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JAWAR: from Oromo radical to Ethiopia’s leader

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“What is happening to Jawar?” has been one of the main questions of recent weeks in social media, among Ethiopians abroad & back home; as the once Oromo radical gradually transforms his image to fit into mainstream Ethiopian society and become a uniter of the people. By preaching Ethiopian unity nationwide, JAWAR is seeking the some success as other Oromos Dr. Abiy Ahmed and Lemma Megersa, who became popular overnight after their famous speeches declaring “Ethiopiawinet is our addiction” and “we live and die as Ethiopia.”
jawar mohammed a mission of inciting hate and genocideJAWAR MOHAMMED, the outspoken provocateur of Oromo nationalism in diaspora, has been a controversial figure for almost a decade. His wild slogans like “Ethiopia out of Oromia!” “Free Oromia” and perceived dogwhistle for violence against Christians using “machete” has angered many Ethiopians over the years. If there was any hot-button issue or contentious event inside Ethiopia, Jawar was all over it, often by taking an extreme stance that either alienated or outraged a segment of the Ethiopian population. Like candidate Donald Trump (or most novice Western politicians for that matter), Jawar made himself famous using bad publicity and brash rhetoric.
Jawar has occasionally clashed with hardliners even in his own Oromo tribe, when he advocated for peaceful struggle and labeled OLF’s armed struggle “outdated.” But Jawar threw his best punches both against the Tigrayan rulers puppeteering the OPDO old guards and against Ethiopian nationalists; including to boycott the popular singer Teddy Afro’s tours in Oromia. Jawar succeeded in defaming the singer who preached love, unity and appreciation for Ethiopian emperors who protected our country from European colonizers. The more Jawar spoke with anger and in hyperbole, the more he stood out and became famous.
His often inaccurate statements about Ethiopian history, Teddy Afro, Emperor Menelik II, Anole Monument, “Finfinne” expansion, among other hot topics, helped Jawar become the dominant subject of Ethiopian politics. Even other Oromo activists, like Editor Mohammed Ademo criticized Jawar’s radical approach; including problems inside theOromia Media Network (OMN), which is managed by Jawar himself.
“OMN made mistakes. They over-reported the number of deaths, used bad photos that did not come from Oromia, were driven by emotions,” according to a recent statement by Mohammed Ademo, who was reportedly a founding member of OMN in 2014 until he abandoned it citing issues with “professionalism, strategy, and accountability.”
What Mohamed Ademo did not realize in 2014 was that Jawar was making OMN a mirror image of himself, as a provocateur, driven by emotions and often aiming for sensationalism, over balance and context. For example, Ademo’s Oromo media ( published an in-depth report on the mass killing of Somalis in Moyale, holding “Oromo militia” responsible for the crime. In contrast, Jawar’s media OMN blamed only TPLF for the deaths in Moyale and his media often ignores such stories of abuses by Oromo mobs all together. The recent brutal killing of five Somalis from the same family in eastern Oromia is another example. Perpetuating Oromo victim mentality by exaggerating news, while ignoring abuses by one’s own community, is a calculated strategy often employed by guerrilla movements worldwide, including ONLF and OLF. Without such “shock value” strategy that omits facts, misrepresents news and appeals to emotions, the OMN would probably not be as popular, and Jawar would not have gained many followers.
As a Stanford University political science graduate, he might have designed all this. And so far, Jawar has been successful. His Qeerroo movement has led the change in Ethiopia that brought a new administration in the name of Oromo.
After years of coordinating Oromo Protests (#OromoProtests) from his home in Minnesota, Jawar has now found himself virtually as the head adviser and ideological leader of the Ethiopian government of Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed. Nobody expected this will happen so soon. Even at the height of the revolution’s stalemate with TPLF (when mostly Oromo and Amhara protesters blocked major roads, cutoff tourism and closed businesses nationwide to paralyze imports & exports, thus choking the whole Ethiopian economy) nobody still expected the TPLF would give up. According to his recent interview, even Jawar did not expect to see any fruit of his movement until after 2020. Many analysts said TPLF will keep killing and shooting its way out of another mess. In fact, the death toll and the rising body count of Oromo and other Ethiopian youth injured and massacred in the streets during these protests was also chipping into the credibility of Diaspora coordinators like Jawar, who are leading it from the comfort of their homes in America and Europe. Some Oromo critics online and radio even blamed Jawar for sending children and youth to be slaughtered by TPLF; while others said peaceful struggle does not work.
However, due to the barrage of negative press internationally, a collapsing economy, lack of diplomatic coverup from Washington DC and defection of key OPDO/ANDM officials; the TPLF leadership finally blinked first.
Now, these TPLF officials are stuck hiding in Mekele city of Tigray, while Jawar is walking free everywhere in Ethiopia. In an interview last week, Jawar bragged – “We have two governments in Ethiopia: Abiy’s government and Qeerroo government.”  Similar to the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of IRAN, Jawar does not seek political office but he knows that both authorities, the Qeerroo and Dr. Abiy’s OPDO, function under his influence.
Surrounded by Addis Ababa media, Jawar said with a smile, “It is good to not be a terrorist anymore.”
Jawar’s comments are a stark reminder to a 1991 New York Times (NYT) article on Meles Zenawi and his TPLF group, who declared: “yesterday we were rebels…Today I suppose we are the Government.”
These comments are not the only similarities between 1991 and 2018.
27 years ago, the first thing Meles Zenawi did was change his rhetoric and start creating a new coalition that has relative legitimacy to govern the whole country. As soon as he gained power, Meles went to America and told US officials that he is “no longer a hard-line Marxist” and his TPLF group does not want to secede Tigray from Ethiopia anymore; in contrast to previous anti-Ethiopia statements and publications of his own TPLF organization. Not only that, over the years, Meles rebranded himself as a patriotic all along, even abandoning his wild rhetoric about Ethiopia being just a 100 years old empire and instead adopting the over 3,000 yrs old nationalist narrative.
The same way, Jawar has transformed himself in recent months. Jawar is now mocking at the idea that Oromos want secession from Ethiopia and he has abandoned his “Finfinne is Oromo land” rhetoric, instead admitting that Finfinne (Addis Ababa) belongs to all Ethiopians of all identities. Even Menelik-themed Teddy Afro songs were blasting thru the roof during his hometown Minnesota event, believed to be organized by Jawar’s camp to welcome the new Prime Minister Abiy in the United States. And like Meles, Jawar is already gathering likeminded groups and individuals from Amhara, South and Somali regions, to create a new coalition that will advance his agenda nationwide. (So far he is not messing with TPLF anymore, hoping reformists inside TPLF will rejoin his coalition) Jawar is now hiring all ethnic nationalists as long as they pledge to Ethiopian unity. Many diaspora-based Oromo, Amhara, Sidama and Ogaden tribal nationalists have already been invited. To pacify tensions in Walaga and Jigjiga, some OLF and ONLF members are actually being courted to join the government, automatically.
Jawar Mohammed has thus evolved from a divisive Oromo activist into an Ethiopian leader and a uniter.
And as he goes, so does his media.
“OMN was an activist media until now….From now on, we are going to move to the center,” Jawar announced on August 5.
IN ETHIOPIA, what makes and breaks a newly formed government has always been defined by their stated threshold for tolerance. In other words, what is the RED LINE, that, when crossed, transforms them into dictators? For Meles Zenawi, it was all about keeping his TPLF supremacy while suppressing the unity camp and denying referendum to separatist ethnic elites. What is Jawar’s main red line and when could it get crossed?
The big test to Jawar and ethnic nationalists will be during the next election, if the multiethnic Ethiopianist unity camp repeats its 2005 election victory again in 2020. How will Jawar and co react if they lose to Ethiopian nationalists in the polls? If Ethiopian nationalists win the 2020 election, it will be the end of ethnic-federalism and institutional tribal segregation as we know it. A new structure based on geographic-federalism that decentralizes power from big ethnic blocks into smaller multiethnic regions is the alternative future for Ethiopia. One Ginbot 7 activist forecasted recently; “if the death count from tribal conflicts and nativism inspired ethnic mob killings continue to rise, the 2020 Ethiopian election will become a nationwide referendum on Ethnic-Federalism.”
Dr. Berhanu Nega and Andargachew Tsege’s Organization is expected to advance the message of liberal democracy, decentralization and individual rights over group rights and tribal division. Due to lack of capacity, time and access to state resources, Dr. Berhanu’s camp might still lose the election.  So far, Jawar’s camp expects an easy election victory inside Oromia and it appears to have a three point strategy to win the 2020 election nationwide.

