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Brokering Peace in Ethiopia: Challenges and Opportunities

June 11, 2024
Meskerm Abera, a dedicated educator, journalist, and human rights activist, is presently detained for her steadfast dedication to promoting truth in a logical manner to advocate for justice
Meskerm Abera, a dedicated educator, journalist, and human rights activist, is presently detained for her steadfast dedication to promoting truth in a logical manner to advocate for justice

An open letter to the international community and to the media

From Meskerem Abera
Ethiopia

It is now 33 years since Ethiopia adopted and institutionalized ethnicity-elite based politics, culture, constitution, and administrative structure as its model of governance. The political ecology of the country, thus, became full of competing, irreconcilable and mutually exclusive ethnic interests prone to recurrent conflicts. This system of divide and rule sharpened and widened ethnic polarization, ethnic mutual mistrust, theft, graft, corruption, moral degradation, hunger, hyperinflation, a sense of hopelessness, treasonous acts as well as country-wide conflicts. Ethiopia has never faced such horrendous challenges.

By all measurements and for more than three decades, Ethiopia’s highly toxic and ethicized politics remains the primary source of the country’s myriads of problems. Mistrust and distrust override the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the political architecture of the country. No one trusts anyone else. This corrosive political mistrust and ethnic-elite hegemony traces its origin to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front that ruled Ethiopia with an iron-fist for 27 years. This system is now dominated by Oromo elites and the Prosperity Party led federal government of Abiy Ahmed Ali, Prime Minister.

There is no contest that, currently, Oromo elites dominate the politico-military, financial, budgetary, banking, economic and trade sectors in Ethiopia. Non-Oromo ethnic groups are demeaned, degraded, or set aside or ignored or overruled or completely marginalized. Tens of thousands who dissent or disagree with this crushing system are forced to flee or are put in jail. Independent media is not allowed. Independent civil society organizations are intimidated and harassed constantly. Except nominally, opposition parties do not exist.

The government of Ethiopia led by Abiy Ahmed Ali and his Mafia-like establishment lost the trust and confidence of the majority of Ethiopia’s 130 million people because the leadership is not committed to genuine peace and stability. It is incapable of meeting economic, social and security needs. Tens of millions suffer from hunger, inadequate food supplies, scarcity of health services and other essentials. Ethiopians mistrust their leaders because the leadership is the primary source of their agony. They mistrust their government because it propagates hatred rather than harmony. It tends to brush aside or whitewash the trouble Ethiopia faces. They mistrust the leadership because it is a heartless and tyrannical government. They mistrust it because the Dialogue Commission the Ethiopian Parliament approved is an ostentatious commission controlled by Abiy Ahmed and his Party. They mistrust the commission because it is not independent or free to raise critical issues like immediate cessation of state and government led war against civilians.

The all-powerful prime minister: Abiy Ahmed, initiated and crafted the so-called national dialogue commission two years ago to appease the international community and to divert attention from the Ethiopian public that suffers under his tyrannical rule. His claim of “absolute” independence of the commission is sheer propaganda. No single institution in Ethiopia is free from the Prime Minister’s grip. Ethiopia’s National Defense Forces serve as protectors of Abiy Ahmed and his cadre of self-serving personnel.

I would like for the international community to understand that despotic and tyrannical leaders like Abiy Ahimed, whose penchant for war-like actions is well established, do not allow independent institutions to operate in their realm. Such rulers are puppet experts who tend to manipulate every independent institution to serve their strategic objectives. Despite celebratory rhetoric from the Prime Minister and his cheer leaders, the Ethiopian people dismiss the Commission as another appendage of Abiy Ahmed and his Party.

Despite clear public mistrust, the government and the commission continue to parade to the public that they are doing the right thing for Ethiopia and all Ethiopians. This requires investment. They Marshall huge budgetary resources from the country’s limited budget in pursuit of their machination of saving face and prolonging Abiy Ahmed Ali’s political grip indefinitely. This diversion is therefore unfair and unjust.

Expert studies show that genuine national dialogue focuses and addresses the root or institutional and structural causes that trigger human insecurity, civil wars, instability, lawlessness, corruption, nepotism, mass hunger and starvation. The ultimate intent of serious dialogue is durable peace. Among other variables, such dialogue demands the active and unfettered participation of principal actors of the ongoing and even latent conflicts. This will in turn upgrade the dialogue into negotiation that might significantly challenge the status quo; including change of government.

Tragically for Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed Ali declared a red line concerning change of government. He refuses to acknowledge that his reform agenda failed. In fact, it has made matters worse. Instead of democratizing Ethiopia society, Abiy Ahmed replaced one form of ethnic elite hegemony by another– from Tigrean elite to that of Oromo elite and total hegemony.

The ultimate and lofty goal of genuine negotiation is the realization of durable peace at any cost, including state power. This is incontestable because tyranny is anathema to meaningful dialogue and negotiated political settlement. This is the option conflict-ridden Ethiopia deserves.

In the case of Ethiopia, there is huge and incontestable hurdle. The current ethnicity-based Oromo elites championed by Abiy Ahmed Ali are not willing or ready to sacrifice the gains they have made ruling Ethiopia by marginalizing non-Oromo in favor of the common good, namely durable peace and stability. Abiy and his tightly controlled ethnic elites dismiss such alternatives as a transitional government outright defending their hard position as an electoral victory. Give and take is not on their radar at all.

This is tyranny. This uncompromising political and policy position and declaration inform the entire world that Abiy Ahmed’s ethno-nationalist agenda of Oromo hegemony is determined to remain unchallenged for the next three thousand years. This was declared publicly by a prominent Oromo politician within Abiy’s circle.

