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The ‘Bantustanization’ of Ethiopia and Its Looming Dangers

1 Aug

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

The term Balkanization has frequently been used in reference to Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism, which has been codified in the country’s dysfunctional constitution that curiously defines politics, citizenship, rights and privileges on ethnic grounds.  However, the use of the term Balkanization in reference to the current situation in Ethiopia is inaccurate, since it does not fully capture the toxic agenda of the architects of the country’s constitution or the misguided policies of the current government.

Strictly speaking, there are no political or administrative terms in history that can fully and adequately explain the bizarre experiment that we see unraveling in Ethiopia. Nonetheless, a term, which comes close to describing the policies of the current government and the unfolding ethnic violence and repression, is ‘bantustanization,’ which has its origin in apartheid South Africa.

“The 1959 Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act relabeled the reserves as “homelands,” or Bantustans, in which only specific ethnic groups were to have residence rights. Later, the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act of 1970 defined blacks living throughout South Africa as legal citizens of the homelands designated for their particular ethnic groups—thereby stripping them of their South African citizenship and their few remaining civil and political rights. Between the 1960s and 1980s, the white-dominated South African government continuously removed black people still living in “white areas”—even those settled on property that had been in their families for generations—and forcibly relocated them relocated them to the Bantustans.” https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bantustan

Bantustanization dehumanizes a population and makes one race superior to others. It confines people to homelands with restricted access to other parts of the country, as was the case in apartheid South Africa. The Bantustans were administrative regions designed to exclude blacks from the South African political system, which was dominated by the white minority under the policy of apartheid — an institutionalized form of segregation and racism.

The idea behind the apartheid ideology was to allow the whites to own the larger proportion of the country with enormous natural resources and to establish  small and weak enclaves, separated and dependent on the racist government. The ultimate objective was to convert these Bantustans into independent satellite states, with full recognition by the international community. However, the apartheid ideology was completely rejected by the international community and the apartheid regime and its cruel policy eventually collapsed. Bantustans were subsequently incorporated with South Africa.

Bantustanization in Ethiopia 

As the Ethiopian leaders responsible for the chaos in the country very well know, it is virtually impossible to carve out any part or region of the country and create a viable state.  Ethiopian ethnic groups can only exist within a united Ethiopia, and the existence of Ethiopia is sine qua non to the survival of allThe history, the geography, the demographic distribution and the shared culture and heritage of the people are so intertwined, they do not allow for either ‘bantustanization’ or complete secession. Despite this fact, the ruling regime seems to be determined to create Bantustans under the subjugation of the dominant and ruling ethnic group.

Tragically, the US did not take firm actions on apartheid or the policy of Bantustans in racist South Africa at the time. Instead, it stood by the segregationist nation, and even allied with it in declaring a costly war on the legitimate government of Angola and in delaying the independence of Namibia. President Reagan, who served as US President from 1981 to 1989, used the phrase “constructive engagement” as a euphemism for dialogue with South Africa:

“His rhetoric of constructive engagement was a cover for doing nothing, actually doing more than doing nothing, really providing American support for a retrograde regime” (1). Reagan staunchly opposed economic sanctions around 1985, while stating publicly that he condemned the inequity in South Africa, revealing “the historical US tendency to rhetorically denounce South Africa’s racial policies while simultaneously doing little to change the established status quo” https://prospectjournal.org/2011/10/21/americas-role-in-the-end-of-south-african-apartheid/

It was the civil rights movement that eventually forced the administration to take a stand against apartheid.  The anti apartheid movement:  “culminated in congressional passage of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid of 1986, which mandated a variety of sanctions designed to force the dismantling of apartheid” (IBID) overriding President Reagan’s veto.

“When Nelson Mandela was freed from jail in 1988, Republicans tried to sweep their support for his erstwhile jailers under the rug. President George H.W. Bush hosted Mandela at the White House and praised him as  “a man who embodies the hopes of millions.” Mandela gave a speech to Congress at which the assembled legislators, including many who had once voted against economic sanctions, interrupted him with three standing ovations and 12 rounds of applause. Today, leaders of both parties have once again cheered for Mandela. What he really could have used was their help when he was imprisoned on Robben Island, trying to end apartheid.” https://foreignpolicy.com/2013/07/19/apartheid-amnesia/

However the liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC), and its leader, Nelson Mandela, remained to be listed as terrorists until 2008.

Herman Cohen’s Sinister Ploy

Ironically, certain individuals in the US appear to be inclined to repeat the sad history of apartheid now in Ethiopia. A case in point is the recent diatribe by Mr. Herman Cohen, former Assistant Secretary of Sate in the US department of state, ambassador, senior diplomat and author, in which he insinuated the idea of taking Ethiopia back to those shameful years of apartheid and ‘bantustanization’ in South Africa.  Mr. Herman Cohen was an active member of the administration when the US refused to take a firm action on apartheid and ‘bantustanization.’

He tweeted on June 24:

“Failed coup in #Ethiopia’s state was an attempt by ethnic nationalists to restore Amhara hegemony over all of Ethiopia that existed for several centuries prior to 1991. That dream is now permanently dead.”

And on July 19:

“Violence in #Ethiopia‘s Sidama, after similar events in Oromia, Amhara and Somali states, tells us the Ethiopian people will never again allow return to all-powerful authoritarian central govts as under the Emperors, the Derg and the EPRDF/TPLF. The future is true federalism.”

Ethiopians to date do not know what really happened in Bahr Dar, the day of the so-called coup, which is by the way a misnomer. I am curious to know how Mr. Cohen came to know that the killings in Bahr Dar were: “an attempt by ethnic nationalist to restore Amhara hegemony over all of Ethiopia”? Mr. Cohen further asserts: “ that dream is now permanently dead”. Even those very close to power do not yet know what really happened in Bahr Dar. It leads one to assume that Mr. Cohen has exclusive access to the Prime Minister who is the only one that has the complete information regarding this ‘coup’ and the killings of so many people including top officials, information which the PM has yet to share with the Ethiopian People.

Mr. Herman Cohen is once again on the wrong side of history.  His assertion of Amhara’s hegemony in Ethiopia for centuries, which he took out from the propaganda leaflets of the TPLF, has shocked many. He exposed his utter ignorance. The responses to his twit have adequately addressed this.  It is however troubling to realize that it was this man with such ignorance of Ethiopian history, who   decided on the fate of Ethiopia in 1991, at the London conference, which he convened and chaired.  It was supposed to be a negotiation with the interested parties including the Ethiopian government. The Ethiopian government walked out because Mr. Cohen had already decided on the take over of Ethiopia by TPLF.  As a result of this ill-fated decision Ethiopians suffered for 28 years and the country is now near collapse.

The people of Ethiopia forgave Herman Cohen, but never forgot his crimes, when he eventually acknowledged his blunders and regretted his decision, after hundreds of thousands had perished, millions were subjected to Zenawi’s atrocious rule and the country was brought to the brink of disintegration.

Now Mr. Cohen reappears and once again meddles in the affairs of Ethiopia by advocating the break up of Ethiopia.  He suggests that “true federalism” is having   more ‘killils’  (ethnic homelands).  Ethiopia has 90 nationalities and establishing homelands for all is the ultimate definition of democracy for Mr. Cohen.  How does ‘bantustanization’ prevent “ the return to all-powerful authoritarian central governments as under the Emperors, the Derg and the EPRDF/TPLF.”?

The policy that he is irresponsibly propagating is one that would potentially lead to civil war and genocide within Ethiopia, cause considerably devastating instability in neighboring countries, and trigger proxy wars. In the scenario he is promoting, there is a high probability that the Horn of Africa would literally be on fire in the truest sense, with the Arab World and the US scrambling to secure their interests in the Red Sea and in the region. If a civil war starts in Ethiopia the world would also have to brace itself for an unprecedented flow of refugees in all directions, with most destined to Europe across the Sahara. North African coasts would be inundated with Ethiopian and other refugees from the affected neighboring countries in numbers that would pale the recent migrations from that part of Africa in comparison.

