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Sunday, May 28, 2023

PERSPECTIVE: Abiy Ahmed’s Destabilization of Ethiopia

Ethiopia is in serious turmoil and another historical political transition is, perceptibly, impending. Ongoing conflicts in different parts of the country, state-facilitated starvation, fresh nationwide anti-government uprisings – and the Horn of Africa nation is once again in mayhem and the future is dreadfully uncertain. Ethiopia is at a bloodcurdling juncture; multiple crises threaten the foundational stability of Africa’s second-largest country. Civil war in Tigray, border disputes with Sudan, Egypt’s disagreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) are collectively pushing Ethiopia to the brinks of becoming a failed state. [i] Between 1991 and 2016, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF) gradual but steadfast program of democratization and liberalization within a multinational constitutional framework succeeded in converting Ethiopia from a poster child of war and famine to a fledgling economic powerhouse and linchpin of security in East Africa. Although a variety of human rights challenges and mass imprisonment subsisted under the reign of Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), its defeat of the tyrannical military junta known as the Derg had embarked Ethiopia on an expedition away from pervasive poverty and toward the fulfilment of meaningful democratic aspirations.

However, between 2016 and 2018, popular protests initially sparked by legislation meant to regulate the uprooting of Oromo farmers by expanding the capital city known as the ‘Addis Ababa Master Plan’ would continue to exceptionally confront Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF); discontent was particularly pronounced in the Amhara and Oromo regions, at the time directly administered by the Amhara National Democratic Party (ANDM) and Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO). This period was also marked by increasing inter-regional tensions including a border war between the Oromo and Somali Regions that produced over a million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) that have yet to be resettled to their former hometowns or sufficiently supported.

“Regional administration members from Somali and Oromo come to Qoloji camps regularly to take our photos and make pledges of resettlement or direct support. We have been here for years now. Some of us are on our third or fourth child. Our lives do not matter to these selfish leaders. We are waiting for our Lord to help us” (A.L. 5/14/2021, Jijiga, Somali Region, Ethiopia).

Abiy Ahmed was competitively selected as chairman by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to deliver on the party’s reformist agenda – initiated in January 2018 – in response to the growing unrest. Abiy Ahmed became a beacon of hope for Ethiopia, a symbol of long-overdue reforms and inclusivity. Abiy Ahmed experienced overwhelming domestic and international support, including from the people of Tigray and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Three years later, Ethiopia is returning to the embodiment of famine and war it had been in during the mid ’80s. Unfortunately, there were countless early signs indicating the distinctive democratic ambitions of the Ethiopian people would not be realized or implemented under Abiy Ahmed’s transitional administration. For instance, while the administration’s swift overturning of the ‘anti-freedom’ laws were widely celebrated, they were as quickly replaced by new repressive legal frameworks. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the UN Security Council, and many other credible entities and international governments have expressed concern over the return of oppressive practices and are calling for an end to atrocities in Ethiopia. [ii]

Numerous political changeovers came unconstitutionally and by brute force, as observed in the Somali Region in August 2018, but rudimentary yet counterproductive political headways were noted in more ‘highly’-regarded area of the country. For example, the president of the Somali Region of Ethiopia, Abdi Mohamoud Omar, was unconstitutionally ousted in the late summer of 2018. I, as a developmental and humanitarian agent, witnessed firsthand as military tanks rolled down the streets of Jijiga to remove one individual from office; also, I observed the disproportionate and unwarranted use of state violence on civilian populations at the service of cynical contests over power. In a boastful speech delivered to parliament on the 23rd of March 2021, Abiy Ahmed described this event as an act of war, arguing, “the world had nothing to say when we went to war with Abdi Iley’s soldiers, or when we went to war with Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), but they shout when we go to war in Tigray.” [iii]

Abdi Mohamoud Omar is, presently, lounging in Kaliti Prison without being formally charged or sentenced, along with other Oromo and Tigrayan political leaders; it should be recalled that accountability for the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF) human rights abuses and corruption has been selectively administered on the basis of identity. Abiy Ahmed himself was a lifelong member of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), serving in leadership positions within its tremendously repressive intelligence structures. Furthermore, the illegal appointment of regional leadership publicly observed with the recent Tigray interim administration was also anticipated or foreseen due to Abiy Ahmed’s boisterous activities in the Somali Region a couple years back. The likes of underqualified regional administrators [or acting vice presidents] such as Mustafa Omer and Abraham Belay were illegally and abruptly instated into existing regional parties or institutions by the autocrat Abiy Ahmed (of course, without the approval of local communities or community elders). All of these unlawful federal exertions undermining the autonomy and self-determination of regional establishments are interconnected.

            “Regional autonomy is imperative to Ethiopia’s existence and future as a country. Unitary or centralized systems deprecating or repudiating the ownership and national contributions of Oromos, Somalis, Afars, etc cannot be and will not be tolerated. Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) had its many appalling flaws and setbacks but it is incomparable to the genocidal brutalities and marginalization observed under Mengistu Hailemariam’s Derg. Majority of the people in Ethiopia want to move forward, and we will” (G.R. 7/15/2021, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia).

