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The Accidental Rise and the Foreseeable Fall of Abiy Ahmed in the Land of Two Shenes

By Yonas Biru, PhD


In the past, I have written well over 100 articles. If I were asked to rate them in the order of their importance in avoiding catastrophe and/or finding solutions, I would say this article would be among the top five. One was co-authored with Professor Lemma Wolde Senbet (LWS) with input from Professor Alemayehu Geda and Berhanu Abegaz. At the risk of coming across as self-serving, I can say unequivocally that had the PM encouraged public debate and considered expert advice Ethiopia would not be where it is today. I hope the PM will consider the key issues raised in this article. The other four proposals that could have helped the PM are:

  1. September 2018: Proposal to Establish an Independent Economic Advisory Council (Co- authored with Professor LWS). The proposal stressed: “While tackling its pressing challenges, Ethiopia must find ways to formulate an economic vision fueled by a higher dream.” Though the PM established a Economic Council in December 2020, it proved to be a window dressing.
  • April 2019: An open letter to the Prime Minister (PM) titled “Ethiopia is in Need of Midcourse Correction.” The letter highlighted three specific areas that required the PM’s attention as priorities of first importance. Two days later, I got an email from the PM’s office to tell me that they will implement them. As it turned out, it was a curtesy acknowledgment. Had the PM paid heed, his vision could have produced fruit.
  • November 2020: A Proposal for a peaceful settlement of the TPLF war. A week before the Ethiopian National Defense Forces entered Mekele on November 28, 2020, I raised serious concern that entering Mekele would be a colossal mistake. At the time, TPLF’s firepower (tanks, rockets, and other heavy weapons) were largely destroyed. Entering Mekele was an unnecessary overkill that led the people of Tigray to support TPLF and turn the law-and-order campaign into a civil war. The Ethiopian National Defense Forces along with Eritrean and Amhara forces was chased out of Tigray, leaving behind over 10,000 military personnel as prisoners of war and enormous amount of heavy and light military arsenal, including tanks. The colossal mistake led to the loss of $28 billion and over 600,000 lives.
  • June 2021 and November 2021: Four Point Proposal, including:
  • Stop the war, remove the terrorist designation, and negotiate with the TPLF
  • Limit the disarmament to heavy weapons,
  • Establish a transitional government in Tigray
  • Allow TPLF to continue as a political party and let the people of Tigray decide its fate

The government ended up reaching similar agreements under international pressure after the nation lost 100s of thousands in lives and billions in national treasure.

The Accidental Rise and the Foreseeable Fall of Abiy Ahmed in the Land of Two Shenes

  1. Executive Summary

Ethiopia has never been in danger as it is today. The last two years have borne witness that Prime Minister (PM) Abiy Ahmed lacks the requisite experience to govern a nation embroiled in crisis. People focus on the political turmoil, but what poses a far more existential threat is the economy whose fundamentals are inching toward a tipping-point of implosion. The PM is too enamored with his self-prophesized mission as the redeemer of Ethiopia to acknowledge failure. His narcissistic leadership denies him the humility to learn from his mistakes and seek advice and counsel from people of experience, and subject matter expertise.

The PM’s manifesto may champion the principles of መደመር (synergy), but his governance calculus is a reductive operation. People of moderate political persuasion who constituted his support base have changed their affiliation from ተደምረናል to ተቀንሰናል. Even those who still support him feel trapped with him for lack of an alternative.

In the meantime, a plethora of Oromo and Amhara extremist forces are proliferating like a weed. Thank God that the third one in the Tigray tribal land has reduced itself from አውራ ብሄር to አጋር ብሄር with surgical precision. One thing that has come clear to Tigrayan tribalists is that the current system does not serve the interests of small tribal homelands. TPLF’s former opinion leaders are now calling for a “comprehensive constitutional reform” because the Constitution’s “reliance on ethnicity as its singular organizing principle has failed.”

Even at his weakest, the PM has outmaneuvered and outlasted TPLF and Team Jawar both of whom are out looking in with a hope that Caerus, the Greek god of luck, may open a window of opportunity for them. The two most dangerous extremist groups of current relevance are Oromo-Shene and Amhara-Shene. Their threat to the survival of Ethiopia is heightened by the Oromo shadow government that is run by a fifth column faction within the PP-Oromo leadership.

The PM’s dysfunctional bureaucracy adds a new dimension to the tribe-infested political crisis. His cabinet is at best sub-mediocre, or at worst terrible. The story of current day Ethiopia is the story of an oblivious prime minister juggling economic hot potatoes, standing on a political sand dune that is slipping away under his feet.

