AFTER MAKING SPEEDY REFORMS, A PERILOUS WAY FORWARD REMAINS FOR DR. ABIY AHMED ALI
by Muhammad Al-Hashimi Alula Al-Hashimi*
The Brazen Assassination Attempt
It all happened on a bright, sunny day on the 23rd of June, 2018 in Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia. A large, peaceful crowd began to form in Meskel Square to support and listen to the new prime minister of Ethiopia, Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali.
By the time Dr. Abiy showed up, an extremely large crowd had already assembled. And it kept growing and growing as if it would never stop. Meskel Square had long since been filled to capacity. But the people kept coming, spilling out into the adjacent streets and open spaces. It has been estimated by some observers that more than 4 million people ultimately gathered in and beyond the Square! Only the greatest international rock stars can dream of drawing a crowd of 4 million to see them perform!
Dr. Abiy, clearly a man of the people, addressed the crowd, attired in a sports hat, slacks, and a T-shirt. His bright green T-shirt had imprinted on its front side a large map of Africa. Imprinted inside the map was the image of the great African hero, the late Nelson Mandela, the first elected president of a free South Africa. No doubt that T-shirt had a symbolic message that Dr. Abiy wished to convey: that he, like the great South African leader, was ready to take the Ethiopian people to a level of freedom and sustainable development never before realized in the country.
In the two and half months that he had been in power as prime minister, Dr. Abiy had moved at a whirlwind pace—you could even call it a revolutionary pace—at making bold changes to pacify a population on the verge of an armed uprising. Indeed, his very given name “Abiy” is short for the name “Abiyot,” which means “revolution” in the Amharic language. He was doing what he knew had to be done to calm the country down. And the people were already falling in love with this new, bold leader, this brave young Oromo son, the offspring of a Muslim father and Christian mother. But as is the case with so many of our great leaders, there are always agents of evil lurking in the shadows, waiting for a chance to destroy the hope of a long suffering people. The assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) here in America immediately come to my mind when I think of agents of evil carrying out their dastardly deeds.
And so it would be this bright, sunny Saturday of the 23rd of June in Addis Ababa, an agent of evil lurking in the shadows of the massive crowd. As Dr. Abiy completed his message of hope and unity, someone in the crowd took out a hand grenade and launched it. Fortunately, some members of the crowd were alert enough to somehow deflect the trajectory of the hand grenade, for it fell short of reaching the stage from where Dr. Abiy was speaking. He was immediately whisked away by his aides to safety. Unfortunately, the hand grenade exploded, killing two persons and wounding more than 165 others, five of these critically.
The Chaotic Country Dr. Abiy Inherited
Since 1991, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been the ruling political party in Ethiopia. While the EPRDF has initiated significant economic growth at the macroeconomic level since coming to power, mechanisms for wealth distribution at the socio-economic level have been virtually non-existent. Consequently, poverty among the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Ethiopian state remains a serious problem. Political repression has been significant, producing several thousand political prisoners.
In December of 2015, a massive urban development plan, commonly called “ The Master Plan,” for Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia, was about to be implemented by the government. The plan involved the confiscation of the lands of Oromo peasant farmers surrounding Addis Ababa, known to the Oromo as Finfinne. It is important to note that the Oromo constitute the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, making up over 35% of a total population of 110 million.
The announcement of the Addis Ababa Master Plan sparked a huge, spontaneous protest among mainly Oromo students. The government reacted violently to the peaceful protest, reportedly killing ten student protestors. It should be noted that as far back as May of 2014 when The Master Plan was first announced, the government reportedly killed nine students who were actively involved in defending the rights of Oromo farmers in areas near the capitol.
The protest of December 2015 ultimately morphed into a series of sustained protests across the Oromo region of the country. The protests became so intense that by October of 2016, the government declared a state of emergency throughout Ethiopia. It was then lifted in August of 2017. However, the anger of the Oromo protest movement continued as grievances expanded to include lack of employment opportunities for the youth, growing poverty nationwide, the marginalization of Oromo in the political and economic affairs of the country, and the burgeoning population of political prisoners, which had continued to grow beyond the estimated 20, 000 prisoners reported as of March, 2014. It appeared that the country was on the verge of a violent outbreak of civil war. Sensing that he was losing control of the situation, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, the immediate predecessor to Dr. Abiy, tendered his resignation on 15 February 2018. The government subsequently issued another state of emergency.
