Yonas Biru, PhD
OLF-Shene is like the proverbial fly that destroyed a proverbial china shop using a proverbial bull as a weapon. The fly was small with no physical power of its own to destroy a china shop. To its blessing there was a bull that the shop owner kept in his shop. The fly got into the ear of the bull and started buzzing and flying from one corner of his internal ear to another. The bull became enraged and freaked out that it started to jump around in the store destroying the china shop. This is what is happening in Ethiopia. OLF-Shene is using the Amhara as a leverage to gain political power beyond its weight. The Amhara must not allow itself to be used as the proverbial bull.
OLF-Shene has sucked the oxygen out of the Oromo tribal kingdom, using Wellega’s dense forests, mountains, and caves as its outdoor palace. Four years ago, TPLF had its hopes hung on Jawar Mohammed when Jaal was no more than a nuisance in Wellega, focusing on bank robbery. Today, Debretsion is in camp Jaal, lock stock and barrel. Jaal Marroo, OLF-Shene’s leader, has dethroned and marginalized Jawar, leaving him with no viable path other than waving and screaming for attention in distant lands.
There is a notable difference between Jawar’s and Jaal’s tribal kingdoms. During Jawar’s heydays, his Qerro garrison killed not only Amharas but also Gamos, Gurages and other non-Oromo ethnic groups. Jaal’s atrocities are exclusively targeted at the Amharas, and his atrocities are elevated to an industrial scale. The question is what are the lead-up and sustaining factors. This requires understanding the driving factors of Jaal’s and Debretsion’s political and military calculus.
Government controlled media outlets have saturated the air and cyber waves with a narrative blaming Egypt and TPLF as co-sponsors of Jaal’s emerging kingdom whose soil is wet with Amhara blood and fertilized with a human gore. The Abiy administration needs to come to the realization that tickling the people’s emotions using “እናት ኢትዮጵያ” and “አባቶቻችን ደማቸውን አፈሰው አጥንታቸውን ከስከሰው ያቆዩልንን አገር ሊያፈርሷት ነው” is not a fit-all crisis management strategy. The nation’s emotional reservoir is being increasingly depleted with every successive crisis. There is not much there to tap into.
It is important to come to grips that the most relevant factors in OLF-Shene’s ascension lurk along the contour where Prime Minister (PM) Abiy’s and PP-Oromo’s failings and Amhara extremists’ fervent fanaticism meet. Only the PM can fix the poor performance of his administration and the high-octane tribalist tendencies of PP-Oromo. On the Amhara front, the silent majority shoulders moral and historical obligations to rein in the fervent fanaticism of tribal extremists in its midst.
Let Us Look at the Obvious First
Financed and armed by Egypt and supported by TPLF, OLF-Shene continues to hunt and murder defenseless civilian Amharas in the Oromo tribal land and beyond. TPLF that has found it hard to smuggle weapons from Egypt into Tigray is taking the war out of its tribal homeland, providing OLF-Shene with technical and personnel support. OLF-Shene’s penetration of the Oromo community in Wellega, TPLF’s technical support, and Egypt’s military equipment that is smuggled through Wellega and Benishangul potentially represent more existential threat to Ethiopia than TPLF’s war.
OLF-Shene’s danger comes from its mass murder’s scalability because of the millions of Amhara people living in the Oromo tribal land, and its ability to provide Amhara extremists irresistible fodder to flame their tribal impulses. The massive Amhara people living in the Oromo tribal land will be subjected to unimaginable atrocities that can quickly rise to genocide. There is no doubt that ሕዋሃት አማራ ላይ አወራርደዋልሁ ያለውን ወለጋ ላይ ከሸኔ ጋር በተግባር እያዋለው ነው:: Do not forget that once civil war starts, the Amhara in the Oromo tribal land will not go down without a fight. Similarly, the sizable Oromo people in the Amhara tribal land will not perish in silence. The clash between Amhara and Oromo can ignite a civil war that will make the TPLF war look like a child’s play.