In 2018 and 2019, the PM rattled impressive and transformative reforms, showcasing his vision and strategy and winning accolades from all corners of the world. In 2020, he allowed TPLF and Team Jawar to frame the political agenda and control the narrative. Ignoring warnings from every direction (including from me), the PM refused to counter the negative propaganda with “የነሱ ፕሮፖጋንዳ አቧራ እንጂ አሻራ አይሆንም” belief. To his surprise, TPLF and Team Jawar turned the አቧራ into a global PR tsunami.

In 2022, his failed administration was in full display as he filled the airwaves with complaints, accusing everyone around him but himself for the crisis that happened on his watch.

In some circles, the chatter about a post-Abiy government is getting louder. This is a foreseeable scenario unless the PM reflects on his failure, seeks advice and council from capable bodies to reassess the state of the nation and reset his administration.

Given the deepening crisis, resetting his government is not going to be an easy endeavor. Currently, the Oromo political space is engulfed with a three-way power struggle between the PM, Shene- Oromo, and the Oromo Shadow government. Ethiopia’s future depends on which of the three comes out on top.

There is also the Amhara-Oromo conflict that is increasingly inching toward a point of no return. The conflict has many dimensions, including the PM vs. PP-Amhara, PP-Oromo vs. PP-Amhara and Oromo-Shene v. Amhara-Shene.

Unfortunately, what has dominated the national political narrative is the conflict between Oromo- Shene and Amhara-Shene. The two malignant forces tactfully process their war against each other through the pro- and anti-Abiy political algorithm to produce high-voltage power. As a result, they are successfully using the PM as the transmission line and converter station to escalate their tribal animosity into a national conflict. Ethiopia’s challenge is how to short-circuit this process.

Four questions serve as windows to survey the complex political landscape and explore possible solutions. Who is the boss in the Oromo political landscape? What is the strategic end-goal of Shene- Amhara? Can Amhara silent majority crowd out Amhara-Shene and short-circuit the Oromo-Shene and Amhara-Shene crisis transmission line? What role can the international community play to avert the impending collapse of the Abiy administration and set the nation on the path to recovery?

The purpose of this article is to shed light on the dark souls and the blind spots of Ethiopian politics and recommend a way out.

II. The Anatomy of PM Abiy’s Leadership: From Hope to Despair

PM Abiy was neither the architect nor the leader of the movement that toppled the TPLF-led government. He was swept into office by forces of circumstances on the back of a national protest triggered by restive youths of Oromo and Amhara and coordinated by the Oromo-Amhara Coalition led by Lemma Megerssa and Gedu Andargachew.

Indistinct of his accidental rise to power, his vision and astute strategy helped him win the hearts and minds of Ethiopians and foreign powers alike. His reform agenda became the hope of the nation for peace and prosperity and won him global accolades for “saving the country from civil war” and for his reform’s potential to “ignite economic change across Africa.”

He knew the path to the Nobel Peace Prize was through Eritrea. It was the path he traveled to win international fame and repute and harvest the coveted Nobel Peace Prize. The US and Europe poured in unprecedented billions into Ethiopia’s economy to help finance his economic vision. Things went well until he faced his first political crisis in November 2020. Soon after the crisis, his fault lines and handicaps surfaced with blinking colors and loud sirens.

The first major crisis triggered by the TPLF war showed the PM has neither the requisite experience nor the temperament to be a statesman. There is no question that the war was instigated and sparked by TPLF. There is no question also that the PM had Constitutional duty and obligation to launch the law-and-order campaign. However, the PM cannot escape responsibility (at least in part) in turning the law-and-order campaign into a full-blown civil war.

The PM’s first and most consequential mistake was entering Mekele on November 28, 2020. There was no long-term economic or political gain. Before federal forces captured Mekele, TPLF’s fire power (tanks, rockets, and other heavy weapons) were largely destroyed. Entering Mekele was an unnecessary overkill that led the people of Tigray to support TPLF and turn the law-and-order campaign into a civil war. The Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) along with Eritrean and Amhara forces was chased out of Tigray, leaving behind over 10,000 military personnel as prisoners of war and enormous amount of heavy and light military arsenal, including tanks.

II.1. The PM’s Autocratic and Narcissistic Fault Lines

Democratic nations who are ruled by law have three branches of government – legislative, executive, and judicial. The Ethiopian Constitution provides for only two branches: legislative and executive. To top it off, the PM has disenfranchised the legislative branch. In so doing he has reduced the nation to a one branch government. He rules the nation with the aura and presumptions of an absolute monarch. አለቃ, as his subordinates call him, decides on everything large and small. The Kim Jong Un-ization of Ethiopia is under construction. See my earlier articles titled: የጠቅላይ ሚኒስቴሩ እንደ ስላሴዎች አንድም ሶስተም እየሆኑ የመምጣት አደጋዎች  and Abiyonomics: The Off-Budget Seduction of the Economy and the Constitution.

