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International Crisis Group: keeping Ethiopia’s transition on the rails

REPORT from International Crisis Group

Nairobi/Addis Abeba/Brussels, 16 December 2019

What’s new? Clashes in October 2019 in Oromia, Ethiopia’s most populous region, left scores of people dead. They mark the latest explosion of ethnic strife that has killed hundreds and displaced millions across the country over the past year and half.

Why did it happen? Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has taken important steps to move the country toward more open politics. But his efforts to dismantle the old order have weakened the Ethiopian state and given new energy to ethno-nationalism. Hostility among the leaders of Ethiopia’s most powerful regions has soared.

Why does it matter? Such tensions could derail Ethiopia’s transition. Meanwhile, reforms Abiy is making to the country’s powerful but factious ruling coalition anger opponents, who believe that they aim to undo Ethiopia’s ethnic federalist system, and could push the political temperature still higher. Elections in May 2020 could be divisive and violent.

What should be done? Abiy should step up efforts to mend divisions within and among Ethiopia’s regions and push all parties to avoid stoking tensions around the elections. International partners should press Ethiopian leaders to curb incendiary rhetoric and offer increased aid to protect the country from economic shocks that could aggravate political problems.

Executive Summary

Ethiopia’s transition has stirred hope at home and abroad but also unleashed dangerous and divisive forces. As Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has opened up the country’s politics, it has struggled to curb ethnic strife. Mass protests in late October in Oromia, Ethiopia’s most populous region, spiralled into bloodshed. Clashes over the past eighteen months have killed hundreds, displaced millions and fuelled tensions among leaders of Ethiopia’s most potent regions. Abiy’s remake of the ruling coalition, which has monopolised power for almost three decades, risks further deepening the divides ahead of the elections scheduled for May 2020. The premier and his allies should move cautiously with those reforms, step up efforts to cool tensions among Oromo factions and between Amhara and Tigray regional leaders, who are embroiled in an especially acrimonious dispute, and, if conditions deteriorate further, consider delaying next year’s vote. External actors should call on all Ethiopian leaders to temper incendiary rhetoric and offer increased financial aid for a multi-year transition.

First, the good news. Since becoming premier in early 2018, after more than three years of deadly anti-government protests, Prime Minister Abiy has taken a series of steps worthy of acclaim. He has embarked on an historic rapprochement with Eritrea. He has extended his predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn’s policies of releasing political prisoners and inviting home exiled dissidents and insurgents. He has appointed former activists to strengthen institutions like the electoral board and accelerated the reform of an indebted state-led economy. His actions have won him both domestic and foreign praise, culminating in the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. But Abiy’s moves to dismantle the old order have weakened the Ethiopian state. They have given new energy to the ethno-nationalism that was already resurgent during the mass unrest that brought him to power. Elections scheduled for May 2020 could turn violent, as candidates compete for votes from within their ethnic groups.

Four fault lines are especially perilous. The first cuts across Oromia, Abiy’s home state, where his rivals – and even some former allies – believe the premier should do more to advance the region’s interests. The second pits Oromo leaders against those of Amhara, Ethiopia’s second most populous state: they are at loggerheads over Oromia’s bid for greater influence, including over the capital Addis Ababa, which is multi-ethnic but surrounded by Oromia. The third relates to a bitter dispute between Amhara politicians and the formerly dominant Tigray minority that centres on two territories that the Amhara claim Tigray annexed in the early 1990s. The fourth involves Tigray leaders and Abiy’s government, with the former resenting the prime minister for what they perceive as his dismantling of a political system they constructed, and then dominated, and what they see as his lopsided targeting of Tigrayan leaders for past abuses. An uptick of attacks on churches and mosques across parts of the country suggests that rising interfaith tensions could add another layer of complexity.

Adding to tensions is an increasingly salient debate between supporters and opponents of the country’s ethnic federalist system, arguably Ethiopia’s main political battleground. The system, which was introduced in 1991 after the Tigray-led revolutionary government seized power, devolves authority to ethno-linguistically defined regions, while divvying up central power among those regions’ ruling parties. While support and opposition to the system is partly defined by who stands to win or lose from its dismantling, both sides marshal strong arguments. Proponents point to the bloody pre-1991 history of coercive central rule and argue that the system protects group rights in a diverse country formed through conquest and assimilation. Detractors – a significant, cross-ethnic constituency – argue that because the system structures the state along ethnic lines it undercuts national unity, fuels ethnic conflict and leaves minorities in regions dominated by major ethnic groups vulnerable. It is past time, they say, to turn the page on the ethnic politics that for too long have defined and divided the nation.

Prime Minister Abiy’s recent changes to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the coalition that has ruled for some three decades, play into this debate. Until late November, the EPRDF comprised ruling parties from Oromia, Amhara and Tigray regions, as well as a fourth, the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ region. Already it was fraying, its dysfunction both reflecting and fuelling ethnic animosity. Abiy’s plan entails dissolving the four blocs and merging them, plus five parties that rule Ethiopia’s other regions, into a new party, the Prosperity Party. The premier aims to shore up national unity, strengthen his leadership and shift Ethiopia away from what many citizens see as a discredited system. His approach enjoys much support, including from Ethiopians who see it as a move away from ethnic politics. But it also risks further stressing a fragile state whose bureaucracy is entwined with the EPRDF from top to bottom. Tigray’s ruling party and Abiy’s Oromo rivals oppose the move, seeing it as a step toward ending ethnic federalism. Tigray leaders refuse to join the new party.

The prime minister has made laudable efforts to tread a middle ground and unite the country but faces acute dilemmas. Placating nationalists among his own Oromo, for example, would alienate other ethnic groups. Allowing Tigray to retain a say in national decision-making well above the region’s population share would frustrate other groups that resent its long rule at their expense. Moreover, while thus far Abiy has tried to keep on board both proponents and critics of ethnic federalism, his EPRDF merger and other centralising reforms move him more squarely into the camp of those opposing that system, meaning that he now needs to manage the fallout from those who fear its dismantling and the dilution of regions’ autonomy. At the same time, he cannot leave behind the strong constituency that wants to move away from ethnic politics and thus far has tended to give Abiy the benefit of the doubt. But the prime minister, his government and international partners can take some steps to lower the temperature:

  • Abiy should press Tigray and Amhara leaders to intensify talks aimed at mending their relations. He should continue discussions with dissenting Oromo ruling party colleagues and the Oromo opposition, aiming to ensure that they litigate differences at the ballot box rather than through violence. He should continue to facilitate talks between Oromo and Amhara leaders and thus ease tensions that are increasingly shaded by ethnicity and religion and feed a sense of ferment in mixed urban areas across the country, including in the capital.
  • The government might also make conciliatory gestures toward the Tigray, maybe even rethinking its prosecutions of Tigrayan former officials in favour of a broader transitional justice process. For their part, Tigray leaders should reconsider their rejection of the Administrative Boundaries and Identity Issues Commission, which was set up to resolve boundary disputes like that pitting Tigray against Amhara.
  • Abiy and his allies should move carefully with the EPRDF reform and seek to mitigate, as best as they can, fears that it heralds the end of ethnic federalism. They should make clear that any formal review of Ethiopia’s constitution that takes place down the road will involve not only the ruling party but also opposition factions and activists. An inclusive process along these lines would also serve the interests of ethnic federalism’s opponents, particularly among civil society, who would have a seat at the table.
  • The prime minister is set on May 2020 elections, fearing that delay would trigger questions about his government’s legitimacy. If the vote goes ahead as scheduled, he should convene a series of meetings involving key ruling and opposition parties, along with influential civil society representatives, well beforehand to discuss how to deter bloodshed before and after a ballot that he has promised will represent a break from the flawed elections of the past. But if risks of a divisive and violent election campaign increase, his government may have to seek support among all major parties for a postponement and some form of national dialogue aiming to resolve disputes over past abuses, power sharing, regional autonomy and territorial claims.
  • Ethiopia’s international partners should adopt a stance more in tune with worrying trends on the ground. They should express public support for the transition but lobby behind closed doors for a careful approach to remaking the EPRDF and for all Ethiopian leaders to temper provocative language as much as possible. They could also suggest an election delay if the political and security crises do not cool in the months ahead. A multi-year package of financial aid could help strengthen weak institutions, support an economy also undergoing structural reform and reduce discontent among a restive and youthful population during a period of change.

