Viewpoint

Nine-point plan to haul Ethiopia out of its quagmire

Ethiopia’s election should be postponed and a transitional technocratic government installed to avoid unimaginable strife.

An overly simplistic narrative of the past three decades is that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) taught Ethiopian nations and nationalities to express their political consciousness.

However, calls for ethnic justice were at the heart of the 1960s Ethiopian Student Movement, years before TPLF’s founding.  In particular, it was Wallelign Mekonenn’s article “On the Question of Nationalities in Ethiopia,” published in the student movement’s journal Struggle in November 1969, that brought ethnic politics to the center.

But, even before that, ethnicity has been a common way of identifying Ethiopians. For example, in 1956, the Ethiopian representative at a student debate on prejudice was introduced by the interviewer as “Amhara by race.”

The Oromo Liberation Front, formed out of a self-aware Oromo nationalist movement, was established in the early 1970s. It wasn’t until 1975 that the Tigrayan nationalist party, later known as the TPLF, was formed.

Hence, blaming the rise of self-determination movements rooted in ethnonationalism solely on TPLF is at best a sign of ill-informed analysis, and at worst a sign of underlying prejudice.

At the same time, the way TPLF tried to resolve the age-old questions of nations and nationalities in Ethiopia can be criticized severely. Over 27 years, so many of the social aspects which are essential for nation-building were neglected or attacked for the sake of consolidating power over contenders.

Now, we have come to the point where division along ethnic lines is causing the country to unravel at its seams.

There is an immense effort needed to strengthen social relations across all groups in Ethiopia. This can only be achieved through processes that nurture trust—especially in institutions that are supposed to maintain law and order.

While ethnic federalism has been one way to address issues of ethnic justice and rights, we have also experienced its destabilizing effects. Therefore, alternative ways for imagining Ethiopia’s political organization are necessary. Indeed,  there should be gradual steps away from the current federal system. But this requires serious and concerted attention to resolve the conflicts that have been created by an imagined juxtaposition between two visions of Ethiopianism—roughly, ‘unified, one Ethiopia’ and ‘multinational Ethiopia.’

There are two core political questions in Ethiopia today: one is the quest for real self-determination by nations and nationalities, and the other is the quest for strengthening national identity. Although these may appear conflicting, they shouldn’t be seen as such.

Currently, the ‘One Ethiopia’ camp is pulling apart threads at the opposite end of the political spectrum.  This group consists mostly of Amhara elites and other Amharic-speaking urban Ethiopians who are from mixed backgrounds. People clustered around this pole have been listening to a specific narration of Ethiopian identity that they keep dearly to their hearts.

This ‘One-Ethiopia’ group poses an existential threat to the country as long as it continues to force a one-sided Ethiopian identity narration. In a country so diverse, one cannot expect any unanimous adoption of historical narratives. It is only natural to have a multifaceted understanding of historical events.

For example, with regards to the legacy of Emperor Menelik II, the victory of Adwa, and atrocities committed during the military campaign to the south, public discussions, debate, and further study are essential. There is no reason why opening up the historical conversation and widening the narrative should be an obstacle to nation-building.

Dealing with conflicting narratives and nation-building requires wise leadership: leadership that is willing and competent to conduct an all-inclusive national dialogue to try and reconcile competing versions of nationalism.

Tragically, the current leadership in Addis is chaotic and is increasingly becoming a liability. Abiy seems inclined to respond to the question of national identity with his philosophy of ‘Medemer’, which critics rightly note lacks depth and clarity.

Abiy also responded to the dilemma through his actions during the reformation processes of the ruling party. What was initially presented as a process of democratization ended up as a repressive process where dissenting voices on the side of self-determination were squashed.

The activists, politicians, and political parties who have vocally defended and fought for the rights of nations and nationalities have been effectively dismantled and jailed. This represents a miscarriage of the process for consensus-based reform that began in 2018.

The current leadership and its Ethiopianist supporters hope the upcoming election will be a source of legitimacy for implementing the vision they have for the country. However, the signals we see within the regional and federal governments are distressing indicators of what is to come.

For example, in the last parliamentary session, Oromia Prosperity Party representatives openly accused Amhara security forces of conducting ethnic cleansing on Oromo people in North Shewa. Meanwhile, the narrative of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Tigray has taken hold in international media, damaging Ethiopia on the world stage, and possibly even threatening our ability to receive necessary aid in a time of serious and widespread economic hardship.

Considering the raging war in Tigray, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) insurgency in Oromia, growing land disputes and communal conflicts elsewhere, and the increasing division within the ruling party, this next election could collapse the state as we know it.