The fact that the PM is increasingly becoming an autocrat is not so much an inevitable source of his failure. There are many autocrats who have led their nations to stability and prosperity, at least as far as their economies go, leaving their human rights abuse records aside. China under Deng Xiaoping, Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew, Korea under Park Chung-hee, Chile under Augusto Pinochet and Rwanda under Paul Kagame serve as emblems of autocratic success.

These leaders had one thing in common. They sought supremely qualified subject matter experts from home and the diaspora and brought them to bear in their nations’ development endeavors. The story of the Chicago boys in Chile is an example. Similarly, Chung-hee headhunted top Korea economists from around the world and brought them home to help him chart his nation’s economic plan. In Singapore, Yew sought and recruited the best and brightest and appointed them to top cabinet level, encouraged debate within his bureaucracy, and paid heed to the opinions of experts in and outside of his administration to govern his nation.

In China, Xiaoping relied on intellectual deliberative processes. He nurtured the so-called epistemic community, consisting of a network of professionals who helped shape China’s economic and geopolitical policy debates. In Rwanda, Kagame sought out talent and educated Rwandese from abroad. Four things standout about his leadership: meritocracy, strategy, expert input, and communication. He meets with his Presidential Advisory Council twice a year in April and September. He has done so without fail since 2007.

PM Abiy is the antithesis of such crops of leaders. His I-know-it-all attitude and predisposition toward “yes-men” subordinates have denied the nation a competent leadership team. Where other leaders headhunt and attract best talent from home and abroad to fill key positions, the PM appoints his young admirers as if he is building a fan club. Some of the key people in his management team appear internship apprentice. See my articles titled PM’s Vision Is Like a Ferrari Driven by a Volkswagen Engine (October 2019).

His executive handicap is rooted in his narcissistic and anti-intellectual tendencies. The following ten points are often used as common traits of narcissistic politicians that the PM abundantly exhibits.

  • They have vision and can see the big picture.
  • They have a great yearning to leave behind a larger-than-life legacy.
  • They are charismatic and know how to charm people.
  • They have loyalty to only themselves.
  • They have unquenchable desire to be admired and surround themselves with “yes men,”
  • They are unable to take criticism of any sort
  • They never hold themselves accountable; it is always other peoples’ fault.
  • Their self-centered know-it-all attitude prohibits them from seeking advice and counsel.
  • They exist above the rule of law; in their mind rules don’t apply to them.
  • They show utter disregard for the truth and live in an alternative reality

These are the very characteristics that have undermined the PM’s vision from reaching fruition. The economic and political consequences are profound and inching toward existential crisis.

III. The Economy: Nearing Code Blue Emergency

Code blue is a medical term that hospitals use when there is a patient who is in cardiac arrest and needs immediate emergency medical attention. When code blue is announced, doctors and nurses drop everything and rush to the room where the patient is housed. Signals are abuzz that Ethiopia’s economy is nearing code blue emergency. Despite a deepening economic crisis, the PM continues to make decisions without advice and council from subject matter experts.

Although the PM has an Independent Economic Advisory Council (established in December 2020) and an Independent Committee for Privatization of government owned corporations (established in 2018), he has not met with them even once. Nor has he asked them to provide him with written advice and guidance.

In a futile effort to cover the economic crisis, the PM uses drums up or even deceptively manipulated data. For example, the four key macroeconomic performance indicators include GDP (often used as the primary indicator), inflation, unemployment, and interest rate. In a recent session at the Ethiopian Parliament, the PM painted a rosy picture of a phenomenal increase in GDP per capita citing the World Bank as a source. He suggested Ethiopia’s GDP per capita has increased from $1000 to $1200 – a 20 percent jump in one year. He attributed the jump to his successful economic policy.

No country has ever registered a 20 percent year-to-year growth. The figures the PM used are nominal figures (without accounting for inflation). The 20 percent jump in nominal GDP per capita reflects the nation’s runaway inflation not its real growth. It is possible to see a sharp increase in nominal GDP when the real GDP is sinking into the abyss.

The PM was either deliberately painting a rosy picture to deceive the people or his macroeconomic team is afraid to tell him that nominal GDP figures are never used to determine economic growth. Either way the situation is worrisome. The PM’s shenanigan is not a one-off incident.

In August 2022, the Ethiopian News Agency quoted the PM as having tweeted: “Our macroeconomic committee meeting today has confirmed the remarkable export performance this past year — better FDI flow, decrease in inflation in the past two months, optimal green legacy, volunteer activities, remittance and automation performance.” This is a willful deception. Most of the indicators he mentioned are not high in the totem pole of core macroeconomic indicators.