Ethiopia’s transition may not yet hang from a precipice; indeed, it is still a source of hope for many in Ethiopia and abroad. But signs are troubling enough to worry top and former officials. Among the most alarmist suggestions made by some observers is that the multinational federation could break apart as Yugoslavia did in the 1990s. This worry may be overstated, but Abiy nonetheless should err on the side of caution as he walks a tightrope of pushing through reforms while keeping powerful constituencies on board. He should redouble efforts to bring along all of Ethiopia’s peoples, facilitate further negotiations among sparring regional elites, take steps to ensure that the ruling party merger does not further destabilise the country and, for now, defer formal negotiations over Ethiopia’s constitution and the future of ethnic federalism.

I. Introduction

Between 23 and 26 October, mass
protests and ethnic strife left at least 86 people dead in Oromia, Prime Minister Abiy’s
home state and Ethiopia’s largest and most populous,
in which some 37 million people reside. The latest unrest, coming only four
months after rogue security forces assassinated the Ethiopian military’s chief of
staff and the president of Amhara state, cast in even sharper relief the
precariousness of the country’s mooted
transition to a more open and democratic order. In a widening arc of
flashpoints across Ethiopia, attackers, often propelled by ethno-nationalist forces, have killed hundreds over the
past year and triggered the displacement of 3.5 million.[1]
The wave of insecurity has set many Ethiopians on edge. Since coming to power
in April 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s changes have come at dizzying pace.
But they have also lifted the lid that Ethiopia’s previously strong, and often abusive, state security machine kept on
social tensions. Warning signs are starting to flash red.

This report examines the most
dangerous fault lines and explores options for dialling down tensions. It
builds upon Crisis Group’s previous work on Ethiopia’s transition, one of the most closely watched on the
continent.[2] It is
based on interviews with Ethiopian officials, activists, intellectuals and researchers as
well as African and Western diplomats. Research took place during July,
November and December 2019 in the capital Addis Ababa and Amhara, Tigray and
the Southern Nations states.

II. Trouble in Oromia

The most recent bout of turmoil began on October 23
after Jawar Mohammed, a prominent Oromo activist and media owner, accused the government on
Facebook of stripping him of his security detail in an attempt to facilitate
his assassination.[3] After the Facebook post,
hundreds of protesters gathered outside Jawar’s home in the capital to defend
him and thousands took to the streets across Oromia. Demonstrations in the
region in 2015-2018 had taken place mostly in rural areas; this time, protests shook some of Oromia’s multi-ethnic
towns and cities. They led to death and destruction as other groups rallied in response and confrontations
triggered violence. Security forces shot ten protesters dead, while
losing five from their own ranks.[4] Oromo youth groups, or Qeerroo, played a major role in the bloodshed, in
some cases instigating attacks against other groups, as well as fellow Oromos
deemed to display insufficient ethnic solidarity, and in other instances
retaliating after provocations.[5]

is an influential but divisive figure who over the course of 2019 has become a vocal Abiy critic.[6]
For years, he ran the prominent Oromia Media Network from abroad and was among the dissidents whom the
government welcomed home in 2018. He has a large Oromo following,
reflecting his advocacy for greater influence for the community. Many Amhara
and other non-Oromo, however, hold him responsible for inciting Qeerroo to
attack minorities and destroy their property.

Jawar has long lobbied for greater Oromo heft in the
federal government and played a vital role in coordinating the protests that helped bring Abiy
to power. But his relations with the new prime minister, always uneasy, have
taken a turn for the worse, as he has
reproached Abiy for centralising power and for not doing enough for the
Oromo since taking office. The day before the Facebook post, on 22 October,
Abiy appeared to condemn Jawar in parliament when he cited irresponsible
actions by “foreign media owners”.[7]

The late October violence reflects an evolution of the
grievances that brought hundreds of thousands of Oromo into the streets in
anti-government protests that began in earnest in 2015. Then, demonstrators were
angered by the government’s abuses, corruption and failure to tackle rising
living costs, youth unemployment and other day-to-day concerns. Protests had
ethnic undertones, giving voice to the Oromo’s
longstanding opposition to the Tigray ruling party’s pre-eminence in the EPRDF
and federal security apparatus. Activists
drew from a narrative asserting that the Oromo were historically downtrodden, left without an equitable share of
federal power and represented by an Oromo ruling party – formerly the
Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO) and then, until its recent
dissolution, the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) – that was subservient to the
Tigray party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).[8]
Some concerns were more specific: Oromo activists opposed government plans to
develop areas on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, which the Oromia region
encircles, as portending further displacement of Oromo farmers to the benefit
of investors.

Although OPDO leaders faced the ire of Oromo protesters,
many party officials also backed the demonstrations, hoping to increase their power within
the EPRDF. They objected in particular to the Tigray ruling party’s equal vote
in the ruling coalition’s decision-making
bodies, despite the region’s smaller population, and to the Tigrayan
grip on the security sector, including national intelligence agencies and the
armed forces.[9]

euphoria among the Oromo at Abiy’s appointment, strife has continued in Oromia.[10]
Much has been linked to the August 2018 return of rebel Oromo Liberation Front
(OLF) leaders to Ethiopia.[11]
The week of their arrival saw Qeerroo youth groups
run riot through parts of the capital, including its outskirts in Oromia, in
some cases attacking people of other
ethnicities. While the OLF’s return appears to have been conditioned on its
participation in democratic politics, ODP officials accuse it of
continuing to foment armed rebellion.[12]
Since coming back to Ethiopia, the rebel movement, already fragmented, has split
again. Dawud Ibsa, who led the group in its Eritrean exile, is seeking deals
with Abiy’s party and other Oromo groups.[13]
Others, including some field commanders, are holding out, still skirmishing
with the military in western Oromia.[14]

tensions add another layer of complexity. During the recent unrest, Orthodox
Christian leaders reported mobs targeting their congregants and churches, while
demonstrators also attacked a mosque in Adama city, in central Oromia.[15]
The violence follows similar attacks on
places of worship over the past eighteen months.[16]