Yet, rather than working towards viable solutions, people in positions of power such as Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonen call for arming civilians. This prepares a fertile ground for a civil war.

Given all these factors, the installation of a transitional technocratic government with a clear mandate can avert imminent disintegration.

The Prime Minister, his party, and the federal government have a central role in this process. They must recognize the multifaceted problems that could lead to total state collapse and initiate the path towards the formation of a transitional government.

Indeed, by abdicating some power for the sake of necessary national stability, Abiy and his government would demonstrate wise and humble leadership that would show Ethiopians that they are worthy of managing the exceptional needs of our country at this time.

The technocratic government can be established with ministerial cabinets formed by independent and non-partisan experts from different fields and backgrounds. The experts must not belong to any political party and should be citizens widely respected by society.

The transitional authority should be established both regionally as well as nationally. Moreover, for the solution to properly work, military power must be consolidated.

While the transitional technocratic government focuses on ensuring stability in the country, the Prosperity Party, as well as other political parties, can prepare to compete in a fair and democratic election. The vote would take place once some basic degree of national stability has been achieved. Now, however, is not that time.

Below is a bold, nine-point action plan that outlines national priorities and suggests solutions to address the crisis we face. The legalities and practicalities of the action points below—including establishing a transitional technocratic government—should be assessed and elaborated on by experts before the situation worsens.

Nine-point plan

1. Postpone the upcoming election and establish a transitional technocratic government that can prepare the ground for a free and fair election. This is absolutely crucial in order to avoid unimaginable conflict. The lifespan of the technocratic transitional government shall be a maximum of three years.

2. Assimilate all regional forces under the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) as soon as possible after passing a decree through the House of Federation. Conduct reform and capacity-building processes to strengthen unity within ENDF and allegiance to the constitution.

3. Remove Eritrean and regional forces from Tigray. Given the state of the conflict and the role that various forces, including ENDF, have played in perpetuating targeted violence against civilians, it would be best to allow an international peacekeeping army to establish order in the region. Nonpartisan international peacekeepers would need to disarm or integrate Tigray Defense Forces into regional or national security forces.

4. Establish a technocratic transitional government in Tigray. As with the representatives in other regions, this temporary government should consist of well-respected and widely accepted members of society who can build consensus and work towards reconciliation.

5. Release Oromo political prisoners, including Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba, and their allies. Then, initiate a peace and reconciliation process in Oromia, providing a path for the OLA to reintegrate with regional or national security forces. The Oromia region shall also install a transitional technocratic government.

6. Complete similar peace and reconciliation process in Amhara and other regions with all opposition parties involved. Similarly, install regional transitional technocratic governments.

7. Start the process of national reconciliation and dialogue, which should include every region and representatives from all sectors of society. This process is necessary to establish a clear vision for Ethiopian nationalism and national identity. The process should be rooted in the principles laid out in the constitution, which should be respected by all until it is amended. Importantly, attempts to amend or change the constitution should not begin before a free and fair election is conducted.

8. Take appropriate measures to institutionalize and formalize the peace deal with Eritrea and nurture appropriate economic and political relationships. Integration with our neighbors, including Eritrea, should be based on the principles of mutual economic interests and development as well as a commitment to human rights and democratization. The Eritrean government should stay away from the internal matters of Ethiopia, and a healthy distance between the politics of Asmara and Addis Ababa should be maintained.

9. Negotiate a realistic and honest deal with Egypt and Sudan regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Hire neutral expert consultants whose assessments are accepted by all three countries. This third-party monitoring organization can conduct appropriate follow-up throughout the filling process of the dam and specify data exchange requirements.

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This is the author’s viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct clear factual errors.

Main photo: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed briefing the public about the constitutional conundrum that followed the postponement of the 2020 election and warning those who call for transitional government as a solution; 7 May 2020; ENA

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About the author

Mistir Sew

This is a generic byline for all anonymous authors. The anonymity could be because they fear repercussions, as they are not authorized by their employers to express their views publicly, or for other reasons.

28 Comments

  • I consider any proposal for postponment of election as a trap for another crisis. I read this in that spirit. But, also, I have another concern. Does the writer care for justice in any way? Where is the place of transitional justice?

    • This means that you have no idea what is up to come. Don’t you know also that controversial election would be the official end of the legitimacy of the incumbent goverment which is hanging on a thin thread of legitmacy? Don’t you understand that justice comes only after the killing stops? The proposed idea in the article seems to Salvage the charismatic factor of Abiy for the country to continue intact and to stop unecessary attrocities.

