Open Letter to the 2019 Nobel Peace Laureate PM Abiy Ahmed

30 Nov

December 1, 2019

Part I

Dear Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, 

As Ethiopia’s first Nobel Peace Laureate, allow me, Sir, to congratulate you for the honour the Norwegian Nobel Peace Committee has bestowed upon you and, through you, on our nation. I admit such congratulation may be a bit late, coming as it does from an Ethiopian. I beg you to consider it my way of extending to you an early welcome to this part of the world, Scandinavia, on your way to Oslo, Norway, to receive your Nobel Peace Prize on December 10.

I have decided, therefore, before you get too busy with the events surrounding your award ceremony on that day, to put across to you through this Open Letter my worries about the clear signs of fragility that increasingly is besieging our country since you took over. In its more pronounced form especially after last October’s incident, the cause of which was the anti-Ethiopian American of Oromo Muslim extraction whose goal has been to politically profit from Ethiopia’s ensuing crises.

It is already common knowledge around the world now by that he has caused deaths of scores of Ethiopians, the living surviving indignities of violation of all forms—either because of one’s origin, faith or language or all of them—notwithstanding that it is against national laws of many states and international law

Therefore, in addressing you I take liberty to speak out, without garnish, against all sorts of demands on the nation and political deceits from any side, especially incitements of ethnic tensions and competitions to grab resources of a poor nation that is even growing poorer unable to steadily and properly harvest, produce more, manufacture and trade at home and with export markets. 

Ethiopia is today being hustled by power grabbers. It is also subjected to a huge rise in criminality. One such a crime Friday captured the attention of the resident Associated Press journalist Elias Meseret. He reported about a daring broad daylight robbery by a bunch of people brought by a minibus that  followed a car loaded with cash en route from Dembel to Mesqel Flower. When they caught up with it, they stepped out and broke the car and took what they were after.

Such acts have increased not only in break-ins of properties, but also life endangerments and physical violence against locals and foreigners, according to international sources

Hope tricking us, Prime Minister, the timing of your ascendancy to our nation’s highest political office was greeted with joy and fanfare. And like most of my compatriots, I too had considered it an act of divine intervention: God in His wisdom saving Ethiopia from the three-decade-long unbearable inhumanity of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and their inimical pilferage of our nation.

In keeping with my pledge of June 2018, therefore, after I accepted you as my leader, I have supported decisions you made and those I considered right, while criticising you when I disagreed with you. While I have experienced both joys and frustrations in such a journey with you, I am only lumbering now as your critical supporter, mostly hope nudging me when I could move no more.

This Open Letter is hardly a culmination point between you and me, but a landmark in our relationship, as our country needs a leader more than any time before. I am only hoping you would work harder and better to save it from the fracture forced upon it. There is no longer assurance that the kind of ethnic and religious extermination of October 23, 2019 and those in the successive days will not arise again to claim as many or more lives any time. 

As far as your leadership is concerned, for lack of a better word, it is smart-alecky, characterized by a combination of irreverence and inexperience.  Most of all, like all other leaders, you have brought into the job huge dose of personal interests.  Those have only taken you thus far in a highly politicised society, already diffused with conspiratorial politics. It is important I say this: we have now reached a stage when and where you yourself have become our nation’s preoccupation.

I sense you also seem to have realised those factors that have contributed to your difficulties in your job. You would agree with my assessment you have not been able to accomplish even a fraction of what you have sought and promised Ethiopians to do, especially in guiding the country in the direction of honest and uplifting beneficial change.

Proper institutional functioning seems increasingly unthinkable; your personal style and the spur of the moment things taking over, instead of government and leadership functioning through national institutions. This has repeatedly shown its deficiencies, ineffective as it is in reassuring citizens that the country has a government and on top of things.

For citizens, this has become different from what you have promised and allowed to expect from you. Nor has it allowed us to go, as before, on the basis of hope and our trust in God. So it is, surprisingly even when roughly two out of three students have turned religious. And yet, you seem to enjoy the speed with which you are pressing the gas pedal, as if Ethiopia is the machine you operate mostly on an autopilot.  

On my side, I have often contended with frustrations—at times indifference winning. At the root of it has been considerable disappointment by what has been going on in our country. In such moments, I have turned for comfort, among others, to the rich life and experiences of Dag Hammarskjold—the most effective Secretary-General the United Nations has had, whose admirer I have always been since my student days in the early 1970s, in later years when I was both a diplomat for my country and later as an international staff in New York after I joined that very same Organisation.

