How Abiy is heralding Eritreanization of Ethiopia!
Tedros A. Tsegay 11-14-20
What might await Ethiopians is Eritreans’ fate
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Abiy Ahmed is at war with his own people. He has ordered all state power at his disposal to annihilate the Tigrayan People Liberation Front (TPLF) by opening war from almost all fronts, including from Eritrea using Eritrean soldiers according to eyewitness account, who crossed the border into the Sudan. No body knows for sure the extent of the damage, as the PM ordered all forms of communication blackout in Tigray, thus mobile, internet and telecommunication services have been terminated. Some aptly called the civil war ‘a war without image.’
In this article, I will argue how Abiy Ahmed with his declaration of war in Tigray is heralding Eritreanization of Ethiopian political landscape to purge his opponents and maintain uncontested power. He is replicating President Esaias Afewerki’s tactic employed in 1998 in Eritrea to control power indefinitely by demising his foes. After reading this article you will clearly understand the war in Tigray is all about Abiy’s dismal ambition for control of state power indefinitely, like his counterpart in Asmara.
Albeit at a face value one may find subtle differences between these two seemingly unique leaders but there is one major factor that unites them, their acute obsession for power control. At the heart of the senseless war in Tigray lies Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s dream of Kingship, in doing so redefining the future of Ethiopian and by extension Eritrean political landscape for good.
When war broke out between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1998, I was a reporter in Eritrea. The contemporary developments in Ethiopia, reminds me now how President Esaias then deceived the Eritrean public in drawing the nation into a meaningless war solely engineered by himself. Like majority of Ethiopians these days, many Eritreans including intellectuals and journalists were misled by Eseyas’s narration that ‘Ethiopia invaded sovereign Eritrean territory’. Now majority of Eritreans have come to realize it was only a carefully orchestrated drama by President Esaias by manipulating Eritreans’ patriotism spirit. By creating an external enemy ‘the Weyane Junta’ deflected every one’s attention from internal affairs. Crisis management as a political theory in hindering internal reforms is proven to be a successful method by dictators. National crisis often man-made like internal or external wars are perfect opportunities for dictators in denying their people their individual rights and use such crisis as a scape goat for any criticism of failure in delivering promised reforms.
Abiy Ahmed has now created an internal enemy, urging the Ethiopian people to put all their focus on the war he instigated, like Esaias in 1998. The narration conveyed to the Ethiopian people is to ascertain law and order in Ethiopia the enemy TPLF must be demised. The Prime Minister has consistently been using the state-owned media like Fana and EBC, in demonizing the TPLF for months prior to the declaration of all-out war. In similar parallel Eritrean president also effectively used public media in his war effort against Ethiopia.
In a democracy, ideas should be defeated by a counter idea, doing so averts conflict. What makes Abiy Ahmed’s declaration of war in Tigray even more dangerous is his effort to annihilate a political organization with a barrel of a gun instead of using the ballot box. Using the state power at his disposal he may succeed in deposing the TPLF from power but never in defeating their ideas. This will create a conducive atmosphere for insurgency, placing Ethiopia back to the era of the Derg regime.
Abiy might have calculated to convert this state of instability to his own advantage in deflecting the Ethiopian people’s attention from demanding democratic reform and social justice. Understanding what happened in Eritrea will help to fathom, what is about to happen in Ethiopia. It is the writers sincere hope that this article would help to enlighten Ethiopians thereby to avert Eritreanization of Ethiopia.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been romanticizing President Esaias Afewerki ever since he took power in April 2018. One could only wonder why a presumably a reformist young leader, conservative evangelical Christian could idolize a president deemed by the international community as a despot.
Abiy needed Esaias to neutralize his opponents stationed in Eritrea, but above all it was the TPLF factor. Abiy and Esaias’s friendship is not based on ideological grounds but rather by a mutual enemy, the TPLF. In addition, Abiy needed Esaias for one other reason, in learning how to exert maximum state power indefinitely. One could easily guess from thirty years of Esaias’s presidentship certainly Abiy has a lot to learn.
