BY MIKE MAMO | BORKENA
It is just over a year since the Oromo uprising of 2014 – 2018 help topple TPLF’s predatory state. The eventual transition of the uprising into a nationwide resistance and its ability to inspire a team of internal dissenters within the ruling EPRDF were the pivotal moments. The dissenters skillfully and decisively demolished the brutal state and neutralized its security and military apparatus.
Since then Ethiopia’s liberalization has proceeded at breakneck speed.
That a small band of aspirational leaders will so swiftly dismantle the fearsome Woyanne state in such a breathtaking speed was beyond anyone’s imagination.
Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed and his team of collaborators pulled off a stunning reversal of the Ethiopian brutal state, stormed the iron gates to Ethiopia’s notorious prisons, and liberated the political landscape in a sweep unseen in the country’s long history.
During the same year perhaps unexpectedly, and while the liberalization of Ethiopia is still underway, the political climate started to sour, especially among Ethiopia’s traditional political class.
A newly mutated brand of delusional mob leaders and reckless elites is gripping the national political landscape and the capital Addis Ababa in particular.
During the year after the removal of the Woyanne predators, the reception given to the champions of the reform by the Ethiopian political elites has degenerated. It plunged from initial euphoric jubilation (the mass celebrations at Masqel square and the tens of thousands of Ethiopian Diasporas who came to greet Abiy and Lemma in Washington and Minneapolis) to a near-total declaration of war against Dr. Abiy’s government.
The Ethiopian political elites have now posed a serious political threat to the survival of Dr. Abiy’s government and most importantly to the survival of Ethiopia herself. It is a multi-pronged threat that is dangerously pushing the country to an outcome none of the reformers nor the gallant youth who paid the ultimate price have wished for.
We are witnessing alarming developments in the country’s private media networks, in particular in the growing camaraderie between ESAT and Tigrai Online (TOL), as well as in the various political circles that have begun to mushroom since the liberalization of the political space one year ago.
Among the most upsetting developments, we have also witnessed the birth of Addis Ababa’s first official warlords at the Balderas council. Exploiting the newfound freedom, they erected a parallel city administration and attempted to fuel conflict by manufacturing a non-existent Oromo threat over the capital.
Social Media’s constant call to arms and the labeling of Abiy Ahmed as ‘Gragn Ahmed’, the constant condemnation of Dr. Abiy’s leadership and the call for his removal from office by the now brothers-in-arms at Tigrai Online and ESAT have added more uncertainty and tension to the political climate.
Who would have thought a mere one year ago that ESAT, a network established to hasten the demise of TPLF, and TPLF’s mouthpiece will find themselves in solidarity and work towards the shared goal of removing Dr. Abiy from office?
Dr. Abiy must have done things right. If the two sworn enemies that vied for each other’s destruction find a common goal, their mutual hostility in the past must have been just a farce.
If the ESAT-TOL pact is unpredictable, it is impossible to fathom the absurdity and the recklessness in branding Abiy’s Ethiopia as a failed state by none other than the masters of genocide from the Derg era.
The henchmen of the Derg, roaming through the newly freed Ethiopia, are sharing with us their ‘acumen’ on how to save Ethiopia from the hands of Dr. Abiy.
It must be one of the cruelest ironies of our time.
People who have successfully steered Ethiopia into perpetual civil war and death are now rising as our nation’s saviors.
Drawing on their own long expertise and ‘wisdom’ at government, they call for the abolition of the constitution, dissolution of parliament, and declaration of martial law. They demand the resignation of Dr. Abiy and insist on a transitional administration under the auspices of the AU.
Their moral and historical blindness to the atrocities of their own past is simply stunning.
The Ethiopia of today does not answer dissent by carpet-bombing rebellion. The state police have no standing orders to shoot and kill. There are no state executioners; there are no torture chambers in Dr. Abiy’s Ethiopia. The Gestapos of Ethiopia, Derg’s Dehininet and the Woyanne secret police, are no longer in the positon of power to terrorize, pre-empt, and destroy dissent.
Ethiopia no longer suppresses voices and ideas; the good, the evil, or sheer idiocy are brought to the table.
Let us take a closer look at the spectacular degeneration of this elitist view from instant accolades to suspicion and then to open calls for toppling Dr. Abiy’s government.
I argue that this relapse is driven by two related facts.
To begin with, the two key leaders of the transition Abiy and Lemma were themselves members of the same ruling regime that they actually toppled. That two relatively junior members of the ruling EPRDF were indeed sincere enough to tear down the government that they themselves helped sustain is by itself an improbable accomplishment.