Regrettably, it is such senseless arguments as put forth by Mr. Cohen, with a narrow and myopic agenda, that have often put the US on the wrong side of history, as evidenced by recent events in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Egypt and Libya. The failure of the US to respond in the face of the unfolding genocide in Rwanda should have been a bitter lesson. President Clinton and the late United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, despite their belated apologies and acceptances of a degree of responsibility, failed humanity by not responding to the clear early warnings. As a consequence, a million people were massacred and 800,000 people fled the country. The tragedy did not need to happen, but it did; and the US and the international community today live with the indelible scar of guilt and infamy.

Looming Dangers

People have been warning the international community for the last decade about the build up in Ethiopia. We now see genocide unfolding in the country and the silence of the US and the international community is stunning.  It seems as if no lessons have been taken away from Rwanda’s experience. People can only hope that there are seasoned people within the State Department who can understand and mitigate the implications of the irresponsible statements and proposals of discredited individuals like Mr. Herman Cohen.

Those who know Ethiopia do understand that the country cannot break up and an attempt to do so will only introduce an endless civil war, with implications that go far beyond the region. To create a Bantustan, one only needs to apply brute force and military power; however, to dream of ruling over a nation of Bantustans and living in peace is an impossible proposition.

Sadly, the Ethiopian government is giving the finishing touch for the creation of a Bantu-style administrative structure with extremists monopolizing political and economic power. The process of ‘bantustanization’, which  is underway

will ensure that all the other ethnic regions (Kilils or Bantustans) become weak and incapable to challenge the dominant group at the helm of power. The Ethiopian constitution allows the ethnic-based regions (Bantustans) to secede if they wish to. The attempt by some Ethiopian ethnic groups to exercise their rights to secede will not be successful but will lead to conflicts. Like the Bantustans of South Arica they will not be able to get any recognition.

Since each ethnic group does not have a clearly defined boundary accepted by all parties, it will also be one more reason for conflict, as is evident now throughout the country. Unlike the Bantustans, the demography does not allow one region of Ethiopia to be exclusively of one ethnic group, since millions of people of different ethnic backgrounds live scattered in many parts of the country. Like the Bantustans they cannot be viable independent states.

The policy of this government is primitive and those elites who are behind these polices should be tried for crimes against humanity and for deliberately and intentionally creating the conditions for civil war and possible genocide. Bantustanzation is inhumane and should be recognized as a crime under international law.

The regime in Ethiopia is accelerating the fragmentation of Ethiopia into several more weak ‘killis’ to ensure that the regime would be unchallenged. There is even an attempt to further fragment some of the major ethnic groups, as is the case with the Amahras, which seem to pose the greatest challenge to the hegemony of one ethnic group. The shortsighted strategy of this regime is to divide the Amharas along regional lines. This exercise has been launched in subtle ways and there are signs of some cracks in the Amhara community. Currently there are nine ‘killis’; but with the recent movement in the south to create more ‘killils’, the door seems to be open now for more than 80 to claim their own ‘killis.’

Seriously concerned that it might be a prelude to genocide and civil war, the people of Ethiopia are resisting the government’s dangerous policy of ‘batustanization’. It also behooves the international community to condemn the unsound policy, as it did condemn decades ago the establishment  of the Bantustans in South Africa as an integral component of its apartheid policy. In particular, the people of Ethiopia once again call upon the international community to put pressure on the government so that the worst scenario can be prevented.

Statement like that of Mr. Cohen only enflame the already tense and charged political atmosphere. Responsible and eminent people should do everything possible to use their influence to deescalate the tense situation, advise and support the government to establish a national conference of genuinely elected representatives of the people to have an open  dialogue  amongst themselves and design a road map for the country.  Let such an internationally sponsored conference of the people determine the fate of this country, not a handful of extremists.

The author Dawit W Giorgis is Visiting Scholar, Boston University African Studies Center





Ethiopia’s Policy Logjam and Unintended Consequences

31 Jul

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

By Dr. Aklog Birara, Part II of an III Part Series

Why willful ignorance should be combatted now!



“A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.” Nelson Mandela

Governing a complex, ethnically federated and polarized society is difficult but not impossible. It is vital to remember that polarization is initiated, created and propagated by elites. Elites who created the problem in the first place cannot therefore be the solution. At a federal level, authorities minted by the system cannot transform the institutional policies and structures of state and government unless and until they extricate themselves from ethnic politics.

History tells us that changing the most difficult policy and structural issues in any country takes morally and ethically courageous leaders. Mahatma Gandhi of India against British colonialism, Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman and Dr. Martin Luther King of the United States against racism and Nelson Mandela against Apartheid come to mind. The common denominator that binds these courageous leaders is humanity, human worth and human dignity. Their ability to think and act beyond ethnicity, race, fame and income sets them apart from the rest.

I argue in this commentary that, at the federal level at least, each and every policy and decision-maker including the Prime Minister must be appointed or selected on the sole criteria of unbridled loyalty to Ethiopia and impartial service to all Ethiopians. Seventy-one years ago, on July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981 to abolish exclusion and discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion or national origin” in the U.S. armed forces.

Ethiopia has gone backwards and is allowing segregation of its institutions and lands. The governing party is on the verge of implosion because of tribal politics. It is not the disintegration of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRF) that worries me. Rather, it is the implication on Ethiopia’s future as a country; and the wellbeing of 110 million people. This time, core institutions such as Defense, Federal Police, Intelligence and Security are no longer national. So, who defends Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people?

I recall that under the Dergue, leaders and members of the above-mentioned institutions were totally loyal to Ethiopia. They did not identify themselves by their tribe.

The vast majority identified themselves as Ethiopians. They trusted and supported one another. Loyalty to Ethiopia and national identity as Ethiopian are determinants in defending Ethiopia’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and national interests.

Failing this, it is inevitable those forced to disengage or those who are not part of the policy and decision-making process would have no incentive to “be closer” or to trust the government system. Dual loyalty or loyalty to tribe on the one hand; and seeming loyalty to country and the rest of the population on the other is a barrier to national security. In my view, the overriding loyalty of federal leadership and authority must be loyalty to Ethiopia and unfettered and nondiscriminatory services to all Ethiopians. This is how strong nations are defined.

It is this distinction that elites are unable or unwilling to admit and promote. I shall illustrate this failure with a concrete example that persists today. The Ethiopian left and ethnic-nationalists propagated Amhara “chauvinism, oppression of nations, nationalities and peoples,” exploitation and cruelty for half a century. This utterly absurd and false narrative was imposed on school children who have now reached the age of maturity hating, suspecting and denigrating, in some cases killing and of course arresting and jailing Amharas. Amharas are not the enemy.

The false narrative echoed even by Amhara intellectuals has consequences. The founding of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) dominated by the Tigray People’s Liberation (TPLF) and its ally the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in 1991; and the language and ethnic-based Constitution of 1994 were both established by excluding the Amhara. At the time, the Amhara population constituted a majority of the Ethiopian population. The exclusion of Amhara reflects the false ideological and political narrative of the left, external powers and ethnic fronts. Ethiopia lost its sea coast because of ethnic hatred and a false narrative.

Subsequently, horrendous crimes against humanity targeting Amhara took place without let up.

The current wholesale arrests, jailings and accusations of Amhara for “terrorism” under Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed mirrors the false narrative I underscored. You can’t mask or camouflage the onslaught singling-out the Amharas by deploying varying tools, for example, defending the Constitution, Federalism, Revolutionary Democracy or the reform process that begun more than one year ago. Amhara youth gave their lives and brought change. The Amhara demanded genuine democracy so that they can live and work in any part of Ethiopia that their forefathers defended with their lives. They have much to gain from the devolution of policy and decision-making, from freedom and genuine equality and from the protection of human rights.

They have nothing to gain from an alleged coup d’etat of a regional or a federal government for which they sacrificed untold numbers of young people before the Prime Minister took power.

After all, aren’t the majority of those assassinated by plotters Amhara?

