July 2, 2018.
From the outset, I must say I admired Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for the uniting speech he gave at his inaugural ceremony in the Ethiopian Parliament. His speech was inspiring, full of hope, and free of disdain towards individuals or groups. As such, I joined the euphoria and championed his mantra of “medemer”, though it is not a new concept in Ethiopia. In fact the Tigray people fought against the brutal Derge government and its predecessors for the very reason that they were marginalized and wanted to be treated fairly in their own country—in the real sense of the Amharic word “medemer”. The same is true for the many groups that were fighting against the previous governments who committed untold atrocities on their own people in the name of unity-- at the expense of the nations and nationalities freedom to express their own culture and languages.
However, in his recent political maneuvers and public speeches, the prime minister clearly veered from his initial speeches that were mainly on reconciliation and harmony among the Ethiopian people. At times, he seems to contradict himself and the trend is worrisome. He preaches on diversity of ideas and the concept of “medemer” and yet,he seems to harbor animosity against certain individuals or groups in his own party. A case in point is his speech during a meeting with the wise Afar people where he ridiculed and outrightly dismissed the immense sacrifices of the TPLF in particular and the EPRDF in general during the arduous seventeen year struggle that culminated with the downfall of the brutal Derge. His answers to the concerns raised by the Afar people regarding the current direction of our country were full of scorn for the TPLF and his actionbordered demagoguery.
In a futile attempt to discredit the contributions of the TPLF in freeing the people of Ethiopia from the dreaded jaws’ of the Derge, he presented himself as an unappreciative prime minister who is resentful to the people who made it possible for him to be where he is now—at the helm of the office of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. In a passing remark, he gave full credit to the most recent uprising of people in certain parts of the country for his current position. “I wouldn’t have been sitting next to Haj today if it were not for the recent popular uprisings in response to the myriad of mistakes made by the EPRDF,” he proclaimed.
That is only partially true.
Frist, not only the EPRDF party elected him to be its Chairman that paved his ultimate ascend to the top, but also it facilitated a peaceful transfer of power from Hailemariam Desalegn to Dr. Abiy Ahmed. Second, the fact remains that the Tigray People, under the auspice of the TPLF, played a decisive role in toppling the Derge and; thereby, ushering in a new chapter in the history of Ethiopia of which the prime minister is a true beneficiary. This fact has been written in our history already and dismissing it is tantamount to treachery in the eyes of the Tigray people who sacrificed their sons and daughters for the just cause. But this is not to say other Ethiopians have not contributed to the struggle. The Tigray people are keenly aware of the contributions of the Amharas, Oromos, Afar, Ethiopian Somalies, and other nations and nationalities of Ethiopia in this regard, and credit is in order.
Judging from his speeches, the prime minister seems to espouse the bottom-up governance style. That means he would listen to the people before the implementation of policies that have huge impact on their livelihoods. But in reality, that is not the case—at least it lacks uniformity. For instance, the people of Tigray have been peacefully protesting against the recent decision of the EPRDF Executive Committee to accept the December 12, 2000 Algiers Agreement and the subsequent verdict of the Ethiopia-Eritrea boundary Commission (EEBC) without any precondition—citing the negative consequences of the implementation of the agreement in randomly dividing families and villages. Their pleas for favorable answers fell in deaf ears.
Despite multiple demonstrations against the decision,the Prime Minister’s government has not responded to the people in the affected border areas. To the contrary, it rushed to host a deligation from Eritrea with a lot of fanfare in Addis-Ababa. However, the prime minister has positively responded to other areas, where violent protests have occurred, conducted meetings and consoled members of the public in person. This double standard on the part of the prime minister has forced some people to conclude that the only way to garner his attention is to conduct violent protests which the Tigray people are not willing to do. As a result, the Tigray people wonder if the prime minister’s rousing speech in Tigrigna on April 13, 2018 in Mekelle was just a lip service.
In closing, there is no compelling reason for Prime Minister Abiy to abandon the ideals of the EPRDF Party in order to appease other groups. Granted, the EPRDF party has not paid attention to the needs of the people as it should have, but there is no denying that it transformed the economy for the better and lifted a significant percentage of the population out of abject poverty. This was made possible through sacrifices of selfless members of the TPLF/EPRDF party and we salute our martyrs for this. The prime minister must give credit where credit is due. I am not of the opinion that the EPRDF party can do no wrong. It has made many mistakes, but, with all its shortcomings, it oversaw the opening of many universities, inaugurated investment parks in many cities, embarked upon building many mega-hydroelectric dams, including the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, and managed to register continuous double digit economic growth, albeit the lack of fair distribution of wealth across the country (most of the wealth seems to be concentrated in bigger cities such as Addis-Ababa) to mention a few. For these and other achievements, the EPRDF party, if it still exists, is worthy of saving. As the Amharic saying goes, “yekotun awerd bila, yebibitwan talech,” (rough translation: Stretching to get what is on the loft, she dropped what she was holding in her armpit), is fitting here.