It always happens this way in Africa, a new day that arrives with the toppling of a brutal regime quickly turns back into the darkness of nepotism. Though the faces in power change, the injustices of exclusion and ethnic persecution continue without skipping a beat. Such is the case in Ethiopia; last year the EPRDF government which was controlled with an iron grip of TPLF loyalists for 27 years all the sudden collapsed under the weight of a growing popular discontent and gave rise to the age of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Abiy came in promising hope and change under the banner of “medemer”, a word that means “to add” in Amharic. His rhetoric of Ethiopia initially captured the imagination of millions of Ethiopians at home and throughout the “diaspora”. After being Balkanized for close to three decades under a system that is a carbon copy of South Africa’s apartheid system called “ethnic federalism”, Ethiopians were overjoyed at the possibility of a government that represents all instead of one that pushed ethnicity over humanity.
A year later and it has become evident that medemer is nothing more than a marketing slogan. Beyond the rhetoric, what is taking place in Ethiopia is truly appalling. Instead of taking steps to dismantle “ethnic federalism” for the sake of fostering a sense of national unity among Ethiopians, Abiy chose to embrace it and became the chair of an ethnic group called “Oromo Democratic Party”. In the process, he has let Oromo “Liberation” Front (OLF) extremists hijack his agenda and induce ethnic strife throughout Ethiopia.
This is how colonialism works, foreign interests prop up a strongman from one ethnic group to rule through brute force up until that person outlives his usefulness. That is when destabilization efforts start and a new ethnic group is chosen to lead a “revolution”. From the newly favored ethnic group a leader is chosen, the old ethnic junta is tossed aside and in comes the next despot who initially presents himself as a reformer. Within short order the new ethnic group takes control of major institutions and continue the repressive ways of their predecessors.
This is exactly what is taking place in Ethiopia as government posts that were previously filled by Tigray autocrats are slowly being repopulated with Oromo extremists. Justice is not about fairness, it’s about ensuring that your tribe is the one committing excesses. With extremists like Jawar Mohammed, who are funded by radicalized Middle East forces, pushing sectarian strife and encouraging separatism, authorities in power make it a point to play favorites and punish people based on their ethnic identity.
Last week during the run up to a Christian religious holiday called Meskel, the Addis Abeba police announced a ban on displaying the old green, yellow and red flag without a pentagram on it favored by most Ethiopians. When a social media firestorm started, authorities rescinded this ham-handed dictate yet videos showed police forcing festival attendees in Meskel Square to throw away their flag. Remember when free speech and the liberalization of society were promised by Abiy, those days are officially over.
Fast forward to this week and the mayor of Addis Abeba by the name of Takele Uma Banti, who of course is Oromo because ethnicity is always more important than competency, brazenly posted a tweet showing the favored flag of the radicalized OLF group and in the process legitimizing the dangerous rhetoric of fundamentalists who wish to “Oromize” Ethiopia’s capital. The same group who once protested the hubris of the TPLF are now openly emulating their tactics under the notion of winner take all.
In the same week, pictures of Addis Abeba police dressed up in military uniforms were posted all over social media. The police have become politicized and turned into enforcement agents of tribal agendas. It’s like we are going back to the days of the Derg government who compelled Ethiopians by terrorizing them with checkpoints and AK47 armed enforcers. While the world is not watching, Ethiopia is slowly turning into a police state.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is silent on these matters. As ethnic strife mushrooms and the possibility of an open clash between various “tribes” grows by the day, he does little to put a stop to this dangerous ideology of chauvinism that is being pushed by OLF hardliners . Let’s get one thing straight, this issue is not just about which flags to fly but about the very idea of representation. When one group is favored over another and prejudice is allowed to fester in the halls of power, it trickles down throughout society and eventually turns into bloodshed.
It must be noted that the majority of Oromos are not to be blamed for this ongoing injustice. The same way that most Tigray people were suffering the same as the rest of Ethiopians during the heyday of TPLF rule, most Oromos are likewise feeling hardship while a fraction of zealots are arrogantly making decisions in the name of OLF chauvinism. But this much must be said, voices of reason within the Oromo community must speak up against radicals like Jawar who are leading Ethiopia towards an implosion. If we continue down this path, the fires that will be unleashed will lead to violence that will not discriminate between ethnic groups.
As to the international community who keep singing the praises of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, we urge you to pay attention to what is taking place in Ethiopia. Take off your pompoms and hold him and everyone else accountable who are either implicitly or explicitly pushing an ethnic agenda. Twenty-seven years of tribal governance is now entering its twenty-eight year, it is time for all to ask when will Abiy and the Ethiopian government finally put a stop to ethnic apartheid?