attacks led some to suspect that religious differences underlay much of the
unrest. Some Oromo nationalists portray the Orthodox Christian church as part
of the predominantly Amhara power structure
under the old imperial regime, which they accuse of suppressing their
identities and culture for centuries. Indeed, the targeting of Orthodox churches as a symbol of the old establishment is a
problem not limited to Oromia: protesters attacked churches in the
Somali region in August 2018 and in Southern Nations in July 2019. In turn,
Jawar’s opponents brand him as an Islamist. Jawar supported an overwhelmingly
peaceful civil resistance movement in 2011-2012 that rejected the government’s
interference in Muslim affairs, but no evidence supports the accusation thathe is pursuing an Islamist agenda.[17]
Responding to the October fighting, Abiy explicitly recognised its religious
dimension, but in a positive way, praising
“Muslims who protect churches from burning down and Christians who stand
guard to prevent mosques from burning down”.[18]

bottom, Oromo activists, like Jawar, and opposition groups including the OLF
have political and not religious goals: they want a share of federal power that
matches Oromia’s demographic weight and
protects their regional autonomy. They welcome the de facto influence
Abiy’s premiership delivers for the Oromo but distrust his political agenda.[19]
Some also want Afaan Oromo, the Oromo
mother tongue, to become
a working language of the federal government (at present, all central
government business is conducted inAmharic) and for the Oromia region to administer Addis Ababa.[20]
Several leaders in the Oromo ruling party, including Lemma Megersa, the influential defence minister and a former
close ally of Abiy, may even back the activists’ more assertive agenda.[21]

Opposition among
the Oromo puts Abiy in a bind. On one hand, many non-Oromo accuse Abiy of favouring
his own ethnic constituency, pointing to his alleged leniency in dealing with
Oromo abuses, Jawar’s provocations and the OLF’s insurgency.[22]
Forming an alliance with or adopting policies to mollify Oromo opponents could
pit Abiy against other groups in Ethiopia’s bitterly contested political
landscape. On the other hand, many Oromo appear ready to take to the streets to
protest what they see as Abiy’s failure to advance their interests, with
demonstrations frequently descending into violence. Moreover, the former rebel
movement, the OLF, though fractured, is still popular. An alliance among OLF
factions, Jawar and other Oromo opposition leaders, which is already taking
shape, could present Abiy’s ODP with serious electoral competition in Oromia,
particularly if it can pull away top ODP politicians like Lemma.[23]
The outbreak of communal strife following the 22 October incident at Jawar’s
residence demonstrates just how volatile Oromia’s politics are.

III.Widening Ethno-regional Fissures

The Oromia bloodshed follows other
incidents of violence across the country over the
past eighteen months. The four regions that have been run by the EPRDF’s member parties – Amhara, Tigray and Southern Nations,
as well as Oromia – face the gravest challenges, showing how the ruling
coalition’s travails lie at the core of Ethiopia’s
instability. As intra-EPRDF competition increases, ethno-nationalist forces within the four parties are ascendant, in some
cases propelled by hardline opposition and protest movements.[24]
Those forces have driven ethnic animosity, particularly among the Oromo, Amhara
and Tigray, as well as violence that since the beginning of 2018 has led a huge number of Ethiopians – some
3.5 million, more than in any other country in the world in 2018 – to
flee their homes.[25]

Trends in Amhara are as troubling as those in
Oromia. The state is the country’s second
largest, with a population of around 29 million, and was another locus of mass
unrest in the years leading up to Abiy’s rise to power.[26]
Some leaders within the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP) – at the time, the Amhara
National Democratic Movement – backed the protests, like their Oromo
counterparts, seeing them as an opportunity
to loosen the TPLF’s grip. Indeed, Abiy owes his premiership in part to a
tactical alliance between Oromo and Amhara leaders, who took advantage of the
growing realisation within the coalition that only genuine change could placate
protesters, outmanoeuvred the TPLF and appointed Abiy as EPRDF leader at the
coalition’s March 2018 Council meeting.[27]

in Oromia, protests in Amhara whipped up ethno-nationalist sentiment, now entrenched in the region’s political discourse. The
result is an increasingly salient narrative that presents ethnic
federalism as a TPLF-dominated project aimed at subjugating the region. True,
many ethnic federalism critics – including a large number of Amhara but also
many others – promote a pan-Ethiopian vision and portray ethnic federalism as
eroding national unity. They argue that it renders as second-class citizens
minorities in states delineated for dominant ethno-linguistic groups, not least
because they face barriers in pursuing government services and public office.
They contend that, by placing ethnicity at the heart of politics, the system
feeds ethnic conflict and may even sow the seeds of the state’s collapse.[28]
But much Amhara opposition to the system also has an ethno-nationalist and
anti-TPLF flavour. The transition has
spawned a new party focused on asserting Amhara rights, the National Movement of Amhara (NaMA), which presents itself as
a defender of Amhara, including those living outside the Amhara region.[29]

Pressure from that movement partly explains the
ADP’s ill-fated November 2018 appointment of Asaminew Tsige as regional
security chief. Asaminew, a strong opponent of the TPLF, was jailed in 2009 for
his role in a coup attempt and then pardoned
by the federal government in February 2018 as part of an amnesty by then-Prime
Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. By appointing him, the ADP hoped to boost its
popularity to the detriment of its ascendant ethno-nationalist Amhara
opposition. The move proved disastrous. On 22 June, Asaminew reportedly
directed the assassinations of Amhara leaders in the regional capital Bahir Dar
and Ethiopia’s military chief of staff, the Tigrayan General Seare Mekonnen, in
Addis Ababa, before himself being killed by security forces.[30]

During his short tenure, Asaminew stoked Amhara
nationalism. Heworsened the bad
blood between Amhara and Oromo by warning of impending Oromo domination.[31]
Already, the Amhara-Oromo alliance that brought Abiy to power was strained, with Amhara and others angered by an ODP statement
that the federal capital should be under Oromia’s control.[32]
They perceive the destruction in early 2019 by Oromia’s government of allegedly
illegal settlements, including many non-Oromo homes, on the capital’s outskirts as an
assertion of Oromo power.[33]
In July, the tens of thousands attending Asaminew’s funeral showed the
continued draw of Amhara nationalism, and thus the Amhara leadership’s narrow
space for compromise. The recent bloodletting
in Oromia, and Amhara-Oromo fighting at several universities, have sharpened
Attacks on Orthodox churches heighten concerns, flagged especially by the
National Movement for Amhara, about the safety of Amhara living in Oromia.
Mounting religious tensions risk edging a political dispute over Amhara-Oromo
federal power sharing into a sectarian contest.

is another hotspot. The region’s ruling party, the TPLF, controls a northern
region representing only around 6 per cent of the country’s population but that
for years dominated the EPRDF and federal security apparatus and still enjoys
outsized influence in the armed forces.[35]
On arriving in office, Abiy replaced many TPLF ministers and security heads,
partly in response to widespread sentiment that the TPLF was to blame for years of repression and graft. The attorney
general, a senior member of Abiy’s
party, issued an arrest warrant against former national intelligence
chief Getachew Assefa, a TPLF politburo member, who is now in hiding.[36]
Articulating a widely held view, a senior
federal official says the government has found evidence of the TPLF fuelling conflict across Ethiopia over
the last eighteen months in order to destabilise the state.[37]

officials reject this allegation and resent what they sense is an attempt to sideline the Tigray.[38]
They say Abiy’s government applies selective justice, most prominently
by failing to prosecute the many high-ranking non-Tigray officials who served
in past administrations and also stand accused of abuses. In their minds,
figures like Asaminew who had been released as part of a wide-ranging amnesty
were far more deserving of prosecution than TPLF leaders.[39]
TPLF leaders are also angry at the displacement of around 100,000 Tigrayans,
mostly from Amhara and Oromia regions, during and after the 2015-2018
anti-government protests.[40]

