Ethiopia’s new cabinet will include ministry of peace, but key questions remain

By Yohannes Gedamu |Daily Sabah

Prime Minister Abiy’s term promises the implementation of impressive reforms for Ethiopia, giving hope for a more peaceful, integrated and stable future

Widely reported cases of civil unrest in Ethiopia’s restive Oromia and Amhara regions had almost put the country’s ruling coalition, in power since 1991, to the brink of collapse. Before Ethiopians’ from those regions joined calls for democracy and economic fairness, much of the political protests in the country were mostly limited to the capital, Addis Ababa, a city where security is always tight and armed soldiers on Toyota pickups is a common sight.

In the wake of 2005’s much-contested albeit fraudulent elections in Ethiopia for instance, residents of Addis protested the results of the election and subsequent decrees of state of emergency by the country’s leader, the late Meles Zenawi. The protests ended with hundreds murdered and thousands jailed. Since then, Addis became a city where open criticism of the regime is dangerous and its citizens’ political participation remain mostly limited to social media, carried out under pseudonym accounts.

It is when the politically conscious citizens of Addis slowed their open anger against the regime that the countries’ two largest regions and their respective citizens emerged with timely calls for democracy, rule of law and political and economic equality. To the dismay of elites in the ruling coalition, such minor protests became uncontrollable. Many lost their lives for the cause of democracy. Civil disobedience became common. Destruction of government properties and series of clashes between the raging youth and the regime’s security forces put the country future in the state of unknown.

Farmers from Gondar and their quickly formed militias in the Amhara region fought with the Ethiopian army. Amhara youth from Gondar, Gojjam and Wello provided the ultimate test for the Ethiopian federal police and military forces. Meanwhile, the Qeerro, group of Oromo youth in much of Central Ethiopia played an insurmountable role in destabilizing the regime’s security forces and the government at large. Road closures and economic boycotts that occurred in much of Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest region, further paralyzed the country’s fragile economy.

The ruling coalition’s reforms

Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, EPRDF, was left with no options and opened doors to reforms. The regime acknowledged that it has lost public trust and promised to make amends for it. Such actions of reform made EPRDF’s survival very much certain.

Hailemariam Dessalegn, Ethiopia’s Premier since 2012 resigned. Abiy Ahmed, a young reformer took the reins of government. Since then, the reforms have been dramatic and the country’s politics for the last six months has been in a state of transformation. With a historic peace agreement signed with Eritrea and resumption of people to people relations, East Africa’s politics of violence is now replaced by talks of economic integration.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that Ethiopians seem content and patient with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration and its efforts to transform the country’s political and economic outlooks, flurries of ethnic conflict and evictions of people merely based on their ethnicity have posed greater challenges to the stability of the state. The government’s efforts to calm ethnic tensions and to resettle the evicted are praiseworthy. Nevertheless, the fact that such responses are slow has become unsettling to much of the country’s citizenry.

A ministry of peace?

It was at this critical juncture the ruling coalition concluded its general assembly meeting in early October. At the meeting, reform leaders with enormous public backing have been re-elected by the central committee. Thus, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has found an opportunity to reassemble his cabinet for the second time this year and to present his vision for the country at the parliament’s second meeting since Ethiopian new year, celebrated on Sept. 11.Among the most expected outcomes of the cabinet reshuffle, the downsizing of cabinet departments from 28 to 20 has caught many eyes.

Even more, Prime Minister Abiy’s new cabinet will now include a Ministry of Peace, which will be an inauguration of a new ministerial department designed with hopes of improving ethnic relations in the country and work towards peace and reconciliation among citizens that have been ravaged by unprecedented levels of ethnic tensions over the last two decades.Such moves by Abiy definitely show his administration’s desire to pursue an agenda of creating a peaceful and more tolerant country. However, such an interesting move has also missed some crucial points. First of all, the ruling coalition appears to have underestimated the major causes of ethnic tensions in the country – the regime’s extreme emphasis on ethnic politics and its prioritization of the group rights agenda. This is not to argue that group rights matter less to that of the individual rights.

However, the fact that more emphasis is given to group grievances has left the need to respect individual rights last in the pecking order of the rights agenda. Abiy’s government should take into consideration that in a multiethnic Ethiopian state with Africa’s second highest population size, anything less than the need to promote citizenship politics could prolong ethnic tensions even further.

It’s understandable that many political organizations have opted to organize along ethnic fault lines, with goals of prioritizing ethnic interests over that of citizenship politics, which primarily focus on respecting individual liberties. And such challenges are not to be undermined. However, the fact that the EPRDF’s ruling coalition remains the most powerful political force in the country means that the eventual decisions the front makes could have serious transformational effects on the country’s politics at large.

What should the ministry prioritize?

Here it is important to note that the introduction of a new cabinet that works on Ethiopia’s peace is admirable. But the regime must also look into ways to reform the country’s fragile ethnic federal arrangement that has created two layers of ethnic regional administrations, with some peripheral states dubbed developing regimes and others considered developed. Such an institutional design has precipitated ethnic competitions, the race for resources as well as unprecedented levels of irredentist claims within the same polity.

Moreover, the ruling coalition will also look beyond the ideals of survivalist politics and its leaders need to focus on the most important legacies that they could leave behind instead of merely executing the party agenda. Reform leaders’ crucial legacies should point to aims, such as peaceful coexistence of groups and reinvigorated Ethiopian nationalism, which could be achieved through the promotion of citizenship politics.

If the current impressive reforms could take into consideration the ideals mentioned above, Abiy’s administration, already in its infancy, could end up being one of the most consequential political administrations in Ethiopia’s modern political era.

