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Ethiopia on the Brink Press Statement from the Ethiopian Dialogue Forum (EDF)

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EDFMarch 14, 2019
The Ethiopian Dialogue Forum (EDF), a not-for-profit think tank established to promote equitable and sustainable socioeconomic and political development through inclusive governance and genuine democratization through dialogue is deeply concerned that escalating ethnic-based conflicts and atrocities might lead to civil war and the Balkanization of the country.
EDF is convinced that the root causes of recurring violence against innocent civilians, ethnic-cleansing and genocide, theft and corruption, growing extremism, forms of terrorism, theft, corruption and illicit outflow of funds, unprecedented traffic of armaments, demagoguery, mob rule and hate speech based on ethnic affiliation, lack of confidence in the rule of law, in the governing party, the state as well as in the Federal government, regardless of who is in power, is the ethnic-Federal system and the government structure that divided the country into antagonistic, irreconcilable ethnic and linguistic groups in which exclusionary actions have become the norm.
EDF is convinced that, a democratic and unified Ethiopia is virtually unattainable on the basis of Ethnic- federalism and ethnic identity. It is an experiment that has failed.
The ethnic polarization engineered and planted by the TPLF/OLF and their allies over the past three decades has put asunder the cultural, spiritual, economic, social, geopolitical and other bonds that defined Ethiopia and Ethiopians for thousands of years. Today, ethnic zealots, vigilantes and mobs are fanning and inflaming an already inflammable political environment. The situation in Addis Ababa and its suburbs, for example, Burayu, Legetafo and Sululta foretell a dramatic escalation of ethnic-based
land and property grabbing; and the displacement of thousands of Ethiopians from their homes. There is no red-line; and no authority to stop the slide into chaos and catastrophe.
Addis Ababa, the federal capital, seat of the African Union (AU), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and a hub for the diplomatic community has become a flashpoint of contention. More than 5 million Ethiopians from all ethnic and religious groups live in this metropolitan city. Its status as a chartered city with its own administration is now contested. People are in fear. EDF believes that the democratic and human rights of the residents of Addis Ababa must be protected by the federal government. We also believe that Federal and municipal authorities should refrain from
nitiating substantial policy or structural or deliberate demographic changes. The people of Addis Ababa
must be allowed to exercise their fundamental citizenship rights through the electoral process. Addis
Ababa belongs to all Ethiopians.
EDF recognizes the merit of motivational speeches and aspirational goals that Prime Minister Dr. Abiy
Ahmed espouses. However, these utterances have not dissuaded extremist voices and forces to
appreciate the importance of Ethiopia as one country; and the vital role unfettered inclusion for the
prosperity of all Ethiopians. The rule of law continues to be illusive. The formation of a truly democratic
Ethiopia is but a distant dream.
The litmus test for Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, in power for almost one year, is whether or not he
can face and address the systemic and institutional issues that emanate from the ethnicization of
politics in Ethiopia. Ethnic-elites managing their ethnic- regional states (Kilils) feel strongly that they
have evolved into independent homogenous nations: the Tigray region for Tigreans; the Oromia region
or Oromos; the Amhara for the Amhara; the Somali region for the Somalis etc. etc. This narrative has
diminished Ethiopia as a country; and Ethiopians as citizens. This model is a losing proposition.
Rightly or wrongly, millions of Ethiopians perceive that the ethnic-based supremacy, oppression and
corruption by the TPLF and its allies has now morphed to that of Oromo-led dominance by the Oromo
Democratic Party (ODP) and those who dictate the terms. In its report No. 269 dated February 21, 2019,
the International Crisis Group (ICG) said that “Among non-Oromo ethnic groups, some fear that they
have turned the page on years of Tigrayan supremacy only for the Oromo to dominate.”
EDF’s assessment is that ethnic politics and ethnic polarization are not only cancerous for Ethiopia; these
ethnic elite-led and propagated tools are also leading this strategic multiethnic nation into the abyss of
Balkanization. Our estimation is that the costs of Balkanization will be catastrophic not only for
Ethiopia’s 110 million people; but also for the Horn and the rest of Africa as well as the Middle East and
the world.