The culprit is the false narrative accusing Amharas of “chauvinism,” neftegna, oppression and other abusive and marginalizing terms to describe Amhara culpability and guilt. Tragically not only for Amharas and others whose dedication to Ethiopia is irrefutable, the false narrative is deep, wide and corrosive. It will take decades of reeducation to erase the narrative due to ignorance and inability to change, especially among political elites, intellectuals and activists.

The Great Wall of Lies

Historical, political, socioeconomic and cultural ignorance among Ethiopia’s intellectuals, political and social “elites” is at its peak. It is guided by relentless misinformation, hatemongering and by identity politics that has no boundaries. Deliberate ignorance and misinformation concerning the historical and nation-building roles of the Amhara is amongst the most damming, unsettling, destabilizing and dangerous phenomenon in the world. The TPLF uses Cyber warfare as a primary tool of misinformation. So does Jawar and his club of admirers. Unfortunately for Ethiopia and its 110 million citizens, 85 percent of whom depend on agricultural economic activities to sustain their lives, destructive and misinformed elites drive and influence dysfunctional and corrosive public policy. Just think of what happened in Bahir Dar, Addis Ababa, Sidamo and earlier in Burayu and change yourself to change others.

Ignorance leads to deaths and massive incarcerations. Ignorance keeps Ethiopia poor, backward and vulnerable to external threats. Ignorance deters development. Ignorance leads to the destruction of investment properties.

The root source of Ethiopia’s problem is not its diversity. It certainly is not the Amhara. The Ethiopian people are among the most gentle, humane, spiritual and welcoming on the planet. In their deeds, they demonstrate to the rest of the globe that humanity originated in Ethiopia. Elites can learn from ordinary Ethiopians. They don’t. This is why they are the core problem.

Ethiopians harnessed their diversity and defeated Italian invasion at the Battle of Adwa.

Differences such as language, religion or economic status did not deter Amhara, Gurage, Oromo, Somali, Tigre, Wolayta or other ethnic group from contributing its part to unite and defeat colonialism. Ethiopia became a beacon of freedom. It paved the way for the rest of Black Africa and the rest to rise up against colonialism and imperialism. It is this narrative that distinguishes Ethiopian diversity and unity from the rest of the world. The Amharas are a core part of this splendid narrative. Yet, political elites are unable and unwilling to come out of their shell and speak this truth.

Ethiopia’s future prosperity depends on at least two assets: tapping into and harnessing its diverse population, especially its youth; and developing to the fullest its untapped land and water resources as well as its strategic location. The former is more critical than the later. Ethiopia can develop faster if it overcomes its politics of ethnic hatred, suspicion and division in order to defeat poverty and technological backwardness in the same way it mobilized itself to defeat external enemies over and over again.

Ethiopia’s diverse youth is a strategic asset. Sadly, this social capital is being wasted. The country’s youth bulge must be empowered and enabled to convert this immense capital into productive capital; its lands and water assets must be converted into increased incomes and to generate employment opportunities for 3 million people each year for decades. Peace and personal safety and security are essential prerequisites.

Dependence on foreign and migration out are not strategic options. It is when citizens; and not elites are empowered and encouraged that Ethiopia would establish a solid foundation to become a middle-income country.

Why make the abnormal normal?

Ethiopia’s abnormal behaviors should no longer be entertained as normal. Ethnic hatred, suspicion, unbridled identity and divisions counter social cohesion and deter Ethiopia’s capacity to produce goods and services in order to meet the basic demands of its growing population; and to modernize its economy.  This is especially true in a world where the opportunity to migrate out to earn a living is scarce and is restricted by growing xenophobia.

Xenophobes should not blame outsiders for xenophobia. I find it ironic and tragic for Ethiopians to resort to any form of tribalism and ethnic based xenophobia within when world reality compels us to do the exact opposite. Political elites and their intellectual allies must recognize the notion that man-made hurdles that revolve around ethnic identity, hatred, suspicion and division prevent Ethiopia from realizing its full potential. Regardless of ethnic affiliation, the heaviest burden will be borne by youth. Even if it modernizes, Addis Ababa will serve as a magnet for world capitalists and “good doers” instead of serving its own huge population.

A cursory review of our political past over the past 40 years alone shows that the human, economic and environmental costs of domestic political intrigue is incalculable.

We have to grow trees in order to replenish what we lost. Why not also replenish our minds and souls so that we can make Ethiopia desirable and livable?

External plots and intrigues sharpen our ethnic-differentiations and divisions. The combination of internal ethnic hatred, suspicion and division combined with external plots is lethal.

Animosity towards a unified Ethiopian society in which citizenship as an Ethiopian override ethnic identify is as old as Ethiopia itself. The country’s external enemies promote and finance ethnic and religious hatred and suspicion in order to pit one ethnic group against another. They do this solely to serve their own national interests at the expense of Ethiopians. This diminishes gains for Ethiopians.

African nations paid an enormous price because of the colonial system of divide and rule. The ramifications of divisions persist to this day. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (the DRC) is potentially one of the richest countries on the planet. Bedeviled with conflicts, the DRC remains poor. Ethiopia is a “water tower in Africa.” Yet; it is unable to feed itself. Most people live in huts and use wood or kerosene to cook and to light their homes.

Today, Ethiopia and Ethiopian identity are cherished, coveted and celebrated more by Jamaicans and other blacks in the Caribbean, in some parts of Latin America and in the United States where Rastafarians live and work than among most Ethiopian young people born under the EPRDF.

The TPLF and the OLF and other ethnic fronts have done an extraordinary job degrading Ethiopia and Ethiopian national identity as an Ethiopian deliberately and systematically over a period of more than 40 years.

The TPLF will long be remembered as the front that:

  1. Issued a political Manifesto in 1968 declaring that the Amhara are the mortal “enemies” of the Tigrean people;
  2. Conducted systematic ethnic cleansing of the Amhara; and persuaded and encouraged other ethnic parties to do the same in Arab Gugu, Dire Dawa, Arusi, Kaffa, Jimma, SNNP, Gambella, Beni-Shangul Gumuz, Northern Shoa, Wolkait-Tegede, Armachiho, Setit Humera, Wollo and other localities;
  3. Imposed ethnic federalism with the intent of divide and rule;
  4. Abandoned Ethiopia’s sea coast;
  5. Stretched Tigrean boundaries far and wide by incorporating huge tracts of land annexed from the Amhara region;
  6. Captured state power, plundered Ethiopia and committed atrocities for 27 years;
  7. Cordoned itself off in Mekele and provided shelter and immunity to those who committed crimes against humanity and those who siphoned off billions of dollars from the Ethiopian people;
  8. Uses the billions of dollars it stole from the public purse to finance lawlessness and terrorism throughout Ethiopia;
  9. Rejects peaceful democratic change; and
  10. Issues a narrative accusing the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP) and the Amhara of “chauvinism” reinforcing its 1968 Manifesto and calling for the dismantlement of Amhara institutions and exposing the Amhara to genocide.

A party that does these and more does not demonstrate empathy to Ethiopia and Ethiopians. It has no qualms about the long-term adverse consequences of its narrative and actions on the people it claims to represent let alone on what it considers to be “others.”

For almost three decades, Ethiopia was and still is governed by an ethnic coalition of four super ethnic parties: Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) and Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM). This ethnic coalition known as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is part of the problem. The expectation that the EPRDF will transform itself in fundamental ways is flawed. This is the reason why the Ethiopian people should be relentless in pushing for fundamental and not cosmetic policy and structural changes.

The dominant party that ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist before Dr. Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister in April 2018 is the TPLF. It literally commanded all policy and decision-making bodies. For example, Ethiopian Defense, Security, Judiciary, Federal Police, Election Board, Media, Ethiopian Airlines and Ethiopian embassies across the globe were staffed by Tigreans.

The ODP has now taken its turn and begun replacing policy and decision-making personnel with Oromo nationals. Embassies are among the beneficiaries of this dangerous principle of “my turn to eat and or my turn to rule.”  Taking turns to eat and rule is not the way to manage Ethiopia.

This is the reason for my argument that federal authorities must be selected on merit rather than on the basis of tribal and party loyalty. Twenty-seven years of ethnic hegemony is enough.

