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Behind the Ethiopia protests: A view from inside the government

by Juneydi Saaddo | African Arguments

An ex-cabinet minister in the Ethiopian government and former president of Oromia Regional State explains why the current turmoil has come as no surprise.
For over two decades, the Ethiopian government has been walking with its eyes shut towards the edge of the cliff. It is now tittering on the brink.
The protests and strikes that have been held across several towns and cities since last year and have intensified over the past couple of months may have come as a surprise to those who accepted the “Ethiopia rising” myth. But it has come as no surprise to those of us who have seen the political system unfurl from the inside.

Missed opportunities
When a coalition of insurgent groups defeated the former military ruler Mengistu Hailemariam in 1991, most Ethiopians hoped the country would finally put aside its sad history of civil war and poverty and embark on a democratic and prosperous future.
This hope was not without reason. A transitional charter that got rid of the much despised centralised state structure culminated in a federal system that would give self-rule to the country’s 80-plus ethnic groups. Eritrea was allowed to hold a referendum to secede, which it did. Furthermore, given that the rising power-holders were former student radicals who had rebelled against military rule, many hoped the new leaders would be committed to democratic principles.
Yet within a year, this hope had begun to crumble. In 1992, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a key member of the transitional government, was pushed out and resumed armed insurgency. Then, in 1994, the Ogaden National Liberation Front, which had represented the Somali ethnic group (the third largest in the country) in the negotiation of the Transitional Charter, also resumed armed struggle.
But despite such setbacks, many in the international community and in Ethiopia gave the new rulers the benefit of the doubt. In 1998, then US president Bill Clinton praised Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea and few others as the “new generation of democratic leaders” in Africa.
Domestically, some began to embrace the new rulers too, whether out of disappointment with the fractured opposition or because they were pleased with some positive changes in social and economic policy.
In 1998, war broke out with Eritrea. This conflict dashed hopes of peace in the region, but it brought about national cohesion within Ethiopia as the public rallied behind the government, led by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Many hoped the ruling party would use this support to establish an inclusive and democratic political system in the post-war era a couple years later. But instead, the war brought friction within the ruling party, with the winning faction led by Meles Zenawi purging almost half the senior leadership.
Nevertheless, this move still strengthened hopes for reform. The perception was that the hardliners had lost in the purge, while the reformists had won. Meles had also aligned himself with non-Tigreans to help him overcome the leadership challenge within the TPLF, leading many to assume Tigrean dominance would be reduced. Furthermore, the prime minister put several reforms on the agenda for internal and public discussion.
However, as it turned out, Meles was only keeping up the prospect of reform until he re-consolidated power. And he soon began attacking ideas of political and economic reform as part of conspiracies by neoliberal Western forces.
The country responded to the now growing authoritarianism and Tigrean domination by severely punishing the ruling coalition in the 2005 elections, with some claiming the opposition was robbed of victory by electoral fraud. In the face of the mass protests that ensued, Meles resorted to extreme repression and a crackdown against the opposition, killing hundreds.
At this point, many Oromo military generals gave up on the hope of internal reform and defected to Eritrea to join the OLF rebels. Amhara generals were accused of plotting a coup d’etat and were thrown in jail. And thousands of high and mid-ranking Amhara and Oromo officers were purged.
Meanwhile, mistrust and paranoia within the TPLF leadership continued to increase. In order to cut off economic support for the dissent, businessmen of Oromo, Amhara and Gurage origin had their business activities taken over by Tigreans or were jailed.
Meles’ death, Hailemariam’s staged succession
Meles died in the summer of 2012 after 21 years in power. As he was the main actor blocking reform due to fears of losing personal power, many believed his departure could lead to a fresh start. Those of us within the regime clandestinely circulated this idea.
However, the reaction from the TPLF leadership was extremely negative. They perceived the idea of a new transition as a conspiracy to push them aside. They appointed a non-Tigrean – Hailemariam Desalegn – to be Meles’ replacement, but this gesture was totally disingenuous as they simultaneously took swift measures to cripple the new PM’s power.
To begin with, they appointed some 37 generals, almost all of them Tigreans, before the new prime minister took office in violation of the constitution which gives such power to the prime minister and president.
They reduced the prime minister’s control over ministries by increasing the number of deputy prime ministers from one to three, with each ministry having to report to these deputies rather than the PM himself.
The Chief of Staff of the armed forces, the chiefs of intelligence, and foreign affairs remained in the hand of the TPLF. Several senior advisors were appointed to Hailemariam, almost all of them Tigreans. And while most of the hardline TPLF members who were pushed out in 2001 began to work covertly with the system again, those in government opposed to the increasing one-party monopoly were either demoted or, as in my case, purged.
The country did not only lose a chance to reform with Meles’ death, but entered a new and dangerous era. As the TPLF could not find a direct replacement for Meles, leadership rivalries emerged and fractured the TPLF. Meanwhile, several non-Tigreans in government finally gave up on internal reform and started actively colluding with opposition parties and activists.
No surprises
For those of us who have seen the genesis of the current crisis from the inside, the current turn of events is therefore not surprising.
The eruption of mass protests in the two largest regions of Oromia and Amhara was inevitable as these communities have been deliberately and systematically marginalised.
The resilience of these protests is also not unexpected, given not just the depth of the people’s grievances but the complete lack of will to reform from the government. The brutal response of the regime is also in keeping with its paranoia about the rise of either the Oromo or Amhara against Tigrayan domination or of the alliance between the two.
The government seems to think it can kill and jail its way out of this unprecedented crisis, but no government could ever kill or jail such a vast percentage of its population.
The ruling party has shown that it can no longer reform itself and the state apparatus. It is therefore in the best interest of the country and the region that the regime steps aside to allow an inclusive transitional arrangement.
Juneydi Saaddo is the former President of Oromia Regional State, the largest region in Ethiopia. He served as Ethiopia’s Minister for Transport & Communication, Minister for Science and Technology, and Civil Service Minister until 2012.