  • Yes. The sources of all the problem of this empire are mainly related to what the Abysinian emperors and their followers did. That has to be prperly addressed and healing of wounds of history takes place.

  • Ofcourse the deafening silence of the educated Ethiopian professionals has emboldened those on the spotlight to think that they are the only wisemen left in the country. Majority of these Ethiopians have mixed ethnic background either or do not actively subscribe to a specific ethinic activism. It doesn’t matter, though, their ethnic background as long as they were not active members of a political party, they can be qualified for the transitional government job.

    One can obviously expect such regional government level experts will have ethnic background of the majority of ethnic groups in the region. The only reason these capable Ethiopians stayed silent was due to the toxic nature of the political environment where reason and common sense haven’t had the rightful place. The Ethiopian Airlines is the best example of what Ethiopian professionals can achieve when the contemporary politicians stay at bay.

    With clear mandates and timeline these Ethiopian experts can navigate the country through this turbulent political environment. What we are seeing on the contrary is that religious preachers are competing in this coming election emboldened by the applauses they receive on their respective religious preaching stages. The path we are following now is leading to total absurdity where everyone will shout while covering their ears.

    Even without tapping into the professional talent pool of Ethiopian diaspora, there are more than enough number of capable Ethiopians in the country to handle such process. There are enough Engineers, Economists, Journalists, Athletes, University professors, Medical doctors, Researchers …. in every region in every ethnic group… just it has to be clearly defined mandate and strong security apparatus. They will deploy the full force of the rule of law apparatus essentially to keep the lives of citizens protected in every corner of the country and to make sure no political party will dare to play against the constitution of the country. With this in mind every political prisoners can be freed to sale their respective ideas.

  • This is based on the phantasmal assumption that there are a bunch of managers, engineers, experts who can run the government effectively without corruption, politicking and free of the powerful political interests. If there was so, we would have them.
    This is not based on political facts on the ground, but on the illusions of the author. Illusions don’t a reality make.

    This transition process for all its shortcomings was functioning okay until TPLF, paranoid of losing its grip on Ethiopia preemptively struck the state. TPLF calculated that the state is so weak that if it strikes at the strategic moment, it will galvanize the “federalist” forces and return to power at the helm, or as a junior partner of OLF or if this is not achievable, preside over independent Tigri. This calculation arouse out of a superiority complex of a “colonial” power mentality nurtured over 27 years.
    The result is the national catastrophe that we are in that the Abiy leadership is trying to dig out of.

    What was needed was a strategic patience by TPLF and OLF, OFECO, ala EZema, for this election and transition to continue while working peacefully for their turn to come power. That would have been sensible. That would allow Dawood Ibsa to raise his child in a peaceful land and bid his time. Now, we have a blood-socked Oromia, Tigri, and Ethiopia that is terrifying to watch. Don’t tell me OLF and TPLF have no hand in it.

    Just to sum up. The article has some good and genuine points. The thrust of the 9-point proposal and its theoretical underpinnings are unrealistic though.

    A country that pins its hopes on one or two elections can’t survive. Ethiopia must prevail or no one ethnic group will come out of this triumphant as the PM Abiy has often said.

    The alternative is the abyss.

  • Except #2 all are good and sound able. Number declares centralizing instead we need the opposite. The most point is the national dialogue that can only change the status quo. Generally the 9 points proposed are satisfactory.