Once it was clear that Abiy and Lemma meant business, the Ethiopian political elites realized late in the game that Abiy and Lemma are not quite among their own pedigree.
When the issue at hand is the resuscitation of the Ethiopiawinet project, emasculated by 27 years of Woyanne rule, Abiy and Lemma’s ethnic roots and their motives inevitably come into play.
The elites have accused Abiy and Lemma of supplanting the Woyanne rule by their own vision of greater Oromia. When it is clear that Abiy and Lemma have no such ulterior motive, the Ethiopian political class invented one for them.
Historically, the role of the Oromo in matters Ethiopian has never been fully embraced. Prominent Ethiopian historical sources depicted the Oromos as the antithesis to the Ethiopia project. This depiction of the Oromo as antagonistic to Ethiopiawinet, if slanderous, also describes the mindset of the Ethiopian political elites today.
Over the past half century, popular movements in Eritrea, Tigray, and more recently in Oromo and Somali territories have led to a diminished hope for resurrecting the pan Ethiopian concept.
Today, pan-Ethiopianism is seriously impaired, if not fatally, by 27 years of the Woyanne counter movement.
That the reincarnation of the Ethiopia project from its ruins would fall in the hands of two Oromo trailblazers is an unpalatable proposition in the body politic of the Ethiopian political class.
Dr. Abiy is orchestrating one of history’s boldest experiments at democratizing a country with a difficult, bloody past. The unprecedented freedom is taking its toll as a result. Our freedom came with an unavoidable price in human life, peaceful coexistence, and treasure.
Extraordinary in its scope, Dr. Abiy’s liberalization of Ethiopia has already galvanized the quest for equality, democracy, and justice.
Within just one turbulent year, the Ethiopian social and political fabric ruptured.
Ethiopia finds itself now in the middle of ethnic and societal crisis.
Until the arrival to the scene of Dr. Abiy, grievances and demands for justice were dealt with violence. The arrival of Dr. Abiy’s brand of futurist leaders ushered in a new era, an era that released centuries of grievances and political discontent to the open.
What the country needs today is not a return to the repressive state. Ethiopia needs a national consensus aimed at balancing autonomy and self-rule with strong federalism. The country is blessed at the moment with an astute, charismatic leader but it is also in dire need of strong federal political institutions. It is encouraging to see that the consensus among moderate Ethiopians seems to be advancing in that direction.
The reckless elites, by contrast, are petitioning for a complete stripping of the existing Ethiopian federal structure. Foolish answers such as these came with a heavier price, as our history sternly warns us.
The last time the country forcefully dissolved a federal structure was in 1962, with the dissolution of the Federation of Ethiopia and Eritrea. That dissolution and the subsequent replacement of the official Eritrean languages precipitated one of the bloodiest chapters in the country’s history.
Inventing the Addis Ababa question
The suspicion and toxic resistance against Dr. Abiy’s leadership are nowhere more visible than in the anger and juvenile madness involving the Addis Ababa question.
I will argue that the Addis Ababa question, as currently staged, is unnecessary but also dangerous. It is dangerous because to speak about ownership of shared space is all about exclusion that will certainly plunge us back to another cycle of resistance and conflict.
The simple truth is that nobody owns Addis Ababa; the question is inapplicable. Addis Ababa is not real estate, nor do Addis Ababa’s current residents have exclusive rights over the city beyond what any taxpayer claims over a place.
Addis Ababa is the capital city of the nation; it is the sovereign territory of Ethiopia. It is, therefore, the sovereign capital of all Ethiopians whether or not they live in it. The boundaries of Addis Ababa signify nothing more than administrative and tax boundaries. They do not and should not suggest ownership and exclusion.
To organize rebellion over administrative boundaries is nothing short of madness.
Under normal conditions, the characterization of Addis Ababa as sovereign land belonging to all Ethiopians should have settled the question of Addis Ababa.
The Balderas group’s decision to faceoff with the people of Oromo over the question of Addis Ababa seems to have been motivated by the same suspicion that is fueling the current resentment against Dr. Abiy’s government. For why should anyone care if the boundaries of Addis Ababa are marked in Markato or Sebeta? What is fueling the anger and the table-pounding at the Balderas council and at the NaMA forums?
The inescapable fact is that no matter how we slice the Addis Ababa land, the people of Oromo who inhabit 360° of the surrounding areas stand to gain exclusively and materially due to their geographic proximity and historic affinity to Addis Ababa.