The Revolutionary Reforms of Dr. Abiy
On 2 April 2018, Dr. Abiy came to power as the 15th Prime Minister of Ethiopia as a member of EPRDF political party. Dr. Abiy went to work immediately. He pledged reconciliation in a country torn by protests centered on the perceived theft of Oromo lands by the government. In May of 2018, he released several thousand political prisoners, imprisoned journalists, and the remaining imprisoned Muslim leaders and scholars who had been part of country wide protests which began in the latter part of 2011. This protest had been against the government imposition of the Ahbash ideology on the Muslim populace, an impostition which effectively acted as a government control mechanism of major Islamic institutions in Ethiopia.
In June of 2018, Dr. Abiy lifted the state of emergency that had been imposed earlier in February when his predecessor, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, resigned from office. Dr. Abiy allowed dissidents who had fled the country for fear of imprisonment to return home to Ethiopia. He unblocked hundreds of websites and TV channels. The pace of change was so lightning fast that it was like observing a different country! These moves were too much for the political reactionaries who thought Dr. Abiy was doing too much too soon, thus the assassination attempt.
However, the assassination attempt has not stopped Dr. Abiy on his path of revolutionary reform. In July, Dr. Abiy declared the end of the official state of war that had existed for years between his country and neighboring Eritrea. By September, Dr. Abiy reopened the land border with Eritrea in the process of normalizing relations.
In October, the reform activity of Dr. Abiy reached what might be considered a major milestone when he appointed women to fully half of the ministerial posts of the Ethiopian government . In November, he even appointed an ex-opposition leader—a woman who had been living in exile—to be the head of Ethiopia’s Electoral Commission.
This past January, 2019, Dr. Abiy made a stop in Jimma in Ethiopia’s Oromia region. As he descended from his airplane, the crowd at the airport greeted him with unbridled enthusiasm. Men and women, old and young, had gathered to witness the arrival of a political sensation. “We are so very happy,” an elderly man said to a reporter, “It is like a renaissance. We have waited so long for this!”
Enemies Still Lurk in the Shadows
Having followed political and geopolitical developments involving Ethiopia over the past 40 years, it is my studied opinion that Ethiopia falls under a heightened level of potential threats due to the ascension of Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali to the helm of leadership of Ethiopia as its 15th Prime Minister. The threats I see are three: 1) continued hostility of certain elements in Egyptian centers of power who remain hostile to Ethiopian efforts to finish the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile River in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region of Ethiopia; 2) continued attempts to liquidate Dr. Abiy by elites whose power was diminished when he became Prime Minister of Ethiopia; and 3) and the apprehension of Israel at having to deal with a leader who not only has a Muslim father, but who has demonstrated sensitivities to the problems of the Muslims of Ethiopia.
The Geopolitical Flashpoint that is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
As I see it, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) remains a major flashpoint around which the enemies of Dr. Abiy may gather and cause him direct harm. It is well known that Egypt feels that it is entitled to unencumbered access to the water of the Nile in spite of the fact that 85% of the Egyptian Nile consists of water flowing from the Ethiopian Blue Nile in the highlands of Ethiopia.
When the Ethiopian government initiated the building of GERD in 2011, The Egyptian reaction was one of consternation and anger. In fact, there was a live broadcast on Egyptian TV of a meeting conducted by then President Morsi with some of his close advisors openly discussing what to do in the face of what they saw as the threat of Ethiopia cutting off their water supply. A video of this discussion can be found on YouTube under the title “Egypt’s Leaders Plot to Unleash Terror Against Ethiopia (English Subtitle).” (The YouTube address for this video is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLcHLreVPEE)
The discussion of participants ranged from using diplomacy and international law in various ways to destabilize Ethiopian society and what they considered a weak Ethiopian government to thwart completion of the dam. One speaker talked about using intelligence operatives to infiltrate the Oromo Liberation Front and the Ogaden National Liberation Front and to incite these groups to move even more forcefully against the government in order to create chaos and instability in the country. Using intelligence operatives as agents of disruption and destabilization was a constant theme in the discussion. And, of course, the discussion included veiled and not so veiled threats of direct military action against Ethiopia.