This policy of staying in power for generations and generations to come makes elections in Ethiopia facades and inconsequential. Free and fair elections become untenable under a Tyrannical system. Sustainable and equitable development becomes untenable because of state and government-led diversions of budgetary resources and because of ethnicity-based favoritism, nepotism and unfair distribution of budgetary resources including foreign aid.

Their untenable urge for power compels them to forget or ignore the organic link between peace and stability on the one hand, and sustainable and equitable development on the other. Their model is a zero-sum model. It is like “I prosper at your expense,” so to speak. Development is impossible without peace and stability. Without sustainable and equitable development, there is no peace.

Abiy’s government informs the international community that Ethiopia is pursuing and achieving both peace and development. This false and misleading narrative is repeated by state media. The leadership of the current government applauds itself for pursuing both peace and development repeatedly. It says nothing concerning the Northern war thar resulted in the deaths of more than one million lives; and the destruction of a staggering $44 billion in investments.

Those with conscience keep asking why the all-knowing, omnipotent, and omnipresent Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed never ever refers to or acknowledges the plight of millions of ordinary Ethiopians who suffer from hunger, ill health, inadequate shelter, poor sanitation, unemployment, hyperinflation, and the like. This is why Ethiopian and foreign experts characterize Ethiopia’s development as tokenism and delusional. The truth is that tens of millions are suffering under the current government.

This leads me to brokered peace. Such peace may offer temporary relief to a besieged and failing state and government. The current broker of such peace in Ethiopia is the National Dialogue Commission whose members Abiy Ahmed Ali’s government wines and dines in return for unwavering support to his regime. This is what Abiy Ahmed did with the leaders of the Tigray regional government leaders following the Pretoria Peace Agreement that failed. The TPLF never disarmed. But Abiy Ahmed rewarded its leaders materially, diplomatically and security wise.

Abiy incentivizes loyalty through such gimmicks. The government of Ethiopia allocated seven billion Ethiopian Birr to the Commission, a sum that does not include money from the European Union and other foreign sources. Abiy’s goal is staying in power at any cost.

There is no doubt in my mind that peace is the panacea or the only viable way out in resolving Ethiopia’s multifaceted problems. But it is clear to me and other independent observers that only negotiated peace can help resolve the root causes of recurrent ethnicity-based atrocities, civil conflicts, and wars in Ethiopia. To this end, the international community can and must empower principal actors of the ongoing armed conflict and prudent politicians cognizant of Ethiopian ethnic politics to play key role in the negotiation process from the start. The Dialogue Commission is duty bound to stand-up firm on inclusion of lead stakeholders.

It is tragic for Ethiopia and its 130 million people that the government of Ethiopia confuses brokered peace and negotiated peace deliberately. This is because it fears that the status quo will be affected adversely. It mischaracterizes and labels those who advance negotiated political settlement as “spoilers of peace and enemies of stability” and national unity.

As currently designed and promoted by the Ethiopian state and government, brokered peace championed by Abiy Ahmed and the Dialogue Commission he controls will not solve the Ethiopian crisis. In fact, it may deepen and prolong it. It might trigger fresh conflicts. This is because this model is advanced under the principle of a zero-sum game. “I win the peace and you submit to my will.” The beneficiary of this model will no doubt be Abiy’s Oromo-elite based tyrannical regime; and not the Ethiopian people and those who are fighting to defend their very existence and rights.

It is therefore not surprising that Amhara Fano and its supporters fighting for justice, genuine equality, fair representation and equal treatment, freedom and democracy opt for a negotiated political settlement rather than for a brokered peace deal. The former is a trap and thus lethal.

It is wrong to characterize Fano as a freedom fighter opposed to peace. On the contrary, state, and non-state actors have forced Amhara Fano to fight for the very survival of the Amhara population that is under constant attack. Fano wants genuine peace more so than the Abiy Ahmed regime that declared a state of emergency and that continues to use drones and tanks killing innocent civilians including children.

Amhar a Fano deserves a negotiated political settlement and peace deal.

Finally, I urge the international community in general and the governments of the United States,, members of the EU, the UN system, the African Union, IGAD and other international bodies to push Abiy Ahmed Alie and his cohort of supporters much harder so that they consider a negotiated political settlement involving all critical stakeholders, including those conducting armed resistance’ as the best alternative for Ethiopia. It is this option that I also believe Ethiopia’s Dialogue Commission must accept.

. Meskerem Abera is a well-known Prisoner of Conscience Journalist, Writer, and Political analyst. She is currently at Kaliti prison, Ethiopia.

June 11, 2024


 

3 Comments

  1. This peaceful activist should be released and allowed to go back to her family without preconditions. That country needs the involvement of our women in the affairs of the country. She is not encouraging violence in her writing here but preaching a dialogue for peace. There is nothing wrong with that. We may differ on certain aspects of the issues facing that country but so what? That is good and healthy. In a democracy you put different ideas in an incubator, churn it and something productive will definitely come out. You will never be able to kill ideas. Never.
    Leave this person alone!

    Leave her alone!!!!

  2. Can anyone tell me as to why she and many others are kept in prison for no valid reason? I bet not. When will peace prevail in the land of the Habaeshas? will that time come? No one knows.
    Here is a poem that may help us see through the cloud of war and peace.
    In the silence of peace, the world softly sighs,
    Where the olive branches sway and the dove flies.
    In the gardens of tranquility, harmony blooms,
    Far from the shadows of war’s gloomy tombs.

    Yet in the heart of conflict, the drums beat loud,
    Where the skies are darkened by the missile’s cloud.
    The earth trembles, and the brave ones fall,
    As war’s fierce tempest overshadows all.

    But let us dream of a day when swords rest,
    And shields gather dust, as peace is professed.
    When the world unites under a banner so grand,
    Where war is but a memory, across the land.

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