By Tigist Bekka
When Abiy came to power, like most Ethiopians, I was swept away by Abiymania. Like the late professor Mesfin Wolde Mariam, I was convinced that Lemma Megersa and Abiy Ahmed, the youthful duo, the proud Oromos, the faithful Ethiopians, were the right politicians for the right time. They were a godsend, I fancied, to solve Ethiopia’s myriad political problems.
I was in Ethiopia in the summer of 2018. The air was full of anticipation, elation, and optimism. Not only did Abiy say the right thing, but he appeared posed to tackle Ethiopia’s numerous challenges. He made a historic visit to Asmara, where he received a hero’s welcome. On the return visit, when Isaias Afeworki visited Ethiopia, to my surprise, he received a tumultuous welcome, with calls of ‘Isu, Isu, Isu’. The joy was palpable. Families were united. Past enmity was forgiven. A new era has ushered in. The frayed relationship between the two countries was repaired. Ethiopia and Eritrea felt once again united. The future looked bright for Ethiopia.
Abiy Ahmed was destined to transform Ethiopia, I was convinced, as were millions of Ethiopians. He had the charisma, the intellect, and above all, the vision to do the job. He was a transformative leader, a leader who only appears once in a few hundred years, so I believed, as did millions of other Ethiopians. To be sure, some expectations were unrealistic, but no one foresaw that behind the façade of his polished words, elegant rhetoric, and rousing oratory, lay a mendacious, deceptive, and callous politician. What a disappointment he has been. He fooled me, he misled the Ethiopian people, and he tricked the world into giving him the Nobel Prize for peace. Until recently, I had been a diehard supporter of Abiy Ahmed. No more.
He arrived at the political scene at the right time. He appeared to be the right man for the right occasion. Ethiopians had rejected the TPLF’s divisive ethnic politics. The people had rebelled against the TPLF’s corruption, oppression, and state terrorism. The conditions were ripe to bring about fundamental changes in Ethiopia. He suited the bill, at least it appeared.
The Ethiopian people were craving for a leader who could lead them out of the narrow confines of the killils to the broader vision of Ethiopian identity. His rhetoric suggested that he would deliver. Instead, he turned out to be a sleazy politician, good at making flowery speeches, but inept at introducing meaningful changes. Ethiopians may have been dazzled by his verbal gymnastics, but they have been brutalized by his politics.
He squandered an excellent opportunity to transform Ethiopia. Initially, Ethiopians from all regions, ethnic groups, religious affiliation, and all walks of life trusted him. They were ready to follow him on a journey to democracy, unity, and prosperity. If he told them to jump, they were ready to ask ‘how high’. I am an eyewitness. In July 2018, Ethiopia’s foreign exchange holdings were dwindling. Many people were using the black market to exchange their foreign currency holdings into Birr. He pleaded with the public not to use the black market, to use the banking system instead.
The people responded to his plea and stopped using the black market. In a week, the difference between the official and black-market exchange rates disappeared. Just like magic. The two exchange rates were at par. If Mao Zedong can move mountains, I concluded, Abiy Ahmed can determine exchange rates, at a minimum. He was able to do this because people trusted him, respected him, and admired him. Four years later, their trust, respect, and admiration have turned into mistrust, contempt, and disdain. Now, many people refer to him as ‘kibew’, roughly translated as ‘the sleazy one’
Understanding Abiy Ahmed
How do we explain Abiy’s deceitful political games that have destabilized Ethiopia? He has revived the TPLF, created the OLA, attacked the Amharas, corrupted the opposition, and incited ethnic animosity throughout Ethiopia. Conspiracy theories abound. Plausible hypotheses have been proposed, one of which says that he is dedicated to establishing a greater Oromia, extending from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, but his political tactics may in fact break up the current Oromia region into feuding mini states, let alone create a bigger united region. My hypothesis is much more parsimonious than that. The man suffers from a deeply ingrained form of insecurity. His insecurity explains his hesitant, inconsistent, contradictory, and indecisive rhetoric, behavior, and actions.
Psychologists have written extensively on the relationship between the personality types of politicians and the ideology they subscribe to, the alliance they form, the policies they implement, the people they appoint, and so on. For example, politicians with authoritarian traits are naturally attracted to authoritarian ideologies. Medemer, as espoused and practices by Abiy Ahmad, is an authoritarian ideology; it is the ideology of an insecure autocrat.
His actions reveal his anxiety about losing power. His fear of losing power is as intense as his hunger for power is insatiable. He fears he could lose power any time, the throne that his mother told him belongs to him when he was a seven-year-old child. The major political decisions he has made over the last four years underscore his insecurity, his phobia about losing power.
