing body in the country and as such a partner of the negotiation through its representation in the EPRDF Executive Committee, of which Abiy is the Chairman and the PM, the claim of sidestepping becomes a non-issue, unless and otherwise the editors believe a special privilege needs to be accorded to TPLF.
The editors of Addis Standard also make a bold claim ‘actual demilitarization of the contested areas’ did not occur and further claim that ‘…hundreds, perhaps thousands, of soldiers and heavy artillery equipment stationed in Badme.’
Based on all available evidence this claim is untrue. If anything, there was an attempt by ‘TPLF militia’ to hinder the withdrawal of heavy equipment and personnel, claiming that the withdrawal will create a military vacuum and create vulnerability in the border areas, that required the assurances of military commanders to ease the tension and for the organized withdrawal to occur.
As for the border closures the claim that ‘…things have returned where PM Abiy started: all the four entry points in the border which were briefly opened have now been closed again…’ is a bit misleading.
It is true that the euphoric exuberance exhibited during the first couple of months and the unregulated movement of goods and people to and from the border regions does not exist, even if as an observer puts it ‘local people still cross the border and informally also some goods make their way, but in much smaller quantities.’
However, after the initial period what brought about the closure was not a decision made by Abiy or the Ethiopian government. According to an African Confidential Report, this was brought about because of what it termed as ‘…unregulated movement together with non-existent rules of economic activities and unregulated exchange rates of Ethiopian Birr and Eritrean Nakfa, has led to the closure of all border crossings again since April 2019’
Ethiopian officials have acknowledged that they were preparing documents that will regulate future border arrangements as well as other bilateral issues, and once completed will have to be negotiated with their counterparts in Eritrea. Considering the damage caused by the ad hoc arrangements that were in place after 1991 and consequences that followed, going forward, deliberate and clear documents agreed upon by both countries is essential.
These technicalities aside, reality on the ground shows that the relationship between the two nations is robust. Air transport that started between the two capitals over a year ago is still ongoing, the Eritrean government recently finished resurfacing the road from Assab to the Ethiopian border, Assab port itself is getting a face-lift and Ethiopian Shipping line is transporting raw materials from Eritrea to their shipping destinations…etc and people to people contacts seem to be flourishing.
This being the case one wonders why the editors believe ‘progress is unlikely until after the TPLF is fully brought onboard…’ or the toxic claim ‘most importantly bringing the TPLF and the people of Tigray on board requires PM Abiy to normalize his relation with them first’.
This as if the people of Tigray are not all in when it comes to the normalization of relations between the two countries or that PM Abiy has a negative or abnormal relationship with the people of Tigray, which is utter nonsense.
It should not be lost on the editors that, whether or not the TPLF leadership enveloped with a bunker mentality and is hiding in Mekele after losing out in the internal struggle within EPRDF goes along with it or not, relationships between the two countries will be normalized, and in fact the people of Tigray, by virtue of geography will be the primary beneficiaries of the normalization.
If this editorial was coming from Weyn magazine, it might be understandable, but coming from an otherwise reputable newspaper makes one scratch their head to find the rational for these unsubstantiated and off the mark narratives.
Here again, the editors of Addis Standard don’t seem to see the positive efforts with all their limitations undertaken, but rather want to focus on all the negatives and lament at the lack of consolidation of reforms and institutionalization of the same.
One doesn’t need to remind the editors that consolidation and institutionalization is a process and not something that can be accomplished overnight as if by decree.
For starters we know that the Charities and Societies Proclamation, the Anti terror Proclamation and the Media Law are being revised, a justice reform advisory council has been setup, several advisory bodies that will help consolidate the reforms have been established and are working, but maybe not fast enough. Above all the National Electoral Board has been totally revamped with the able lawyer Birtukan Mideksa at the helm, and the parliament this past August passed the Electoral Political Parties Bill.
But it is not the speed by which these efforts at consolidation and institutionalization that are taking place that seems to worry the editors, but basing themselves on the false narrative of how the change came about, they feel that it requires ‘…the convening broad-based consultations, negotiations and political bargain among the various competing elites roaming the political space in Ethiopia. PM Abiy was mandated and expected to lead and facilitate such initiatives…’
The editors of Addis Standard do not make it clear as to who ‘mandated’ Abiy or why he should be negotiating and bargaining with the roaming political elites.
As part of the opening up of the political space in the country, Abiy and his government invited all opposition groups and political parties residing abroad without any preconditions.
After their arrival, Abiy in his capacity as leader of EPRDF conducted a few consultative meetings with the Ethiopia based parties included, and all are free to conduct political activities. Some like the OLF have in fact created an umbrella organization that included the governing party in Oromia, while some have joined their forces with other existing parties. While others are whining that the law that requires at least 10,000 signatures if they are to contest as a national party is draconian, while still others conspire with the likes of TPLF to subvert some of the reforms that have been actualized.
At a time when the Chairwoman of the National Electoral Board is announcing that elections will be held as scheduled and that preparations to make it free and peaceful is gearing up, and at a time when Abiy and his government are promising the same, and the International Community is providing great assistance to help in the preparation, one wonders why the editors of Addis Standard are painting a doomsday scenario and declaring’ As a result of mismanagement of this transition, there are substantial fears that the political space is fast closing, and hopes are fading away and taken over by fear and pessimism and possibilities of a post election violence”
As for the self appointed roaming political elites in Ethiopia, since there is no short cut to power and the only game in town is by winning elections, the prudent advice that one can give them is to get busy organizing and getting ready for the upcoming elections, and based on the result to see if they have the mandate to rule or to bargain with whomever wins the election.
Having depicted Abiy and his administration as failing on all fronts, the editors tell us that ‘this is not the time to abandon him …all political actors and the Ethiopian public in general should continue to give him the benefit of the doubt.’
I guess this is what is called ገድሎ ማዳን!