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Ethiopia's Fractured Politics and the Ultimate Test for Abiy Ahmed

Even under a strong man in the name of Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) openly struggled to articulate and execute its vision for Ethiopia's political futures. Looking at the events of early 2000 we saw how Meles’s dominant position within the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) led to the centralization of power in his hands as head of the party, coalition and government. His consolidation of power meant that one could not spot a line between Zenawi, his party, his coalition, the government and the state. Pretty much what we saw in Moi’s Kenya and are seeing in Museveni’s Uganda etc. Even with such immense power vested in the person of Zenawi, he and his party, the EPRDF were caught off-guard by a surprisingly strong showing by opposition parties in the 2005 election, followed by protests in Addis Ababa which were violently repressed.

While the death of Zenawi is significant in Ethiopia’s political (dis)formations, his succession is even more interesting and the character of the man who succeeded him is even juicy. His successor was a weak man. Like Jacob Zuma in South Africa, Salva Kirr in South Sudan and even Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya etc, Hailemariam Desalegn decided to rule a dangerously politically fragmented country through decrees of some council of elder. You see, Kenya has proved that it can navigate the Agikuyu hegemony, South Africa has shown it can survive the Zulu hegemony and even South Sudan is starting to tend towards overcoming the Dinka hegemony. The same does not obtain in Ethiopia. The life and times of Desalegn reveal as much. There is reason he did not survive the uprising waves of 2015-7. The PM simply would have not, and he sure did not, survive the unrest that followed the internal review process by the EPRDF of its four members. Tensions within the EPRDF over the future direction of political reform, not necessarily the often peddled half truths about the Oromia grievance, led to the resignation of Desalegn.

The resignation of Desalegn, ushered in the ascendance to power of the ‘flower loving boy’, Dr. Abiy Ahamed Ali. Some say he is too weak, he loves flowers too much, he is too soft, he is not Oromo enough, he is.... he is….whatever to lead Ethiopia. But. I love Abiy. Many people seem to love him too. His first hundred days in office were magical. He came with the promise of sweeping reforms. He had a huge broom in his hand and appeared determined to make good use of its to effect political changes that would alter the cause of Ethiopia’s lethal politics. He has since won global accolades including the Nobel Peace Prize. But honestly Abiy is slowly running out of gas, isn’t he? With two attempts on his life, he knows too well how tough it is to be a leader of a country called Ethiopia.

And then look at the region. What exactly should Ethiopia’s position regarding Somalia be? Given that 6 million of Ethiopians are Somalis 40% of which are Ogadens? How should Ethiopia maintain its good relations to Kenya while not upsetting Somalia at a time Kenya is locked in bitter diplomatic row and territorial disputes with Somalia? What should be Ethiopia’s position in regard to Sudan amid the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) politics and in relation to the Red Sea, and by extension Gulf of Aden coalition, particularly how does Ethiopia play Emiratis and Saudi’s particularly in Somalia but also in proximate conflicts such as that in Yemen? What about the politics of Barbera port and other regional strategic ports for Ethiopia? How does Addis Ababa position itself in relation to Juba? Support a Dinka regime when it has a huge population of Nuer in Gambela? Or, support a Nuer regime when the combination of Nuer power and resources in South Sudan with a Nuer state in Gambela can possibly spark an irredentist war in Ethiopia’s Gambela region?

Anyway. Let’s forget about the region and go back to Addis Ababa. Elections are coming (well they stand postponed thanks to Covid-19 pandemic). The greatest test for PM Abiy Ahmed is whether he succeeds with his Ethiopian Prosperity Party (EPP) project. Just before Coronavirus brought a disruption and refocused the attention, we had already seen the EPP merger process hit major challenges. For example, the exit of the TPLF from the coalition and even some senior figures within Abiy’s own party including Lemma Megersa who is both former defense minister and Oromo Democratic Party (OTP) leader. The establishment of the EPP raises significant questions about political party formation and the politics of coalition making in Ethiopia and electoral outlook quite generally, but more specifically Abiy’s survival and more worryingly the state and endurance of Ethiopia’s fractured federation.

Ethiopia's Fractured Politics and the Ultimate Test for Abiy Ahmed Ethiopia's Fractured Politics and the Ultimate Test for Abiy Ahmed Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on May 02, 2020 Rating: 5

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