OLF-Shene’s Political and Military Calculus
OLF-Shene is an extremist gang that wants to implement Jawar Mohammed’s “Ethiopia out of Oromia” rallying cry. Jawar used the slogan to propel himself to the apex of the Oromo political landscape through a crafty political shenanigan that alternated conflict-peddling and peace-making. Jaal turned the slogan into action, using matchets, guns, gasoline, and fire without any pretense of peace. The focus on the Amhara is strategic as are the diabolical savagery and their frequency of delivery.
Jaal’s focus on the Amhara has three reasons. First, he sees the Amhara as the architect and custodian of the Ethiopian project. Second, the frequency and savage atrocity is gamed to create a sense of existential chaos to get international attention. This is TPLF’s staple. Third, and most importantly, Jaal understands that the coalition between PP-Oromo and PP-Amhara is what is holding the pan Ethiopian center. If he manages to break the coalition, the center will no longer hold. In this regard, Jaal and Debretsion rely more on Amhara extremists who see the PP-Oromo and PP-Amhara coalition as the primary enemy of the Amhara than they rely on Egyptian weapons.
It is easy to understand the strategy behind Oromo and Tigray extremism. They have an end game whether we like it or not and their actions and strategies are consistent with their end goal. It is hard to tease out the strategy of Amhara extremists, much less to figure out the link between their actions and their respective end games.
One month, Eskinder is touted as the savior of Amhara with the nick name of ታላቁ እስክንደር. The next month Shaleka Dawit is the Knight in a Shining Armor. Yet in another month Christian Tadele inherits the throne with the nick name of ገብርየ. When political actors run off their steam, Amhara religious activists take over the podium and the mantle. They seem to crawl out of the Ethiopian episode of “Theater of the Absurd” that in the 1950s portrayed an irrational and illogical human experiment that lacks purpose.
There are two potential consequences that can result if OLF-Shene and TPLF succeed in their attempt to break the PP-Oromo and PP-Amhara coalition. First, tribal extremism will soar in the Amhara tribal land, fearing existential threat from OLF-Shene and TPLF coalition. Second, the political center of gravity will shift from pan Ethiopian toward several extremist autonomous tribal movements. This is what I have called in the past “a race to the bottom” between extremist forces.
The race to the bottom will be fueled by what physicists call entropy of the second law of thermodynamics. In politics, the entropy dynamics propels societies into a self-destructive state of random chaos. This happens as a systemic social order splinters into smaller components that spin out of control in a way that is not predictable. Experts in the field tell us that the only solution is to introduce new energy to defuse and douse the negative energy that is turboing the random chaos.
Together with entropy dynamics, game theory helps us understand the political chaos our country is in. Game theory is a model that was developed by mathematicians and adopted and finally abducted by economists. It is valuable to understand the choice that political or economic actors make to optimize their benefits in a strategic setting when confronted with competitions or conflicts. Each group’s success depends on its ability to anticipate its adversaries’ next moves and overall strategies.
In recent weeks and months, OLF-Shene has been scaling up its atrocities. Sadly, this is likely to increase both in intensity and frequency. Jaal understands that every mass murder in the Oromo tribal land takes Amhara extremists to the next level as more and more people join them. In short, OLF-Shene’s political calculus to scale up the brutality and increase the frequency of its mass murder is calibrated on the Amhara reaction against the Abiy administration, PP-Oromo, and PP-Amhara. The stronger the reaction the more frequent and bestial the mass murder gets.
There are two factors that have given Jaal the upper hand. First is the PM’s refusal to listen to the public outcry about the dismal way that he has been governing the nation. Second is the Amhara extremists’ unmitigated hate of the PM that has led them to do OLF-Shene’s, TPLF’s, and through them Egypt’s bidding.
The PM is the Dominant Half of The Problem
First, the Prime Minister has failed to win the trust and confidence of the Amhara people. His lack of transparency, his utterly poor (if not nonexistent) public relations ecosystem, and the absence of a well-developed political strategy have weakened the PP-Oromo and PP-Amhara coalition that was wobbly to begin with.
When I say public relations ecosystem, I am not talking about government propaganda. Rather, I am referring to a participatory government system where the government explains and promotes its agenda and seeks public support for it. This means involving the public, independent think tanks, and expert groups outside of the government structure. It also means building consensus and securing public ownership of the reform. This requires keeping the public abreast of the progress the government is achieving and making them aware of the challenges ahead. This is critical to build consensus, foster public ownership of the agenda, and nurture an Ethiopian creed mindset. Under such circumstances, when crisis emerges, the people will rise as owners and custodians of the government agenda.