Now, even though this televised discussion took place sometime between June 2012 and July 2013 during the ill-fated Presidency of Mohamed Morsi, let us not be so naïve as to think that many if not all the participants are no longer around. And even if many or most of the original participants in that meeting are no longer actors in the current Egyptian political scene, rest assured that there are many other significant actors in Egypt right now with the same mentality. Clearly, the threat of aggressive interference in Ethiopia from Egypt cannot be ruled now and the foreseeable future.
The Assassination of Engineer Simegnew Bekele
According to a report from Borkena Ethiopian News, on 26 July 2018, “Engineer Simegnew Bekele, project manager, and chief engineer of Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam is found dead under circumstances that seem to be a rather meticulously orchestrated assassination” [italics added]. Could this “meticulously orchestrated assassination” be the work of Egyptian anti-dam saboteurs working with a group within the country hostile—for whatever reason or reasons—to the current government of Dr. Abiy? Most individuals from Ethiopia I have had the opportunity to talk to seem to think so. While most of these individuals believe the Egyptians were behind it, some have said that the assassination hit on Mr. Simegnew was the work of a group of corrupt individuals within the Ethiopian government who have been stealing money from the dam project and were afraid that Mr. Simegnew was about to report this information to Prime Minister Abiy. Indeed, these corrupt individuals may very well be among the elites I mentioned above who feel their power has been diminished by Dr. Abiy’s ascension to power as prime minister. However, there is a strong possibility that both of these forces—one external, the other internal to the country—may have colluded to carry out the dastardly deed of assassinating Mr. Simegnew.
It should be noted that the Ethiopian Federal Police have concluded that the death of Mr. Simegnew was due to a self-inflicted wound as a result of a pistol shot to the right side of his head, in other words, a case of suicide. But should the report of the police be trusted? Police departments everywhere in the world are very astute at cover-ups when the situation is required. Furthermore, it is easy for an expert assassin to make the crime scene look very different from what actually took place. My speculation here is that Mr. Simegnew was shot by a professional assassin who placed the gun in Mr. Simegnew’s right hand to make it appear that he shot himself. The passage of time may yet reveal what really happened to Mr. Simegnew.
What About the Iraelis?
Make no mistake about it; Ethiopia has always been a country of particular concern for the Zionist State of Israel. This is because Ethiopia is a country of geographical proximity to Israel having a significant Muslim population. Acting out of this concern, a pro-Israeli operative was instrumental in encouraging the Ethiopian government under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to impose the Ahbash ideology on Ethiopia’s Muslim population. The idea behind Israeli collusion with the Ethiopian government was to impede the development of what was thought to be a “radical Islamic infrastructure” within the country. All this government edict really did was to ignite several months of protest from the Muslim community of Ethiopia and the incarceration of many Muslim leaders who rejected government interference in the religious affairs of the Muslims; (See my paper titled “Ethiopian Muslims and the Ahbash Controversy” available at https//www.facebook.com/warra.shaykh).
Even before the Ahbash debacle, one can go back to the conference held in London in May of 1991among the victorious parties who defeated the Ethiopian Marxist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam after several years of warfare. These parties were the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Now, one of the significant attributes of this conference was the involvement of one Henry J. Cohen, the American Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Of course, his primary concern for being there was to make sure that whatever was decided among the victorious parties would conform as much as possible to American interests—interests which are often heavily impacted by the interests of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, commonly referred to as AIPAC.