I will argue how Abiy Ahmed learned a good lesson from his close mentor President Esaias in staying in power indefinitely without conducting elections. In one meeting with the residents of Axum, Abiy Ahmed echoed how one could easily stay in power without conducting elections, by saying ‘’we know there are some governments in power for thirty years without conducting elections.’’ Many people assume he was referring Eritrean dictator Esaias Afewerki’s almost 30 years of power grab.
It seems for now overwhelmingly ethnic Amhara’s and albeit some from other ethnic groups are supporting Abiy Ahmed’s nihilistic approach in demising the TPLF from power. Like many Eritreans who were preoccupied in 1998 by the border conflict with Ethiopia, no one payed attention to the fact that Eritrea was supposed to conduct its first national election in the same year. An election that never took place ever after.
In 1998 every Eritrean’s attention was directed on the ongoing war, including the then thriving private newspapers became instruments of propaganda on almost equal basis to that of government owned medias.
Today in Ethiopia, one can easily observe striking similarities, many so-called journalists or youtubers are becoming government mouthpiece, war mongers, some even echoing ethnic cleansing sentiments towards ethnic Tigrayans.
What is even more alarming in Abiy’s Ethiopia, seeing government owned televisions stations airing genocidal sentiments; one such example is a call to annihilate the Tigrayans by L/General Bacja Debelle after accusing them of commuting ‘horrendous’ atrocities. Whatever crime may be committed by any group, a responsible government could not justify using genocidal tones in demonizing one section of a country. Such sentimental propagations could create a far more reaching deadly consequences and could even lead to replica of modern-day Rwandan Genocide.
The fact that the PM called the once retired general back into service, is indicative of how he is maneuvering the war in its very detail behind the scenes.
The massacre that took place in May Kadra is reminiscent of the upcoming threat awaiting to unfold unless the PM puts the interest of his country above his personal power whims. The PM still could deter the unfolding crisis from spilling over to a point of no return by giving a chance for negotiation without precondition.
The government has now launched a campaign of ethnic profiling of Tigrayan decent. What makes the situation even more alarming is not only the governments irresponsible conduct, but some sections of the Ethiopian public seem to celebrate seeing incarceration of fellow countrymen. Ethnical polarization especially between the Amhara’s and Tigrayans is alarming, it seems all the prerequisites for genocide are now in place, in the presence of a hostile social media funning the flame.
When war broke out in 1998 many Tigrayan residents of Eritrea were killed by civilians and security agents accused of sympathizing with Ethiopia. Likewise, many Eritreans living in Ethiopia faced similar fate of persecution and deportation. Even today many Eritreans and Ethiopians have deep resentments due to the persecution they encountered in those days. One could easily conclude, how the current marginalization and profiling of Tigrayans living in the rest of Ethiopia by Abiy Ahmed solely based on their ethnicity could harm their sense of belonginess in Ethiopia for generations to come.
Abiy postponed national election siting the corona virus as a threat. The TPLF suspect Abiy is up-to be undoing their pride of social contract, a constitution with federal government structure. The constitution is like a bible for the TPLF, one where they paid a huge price and thus unfathomable to compromise. Abiy who despise the federal government structure echoing his philosophy of ‘ ‘Medemer’ synergy is suspected by the TPLF, his final objective is in enforcing his will by creating a unitary government, one that he commands from the center. Unfortunately, Ethiopians by enlarge Tigrayans in particular will have to pay a huge price once again in averting Abiys forceful ‘MEDEMER’ agenda.
However, what is at stake is Ethiopia’s very existence as a country, Ethiopians have been enjoying relative freedom and peace during the EPRDF regime, but those freedoms will be gradually eroded siting national security as a pretext. Journalists will be imprisoned and private media critical of the PM could face the risk of closure.