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  1. Mr Bandai!!!! You come back again without any shame??. You are worest than Meles what you committed against Oromo people; remember that when you said Mecha & Tulema have no moral to represent Oromo.. Remember you disarm 1000000 Oromo &got reward from Meles… Remember you exchange thousands Oromo students dismantled from University & disappeared one of distinguished student was my cousin. There are so many crime committed on others nation like Amhara too. Time will reveal everything DO NOT EVEN THINK YOU ARE IMMUNE FROM ICC TRIAL.


  2. Junedin yes you were trying to reform by carrying thusends of dollars in your trunk from the Saudis. The Saudi style reform was it Syria style or Afghanistan guess you failed to le us know because you were doing it clandestinely.

  3. My liberation army will give him the required semblance to humanity when it kicks him out of Finfine next month and send him along his masters to Tigrai. Apparently his own wolamo people do not want anything to do with him. His own ethnic group does not want him to come back to its territory.

    In the meantime, I want to pass along the following announcement from our gallant liberation army.

    To the peaceful demonstrators of Oromia!

    We want you to continue protesting in the custom of our glorious culture. That is overwhelmingly and at the same time peacefully. Your liberation army understands your anger and frustration. That is why we are a few weeks away from liberating you from the oppressive machine of the woyanes. During your peaceful demonstrations make sure to safeguard the well-being of all factories, equipments and vehicles. Those will be your property and the foundation for the advancement of Oromia after independence. Every Oromo engineer scattered around the world is steady and ready to come back at a moments notice from us. They will need all those items to take our ever beautiful Oromia into the stratosphere. They will take her to the deep space and beyond. They will also make every Oromo the richest African in history in less than a decade. Therefore, make sure these items are not harmed during the protest.

    Long Live Our Liberation Army!!!!

    That is the announcement.

    I myself will sell two my service stations and go back on the day it is liberated to found the first petroleum refinery in Oromia that will create more than a million real jobs for my beloved Oromo working people. That is my pledge. Oromia is coming!!!! Oromia is coming!!!!

  4. Guys!!! Mr.Saaddoo has done nothing until now,except trying to explain about his own view. Saaddoo is serving his country in the near future too. Insulting or degrading individuals is not working Saaddoo!! Dont give up!!! Meles is gone!!! An other struggle is approaching to you!!! It is politics!!!

    • Mulugeta
      what kind of witness are you? am sure you must be Juneydi himself with other name telling us that you are in your final preparation to join organization to sabotage the oromo struggle. I saw some body characterize him as power monger and Chameleon.

