Ethiopia under Abiy: the reign of lawlessness

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Last month, I met a junior western diplomat at a dinner gala. As we were discussing regional politics in the Horn, he frequently praised Abiy and ‘his reforms’. For obvious reasons, a western diplomat would think that Abiy is rebuilding Ethiopia from its ruins. It didn’t bother me until the BBC publishes an article titled ‘Letter from Africa: Africa’s history makers in 2018’ on 26 December.

This article was from a Ghanaian journalist Elizabeth Ohene. When I read her words about Abiy Ahmed, I was taken aback to the conversation I had with the western diplomat.

I wondered “what made them think alike?” since almost everything that they have said was identical.

What I finally speculated was that their outsider view made them see the same.

Then, i started to write this article to at least show them a part of the other face of Abiy Ahmed.

Is he a reformist?

In the narrower sense, yes!

As Ohene said “Mr Abiy had lifted the state of emergency, released thousands of political prisoners, allowed dissidents to return home and unblocked hundreds of websites and TV channels’’ But, the question you missed to ask is that “is Ethiopia politically reforming under Abiy?” The answer is no. Abiy Ahmed and his clique are, actually, working against the progressive-political-narrative which shaped the present Ethiopia. The country has come a long way since the downfall of the Derg, the end of a unitary and Amhara dominated rule. Ethiopia, as a federation, started to be an inclusive state in the last two decades. Now, Ahmed is challenging the federation with his outdated centripetal ambitions. That is why genuine federalist elites are greatly resisting his archaic rhetoric.

Meet the Vengeful Abiy

For an outsider, like Ohene, Abiy is a merciful young leader who has the heart that even forgives armed soldiers who marched to the palace without permit. Sure, the Ghanian journalist would be surprised to learn that he let the soldiers to return to their camp just after doing press-ups. However, Abiy forgiven the solders only until more than thirty of them were given a jail term up to 14 years lately. This guy never forgives; he fired some of his former colleagues who had had arguments with him and locked some, like Beniam Towelde, behind bars.

Indeed, a populist

It seems public opinion is what matters the most to Abiy. He needs to be loved by the mass. When millions of people are displaced from their homes, when a man was killed hanged from a pole in Shashemene, when an ethnically profiled man was stoned to death inside a church, the wrong-doers wore T-shirts depicting his image. He wasn’t bothered to bring the criminals to justice. Because they were by his side, they chanted his name and wore his face.

Abiy freed some media, and gagged some

He ‘unblocked hundreds of websites and TV channels’ after he came to power, which is a good thing. But, he also systematically closed ENN, a TV station which he feared could be critical of him from the beginning. He also took full control of public media stations and styled them to be his weapons to amass popularity and attack his ‘enemies’. Recently, all public Medias broadcasted a documentary that criminalizes defendants and harms reputation and rights of the suspects. Amnesty international has expressed its concern over the airing of these documentaries which were mocked by some critics as ‘Fakumentaries”. If we have to summarize 2018 under Abiy, it was a year of lawlessness.