Ethiopia: Justified Fears By Desta Heliso (PhD)

File: Tens of thousands of protesters call for a regime change in Ethiopia

File: Tens of thousands of protesters call for a regime change in Ethiopia

September 27, 2016
There are some people who think that perfect peace, justice, freedom and democracy will usher in Ethiopia if EPRDF is toppled through violence. I have heard some confident assertions along this line, but I am not sure such confidence corresponds to the complex reality on the ground. On the one hand, our country has multiple problems such as increasingly endemic corruption, maladministration, curtailed freedom of expression, tightly controlled media, lack of free and fair elections, non-EPRDF members being regarded as second-class citizens, relative absence of level-playing field in politics and business, and politically driven educational system. On the other hand, over the last decade or so, the country has seen positive things that we would only have dreamed of years ago. Freedom of religion, increased number of universities, infrastructural development (roads, railways and bridges), growing manufacturing industry, growing hotel and tourism sector, banking industry, mega dams such as Gilgel Gibe and Great Renaissance Dam (GRD), aviation industry, growth of the middle class, higher life expectancy and relative economic growth are some of the examples. All these signs of progress have their own particular flaws and failings, but they have enabled many Ethiopians to cope and hope. And if these changes could be achieved in the face of all the deficiencies of systems of administration coupled with human frailties, how much more could be achieved if we managed to resolve even some of the above mentioned problems? We are divided over the means through which these problems can be addressed.

Many of us, including myself, believe that Ethiopia will achieve a better future characterised by better freedom, justice, democracy, equal opportunity and development can only if we safeguard the imperfect peace and stability and limited freedoms and developments we currently have. The terms ‘safeguard’ should not be understood in terms of maintaining the status quo in its entirety, but rather it should be understood in terms of working patiently within the status quo in order to build on that which is good and change that which is bad. There is no question that any serious instability in our country would be a hindrance for this. It could also potentially jeopardise the integrity of the country we love so very much and plunge the entire region into absolute chaos. This is not an apocalyptic prophecy based on mere imagination. This is a genuine view based on reality and held by a very large number of people up and down the country. Many reasons or justifications could be enumerated but let me mention only a few.

First, an attempt to change the current system through public unrest and violence could stir up historical antagonisms. Human history is never tidy and Ethiopia is not an exception. Over the last millennium and half, political power in Ethiopia has been shifting from one region to another, the process of which was often bloody. That inevitably has left a scar (to a lesser or greater degree) in the psyche of each region, hence creating what I call a historical volcano. The last theocratic regime kept this historical volcano from constantly erupting by employing shrewd diplomacy and politically arranged marital structures. The military-communist regime kept it under control by brute force and an insidious focus on the ‘Mother Land’. The EPRDF has tried to bring the threat posed by this historical volcano to an end by introducing political administrative structures along ethnic lines (with some exceptions). Despite some positive results, this has not worked as well as expected. Indeed, the philosophy underlying EPRDF’s political and administrative system may need to be rethought. But any attempt to remove the current regime by force could potentially lead to dangerous disintegration of the country. Think, for example, of Somali, Gambela, Afar and Oromia regions, which have their own governments. There are also rebel groups in relation to each of these regions: Oromo Liberation Front, Afar Liberation Front, Gambela People’s Liberation Movement, Ogaden National Liberation Front. Imagine what could happen in these regions if the current imperfect administrative arrangements are violently dismantled. Imagine what could happen to our country if the current toxic political rhetoric that targets a certain people group bears fruit. One might say that setting up an all-inclusive transitional government in the event of removing the EPRDF government by force will prevent this from happening.

However, second, the last 25 years have shown us that so long as ideological values are driven by ethnically orientated and regionally framed programmes, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to come up with a common agenda. This is precisely why opposition parties have struggled to succeed. Let alone at the national level, it is sometimes difficult to bring people around a common purpose and goal in an ethnically homogenous region with strong clan-structures. One might say that if EPRDF could achieve commonality of purpose and political programme, anyone can achieve it. I would say that EPRDF has not achieved it. The dream of unity-in-diversity still remains a dream. The desire in the 1990s was to achieve stronger national consciousness through affirming (rather than denying) ethnic identity. But at the moment, our sense of diversity does not match our sense of unity. The journey towards finding a healthy, inclusive and affirmative sense of identity is not yet achieved. This is not an easy journey, of course. Countries like England, Scotland and Wales still struggle with finding a balanced sense of identity. Our situation is even much more delicate and volatile than theirs. Any violent attempt to achieve what they have achieved over centuries could take us back to where they were 400 years ago. Violence does not always breed peace; violence often breeds violence.