Let us unpack his statement. The export increase can be characterized as notable, if judged in isolation. In August 2022 Ethiopia was expecting its export income to surpass $5 Billion, owing to price increases in gold and coffee. Indeed, this was a notable jump from the $3.6 billion export income in 2021. But the increase was driven by increase in the prices of coffee and gold. It has little to nothing to do with the PM’s economic policy.

More importantly, from macroeconomic perspective export income alone does not tell us much unless it is balanced with the nation’s import expenditure. During the same period, Ethiopia’s import jumped from $14.2 billion to $18.1 billion. This means that Ethiopia’s trade deficit worsened in 2022. There is nothing remarkable in this from a macroeconomic perspective.

Further, the increase in FDI was $68.5 million is nothing to write home about in the grand scheme of Ethiopia’s $112 billion GDP. To put the $68.5 million in perspective, the latest Kenya’s FDI figure in public domain shows a $463.4 million increase. The corresponding figure for Rwanda, a much smaller country, was $211.9 million.

The increase in remittance was relatively more significant at $600 million, but it has nothing to do with the government’s economic policy. What it shows is that people sent more money to help their families cope with the deteriorating economy and ballooning inflation. I am not sure what to make of the PM’s inclusion of “volunteer activities” and “automation performance” as part of his macroeconomic performance report.

An important macroeconomic indicator he noted is inflation. Ethiopia’s inflation stands amongst the worst 10 inflationary countries. The out-of-control general price increases are attributable to a cascading policy missteps, chief among them are the war and currency devaluation. Sadly, rather than coming clean with the people, the PM downplays the problem, suggesting it is a global problem caused by the Covid pandemic and supply chain disruptions.

Yes, these two factors explain the worsening of the global inflation scenario, but they do not tell us why Ethiopia’s inflation is 580 percent higher than the average for Sub Saharan Africa and 770 percent higher than the average for the world at large. Though Ethiopia’s month-to-month inflation has dropped a bit, the drop was too small to be highlighted in the PM’s official statement as a macroeconomic success.

Further, in recent days, we hear about Ethiopia becoming wheat exporter. Last year Ethiopia’s wheat production was 5.7 million metric ton. The government’s projection is 10 million metric ton for 2022/2023. This will improve Ethiopia’s ranking in wheat production from 24th in the world to 16th, overpassing such nations as Brazil, Egypt, and the UK. If true, this will be nothing short of a miracle.

But considering the government’s tendency to rosy up and embellish economic data, one cannot be certain if the projection is not a politically seduced headline. Further, a country cannot characterize itself as “a wheat exporter” with a one-year expected increase of wheat production. The rule of thumb is a five-year sustained record before one can declare a country as an exporter of any product.

What the government does not tell us is the fact that since PM Abiy took office, Ethiopia’s cereal and other food imports have increased from 1.16 billion dollars in 2018/2019 to 3.61 billion dollars in 2021/2022, representing a 312 percent jump. During the same period, Ethiopia’s international food aid has skyrocketed from $142.5 million to $1.17 billion, registering 821 percent jump.

We have become the world’s pauper with as many as 20 percent of our population fed by international charity. The Fact that Mayor Adanech Abebe spends two billion birr to feed the hungry in Addis may be a political bonanza for the PP-led administration, but it is a warning bell for an impending economic earthquake.

As the PM peddles claims about the resilience of the economy and its remarkably rebounding capacity, international institutions are ringing a siren of an economy under stress. The Hong Kong- based Fitch Rating has consistently downgraded Ethiopia’s credit ratings on its ability to meet its financial obligations. Ethiopia rating history shows: November 2018 (B+) October 2019 (B-), June 2020 (CCC), February 2021 (CCC) and December 2022 (CCC-).

The state of the economy is on the cusp of crisis. The danger cannot be overemphasized. Every Ethiopian in and outside of Ethiopia must demand immediate action to take stock of the state of the economy and to assemble a team of reputable economists to chart a path out of the crisis.

IV. The Politics in Turmoil: Another Siren for a Code Blue

Ethiopia’s economic crisis is exacerbated by the political crisis that has engulfed the country. Ethiopia is trapped in a three-way intractable conflict. On the one front, there are the PM’s supporters who have bought his self-portrait as the savior and redeemer of Ethiopia and believe in him like an article of faith with a blind loyalty of a cult following.

On the other front exist two groups of his fervent detractors. Amhara extremists see him as the devil’s seed to destroy Ethiopia and create Greater Oromia. In contrast, Oromo extremists condemn him as Emperor Menilik’s protégée who is bent on rebuilding the Ethiopian empire at the expense of Greater Oromia.

The PM’s fault lines serve as lightning rod laid atop Ethiopia’s political landscape. This has allowed Amhara and Oromo extremist flanks to process their war against each other through the pro- and anti-Abiy political algorithm to optimize their power leverage. As a result, they have successfully used the PM as the transmission line and converter station to increase the voltage of their power and convert their tribal animosity into a national conflict.