The most recent TPLF narrative of “Amhara chauvinism” is especially chilling and sinister. It comes at a trying time when the Amharas and the rest of Ethiopia are grieving the loss of innocent lives following the assassinations of irreplaceable leaders in Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa on June 22, 2019.  This huge loss shadowed a wholesale onslaught of arrests and incarcerations of hundreds and hundreds of Amhara civil, political and intellectual leaders, members and activists of Amhara organizations. No matter the severity of punishment, the Amharas will no longer allow their subjugation and oppression.

Subjecting the Amharas to wholesale jailing and incarceration following the assassinations is an excuse. It is intended to diminish Amhara resurgence for freedom, the rule of law, genuine equality, democracy and the protection of human rights from which everyone would benefit.

Wholesale and targeted arrests and incarcerations of Amharas, accusing victims for crimes they never committed in the first place, especially Amhara youth, by the federal authorities in collusion with regional authorities are unwarranted, unjust and unfair. They reinforce divisions, diminish trust and degrade Ethiopia’s capacity and capability to defend its interests.

I do not assess Amhara arrests and incarcerations in isolation from other unintended consequences for Ethiopia and its 110 million people. It is vital to recall the impacts of draconian state and non-state measures including the burnings of churches on Ethiopian society. I do not see the degradation of Amharas in isolation from others. What happens to Amhara today will happen to others tomorrow. In fact, it is happening already. Ethnic hatred is a virus.

What happens to Amhara or any other ethnic group today strengthens the resolve of external forces to harm Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people. However difficult it might be for intellectuals, political elites and the EPRDF to contemplate, inability to draw lessons from past mistakes is a strategic and callosal mistake. I draw your attention to the notion that the TPLF degraded Ethiopia’s national security and economic prosperity by abandoning its sea coast. This national betrayal became a boon for Ethiopia’s adversaries. Egypt is among the beneficiaries.

I suggest that Ethiopia’s traditional adversaries welcome the current onslaught singling out and targeting the Amharas. Why? Because of the Abbay River as a primary driver. Because of Amhara dedication to Ethiopia and Ethiopiawinnet.

From time immemorial, Egyptians manifested a “love and hate” relationship with Ethiopia. In his classical book, The Cross and the River: Ethiopia, Egypt and the Nile, Haggai Erlich provided us with a rich dose of historical facts that show a constant struggle between Ethiopia and Egypt over the Nile. Egypt depends entirely on the Nile in general and the Abbay or Blue Nile in particular.

“At the heart of the matter is the fact that 86 percent of the water irrigating Egypt comes from

Ethiopia and that Ethiopia itself intends to use a part of it.” The new flare up begun when Ethiopia begun constructing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in April, 2011. This massive Ethiopian icon is one of the largest projects in the world. Financed by Ethiopia, it is a source of national pride for Ethiopians; and a “threat for Egyptians.” Successive Egyptian governments claim “historical and natural rights” over the Nile. This Egyptian claim does not take into account substantial changes that have taken place since the collapse of colonialism and imperialism; and since the emergence of Black African states as competitors.

Ethiopia and other Sub-Saharan Africa riparian countries offer a compelling argument that they have a legitimate right to harness water resources within their own borders to feed their growing populations and to modernize their economies. Accordingly, the most plausible and workable solution is to come up with a win-win solution for all parties.

Egypt and its allies feel strongly that the GERD poses an existential threat for Egypt. It is true that “Egypt was not only born of the Nile, it also lives by it, and its dependence increases in accordance with the pace of its modernization and population growth.” The counter argument I suggest is that Ethiopia must harness waters within its borders in order to achieve food security through irrigated farming, to provide electricity to tens of millions of its citizens who live “in darkness” and power its fledging industries. Ethiopia must defend its huge investment.

It is vital to remember that the GERD or its equivalent was conceived under Emperor Haile

Selassie, one of the most insightful and forward-looking leaders in Ethiopian history. “In 1964, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation published the results of a five-year study, Land and Water

Resources of the Blue Nile Basin: Ethiopia” commissioned by the Emperor.  The study

envisioned twenty-six projects in Ethiopia, including four dams designed to turn Lake Tana and the Abbay’s gorge into the primary all-Nile reservoir and to supply electricity and irrigation for Ethiopia while significantly enlarging and regulating the amount of water flowing to Sudan and Egypt.” So, what is the harm of storing and regulating the waters of the Abbay River?

This ambitious project did not materialize for a number of reasons, including the unfavorable global environment, lack of capacity, the conflict in Eritrea and Egyptian dismissal of Ethiopia’s rights. “Gamal Abdul Nasser’s Nile strategy” was based exclusively on a “blunt dismissal of Ethiopia’s relevance to the river’s waters, and his decision to erect the Aswan Dam.” Ethiopia’s determination to reassert its rights occurred under the Dergue during the period 1987-1988.

Ethiopia’s decision to build the GERD is therefore a legitimate national policy. However, realization of this principled national objective depends on national consensus, inclusion, peace and reconciliation. Wholesale arrests and incarceration of Amharas is an exclusionary public policy. It counters the national determination and resolve to defend Ethiopia and all Ethiopians from foreign adversaries and internal plotters. It is antidemocratic and anti-human rights.

The Amhara population resides near, uses and harnesses the tributaries of the Abbay and Lake Tana. Its wellbeing is therefore paramount to the implementation and defense of the GERD. Wholesale arrests and incarcerations of Amhara, especially, ex-military officers, thought leaders, political, civic activists and journalists and relentless harassment of business people sends the worst signal possible to Ethiopia’s adversaries. The signal is the chronic disease of ethnic divide and rule that makes Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people weak.

Never forget achievements of the Amhara

The Amharas are in better shape today than at any time since the Dergue. Internally, the ADP, the Amhara National Movement, Fano, Amhara academics and civil society; and externally Amhara Diaspora by themselves and wherever they reside; and in cooperation with others have done a superb job by organizing themselves and by raising awareness. Brotherhood, solidarity and cooperation among Amhara and Oromo, the two largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia, shows a marked improvement. However, in terms of overall representation, for example, federal budget allocation, the Amhara region does not receive its proper share. As a result, unemployment among Amhara youth remains dangerously high. Other social and infrastructural services are inadequate. This requires a policy remedy.

In the foreign relations front, U.S Congress H.R 128 would not have been possible without Amhara and Oromo activism and advocacy. This effort needs to be sustained.

Domestically, it is critical to remember that Amhara youth sacrificed their lives and played a vital role in dislodging the TPLF. የኦሮሞው ደም ደማችን ነው፤ The blood shed by the Oromo is our blood too” is not an empty rhetoric and should always guide our beliefs and actions. I genuinely believe that tomorrow’s Ethiopia will never be the same as the Ethiopia the TPLF and its ethnic allies wanted to create. Tomorrow’s Ethiopia will be inclusive, democratic and prosperous if we act wisely.

For the Amharas, the key path going forward is to consolidate and institutionalize existing organizations; support one another; speak with one voice; create solidarity with non-Amhara organizations at home and abroad; change the political narrative; and create new tools to protect Amhara interests everywhere and anywhere. I underscore inclusivity.

Amhara institutions must expand their reach in order to protect all Amharas wherever they live, building on the outreach and embrace that begun over the past five years. In this regard, I commend the ADP, Fano, the ANM and the Addis Ababa Trustee’s Council (የአዲስ አበባ የባለአደራ ምክር ቤት) for their resolve and dedication in changing the Amhara and the Ethiopian narrative and urge each and every one of us to pull in the same direction. The Amhara struggle is a just struggle for survival and for a just and democratic society.

Addis Ababa defines and represents Ethiopia’s diversity. It projects the country’s future. For this reason, I consider the Addis Ababa Trustee’s Council (የአዲስ አበባ የባለአደራ ምክር ቤት) as a civic organization that defends and promotes the electoral, economic and residentail rights of the city’s residents. The un-democratic norm established by the EPRDF to dictate appointments of the city’s administration is unprecedented in any country. The EPRDF cannot advance democracy while subverting basic rights.