TPLF’s waning fortunes have not only fuelled Tigray anger at Abiy’s government
but also energised long-held Amhara claims over two territories, Welkait and
Raya, in Tigray region. Amhara leaders believe that the TPLF annexed those
territories in the early 1990s and then encouraged Tigrayans to move in,
altering their demographic makeup. Tigrayans argue that the two territories’
administration status should be decided on the basis of self-determination but
that only current residents – not those who have left over the past nearly
three decades – should have a say. The TPLF rejects
the mandate of the federal Administrative Boundaries and Identity Issues Commission, which Abiy set up in December
2018 to look into the Amhara claims and other territorial disputes.
Tigray leaders argue that the body is unconstitutional, as its mandate overlaps
with that of parliament’s upper chamber, though probably their fear is
primarily that it will rule in Amhara’s favour.[41]

The Amhara-Tigray
tensions could be the country’s most dangerous, as they have the potential to draw two powerful regions into a
conflict that could carry risks of fracturing the military.[42]
Warning signs continued to flash between Amhara and Tigray in October and
November 2019. Another fatal attack on Tigrayan militia by rebels from Amhara reportedly took place at the regional
border in the disputed area of Welkait.[43]
Renewed violence between Amhara security forces and militia comprising Qemant
people left tens dead; the Qemant are a minority in Amhara pursuing greater
autonomy but their Amhara opponents say they are TPLF-backed, a claim a military officer involved in pacifying the area
said there was no evidence to support.[44]
For their part, some TPLF officials claim that they have organised a standing
Tigray militia, to defend a “security fortress” in the northern province.[45]

Alongside the worrying signs, there is one positive development. Amhara
and Tigray’s leaders, encouraged by Abiy, have recently
been in contact. Senior Tigray officials express a desire to ratchet down
tensions: “We have to have a fraternal discussion”, one told Crisis Group.[46]
Those talks could set out a path toward resolving the territorial dispute.

A last
hotspot lies at the country’s opposite end, in the
diverse Southern Nations region, hitherto ruled by the fourth EPRDF party, the
fragmenting Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM).[47]
There, ethnic groups have seized on the
political opening to call for enhanced autonomy. The largest, the Sidama,
pressed their constitutional right to hold a referendum on establishing their
own regional state.[48]
In July, as authorities missed the deadline for the vote, Sidama protesters
clashed with police and later attacked minorities. The government deployed
troops to contain the fighting, partly by using lethal force.[49]
When voting took place on 20 November, it
passed off peacefully and resoundingly favoured statehood. But if authorities fail to manage high Sidama
expectations about the pace of creating the new region and bring
economic benefits, there could be more unrest.[50]
The government also faces an uphill battle to dissuade other Southern Nations
groups from pressing statehood claims. Should the regional state architecture
fracture, they could struggle violently for power and resources.

IV. Abiy’s Merger Plan and Ethnic Federalism

Prime Minister Abiy’s moves to expand and unify the
ruling EPRDF coalition, motivated partly by his desire to bolster national
unity, instead risk fuelling the centrifugal forces pulling at the country’s
ethnic fabric. On 16 November and 21 November, the coalition’s Executive Committee
and then its Council approved merging the four ruling coalition parties, plus the five parties that control the Afar,
Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella, Harari and Somali regions and that are
allied to, but are not part of, that coalition, into a single unified party,
the Prosperity Party. The reforms, which several parties’ general assemblies
also endorsed, aim to overhaul a system that Abiy and many other Ethiopians see
as the root of many of the country’s challenges.[51]

new Prosperity Party would centralise decision-making, rebalancing authority
between its executive organs and its regional branches. The upshot would be
that organs at the central level would
exercise greater power than is currently the case within the EPRDF, in which regional parties until
now have been powerful independent entities.[52]
According to the party’s draft bylaws, a key change would be that a National
Congress would directly elect representatives to the new party’s Central Committee.[53]
Direct election would mark a departure from the EPRDF system in which
its 180-member Council – its key decision-making body – comprises 45 delegates from each of the regional party’s central
committees. Moreover, the party’s national leadership would nominate the
heads of its regional branches.[54]

merger also arguably represents a step away from formal ethnic power sharing. Under the current system, the mostly
mono-ethnic parties at the EPRDF alliance’s core run regional states in
which those ethnicities predominate. The principal ethno-linguistic groups in each region thus enjoy substantial autonomy
over local decision-making, including
choosing the administration’s working language and security management.
The proposed reforms open the new party’s regional branches to individuals from
all ethnicities and mean that its central committee will not be formally
composed of ethno-regional blocs.

perceive this change as inching away from ethnic federalism toward a system
based on territory but not identity. The new party’s draft bylaws suggest that representation in its National Congress will be
based on the population size and number of party members in each region,
indicating a move to majoritarian politics, an
inevitable consequence of which would be to favour the Amhara and Oromo.
Critics also claim that after the election, Abiy wants to amend the
constitution to become a directly elected president.[55]
A senior federal official, however, said the parliamentary system is likely to
remain, even if there is a constitutional review process – which he does
anticipate – after the election.[56]

Much of the EPRDF leadership formally supports the
merger. Amhara Democratic Party leaders welcome it. They believe that Abiy’s new party marks a
step away from ethnic federalism and will
further strip the TPLF of influence in federal institutions.[57]
For now, the ADP’s ethno-nationalist rivals
in Amhara also favour moving away from ethnic federalism, which they
also perceive as a system designed to impose Tigrayan dominance at their expense.[58]
ODP leaders formally support Abiy’s plan, though there are signs of
discontent within the party’s ranks. Muferiat Kamil, leader of the Southern
Nations ruling party, the SEPDM, who is also minister of peace, backs the plan.[59]
Mustafa Omer, acting Somali region president and an Abiy ally, also supports it. In the past, he has spoken of his worries
about balkanisation, describing Ethiopia’s decision to grant regional
states control of autonomous security forces as a historic mistake.[60]

merger enjoys additional support from influential figures in society who are
weary of the ethnic-based political system. According to Mesenbet Assefa,
an assistant professor of law at Addis Ababa University, for example:

Prosperity Party will help tame the hyper-ethnicised political discourse. It is
true that ethnic federalism has allowed a
degree of self-governance and use of one’s own language and culture. But
it has also fomented hostility that has reached unimaginable proportions in the
country. … The new Prosperity Party will
help balance pan-Ethiopian and ethnic
sentiment. In fact, millions of Ethiopians, especially urbanites who
have mixed ethnic heritage and progressive politics, feel that they are not
adequately represented in the ethnic federal arrangement.[61]

The plan
also generates hostility, however, mostly from those who support ethnic federalism and view the merger as a first step toward dismantling
it. TPLF leaders reject it outright, believing that it signals the end of the
multinational order.[62] Some argue that ethnic federalism protects Ethiopia from its own
history of coercive centralism and cultural homogenisation. Undoing it, they
say, would set the stage for a return to
rule by an abusive centre or even worse. “The most probable outcome is disintegration. But I am not saying we will let that
happen”, said a top TPLF official.[63]