While the objective of Abiy Ahmed and the interim administration was, theoretically, for Ethiopia to improve and transform its political institutions, end inhumane detentions, return or reintegrate exiled diaspora members, open space for new political parties, expand on human rights and reconcile the diverse communities of the country, none of these extensively agreed upon promises affirmed by the impetuous transitional leader materialized. The Ethiopian people were, indeed, duped. Nothing changed for the better; instead, Abiy Ahmed and his gospelized Prosperity Party (PP) undercut the outstanding hopes of the people and committed never-before-seen war crimes and carnages throughout Ethiopia.

“Our people protested and died for this country to change. When Abiy Ahmed took office, Oromo people were beaming with hope – but it was all for nothing. Now, regrettably, we find ourselves reminiscent of the past as a time much better than today” (J.I. 7/12/2021, Dire Dawa, Ethiopia).

The coronavirus outbreak in spring 2020 resulted in the interim government delaying elections and the anarchical modification of the constitution, granting Abiy Ahmed ample time to conduct preemptive approaches to maim opponents and rush to bolster an inequitable centralized system through staged trainings and recent sham elections. The unsolved and controversial killings of senior officials and superstar Hachalu Hundessa, arrests of predominant opposition members and the unwarranted ousting of political colleagues who resisted or debated the mendacious transitional leader’s impulsive declarations (i.e. the premature formation of Prosperity Party or the dissemination of the groundless “Medemer” concept) subverted Ethiopia’s efforts toward becoming a democratic middle-income country in the next couple decades. These mentioned occurrences activated enduring political infighting and continue to alarm Ethiopians and the international community.

Expected reforms through dialogue, public consensuses and democratic processes were conclusively hijacked by the self-acclaimed “reformist” transitional Prime Minister and his underlings; Abiy Ahmed engineered a civil war, facilitated a famine and, throughout the landlocked country, dynamically deployed almost-irreversible measures of political insecurity. The Ethiopian people, for the past two to three years, are witnessing intense inter-ethnic conflicts, ethnic profiling of Tigrayans and Oromos, federally-endorsed land grabs, arming of farmers and rural communities, a staggering increase in religious and ethnic extremism, mass rape of women and children by Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), and a mainstreaming of ultra-right perspectives that seek to reverse institutional gains in the accommodation of diversity – and reformulate the Ethiopian nation-building process toward a more unitary vision under the fallacious slogan ‘one people, one language, one religion’.

Short-term solutions:

  1. Ceasefire: Withdrawal of Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), Eritrean, Amhara and other regional forces from Tigray Region
  2. Protection of all civilians and unhindered humanitarian access to Tigray Region and other conflict-ridden areas of the country such as Western Oromia
  3. Independent investigations into human rights abuses, accountability for those responsible for war crimes and gender/sexual-based violence against women and children
  4. Free all political prisoners
  5. Inclusive national dialogue and reconciliation based on deference for the constitutional order and the rights of the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia to exist

“Implementing short term solutions, with the support of the international community, is crucial but a credible transitional government is required during such a worrisome and uncertain time. Abiy Ahmed is unfit to lead Ethiopia. That is all I can surely say. It is now time for real change and tangible reforms” (M.R. 7/11/2021, Jimma, Oromia, Ethiopia). 


Abiy Ahmed is, unquestionably, a loose cannon and Ethiopia is on the verge of a full-fledged civil war. The collapse of Ethiopia would not only, in every aspect, disrupt the entire Horn of Africa but the African continent as a whole. East Africa cannot afford another horrific and lingering genocide or state-orchestrated ethnocides. The only allies, it appears, assisting Abiy Ahmed in contentedly committing crimes against humanity are China and Russia; this datum alone is a titanic setback to emerging democracies around the Global South – and it is encouraging elements of potentially dangerous demagogues to rely on or seek out the sustenance of such fascist governments. [iv] The world has its eyes on Ethiopia. People are being executed and displaced, fundamentally, over the puerile and multilayered egomanias of political elites in Ethiopia’s capital city. Intervention is way overdue. The time to act was yesterday.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected]. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

[i] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2020/08/05/the-controversy-over-the-grand-ethiopian-renaissance-dam/
[ii] https://www.un.org/press/en/2021/sc14572.doc.htm
[iii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTu337iQxug
[iv] https://apnews.com/article/russia-violence-india-humanitarian-assistance-ethiopia-f93a9a6bc7c0845a37cf7e3e3757e1e7
Hafsa Mohamed
Hafsa Mohamed is the Founder and Executive Director of Maandeeq Women’s Organization (MWO), one of the first women empowerment organizations in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. Maandeeq Women’s Organization (MWO) is a women-led, community owned and driven entity with efforts and ambitions to transform agro-pastoralist communities in the Horn of Africa – and contribute to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Her developmental mission in Ethiopia is to achieve sustainable development, advance institutional infrastructures, reform education systems, and mobilize socioeconomic empowerment for all underserved groups (particularly women, youth, and differently-abled persons). Hafsa Mohamed has an educational background in sociology, women’s studies and international development. She is a women’s rights and disability rights activist, civic engagement specialist, development and humanitarian figure in both the Horn of Africa and California. Hafsa Mohamed is a private consultant and researcher for humanitarian and international governmental agencies.

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