At a country level, I urge Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed to use a different lens in assessing

Ethiopia’s multiple policy and structural problems. It certainly is not the Amharas who pose a threat. It is time for the Prime Minister and for the EPRDF leadership without exception to change their paradigm of thinking and narrative. Among other things, they need to provide national narratives that represent historical and political facts as they occurred and evolved; and a promising future that is empowering. They need to dispel or counter the misrepresentation of history regardless of political correctness. Equally, the so-called opposition (ተፎካካሪ ፓርቲዎች) needs to rise up and play a different role that mirrors unfettered inclusion.

The harm of repeating a false narrative

When falsehoods are repeated over and over again, they become facts in the minds of millions.

This is the case in Ethiopia today. The TPLF wrote its own “Bible” in the form of a Manifesto in 1968. It singled out the Amharas as a “mortal enemy of the people of Tigray.” It propagated ethnic hatred, vitriol, suspicion and division and spread its virus during its 27 years of hegemony.

It invited and cajoled other ethnic groups including the Oromo to distrust and to dislodge the

“chauvinist and neftegna” Amhara wherever they live and work. It reduced Ethiopia’s 6,0007,000-year history to 100 years. What leadership allows or encourages such a narrative?

By demonizing the Amharas and by reducing Ethiopia’s distinguished history, the TPLF and its ethnic allies reduced Ethiopia’s status in the world. The Amhara narrative of history is inseparable from Ethiopia’s history. The distinguished thought leader, Ato Taye Bogale put the problem succinctly when he uttered the following eternal words in front of a packed audience.

ያልተማሩ ምሁራን ያቆዩዋትን ሃገር፤ የተማሩ መሃይማን አያፈርሷትም”  

“A country whose uneducated citizens defended and passed on to us cannot be Balkanized by the deeds of ‘educated’ illiterates.”

In summary, I recommend that Amharas and others within Ethiopia and in the Diaspora:

  1. Recognize and celebrate Amhara achievements and victories; use the current onslaught on Amhara institutions and especially their youth as an opportunity to solidify their resolve and determination to protect their survival in unison; and desist the temptation to fall into the TPLF the disinformation trap of regionalism—Gondar, Gojjam, Wollo, Shoa etc.
  2. Always recognize that Amhara survival depends on ironclad unity.
  3. Acknowledge publicly that the current leaderships of the Amhara Democratic Party, the

Amhara National Movement, Fano, the Addis Ababa Trustee’s Council (የአዲስ አበባ የባለአደራ ምክር ቤት), other civil society organizations, academics, business people and others are important; they must strengthen their organizations and pull resources together, support one another and work in sync.

  1. Accept the notion that Amharas are essential for Ethiopia’s durability; and Amharas and others can no longer afford to disengage; and must operate as a unified voice in numerus fronts in support of the struggle for humanity, justice, the rule of law, genuine equality, inclusion, ultimately democracy, Ethiopia and the prosperity of all Ethiopians.
  2. Focus energies, creativity and resources to fight digital TPLF and its disinformation arsenal.
  3. Set the tone and change the narrative by distinguishing between parties and authorities that run them on the one hand; and Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people on the other.
  4. Dispel the allegation of direct linkages between the assassinations in Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa as well as the alleged coup d’etat on the one hand; and wholesale arrests and incarcerations of Amharas, especially more than 500 members of the Amhara National Movement on the other.
  5. Demand the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners of conscience; defend the restoration of human rights, media freedom and political pluralism.
  6. Meet our collective moral obligations and campaign against Apartheid in any form; dismiss the ethnic-elite narrative of Amhara “chauvinism, oppression, neftegna” that trigger attacks of Amharas and other ethnic groups; and petition against ethnic federalism; and offer a better federal alternative that preserves the good while changing the bad, for example, Article 39.
  7. Demand that Ethiopian authorities at the federal and regional levels implement the core constitutional principle of the right of any Ethiopian to live, own property, vote and be recognized in any part of the country.
  8. Urge the government of Ethiopia to recognize that the current Constitution is a barrier to citizenship rights; and should soon consider establishing a National Constitution Commission of global and Ethiopian experts and empower it to come-up with a new Constitution that will be presented to the Ethiopian people for consideration.
  9. Urge the government of Ethiopia to delay the next election by a reasonable period of time; and to focus instead on the restoration of peace, stability and national consensus.
  10. Urge the government of Ethiopia to craft and issue a medium-term roadmap focusing on critical political, socioeconomic and other strategic priorities, including a specific time table concerning the transition.

Part III of III will diagnose the question of whether or not Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s government is everting to the TPLF model. This commentary will also provide a set of recommendations for change in Ethiopian government policy as well as public discourse.





Why I urge Prime Minister Abiy to leave a lasting legacy Part I



What Ethiopia needs is an independent prosecution

19 Jul

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

More than a year after his rise to power, the honeymoon period for Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has finally come to an end. Following the federal government’s relatively strong response to a failed “coup” in the Amhara Regional State, prominent national and international media and watchdogs have raised concerns over a possible lapse to old habits of mass arrests and internet shutdowns in Ethiopia – a past Abiy has sought vehemently to distance himself from.

Since taking power in April 2018, the reformist prime minister has taken a series of confidence-building measures, including releasing thousands of political prisoners, facilitating the return of exiled political groups, some of them armed, and initiating legal reforms aimed at enabling and institutionalising a transition to a democratic dispensation.

He also ended the no-war-no-peace impasse with Eritrea and recently contributed to the breakthrough agreement between the Transitional Military Council and opposition forces in Sudan.

The last few months have, however, brought to the fore the complexity of governing Africa’s second-most populous country where ethnic cleavages have high political saliency. The initial euphoria that followed Abiy’s unexpected rise to power gradually transformed into bewilderment and even pessimism in some quarters.

The prime minister has faced criticism, especially because of the perceived deterioration of the security situation and inter-ethnic skirmishes, which partly contributed to the risein the number of internally displaced persons.

Growing setbacks for Abiy’s reform agenda

Perhaps the most obstinate challenge facing Ethiopia is the escalation of militant ethnic nationalism and regional irredentism in the context of a historically authoritarian political culture bereft of experiences of inter-ethnic or even intra-ethnic dialogue and compromise.

Reports of armed attacks by forces that claim to be associated with the Oromo Liberation Front; excessive tension and a war of words between officials of Amhara and Tigray Regional States; and contestations over the governance and “ownership” of Addis Ababa have compounded the already challenging nascent transition from decades of authoritarianism.

The aspirations of the Sidama ethnic group for internal secession to form a new regional state, which will be put to a vote in a referendum planned for the end of the year, have further exacerbated the tense political situation and could potentially worsen the volatility.

The intensity of the situation has pitted the short term demands of law enforcement to ensure relative political stability and security against Abiy’s declared path of strategic patience as a necessary compromise to nurture a nascent democracy.

Finding himself between a rock and a hard place, the prime minister appears increasingly frustrated and out of patience. This is notable in the rapid change of tone in his language. In a recent address before the Ethiopian Parliament, Abiy declared that he was ready to confront lawlessness and challenges to Ethiopia’s sovereignty “not with a pen, but with a Kalashnikov”.

Perhaps the clearest manifestation of the dangerous level of ethnic militarisation and extremism was the assassination of high-level government officials in the Amhara Regional State, which the government labelled a failed regional “coup”, and the killing of the head of the army and a retired general in Addis Ababa. Following these gloomy incidents, the government has overseen the arrest of hundreds of individuals, including prominent journalists and politicians, and plans to charge some of them under the notorious anti-terrorism legislation.

Abiy had received acclaim for acknowledging state terrorism and promising to reform the anti-terrorism legislation. By resorting to such a discredited legal weapon, therefore, the government is creating the impression that his government is hearkening back to the brutal ways of the old regime, and is signalling the stalling or even reversal of his transformation agenda.