I will closely scrutinize the major factors that determine the fate of Eritrea into an endless misery in the guise of national service and how the Eritrean president perfectly carried out his long-term agenda of power monopoly strategy from the outset. Let us see what is happening in Ethiopia today in the context of the period in Eritrea between 1998 up-to 2003.
Postponement of Election
Eritrea had a constitution ratified in 1997 after four years of debate by the public. National election was planned to be held in 1998. President Esaias who enjoyed wide support went into unprovoked war with Ethiopia. From 1991 up to 1998 Eritrea and Ethiopia enjoyed a relative peace and the border was free for civilians to cross without visa restrictions and both countries used the ‘Birr’ as a common currency.
Unexpectedly in 1997, President Esaias introduced a new currency ‘Nakfa’ without consenting the government in Ethiopia. Disagreement arose in exchange and Ethiopians issued their own new currency making the birr in the possession Eritrean government void. Thus, the rift between the two countries ushered, I would nevertheless argue the very reason for discontent was politically motivated than economic.
Finally, Esaias used Badme a small border village as a pretext in instigating the war. Many Eritreans took up arms in defending their country, after they were being told the TPLF invaded Eritrea. The regime in Eritrea used old sentiments and atrocities committed by the Derg and Haileselase regimes in galvanizing support for the war, which eventually ended with Esaias’s humiliating defeat in all three rounds of wars.
In similar contrast, Abiy Ahmed decided to postpone the national election siting the Corona virus as a hindrance. The TPLF rejected this decision and conducted their own election unilaterally at a regional level. The TPLF viewed Abiy Ahmed as a leader without legal tenure thus considering him as illegitimate. Abiy deeply infuriated, took all measures to outlaw, and punish the TPLF and the Tigray people by extension by denying them access to a federal fund.
The TPLF suspect Abiy Ahmed’s postponement of the election was testament for buying time in eventually declaring the constitution as null and void. However, he could not do so without destroying the TPLF first, who were the main architect of the constitution.
Abiy found a perfect ally in Asmara, a leader with a deeply held grudges against the TPLF elites simply because of the choice they made for solving Ethiopia’s century’s old political quagmire.
As an Eritrea I am always mesmerized by Esaias’s obsession or romance with Ethiopia, as a leader who spend over to dozen years in the jungle fighting for Eritrean independence. Ever since Abiy came to power Eritreans have come to realize Esaias’s true colors. In one occasion he declared Ethiopians and Eritreans are one people to the fury of many Eritreans even some of his die-hard supporters began to question his intentions.
The War against TPLF by Abiy can be contrasted with the war against Ethiopia by Esaias in 1998. Siting the prevailing war with Ethiopia, Esaias unilaterally decided to postpone the national election which was planned to be held in 1998 indefinitely. Eritrea has never conducted election ever since, even though the war was concluded in 2000.
Abiy has now started the war with Tigray, no body knows now how long this war will last. But there is one thing Ethiopians should be certain about, perhaps there will never be any election in Ethiopia for many years to come provided Abiy succeeded to enforce his will.
Abiy will use the state of emergency in Tigray in extending the election further. Frustrated opposition leaders will end up in jail accused of treason or could simply be black mailed as sympathizers of TPLF or ONEG. After all Kings need not conduct elections. Gone are the days were Ethiopians were enjoying relative freedom of speech and sham elections during the EPRDF era. Welcome to Eritreanization of Ethiopia.
Limiting freedom of speech
In the eve of the start of war with Ethiopia 1998 several private newspapers emerged in Eritrea. Initially almost all the newspapers were supporters of the governments war campaign, some journalists even joined the army as soldiers and went to the frontline.
However, when the war ended many senior government officials began to ask questions on how the president lead the war and demanded for a national election. These group often referred as group-15, or G-15, used the then thriving private newspapers to utter their resentment against the president.
President Esaias under the shadow of the terrorist attack in the United States in September 11,2001, decided to imprison all his political opponents and journalists. For almost 20 years they are still perishing in prison without facing trial. Their crime, ‘treason’ for simply raising questions against the malevolent leadership of the president in handling of the war. In striking contrast PM Abiy declared war on the day of US presidential election the 3rd of November primarily to deflect the attention of the international community, a lesson he learned from his mentor Esaias.