It is just as important for the government to show humility and take accountability when its leaders err. The PM never takes accountability. Every time there is a crisis, he comes with a plethora of people to accuse, including Shene Oromo, TPLF, the West, his own judges, the police, the people who want cooking oil rather than eating cabbage with salt and those who want gasoline for their car, rather than walking as a form of healthy exercise.
The fact that, for over three years, he had refused to have a PR unit is evidence that he has no interest in shaping public opinion and building consensus. The fact that he attends ribbon cutting ceremonies and inauguration celebrations often the same day or within a day or two after 100s of people are slaughtered shows his lack of understanding of rudimentary public relations or lack of empathy to the dead and their aggrieved family members.
When he finally agreed to establish a PR unit, he chose a political appointee rather than an experienced PR expert. A capable PR expert would have sent him to Wellega the same day the mass murder happened to console the people and show leadership. It has been eight months since the PR unit has been established. It has no pulse. No life, not even a sign of existence. Only the government’s budget office knows their existence when it cuts them a check for their salaries.
Amid the most dangerous development is that moderate Amharas have gone from supporting the PM with enthusiasm to withdrawing their support to him and ultimately to sympathizing (if not joining) the extremist Amhara camp. On top of it, no matter what the reason may be, the recent purging of Gedu Andargachew and Yohannes Buayalew from PP leadership and Yohannes’ termination and Gedu’s resignation from their respective government positions have moved the Amhara sentiment towards the PM from suspicion to hostility. Even those who saw them as sellouts in the past are now championing them as Amhara heroes.
I am one of the people who have supported the PM since he came to office. I continue to support him resisting the temptation to cut loose because I believe he is a visionary leader who can transform the nation if he changes his governance style and recognizes he is neither King nor God. There are two areas of management he is lacking: (1) reform management; and (2) political management to mitigate conflicts and address unexpected crises. He has failed both his supporters and the nation at large miserably on both fronts.
On the reform management front, his vision could have transformed Ethiopia beyond anybody’s imagination. But his policy of alienating capable Ethiopians and surrounding himself with sub-mediocre “yes, sir” appointees is undermining his own vision. One example would suffice to bring this point home.
The Ethiopian Investment Holdings (EIH), Ethiopia’s first sovereign fund, was established without consulting the CEOs of the 27 State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) that are placed under its command. At the first meeting of the EIH Board, Frehiwot Tamiru, CEO of Ethio Telecom and one of the eight EIH board members, “confronted the basic decision of blanketing SOEs as subsidiaries of the EIH.” She added: “EIH cannot guarantee success. SOEs will become efficient, only when each are led professionally in their respective sectors.” She rightly expressed bewilderment that the decision was made without consulting the SOEs affected by the creation of EIH.
Abe Sano, the president of Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) echoed Frehiwot’s points, stating “There is a dilemma in the way the EIH is structured.” The Director General of the Information Network Security Service (INSS), Shumete Gizaw (PhD) joined Frehiwot and Abe in the chorus of protest against (and soft rejection of) EIH: “What are the criteria for SOEs to become an EIH subsidiary or not? Did the government assess existing SOEs, before establishing the EIH?”
Frehiwot, Abe and Shumete are among the most senior officials in terms of the size of SOEs they manage. If the government did not seek their input when creating NIH, who did it consult? Evidently, the reform process is managed by cadres, not professionals and stakeholders even within the government structure. Ethiopia has several economic think tanks, including the Ethiopian Development Research Institute, the Ethiopian Economic Association, and the PM’s Independent Economic Advisory Council. I know for sure his Economic Advisory Council was not consulted. It is exceedingly unlikely that the others were advised.
The PM is running the country at his whim with no input from national stakeholders. This includes in areas of State Security and defense. In the past I have written enough about his administration’s failure in public diplomacy. Suffice it to say, his administration is the worst Ethiopia has witnessed in recent memory. We have Ambassadors with no background in diplomacy and poor command of the English language, to put it generously. The gap they left was filled by a cacophonous street diplomacy of #NoMore that only God, the cacophonous diaspora, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our oblivious ambassadors know the wisdom of the #NoMore አሲዮ ቤሌማ.
