Ethiopia's Revolution - From Creeping to Real

Residents of Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara regional state, & its environs are rallying in support of PM Abiy Ahmed's reform agenda

It is essential to situate events that led to the creeping revolution when the ruling Tigrean People's Liberation Front (TPLF) was compelled to give up power at the national level. Was TPLF's surrender of federal power a coincidence? My reading of the history and orientation of the TPLF informs me otherwise.

TPLF only moved to its erstwhile Plan B which, in actual fact, had been its primary objective - formation of the Tigrean Republic according to its 1976 Manifesto - before it ventured to form the EPRDF as a united front in 1983. As capturing political power in Addis was not its original objective, the formation of the EPRDF and eventually the federal republic was as far as TPLF could go conjectural or experimental in nature. Within this context, TPLF's objectives were to exhaust all possibilities from federal sources to make Tigray politically, economically, financially and militarily powerful, and be prepared for any eventual showdown if the political experiment at the federal level failed.

Politically, such a plan could not be attained unless the rest of the country was divided at any possible level. The instrument of division has been primary identities, i.e. ethnicity; hence, the resort to ethnic federalism, ethnic-based regions, formation of Special Forces by each region, etc over the past 27 years. Consequently, TPLF's sinister strategy gave Ethiopia a hundred years of homework as the elite in the regions resorted to grab political power at local level.

Such rule of ambivalence by TPLF accentuated social and political contradictions within society that finally led to an implosion in 2015-16 when Ethiopian Muslims flooded the streets of the capital to protest government interference in their internal affairs. This was followed by a massive protest movement by the Oromo and then the Amhara youth in 2017-18, which the TPLF could not quell.

Despite the declaration of state of emergency in two occasions, both attempts failed miserably. The uprisings could not be stopped unless political changes were introduced. That created schism within the ruling EPRDF upon which leading members of the then Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization (OPDO) and the then Amhara Nationals Democratic Movement (ANDM) sided with the people's revolt. The situation led to the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, paving the way for Abiy Ahmed's election as the next prime minister of the country. That marked the beginning of a creeping revolution with dual power reigning; the federal government in Addis and the TPLF regime in Mekelle as the leaders of the latter gave up their flirtation with federalism.

The most noticeable fact of the creeping revolution is the fact that Abiy's power evolved out of the structures of the ruling EPRDF. That necessitated, among other things, upholding the TPLF federal Constitution. This revolution, unlike the ones in 1974 that ended imperial rule and 1991 that ended the military regime, had to respect the laws of the land. Thus, Abiy's government also has to abide by the laws of the land.

The creeping revolution had to continue until it gives rise to a decisive stage; either to reign supreme somehow or to be bogged down with constitutionality in the face of a fierce public critique on the one hand and by a multifarious provocations of extremists supported by the TPLF who resorted to a campaign of ethnic cleansing specifically targeting members of the Amhara community outside the region. In effect, TPLF was involved in a counter-revolution with the aspiration of coming back to federal power. That, in actual fact was the contradiction created by the creeping nature of the revolution.

Subsequently, it was obvious that the policies TPLF implemented at the federal level for 27 years began to bear 'fruit' with the creation of multifarious contradictions that throttled the country for over two years. 'Politicians' with the agenda of ethnic-based 'self-determination' pop up in a number of regions such as Oromiya, Southern region, Amhara, Somali, with the most serious threat came from ethnic Oromo politicians. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) that was amnestied by the new government returned from exile but with a dubious agenda very similar to what the IRA adopted in Ireland, i.e. the Official Sin Fein and the Irish Republican Army operating parallel, the earlier being the political wing operating legally while the IRA continued as a guerrilla army engaged in armed struggle.

Similarly, OLF's armed wing known as the OLF-Shene, started to be involved in a terror campaign through a violent act that has no other description than genocide against ethnic Amharas in Oromiya region. Gruesome attacks against Amharas became its principal preoccupation while the official OLF in Addis Ababa denied any involvement with it.

The TPLF had already cemented collaboration with OLF-Shene and supported the latter's genocidal activities against Amharas in Oromiya region. Captured OLF-Shene's guerrillas confessed that they had received arms, trainings and ammunition from TPLF. In June, a massive uprising was organized by OLF, OLF Shene and the leading members of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) following the assassination of a well-known Oromo musician, Hachalu Hundessa. His assassination way followed by destruction of factories, other institutions of production and businesses in a number of cities including the capital Addis Ababa.

Abiy's administration, which had hitherto been reluctant to use force, was then compelled to quell the rebellion and arrest leading Oromo politicians directly involved in instigating violence and genocide, which includes Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba. Until then, the public at large had been frustrated with Abiy's administration that refrained from enforcing rule of law and a great deal of support rendered to him at the beginning had already dwindled. And in many cases people who had supported him earlier stood against him and accused him of cultivating "Oromo supremacy". But public opinion began to change after these latest acts of upholding rule of law in June following the killing of Hachalu.

On top of Abiy's inaction against the genocide in Oromiya region, the crime continued unabated in Oromiya with gruesome attacks against ethnic Amharas. The situation then spread to neighbouring Benishangul region. Reports came attesting that all these atrocities were committed by OLF-Shene with active support by TPLF. Even some officials including the head of the Somali region expressed their frustration at the lack of action by Abiy in face of such genocide taking place in a country. Fast-forward, after all these atrocities in Oromiya and Benishangul, the TPLF attacked the units of the Northern Command of the federal army based in Tigray and killed many. "The last straw broke the back of the camel" as the saying goes; Abiy finally resolved to crush the TPLF in its own turf and declared war against it.