Four questions serve as windows to survey the complex political landscape and explore possible solutions. Who is the boss in the Oromo political landscape? What is the strategy and end-goal for Amhara political factions? Can Amhara silent majority crowd out Amhara-Shene and short-circuit the Oromo-Shene and Amhara-Shene crisis transmission line? What role can the international community play to avert the impending crisis and set the nation on the path to recovery?

V. The Oromo Political Landscape: Who is the Boss?

The Oromo politics is dominated by different ideologies within the Oromo elite, ranging from groups championing a Pan-Ethiopianist agenda to those who fight to establish Greater Oromia on the ashes of Ethiopia. Each group follows different strategies to achieve its goal. Who comes out on top will determine Ethiopia’s future.

In 2018, Jawar Mohammed, the demigod of Qerro, declared there are “two governments in Ethiopia. Abiy’s government and Qerro government.” In another interview, he said, “the real power resides with Qerro and that Qerro is able to takeover Addis Ababa within 24 to 48 hours.” Ultimately, the PM was able to dissolve Qerro or at least erode it to a point that it could not serve as a powerbase for a Jawarian kingdom. The self-acclaimed second PM, who promised to die in Ethiopia fighting alongside his Qerro followers, is currently in exile.

Jawar’s unfulfilled coronation aside, today, it will not be a hyperbole to say that there are two governments in Ethiopia: an official government run by the PM and a shadow government run by a fifth column faction within PP-Oromo. The under the radar screen conflict between the two is complicated by Shene-Oromo that fights against both.

V.1. Pan-Ethiopianist Oromos

The Pan-Ethiopian group is led by PM Abiy. The PM is pulled apart by a tug of war between Amhara forces who demand the abolishment of the federalist system and Oromo federalist groups who are prepared to die defending the status quo. He is pursuing the Pan-Ethiopianist agenda cautiously, if not timidly to avoid a head-on clash with the federalist Oromo forces. But, at times, his timidity merges into apathy if not into indifference.

For moderate Amhara politicians, the PM is not going far and fast enough to dismantle the tribal federalist system. At the same time, Oromo groups accuse him of laying the groundwork to change the status quo. For example, his decision to display Emperor Menilik’s statute in Unity Park, within the imperial palace in Addis Ababa, was cheered by unionist forces and jeered by federalist groups. In addition, his decision to establish the Ethiopian National Dialogue Commission is welcomed by unionist forces, albeit without a fanfare. On the other hand, federalist forces oppose to it with vehemence, alleging most of its members are Pan-Ethiopianist.

And then there are a plethora of Amhara extremist forces, who see the PM as an imposter whose true mission is to entrench the tribal constitution as a permanent fixture. Some take it even further, accusing the PM as the primary enemy of Ethiopia whose mission is to destroy Ethiopia.

Having failed to win the support of moderate forces and facing a fast-growing opposition from Amhara and Oromo extremists, the PM is politically weakened. His pan-Ethiopianist agenda seems to have been pushed to the backburner.

V.2. Champions of Greater Oromia

The second Oromo group represents advocates of Greater Oromia. There are two factions within this group led by Jaal Marroo (the Oromo-Shene commander) and Jawar Mohamed. As far as political objective goes, both groups want to erase Ethiopia’s history, institutions and draft a new federalist Ethiopia that rhythms and rhymes with the tenets of Greater Oromia. They both want to get rid of the PM. To achieve their goal, the Jaal Marroo wing pursues armed struggle outside of the constitutional order. On the other hand, Team Jawar claims to use peaceful struggle, but often uses the threat of violence to thwart the PM’s Pan-Ethiopianist agenda.

In general, advocates of Greater Oromia are cancerous. Their demands are, utterly bizarre, stupid, and unmeetable. First, they condemn Emperor Menilik as a genocider, alleging he killed 5 million Oromos (50 percent of the Oromo Population). During Menilik’s era of expansion to the South of Ethiopia, the nation’s population estimates ranged from 9 million to 11 million, averaging 10 million. For the 5 million genocide of 50 percent of the Oromo population to be valid, the entire Ethiopian population must be Oromo at the time.

Second, they lament about Menilik’s atrocities against Oromo, while praising the Oromo moggaasa tradition. The moggaasa tradition involved forced assimilation of other tribes. Oromo expansionists brutally annexed non-Oromo lands and forced the conquered tribes to abandon their names, languages, traditions, cultures and even ancestorial heritages and adopt an Oromo identity. Those who refused to give up their identities were wiped out in a blood bath. By moggaasa standard Menilik would be a saint deserving of canonization.