Coupled with a days-long internet blockade following the failed “coup” and Abiy’s change of rhetoric, the arrests have raised concerns over possible setbacks to the reform agenda. Perhaps most damagingly, and regardless of the veracity of the claims, there is a narrative that the government is using the crisis as an opportunity to weaken prominent journalists, activists and politicians seen as propagating hardline Amhara nationalism.

Politicisation of the prosecution service

The escalation of ethnic politics and competition has no doubt fuelled suspicion of opportunistic political motivations behind the arrests and prosecutions. Nevertheless, there is a more fundamental reason that can explain the lack of trust in the decision to arrest and prosecute.

Under the Ethiopian legal framework, the ministry in charge of justice, the Office of the Attorney General, is a political appointee, and an ordinary part of the cabinet fully responsible to the head of government.

The office performs two principal functions: giving legal advice to the government and prosecuting crimes. While the first is a largely political role, the second is or should be a quintessentially legal function. Increasingly, countries around the world have taken measures to insulate the prosecutorial functions from political accountability and influence.

Unfortunately, the Ethiopian constitution makes no mention of the independence of the prosecution service. In practice, as well, the prosecution service is seen as an extension of political institutions.

As a result, while new and politically unaffiliated faces have been appointed to lead the judiciary and the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia has been significantly reformed, the prosecution service has so far escaped attention. Nevertheless, without an independent prosecution, recourse to an independent judiciary would often be too little, too late.

The prosecution process is perhaps the most effective way to harass political opponents, even if ultimately the defendant wins in a court of law. The reform drive would, therefore, remain incomplete without the institutionalisation of an independent prosecution service.

The lack of formal guarantees of prosecutorial independence has fed perceptions of politicisation of the prosecution office. Indeed, the leaders of Tigray Regional State have refused to cooperate in the arrest of former high officials who are suspected of committing serious crimes, including the former head of the intelligence services, mainly because they consider the prosecution selective and politically motivated.

The recent wave of arrests following the attempted regional “coup” has triggered similar accusations of politicisation of the prosecution process. Regardless of the genuineness of these perceptions and accusations, the fact of the matter is that there is no institutional safeguard against politically motivated prosecutions.

Accordingly, a sustainable solution to the historical politicisation of the prosecution services and current fears of its continuity requires the adoption of legal (and constitutional) reforms to institutionally separate the prosecutorial functions from the political role of the Attorney General as legal adviser to the government.

The separate prosecution office should then be guaranteed independence in the same manner as the judiciary. This institutional separation and guarantee of prosecutorial independence would go a long way in establishing and strengthening trust in the office.

While such reform may not automatically liberate the prosecution service and mark the end of frivolous prosecutions, it would provide the foundations for an autonomous institution capable of serving the general public interest rather than the transient needs of the government of the day. It would also proactively preclude accusations of politicised prosecution.

Rather than signalling a reversal of the reform agenda, the controversy arising from the recent wave of arrests has unveiled the missing piece in Ethiopia’s reform jigsaw. The country should take the opportunity to initiate reforms of the prosecution service and diminish its politicisation.

/ Al Jazeera


The author Dr. is advisor and commentator on the African Union, and governance and democracy in Africa.

He is with the Constitution Building Processes Programme of International IDEA.


“ድንቄም መፈንቅለ መንግሥት”! ዜጎች ሁሉ ሊያደምጡት የሚገባ!

30 Jun

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)







Deconstructing the privatisation scam – A very British Disease

26 Jun

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

In Ethiopia, the next big item for sale is the Ethio Telecom. The Prime Minister is excited about it, his advisors are committed to it, and the World Bank is doing the advising. The justification for privatization, in this case, the transfer of public asset to international private investors, is that these private companies do better work, cheaper and more efficiently than the government. In theory, the idea of privatizing public goods and services to reduce costs makes sense. There is a deeply ingrained belief that privatization – selling off or otherwise abandoning a particular activity, and let the private sector handle it – leads to a smaller government that will reduce costs to the taxpayers. But do private companies really do a better job than the public sector? Does privatization really save the government money?

In a 2017 article the Australian analyst David James wrote “It is increasingly evident how pernicious the privatization myth is. Two recent examples have underlined it: the failings in Australia’s privatized energy grid and the usurious pricing in airport car parks. Both examples demonstrated that it is folly to expect a public benefit to inevitably emerge from private profit seeking.”

Over the last decades, there have been numerous examples that prove privatization has resulted in higher costs and consequences when the government turns over public services to a for-profit company. Take the case of Kenya Telecom – and here I will let you read a 2012 article by The East African Telekom Kenya was privatised at a huge social and economic cost. When the privatisation process started in 2005, the company had a total of 17,480 employees. In 2006, it implemented the biggest retrenchment programme in Kenya when the company sent a total of 7,307 workers home at one go.

Several more have been sent home since. The upshot is that an organisation that used to employ thousands of citizens now has a workforce of a mere 1,649.

Billions were spent on the process of privatising Telkom Kenya. The process of restructuring the company and unbundling it from Safaricom cost Ksh84 billion.

The government had to pay Ksh8 billion ($96 million) towards offsetting the liabilities of the pension scheme. It also undertook to pay a Ksh5.8 billion ($69 million) loan advanced to Telkom by a consortium of local banks to meet retrenchment costs. In all, the government had to pay Ksh13.8 billion ($166 million) in retrenchment costs.

Furthermore, the government undertook to pay Ksh15 billion ($180 million) in tax arrears to the Kenya Revenue Authority.

All this was done in the name of cleaning up Telkom Kenya’s balance sheet to prepare it for privatisation. Clearly, the experiment has not worked.
The political support the company continues to enjoy despite the fact that the privatisation project has not met its objective will no doubt fuel suspicions about the ownership of the company and its links to the political elite

On paper, the Kenya government with a 49 per cent in the company, is technically a minority owner. Yet this is not the picture you find when you examine closely disclosures in the accounts of France Telecom.
For instance, in its own accounts for the year 2010, France Telecom discloses that it owns only 40.3 per cent of Telkom Kenya, implying that its stake is, in reality, smaller than the government’s shareholding in then company.

It is clearly a very convoluted if not complex shareholding structure. Technically, the majority 51 per cent stake is in the hands of one entity known as Orange East Africa, a special purpose vehicle created by France Telecom and a Dubai-based private equity firm, Alcazar Capital.
France Telecom declares in its accounts that it owns only 78.5 per cent of Orange East Africa. Alcazar Capital says it invested $59 million in the deal, putting its stake at 15 per cent.

Clearly, the mathematics just doesn’t add up.

Now let’s go back again to Kenya, and look at the first airline ever to be privatized in Africa: Kenya Airways (KQ). In 1995 KQ was Sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest airline when privatized (advised by IFC). Today it’s facing “imminent collapse”. We read that overseas banks have even carried out inspections of Kenya Airways’ planes in preparation for repossessing them, should new financing not come through for the airline.

Basically our neighbor’s experience in this area has nothing to envy.

Unable to find a fatal flaw (emphasis on FATAL) in our telephony service network or even our airline, the opponents of public service forces manufactured a fake flaw: the ‘debt’ flaw. By cooking the books with this false entry, the public telephony opponents have been able to wail that our Telecom is broke and continuing to bleed money, endangering taxpayers with a massive bailout. Who would believe that the Telecom monopoly in Ethiopia today is losing money, unless it was purposely set to do so (i.e. corruption, inefficient management, money laundering, fraud etc.)

There are several fallacies in the pro-private business argument. One is the claim that business is efficient whereas government is not. It is true that government is often not especially efficient, but that does not mean the converse applies. Business is often spectacularly wasteful to the extent that most companies go out of business within a decade if they are subject to genuine competitive forces. That, indeed, is why purchasing public assets is so attractive: competition is either weak or non-existent.

So why is this Prime Minister, his minister of finance, and supporters keep flinging this efficiency and ‘debt’ falsehood far and wide? Listen to yourself, you too have been caught up in their fairy-tale, you too have swallowed it whole and routinely repeat it unedited and in unison.