  • The idea of a technocratic government seems to be a good plan, especially in a time when we the people, and by the looks of it, the government, has no idea what to do with the quagmire we find ourselves in. But a technocratic government led by who exactly? We are not a first world country that flows with rivers of knowledgeable and responsible people. We have a contaminated generation, so in short, as much as it is reasonable, a technocratic government will never be assembled, because we do not have competent people for this task. Credit should be given where it’s due, and I must admit it sounds like a good plan, but not for us. This entire approach was very well structured and factually based up until the author called for “the immediate release” of terrorists and criminals against not only the Ethiopian government, but also the Ethiopian people as well. “We can not facilitate the planting of the seeds of peace before we finish the tilling of our weed infested fields.” By releasing these pseudo-politicians back into the fold, we are adding fire onto the already emotionally volatile forest that is Ethiopia. In a time where official government post-holders and members are openly calling for bloodshed, what makes one think individuals like B. Gerba and J. Mohammed are not going to do the same? In fact they are only going to exacerbate this situation. Moving forward, I believe the window for reconciliation has already flown past us and by no means can we move towards sit down talks with affected members of our community that have lost or potentially might lose their loved ones in the near future as well. The prospects of reconciliation were thrown out the window when our government chose to ignore and condemn the killings of specific Ethiopians, whereas the deaths of other Ethiopians bring days of official mourning and a swift government response and investigation. All we ask for is a nation that treats us all the same, because we are the same. Whether you like it or not. A country that once led the hunting down of the dream of Pan-Africanism should and will never fall to the medieval thinking that is ethnic partisanship. Times have changed, it’s time the people do as well. Concerning Eritrean involvement, what does one expect the PM does instead? Surrounded by people who are emotionally drunk from the toxic bottles of ethnic nationalism, why would he not go to a body, which is Asmara, that has no hidden allegiances and will not lie or perpetuate lies behind his back? The culture of deceit is not exclusive to members at the top as well. There are rumors circulating that up to 1600 members of the ENDF have defected and joined the Shene militant group. The Prime Minister is facing betrayal after betrayal from members of the top of the tree to members at the root of it. He has made mistakes, that is a no-brainer, but he is allowed to do so. He is a human being when it’s all said and done and when one rips the fabric of the national palace and the glamour of the PM title that is wrapped around him, you find a man. A man with a wife and kids. Abiy Ahmed Ali is just as normal as you and I. Sadly, with his role as the leader of our nation, his mistakes are severely punished by unforgiving consequences. However, that is a responsibility that he chose to bear when he was sworn in. Now, in terms of potential solutions, I have not the faintest idea what to do with our nation to solve its problems. And that is ok. It is not a sin not to know. We are approaching uncharted territory here. Territory that has never been witnessed by any single nation on planet Earth before. That is why we need to keep an emotionally free and unbiased mindset moving forward. There are sacrifices that have been made in the name of our country. However, there are many more sacrifices that we are going to make to keep Ethiopia intact. We can’t let the people that have died as a result of their ethnicities, birthplaces, religions die in vain. We need to be brave and believe in time, we need to be patient and calm no matter how tumultuous times get, because although patience is extremely bitter, its fruit is sweet. Stay strong, believe with your hearts and act with your mind. Ethiopia will once again rise from her ashes. It’s what we do and will continue to do.

    – Written by a High School Senior that is currently living in Addis Abeba.

  • The diversity (and polarity) of the comments and reflections on the nine-point proposal itself is indicative of the need for an all-inclusive dialogue, at the very least.

  • “There are two core political questions in Ethiopia today: one is the quest for real self-determination by nations and nationalities, and the other is the quest for strengthening national identity. ” It’s funny how your core questions at this time is this. So detached from reality by either living in your own bubble or pure ignorance. The core question right now is our right to live. People in all corners of the country are being murdered as we speak. SMH.

  • This plan looks prepared by TPLF Junta, OLF, and Egypt, who want the instability and mess in Ethiopia. They want to disturb the country because they want the election to stop and release the criminals from jail. Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba are criminals. The election is not 100% free and fair, but still, we need the election to continue except for Tigray and some parts of Oromiya – Welega ZONE. The government should try to keep peace in Weleg ZONE to have a safe election. Benshangule and Oromiya Region should open for opposition parties to participate in the election. The Nine point plan is terrorist propaganda!

  • Most of the nine-point plan is good except for releasing Jawar and allies, and completely pulling out of tigrai.
    Ethiopia is already burning from ethnic politics. Doing those two things will add fuel to the fire.

  • Unfortunately our mandate expired incompetent Prime monster/Minster had brought Ethiopia into chaotic Genocidal state. Today’s Ethiopia is not the Ethiopia we used to know, even compare to the ugly gloomy days of Dergue Era.
    Today’s Ethiopias leadership personals is not only absent of all the norm of moral and cultural codes of human dignity that we Ethiopians used to.
    What is next is .., in total uncharted territory. Maybe, we should expect the unexpected.

  • “Unity by force” is illogical and short lived. Federal government can not stand strong and function properly where legitimate request of the majority (Non Amhara Ethiopians) socioeconomic and political concerns ignored and overridden.

  • The problem in Ethiopia is simple. The Oromo elite need to stop believing their on lie about their highly exaggerated oppression. Compared to what Oromos did during their conquest of Sidama, Hadiya, Gurage, and Harar Menelik was a God send. Let’s be honest – Gada System is a system of pillaging, conquest and assimilation by the creme de la creme of Oromo…the Borana. The irony is other ethnic groups that resisted against Borana expansion and Shewan expansion don’t peddle their past like the Oromo elite.