Being a Jew of Lithuanian heritage, Assistant Secretary of State Herman J. Cohen was no doubt in lock step with the interests of AIPAC and the Zionist State of Israel. These interests include a wariness of the ascension to power in countries of geopolitical concern to Israel of actors who may be of the Islamic faith. This is because of the high probability that such Muslim actors may more likely be pro-Palestinian and therefore hostile to Israel. Of course, Israel has very little problem with Muslim leaders who have proven to have little concern for the plight of the Palestinians suffering under Israeli apartheid, leaders like President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. It is widely believed by many Oromo activists who I have talked to over the years that Mr. Cohen used his political station—no doubt influenced not only by his religious affiliation but also by his ideological attachment to the State of Israel—to pressure Meles Zenawi—the leader of the TPLF insurgent group that would soon take political power in Ethiopia—to exclude the OLF from participation in any power sharing activity in the new government. Why? Because, as many Oromo activists have articulated, the American and Israeli regimes deemed the Islamic influence to be too strong among the Oromo people. Of course, most Muslims everywhere in the world see Israel as a racist, oppressive entity practicing a form of apartheid more vicious than that formerly practiced in South Africa. Thus, it was best from the American and Israeli perspective to prevent the potentiality of having anti-Israeli Oromo Muslims in the circles of power in Ethiopia.
From the foregoing perspective, Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali is an individual of serious concern for the Israelis because he is an Oromo with ties too close to the Muslim community of Ethiopia in general and the Muslim community of Oromia in particular for their—the Israeli’s—comfort. Additionally, Dr. Abiy’s father is a respected Oromo Muslim. Even though Dr. Abiy himself is a professed Christian, this makes no difference to the Israelis. It is Dr. Abiy’s Muslim attachments that most concern the Israelis. No doubt the Israelis will be watching the unfolding of events in Ethiopia very closely as the months go by. I have no doubt that they will not hesitate to take part in any covert, hostile activity against the Ethiopian state—especially in tandem with the Egyptians—if they deem it to be necessary.
Developing Civil Institutions in Ethiopia
In an online article titled “Move Fast and Break Things” by an Ethiopian analyst writing under the pseudonym of Mister Sew, a lengthy critique of Dr. Abiy’s first year in office as prime minister is offered. Although much of it is unjustified in my opinion, the author concludes with a sobering thought with regard to the future:
One thing that has become clear is that the honeymoon period [for Dr. Abiy] is over….He has to make sure…that the principal political elite, the EPRDF, work together to deal with the problems confronting their society, and refrain from exploiting those problems for their own advantage. Ethiopia’s political problems are complicated and need well-planned, short- and long-term solutions; there are no quick fixes. Ensuring stability is an emerging priority. It is a precursor for the democratization and inclusive development that Abiy promised to deliver. His government needs to quickly find the right political and institutional solutions to address that. (For more of Mister Sew’s analysis, see https://www.ethiopia- insight.com/2019/04/30/move-fast-and-break-things/)
With regard to the foregoing, I agree with Mister Sew completely. More specifically, the need to “find the right… institutional solutions” is clearly on point as far as I am concerned. In fact, institutional solutions are not limited to something Dr. Abiy and his government must develop. Here I have in mind the need to increase the development of civil institutions in Ethiopia. Through civil institutions, those individuals and groups who want to help Dr. Abiy succeed and help Ethiopia move forward can contribute to that success and forward movement. Civil institutions include a wide variety of organizations such as community groups, non-governmental organizations [NGOs], indigenous groups, charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, foundations, and labor unions. A civil institution is also known as a civil society organization (CSO). Collectively, they are known as civil society organizations (CSOs). Fortunately, the current government has recognized the importance of CSOs with the passage of a new proclamation allowing for their expansion in Ethiopia.
The New Ethiopian CSO Proclamation
In an online article titled “Ethiopia’s New Civil Society Law,” Dina Townsend discusses the new law governing civil society organizations (CSOs) adopted by the Ethiopian Parliament earlier this year. Dina Townsend is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of European and International Public Law, The Law School of Tilburg University, The Netherlands. Dr. Townsend states that the new CSO Law is “an important and remarkable step [over the previous law that] radically constrained the work and political space of CSOs.” Dr. Townsend goes on to point out that
a wave of protests in 2017, followed by the surprise resignation of the then Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn in February 2018, opened the way for a new political era in Ethiopia. As part of a more democratic, transparent and accountable government, the new Prime Minister, [Dr.] Abiy Ahmed, committed to repealing and revising a series of repressive laws, including the Charities and Societies Proclamation of 2009….Over the past few months, a drafting committee has prepared a new CSOs law, which has been adopted by Parliament and will soon replace the 2009 Proclamation, ushering in a new era for civil society in Ethiopia [italics added].