Third, internal conflicts within Ethiopia will make the security situation in the country extremely vulnerable. External forces such as the current Eritrean government, Al-Shabbab in Somalia, Islamic State, rogue and radical military and religious elements in Egypt and Sudan could easily capitalise on internal instabilities in Ethiopia. This could result in an attempt to spread religious extremism, which could lead to religious conflicts. It could also result in the destruction of some of the projects such as GRD, for which the people of Ethiopia have paid a huge price. Furthermore, instability in Ethiopia could worsen conflicts in neighbouring states such as South Sudan and Somalia (both of which benefit from Ethiopian military support), potentially destabilise Kenya, strengthen the brutal regime in Eritrea, and terminally endanger the country’s territorial integrity.

Fourth, the Ethiopian army is made up of diverse people groups. While protecting and defending the security of our country with great pride and sense of nationalism, military personnel have their own ethnic identity, of which they are also proud. If the current military structure is dismantled, God forbid, there is a real possibility of ethnically based militia groups propping up here and there. Comrades could become enemies and turn their guns against each other to protect or expand newly created territories. This will take us back to the situation our country was in centuries ago. The level of loss of life and destruction of properties in all this could be unimaginable as well. We don’t want this to happen. Nor do we want the creation of Somalia-style territories with their own militias.

Finally, many poorest people in the countryside have benefited from various schemes such as, for example, the safety net scheme, which puts cash in their pockets and enables them to feed their families. There are also various agricultural, health and small-scale business initiatives, which have helped improve the lives of many of the poorest in our country. People dislike EPRDF’s party-centred approach that seeks to benefit party members more than others, and yet many believe that the schemes are useful in terms of creating jobs, reducing poverty, improving general health of the population and lessening mother-infant mortality. Violence could disrupt all these and take the country many steps backwards.

From all this, I would argue that the disadvantages of changing the current government through violent means far outweigh the advantages, if any. So I would plead, in the name of God, with all parties who are engaging in violent activities to stop and engage in peaceful political undertakings, difficult though that may be. I would equally plead with the ruling party and the government of Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn to fully appreciate that use of force alone would not solve our problems. No one, not even the government, possesses universal panacea for Ethiopia’s problems. National problems require collective effort in an open, inclusive and patient manner. No superficial effort with party political goals will bring lasting solutions. Indeed, any course of action, whether it be establishing the root causes of current civil unrests and coming up with solutions or determining the future direction of our nation, must include opposition groups and people of good will. A nation-wide process of peace building, forgiveness and reconciliation needs to be initiated. In this process, the role of prominent community elders and religious leaders should be central. National healing must be the goal of all efforts. And all of us – who believe in the survival of Ethiopia as a nation in all her wonders and beauties – ought to help each other to realise that we are all wounded beings and must see ourselves as wounded healers.
The writer Desta Heliso (PhD) lives and work in Ethiopia but currently in London on academic sabbatical.

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Posted by on September 28, 2016. Filed under FEATURED. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

7 Responses to Ethiopia: Justified Fears By Desta Heliso (PhD)

  1. Liku

    September 28, 2016 at 7:08 PM

    Well said if either of them would listen

  2. Yinegal

    September 28, 2016 at 8:34 PM

    Perhaps you should start with a disclaimer that you, Desta Heliso is PhD in theology – and a blood relative of Hailemariam Desalegn, the Woyane prime minister.

    You are certainly a Woyane/TPLF apologist who is scared of the rule of the majority. Your privileged trip to UK is one of the TPLF’s award for kissing ass – Just go away looser!!

  3. Bager Keldyelem

    September 29, 2016 at 3:41 AM

    Dear writer,
    I think most of the concerned Ethiopians share your fears. But I have to ask you a question. You have mentioned public unrest and violence many times in this papper and you seem to blame the people, not this ethnic hardcore and killer government. When there is no room, absolutely none, for any kind of democratical excercises what du you expect? No concern citzin of Ethiopia will se blood shed except the government and its cliques. Because the chaos and the blood shed will be used as an excuse to kill more and stay on Power. You better come up with better!