He established the Prosperity Party to consolidate his control over the political elite of the country, not to create a united Ethiopia. He created the Republican Guard to minimize the possibility of a coup d’état from the army. He is micro-managing all of the miniseries, including the ministries of defense, foreign affairs, and peace. The intelligence service is under his direct control. In the last four years, he has not taken a single meaningful step to unify the country. In fact, he has done everything he can to destabilize Ethiopia in his insecurity-driven motivation to consolidate his power.
Strong personalities terrify him. If you recall, Lemma Megersa and he were supposed to be twins, joined at the hip, never to be split from each other until death separates them. Lemma Megersa is popular among a certain faction of the Oromo elite, and when he was in the cabinet, he posed a threat to Abiy. So, Abiy had to remove him from the cabinet and eventually from Ethiopian politics. Abiy has also banished from politics other competent, charismatic, and influential individuals as well, whom he sees as potential threats by ‘appointing’ them as ambassadors, severing them from their domestic political network, or as ‘special advisors’, putting them under his surveillance 24 hours a day.
This group includes General Bacha Debele, who played an important role in defeating the TPLF and has an unwavering stand on national unity. The general, perceived as a threat to Abiy Ahmed’s pro-TPLF stance, was appointed ambassador to Kenya. Engineer Seleshi Bekele, Chief Negotiator for Transboundary Water and Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), was removed from his position and ‘appointed advisor to the Prime Minister’, but when the public became angry about his removal, he was appointed ambassador to the United States.
Abiy Ahmed is also terrified of Mustafa Mohammed Omar, the current leader of the Somali region of Ethiopia. Many Ethiopians believe that he has the competency, integrity, and foresight to be a future prime minister of Ethiopia, but there have been numerous attempts to remove him from office, including assassination attempts. Another politician who potentially poses a threat to Abiy Ahmed, at least in the region of Oromia, is Jawar Mohammed, but it is a matter of time before Abiy appoints him to his cabinet. The list is long, but the pattern is clear.
Abiy Ahmed has corrupted, divided, undermined, and weakened the main opposition political parties in Ethiopia by appointing opportunist opposition politicians to his cabinet. He has appointed leaders of EZEMA, NAMA, and OLF to his cabinet. These people have betrayed their political principles for temporary personal gains. If Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet was famous for being a ‘team of rivals’, Abiy Ahmad’s cabinet is notorious for being a team of sycophants.
Abiy Ahmed’s Amhara Phobia
Not only is Abiy Ahmed afraid of his political rivals, but he is also obsessed with the Amhara people as an ethnic group, just like some members of the Oromo political elite. Bekele Gerba announced in 2019 on Ethio Forum, a now-defunct YouTube channel that was owned by the TPLF, that he suffers from Amhara phobia. In their distorted belief, these insecure Oromos are convinced that the Amhara will displace them one day, unless the Amharas are continually harassed, threatened, intimated, humiliated, oppressed, terrorized, even massacred. Abiy Ahmed is one of them. The crimes committed against the Amhara people today are crimes of insecurity by the Oromo elite.
His government has never brought to justice the perpetrators of the heinous crimes against the Amhara people. There is widespread suspicion that government officials are directly involved in the crimes committed against the Amharas throughout Ethiopia. No official who facilitated or participated in the systematic killings of the Amharas in Oromia or Benishangul has been brought to justice.
The Amharas have been prevented from entering Addis Ababa, in their own country, under the disguise of ‘security concerns’. The Amharas are being disarmed in Wollega so that they cannot defend themselves against the OLA or the other government-sponsored terrorist organizations. There is a plan to disarm the Amharas in the Amhara region so that they cannot defend themselves against the next round of invasion by the TPLF or OLA. Abiy Ahmed, indoctrinated in ethnic politics from a young age by the TPLF, steeped in the TPLF’s political intrigues of divide and rule, and ever obsessed with Amhara phobia, has engineered the intimidation, terrorization, brutalization, and killings of the Amharas.
Abiy’s Love for the TPLF
His irrational fear of the Amharas explains his attitude towards the TPLF. Before November 2020, the military balance was in favor of the TPLF, with up to 80% of Ethiopia’s heavy military assets in Tigray. He desperately needed to ally with Eritrea and to mobilize the Amhara special forces, the patriotic FANO fighters, and the Amhara militia to fight the TPLF. With their support, the TPLF was decisively defeated in 2020, but because of his fear of the Amharas, he had to resuscitate the TPLF in the summer of 2021.
Once the TPLF’s capacity to overthrow him was eliminated, he revived the TPLF to be used as an instrument of brutalization against the Amharas. He ordered the Ethiopian army to withdraw from Tigray in July 2021. He conceded Amhara territories to the TPLF. HThat’s why e has promised the TPLF that he would return Wolkait, Tsegede, and Raya to the TPLF under the Pretoria agreement.