With the military advances that the federal army made crushing TPLF's resistance so far, Ethiopians all over the country were overjoyed with the relief that the TPLF would be finally wiped out irreversibly. With victory in the foreseeable future by the federal army over the TPLF, it is now time to reflect on the principal question "quo Vadis Ethiopia?" (Which Way Ethiopia?). We have to divide this question into two: in the immediate and in the long run

In the immediate:

At a certain point in the history of a nation, a tipping point may be reached at which the nation has to decide on the fate of those vectors of the wrong that cost the country in countless lives and property. Once a decisive victory is attained against such a force, the only way to ensure that such a force will never revive is to disband TPLF forever. That is the starting point for the propositions I am going to make below.

There are a number of crucial issues that need to be addressed in the immediate that require unambiguous answers. These questions address pertinent problems whose answers feed into the answers to be given for the long term problems. At the political level, we need to ride roughshod over the demise of TPLF who was behind many troubles throughout the country. In other words, we need to take advantage of the triumph over the TPLF and institutionalize a few changes that are of strategic significance in the long term.

De-ethnicization: this is the time that we all need to hammer out de-ethnicizing the politics that the TPLF had institutionalized as the political gospel of this country. Ethiopia hasn't suffered from anything else as much as it has from ethnicization of politics. So many lives have been lost, property destroyed and millions and millions suffered from the most deformed construction of ethnicity that we have never witnessed in any other country. In a nutshell, the ethnicization of politics is Ethiopia's shame. None other than the TPLF has constructed the ethnicization of politics for obvious strategic reasons.

Therefore, the immediate task at the political level is to de-ethnicize politics as much as possible. Hit the iron when it is still hot, as the saying has it. What does de-ethnicization mean anyway? This involves doing away with all the structures/institutions set up outside the parameters of the Constitution but with huge impact on accentuating ethnic division and those that can still be used by power mongering ethnic-based politicians.

We should not be self-complacent. Ethiopia still has so many problems even after the TPLF is gone as we still are prisoners of the ethnicization of politics that it institutionalized for 30 years. First and foremost, the so-called Special Forces under regional administrations should be dissolved and should be integrated to the national army. The power of the regions should not exceed those stated in the Constitution. This should be accompanied by series of public discussion broadcasted on TV and radio for the purpose of accentuating de-ethnicization and for unified structures of power.

In line with this, the wind of change that is blowing over Ethiopia also has to courageously move to renounce some territorial claims. TPLF made a few territories of the Amhara region a part of Tigray. Therefore, Wolkait, Tegede, Tselemt, Raya and Azebo all must be returned to their previous territorial dispensation as parts of the Amhara region.

Elections: this is a crucial undertaking that should take place as planned. The election is crucial among other things because it is only under the new parliament that revising the Constitution can be done. Secondly, and most importantly, is: we will have a legitimate government elected to office by the people, the first of its kind in our country. This legitimacy gives all the power that the government requires to ensure the observance of rule of law throughout the country.

Constitutional Review: trying to review the Constitution indeed is going to be one of the biggest challenges that the country is going to face. Needless to say, there are a number of articles in the Constitution that need to be changed and revised. Therefore, the constitutional review process should start right after the elections. The necessary bodies that lead the review must be set up, the principal being a Constitutional Review Commission.

The Commission needs to be composed of experts of constitutional law, fellow citizens from different walks of life, government officials and representatives of civil society. The final draft must be subject to public discussion across the country before a referendum on it.

Constituent Assembly: to forge further unity within the country and prevent unnecessary schisms or conflicts, setting up a Constituent Assembly as a national forum for policy prescriptions is essential. And this Assembly should also compose of scholars, government officials, civil society representatives from unions, NGOs, professional associations, etc... and needs to meet on a regular basis to discuss issues that require forging policies and prescribe to the government.

Developing Institutions of the State: initial steps toward formation of state institutions must be taken as soon as possible. Institutions that are now controlled by the government need to be transformed into public institutions and accountable directly to the parliament as opposed to the central government. Ethiopia needs to take the first steps toward transforming these institutions that are now under the government into public institutions answerable to the parliament. These institutions include government affiliated media institutions, the election board and other institutions that need to be directly under the parliament.

Development Challenges: a panel of development experts, economists and other social scientists should convene to discuss, debate and come up with policy prescriptions to the government regarding the policies that the country should follow to generate social development. The same panel should also tackle issues such as ending violence against women, protection of the environment, public education and the plight of children, pastoralism, and other similar pertinent development issues.

Foreign Policy: one crucial area for Ethiopia's security and its development concerns is foreign policy. In this respect too, there needs to be a panel of experts that advise the central government on foreign policy matters. This body must be composed of academics of political science and international relations in particular, prominent personalities from the ministries of foreign affairs and defence and personalities knowledgeable on certain countries with geographical proximity to Ethiopia or on specific countries relevant to Ethiopia's foreign diplomacy.


The area we need to look at in the long-term should all deal with the subject of undoing poverty and underdevelopment. These are grand issues of transformation (from government to state, society to civil society and individual subjects to citizens) that need to be tackled after the elections and when a government elected by the majority of the population sits in office.

We should only mention the main issues to be addressed as the principal and structural challenges that Ethiopia faces to mitigate poverty and underdevelopment and finally attain social development issues. These includes the process of evolution towards formation of a modern state, evolution towards emergence of civil society, the environment challenge, perennial diseases: gender inequality and violence against women, Agrarian revolution (peasant agriculture and pastoral livestock production system), and children and youth.

These are only preliminary ideas to provoke public discussion and inform the government which direction to take toward realization of social development.

Editor's Note: Melakou Tegegn is founder of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP). The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter.

Contributed by Melakou Tegegn

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