  4. sam

    September 29, 2016 at 1:25 PM

    Desta wrote “many of us, including myself, believe that Ethiopia will achieve a better future … if we safeguard the imperfect peace and stability and limited freedoms and developments we currently have.” By the way this is the central argument the writer has made, not to wish away the EPDRF government. Five years ago, even two years ago, the EPDRF politicians would not utter “imperfect peace and stability” and “limited freedoms and developments” as their vocabularies to argue. Then EPDRF is, according to those politicians, a God send to the Ethiopian people. But now they happily parrot what Desta wrote. They take him as a friend who has defended the status quo at the time of need. I am not one who say the future Ethiopia will be built without having EPDRF as a political force. That wishful thinking of some Ethiopians has no chance of becoming a reality. True, Ethiopians have to deal with EPDRF in its current form or after it will made some cosmetic surgery. The theory of some insurgent parties that they will form the new Ethiopia after sending EPDRF to its grave is a fantasy. But the argument that Desta is making also is another fantasy. According to him Ethiopia is holding together because of EPDRF. Trying to get rid away of EPDRF is, he implied, endangering the stability of Ethiopia. This is exactly the argument the EPDRF politicians are making now. It is a wrong theory. Those who wish not to see EPDRF in any political activity must face the reality. EPDRF will not evaporate. The EPDRF politicians should also know EPDRF is not a force of stability, rather it is a force of instability. Stability cannot be achieved by having “limited freedoms.” Desta believes his fears is “justified” I say it is baseless. Especially his suggestion that Ethiopia is surrounded by enemies so let the political system remain as is sounds an argument one expects from an EPDRF cadre. It suggests if EPDRF is gone our enemies run over us. No, they will not. Always it is wise to remember Ethiopians defend Ethiopia from aggressors.

  5. Seifu

    September 30, 2016 at 3:48 AM

    This is soft porn way of presentation of what Abay Tsgaye and Seyum Mesfin gave us in thier one way TV presentation.

    Desta magnified the fear and propagate the status quo to continue.

    Anyone who benefited from the current system may fall on this category. But millions of new generation are left out and they want to define their future. TPLF has to peacefully give up power to the Ethiopian people in order to maintain peaceful transition while keeping the positives developments.

  6. Dista Maru

    September 30, 2016 at 5:45 AM

    It is not difficult to understand that you are blaming the people who are trying to exercise their democratic rights by peaceful demonstration. The situation has become aggravated because the government is murdering these peaceful demonstrators instead of listening to their demands. Where have you been in the last 25 years. You do not have to be a professor to understand that. This government bear all responsibilities for what happened in Ethiopia, right then right now! The problem is not with ordinary people of Ethiopia. The problem is you, the elites! You who do not dare to tell the truth. Search your conscience!

  7. Zewdu

    September 30, 2016 at 11:44 AM

    It is sad to equate the uprisings of EPLF and TPLF with the uprisings ongoing in Ethiopia right now for the following reasons:
    1)When EPLF was waging war to cede from Ethiopia in Haile Selassie’s time, the budget for Eritrea was 40% of Ethiopia’s to appease them; salaries also were higher;
    2)When TPLF was formed Tigray was ruled by their own king Leul Ras Mengesha Seyoum without any interference from the Ethiopian Government of PM Aklilu Habtewold. The Leul dealt directly with the Emperor; there was no interference in their internal affairs;
    While Eritreans fought for liberation on the assumption that they would be better off on their own, the Tigreans rose up to wipe out Amharas and takeover their land, which they are doing right now.
    3) On the contrary, Ethiopians are rising up against a brutal minority government which is colonizing the country along with foreign countries. This is an unprecedented happening we are witnessing. Our fathers fought to keep out invaders and maintain our borders. The current government is doing just the opposite and must be removed by any means possible. Because all people in Ethiopia went through hell by the Tigrean government and because nothing happened when Ethiopia was without government when they took over, I am confident nothing of consequence will happen. From the videos we saw, only Agazi soldiers are animals; the rest of Ethiopians are peaceful.
    Hence all these alarms are unfounded. Only the beneficiaries of ill-gotten spoils from the existence of TPLF government will lose out.

    Long Live Ethiopia in peace and unity.