Yonas Biru (Ph.D)
October 24, 2021
Mr. Prime Minister
The contents of this letter are a rehash of earlier blogs, open letters, and published articles. The conflation of economic pressure points and the convergence of national and international political compulsions give the issues in question new urgency and importance.
Before I share my concerns, candid opinion, and suggestions, I find it important to set the background. The year 2020 was a referendum year. Proponents and opponents of the current constitution were gearing up for a showdown during the national election that was scheduled to be held in August. The election was expected to give the people an opportunity to choose between those who wish to maintain the existing tribe-based federalism and those who call for reform.
In March, the Ethiopian National Election Board (ENEB) suspended the election due to the COVID-19 pandemic and announced that it will schedule a new timeline once the pandemic has subsided. The federal government and all regional governments complied with the ENEB’s decision. TPLF and Team Jawar challenged the constitutionality of ENEB’s decision. The Constitution empowers the Council of Federation to settle constitutional debates. The Council of upheld ENEB’s decision.
Though two prominent Oromo opposition parties boycotted the elections, the Oromo people did not. Over 15.3 million registered, and 96% voted. The 15.3 million figure represents well over 75% of eligible voters. The fact that Oromo opposition parties lost the people is nowhere clearer than in the rapid decline in the number of viewers of the Oromo Media Network. Before the election, the Network attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers. Today, it rarely pass the 20 thousand mark.
In like manner, the fact that Amhara extremist forces suffered a landslide electoral defeat attests to your success. The National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), that once flirted with Team Jawar in a love-to-hate courtship to form an alliance, is now a part of the Pan Ethiopianist governing coalition.
The softening of tribal polarization in Oromo and Amhara tribal lands attest to your judicious, subtle, and gradual detribalization of Ethiopia’s political space. With the Oromo and Amhara extremist dynamism losing steam and the taming down of the Qerro and Fanno fiefdoms, TPLF saw its leverage against your administration dissipate. The war it ignited was an impulsive and foolhardy adventure, signifying a botched political resuscitation attempt.
At bottom, the current war is between the will of the people who handed you a landslide victory and TPLF that wants to subvert it through war. Unfortunately, your transformational accomplishments are being crowded out by the war and by the cacophony of chaos your detractors continue to perpetrate and propagate.
Mr. Prime Minister:
I can list many areas where you have shown vision and leadership in excellence, but the purpose of this letter is to flag areas in need of urgent attention. As an old poem goes, “Some men die by shrapnel, and some go down in flames, but most men perish inch by inch, in play at little games.” I believe you are a visionary leader, but your vision cannot be realized unless all attendant matters, large and small, are attended to as integral parts of the broad vision.
On the domestic front, your reform agenda is undermined by two shortcomings. First, your administration did not do enough to build robust PR strategy and communication ecosystem. This allowed your detractors to spin your transformational achievements into a narrative of unmitigated failure, using episodic events of ethnic killings some of which they perpetrated. If there is one area that demands your attention as first order of priority, this is it. It is important to keep in mind that the highways of history are riddled with corpses of excellent government visions, reforms and policies that were killed by unanswered negative propaganda.
The second area needing urgent attention is the management of your reforms. There are two issues of first order priority: The concentration of power in your office and the absence of a competent and capable chief of staff. Members of the newly elected Parliament were right to raise concern about the concentration of power in your office.
As human beings, we all have limitations and blind spots, resulting in honest mistakes and/or bona fide errors in judgment. Even when one can do both, time limitations and human fatigue stand in the way. Ethiopia is home to over 110 million people with deep-seated political challenges and economic woes. No matter how much driven and committed you may be, you need all hands-on deck. Erring on the side of over-delegation of authority is more prudent than otherwise.
Apart from power sharing, your administration can benefit from a competent chief of staff who is charged to translate and actualize your vision. In countries such as the US, the chief of staff (COS) is a cabinet-rank position, constituting great power and influence, including directing all policy developments and overseeing their proper implementation. In a recent book titled The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, Chris Whipple wrote: “When government works, it is usually because the COS understands the fabric of power, threading the needle where policy and politics converge.”