The Oromo special advantages over Addis Ababa come from the natural vicinity of the Oromo to Ethiopia’s center of gravity. No other Ethiopians nor Oromos in remote areas of Ethiopia can claim such an advantage.
Around the world, access to large cities comes with access to better institutions, education, health, markets, and capital. Proximity ensures access and increases prosperity in the periphery due to the spillover benefits that cities generate. Satellite towns near Abidjan, Cairo, São Paulo, Mumbai, London, and Seattle, to name a few have higher rates of educational attainment, population growth, and prosperity than comparable towns in remote places.
Sociologists have long established that residents of peripheral towns who leave their hometowns end up returning, supplying the much-needed support using the skills they developed in cities. This phenomenon of “return migration,” also known as a “boomerang effect,” is unique to people in nearby towns only and it is yet another example of the special advantages of proximity.
Similarly, the Oromo communities enveloping Addis Ababa stand to gain by seizing opportunities offered to them by their proximity.
This is the most sensible interpretation of the origin and use of the term ‘special’ advantage (or Liyyu Tiqm) of the Oromo in relation to Addis Ababa.
However, Liyyu Tiqm in no way implies a loss to Addis Ababa.
On the contrary, the Oromo towns are Addis Ababa’s viable options for decongestion; they serve as the primary sources of consumer and industrial supplies and as sites of cheap waste disposal.
The Oromo peripheries benefit Addis Ababa in many more ways than what Addis Ababa gives back.
Sadly, this mutual dependency has been misconstrued with the intent to implant fear and mistrust. The term Liyyu Tiqm has been misappropriated by the Ethiopian political elites. On ESAT and at the Balderas and NaMA forums, the term has been deployed, quite effectively, to fuel conflict and stoke fear between the current residents of the city and the inhabitants of the surrounding Oromo villages.
If proximity suggests that Addis Ababa and its neighbors are indivisible, the historical affinity of the Oromo to Addis Ababa is also as compelling.
It is important to look at the historical circumstances that led to the relocation of the capital from the nearby mountains to the larger plains of Addis Ababa in the south.
As it turns out, the conquest of the Oromo is, in fact, the key factor behind the establishment of today’s Addis Ababa.
Among the most authoritative works on the recent history of Ethiopia, Bahru Zewde’s A History of Modern Ethiopia, tells us that the attraction of the hot springs at Fil Wuha was only one factor behind the creation of Addis Ababa. The establishment of Addis Ababa was a strategic decision.
According to Professor Bahru, during the late 1800s, when Mount Wachacha (the hills of Entoto) was chosen as the seat of Menilik’s palace, a new settlement was started on the plains to the south of Entoto. Although the attraction of the hot springs at Fil Wuha was a factor, the decision to move the capital from Entoto was made only after it was determined that the surrounding Oromos were completely subjugated and they no longer pose a threat over the palace.
The subjugation of the Oromo rendered irrelevant the strategic significance of the hills of Entoto.
The politicking surrounding the Addis Ababa question is therefore evidently flawed. Ridiculous histories have been invented and propagated by crooks at ESAT, NaMA, and on social media.
The issue has been misconstrued and could only prove to be potentially lethal to the fate of the city and the country. Nobody wants another cycle of revolt or intifada. The tipping point for the last uprising was the Woyanne masterplan to monkey around the Oromo native soil surrounding Addis Ababa.
The Balderas group and its allies are fixated on the idea of partitioning Addis Ababa and its outlying areas with lines of demarcation between where Addis Ababa ends and where an Oromo town begins. From their fiery resolutions, it is clear that the groups’ agendas are not focused on some dreary administrative boundaries.
The Balderas boundaries are battle lines
Much like the Korean DMZ and the partitioning of Berlin, they signify sovereign boundaries and territorial claims.
The Balderas demand for partitioning the city and erecting a parallel city government is detrimental to the future of Addis Ababa. To attempt to barricade Addis Ababa with lines of demarcation is an unwise reaction to an invented Oromo threat.
The Balderas stunt is unnerving; it resembles the bloody stunts involving the town of Badme, the siege of East Beirut, and the early days of the Mogadishu warlords.
Partitioning is a dangerous proposition
The future of Addis Ababa lies not in exclusive, sovereign boundaries. The future of Addis Ababa is inextricably bound together with the future of the neighboring Oromos. They are inseparable, indivisible; they rise and fall together.
Their future lies in inclusiveness with special advantages distributed fairly across their boundaries.
The good news is that, despite the rupture, the country may have been blessed after all; the idea of inclusiveness (or Medemer) is also Dr. Abiy’s prophecy for the country and the city.