TPLF leaders opposed the merger at
the Executive Committee 16 November meeting and boycotted the 21 November
Council meeting, saying they needed more time to discuss the plans with members
and raising procedural objections.[64] The SEPDM upper echelons are reportedly divided on the issue,
despite Muferiat’s support. An SEPDM EPRDF Council member told Crisis Group
that some approved the merger on the basis of the new party’s commitment to
multinational federation, but that they would leave if that was not honoured.[65]

within Abiy’s own ODP, many regard the merger warily.[66]
They, like Oromo opposition leaders, oppose the outsized influence the TPLF has
previously enjoyed but value ethno-regional autonomy, and so are aligned with
Tigrayan leaders on federalism. On 29 November, Defence Minister Lemma Megersa
broke ranks with Abiy, declaring his opposition to the merger.[67]
He contended that the timing was not right for the merger, saying Oromia’s
ruling party had not yet delivered on its promises to the Oromo. Lemma’s open dissent is significant, given his prominent role
in events leading to Abiy’s assumption of the premiership. As
ex-president of Oromia, he was a key figure
in a group of EPRDF reformers known as Team Lemma that tacitly threw
their weight behind the protest movement, hastening the previous
administration’s exit. Lemma was a leading candidate for the premiership until
February 2018, when Abiy replaced him as
Oromo party leader as Lemma did not hold a federal parliamentary seat, a
prerequisite to become prime minister. Oromo activists also dislike the plan.
According to Jawar:

Sooner or later
the merger will start to erode the federal system. The groups won’t be able to collectively bargain.
It’s too early to dismantle ethnic-based national organisations.[68]

That said, for now Abiy’s dissenting colleagues and Oromo
rivals appear set on waiting to see what emerges from the Prosperity Party.
They will take on the new party at the
ballot box if they believe that it will erode Oromia’s autonomy or otherwise
thwart Oromo interests.[69]
Jawar himself pledges to run for either the Oromo or the national legislature, though he would have to relinquish
his U.S. citizenship to do so.[70]
Indeed, forthcoming elections could
pit supporters of ethnic federalism, including Abiy’s Oromo rivals and
the TPLF, against its opponents, led by Abiy’s new party.

So far, Abiy’s efforts to win over the Prosperity Party’s
detractors have largely fallen flat. The prime minister has asserted that the merger will not affect
ethnic federalism and his supporters deny that it aims to whittle down regions’
But to many opponents, the plan to
strengthen the central party at the expense of its regional blocs
suggests the opposite.[72]
Because the EPRDF and the federal structure came
into being together in the early 1990s, the two are intertwined and widely
associated with one another. Moreover, Abiy’s advisers and appointees
include critics of ethnic federalism.[73]
Opponents also perceive Abiy’s doctrine of medemer, or synergy,
about which he has recently published a book and which will inform the new
party’s program, as signalling his intention
to undo the system.[74]
At its core, medemer stresses
national unity, with diverse entities cooperating for the common good. A 22 November
statement after the EPRDF Council meeting said the new party would “harmonise
group and individual rights, ethnic identity and Ethiopian unity”.[75]

V.  Calming the Tensions

The intra-Oromo tensions, plus those between the Oromo
and Amhara, the Amhara and Tigray and the TPLF and Abiy’s government, threaten
to derail Ethiopia’s transition. Direct armed confrontation sucking in regional
elites and federal politicians and
potentially splitting the military high command appears unlikely, at least for now.
Indeed, the army is performing a crucial role managing flashpoints, and it has
remained a beacon of multi-ethnic cohesion despite the 22 June assassination of
its chief of staff. But the consequences of such confrontation, were it to
happen, would be catastrophic, raising the spectre of all-out civil war and the
fracturing of eastern Africa’s pivotal state.

Abiy’s overarching
problem in calming those tensions is that acceding to one group’s demands risks eliciting violent reactions from
another. Many Ethiopians demand action against Jawar for his role in the late
October bloodshed.[76] But
moves by the authorities against him are likely to stir up more turbulence in
Oromia and further weaken Abiy’s base. If the government meets Oromo demands –
awarding them greater administrative power over Addis Ababa, for example – it
would trigger resistance from other groups, especially Amhara. Any federal
attempt to assuage the TPLF’s concerns at its marginalisation could provoke
opposition from the many Ethiopians who blame it for an
authoritarian system’s past excesses. Backing Amhara’s territorial claims
could lead to confrontation with Tigray’s well-drilled security forces.

The dilemma for the prime minister
related to ethnic federalism is equally pronounced. Until now, he has largely
trodden a middle path between proponents and detractors. But his ruling party
reform moves him more concretely into the latter camp, raising the prospect of
fiercer resistance by those who see preserving the system as in their
interests. At the same time, mollifying that group risks leaving behind a
pan-Ethiopian constituency that is influential in urban areas yet holds little
formal power, and which would like to turn the page on ethnic politics and has
largely supported the prime minister until now.

prime minister and his domestic and international allies can, however, take
steps to cool things down. Abiy’s camp should clearly signal that any possible
future formal review of Ethiopia’s constitution would be inclusive of
opposition parties and civil society. While
some interlocutors describe Abiy as aloof and averse to advice, the
premier has started to facilitate cross-party and inter-ethnic crisis
discussions. He should continue to foster these.[77]
Abiy and his allies should press for intensified negotiations among Oromo
factions and between Amhara and Tigray’s leaders. Ahead of the May 2020 elections, Abiy could convene a meeting with all major
parties, activists and civil society
to help minimise violence and division around what is shaping up to be a high-stakes vote. But if conditions
deteriorate further, he could consider a delay to that vote and some
form of national dialogue.

for Ethiopia’s international partners, they should pressure all elites,
including opposition figures, to curb incendiary rhetoric. They should also
bolster Ethiopia’s economy against shocks that could aggravate political
problems and, if Abiy’s government requests
it, provide a multi-year financial package to create space for his reforms.

A. Reducing Conflict Risks from the Party Merger Plan

While Prime Minister Abiy is within his rights to
spearhead the refashioning of the ruling coalition, he would be better advised
to calm fears that the move concentrates power in Addis Ababa and is the
beginning of the end of ethnic federalism, an issue that Tigrayan politicians
in particular view as almost existential. It will be a hard sell. Signals that
Abiy and his allies have sent since coming to power about their intentions to
remake Ethiopia’s federation undercut their claims that they do not seek to
undo current arrangements. Indeed, for many of Abiy’s supporters, remaking
those arrangements is a key political goal and a vocal lobby beyond them
supports such reforms. Still, Abiy can
reiterate more forcefully that any far-reaching reordering of Ethiopia’s
constitutional order under his watch will take place down the line and through
a consensual, consultative process, involving not only the ruling party but
also other factions and Ethiopian civil society. A process along these lines
would also benefit those among Ethiopian society that want to move away from
ethnic federalism, by giving them a voice in reforms.

B. Calming Tensions in Oromia

The prime minister shouldmaintain lines of communication with the Oromo opposition and
continue to facilitate dialogue between Oromo and Amhara political parties
aimed at reducing tensions that occurred after the October violence.[78]
Civil society groups such as the Inter-Religious Council and elders from the
various ethnic groups should press ahead
with their ongoing efforts to stimulate dialogue among both elites and
the grassroots. Oromo elders, for example, brokered a January 2019 agreement
that helped reduce fighting between federal troops and elements of the Oromo
Liberation Front.[79]
They have also reportedly played a role in encouraging talks among rival
factions in Oromia and should maintain this effort.[80]
They should emphasise to rival camps that all parties should channel their
competition through the electoral process and discourage violence.