His support for the TPLF is crystal clear, if any proof is needed. He has allowed the TPLF to re-arm itself. In his address to youth representatives on August 21, 22, he admitted that his government knew that several flights of military cargo airplanes had been bringing weapons to the TPLF in the summer of 2022. This has been corroborated by others. William Davidson, who cannot be considered a friend of Ethiopia, claims that at least 10 flights of military airplanes supplied the TPLF with arms and ammunition. The Abiy government is complicit in arming the TPLF to attack the Amhara and Afar people. This is treasonous.
While the Abiy government was arming the TPLF directly and indirectly, it and its lackeys in the Amhara regions were busy imprisoning, harassing, disarming, and killing members of the patriotic FANO fighters. Nothing scares the Abiy government more than an organized population, especially organized Amharas. Hence, the campaign to bully, vilify, annihilate the FANO.
So far, according to the Guardian, the government has arrested more than 4000 FANO members. This is a criminal act, considering that the FANO have proved indispensable in fighting the TPLF invasion, protecting the Amhara people, and maintaining the territorial integrity of Ethiopia.
The ploy to remove Amara officials
His irrational fear of the Amharas prevents him from defeating the TPLF decisively. Using the Pretoria agreement, he is ready to revive the TPLF and to return the forcefully annexed territories of Wolakit, Tsegede, and Raya to the TPLF. There is strong resistance to his plan from all sectors of the Amhara society, including from members of his own Prosperity Party in the Amhara region. He is trying to remove the leadership of the Amhara government who are opposed to his plan, under the guise of fighting corruption. His motivation is to weaken the opposition to his ploy, not to fight corruption. He has never been serious about fighting corruption. In fact, like other dictators, he has weaponized corruption to force the economic and political elite into submission to ensure his political survival.
All Ethiopians should oppose the return of these areas to the TPLF on justice, political, and strategic grounds. The Amhara people in these regions were oppressed by the TPLF, their identify, suppressed; their land, confiscated; their property, looted; their fundamental rights, denied. During the occupation, Amharas couldn’t even sing or mourn in Amharic. Such is the TPLF’s brutality. To return these areas to the TPLF is to resend the Amhara people in these regions back to hell. Never again. Politically, it legitimizes the current ethnicist constitution; it emboldens the TPLF and other irredentist organizations to practice their brutalization. It denies the democratic rights of the Amhara people to live in the jurisdiction of their choice.
Furthermore, the TPLF needs Wolkait to declare independence from Ethiopia. The TPLF, to fool the rest of the Ethiopian people and because of pressure from its foreign sponsors, especially the Biden administration, has softened its stance on independence, but it doesn’t mean that it has abandoned independence. In fact, a TPLF spokesperson has said the Pretoria agreement does not prevent the TPLF from holding a referendum on Tigray’s independence. Therefore, any government that is committed to the territorial integrity of Ethiopia should not under any circumstances facilitate the independence of Tigray by returning these annexed lands to the TPLF. All Ethiopians should oppose the TPLF’s expansionist plan.
Fortunately, the Pretoria agreement, an agreement signed between two felons, will collapse as each side, especially the TPLF, given the hostility of its supporters to the agreement, will try to cheat by violating the terms of the agreement. The TPL has never respected any agreement that it has signed. Characteristically, the TPLF, to justify its violation of the agreement, has already started demonizing the Amharas and the Eritrean government for committing atrocities in Tigray, and the Abiy government has responded in kind by accusing the TPLF of mobilizing the population for another round of fighting. It is probably a matter of time before we see the fourth round of conflict between the TPLF and the federal government.
Abiy Ahmed is trying to rule Ethiopia by creating opposing forces in the various ethnic groups, political parties, religious groups, community groups, and supporting each faction, sometimes even supplying them with arms. He fears the numerically large Amharas, especially if they form alliances with other ethnic groups. They must be demoralized, disarmed, divided, and disorganized. He needs the TPLF and the OLA as countervailing forces against the Amharas. Although the Pretoria agreement stipulates that the TPLF must be disarmed, it is unlikely that the Abiy government will disarm the TPLF because it needs an armed TPLF to intimidate, attack, and brutalize the Amharas. Abiy Ahmed will try to compensate for the numerical inferiority of the Tigray people by arming the TPLF with superior military weapons. He needs a well-armed TPLF to brutalize the Amhara people.
I am all for peace, but a peace treaty that leaves the TPLF armed, that denies justice to the Amhara people, and that endangers the territorial integrity of Ethiopia, will not bring about lasting peace in Ethiopia or in the region. The Abiy government should stop resuscitating the TPLF, with or without a peace agreement, disarming the Amharas, and negotiating to return the annexed areas to the TPLF. Otherwise, the Abiy government will face the same fate as TPLF’s: revolt by the people of Ethiopia and forceful removal from power.