My hope is that Ethiopia’s new Ministry of Peace and its officials would also take those thoughts very seriously since their efforts guided by those principles could serve the interest of Ethiopians better.

* Lecturer in political science at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville; Ethiopia and Horn of Africa analyst

1 COMMENT

  1. We need a radical change
    I thought the main reason why people sacrificed their lives all these years was for a radical change. It seems to me GOD gave a chance for the people and the so-called TPLF + 3 other servant organized Criminals to use the opportunity to learn from the past and to create a peaceful transition for a people based institutions. What it means is the TPLF and its supporter 3 other servant groups need to forward to justice all the Criminals who have committed a brutal and inhuman act against the people for the last 3 decays to face accountability. The people also need to stop fooling around the political groups who are always using them for their own power interest.
    Yes, the way the change in Ethiopia has happened in unimaginable time and way; I think the reason for that was because the people in different parts of the Country were doing struggle without any coordination for so many years, and there was no result; the main reason for that was because people are lost in the ethnicity ideology and forgot their humanity. We have seen and heard a lot of cruelty by the TPLF and other 3 servant political group forces. What I think is GOD followed all these conditions patiently and he knows that there is no solution other than keep going that way and taking the lives of a few courageous people who are always stand up for their God-given birthrights; as we all know the majority was and has been flowing with the situation, and not standing up forward with those who are brave and fearless for their right, and it is also true that because of the Clapp of the so-called majority for the new turn coming group on power, the brave people are also inforced to live under the brutal life without their own interest. So that is why GOD gave this opportunity for the people to use it wisely. The first thing people should do was thanking GOD for the opportunity and make themselves to think back like a human and get out of language-based ethnicity group thought, and then they will be able to sit down and talk each other to solve the problems they have in the past. Remember this opportunity was given by GOD both for the people and the criminal groups as well. What we saw from the people side was, they are intoxicated by the lip service of Abeye Ahmed, who did a speech of Ethiopianism and people gave a credit for this man and his group members for the change that was given by GOD, which is very dangerous if we can not quickly back to ourselves and get back to the chance that was given by GOD and start to use it wisely to find a resolution for all our futurity. Believe me, if we are not using it cleverly the criminal groups are using us to buy time to save themselves back in a different way and once they gain the upper hand they will start back to show us their mussels of power again. So instead of fooling around it is better to get together as a human and dismantle the previous brutal institutions and struggle to change them with a people based institutions quickly now, and stop sleeping with a leap service of Abeye and stand up for your own right of having your own institutions.
    Because of the light of change turned on by GOD that you can see, but you can not control it up to this point; you probably think that TPLF is gone, but in reality, it is not. Yes as a strategy, TPLF criminals are in Tigray for now, but one thing you should know is TPLF is still playing games behind the scene. There are 2 main reasons why we are not seeing TPLF as a front-runner:- 1- Especially, because of the recent last 3 years experience they had, they already knew that the Ethiopian people don’t want to see them, so they don’t want to escalate the situation by being at the front, and that is why they chose to play games in the background. 2-Yes the other 3 servant groups also tired of being dominated by TPLF and they want their share of real power, but that doesn’t mean they are going to dismantle their common criminal group name of EPRDF with TPLF.
    What I see is, even if TPLF doesn’t want to give up a power to other 3 servant groups, there is no other alternative of survival and continuity without any accountability for the crime they have done for all these years. So, yes they are not happy about it, but they are enforced by the situation, and they will accept it for their own existence. Unless you want to deny it, you have seen their meeting individually as TPLF and also other 3 groups, and also together as EPRDF, and you don’t know what their goal is, that is a hidden story. So what we obviously see right now is the so-called EPRDF’s leading party is OPDO, which means most key institutions used to be occupied by Tigrigna speakers has been replaced by Oromigna speakers. If we still don’t get the point, Abeye has been playing a game to replace Tigregna by Oromigna speakers. You are probably thinking that Abey is not thinking ethnically but as Ethiopia as a whole, yes you are right, strategically he is; I don’t know for how long, he looks like in front of the people, but don’t forget how many times he lied to you in different situations, unless you want to give a credit for his lies too. The behavior you see in Abeye is not new, it happened during the Melese time as well, even if that was in a different situation, and it is a strategy of politicians to buy time until they stand very well on their ground. For example, I don’t remember for how long, but you remember Melese gave freedom of speech and other stuff for a while. The reason why he did that was when his TPLF tugs march to Addis they had only carried guns not another thing, so all the beurocracy in all government organizations was the same that was there for several years and he knows very well that he can not fulfill his idea of destroying Ethiopianism without changing that with his own people, and also he knows that will take time to find the right people, who are trusted for his ideology. So that is why he used it and looks like nice to buy time for himself, and I don’t want to get into details, but the same applies to what Abeye is doing right now.
    To conclude, if you don’t see what I see, I am sorry to say that, but you need to wake up from your deep sleep of Abeye syndrome. It seems to me the Criminal TPLF + 3 other groups are using the opportunity to save themselves without any accountability and continue to be on power by showing a different ethnic group face at the front, so that is what the role of Abeye. Don’t depend on another person for your own GOD given right; you need to stand up for your individual right. When we all came to this world, God gave us our own individual right, so don’t be confused by the political and ethnic groups who are misleading you to focus on ethnicity (so-called BEHERE BEHERESEBE NON-EXISTING THEORY) for their own interest of power. You need to get out of the BEHERE BEHERESEBE game because there is no such thing; you need to stand up for your own individual GOD given freedom. Yes, there are many languages and cultures in Ethiopia, but those don’t change your human identity because anybody can be borne or move to any part of the country, and learn and adopt the language and culture of the area he lives in.
    GOD BLESS ETHIOPIA!!!

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