Third, the group wants to register all lands that the Oromo annexed during its expansionary era as official Oromo territories but insist that Oromo lands annexed by the Amhara during Menilik ’s expansion should be condemned as invasion and be returned to Oromo to establish Greater Oromia. Jawar is one of the Oromo leaders who touts moggaasa as an Oromo legacy of nation building, while lamenting the Adwa victory led by Menilik as “rubbing salt on Oromo wound.” This is the cancerous nature of Oromo politics.

V.3. A Shadow Government Within PP-Oromo

The third Oromo group consists of a fifth column within PP-Oromo. Their political position is influenced by psychological and political factors. Psychologically, they harbor a victim mentality, lamenting a narrative that Oromo is a victim of historical Amhara atrocities and humiliation. Even after they assumed the livers of national power, they lack the psychological adaptation necessary to manifest the temperament, characteristics, and mindset of a leader. Rather than emerging as national and regional leaders to shape the geopolitical position of the Horn of Africa they are stuck in village politics.

Politically, they align with the PM to remain in power, but they do not want to see his Pan Ethiopianist agenda succeed. Their political calculus requires them to assure their followers that they are defenders of Oromo interests not to lose them to the Jaal Marroo or Jawar camps. On Oromo political continuum, they exist halfway between the PM’s Pan-Ethiopianist and Shene-Oromos’ Greater Oromia positions.

As a matter of strategy, they have made Addis Ababa their battle ground. The Oromo flag and anthem debacle in Addis is driven by this calculus. Though they are adversaries with Jaal Marroo group, they need them around as a check against the PM. They go as far as providing them with armaments and tipping them when federal forces prepare a strike against them.

The PM seems reluctant or unable to go against them. The shadow government flexes its muscle, going as far as arresting their critics in private prisons and corrupting the nation to enrich themselves and finance their army of activists and foot soldiers.

Part of ኃይሉ ጎመራው’s classic poem in በረከተ መርገም teaches us ‹‹…ነገሩ አልሆን ብሎ፣ ሁኔታው ሲጠጥር ጠጣሩ እንዲላላ፣ የላላውን ወጥር…›› The question is what is the ጠጣሩ in Oromo politics? Let us first talk about Amhara and then address how we can loosen the ጠጣሩ both in the Oromo and Amhara tribal lands. For those who do not read Amharic the message is hard to translate. Loosely translated it means “to soften up a hardened powder, tighten its loose parts first.”

VI. The Amhara Political Landscape: What is the Strategy?

The Amhara politics is coalesced around a Pan-Ethiopian agenda. The group consists of different factions that spend more energy fighting against each other and against the PM than against Oromo federalist forces. This has weakened both the Amhara and the PM and served Oromo-Shene well.

VI.1. Amhara-Shene: Twins of Oromo-Shene from Different Mothers

For over a year, I have used the terms Shene-Amhara and Ortho-Amhara interchangeably. The term Ortho-Amhara refers to the political matrimony between fundamentalist orthodox followers and extremist Amharas. The epicenter of Shene-Amhara is an enclave in the bible belt region of Gojam. This gives credence to the Ortho-Amhara characterization.

Apart from being from different mothers, the Oromo Shene and Amhara Shene have fundamental differences in some areas. Oromo-Shene is engaged in mass murder. Amhara-Shene is not engaged in violence, at least not as of now. Oromo-Shene aspires to weaken Ethiopia. Amhara-Shene is pro Ethiopia. One uses Geez letters and the other is into Latin letters. Oromo-Shene has strategy to achieve its goal. Amhara-Shene lacks strategy and a roadmap to its end goal, whatever it may be.

There are also similarities. Both are Talibanized in their thinking in that they do not entertain alternative ideas. Both hate the PM more than they hate each other. Both draw energy from each other and their brand of radicalism is dangerous for the survival of the nation.

The various shades of Shene-Amhara see themselves as the sole defenders of Amhara. Some in their ranks embrace a unitarist agenda with a shadow image of Ethiopia’s past. Others aspire to form an Amhara tribal party. One thing for sure is that they have not managed to develop a unifying Amhara agenda.

They have not made an iota of a difference in ending the mass murder of Amhara in the Oromo tribal land. They have done nothing to weaken Oromo extremism. More importantly, they have not made an inch of a stride to strengthen the Amhara political base to exert their influence in the national politics. To the contrary they have left Amhara without political power by cannibalizing moderate Amhara forces.

During the 2021 elections, despite threat from Shene-Oromo not to participate in the elections, 74 percent of Oromo eligible voters casted their vote for PP-Oromo. The corresponding figure in the Amhara tribal land was 44 percent. The Amhara people were not excited to vote for PP-Amhara. In the meantime, they saw extremist parties utterly useless and even dangerous. Not a singly extremist candidate won in the entire Gonder, Wello and Shewa.