President Obama had four deputy chiefs of staff for policy, planning, operations, and policy implementation. The deputy chief of staff position in the US is not a junior position. People like Dick Cheney (who would later become the vice president of the US), and Robert Zoellick (who ended up being the President of the World Bank) were deputy chiefs of staff. People with brilliance, talent and established track record are people you need to populate your chief of staff office.
Mr. Prime Minster:
Allow me to move to foreign affairs. In my June 2018 open letter, I took note that you became Prime Minister as the US and Europe were witnessing major political transformations. Part of this was what casted the TPLF out of favor in Washington, London, and Brussels. I stressed in the letter that your administration should proactively and aggressively leverage Ethiopia’s importance as a geopolitical real-estate and position its strategic development strategy at the nexus of the emerging global geopolitics and the ensuing international development policy.
A robust foreign policy requires the art of diplomatic jujitsu to leverage the power and resources of geopolitical forces to Ethiopia’s advantage. This, in turn, requires a clear understanding of their governance architecture and decision-making centers of influence and finding a way to forge a relationship with the movers and shakers of the system.
Let us for a moment consider Prime Minister Meles and his relationship with the West\. His economic and political policies were anchored with socialist governmental development and revolutionary democracy principles. Yet, he was the darling of the West until his death.
He was uncompromising on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, despite military threats from Egypt and diplomatic pressure from the West. He was never a yes man for the West. If anything, he was arrogant and often lashed out at the US and EU for criticizing his authoritarian regime. He still managed to maintain a cordial if not cozy relationship with them.
He understood international public diplomacy. He had $150,000 a month for a US lobbyist. He also had close friends deep in American policy centers of influence, running the gamut from Susan Rice to Nobel Laureate Professor Joe Stiglitz and many in between. He vacationed with Professors Stiglitz and Paul Collier (British’s most influential authority on African economic development) in ሶደሬ to have undisrupted discussion over drinks and dinner. He had the likes of Tony Blair on speed dial.
He was a vicious autocrat whose security forces gunned down peaceful demonstrators with impunity. The Human Rights Watch characterized Ethiopia under him as “one of the most inhospitable places in the world, bearing the hallmark of crimes against humanity.” The US official report regularly wrote about “torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatments” of opposition leaders. His critics got a straight jacket reply from Washington, Brussels and London: “He is better than Mengistu.”
Your transformative reform agenda is bold, fundamentally substantive in its vision, and mechanically robust in its elemental coherence. Your economic and political policies are in line with the West’s governance philosophy and guiding principles. Your reform agenda was fully endorsed by the West lock, stock, and barrel.
In October 2018, the Guardian wrote: “Abiy Ahmed has turned the region’s politics on its head with a string of reforms since being appointed in April, earning comparisons to Nelson Mandela, Justin Trudeau, Barack Obama and Mikhail Gorbachev.” Three of the four are Nobel Laureates. A year later you joined their ranks.
Beyond bestowing the coveted Nobel Peace Prize on you, the West championed you as the hope for Africa. Many held the opinion that Ethiopia’s path for prosperity under your leadership can “ignite economic change” across Africa “through emulation equivalent to South Korea’s influence on Asia in the 1970s.”
The international community shaped your brand in the most positive light. Having a stellar brand is not enough. One needs to nurture and protect it. The world’s best brands such as Samsung Electronics, Alphabet (Google’s Parent Company) and Coca Cola spend billions each per annum on advertisements. Public Relations and Communication are lifelines for governments and corporations alike to create and maintain positive awareness. Just like in the domestic front, your administration failed to use PR and communication as tools of public diplomacy.
The West has a legitimate reason to worry about the risk of instability in the Horn region, which is a vital shipping and maritime route linking Europe and Asia and the strategic heartland of US energy security. Instability in Ethiopia impacts the Horn region and by extension the world at large. Therefore, we cannot say “we are a sovereign nation leave us alone.”
The world is an incredibly interconnected and deeply globalized. The fact that the West has keen interest in our stability and that our instability is a geo-political concern for the global community is God’s gift to us that we can capitalize and leverage on.
As a leader of a nation with enormous geopolitical importance, you must navigate the tension between national and international interests. Your leadership is measured by your ability to strike a delicate balance between the two without relinquishing the sovereignty of your nation and undermining legitimate concerns of the international community. The two need not be mutually exclusive.