Among the many improvements that Dr. Townsend discusses is the broadening of participation of CSOs in Ethiopian society:
[The new law] explicitly provides that all organizations have the right to engage in any lawful activity to accomplish their objectives….In fact, the new law specifically encourages CSOs to engage in advocacy and lobbying in regard to laws and policies “which have a relationship with the activities they are performing” [italics added]. (See Dr. Townsend’s full discussion at https://includeplatform.net/ethiopias-new-civil-society-law/)
In other words, this new law, promulgated under the administration of Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali, will allow CSOs to become more politically active in shaping the development of the country. Thus, the new law should act as a tremendous incentive for those who want to get involved and help further the progress and stability of Ethiopia.
Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali is All Right with Me!
Let me be completely honest and forthcoming to the reader: at this particular point in time, I am a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali. First all, Dr. Abiy fearlessly and swiftly made several, absolutely required reforms virtually from the day he took office. Secondly, just stand back for a moment and take a panoramic view of the overall condition of global leadership. Most of the leaders of most countries in the world today are highly incompetent and morally corrupt! Of course, Donald Trump, the current racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, warmongering occupant of the American White House, who is also doing his best to destabilize the global economy, heads the list! So, when you compare Dr. Abiy Ahmed with this list of global miscreants, he comes out looking like an angel by comparison!
It is really good to see that Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s achievements thus far have been officially recognized beyond the borders of Ethiopia. On 29 April of this year, Dr. Abiy won the 2019 UNESCO Peace Prize. According to the UNESCO Peace Prize Jury, Dr. Abiy was awarded the prize “for his role in pacifying his country and the Horn of Africa Region” and for “ensuring reforms in his country aimed at consolidating democracy and social cohesion.” And then there is the talk of Dr. Abiy possibly being in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded later this year.
Looking to the Future
Let’s be clear. Ethiopia still suffers from many problems, the most notable of which are ongoing ethnic tensions and the ever growing socio-economic gap between rich and poor. These and other problems will take long term solutions, both on the part of the government and civil society organizations.
And then there are those geopolitical entities outside the country that still pose a tremendous threat to Ethiopia as I have already outlined. And let us not forget the enemies within, those whose power has been clipped with the ascension to leadership of Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali. Many of these individuals have the desire and potential to collude with others outside the country to bring harm to Ethiopia in general and Dr. Abiy in particular. However, the more stabilized the country becomes from the correct actions of the government and the good work of dynamic CSOs, the impact of actions from enemies will be lessened.
Dr. Abiy has a lot on his plate. Do I think that Dr. Abiy is up to the job? I most certainly do! However, he is only one man, a fallible human being. Consequently, he is not and should not be above constructive criticism. But most of the criticism I read and hear these days seems to be criticism for criticism’s sake! Indeed, much of it is useless, nitpicking criticism as far as I am concerned!
Let us stop wasting time with unnecessary critiques and help our dear brother Dr. Abiy, for he definitely needs it and is quite worthy of it. I would like to see those who have the best interests of Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali and Ethiopia at heart roll up their sleeves for the arduous tasks ahead. Let us get together, build robust CSOs, and work to make Ethiopia one of the great countries of the world!
*Muhammad Ali Alula Al-Hashimi, PhD, is a Professor of Islamic Finance and International Economic Development, The Malik El-Shabazz School of Global Affairs, https://www.facebook.com/warra.shaykh, firstname.lastname@example.org; and a Senior Lecturer of Islamic Finance, Euclid University (Pole Universitaire Euclide), http://www.euclid.int.
Copyright© Muhammad Ali Alula Al-Hashimi, 2019 / 1440
(7 May 2019 / 2 Ramadan 1440)