Accordingly, we urge the global community, especially the European Union, the United States and
members of the African Union to respond quickly and urge the Abiy government and all Ethiopian
stakeholders to convene an all Inclusive Convention for National Consensus, Peace and Reconciliation;
and, the formation of a transitional government of national unity that will facilitate a free and fair
election within a reasonable period of time.
In the interim, Abiy’s government must have the courage to change the ethnic-based Federal
Constitution; to ban political propagation and organization on the basis of ethnic and religious affiliation;
and, instead, to embrace identity and citizenship solely on the basis of Ethiopiawinnet (ኢትዮጵያዊነት). This
is the primary reason why we joined millions of Ethiopians at home and abroad and expressed jubilation
and adulation for the Prime Minister when he was selected to lead Ethiopia.
We recognize the notion that events on the ground over the past few months do not bode well for the
Government of Ethiopia under Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s watch for the following illustrative
1. By the government’s own admission, the number of internally displaced Ethiopians
most of them of Oromo nationality, exceeds 3 million; more than 90,000 Amhara in Gondar are also displaced and thousands forced to flee their homes to the Sudan;
2. As Reuters reported in August 2018, Oromo youth led by Qeerro “replaced Ethiopia’s national flags in the capital and surrounding areas with OLF banners…In the following days, clashes erupted in Burayu” and “58 non-Oromo nationals were killed.” Inevitably, “hate speeches on social media” targeting non-Oromo spread like wild fire. They have not subsided.
3. Over the past several weeks, residents of the town of Legetafo were evicted from their homes forcibly. While the situation has calmed down, there is widespread fear that similar actions will be taken in other parts of the city of Addis Ababa and elsewhere in the country. Ethnic cleansing has reached a boiling point and must be stopped now.
4. The situation in numerous parts of Oromia where non-Oromo Ethiopians live and work; and the
humanitarian crisis in the Southern Regional State of Nations, Nationalities and Peoples where
56 ethnic groups live side by side is grave, explosive and out of control.
EDF wishes to highlight the volatility of Ethiopia’s unsettled and recurring ethnic conflicts. On March 3,
2018, one month before Dr. Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minster after Mr. Hailemariam Desalegn
resigned his post abruptly amid a growing country wide crisis, International Policy Digest posed the
ominous question “Is Ethiopia Headed towards a Civil War?”
A year later on March 14, 2019, the Guardian revealed one of the worst humanitarian crisis that depict
the horrors of famine, rape, violence against children and women, wanton destruction of homes and
property, massive displacement and ethnic-cleansing that Ethiopia has ever faced. In its investigative
report “Shadow falls over Ethiopia reforms as warnings of crisis go unheeded,” the Guardian reported
this. “In southern Ethiopia, tens of thousands of people are enduring what aid workers say is a full-
blown humanitarian crisis. But the government of the new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, appears not to
be listening.” This is region is home to 56 ethnic groups who have coexisted side by side peacefully for
The scale and the number of people involved is simply staggering. Equally outrageous is the targeting of
a specific ethnic group of people, the Gedeos. “More than a million Ethiopians were forced from their
homes by ethnic violence in 2018 – the highest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) of any
country last year. The worst of it took place in the south, where an estimated 800,000 mostly ethnic
Gedeos fled the district of West Guji in Oromia, the country’s largest region. This is a higher number,
and over a shorter period of time, than occurred at the height of Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis in 2017….
Gruesome reports of lynchings, rapes and beheadings, and of complicity among local officials, police
and militia, makes it seem more like organized ethnic cleansing than an ordinary tribal clash.”
How is it possible for Ethiopians to inflict such savagery and inhumanity against other Ethiopians in the
21st century? How is it possible for these atrocities to go on with impunity against a background of
hope, reconciliation, peace, national forgiveness, love, bonding and togetherness” promoted and
propagated by the country’s Prime Minister?
EDF shares the question posed by the Guardian. “Why and under whose authority such a problematic
policy has been pursued is unclear. Ethiopia’s system of decentralized, ethnically organized federalism
blurs lines of responsibility.” This is the reason why millions of Ethiopians suggest that there is no
legitimate public authority in Ethiopia. Artificial decentralization does not work; it camouflages
oppression and suppression.