Instead of reassessing their political position, they chose to be oblivious to the people’s rejection and maintained their two-prong political posturing. On one front, they doubled down on their rejected extremist agenda. On the other front, they continued their attack on moderate Amhara forces, leaving the Amhara tribal land without political leaders. Today, their primary targets are PP-Amhara and አብን.

VI.2. PP-Amhara: Existing in the Catch-22 Zone

The Second Amhara group is PP-Amhara. PP-Amhara works with the PM, but its leaders are losing confidence in him. They are increasingly questioning his resolve to go after Oromo extremists, particularly against Oromo-Shene. Though they work in partnership with PP-Oromo, they are finding their partnership untannable, especially after their lack of resolve to end the mass murder against the Amhara. The Addis Ababa Oromo banner and anthem debacles are also another area of contention between the two PP partners.

There is no question that PP-Amhara is playing second-fiddle to PP-Oromo and works under the undue influence of the PM. This has pushed the relationship between PP-Amhara and the people of Amhara into Catch-22 zone. The people want to see PP-Amhara to stand up for Amhara before they back it up. The leadership of PP-Amhara feel they need to be supported by the people to have political power behind them to stand up against the PM and PP-Oromo.

What made PP-Amhara weak? The Answer is አብን. In 2018, አብን was an emerging extremist force that caught the Amhara political scene by storm. Their primary goal was to dominate the Amhara political landscape as the sole defender of Amhara. Their first target was the Amhara Democratic Party (Current PP-Amhara), whom they accused of being a surrogate of the Oromo Democratic Party (current PP-Oromo).

The extremist environment they created led to the murder of Dr. Ambachew (the Chair of PP-Amhara and the President of the Amhara Tribal Land) along with members of his management team. The culprit was General Asaminew Tsigie who was closely associated with the extremist factions of the አብን leadership team.

አብን cannibalized PP-Amhara and soon after discovered that the brand of extremism that it was marketing has no buyer in the Amhara tribal land. By the time አብን came to this realization and moderated its position, it became a target of a plethora of extremist elements within its ranks. The consequence was the emergence of Amhara-Shene! Amhara Shene continued to weaken PP-Amhara and አብን further.

The question the Amhara silent majority must ask is. What is Amhara-Shene’s strategy in going after other Amhara parties while pursuing a political position that is resoundly rejected by Amhara voters?

  • In Conclusion: ጠጣሩ እንዲላላ፣ የላላውን ወጥር

Let us first address the ጠጣሩ part. ጠጣሩ is the tribal constitution. The PM’s detractors criticize him for not overhauling it as the first order of business. That is an unreasonable demand both from strategic and practical points of view. Simply put ጠጣሩ እንዲላላ we need to do የላላውን ወጥር part first. The political and social environments need to be conducive for a fundamental constitutional overhaul. First and foremost, the economy needs to be saved from slipping into code blue and brought back to full health.

In the past, people like Shaleka Dawit Woldegiorgis have advocated to “dissolve the parliament and the constitution by decree.” This is dangerous. Over the last forty years, the political system has created tribe-based parties and entrenched interest groups who are benefiting from it. They are not going to see it go without a fight.

Others believe that the PM can use the current Parliament to overhaul the Constitution. This is foolhardy. Current members of parliament are beneficiaries and guardians of the system. Regions such as Afar, Somali, Benishangul, Gambella who did not exist as an autonomous region before the current Constitution are not going to vote to abolish a system that has given them autonomic power. The nation needs to build political and economic interest groups to counter-balance tribalist forces before disturbing the proverbial applecart. The nation needs do የላላውን ወጥር part first.

VII.1. The Onus is on the PM

An African proverb says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”    Prime Minister (PM) Abiy’s Achilles heel is his oblivion to this time-honored wisdom. Most importantly, he needs to rein in his I know-it-all and can-do-it-alone policy and seek the counsel and guidance of subject matter experts. It is time for him to stop lecturing and start listening.

As a matter of urgency, he needs to overhaul the Ministers of Finance, Economy and Foreign Affairs. The starting point is establishing headhunters to seek the brightest and most talented people of Ethiopian origin (including those who hold other nationalities) and fill key positions in his administration.

Ethiopia’s economy is deep in the abyss. The only crane and engine that can pull it out is in the West. The Eritrean factor is complicating this. During the war, Eritrea was an important allay to Ethiopia. To say President Isayas was instrumental in saving Ethiopia from TPLF onslaught and ensuing total collapse would not be an overstatement. When the PM declared after the war that he knew who helped him to win the war, it was obviously a reference to God. I believe President Isayas comes a close second.