We all understand the Federal Government has an unprecedented national debt of almost USD 30 bl. All measures to improve the situation, including privatization, must be on the table if the country is to prosper. At the same time, those drivers of privatization should recognize that some services and assets cannot be outsourced or sold without drastic harm. I hope that the privatization myth, which has dominated over the last 5 years here in Ethiopia and perhaps some 35 years or so globally, will increasingly be exposed as the scam it is. Today there are push to re-nationalize Kenya Airways in Kenya, British Rail in the UK (read the latest about British Airways), and in many other countries. When these means of production are socialized the benefits grows to all, including all businesses. Now, there are certainly instances where choosing privatization makes sense. The privatization of government breweries was one good example; the privatization of government owned hotels was another one. There were also some lesser businesses that may have benefitted by privatization.

So let’s not get absorbed by the privatization mania, and the willingness of politicians to pander to privateers’ sentiment. There is no reason for Ethiopians to tolerate such a degree of nonchalance about ownership and control over vital infrastructure and public services. We should resist this plan, stop this so flagrant rip-off that’s being presented as our only option….before it’s too late!



/Kebour Ghenna’s Facebook



Sudan military council rejects Ethiopia’s proposal for peace, accepts African Union’s

24 Jun

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

Sudan’s military has rejected a proposal made by Ethiopian mediators and already accepted by the opposition coalition for the creation of a civilian transition body, and instead expressed gratitude to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), both of whom are accused of backing the junta’s crackdown against civilians.

The ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) rejected Ethiopia’s proposal on Sunday, saying Ethiopia and the African Union (AU) should be unified in their efforts to mediate between the council and an opposition coalition on the structure of the country’s transitional government.

Back in April, Sudan’s military announced that it had unseated president Omar al-Bashir and later imprisoned him. It then set up the TMC to rule the country and promised to hand over after elections.


But protests, under whose pressure Bashir was forced out, have continued in Sudan, with people demanding that more civilians be on the council than military figures during the transition period.

Peaceful protests turned violent earlier this month, when the military started cracking down on demonstrators and using force to disperse sit-ins in the capital Khartoum.

PressTV-Sudan military attacks protesters as civil disobedience begins
PressTV-Sudan military attacks protesters as civil disobedience begins
Sudan’s military forces fire tear gas at protesters after they begin a civil disobedience campaign, called in the wake of a deadly crackdown on demonstrators.
The ruling generals and the coalition have also been holding talks for several weeks, but have so far failed to find a way out of the crisis.
In the meantime, Ethiopian mediators suggested that a ruling sovereign council would be made up of seven civilians and seven members of the military, with one additional seat reserved for an impartial individual, Reuters reported.
The council’s spokesman, Lieutenant General Shams El Din Kabbashi, said on Sunday the council had rejected Ethiopia’s proposal, but had agreed in principle to the African Union’s plan, details of which were not immediately known.

“The African Union’s initiative came first,” said Kabbashi, adding that the council had not studied the Ethiopian initiative, which he described as unilateral.

“We asked the mediators to unite their efforts and submit a joint paper as soon as possible to return the parties to negotiations,” Kabbashi added.

“The president (of the military council) clarified that he gave the mediators until tomorrow to present the joint vision,” said Yasser al-Atta, a member of the military council.

Atta also went on to dismiss reports that Saudi Arabia and UAE interfere in Sudan’s internal affairs.

“We do not accept dictations from any country,” Atta said. “Saudi Arabia and the UAE have not and will not dictate political or economic conditions.”

Both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have announced their support for the transitional military council. They have also expressed support for measures taken by the council following Bashir’s ouster.

PressTV-‘Bloody crackdown in Sudan launched at Saudi bidding’

PressTV-‘Bloody crackdown in Sudan launched at Saudi bidding’

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) launches the recent brutal crackdown on Sudanese protesters at the behest of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, an expert says.

In a separate statement on Saturday, the deputy head of the military council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, thanked both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, saying they have provided the country with assistance without interfering in its affairs.

Dagalo, currently the second most powerful man in Sudan, has had close ties with both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, since his country joined a Saudi-led war against Yemen more than four years ago.

He has been overseeing Sudan’s more than 10,000 ground troops in Yemen.

Back in May, the general met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a visit to the kingdom. Reports said Riyadh pledged to continue supporting the military if Khartoum agrees to keep its forces in Yemen.

Dagalo said on Friday that Khartoum deployed some 30,000 troops to join the coalition in Yemen.

The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the Saudi-led war has claimed the lives of over 60,000 Yemenis since January 2016.

June 24, 2019


The numbing experience of living through Africa’s growing internet shutdowns, Ethiopia’s included

24 Jun

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

The internet shutdown that engulfed Ethiopia last week caught many by surprise.

While at the hotel on the morning of June 11, I lost connectivity midway through writing an email to a source. Half an hour later, I walked into a branch of the country’s sole mobile operator Ethio Telecom to purchase a SIM card. After setting up my device, the saleswoman couldn’t understand why the internet wasn’t connecting on my phone. Maybe your handset, she innocently quipped, is “too old” or “has a problem.”

At the time, what I—and she, hopefully—didn’t know then was that we were in the early hours of a days-long, nationwide digital blackout. Authorities restricted social media platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram and disabled SMS text messaging in measures aimed at deterring cheating during national secondary school exams.

What followed was a numbing, exasperating experience, akin to waking up in a subterranean, benighted world. Besides impacting businesses increasingly reliant on online transactions, the internet suspension also devastated the operations of the nascent but rising tech sector popularly known as Sheba Valley.

There has been a marked rise in recorded web disruptions globally, but African countries are dominating the leader board of national shutdowns in 2019. SudanDR Congo, and Chad are among countries that entered the year totally or partially offline, and they have since been joined by the likes of AlgeriaBenin, Eritrea, Mauritania, Liberia, and Somalia. The orders for these interruptions are mostly coming from those at the helm, with dictatorships and partial democracies the biggest offenders. Regulators and telecommunication companies aren’t providing advance warnings or justification for these suspensions too—even though some have linked them to preserving public safety, limiting hate speech, and reducing exam cheats.

Given the alarming frequency of these stoppages, “we have surely reached a new high which is becoming a major concern for Africans,” says the Africa regional bureau director for the Internet Society, Dawit Bekele.

Africa is the least-connected continent globally, but the upsurge in smartphone adoption, decreasing data costs, and declining phone prices has only amplified the place of the internet as a transformative tool. That’s why the blackouts are harmful not just for economic growth and democracy but also for social cohesion, innovation, net neutrality, and freedom of expression. Besides targeted shutdowns, authorities are also using surveillancearbitrary legislation, along with taxation to silence digital users.

Chart from TheAtlas.com

There isn’t an “obvious pattern” to the cut-offs too, says Alp Toker, director of internet monitoring organization NetBlocks. Authoritarian-leaning governments have continued to shut the internet at the first sign of public criticism, Toker argues, but they have been joined by countries like Benin and Liberia where there were high hopes for change.

The internet censorship in Sudan has also worsened after Omar al-Bashir was forced out of power in April, and Algeria has continued nationwide social media blackouts which were a hallmark of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s rule.

“The tipping point is here,” Toker notes. “Indeed, it may be that the tipping point has come and gone—there’s circumstantial evidence [which] suggests that shutdowns have been greatly underreported and we are only now waking to the problem.”

The internet in Ethiopia came back on for a while with operator Ethio Telecom apologizing for the interruptions. But that doesn’t necessarily vindicate the company, which has again blocked accessfollowing a thwarted coup attempt. It also doesn’t assuage the fear, frustration, and anger felt by millions of users who have to repeatedly endure cut-offs.

Rather than turning to “shutdowns as a policy tool,” Dawit says “Governments should be cognizant that shutdowns affect many sectors of society and it’s imperative to engage in an open exchange to seek alternative ways of addressing legitimate issues.”


/Quartz Africa





Ethiopia must first find its peace through citizens’ peaceful co-existence with one another

22 Jun

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)


In a June 18, 2019 article D. Sertse Desta is encouraging Ethiopians to find “your blood in Africa.”

