ZeHabesha Ethiopian News | Latest News for All | 24/7

Behind the Ethiopia protests: A view from inside the government

by Juneydi Saaddo

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.

Scenes from the recent protests. Credit: Jawar Mohammed. S
Scenes from the recent protests. Credit: Jawar Mohammed.
S

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.

[Ethiopia’s unprecedented nationwide Oromo protests: who, what, why?]

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.

Read Aloud:   President Obama Speech Nelson Mandela Memorial (Video)

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.

Read Aloud:   Ethiopian nanophotonics scientist Solomon Assefa becomes one of Young Global Leaders Class of 2013

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.

Read Aloud:   Statement by Teddy Afro

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.

14 Comments

  1. This man has no moral responsibility to talk about oromo protest and oromo students movement. he was used as Mercenary to kill his own people.He was the one TPLF used him as a tool to arrest and kill students who opposed land grabbing and the shift of the capital of Oromia to Adama. TPLF used him as frontline Cadre to introduce Ahbash
    This Guy is Power monger he tried whatever mechanism to get any power again.
    The oromo students do not forget their 300 brothers whom Juneydi sent them out from the university.He act more than Woyyane Fighters and cadres to implement their killings in oromia

    • Abichu you are absolutely right,
      he has many oromo students blood in his hand.I remember when he was a “President” he systematically harassed,intimidated and forced the civil servants to leave the region due to their political belief.
      Forcefully by implementing villagization he was responsible for the death of hundereds mothers and childerens of oromos in Chewaka.
      He can be best described as a chameleon.

  2. This man has no moral responsibility to talk about oromo protest and oromo students movement. he was used as Mercenary to kill his own people.He was the one TPLF used him as a tool to arrest and kill students who opposed land grabbing and the shift of the capital of Oromia to Adama. TPLF used him as frontline Cadre to introduce Ahbash
    This Guy is Power monger he tried whatever mechanism to get any power again.
    The oromo students do not forget their 300 brothers whom Juneydi sent them out from the university.He act more than Woyyane Fighters and cadres to implement their killings in oromia

    • Abichu you are absolutely right,
      he has many oromo students blood in his hand.I remember when he was a “President” he systematically harassed,intimidated and forced the civil servants to leave the region due to their political belief.
      Forcefully by implementing villagization he was responsible for the death of hundereds mothers and childerens of oromos in Chewaka.
      He can be best described as a chameleon.

  3. What a change. It’s only Divine providence that brings such a change in any person. This view you just confessed would definitely redeem you from anything you did under this cruel regime. The good book says that “the truth shall set you free”. Thank you for putting everything in order and congratulations for refusing to stay in that ugly box of ethnicity

  4. What a change. It’s only Divine providence that brings such a change in any person. This view you just confessed would definitely redeem you from anything you did under this cruel regime. The good book says that “the truth shall set you free”. Thank you for putting everything in order and congratulations for refusing to stay in that ugly box of ethnicity

  5. Dears,

    Good to hear that the former cabinet member is alive, at-least for his family.
    He was one of the corrupt ministers in the cabinet , he was the driver of the 1.5 Billion USD corrupt telecom network deal between Ethiopian telecommunications corporation and Chinese ZTE in 2008( of the deal 600M USD was a direct cash pay to TPLF elites) . He does not have moral to speak in public about the motherland.

    Firew

  6. Dears,

    Good to hear that the former cabinet member is alive, at-least for his family.
    He was one of the corrupt ministers in the cabinet , he was the driver of the 1.5 Billion USD corrupt telecom network deal between Ethiopian telecommunications corporation and Chinese ZTE in 2008( of the deal 600M USD was a direct cash pay to TPLF elites) . He does not have moral to speak in public about the motherland.

    Firew

  7. Seriously Mr.SADO? I guess TPLF has more secrets about what you have done while you were in power than you think you have about them.You better watch your back and shut the fuck up!!!!That being said I guess the reason why authoritarian regimes like EPRDF have a chance to stay long in power is because of people like Junedin Sado. I am really surprised to see people like Junedin Sado having no shame when they come out to tell us how TPLF is bad. Really? Let alone to raise the idea of reform in EPRDF Junedin was peeing on his pant when he gets clsoer to TPLF officials. What a disgrace!!!!!! Woyane kicked this asshole when they found him meddling in some dirty activities.