C. Addressing Tigray Alienation

The government ought to start reversing Tigray’s
dangerous alienation. While its politicians
will inevitably lose from more representative politics, there are ways to mend
bridges. The Tigray elite have already displayed a capacity to act in the
national interest over the past two years. Although often portrayed as having
retreated to their Tigray fortress in anger after losing their dominant
position in Addis Ababa, parts of the
Tigrayan leadership in fact displayed considerable restraint by relinquishing
their grip on power. In early 2018, many feared Ethiopia was careening toward
civil war amid the three-year grinding confrontation between protesters and the
security state. By ceding control, TPLF heavyweights took a difficult but
inarguably wise decision. Prime Minister Abiy and his allies can now take steps
to persuade them to more substantively rejoin the conversation at the centre of
Ethiopia’s future.

first step would be to ease Tigray-Amhara tensions and Tigray disquiet over
Amhara’s territorial claims. Abiy’s government could continue to encourage
Amhara and Tigray leaders to intensify and
broaden promising initial discussions aimed at easing their mutually
hostile relations, while pressuring hardliners to allow such conciliatory steps to occur. The Administrative
Boundaries and Identity Issues Commission could assert that it aims to
resolve the status of the disputed territories on the basis of self-determination, even if leaving open questions of who
has a say in their future. In turn, Tigray leaders might reconsider
their rejection of the commission’s role.

and his allies could also reconsider what the TPLF perceives as a one-sided
campaign of prosecutions of leading Tigrayans. Though Tigrayans were prominent
in the previous administrations, leaders of other major ethnicities were also
present in federal security organs. Besides, to portray the former regime’s
legacy in a purely negative light would be misleading: it built vital
infrastructure, revived an economy battered by years of civil war, and oversaw
major advances in basic health care and education for the large impoverished
rural population. Transitional justice might be better implemented after
ongoing reforms to judicial and investigative organs are complete.

its part, the TPLF could show greater pragmatism. Rather than adopting a siege
mentality and drawing red lines on issues like the ruling coalition merger, its
leaders could seek compromises with Abiy’s government in the same spirit that
some of them show toward nascent discussions with their Amhara counterparts.
Further, if a national dialogue takes place, Tigrayan elites might want to own
up to some of the abuses that took place in
the three decades in which they controlled key state organs. Such a good-will
gesture would hasten national reconciliation and might reduce opposition
to steps to end prosecutions.

D. Reducing Election Risks and Setting up a National Dialogue

The prime minister’s office has reaffirmed that the
government intends to hold the vote on schedule – understandably so, given his
desire to achieve a popular mandate to push forward with his reforms. Moreover,
the legal procedure for deferring the vote past May’s constitutional deadline
is unclear and a postponement could expose the
premier to questions about his legitimacy.[81]
If the vote proceeds, dialling down tensions beforehand will be
Abiy and his allies could convene a national conversation with opposition
parties and civil society to discuss campaigning and election procedures,
including the security management of contested cities that are electoral
hotspots and how to ensure that state institutions and public officials do not
support the ruling party, as occurred extensively during past elections.

This forum could help on a number of
fronts. It would offer a chance to limit expectations: even with the best of
intentions, polls will be marked by challenges, given that the new electoral
board is still finding its feet and opposition parties, media and civil society
monitors remain weak. It could allow Abiy and the authorities to build good-will
and encourage parties to pledge not to campaign divisively or view the vote as
an existential, winner-take-all affair. Abiy himself might promise to form, if
he triumphs at the ballot box, an inclusive government, for example by bringing
in regional leaders in the cabinet even if they opt not to join his new party.
Initial discussions are also necessary on how to improve inter-governmental
coordination in a federation facing a post-EPRDF future, where opposing parties
may control the central and regional governments.

If, however, the political temperature
rises further, Abiy may have to seek an election delay. A divisive and bloody
campaign, with candidates making openly ethnic-based appeals for votes, could
tip the country over the edge.[83]
Provided that Abiy secures broad support for a
delay and uses the time the right way, he should be able to weather criticism. Tigray leaders want the
vote on time – in Tigray region, they face little competition or insecurity
that could disrupt balloting, and in any case their fears about ethnic
federalism mean that they oppose constitutional violations such as election
delays – though the steps outlined above aimed at tackling their grievances
might help bring them along. Oromo and Amhara opposition
actors from Jawar and the OLF to the National Movement of Amhara could back a
postponement so long as they were included in any major political discussions.[84]

If polls are delayed, some form of national dialogue, with Abiy
presiding, might be an option. Such talks would aim, first, to build consensus on a
timeline for transitional milestones, including a long overdue census and new
dates for elections, including at village, district and city levels. More
importantly, it could set out a process through which Ethiopia’s leaders can
try to resolve deep-seated disagreements over past violence, power sharing,
regional autonomy, territory and the future of ethnic federalism. According to
one top Western diplomat:

The prime
minister could say we’re trying to change the country, build on the past, call together a national conversation, trying to build a new
national social contract. He could present it as the natural next stage in the
nation’s history, orchestrating an extended dialogue that addresses fundamental
constitutional issues, such as the degree of federalism.[85]

E.  International Support

In a country historically suspicious of outside
involvement, external actors inevitably are constrained in the roles they can
play. But the more open environment under Abiy means that the country’s
international partners, including the U.S., Europeans and Abiy’s Gulf allies,
can be franker than in the past, even if behind closed doors.

outside powers need freshened-up talking points. Ethiopia’s transition still
offers great hope and merits all the support it can get. But the continued
unmitigated acclaim from abroad appears
increasingly out of step with trends on the ground. Now that Abiy has
been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Ethiopia’s international partners can offer
constructive criticism as well as plaudits. The prime minister foreign allies
should nudge his government toward a more cautious and consultative approach.
They should pressure Oromo, Amhara and Tigray elites, including Jawar and other
opposition figures, with whom many international actors have contacts, to avoid
inflammatory rhetoric. They should encourage all Ethiopian leaders to defer
contentious demands over federal power sharing, regional autonomy and territory
until after the May elections or, if they are delayed, until some form of
national dialogue or other consultative process is in place. They should back
an election delay if one becomes necessary.[86]

international partners should use financial aid and technical support to
protect Ethiopia from economic shocks, such as from a reduction in construction
jobs due to diminished infrastructure investment, large-scale layoffs of civil
servants, increased external debt-servicing costs due to devaluation of the
national currency, the birr, or basic commodities prices hikes. In today’s
fraught environment, economic discontent could easily incite protests,
dangerously compounding communal divisions. International partners should also
be ready to discuss a comprehensive package of support for institutional and
economic reform during a multi-year transition, if the government requests it.[87]
Western governments could consider following China’s lead and offering Abiy’s
government debt relief, which could reopen some fiscal space to maintain public
investment in vital infrastructure projects that create jobs for a youthful

VI. Conclusion

Since taking office, Prime Minister Abiy has tried to
drive Ethiopia’s transition from the centre, straddling a line between
ethno-nationalists and opponents of ethnic federalism. But his plan to
transform the ruling coalition has widened a fault line that has bedevilled the
Ethiopian state for decades, between those who see ethnic federalism as a
bulwark against the coercive centralism of the past and those who view it as a
source of division and violence. Moreover, even as Abiy and his allies attempt
to push forward reforms, they have to grapple
with other challenges, perhaps most urgently
ethnic strife that could tip the country into wider conflict and an under-employed
young cohort demanding greater economic opportunities.

has long been an anchor state in the restive Horn of Africa. Its three-year
uprising arguably served as a model for later protests in the neighbourhood.
Many are watching its delicate transition to a potentially more open era with
considerable expectation. Ethiopian leaders and their foreign allies should
redouble efforts to prevent a breakdown and to shepherd the country to a better

A: Map of Ethiopia

[1] Internal Displacement
Monitoring Center website. According to the government,
1.8 million internally displaced persons returned to their places of origin
between April and July 2019. “Ethiopia National Displacement Report”,
International Organization for Migration, 22 October 2019.