I was puzzled why we need DNA test in order to find distant relations, when we could not live in peace and friendship with those close to each one of us. I reacted on Satenaw, as follows:


By Keffyalew Gebremedhin 

Note to the editor: I thought I was writing a comment. Now I see that it has become full-bodied article. Instead I would kindly ask you to publish it as an article. Thank you!

by Keffyalew Gebremedhin

Not even in my remotest pretension could I claim understanding DNA and the level maturity it has reached today. Nonetheless, I could boast of awareness of its efficacy in medicine, especially in correcting early problems in babies in the mothers’ womb. In criminal investigations, it also is effective in untangling horrendous crimes.

I am in no doubt, Ethiopians and other peoples of our region had throughout history been in constant over-rooting movements and migrations thus traversing distances. This means we are likely to have lots of relatives and from bygone centuries, distant cousins and nieces, even beyond today’s Africa. It’s only DNA that could tell us a great deal of its mystery.

Nonetheless, my inability to see value and relevance in D.Sertse Desta’s piece, introducing Ethiopia’s DNA sources, results from not being informed what good knowing our distant relatives does to us, when we are not interested in the present and nearby ones!

I say this, due to the failure of our politics as much as our past, which has engulfed the present, given the insanity that has already set in Ethiopia!

Today, as Ethiopians, we are embroiled in all sorts of ethnic conflicts amongst our fellow citizens. Luckily, at least in the present, this does not involve conflicts with our immediate neighbours—Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan. This very Ethiopia has brought in Eritrea from the cold, for which the TPLF –booted out of power in 2018 —cannot forgive Addis Abeba!

I hope the DNA-informer-writer sees my point here that and, to tell us if he sees any help from DNA in this regard. I say this notwithstanding PM Abiy’s oft-repeated exhortations to citizens of Ethiopia about outliving its ill-wishers. And yet, we have eyes and we see it coming our country losing by the day its ability to continue to survive because of the greed of a few and political disease called ethnicity of the many.

Deep inside, the shame should be unbearable to all citizens this happening today to one of the world’s oldest nation, wherein today 3 percent of the population is displaced! gravity of this problem must be weighed on Ethiopia in previous lawless several centuries having done better in ensuring its survival as such. It has also managed to hold onto its own, repulsing impertinent aggressors and those that aspired to take a bite of what justly are its own, or after the 14th century those that were emboldened to hope to colonise it under various subterfuges!

If we were one, in the real sense of one nation, and Ethiopia were rich, we could all have imagined and seized any opportunity to honour and celebrate this truly magnificent country, despite its crushing poverty and cruelty and selfishness of its leaders!

I should ask now if at all this present rich DNA-induced knowledge our world posses could in any way help us how we can heal.

Description of the problem now is, we as citizens of the same country—Ethiopia—cannot live in peace with one another. For instance, the Amharas cannot live with Tigreans, nor Tigreans with Oromos, or Oromos with Gedeos, or XYZs with ZYXs, etc. In Washington at the US Institute of Peace a small group discussion of four former US ambassadors in Ethiopia in front of an audience on 5 June 2019 (https://youtu.be/FBQDiiEbknE), I heard a scholar at the end of the discussion INFORMING the discussants and the audience, the present dislocation in Ethiopia should not be restricted to ethnicity alone, absent democracy in the country.

One of the respondents, Ambassador Donald Booth seemed to put his finger on the problem, disagreeing with government forcing dislocated people back to where they came from, which he said defies logic. He added, a view on this is a matter of where one is located: Tigreans finding it easier to lament Ethiopia’s collapse, while the Oromos welcoming it as arrival of their time. Politely pushing aside, the academic focus, Ambassador Booth instead pointed out the ethnicity problem could not be solved until the broader structural problem the country is experiencing finds the appropriate solution.

Not that I put my ideas in one basket the administration has put for a take by citizens, the problem is attributed to cruel power-mongers managing to have Ethiopians fight one another. The purpose is rather self-serving to whoever is advancing this, including the Oromo Democratic Party’s Ministry of Peace. It says this because this gives it the enemy out there to blame, since it is afraid of machinations by the TPLF and all this being done to give it time and energy for its return to power!

Whatever the origin of the current crisis, it has caused huge displacement in the country, three percent of the 105 million population. Ethiopia is today enjoying the dubious honour of heading the global human displacement ranking, sadly ahead of Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, Myanmar, etc.

Ethiopian schools and higher institutions of learning are in constant disruptions. As if programmed, the reality of one of their own, a bright young man is killed by stoning or club by members of one or the other ethnic group and buried. Female students are exposed to raping by one of their own or the security personnel called in to pacify the situation. To date no one in Ethiopia has been held accountable for these crimes.

Inevitably crime has gone up in Ethiopia— several times higher than, I dare say, any time before in the country’s history: beyond “a rise”— a favourite word statisticians love to employ frequently.

In the past, it is common knowledge the TPLF ensured the economy cheated by how much it has grown, or improved life conditions, welfare gains, roads, buildings, bridges by whopping percentages or numbers. Today, there is no way of doing that, since the economy is in danger of grinding to a halt, though the bent to inherited empty rhetoric continues. Perhaps in better times, this very same people in government seem to have the DNA to do exactly what the TPLF has done — too bad for them, they do not like it when they are corrected!

These latter parts may be in the crime category, if so, could DNA offer something to Ethiopia by way of exposing the gene doing so?

To top it all, the Abiy Administration is also being accused of ineptitude, among others, on the rule of law front. There is also the charge against the administration of committing sins: eating from the ethnic dishes, of the kind George Eliot wrote in Adame Bede (1859) about a cock that “thought the sun had risen to hear him crow.” When convenient the administration has used ethnicity to its advantages, as pointed out by citizens at different times, the scale of which is increasing.

A case in point is the latest appointment by Abiy Ahmed of the Consul-General in Los Angeles. In article, the prime minister is urged to Professionalize the Bureaucracy not ethnicizing it (https://borkena.com/2019/06/20/prime-minister-abiy-professionalize-the-bureaucracy-not-ethnicize-the-case-of-la-consulate-general/).

In addition, recall that in Dessie, Wollo, the prime minister had to confront the same question (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMnxcS-gs8Y&t=283s). Implied in this is the Abiy Administration is also using its power to benefit Oromos, since in power powerful people first and foremost benefit their own. As far as he is concerned, Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed vowed clearly asserting to resign within 24 hours, if Oromos in his administration have benefitted 0.1% more in posts the occupy, although the numbers are changing by the day.

After the TPLF was sent packing and hid itself in Mekele (Tigray), by 2018 Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was firmly convinced about the direction of the changes and renewal of Ethiopia is taking under his leadership.

A year later, it is unfortunate that Ethiopia should find itself more divided than ever. In and around Addis Abeba alone, as many Ethiopians have been thrown to the streets, homes demolished and the lands seized by the administration. At home and abroad, the charge is it’s not Oromos, who are being thrown out! The ruling party has put the lands in its control faster than the TPLF has done in the first few years.

Not only that our ethnic division is endangering the very existence of individual citizens’ right to live in peace and the continued survival of the country itself. As if citizens have not seen and embraced the prime minister as if a gift from God above, including this writer, despite the reproach of some other citizens today we ourselves raise the administration’s actions and failures that feed citizens’ distrusts.

Could DNA ever come up with evidence to such problem, perhaps gene correction in political leaders?

I say, the government could better and good by encouraging openness, instead of the prime minister himself becoming the hammer head reproaching and disapproving of such nagging questions.

As a matter of fact, I’ve started reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854) I ordered and only received on the eve of the Midsummer Day. A person who had led honest life, the writer Thoreau is full of questions. He quietly fought the world he lived in, every day raising lots of questions. In one instance:

“There is solid bottom everywhere. We read that the traveller asked the boy if the swamp before him had a hard bottom. The boy replied that it had. But presently the traveller’s horse sank in up to the girths, and he observed to the boy, “I thought you said that this bod had a hard bottom.” “So it has,” answered the latter, “but you have not got half way to it yet.” Thoreau concludes from this, “So it is with the bots and quicksands of society; but he is an old boy that knows it.”



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