We have arrived at the moment that many warned about in the past, after 28 years of “ethnic federalism”, which is nothing more than apartheid rebranded, Ethiopia is at the doorstep of chaos. This is what happens when politics is driven by grievance and governance is determined by identity; the strife taking place in Addis Abeba and throughout the country is a manifestation of close to three decades of Bantustanizing Ethiopia.
Tensions have been boiling for a long time, the lack of resources and opportunity for the vast majority of Ethiopians have created a paradigm of omnipresent resentment. You would never know the depth of the average Ethiopian’s suffering if you just read the press clippings that are always lauded by government officials and economists, while foreign investment pours into the country and the elites talk about “economic development”, almost all of the gains were pocketed by a few while the rest were left out in the cold.
Forget the tale of two cities, in Ethiopia we have a saga of two realities. On one ledger are the privileged fraction of society without respect to ethnicity who have been leading lives of luxury while on the other side are tens of millions of Ethiopians who have been turned into renters in their own country. This untenable reality was kept in place through a mix of brutality and deception; leaders like Meles Zenawi and Hailemariam Desalegn turned to guns when necessary and psychological warfare at all times.
I’m not reverting to hyperbole by using “psychological warfare” in describing “ethnic apartheid”, the entire system was designed to ghettoize Ethiopians based on ethnicity and then incite loathing by focusing on our differences so that we can never understand our common interests. Divide and conquer is a most effective ploy which has been wielded by tyrants throughout the ages for a reason, it works perfectly by pitting victim against victim. Identity politics and grievance peddling are two of the most effective weapons that are leveraged by those who want to maintain power on the backs of the people; we are witnessing their lethal efficacy unfolding before our eyes in Ethiopia in real time.
Spineless politicians and toxic activists, most on the dole of foreign interests, are unleashed to convince average Ethiopians that their issue is not with the ruling class but the person next to them who suffers just the same. People like Jawar Mohammed, who make a fortune by accepting money from non-Ethiopians, enrich themselves by agitating their followers and inducing strife throughout the land. When the bullets start to fly, they hide behind their trained security guards while their disciples get bludgeoned with bricks and bullets.
This hopeless tailspin that Ethiopia has been afflicted with for too long is now ramping up and threatens to envelop the whole country into the abyss of a sectarian bloodbath. Hateful extremists from every ethnic group are whipping their base into a frenzy, each act of violence being used as an opportunity to add more fuel onto the fire. While most of the world celebrates Abiy Ahmed’s Nobel Peace Prize, the reality on the ground back home is anything but peaceful—Ethiopia has become a land of lawlessness and tribal conflagrations.
It did not have to turn out this way, Ethiopia had a rare opportunity to turn away from ethnonationalism and embrace our common humanity last year. Sadly, Abiy Ahmed decided to cater to rabid separatists within his base and allowed ethnic fundamentalists like Jawar Mohammed to sow seeds of indifference and vengeance while targeting other ethnicities for persecution. Had he chosen to, he could have rebuked 27 years of apartheid and initiated a “truth and reconciliation” campaign with the aim of addressing past injustices and moving us towards a path of national accord. He chose instead a marketing plan called “medemer” that was heavy on photo ops and rhetoric but light on policies that could actually deliver change for a people who are hurting. This lack of leadership on the economic side created a vacuum that was filled up by firebrands who fomented social unrest for personal gain.
Everything came to a head three days ago when Abiy finally decided to confront Jawar Mohammed and gave him the slightest of rebukes. Had Abiy taken this action last year at the height of his popularity, perhaps Jawar could have been marginalized or at the very least . Instead, Abiy let Jawar roam around Ethiopia inciting conflicts for more than a year and finally spoke up when Jawar specifically threatened his turf. Jawar called Abiy’s bluff and agitated for two days of protests that led to countless deaths. Jawar used his followers as human shields to protect himself from accountability and as human swords to establish dominance over Abiy’s administration. In response, Abiy chose silence yet again.
What has become clear is that Ethiopia is leaderless; the tribal lunatics have commandeered control while politicians give lip service and cater to the interests of outsiders. The burden falls on all of us, given the lack of courage at the top, to have a sober reflection and be the light in times of darkness for Ethiopia. The decisions that we make have tremendous repercussions, each time we respond to hate with anger and let vengeance dictate our actions creates further havoc and destruction for our people back home.
There are too many who treat the pressing issues facing Ethiopia as a game and means to garner attention. A time has come to put away these childish things, it’s one thing to hold people at the very top responsible for their negligence but bashing the average Oromo, Ahmara, Tigray etc is not only counterproductive, it is heinous. Those of us who have the privilege enough to live far away from zones of conflict, poverty and despair should really think twice about vilifying people who are shrouded in despair. Now is a time that calls for compassion, forbearance and grace because embracing the spirits of malice and retribution will only lead to Ethiopia’s disintegration.
I pray for all Ethiopians back home who are enduring this hellish nightmare, but irrespective of the turbulence that we are enduring as a people, I am comforted by this one thought, we have been through worse and we will get through this too. Sometimes one has to go through the darkest caves in order to emerge on the other side and see daylight.In time, the fever of ethnic grievances will break and we will realize that the only way we can prosper as a people is not through separatism but through a shared journey and inclusiveness. #Ethiopia Click To Tweet
As for the international community and the free press throughout the world, I ask you to pay attention to what is taking place in Ethiopia and shine a light on the slowly rolling catastrophe that is unfolding before us. Even before this most tragic outbreak of violence that has taken place this week, the suffering of countless millions of Ethiopians was multiplying on a year to year basis. Don’t get sidetracked by rosy scenarios that are painted by a few, pay attention to the strife that is metastasizing and hold people, leaders and activists alike, responsible instead of celebrating peace that is rarely to be found in Ethiopia.
Lij Teodrose Fikremariam is the Chair of Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy. He is the direct descendant of Atse Tewodros II, the once Emperor of Ethiopia who united a fractured nation during Zemene Mesafint (age of princes) and imbued Ethiopia with a sense of togetherness that enabled them to eventually defeat Italy at the battle of Adwa. Lij Teodrose was born in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia but grew up in America. He has a Bachelor of Arts from George Mason University and an Masters of Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. Lij Teodrose believes in one Ethiopia and that a nation can only be judged by the wellness of the least among us.