The failure in the political crisis management is the same. The stakeholders are not consulted. Even when members of the Parliament show a sign of discontent, the PM lectures them with a condescending tone and tenor. They are often dismissed with utter disregard for their oversight role in the way the nation is run. When the PM consolidated some 20 or 30 key institutions under his office, some parliamentarians put a fight that lasted a few seconds. It seemed as though their questions and critics represented agonal breathing to show a sign of life – አልሞትኩም ብየ አልዋሽም.
This is partly the fault of the parliamentarians. Read my article titled “የጠቅላይ ሚኒስቴሩ እንደ ስላሴዎች አንድም ሶስተም እየሆኑ የመምጣት አደጋዎች” in which I wrote:
Parliamentarian sessions with the PM manifest a disturbing display of a lopsided power dynamics akin to one between an imperious kindergarten teacher and his awed and coyed kindergartners. The Parliamentarians’ body language lexicon of discomfort spoke louder than the timid questions that some of them mustered the courage to utter.
The only two members who showed courage to challenge the PM in one session were the Amhara representatives – the Honorable Christian Tadele and the Honorable Desalegn Chanie. Their questions proved to be utterly stupid in the most elastic sense of the term stupid. The PM run circles around them. I felt embarrassed for them. The Honorable Christian showed a sense of credulity in the “Whodunit” state of confusion.
That is not all, in the after math of the most horrific mass murder, the Speaker of the House refused to modify the agenda to pay respect and prayers to the hundreds of Amhara victims in Wellega. This was a display of political stupidity from a distant underdeveloped galaxy. It was beyond the realm of propensity for obedience to the executive branch.
Ethiopia cannot continue to jump from one crisis to another that is attributable to the PM’s single-handed governance where the legislative branch has all but abrogated its oath and duty. Their constituencies did not send them to Addis as their representatives with crayons and coloring books to pass time. Their oath requires them to fulfill their duty. They should live up to their duty that they accepted under the weight of oath or resign and go back home.
The Shimeles Abdissa Factor
The failure of Shimeles Abdissa to control his tribal domain is beyond comprehension. One wonders the purpose of recruiting and training tens of thousands of Oromo militia and special force every year if it is not to keep peace and security.
Furthermore, his continuous polarization of non-Oromos in Addis Ababa, calling the Amhara “Neftegna” and announcing that his Party intends to shove the antiquated Geda system down the throat of 21st century Ethiopians has made it difficult for moderate Amhara’s to trust the PM.
It is incomprehensible why Shimeles has not resigned or forced out or at the very least required to compensate the victims’ families, whether his failings are caused by lack of experience and ability, or recklessness fueled by tribal impulses. The people are losing confidence and trust in the PM, who is the custodian of PP-Oromo and all but a Godfather of Shimeles.
Amhara Extremists are the Second Half of the Problem
TPLF, OLF-Shene and Egypt have friends from Amhara extremists whose primary obsession is getting rid of the PM even at the risk of pushing Ethiopia over the cliff. Take, Shaleka Dawit Woldegiorgis, for example. After TPLF invaded the Amhara tribal land and started marching toward Addis, a group of Ethiopians approached Amhara activists to encourage Fanno fighters to work within the Ethiopian defense structure.
One of the people who has some degree of influence in Amhara extremists’ universe is the Shaleka. When approached, his reply was “I will not do a thing that will help Abiy.” In sum, if the only way that Ethiopia could be saved involves saving the PM’s administration, the Shaleka would rather see Ethiopia going down in flames if she will take the PM down with her. Hate, like love, is blind. It stupidifies and ደነዚfies.
Another example is Dr. Getachew Begashaw, the President of Vision Ethiopia. He has made it his duty to accuses PM Abiy of murdering Dr. Ambachew Mekonen, the late President of the Amhara tribal land, and General Asaminew Tsgie, an extremist leader of the Amhara special force.