The Eritrean regime decided to close all the then thriving private medias for good dashing the hopes and optimisms of Eritreans seeing a prosperous democratic country.
Abiy’s long-term hegemonic dream could not be materialized by allowing freedom of expression. His end goal is to stay in power indefinitely, to achieve that he must intimidate journalists in enforcing self-censorship, something that we are already witnessing. Dictators could sacrifice everything to stay in power, thus the war in Tigray is not an end but a means to an end for Abiy’s gamble for power.
Abiy Ahmed has already started similar campaign of eradicating his foes either by assassination or imprisonment. Ever since, he came to power several prominent Ethiopians have been assassinated. Some imprisoned on politically motivated charges like Lidetu Ayalew, Jewar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba etc. It is inevitable the rest of his political foes would also follow suit soon once he perceived them as a challenge to his throne.
Ruling by fear
If Abiy Ahmed succeeds in deposing the TPLF leadership from power, he will lead Tigray under the state of emergency for years to come. It is one thing to control a territory but winning the hearts and minds of the people would be a daunting task to accomplish taking into consideration his belligerent actions against the Tigray people. Thus, the fate of Tigray could be a military administrated zone, effectively converting Tigray into an Ethiopian Falluja. Thus, Abiy will drag the war in Tigray for a longer period, provided he could not create other crisis in the rest of the country. Abiys’ Medemer philosophy could change ethnic based administrative geographic structure, but it could fall short of addressing Ethiopian peoples’ basic demand for a better socio-economic life.
Tigrayans’ who resent his administration will eventually continue a new armed struggle against Abiy government and this will also help him use as an excuse for renewing the state of emergency nationally. In the meantime, Abiy could sign official military cooperation agreement with his counterpart in Asmara forging a common military station in both countries. This will further strengthen Esaias’s grip to power, as Eritreans will face the mighty Ethiopian army for any future struggle for political change. After the ascension of PM Abiy to power, Eritreans struggle for democratic change become even more bleak. Eritrean affair has now become Ethiopian affair and vice versa. But this unprecedented development will also once again unite Eritreans and the Tigrayans, in fighting a common enemy the axis of Abiy-Esaias powers.
We have observed how President Esaias used the war with Ethiopia in strengthening his power for decades, likewise Abiy will use the War in Tigray as a perfect opportunity to rule Ethiopia by fear.
Now many Ethiopians, who disdain the TPLF are preoccupied in seeing their demise, but Abiy is perfectly playing a long-term game in deflecting the democratization agenda. Demanding respect of human rights and freedom of speech will be deemed as an unpatriotic act or one could even face persecution as a traitor reminiscent of Derg’s Ethiopia First (Ethiopia Tikdem) mantra. Ethiopia is indeed quickly descending into contemporary Eritrea’s’ state of agony.
It is heartbreaking to see history repeating itself and innocent blood is shade simply for materializing an individual’s power ambition. Abiy Ahmed was once called the pride of Africa, as a young leader with a prestigious Nobel Prize at his back, many hoped he would inspire future generation of Africans by living what he preached. Unfortunately, like his predecessor he too became intoxicated by power euphoria, heralding the misfortune of millions of Ethiopians.
Perhaps many Ethiopians are emotionally driven now on the war in Tigray, however, one thing is certain, the demise of TPLF could not solve their demands for socio-economic justice. The war will further cripple the struggling economy of the country further exposing millions of Ethiopians in unwarranted suffering.
Amidst all this crisis ordinary citizens will only be preoccupied with their day to day survival and Abiy will try to continue to manipulate the wider public by managing the crisis he authored through a persistent propaganda.
In conclusions, I would like to stress once again, what is happening in Tigray is not about keeping law and order, but it is all about Eritreanization of Ethiopia. Ethiopians should avert that scenario before it is too late.
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