In April 1953, at 47, Dag Hammarskjold became the youngest and second United Nations Secretary-General. Six months in office, in September 1953 he went public with a speech about the obstacles he had encountered in bringing into shape the young international organisation. His task, he figuratively likened to a journey on the Santa Maria, the ship Columbus used in 1492 during his voyage to America. It easily captures the imagination, it seems to me, that also becoming his aha moment, which he thus concluded his journey with a great realisation: “…We have still to prove our case.”

And thus, he said:

“…Aboard this Santa Maria we have to meet the impatience of those sailors who expect land on the horizon tomorrow, also the cynicism or sense of futility of those who would give up and leave us drifting  impotently. On the shores we have all those who are against the whole expedition, who seem to take a special delight in blaming the storms on the ship, instead of the weather. Well, let us admit, that this comparison with the crew of Columbus soon after he set sail on the Santa Maria has some truth also in its negative implications…We have still to prove our case.

(Hammarskjold Brian Urquhart, 1972)

My plan here, Prime Minister, is to prompt you to see your true understanding of how Ethiopians perceive you and your government, and why.  Shake yourself to get out of the numbness toward our despairing population, their ordinariness a place you habitually wallowing in has dictated in you. 

I assure you, my intention is honourable, strictly dictated by the need and desire to prioritise the all-round wellbeing of our people. Take cognizance of the importance of honest law-based system of governance, while focussing on improving the functioning our institutions and by which those you have put in position of authority are held accountable for each and every decision they make, or indecisions thereon in terms of carrying out their functions.

No doubt, this assumes you are committed to respecting the freedoms of citizens. Open your eyes to see that Ethiopia since the days of the TPLF has become a land of inequalities, which is continuing this time more of this absence of equality of opportunities being openly demanded. 

You tear to pieces anyone that has a different idea from you, or he/she that disagrees with you. Neither history nor the church could protect people from your judgement. You are free to make them a laughing stock. This approach of yours has hardly helped our nation.

There is a pressing need for change in order to reverse Ethiopia’s increased fracture, you are supposed to help heal, including through forgiveness you preached. I had to consult Dostoevsky’s  

Sadly, preceding this latest crisis we have witnessed, whose vortex is Oromia Region, you have been sending out conflicting signals to the Ethiopian people. You should be aware that those have planted doubts in Ethiopian minds about your government’s loyalty to the nation and its citizens. 

Briefly put, a ‘physiognomy’ of those deepening concerns seems to have enabled citizens to spend more time worrying about the safety of their families. Everyone unto itself may be good for governments in pursuit of a domineering role, like a stern father. When and where those who claim ‘all unto us’ grow louder, that is the moment Ethiopians are increasingly feeling insecure in their own land of birth.

In politics, as in accounting, numbers also have the capacity to disguise. If the support the Abiy Ahmed government has received in 2019 is hugely lower than its 2018 peak, that is no small matter. It speaks of citizens distancing their loyalty from your government. The point I cannot sufficiently emphasize is this shift in Ethiopian public opinion has visibly become injurious to you and the government you represent. 

The prevalence of untreated ethnic politics has affected our country, as it also has afflicted your government, including yourself as a leader. Why is that?

During these times you have been seen neither taking action nor having a good cover. In other words:

a) Where and when the need arose for national leadership, you were on many instances unresponsive and thus missing in action. 

b) Your inability to respond has been interpreted as either indifference or, letting the bad weather pass, totally disinterested in the damages it has left in its wake 

To remind you of your responsibility as the head of the Government of Ethiopia, I quote instances of your responsibilities from the constitution to highlight the failures of your government that has left citizens with a terrible sense of abandonment, as follows:

  • Article 16, starkly states,Everyone has the right to protection against bodily harm.”
  • Article 33 (2) gives ironclad assurances: “Every Ethiopian national has the right to the enjoyment of all rights, protection and benefits derived from Ethiopian nationality as prescribed by law.” 
  • Even under state of emergencies, the state’s responsibility under Article 93 (4) (a) underlines, “…To protect the country’s peace and sovereignty, and to maintain public security, law and order.” 

This has led Ethiopians to feel and, most to believe— myself included—you do not want to face real challenges. Or is it the case you have secret understanding with the anti-Ethiopian Jawar Mohammed, a resident of Minnesota and a citizen of the United States, who has been the cause of continuing frictions, mutual recriminations, deaths and persistent restlessness inside Ethiopia?



Keffyalew Gebremedhin


The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

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