Dr. Getachew is aware that General Asaminew has admitted he was the one who had Dr. Ambachew killed. This was recorded on tape by an Amhara journalist. On July 4, 2019, a reputable American digital forensic establishment has confirmed the taped voice was that was General Asaminew’s. Dr. Getachew is in receipt of the noted digital forensic report. However, this has not stopped him from issuing a Press Release on April 21, 2021, stating:
“Abiy Ahmed’s clique orchestrated a violent uprising in the Amhara region in June of 2019, and ordered the execution of prominent leaders of the Amharas that were considered a threat, including Asaminew Tsigie.”
For the record General Asaminew was murdered by a mob after he had Dr. Ambachew murdered in cold blood and tried to escape.
Dr. Getachew’s and Shaleka Dawit’s false narratives from the diaspora are echoed by Amhara extremist activists in Ethiopia. For example, Meskerem Aberra, who has made a staple out of accusing PP-Amhara of “በአሽከርነቱ ተጠናክሮ ህዝባችንን በማሳረዱ እንዲቀጥል” in the “አማራ ጠሉ አገዛዝ ስርዓት ውስጥ.”
Such fabricated claims have proven increasingly potent in alienating PP-Amhara and NAMA (አብን) from parts of the Amhara public. If the likes of Dawit, Getachew and Meskerem succeed in their campaign of lies, they will help break the PP-Amhara and PP-Oromo coalition or render PP-Amhara and NAMA irrelevant in the national political equation. If the likes of Dawit, Getachew and Meskerem did not exist, Shene-Oromo and TPLF would have invented them, christened them in the holy waters of OLF-Shene’s tribal theology and let them loose.
Then there are the so-called the Welkait Team, peddling fiction that the PM has agreed to hand Welkait to TPLF through referendum or some such scheme. Nowadays, it is hard to distinguish the source of negative propaganda. More and more TPLF and Amhara extremists are peddling the same stories. Rumors that start from Amhara tribalists are fanned by TPLF cyber ninjas. Fake news sourced by TPLF is megaphoned, champagne-sprayed and mainstreamed by Amhara tribalists.
The fact is that Welkait is no longer a land dispute between Amhara and TPLF. It is an existential issue for the very survival of Ethiopia. The PM understands appeasing the TPLF will come at the risk of losing the Amhara and Eritrea. He also knows TPLF cannot be trusted in any way. They will not be satisfied with Welkait unless it comes with control of the rest of Ethiopia.
The Seven People that PM Abiy Selected to represent Ethiopia and their tribal heritage tells a different tale. The Chair of the group is an Amhara. Plus, there are two more Amharas, for a total of three (accounting for 43% of the group. Add to it one each from Afar, Siltie, Southern People and Oromo. This is not the kind of mix you would put together if your goal is betraying the Amhara.
The Amhara people must ask the likes of Dawit, Getachew and Meskerem and Team Welkait, in what way do their coordinated false propaganda campaigns against the PM protect millions of Amharas living in the Oromo tribal land? In what way does their agenda weaken TPLF and OLF-Shene? In what way do they help to strengthen the center that holds Ethiopia together?
They have not done anything concrete to protect the Amhara in the Amhara tribal land, let alone in the Oromo tribal land. Nor have they formed a viable political opposition party. Their primary mission is alienating the PM from Amhara, just like OLF-Shene, TPLF, and Egypt. They are also cannibalizing moderate parties including PP-Amhara and NAMA, leaving the Amhara tribal land without a political force.
Today, Ethiopia is in more danger than it was at the height of the TPLF war. To the extent, their common objective of breaking PP-Oromo and PP-Amhara shows signs of success, OLF-Shene, TPLF and their Egyptian masters will increase the frequency and severity of their atrocities against innocent Amharas. Only the PM and the Silent Majority in the Amhara tribal land can change the OLF-Shene political calculus. It is all about Game Theory. When your behavior changes, the political calculus of your adversary changes.
Some Thoughts on What the PM Should Do
The PM cannot continue his old ways of governing the nation. He needs to appoint capable managers and get rid of his “yes sir” attendants. He needs to establish advisory councils in the areas of economics, public relations, geopolitics, and most importantly security, intelligence, and defense. They should not be window dressings. Instead, he needs to meet with them regularly at least once a month and listen to their concerns and advice. For example, in the US the President meets with his National Security Council and the Council of Economic Advisors regularly.