At minimum, EDF urges Prime Minister Dr. Abiy to visit the sites of the atrocities. More important, he
needs to take a hard look at the root cause of the systemic problem now rather than tomorrow. This is
because Ethiopia’s humanitarian crisis is an existential threat for the country and for the regime.
Regardless of location and ethnicity, the displacement of Ethiopians is an affront to Ethiopian and
human dignity.
Members of the EDF joined and expressed their adulation to Abiy for a reason. In their hearts they
believed that the days of ethnic based hate, division and corruption were over. In his acceptance speech
he mentioned the name “Ethiopia” 63 times. It was no longer a taboo or a liability to identify oneself as
an Ethiopian. We recognize that the Prime Minister initiated substantial reforms. He released
thousands of political prisoners. He invited members of the opposition within and outside the country
and urged them to promote peaceful democratic change. He opened up political, spiritual and social
space for all stakeholders. He changed the narrative from ethnic division, animosity, hate and division to
that of a unified Ethiopia embracing its rich past and diversity. He took the unprecedented proactive
diplomatic step by restoring peaceful relations with the government of Eritrea; and forged robust
relations with other Horn, Eastern Africa and Arab countries. Abiy reached out to Ethiopia’s huge
Diaspora in North America and Europe, urging all of us to visit the homeland and to invest our
intellectual and material resources for the common good.
But, the asymmetry between talk and action; between proactive diplomacy and domestic conflict
resolution is stark. Dr. Abiy Ahmed ignored or shunned the “Big elephant in the room,” namely, the
ethnic-based Constitution and the administrative structure of government that was intentionally and
deliberately established by ethnic elites on the basis of ethnicity and language; as well as “Revolutionary
Democracy” that guides the ideology of the governing party that gives elites the upper hand.
EDF finds it indefensible that the Oromo Democratic Party (ODF) released a press statement stating
unequivocally that “Ethnic-Federalism and the Kilil system of administration is non-negotiable.”
Under Abiy, ethnic conflict erupted in both the South and the north. As a consequence, close to 3 million
Ethiopians have been displaced and billions of dollars of property has been destroyed. Millions of
Ethiopians are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a key
member of the governing party, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), has
garrisoned itself in the Tigray capital of Mekele and is calling for an all-out war with the Amhara regional
state. The TPLF is not alone. Others are using the cover of reform to inflict pain too.
Extremist groups and ultranationalist Oromo have unleashed a level of ethnic hatred and division that
pose danger for both the Abiy led regime; and for Ethiopia as a country.
As noted above, the capital city Addis Ababa is a point of contention with Oromo nationalists demanding
the restoration of lands to their regional state, government and people. Thousands of non-ethnic Oromo
nationals have been evicted from their homes in Addis Ababa and its environs.
In the north, there are ominous signs that civil war might break out between the Tigrean and Amhara
nationality groups. The primary cause in Addis Ababa, the north and in other parts of the county is land
and other natural resources. The ideological narrative is ethnic identity and affiliation that excludes
others on the basis of ethnicity and language.
While EDF supports Prime Minister Dr. Abiy’s proactive diplomatic activities in the Horn and Eastern
Africa, we find it baffling why his leadership is unable or unwilling to exercise similar leadership in
addressing the root causes that trigger civil conflict, the displacement of millions, and the current
volatile and potentially explosive situation in the country.
In the light of the dangers Ethiopia faces, EDF calls on Prime Minister Dr. Abiy, representatives of all
opposition, civil society, religious, youth, academic, professional, business and other stakeholders within
and outside Ethiopia to convene an All-Inclusive Conference towards sustainable reconciliation, peace
and national consensus; as well as a transitional government that will lead to free and fair elections as
soon as possible.
EDF also calls on the governments of the United States, members of the European Union as well as the leaderships of the African Union and the UN to help avert a potential catastrophe in one of the most volatile and conflict-ridden parts of the globe, Ethiopia and the Horn.
EDF calls on all Ethiopian intellectuals, associations and others to stop self-censorship and address the country’s core ethnic problems boldly and truthfully; and speak out on behalf of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people as a whole now.
Finally, EDF calls on all concerned Ethiopians to convene forums and discussions on the current crisis in Ethiopia and offer to the Ethiopian public as well as to the global community constructive alternatives and possible road-maps for the future.
Long Live Ethiopia!!! March 14, 2019