[2] See Crisis Group
Report N°269,
Managing Ethiopia’s Unsettled Transition,
21 February 2019; Crisis Group Statement, Restoring Calm in Ethiopia after High-profile Assassinations, 25
June 2019;and Crisis Group EU Watch
List, “Watch List – Second Update”, 17 July 2019.

[3] Jawar’s Facebook statement read: “Now it appears the plan was not to
arrest me. The plan was to remove my security and unleash civilian attackers
and claim it was a mob attack”.

[4] “Ethiopia human rights commission opens inquiry on recent
violence”, Ezega, 31 October
2019; and “Over 400 individuals detained for inciting violence: PM Office”, Fana Broadcasting Corporation, 31
October 2019.

[5] “Violence during Ethiopian protests was ethnically tinged, say
eyewitnesses”, Reuters, 26
October 2019; and “Tragedy struck
Ethiopia, again: ‘We are dealing with a different scenario’”, Addis Standard, 28 October 2019.

[6] “After a
massacre, Ethiopia’s leader faces anger, and a challenger”, The New York Times, 18 November 2019.
Crisis Group telephone interview, Jawar Mohammed, November 2019.

[7] “Ethiopia activist calls for calm after 16 killed in clashes”, Reuters,24 October 2019.

[8] See section IV.

[9] “TPLF hegemony has ended, but EPRDF power struggle is just beginning”,
Ethiopia Insight,9 January 2019.

[10] “Rallies held in Oromia over threat to disarm OLF”, Ethiopia Insight,
30 October 2018.

[11] The OLF first emerged in
1973 to fight for Oromo self-determination. It has been exiled since 1992, when
it left a transitional government after clashing with the TPLF.

[12] Crisis Group interview, senior ODP official, December 2019. “Two steps
forward, one step back for Oromia?”, Ethiopia Insight, 7 June 2019.

[13] Crisis Group
telephone interview, Oromo opposition party leader, Addis Ababa, November 2019.

[14] Crisis Group
interview, OLF official, Addis Ababa, July 2019.

[15] See “Ethiopia’s Orthodox
Church criticises Abiy’s ‘failure to protect citizens’”, Africa News, 29
October 2019. The prime minister said the death toll from the recent fighting
in Oromia included 40 Christians and 34
Muslims. “Ethiopia’s Abiy says protest death toll rises to 86”, Al Jazeera, 4 November
2019. “Uptick in church burnings raises alarm in Ethiopia”, Public Radio
International (PRI),16 September
2019. “Ethiopian
Islamic Affairs Supreme Council condemns two separate attacks on mosques in
South Gonder”, Addis Standard, 12
February 2019.

[16] Church leaders say
ethno-nationalist groups attacked 30 churches and killed 100 worshippers in
different parts of Ethiopia before the October violence. In February 2019, a
mob attacked a mosque in the Gondar area of Amhara. “Uptick in
church burnings raises alarm in Ethiopia”, PRI,16 September 2019. “Ethiopian
Islamic Affairs Supreme Council condemns two separate attacks on mosques in South Gondar”, Addis Standard, 12 February 2019.

[17] Opponents also
say Jawar receives funds from the Gulf, but they have offered no evidence to
back up these claims, either. On the 2011-2012 protests, see Crisis Group
Africa Briefing N°117, Ethiopia: Governing the
22 November 2016.,ational
currency, the s ian cooperation or synergyutside Oromia and generally are seen
as an attack against the idea of a unita

[18] “Ethiopia
mourns dead after ethnic violence breaks out”, Voice of America (VOA), 29
October 2019.

[19] Crisis Group
interviews, Jawar Mohammed and ruling party official, Addis Ababa, November

[20] The federal capital generates around one quarter of Ethiopia’s
economic output despite containing only around one twentieth of the national
population. The constitution states that Oromia’s “special interest” in areas
such as the use of natural resources, social service provision or “joint
administrative matters arising from the location of Addis Ababa in the State of
Oromia shall be respected” (Article 49 (5), Constitution of the Federal
Republic of Ethiopia, adopted 8 December 1994). What “special interest” means
is not fleshed out in law, however, and other groups accuse Oromo activists of
seeking to monopolise resources in the capital. Crisis Group interview, leading opposition activist, Addis Ababa, May

[21] Crisis Group
interview, Oromia ruling party official, Addis Ababa, November 2019.

[22] Crisis Group
interview, leading opposition activist, Addis Ababa, May 2019.

[23] Ibid.

[24] See Crisis
Group EU Watch List, “Watch List 2019
– Second Update”, op. cit.

[25] Internal
Displacement Monitoring Center website.

[26] CIA World
Factbook website.

[27] The EPRDF
Council comprises 45 members from each of the four parties’ Central Committees.

[28] For a good
summary of the contending viewpoints, see Mahmood Mamdani,“The trouble with Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism”, The New York Times, 3 January 2019; and
Alemayehu Weldemariam, “Ethiopia’s federation needs reviving, not
reconfiguring”, Ethiopia Insight,
10 January 2019.

[29] Crisis Group
interview, senior Amhara official, Bahir
Dar,November 2019.

[30] On 13 November, Ethiopia’s
attorney general announced the results of an investigation that concluded
Asaminew was responsible. While many Amhara reject that finding, two senior
Amhara officials confirmed it to Crisis Group. Crisis Group interviews, Bahir
Dar, November 2019. Asaminew may have believed that he was attacking
preemptively, suspecting that regional officials were set to remove him from
his position. See Crisis Group Statement, “Restoring Calm in Ethiopia after
High-profile Assassinations”, op. cit. “Attorney General says June 22 Amhara
senior region leaders, army chief Gen Seare assassinations led by Asaminew
Tsige”, Addis Standard, 13 November 2019.

[31] See Crisis
Group EU Watch List, “Watch List 2019
– Second Update”, op. cit.

[32] “[Oromia
Regional State] has no other position concerning Finfinne”, ODP statement,
Facebook, 26 February 2019. Finfinne, which means “natural spring”, is the name
by which Oromo nationalists refer to the capital, rejecting the Amharic name,
Addis Ababa, which they perceive as an imposition by the mainly Amhara rulers
who presided over Ethiopia in the past.

[33] “Anger in
Ethiopia as police demolish hundreds of houses”, Associated Press, 23 February

[34] “‘Still I’m
afraid’: Victims reel from deadly Ethiopia clashes”, Agence France Presse, 1
November 2019.