The West has a strategic interest in seeing a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Ethiopia. It has been generous to your administration. In 2019, they mobilized and committed $9 billion to help finance your reform agenda. In 2020, the US DFC committed additional $5 billion. This amounted to 25% of what was in the US DFC account earmarked for the entire Africa. Given our geopolitical importance and your transformative reforms, Ethiopia is well positioned to receive far more.
TPLF’s ultimate goal is to starve your reform of international aid, nip your transformative reform agenda in the bud and deliver it still born. It will keep the war going no matter what the human cost, with the aim of spiking the international community’s concern about regional instability. Dr. Debretsion and company knew it is hard to discredit your reforms that have won global praise. They achieved their goal by smearing you as “a reckless and incompetent” leader. Without directly attacking it, they left your reform orphan by discrediting you
Mr. Prime Minister:
Ethiopia’s poverty is structurally entrenched and stuck in what the economist Robert Nelson calls low level equilibrium trap. Without massive international aid and FDI from the West, your chance of dislodging the economy that is over-weighed by massive population explosion is near zero.
Sadly, QAnon type paranoia seems to have gripped the imagination of a large swath of the Ethiopian political and intellectual nomenklatura. This, in turn, has birthed a milieu of conspiracy theorists who accuse the West of breaching the sovereignty of Ethiopia with the aim of reinstating TPLF.
The colorful among their ranks allege the West is against Ethiopia because Ethiopia is the apex of black civilization and pride. Allowing this craze to penetrate and prevail in your administration is a death sentence to your visionary reform agenda and Ethiopia’s once in a lifetime chance of breaking free from a pervading poverty.
It warrants noting that the Four Asian Tigers also known as the Four Asian Dragons (South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore) who have registered phenomenal growth in a relatively short period have one thing in common. The West considered them as geopolitically important, and they capitalized on it to build their economies. All four knew how to play the game. In no way did they have to surrender their sovereignty. If South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore could navigate the intricate maze of international affairs, so could Ethiopia.
Mr. Prime Minister:
It would be remiss of me if I fail to say, of late, your foreign policy and public diplomacy is worrisomely heading in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, an anti-West sentiment is being embraced and peddled by people in positions of political influence. This is nowhere clearer than in the invitation that someone in your administration extended to PLO Lumumba to lecture your newly minted cabinet members. Professor Lumumba is a demagogue who has made West-bashing and championing Pan Africanism a lucrative business enterprise. Candor obliges me to state that his lecturing our top officials signals Ethiopia’s public diplomacy has hit bottom.
I am by no means rejecting the formation of an African economic community or trading block. That is something African nations need to aspire for. But that is a long-long term plan. It requires having well developed institutional and physical capital, which African countries do not have and are unlikely to have in the near future.
Sadly, the way Pan-Africanism is being sold and consumed by a large section of the Ethiopia political nomenklatura signifies the equivalent of puffing hookah (ሺሻ) from which members of the nomenklatura get intellectual high. Pan Africanism has been around for over a decade. No country has benefited from it. African nations whose leaders championed it such as Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, and Guinea are African basket cases, struggling to survive at the bottom of the totem pole of world economic ranking even by African standard. The utility of pan Africanism is limited to providing a refuge to failed and nostalgic communists and Africanists.
Equally misguided local and diaspora intellectuals propagate turning to China and Russia. I cannot think of a country that is aligned with China and Russia that has registered sustained growth. Let us not mention North Korea. Let us not compare its estimated GDP per capita of $1,700 to that of pro-West South Korea at $31,500. Instead, let us look at Cuba.
Visiting Cuba is visiting the ghost of what once was a beautiful island when it was a subscriber to the genius of the capitalist system. According to PBS, Pre-Castro Cuba was “a glittering and dynamic city. Cuba ranked fifth in the hemisphere in per capita income, third in life expectancy, second in per capita ownership of automobiles and telephones, first in the number of television sets per inhabitant. The literacy rate, 76%, was the fourth highest in Latin America. Cuba ranked 11th in the world in the number of doctors per capita.”