  5. I believe any well meant Ethiopian citizen who knowingly associated with TPLF in the past 25 years should admit mistakes publicly and request pardon. There is blood in the hand of TPLF leaders and TPLF has been never legitimate to lead Ethiopians because you can’t kill Ethiopians without justice and be their leader. And more…

    I read the writer not really interested in him as he mad his share of abuse/mistake but simply I wanted to sift through his insider revelations which was interesting but nothing new. We all knew what TPLF was about 25 years ago and were hoping this day to come. But people like the writer, skeptics, the deceived wanted to give TPLF a try. Now look where we are. Come on! can you continue to indiscriminately kill Ethiopians and continue to rule more than a 1/4 a century? Absurd!!

    LESSON FROM Juniedi writing

    1. Any Ethiopian with sound mind who is significant government office holder associated with current government by mistake/deception or whatever, it is time for you to resign and join your people who are being brutally killed and abused in your name or you won’t be able to hide from Justice. All future days come, judgment included. Remember what happened to Derg supporters/office holders

    2. It is high time the military stop killing his brothers/sisters/parents. Let Agazi/Tigrai rulers get their hand more bloody as they continue to do so that their cup will fill.

    3. Let Tigrians make a choice between Ethiopia or TPLF; they can’t have both as a choice. Except few, we have difficulty to tell between them and TPLF. They should speak out

    It is enough this country has been taken ransom by TPLF war lords by saying they died for this and that or for us! They enslaved the whole country because they think they shaded their blood to free us-LOL!

  6. It is sad that Zehabesha filters comments on J. Saaddo’s opinion posted above.

    Yesterday I wrote and posted a comment on J. Saaddo’s opinion relatively balanced and free from insult or attack on his personality which appeared for a few hours only to be dropped today.

    Zehabesha has the right not to publish defamatory stuff, insults or personal attacks, but not genuine comments with ideas different from its administrator(s). It is only different ideas that enable people to understand issues and make an informed choice.

    I feel that filtering ideas should not be considered a trivial matter.

    It will be a desaster if Zehabesha make it to future democratic Ethiopia without changing it dispicabe practice of filtering ideas.

    • For more than three years I followed Zhabesha after I wrote and posted comments on juneydi I could not see my genuine comment It is time to ask about their stand to FREE PRESS.
      Juneydi has no any moral ground to talk about oromos in particular and ethiopians in general due to the following major reasons.
      1.He is responsible for 300 university oromo students to be thrown out of the campus.
      2.he is the master mind of systematical intimidation ,harassment and arbitrarily killings of oromo nationalists and member of Mecha & Tulema who opposed the transfer of Oromia capital to Adama
      3.he is responsible for the death of hundreds of oromo mothers and infants at Chewaka forced villagization.
      4.He is responsible for the death of oromo students who opposed land grabbing.



  8. TPLF and its stooges, such as Junedin have no sense of shame at all. This guy should have been in hiding given his direct involvement in the number of atrocities committed in Ethiopia. The problem is we give forum to this criminals rather than hunting them one by one and bringing them to justice. This culture of impunity is what is prolonging the peoples misery. Ato Junedin was the one who was in public insulting and humiliating opposition leaders who were trying to bring peaceful democratic change in the country facing killings,torture and imprisonment. He directly or indirectly involved in the mass imprisonment and torture that took place during and after the 2005 election.What was Ato Junedin sado’s role in the Bedeno genocide?
    It is very frustrating and extremely disappointing that a forum like this didn’t ask Mr Sado to explain his role in the mess the country is found today and take responsibility of the numerous crimes he was involved in.

  9. Junedin was a dangerous wolf who created a lot of conflict in Nazret between Oromo and the rest of the tribe particularly oppressing and forcefully evicted them where they lived for many years. He is mercenarywho helped for Saudi Arabia to establish a new form of Islam. His is an enemy of all Ethiopians and extremist in the name of Islam and people of Oromo. He is rotten egg that can not give birth to the current struggle.

  10. He amassed a lot of money in the name of Alah, his wife was also distributing money the extremist to burn the church in many areas areas of the country. Red handed with millions of birr on her way out from one of the Arab embassy in Addis. People were Abe to communicate in amharic after Abadula replaced him. I personally appreciate Abadulas effort for his effort to reverse the situation.

  11. After he committed all that crimes against oromo students and Oromos again he is trying to exploit different medias to tell us that he is innocent.This is an insult for oromos.he was house servant for TPLF and especially for Meles.he is untrustworthy worst than Getachoo Reda.

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