[35] Tigray reportedly still
make up some 40 per cent of the army officer corps. Crisis Group
interviews, defence analysts and former Tigrayan military officer, MekeleJuly 2019.

[36] Crisis Group
interviews, former TPLF intelligence officer, other TPLF officials, September
and November 2019. Assefa is believed to be in Tigray region but his exact
whereabouts are unknown.

[37] Crisis Group
interview, senior federal official, Addis Ababa, December 2019.

[38] Crisis Group
interview, senior TPLF official, Mekele, November 2019.

[39] Crisis Group
interview, senior TPLF official, Mekele, July 2019.

[40] Crisis Group
interview, senior TPLF official, Mekele,November 2019.

[41] Crisis Group
interview, senior TPLF official, July 2019.

[42] Crisis Group
interview, Tigrayan former senior military officer, Addis Ababa, November 2019.

[43] Crisis Group
interview, former senior security agency official, Mekele, November 2019.

[44] Crisis Group
interviews, two senior Amhara regional officials and military officer, November
2019. The Qemant in Amhara demand more autonomous territory after regional authorities granted them a degree of self-rule.

[45] Crisis Group
interviews, former TPLF intelligence officer and other TPLF officials, Addis
Ababa, September and November 2019.

[46] Crisis Group
interview, Mekele, November 2019.

[47] See Crisis Group
Africa Briefing N°146, Time for Ethiopia
to Bargain with Sidama over Statehood
, 4 July 2019.

[48] “Ethiopia’s Sidama
people vote to create new state”, Associated Press, 23 November 2019. The
electoral board announced that 98.5 per cent of the electorate supported the
creation of a new state, an overwhelming endorsement suggesting that minorities
in the region, many of whom opposed the creation of the new state, skipped the

[49] Ibid.

[50] Some argue that a
formal constitutional amendment is needed to add a tenth state to the nine
listed in the constitution. Crisis Group interview, SEPDM Central Committee
member, Addis Ababa, November 2019.

[51] Crisis Group
interview, adviser to the prime minister, Addis Ababa,November 2019. Crisis Group interview, senior
federal official, Addis Ababa, December 2019. “Prosperity Party establishment
takes all required legal steps: Premier”, Ethiopian Press Agency, 29 November

[52] Ibid.

[53] “Third day
EPRDF discussing ‘Prosperity Party’ regulation”, Addis Standard, 18 November 2019.

[54] Crisis Group
interview, senior ODP official, Addis Ababa, December 2019.

[55] Crisis Group
interviews, TPLF Executive Committee and Central Committee members, Tigray,
November 2019.

[56] Crisis Group
interview, senior federal official, Addis Ababa, December 2019.

[57] Crisis Group
interview, ADP Executive Committee member, Bahir Dar, November 2019.

[58] Crisis Group
interviews, NaMA leadership and regional representatives, Addis Ababa and Bahir
Dar, November 2019.

[59] Crisis Group
telephone interview, SEPDM Central Committee member, November 2019.

[60] “Abiy Ahmed
and the struggle to keep Ethiopia together”, The Africa Report, 11
October 2019. Crisis Group interview, senior former opposition leader, London,
September 2019.

[61] Crisis Group
telephone interview, December 2019.

[62] Crisis Group interview, senior TPLF official, Mekele, July 2019.

[63] Crisis
Group interviews, TPLF Central Committee and Executive Committee officials,
Tigray, November 2019.

[64] Abiy’s allies cite the EPRDF’s decision at the October 2018 general assembly,
or Congress, at which each of the four member parties
had an equal say, to bring the five allied parties into the EPRDF and to
formulate a proposal on how to consolidate all nine parties into a single one
as providing a mandate for the merger. TPLF officials say it greenlighted
discussions only, not the merger itself, at that meeting. Crisis Group telephone
interviews, EPRDF officials, October and November 2019.

[65] Crisis Group telephone
interview, SEPDM Central Committee member, Addis Ababa, November 2019.

[66] Crisis Group
interviews, activists and analysts close to ODP, November 2019.

[67] “Lemma Megersa
dismisses Medemer, Prosperity Party”, Addis
29 November 2019.

[68] Crisis Group
interview, Addis Ababa, November 2019.

[69] Crisis Group
telephone interview, Oromo opposition leader, Addis Ababa, November 2019.

[70] Crisis Group
telephone interview, Jawar Mohammed, November 2019.

[71] Interview with Abiy Ahmed, Sheger Radio, 14 September 2019; “PM
Abiy Ahmed launches his book Medemer”, Addis Standard, 20 October
2019. Crisis Group interview, senior ODP official, Addis Ababa, December 2019.

[72] Crisis
Group interview, politician involved in crafting the 1995 constitution, Addis
Ababa, November 2019.

[73] These critics include, for example, Berhanu Nega, leader of the
opposition party Ezema; and two Abiy appointees, Birtukan Mideksa at the
electoral commission and Gedion Timothewos Hessebon, a minister at the Attorney
General’s Office.

Abiy Ahmed, Medemer (Addis Ababa, 2019). One million copies of the book
were printed in Amharic and Afaan Oromoo.

[75] EPRDF Council
statement, 22 November 2019.

[76] Crisis Group
interviews, ADP Executive Committee member and NaMA representatives, Bahir Dar,
November 2019.

[77] Crisis Group
interview, opposition leader, Addis Ababa, November 2019. Crisis Group
telephone interview, senior EU official, November 2019.

[78] “Seven political parties
operating in Oromia and Amhara agree to work together”, Fana Broadcasting
Corporation, 15 November 2019.

[79] “Breakthrough as
government, OLF-SG agree on immediate ceasefire, encampment of rebel army in 20
days”, Addis Standard, 24 January

[80] Crisis Group
interview, civil society figure familiar with the talks, Addis Ababa, November

[81] As recently as mid-November, his office told Western diplomats that
it would proceed with a May vote. Crisis
Group interviews, Western diplomats, 25 November 2019.

[82] “Ethiopia’s 2020 vote
will be free, won’t be delayed by reforms: Abiy”, Reuters, 25 August 2018.

[83] Candidates
contest seats in single-member constituencies, meaning that in mostdistricts,
candidates from the same ethnicity run against each other.

[84] Crisis Group
interviews, Addis Ababa, November and December 2019.

[85] Crisis Group
telephone interview, November 2019.

[86] According
to one senior European official: “We’d better all be very careful about the way
forward, as this is a powder keg. This chase for an election now is deadly and
the international community risks being fellow travellers and enablers”. Crisis Group telephone interview, November 2019.

[87] On 11 December, the
International Monetary Fund said it had reached a “preliminary agreement” with
Ethiopia’s government on a three-year, $2.9 billion loan to support economic
reforms, including a “transition to a more flexible exchange rate regime”. “IMF Reaches Staff-Level Agreement on a US$2.9 Billion Financing Package with Ethiopia”, International Monetary Fund, 11 December 2019.

[88] “China’s reprieve
on interest-free loan only”, Addis
, 25 April 2019. In April, China cancelled interest-free loans it has extended to Ethiopia, although neither
Beijing nor Addis offered details of the deal.

The post International Crisis Group: keeping Ethiopia’s transition on the rails appeared first on Addis Standard.

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