Abiy Ahmed’s Mendacity on the International Stage
By Haile Tessema
(This is part III, the last instalment covering the embarrassing behaviour of Abiy Ahmed)
Abiy Ahmed has been treated as an international pariah due to his frequent lies, deceptive behaviour, and bombastic statements. Here are some instances of Abiy Ahmed’s public mendacity on the international stage. On June 10, 2018 Abiy Ahmed “swore by Allah” (Wallahi) to President El Sisi of Egypt that his government would not full up the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) without signing an agreement with Egypt, but two year later he started filling up the dam in July 2020 without any agreement with Egypt.
Swearing in a public setting is juvenile. Children swear; adults agree. Making a commitment that he had no intention of fulfilling was fundamentally wrong, particularly when such a commitment was made in public to a of state. Moreover, invoking a higher power when swearing intensified the gravity of the breach. There was no need for him to swear; instead, he could have simply said, “we will reach a mutually beneficial agreement” or use a diplomatic courtesy. The issue is not safeguarding Ethiopia’s national interests; it is honouring one’s word. By all means, he should protect Ethiopia’s national interests, but without lies.
He has consistently deceived the UN and Western governments by repeatedly lying about the presence of Eritrean troops. On December 9, 2020, he assured Antonio Guterres that there were no Eritrean troops in Ethiopia, but in March 2021, he acknowledged the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray. Subsequently, he promised the world that Eritrean troops would soon withdraw from Ethiopia, but Eritrean troops are still in disputed territories. Once again, the issue at hand is not about the Ethiopian government’s sovereign right to invite Eritrean troops; the crux of the matter lies in his dishonesty.
Other than the withdrawal of Eritrean troops, Abiy Ahmed made other commitments to the Biden administration concerning the conflict in Tigray and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) but has failed to fulfill most of it. He promised Blinken that those responsible for war crimes will be held accountable. He promised that he would restore Wolkait, Tsegede, and Raya to TPLF governance; he would release all TPLF prisoners; he would reinstate TPLF’s assets, among the other commitments he made to the Biden administration. He has not delivered on his promises. The US has no confidence in Abiy Ahmed. It has reset its alliance with Kenya.
Once again, the issue lies not in whether the US should dictate policies to the Ethiopian government—it should not—but rather in Abiy Ahmed’s acceptance of these demands, only to later renege on them. Furthermore, he consistently makes contradictory statements concerning the Biden administration. While assuring the Ethiopian public that Ethiopian sovereignty is not for sale, he consistently pleads with the US for additional funds and support in return for advancing US interests in Ethiopia and the region. His equivocation, duplicity, and erratic diplomacy have had negative consequences for Ethiopia’s diplomatic relations, foreign investments, and global public perception.
Abiy Ahmed has frequently attempted to placate the World Bank and the IMF by feigning his wholesome acceptance of their structural adjustment programme, packaged as Ethiopia’s homegrown policies. On June 5, 2018, he announced that his government would privatize Ethiopian Airlines (EAL), the largest and most profitable airline in Africa, but on October 10, 2020, the Minister of Finance declared the privatization plan has been postponed indefinitely.
Five years since the privatisation announcement, the airline remains under government ownership. Considering that EAL is the most reliable source of foreign exchange earnings for the cash-strapped Ethiopian government, it’s most unlikely that the government will privatize EAL. The announcement appears to be a scheme aimed at securing loans and grants from the World Bank and the IMF. Once again, EAL shouldn’t be privatized; the problem is his deceit.
Some African leaders have openly expressed their disgust with Abiy Ahmed’s dishonesty. Two years ago, during a meeting of East African leaders in Djibouti, Uhuru Kenyatta snubbed Abiy Ahmed, when he ignored Abiy’s extended hand for a handshake. In 2022, the leader of South Sudan openly called him a liar. Recently, when countries in the Horn of Africa attempted to intervene in the Sudan civil war, initially they excluded Ethiopia, but Abiy eventually managed to join them. Recently, when the South African government formed a committee of six African countries to mediate between Ukraine and Russia, it excluded Ethiopia because of Abiy’s international bad reputation. According to recent news reports, even his once ally, Isaias Afwerki, no longer responds to his phone calls. When a leader is publicly snubbed, labelled dishonest, and his calls are unanswered by fellow African leaders, it underscores the gravity of Abiy Ahmed mendacity.
Accusation of Plagiarism and Self-reporting as a US Spy
Abiy Ahmed’s dishonesty extends beyond politics; he has been accused of plagiarising a substantial proportion of his PhD thesis. A group that has thoroughly examined his dissertation concludes, “There is now sufficient evidence to demand Addis Ababa University to re-examine Abiy’s thesis; it is adequate to suspend or revoke a doctorate.” To be sure, the group that investigated his dissertation consists of TPLF supporters with a political motivation. Nonetheless, they have presented compelling evidence to support their claims, which can be independently verified using plagiarism detection software like Turnitin. The allegations raise concerns about Abiy Ahmed’s academic credentials and cast a shadow over the reputation of Addis Ababa University. His cheating reveals a shady character. Once a thief, always a thief.
Even more disturbing for Ethiopians is that Abiy Ahmed claims to have worked for the NSA. In an interview with the New Yorker Magazine in September 2022, he boldly asserted his involvement with the US spy agency. He proclaimed: “I was the one who would send intelligence from this part of the world to the N.S.A., on Sudan, Yemen and Somalia. The N.S.A. knows me. I would fight and die for America.” The revelation that he spied on neighbouring countries has angered, dismayed, and demoralised Ethiopians.
It is not the first time that Abiy has admitted being a spy. In the summer of 2018, he confessed to spying for the OLF while working for the Ethiopian intelligence agency. Such acts of espionage constitute grave offenses, punishable by long-term imprisonment or even capital punishment.
His admission of espionage for a superpower raises disturbing questions about the integrity of Ethiopia’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). Is the NISS truly independent of the CIA? To what extent does the CIA exert control over the NISS? Will he use the resources of the Ethiopian government to enforce US policy in Ethiopia and the rest of the Horn of Africa? These and other questions weigh heavily on the minds of Ethiopians and African leaders, particularly those from neighbouring countries. It is understandable that African leaders regard him with suspicion. It is also clear why Isaias Afwerki may have legitimate concerns about a potential regime change in Eritrea orchestrated by the US, effected by Abiy Ahmed.
Abiy Ahmed’s statement that “I would fight and die for America” implies that his allegiance to the US is high. This statement signifies his unwavering loyalty to the US, but his allegiance to a foreign country angers Ethiopians and irks Africans.
It is possible that he may have fabricated his involvement with the NSA, yet the NSA has issued no denial about his working for it. The NSA’s silence lends credence to the possibility that he might have indeed worked there. If he had no affiliation with the NSA and spread such a major falsehood, it further reinforces his reputation as a deceitful individual.
We have explored several reasons for why Abiy Ahmed has been ostracised on the international stage. The accusation of plagiarism further casts doubts on his character. His claim of working for the NSA adds justification for why world leaders, particularly African counterparts, distance themselves from him. Ethiopians have experienced a dual sense of shame: their prime minister being rejected by world leaders because of his dishonesty and his admission of engaging in espionage for a foreign government.