Apology First: When he came to office in 2018, PM Abiy apologized for the atrocities committed under EPRDF that was controlled by TPLF. Today, the atrocities that are no less bestial in their brutality than the atrocities committed by TPLF are committed on his watch by Oromo extremists. A true leader is one who forthrightly apologizes when warranted. The PM needs to apologize to the people of Ethiopia in general and the people of Amhara in particular.
Appoint Capable Officials: The PM should learn from the Derg. Mengistu’s administration was first run by cadres. Towards the end the dictator started recruiting capable technocrats such as Tesfaye Dinka. Sadly, it was too late. Time will come when it will be too late for the PM. God has thrown him several lifelines. Ethiopians from all corners of the nation has sacrificed their sons and daughters to keep him in office, defeating TPLF. Let alone the people, even God runs out of patience. The sooner the PM changes course the better for him and the country.
Lay Out Specific Plans of Action: The PM needs to lay out specific steps, including: (1) establishing an independent committee to assess his administration’s performance and recommend specific courses of action; (2) form independent advisory councils of subject matter experts in critical areas such as economics, public relations, and geopolitics, and most importantly in security, intelligence, and defense; (3) holding the Oromo tribal government accountable, including Shimels and military and Oromo’s military and security leaders who are responsible to maintain peace and security; (4) have an independent commission to investigate if the legislative brunch is independent of the executive branch; and (5) provide recommendation where needed.
Some Thoughts on What the Silent Majority in the Amhara Tribal Land Should Do
The silent majority in the Amhara tribal land that prides itself of being the bulwark of Ethiopian unity has a historical burden to reject tribal extremists in its midst and ensure that the history of the Amhara will not be tarnished by them, lest history will not be kind to it.
Speak Up to Crowd out the Cacophony of Amhara Extremists: The silent majority and moderate Ethiopians must support the government to put out the current flames, while pressuring PP-Amhara to grow a backbone to challenge the PM and PP-Oromo. PP-Amhara cannot do this without support from a strong base in the Amhara tribal land. This is hard to get when Amhara extremist forces at home and abroad defame them as the enemy of Amhara with fabricated claims and accusations.
Establish The Amhara Silent Majority Coalition: The Coalition may consist of different social groups, Religious Institutions, Civil Society Organizations, Professional and Business Associations. The Coalition must provide a united voice for peace and security and push back against extremism, political polarization and false and violence inciting campaigns.
Initiate Proactive Discussions with the Federal and the Amhara Governments: When established, The Amhara Silent Majority Coalition will have a constitutional right to demand competent and federal and tribal governments run by experts to protect the Amhara population both within and outside of the Amhara Tribal land.
Demand Specific Courses of Action Both from the Amhara and Federal Governments: The Amhara Silent Majority Coalition should focus on addressing current pressing issues related to the Amhara and demand what needs to be done as a matter of urgency before OLF-Shene and Amhara extremists reach critical mass. This is not time to corner the PM to reform the Constitution or to officially transfer Welkait to Amhara. The nation has many centers of conflicts already. Burdening the government with more controversial items at this juncture is neither prudent nor achievable. Oncology surgeons do not operate on cancerous tumors before stabilizing the patient.
Help Stabilizing the Amhara Political Landscape: Demanding government accountability and reining in extremists in the Amhara tribal land and helping strengthen PP-Amhara are the most critical first order priorities to short circuit the transmission line that allows extremist forces to feed off of each other’s energy. The defeat of Amhara tribalist extremist forces that are eroding the PP-Oromo and PP-Amhara coalition will have direct impact on the political and military calculus of OLF-Shene. This in turn will further weaken Amhara extremists. The race to the bottom between extremist forces will be thwarted and reversed.
It is all about establishing professionalism and accountable government. It is all about using game theory to force our adversaries change their political and military calculus. It is also all about breaking the energy transmission channel that extremist forces rely on to cross fertilize each other in their bid to race to the bottom.
Above all, it is all about peace, security, and prosperity. The PM has the capability to go down history as the man who transformed Ethiopia. But the path he is on is a path to the abyss. Let us hope he will course correct. Let us also hope the Silent Majority in the Amhara tribal land will rise to the occasion.
MAY GOD SAVE AND BLESS ETHIOPIA