    What Ethiopia needs is Democracy and an elite that truly believes in equality of all citizens regardless.

    • Geda system let’s be honest is a form of the communal society that preceded the slave system in Marxist human history. It has all the marks on it of Frederic Engles described. The fact that it was a sociological/cultural system like Irrecha, that was as yet not prepared for organized state formation with a political, legal, settled farming, etc. and top to bottom command hierarchy capable of sustained state political system and ability to raise and sustained organized military is what made it a failure even after coming to the doors of Gondar & Wollo during 17th century Zemene Mesafint. Let’s be honest. Oromos under Gragn Mohamed all had it except an advanced state political system to a settled urban life style to sustain their grip over Ethiopia. Their success came with combining the art of state together with Menelik and to enable an integrated political system called Ethiopia! They should build on these gains and play a positive role to move together than try to reverse history, because of a fiction created by Ethiopia-hater Asmerom Legesse whose motive was to ensure Eritrean secession!

  • Walellign Mokenon did not bring the ethnic question to the center. Actually it was emperor Menelik who brought ethnic politics to the center. He did so by turning the Amhara elite into neftegna class and other ethnic groups into slaves and serfs. That set the dynamics of the struggle. Today it is largely the descendants of the neftegna or followers of its ideology on other one hand and the descendants of the serfs and slaves on the other who are fighting over what Ethiopia should become. Sure Walellign and the Ethiopian Marxists described the neftegna gebbar system and articulated ways of resolving it. But most certainly they did not create the problem. This seems obvious but it needs repeating because there are many Ethiopian scholars who out of hatred for the TPLF and the student movement claim that the issue was created by Marxist Ethiopians. It also needs pointing out that the Marxists were not the first to come up with the idea of self determination (not that anything wrong with it had they did). But the Ethiopian Marxists were correct to say that the nationalities or ethnic question in Ethiopia is also a class question. It was obvious it was the non Amahra who were enslaved and turned into serfs in their own anscesteral lands. Marxist solutions may not work for Ethiopia, but Marxist diagnosis can be useful; and I am not saying it is the only way of understanding Ethiopian society.

    In general I like the rest of this article.

  • I’d like to ask the Author, why only Release Oromo political prisoners? What about Baldras team and other political prisoners? This is not fair and doesn’t bring stability to the country

  • Ethiopia, as we know it today, is beyond repair. Tigray will win this war and secede. Nobody in Tigray has any illusion about a future Ethiopia. The Ethiopian political elites, in collaboration with the Eritrean despot, have orchestrated the mass killing, maiming, pillaging, and raping in Tigray all in the name of crushing the TPLF. In reality, this was a cover used to destroy Tigray. History has demonstrated time and again that Ethiopia is not for the people of Tigray. It just is not. The people of Tigray have had enough with this ungrateful nation of Ethiopia, and want to have their own country. This will definitely come to fruition. The rest can do whatever they want and can devise a 9-point or 20-point plan to salvage whatever will be left if any.

  • Brace, brace, brace! I think it is a not matter of if but when the Ethiopian state collapses. The main debate should turn to: will it soft-land or crash hard?

  • I don’t believe given the reality in the country, one can find technocrats that can lead the country out of the current situation. This just a wishful thinking. At this time political negotiation between the contending parties with the help of some Internationally reputable organizations may be the only solution for lasting settlement. Hard, yes but all other optins will bring us back to what we have today.

  • Why is the author writing using pseuodonym?
    What is the author afraid of that he/she is not disclosing their nam?
    Is the author afraid its chosen party will lose in the upcomiung election?

    Elections will not be postponed. They will be conducted as scheduled. In areas where there is security issues the election will be held at a later date if necessary and these areas will have their seats in parilament filled at that time. At this time what is needed is a strong federal government and strong national army and security apparatus. Even though there are some disagreemtns within the ruling party on the whole there is agreement on where the country needs to head to. I am confident they will manage whatever differences they may have and forge a common path.

    The enemies of the people of Ethiopia will be acting in overdrive to create additional instability using criminals in the coming months. The failure of the Ethoipian state is the only option left for the countries that want to maintain monopoly on the use of the Nile river resources. These actors will be getting bolder in the coming months and we need to brace ourselves for this scenario. I am confident this last ditch effort will be twarted by the federal bureacracy, the army, and othe security services.

    Reforming the federal system is top of the agenda to be implemented after the election. Steps will be taken to reign in these so called ‘ specical forces’ which the regions have assembled. These units will be reformed. The whole federal admistrative apparatus will also be reformed so that minorities within these regions will have their rights fully protected.

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