  8. Juneydi has no moral ground and responsibility to talk about oromo and Ethiopian people.He has oromo students blood in his hand.he was responsible for systematic harassment, detention and arbitrarily killings of oromos due to their political belief and opposing land grabbing and transfer of oromia capital to Adama. he was accountable for 300 university oromo students to be thrown out from the university, by implementing forced villagization he was responsible for the death of hundreds oromo mothers and infants.He acted more than any Tigrean Fighters to kill oromo students
    He can be best described as Power monger,egoistic and Chameleon.

  9. Despite the claim of the writer to be an insider of a government which he has reportedly left a couple of years ago over which time the government evolved enormously towards repression due to the uprisings, I find his conclusion tainted by naiveté.

    To call him naive is not an insult but to question his observation and wisdom. His chronological narrative of the government’s change from bad to worse is good except at the conclusion where he made an appeal to the government which reads as follows.

    “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.”

    It is unrealistic to expect a government which the writer claims is unable to reform itself to “steps aside”. To admit inability to reform is a reform by itself, but the thing is it is openly saying that it is not stepping down. It has said the same thing several times in the past which, I believe, the writer of the article is aware of. Given this fact, I wonder how he missed that the government is not stepping down. Not only he missed this fact, but also reached an opposite conclusion from what he was saying all along.

    What’s surprising is the writer makes the plea “in the best interest of the country and the region … to allow an inclusive transitional arrangement.” If he’s following what government says it is “in best interest of the country and the regions” that they remain in power. They are working day and night to brain wash people in that direction.

    Again, let’s be realistic. Governments “kill and jail” people and stay in power. It is not unusual to hear an argument that governments will sooner or later fall if they do bad to their people. That’s not always true.

    Take Africa alone to see how many bad government stay in power for a long time despite doing bad things to their own people. The irony is they all claim that their stay in power is in the best interest of their countries.

    Paul Kagame (since 2000), Denis Sassou Nguesso (since 1997), Yahya Jammeh (since 1994), Isaias Afwerki (since 1991), Idrissa Deby (since 1990), Omar Al-Bashir (since 1989), Yoweri Museveni (since 1986), Paul Biya (since 1982), Robert Mugabe (since 1980), Jose Eduardo Dos Santos (since 1979), Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (since 1979) …

    The only difference with us is we don’t have a single polityical figure sicne the death of Meles Z. which made it difficult to focus on an individual leading the government. The result is picking on a single ethnic community from where most of the dictors originated and that’s not helping to make progress.

    So, what is the point of all this. There is a more realistic assessment by one full time politician who has the chance to observe events up close. Dr. Berhan Nega.

    In a recent biographical report pubished on the News Week, Dr. Berhanu gave the government three to five years more in power before it is replaced by a democratic government. Nobody asked Dr. Berhanu how he came up with this timeline until now.

    We know for a fact that there will be a federal election in three years in which people will have an opportunity to express their choice through the ballot box.

    Owing to the uprisings going on until now and further until the election, it is fair to expect the existing regional and federal governments to back off and make way for a new government and democracy in the country. If they do not, the situation will most likely lead to post-election violence and an overthrow of the government in about two years.

    It will be interesting to wait and see if Dr. Berhanu’s assessment works.

    Finally, thanks to the writer.

    • Very deceptive comment dishonestly quoting others as right to confuse the unsuspecting visitor to the forum!

      I am sure you do this for living. Any person who believes to have moral stand who still supports or expects betterment from TPLF after 25 years of brutality, killing, treason, mischief and lost chances must be crazy or must be benefiter from the regime.

      Let alone an ordinary Ethiopian citizen, my dog-an animal would not trust and walk an errand with woyane this time!!

      Ye-tebela Ekub

  10. Neither of these traitors can speak for those misfortune Ethiopian people.
    The former misters including Ermias, Junedyn.Almaz meko and her are all opportunistic who have stain blood on their hands.This berhanu Nega himself was once having a desire to join the Woyane Parliament and become Mayor of Addis Ababa.The current popular uprising is by those honest people and Ipray God completes it with victory of the majority take th seats Oromos and Amharas and others and the Tigrians except those criminals according to their population size.

  11. Nothing new beyond that you and me knew already. Even if we hear whst we did not already it is too late for him to opend his mouth. It is better for him to keep his silence ruther than echoing things in the passt with poor analysts which everbody who is following Ethiopian politics alrady knew even those foreigners let alone Ethiopians.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.