Today, Cuba is a nation that uses handkerchief and wire coat hanger as spare parts to fix its car engines. Access to the internet is hard to come by. One internet advice posted on January 24, 2021, is to “stop wherever you see a large number of Cubans staring at their phones.”
Mr. Prime Minister:
And finally, the war. You were not only right but also duty bound to launch the law enforcement campaign. Dr. Debretsion would turn the clock and unwar the war if he could. TPLF has learned three lessons from the war. First, its perception of its military invincibility proved to be an untamed fancy run amok.
Second, during its 27-year reign over Ethiopia, TPLF built a Tgrayan military structure within the Ethiopian military structure. The Tigrayan structure run both horizontally and vertically through the Ethiopian defense architecture, controlling critical nodes within the Ethiopian military network. Ethiopia’s defense force was built in such a way that if Tigrayan structure is withdrawn, the Ethiopian national defense will collapse. TPLF’s blind spot in this process was the Ethiopian spirit of nationalism and love for the country. The people rose to shore up the military.
Third, TPLF’s tribal calculus that its war will ignite similar conflicts in the Oromo, Somali, Afar and other tribal homelands proved to be a mirage. To the contrary, Ethiopia’s unity proved indestructible and perennial.
TPLF’s war strategy has been reduced from taking over Addis in two weeks to creating a quagmire. The question is: How long will you allow this war to drag and, in the process, undermine your transformative reform agenda. The ill-advised campaign to destroy TPLF must give way to finding a path to a negotiated settlement.
Ethiopia’s need not submit to the West’s myopic and one-sided approach to ending the war. Public diplomacy is the space where we build consensus to narrow existing gaps. We need to find it possible to engage our international partners candidly and even forcefully. For Ethiopia, the starting point is producing a game plan for a peaceful resolution. Public diplomacy is the space where we build consensus to narrow existing differences.
It is peace that will ultimately destroy TPLF, not war. The sooner you find a peaceful path for ending the war, the sooner you will revive and put your visionary reforms in high gears. This is a do or die reform imperative to sustain Ethiopia’s hope and dream for peace, security, and prosperity.
Above all, the humanitarian crisis and the death and mayhem of our people must weight on our shoulders as deeply religious and God-fearing nation. As a life-long communist followers of socialist principles and with a track record of terrorist lineage, TPLF is devoid of moral tenets. This burdens you with heavy moral dilemma. You are in a very tough position. But world leaders are born through such challenges. I pray that you will rise to the challenge and give a negotiated settlement a chance without undermining the inalienable will of the people. Where there is a will, there is a way.
11 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Prime Minister Abiy: Do or Die Reform Imperatives”
Yonas. You are still dreaming? Game is over in few days or weeks. Abiy will be in Russia or Saudi arabia.
Do you see what’s going on in 4kilo? Who is currently guarding abiy? Isayas soliders! Why? Because he doesn’t trust any one around him except his master isayas from Eritrea a neighboring country with 1000km of Res Sea shore..lol. I know you all droll when you hear Red Sea. Anyway Game is over and keep on crying cheQla ras.
While the article contains several interesting points, it’s, unfortunately, devoid of the following fundamental changes needed so that Ethiopia would achieve the required peace, reconciliation, rule of law, unity, an accelerated developments, the respects for the country’s rights, etc:
1. The urgent need for a constitution that would do away with the current overwhelming policy of ethnicity, cessation, an endless prevalence of mutual disrespect, acrimony, etc;
2. The formulation of a national, comprehensive, a strategic, a sustainable, etc. socioeconomic development plan (short i.e. 5-10 years; medium- i.e.10-20 years; and a long-term i.e. 30+ years) in order to relieve the Ethiopian people from the current desperate poverty that is bedeviling them;
3. Establishing a collaborative framework among the countries in the Horn of Africa i.e. Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia as well as a mutually supportive system among all the nations around the Red Sea including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Israel;
4. Establishing a comprehensive framework for obtaining the support of the diaspora Ethiopians with regard to diplomatic, economic, modernization, etc. tangible objectives.
you may be right if you are talking about other country this TPLF never ever trust or deal with in peace way they are very traitor the only way they understand is guns but it may work for the west
A. “The Constitution empowers the Council of Federation to settle constitutional debates. The Council of upheld ENEB’s decision.” My question to you is: haven’t you been condemning the constitution? and now you started defending it? washala ras!
