In a bold experiment, Ethiopia’s ambition to put citizenship over ethnicity

By Frida Ghitis|worldpolitics|

One of the most dramatic political twists of 2018 took place in Ethiopia, where the sudden rise of 42-year-old Abiy Ahmed as prime minister launched a series of head-spinning reforms in a country that was long governed by a deeply repressive regime. There is now the very real possibility that Ethiopia can make a lasting shift to democracy.

There are so many positive signs so far that most Ethiopians at home and abroad seem to be caught by a sense of euphoria. But not everything is good in Ethiopia. Abiy faces a number of significant barriers to its goal of pursuing a free, peaceful and genuinely competitive campaign when Ethiopia’s next election is scheduled for 2020. Among these challenges is the most difficult to transform the current political landscape, dominated by ethnic and tribal allegiances , to one where citizenship loyalty to the country as a whole ̵

 1; exceeds narrower divisions.
 Abiy is the first member of the Oromo ethnic group, which constitutes about one-third of Ethiopia’s 100 million strong population, to lead the Land. And he has launched a reform movement, remarkable, like the nominal leader of the ruling block, the Ethiopian people’s revolutionary democratic front, or the EPRDF, which has a long history of authoritarian rule. The EPRDF has effectively criminalized the opposition, obstructing critical media, engaging in increasingly brutal police practices, and filling the prisons with journalists and political prisoners.

A coalition of several ethnic groups, the EPRDF took power in 1991 after disrupting Mengistu Hailemariam’s military regime. Tigray People & # 39; s Liberation Front, or TPLF, came to dominate the EPRDF, securing the rights of the Tigray minority, equivalent to about 6 percent of Ethiopia’s population at the expense of the rest of the population. In addition to the TPLF, the EPRDF includes the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, the Amhara National Democratic Movement and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement.

By its rule, the EPRDF has intensified ethnic departments in Ethiopia. After taking power, it established a federal system based on its ethnic differences, such as cemented ethnicity as the legal basis for political competition. With more than 80 ethnic groups in a country divided into nine ethnically defined regions, the potential for conflict such as Tigrayan’s monopoly power grew. As remorse against the Tigray-dominated EPRDF rise, the government hit harder against dissent and earned Ethiopia an unpleasant place among the world’s “non-free” countries in Freedom House’s annual rankings.

These tensions went deep into the ruling EPRDF. At the beginning of the year, Aby’s Oromo Democratic party joined Amharas to head a coup in the EPRDF, which led Abiy first to chair the governing block and then the prime minister.

Once upon a time, Abiy quickly moved to introduce his significant reforms. He reached a peace agreement with neighboring Eritrea, which ended two decades of war. He released thousands of political prisoners, freed all journalists, lifted the ban on opposition groups and reshaped the government, slashing the number of positions from 28 to 20 and naming women half of the posts. Their role is not just symbolic. Women were named to lead the powerful Department of Defense and the new Ministry of Peace, which will be responsible for intelligence and security. In addition, Ethiopia now has a woman as the most ceremonial president and a woman as chief judge.

Aby’s empowerment of women has the potential to exploit women’s support regardless of their ethnic credibility, which would be crucial to the success of his reform program. When resistance leaders returned home last year, Abiy and his representatives repeatedly stated their goal: to build a lasting democracy in Ethiopia.

But signs of problems quickly emerged. Tigrayans, who are responsible for losing most of Aby’s reforms, quickly protested against their peace deal with Eritrea, and outbreaks of ethnic struggle suddenly escalated.

Conflicts list within the Ethiopian government bloc is huge, and the potential for any of those escalating out of control cannot be discounted.

A dizzying range of swimming ethnic conflicts has then flared up.
For example, several disputes concerning national requirements have become violent. IN The Tigray region in the northwest, claims Amharas ownership of the Wolkite and Raya territories, resulting in conflicts.

Oromos and ethnic Somalis have also fought over pastures,
while ethnic clashes have eruptions in the cities of Awassa and Sodo in South, leaving hundreds dead.

In the capital Addis Ababa, Tensions grow between Oromos, currently the most powerful members of EPRDF, and Amharas, their partners to push aside Tigrayans. Oromo Democratic Party has long claimed Addis Ababa as Oromia’s capital, their ethnic region. But the majority of The city’s population is ethical Amhara, who rejects Oromo’s demands.

The list of disputes is huge and the potential of any of them to
escalating out of control cannot be discounted. Moreover, it is likely economic slowdown would undermine Abie’s personal appeal, which remains one of his most powerful tools.

The challenge for Abiy and his reformist allies are strengthening the Ethiopian bonds to the state,develop credible national institutions and create a credible mechanism
to resolve inflamed ethnic disputes while encouraging
his democratic program. He already connects legislation and staff
Changes aimed at that goal, but he may have to go ahead and rewrite one
constitution that institutionalized tribalism through a system of
ethnic federalism.

The risks are palpable, as residents of Addis Two months ago, Adaba saw a group of armed soldiers ominously marched to the prime minister’s office. The government shut down Internet as rumors of a coup began to spread. The next day, Abiy fans
was delighted to see videos from the youthful president exercising with the troops – the situation disappeared. The prime minister said the soldiers had actually come to kill him, but he listened to his complaints and everything ended on good terms.

The event got better publicity for Ethiopia’s new charismatic leader. But that’s a sign of how his ambitions for the country could easily go off the rails. It would be a tragedy for the Ethiopian people and a vanishing development after a year where Ethiopia was one of the few bright spots that Autocrats and right-wing populists made profits all over the world.

Frida Ghitis is a world specialist columnist. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is a regular contributor to CNN and The Washington Post. Her WPR column appears every Thursday. Follow her on Twitter at @fridaghitis .


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