By Gemechu Aba Biya
During your press conference on March 28, when asked if your government is weak, you responded that it has never been stronger. The evidence you provided to support your claim is that Ethiopia has not been invaded by another country. Yes, Mr. Prime Minister we are grateful to you that Ethiopia has not been invaded by Djibouti. You also said that strength is a matter of perception and that Ethiopians misconstrue strength. Ethiopians, you assert, associate strength with government abuse. Unless a government uses brute force against demonstrators, imprisons journalists, or tortures prisoners, Ethiopians don’t consider their government strong, you implied. This is an insult to Ethiopians.
Ethiopians have a clear understanding of a strong government. A strong government is a legitimate government that enjoys public support, irrespective of its military might. New Zealand has a strong government. Because of your government’s inability to maintain law and order, its incapability to take decisive action against the OLF, its powerlessness to bring to justice former government officials who had committed crimes against the Ethiopian people, your endless pandering to Oromo nationalism, and your pre-occupation with entertaining Jawar Mohammed’s equally limitless temper tantrums, you have lost considerable legitimacy from the public. And a government that has lost legitimacy is indeed a feeble government.
You and your officials maintain that during the period of transition to democracy, it is normal that people may abuse the newly gained freedoms. While this is true, you seem to forget that it is the responsibility of your government to ensure that these freedoms are not abused. On the contrary, your government tolerates, abates, and promotes the abuse of freedom of expression. When Jawar Mohammed and his followers demonstrated carrying sticks, machetes, and other lethal weapons against the allocation of condominiums to lower income households in Addis Ababa, your government caved in the next day and postponed the decision indefinitely. Your endorsement of unlawful behavior has contributed to lawlessness in Ethiopia. A government that rules a country where lawlessness is widespread is a weak government. In fact, it is as a failed state.
Similarly, you and your officials are also fond of saying that a house that has been barricaded for a long time, needs to vent its stench; what comes out is not always pleasant. Tolerance is needed, you sermonise, but there is a limit to tolerance. Indeed, certain types of behavior, for example crime, cannot be tolerated. A government that tolerates crime promotes crime. A government that allows armed insurrection, bank robberies, and internal displacement has failed to protect its citizens. Such a government forfeits its right to rule.
Many of the individuals and groups venting ethnic hatred are those who have returned from abroad because you opened the door unconditionally to everybody. It is professional hate mongers like Jawar Mohammed, Ezekiel Gebessa whose academic “expertise” includes cataloguing ethnic tropes, insults, and slurs; and others who are spreading their poisonous propaganda in a systematic and organized manner using the platform that your government has approved: the OMN. I realize that ESAT too has been accused of spreading ethnic hatred. If that is the case, as has been alleged by some ethnic nationalists, then it too must be held accountable.
A strong government admits its mistakes; a weak government claims perfection. When asked about any mistakes that you may have made over the last year, you answered “none”. I respectively disagree. There are at least two major missteps that you made since you became prime minister. You made a colossal error in embracing the spiteful, little-minded, and egomaniac Jawar Mohammed. To stoke his little ego, you shamefully called him a “freedom fighter” last July in Minnesota when you shared a stage with him. By doing so, you turned the little man into an important political actor. It’s a well-known fact that the man has no political principles, except promoting his own egotistical agenda, which includes creating a crisis to put himself in the limelight. He craves being the center of attention.
He will always manufacture a crisis to pursue this political agenda. For example, in September of 2018, when Ethiopian nationalism was on the rise, he and the other Oromo extremists felt that the Oromo youth might embrace Ethiopian nationalism. To nip in the bud, they started inventing stories. Jawar Mohammed fabricated stories about 43 dead Oromos in Addis Ababa, Oromo residents in Addis Ababa being attacked because they were Oromos, and the existence of a political party to exterminate Oromos. The strategy was to undermine national unity and to weaken your government. Within six months the strategy has paid off handsomely because of your inaction. That was the turning point.
Confident that he has taken you hostage, the little Ayatollah now claims he owns you. He has declared himself the leader of the other government in Ethiopia, the government of the Kerros. He has issued a fatwa against your government saying that it cannot do anything without his approval. Your bullying of Iskinder and your equivocation on Addis Ababa corroborate that the fatwa is succeeding.
Not only have you promoted this egomaniac political criminal, but you have provided him with police protection while he is spewing ethnic hatred and undermining your government. Ethiopians are wondering why they should pay for the protection of Jawar Mohammed, a man who is determined to destroy Ethiopia. At the same time, you are intimidating Iskinder Nega, a dedicated Ethiopian nationalist. Your government prevented him from holding a press conference on March 31. The unequal treatment of these individuals signifies moral, ethical, and political cowardice.
The other major blunder your government made was begging Dowd Ibssa to return to Ethiopia. He had insisted that certain conditions be fulfilled or he would pass his remaining days in Asmara, but you sent Obo Lemma and Workineh Gebeyehu to plead with him to return to Ethiopia. He has created havoc ever since he returned. As you stated some time ago, over the previous 27 years, the OLF had not liberated an inch of land in Ethiopia. Thanks to your incompetence, naiveté, or hubris; today, it controls swathes of areas in Wellega and claims to administer some districts in Bale. Your government resuscitated a political organization from its deathbed.
When Dowd Ibssa publicly defied your government and refused to disarm, you were politically too frightened to take any action against him or his organization. And yet, you are bullying Iskinder Nega who is peacefully organizing the population of Addis Ababa. (I don’t agree with his idea of establishing a caretaker government for Addis Ababa). Strong governments don’t tolerate armed insurrection; nor do they bully citizens who engage in peaceful dissent.
It was the Gada elders that had to disarm the OLF partially, while your government sat idle when the OLF was robbing banks, assassinating government officials, killing police officers, and terrorizing the population of Wellega. Even today, despite an agreement that the OLF signed with the Gada elders to lay down its arms, a certain faction has refused to disarm. What has your government done? Nothing.
As a result of your miscalculations, you have been taken hostage by the OLF and Jawar Mohammed. You have been unable to liberate yourself from their captivity. Your party is now fighting for its political survival by adopting the extremist positions of the OLF and Jawar Mohammad, but this has diminished your support with the rest of the Ethiopian population so much so that some Ethiopians are convinced that you are a Manchurian Prime Minister advancing the political agenda of the OLF.
Finally, the court has issued warrants for the arrest of the former government officials who had committed crimes against the Ethiopian people, but the TPLF government has refused to hand over the criminals, and your government has done nothing to enforce the law. The TPLF has also prevented the transfer of heavy military equipment from Tigray to other parts of Ethiopia. Your feeble attempt to implore the TPLF by sending elders has not produced any results.
Consequently, most Ethiopians think that your government is weak not because it’s not abusive enough, but because it has failed to enforce the law. Having failed to respect its social contract with the Ethiopian people, it has lost legitimacy. Still, it can regain the legitimacy it has squandered by taking decisive actions against criminals, hate mongers, and corrupt officials. Unless your government starts enforcing the law, maintaining law and order, and treating Ethiopians equally, the Ethiopian people will soon start looking for an alternative leader: a strong Oromo leader who is also a staunch Ethiopian nationalist.