B. “Though two prominent Oromo opposition parties boycotted the elections, the Oromo people did not. Over 15.3 million registered, and 96% voted.” First you don’t know whether the Oromo people willingly voted or not. Second, haven’t you been condemning EPRDF’s (TPLF’s) 99% election victory? What makes Abiy Ahmed’s 96% different from that of TPLF which you shamelessly support now?
C. “Apart from power sharing, your administration can benefit from a competent chief of staff who is charged to translate and actualize your vision.” Are you applying for that post? How about your incompetence that led to your firing from the World Bank? You sued and lost. You can’t fit anywhere.
D. “Public diplomacy is the space where we build consensus to narrow existing differences.” Dear Prime Minister Abiy, please put Yonas Biru at the head of the public diplomacy and everything will be okay.
Dr. Abiy, please avoid this opportunistic loser. He is good for nothing.
What a piece of writing, truly a masterpiece!
Now Abiy better watch out now. The neighbors next door have confirmed what I have been saying all along. Sudan is in the final phase of going back to a military dictatorship. The latest news is Hamdok and his entire civilians are thrown in jail and thereabouts is not known. I have said this before that the king makers in Al-Qahirah will not sleep well with democracy next door. The military in Sudan has been spoiled with political power monopoly since ‘independence’. Now Ya-sareeq Abdul Fattah is poised to be Sudan’s mom and dad for decades to come. Poor Hamdok! Poor boy!!! Hey Abiy! You better watch yourself now! If Dessie is gone, you’re toast! You will be next. You watch! ‘Somebody should save the country’, we will be told via Mengistu of the 1970’s. If I were you I will be like, abracadabra, I’m back to a Lt. Colonel now!!! You know that! It is called preemptive strike!!! R
I think Yonas does not understand the social fabric of our society, and especially the political structure of our country. Abiy and co. are the products of the Ethiopian society, and their mindset was shaped by false narratives that were deliberately circulated by TPLF gangs to rule Ethiopia for an indefinite period. Abiy came to power not because he possesses a special ability to rule Ethiopia, but there was no other person that can take power. After he has seized political power, he brought with him those guys, like Girma Biru, Abadula, and Lencho Bati, who do not have a political agenda except becoming part of the political system to advance their own narrow nationalistic agenda. In short, Abiy is surrounded by evil-minded individuals that worked with the previous woyane regime. Abiy can only elevate himself when he is surrounded by such kinds of weak and ignorant individuals who want to remain only in power and do not have the merit to solve the economic and social crises of our country. As a matter of fact, Abiy himself seized political power without knowing how he could solve the complex problems of our society. Neither he understands the causes of all the crises that are existing on the ground. Therefore, Abiy does not want competent elements that compete against him. He is through and through narcissistic.
If Yonas has carefully followed events at home since Abiy came to power he has galvanized the political atmosphere. With his philosophy of Medemer, he invited all backward elements that waged armed struggle in the name of freedom. All these guys do not have a political philosophy. Their mindset was shaped by false narratives. According to their own narratives, before Abiy came to power, Ethiopia was ruled by the Amharas, and then by the Tigryans. Now it is our turn to rule Ethiopia. As Lencho Bati has persistently claimed, the Ormos were denied for three thousand years to be part of the political system. This proves that Lencho and Co. have never studied the social and cultural history of Ethiopia. They do not understand how Ethiopia was formed as a nation-state. They even do not know their own history. If a person, like Abiy is surrounded by these kinds of rogue elements, he can do whatever he likes. In short, Abiy does not know what is doing. He is the victim of his own ignorance.
Another problem that Yonas confronted with is that he does not understand how this world is being shaped, and who are the main actors behind the so-called international politics. As a matter of fact, since the end of the Second World War, the world is being governed by capitalist countries. America and the rest of the so-called civilized West control all the known international institutions. With the institutions they are controlling, they advance their own ugly agenda. They practice a kind of military, economic and political dominance in all countries. Therefore, there is a power chain that prevents the so-called Third World countries to pursue their own economic and social policies. Through the institutions it has created, the capitalist west blocks any meaningful development to be practiced, especially in Africa. The capitalist west does not understand diplomacy. Countries like Ethiopia must accept the policies and rules that the capitalist west and the so-called international institutions have prescribed. If they do not accept, they will be punished. The war that is going on in our country is a proxy war. TPLF and other elements are waging a war on behalf of America to destroy Ethiopia.