  1. Promote Amhara tribalism to weaken Ethiopianists
  2. Alliance with TPLF reformists
  3. Instigate Sidama nationalism to weaken Debub Ethiopianists

This strategy will likely secure a slight victory for ethnic nationalists, but even if they somehow win the 2020 election, will they share power with Ethiopian nationalists? How will they react when cities won and governed by the opposition party like Addis Ababa, Adama, Dire Dawa, Bishoftu, Gondar, Awassa and others demand self-administration, which will diminish the “special interests” and benefits of corresponding tribal states?
The answers to all these questions will determine whether OPDO, Jawar and other ethnic nationalists are ready to truly democratize Ethiopia OR if they are just the Oromo lipstick on the old TPLF tribal dictatorship.
One of Jawar’s online statements does not give us any hope for peaceful change. On July 28, Jawar declared on Facebook that ethnic-federalism (which he calls “multinational federalism”) is not even up for debate.
“Multinational federalism engrained in the current constitution is here to stay. It’s in not up for discussion, let alone negotiation. Any one caught in some FANTASY should wake up from their hallucination,”  JAWAR stated.
If this statement ultimately defines the Jawar camp’s obstinate doctrine – that red line that reverts us back to war –  then perhaps real change has not come to Ethiopia. Only time will tell.
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