The West is worried about President Isayas’ influence over Ethiopia’s geopolitical position. In my view the PM’s nature would not allow him to be influenced by anyone. Nonetheless, the perception in the West is that Ethiopia’s dependence on the Eritrean army has brought with it President Isayas’ undue influence on Ethiopia’s geopolitical position. Some in the West mention the role Eritreans play in the #NoMore movement.

I am of the opinion that Ethiopia’s relationship with Eritrea is no one’s business. However, a lot of work needs to be done to leverage Ethiopia’s geopolitical importance to mobilize international resources. The nation needs a robust geopolitical strategy and season diplomats. The PM needs to develop a multifaceted geopolitical strategy along with a savvy communication ecosystem supported by lobbying powerhouses. His administration needs to be a reliable and predictable partner in the geopolitical theater.

Global powers tolerate a leader whose policy they do not always agree with than one that is unpredictable. We should remember the West did not mind the Ethio-Eritrean close relationship during PM Meles’ time (1991-1998). China was more prominent in Ethiopia’s economy during PM Meles than it is today. PM Meles was no less patriotic when it came to GERD. Truth be told, PM faced far more push back than PM Abiy on GERD issue. The difference is that PM Meles was more seasoned in geopolitics. He knew how to handle the West. He had powerhouse lobbyists and reliable allies with high-level American government officials and influential academicians.

VII.2. The Amhara Silent Majority: The Hope for the Nation

What is missing in the Ethiopian politics is the silent majority. Though all tribal homelands are afflicted by this ill, the problem is far worse in the Amhara tribal land. The fifty-six percent voters who stayed home during the last election constitute an unrealized political base. Awakening the silent majority in the Amhara tribal land should be a critical part of the የላላውን ወጥር operation.

Currently, the political market is invaded by Shene-Oromo and Shene-Amhara. As noted above, they are using the PM as the transmission line and converter station to increase the voltage of their power and convert their tribal animosity into a national conflict. The Amhara silent majority can short- circuit this process by crowding out Amhara-Shene.

The best way to address the destructive Oromo politics is through strategic Amhara response not so much as a push back but as short-circuiting conflict transmission lines. This includes denying Oromo- Shene the stream of energy it draws from Shene-Amhara.

Aside from short-circuiting the Shene-Oromo and Shene-Amhara flows of energy, the fifty-six percent voters who stayed home during the last election constitute unrealized political base. In the short- term the Amhara has no option but to shore up support for PP-Amhara and አብን to provide them with the requisite power base to defend the Amhara. Their support should come with pressure to have PP-Amhara and አብን stiffen their backbones to stand up and defend the Amhara interest.

The emergence of Amhara silent majority will have three implications. First, it will help moderate voices of PP-Amhara and NAMA to crowd out Amhara-Shene. Second, it will enter not only in the Oromo political calculus but also in the political decisions of other tribal homelands that are being bullied, killed, and forcefully displaced by Oromo extremists. Third, it will shift the intra Oromo power struggle in favor of the PM.

VII.3. The International Community: Ethiopia’s Rescue of Last Resort

The international community was instrumental in ending the war. By the end of 2022, the Ethiopian economy was in shambles, the PM was facing difficulty to pay civil servants after international budget support started to wane as part of the US led sanction. In the meantime, TPLF’s backbone was broken and its Tigrayan exceptionalism illusion was crushed by the weight of hard reality. Signing the Pretoria peace agreement was not an option but a survival imperative for both.

The PM and the #NoMore community may cling to their zero calorie “African Solution for African Problem” slogan, but the threats of sanction by the US was a key factor in the peace agreement. True, the African Union (AU) has played a role in neutralizing local political resistance against what the idiotic #NoMore Community propagated as western violation of Ethiopia’s sovereignty. Simply put, the AU was the conductor of the US scripted peace theatre.

To date, the only thing in the PM’s political calculus is the Oromo power politics. The absence of an organized Amhara political power means his concern is primarily with Oromo-Shene and the Oromo Shadow Government. Bringing the international community into the equation is critical until Amhara forces build a political powerbase.

The international community can play a role in altering the PM’s and the Oromo Shadow Government’s political calculus. Both want to remain in power. A coordinated call for an international sanction to end the mass murder of innocent Amharas in the Oromo tribal land will be a game changer.

A recent proposal by Professor Abu Girma from Japan calls for an organized international sanction campaign to “Starve the Ethiopian Beast.” His proposal is summarized as follows:

We need a systematic and well-coordinated endeavor that will be run by professional Ethiopians who make a determined decision to fight the beast the way it bites the most. We have the tools and already approved laws in the US and once the US government moves the rest of Europe and the mini-Arabs fall in line. I have examined closely the concept, design, and network put in place by the Treasury Department under the leadership of a very capable academic and policy practitioner, Professor John B. Taylor, and it has teeth and a system in place to follow the money.

I am fully on board. The state of the nation demands using all possible venues.



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