What is PM Abiy doing? Is he the real person who he claims to be? What is he cooking?
At the end of Tigray and Amhara war with depleted power and weapons who is planned to remine strong that is going to bring the worse Oromo extremists ethnocentric dictatorships and are hungry for Amhara land?
The question to PM Abiy is why this war took so long when you have the the strongest defense army and capability over the few TPLF group that went out of history in 3 weeks?
Why bring the war to Amhara region? Why more Amharas are suffering and dying in your watch?
Why Amhara people and region bears all lose of lives, infrastructures and wealth while refusing to give weapons to Fano?
What is the contribution of Oromia zone when Amhara and Afars are fighting for Ethiopia including Oromia zone who are arming and in honeymoon with OLF, OLA terrorists claiming to give up terrorist crime?
Why Dr. Abiy put TPLF Tigre cadres to administer North and South of Wello Amhara zone?
Why did Oromo Police held and refused Amhara women and children from entering Addis Ababa and telling them Addis Ababa if for Oromo not for Amhara?
Why is PM Abiy dead silent when Amharas are daily murdered by Oromo OLF and OLA ethno extirmist?
Why pardoned and give smooth sail into high position OLA terrorists leaders who murdered hundreds and thousands of Amharas and Christians?
Mr Yonas Biru
With respect, but to be frank I find your article idealistic in the extreme while undermining the Ethiopian government policies, using contradictory overtones. Each country must find their own unique ways of survival and progress in the modern world. What Prime Minister Abiy and his government has begun should be supported and ameliorated, his international award is proof of his enlightened initiatives and uniqueness. Ethiopians should be proud of such a visionary leader risen in this time, he will fail if Ethiopia’s unity is not strengthened and remain so. All the progress Ethiopia desires will come in the right and proper time with proper education and hard work in unity, just desiring and expounding it in vain words cannot.
It grieves me deeply when I observe Ethiopia’s afflictions due to decades of deception, propagander, disunity and evil, all this proves Ethiopia is not immune to the deceptions of this world and should have learned long ago. However wise or learned the scholar or intellectual if they forget God in their deeds, they will grapple in darkness and eventually get broken on the wheels of their own inventions. Does 3000 years of “King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba” history means nothing to a nation? This two edge sword, is Ethiopia’s Glory or it can be Ethiopia’s “Achilles’ heel”! Ethiopia’s future is bright!
“…Much as man has progressed in the scientific and technological fields he as not made a parallel endeavour to enrich himself spiritually. The materialism of today is over-riding the spiritual values to the extent that today we observe a lot of unrest and social upheavals which have become common phenomena the world over. Unless humanity reverts to the time honoured values which as enabled past generations to overcome with courage the adversities they had encountered in their daily lives, we shall not only be failing ourselves but posterity as well…” Haile Sellassie I
If I am allowed, I would like to ask Dr. Yonas some questions!
Do you know what kind of politics is Dr. Abiy pursuing? Is he a right-wing politician, a social democrat, or something else? Has Dr. Abiy any kind of political philosophy? According to your opinion, what is the appropriate ideology or philosophy that can bring peace and stability in our country? What is the economic policy of Dr. Abiy? Is it a Neo-Liberal, a Marxist, a Keynesian, or some other economic policy? What is the appropriate economic policy that can eradicate poverty and hunger from our country? How do you create jobs for the millions of unemployed people that are roaming in the cities? Please try to answer my questions.
Abiy is like ‘you can write anything you want all day long and night long. I ain’t got no time to read your letter. I’m busy protecting my tuchus from Debre’s rampage. He is standing at the gates of Dessie and if that city falls you know what that means? My tuchus is grass!!! I’m busy here watching every brass around me thinking what if they decide to have Abdel-Fattah al Burhan moment? Forget you, man!!!!’