What is an Autocrat Rule(r)?
- Autocratic rule, more commonly known as authoritarianism, is when a political leader (an autocrat) or party has complete power to govern a country and its people. This means that a country with an autocratic ruler is the opposite of a country with a democratic leader.
- In post-modern times, authoritarian governments gained power through force (i.e., military power, violent overthrowing, etc.). Nowadays, however, the shift happens gradually over time, and usually, once a proclaimed democratic government gains power. This is what has happened in Ethiopia.
- Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed rose to power in 2018 through nomination. Since then, Abiy has shifted the Ethiopian government from a democratic government with authoritarian tendencies to a fully authoritarian regime, despite Abiy running and winning unopposed, sham elections in June 2021.
Appeal to Nationalism and Unity
- From the moment PM Abiy gained power in 2018, he spoke of unity and bringing the country together, calling for a more centralized government.
- In the name of “unity,” Abiy worked to centralize the power of the Ethiopian federal government. Such centralization has been a deliberate and direct attack on the self-determination, self-rule, and regional autonomy at the foundation of the federal government the country had in place for the last two decades.
- Abiy’s centralization of power was partially done by forming the Prosperity Party (PP) in 2019, as the country was transitioning from the 27-year rule of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
- The EPRDF allowed for different regions to self-govern and be in charge of their own political and regional affairs, though many did not feel like their rights were upheld by the EPRDF-led government. This resulted in ethnic tensions and political protests. In contrast, the PP promised uniformity, stability and democracy.
- Abiy’s attempt to centralize power in Ethiopia also appealed to many Ethiopians who dreamed of a more uniform Ethiopian identity and culture.
Eliminate the Opposition
- When Abiy came to power, he saw the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as a party that could challenge his authoritarian ambitions. The TPLF played a key role under the EPRDF, which was the ruling party in Ethiopia for almost three decades. He indirectly began labeling the TPLF as an enemy of the Ethiopian state, and one that should be accountable for crimes committed during the EPRDF period. He also labeled Oromo leaders who spoke against his ideologies as anti-Ethiopians.
- The federal government has murdered or imprisoned many prominent TPLF and Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) party leaders.
- On May 1, 2021, the Ethiopian government deemed the TPLF and the OLF-Shene terrorist groups. This baseless decision excluded two of the most powerful opposition parties from the June 2021 national election. A lack of opposition ensured a win for Abiy and his party.
Extend Influence on an International Scale
- Three months after coming to power in 2018, Abiy signed a peace deal with Eritrea. Prior to the signing, the two countries had unresolved tensions from the 1998 Ethio-Eritrea border war.
- Abiy and Eritrea’s dictator Isaias Afwerki met in Asmara, Eritrea, in July 2018 and signed the “peace deal,” which many now see as a pact the two countries made to take down the TPLF and rule the region with an iron fist. As part of the deal, Abiy agreed to grant Eritrea contested areas on the Ethiopian-Eritrean border.
- Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for this “peace deal.” From then on, Abiy was seen as the person who restored peace in the Horn of Africa, an honor which held great weight on an international scale.
Pull the ‘Emergency Card’
- The federal elections in Ethiopia were initially scheduled for August 2020 but were delayed by Abiy, who used the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to postpone.
- Despite the postponement, on September 9, 2020, the people of Tigray held their regional elections, as mandated by the national and regional constitutions. The TPLF won over 90% of the seats. Abiy and his party deemed this election, in which 2.6 million people participated, as illegal and used it as a key factor in waging war against the people of Tigray.
- Regardless of the fact that he postponed the elections due to COVID-19, Abiy had no problem sending thousands of troops (unmasked and unprotected) to Tigray to loot, slaughter, and rape innocent Tigrayans.
- Abiy even invited neighbouring countries and allies to aid in his mission to destroy Tigray and ethnically cleanse Tigrayans.
- Ironically, a pandemic was too dangerous for elections to be held but not too dangerous to wage and participate in war.
Control Information within the Country and Abroad
- From the early days of the war, Tigray has been placed under a complete or intermittent communication blackout in an attempt to filter the information released within the country and abroad.
- Social media applications are being heavily regulated, Facebook being one of the main ones. Phone calls are also being tracked and tapped.
- Media access is extremely limited. Most journalists are not allowed to enter the region of Tigray or talk to survivors; no cameras or photos are allowed to be used or taken into the region and as a result, there has been very limited documentation of what is happening. The lack of journalists entering the region has directly impacted the amount of attention the genocidal war has received in mainstream media.
- Only a couple of international organizations have been allowed into the region to conduct investigations into atrocities. Those who have been granted access agreed to be escorted by individuals selected by the Ethiopian government. This is why there is a significantly low number of reports being released, and when reports do get released on the atrocities committed, they are released months after it happened.
Dismiss Efforts to Hold the Government Accountable
- The Ethiopian government’s restriction of investigations and control of the information that comes out of the region is partially responsible for a lack of accountability for the atrocities committed in Tigray.
- The Ethiopian government is fully aware of this and is trying to control the narrative and spin it to seem as though everything is under control.
- The Ethiopian government has also continuously and repeatedly denied war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide accusations. For the first five months of the war, Abiy denied Eritrea’s involvement in the war even after the United States and many other nations had confirmed Eritrea’s presence.
- The government has also, on multiple occasions, denied the United Nations from conducting an independent investigation on the human rights violations committed against the people of Tigray.
- For human rights violations to be investigated properly, investigations must be conducted by an independent body that has no connection or relationship with the perpetrators of the human rights violations. The Ethiopian government has intentionally avoided that to control the flow of information and minimize accountability for the atrocities being committed in Tigray.
A Complete Autocrat Checklist
- PM Abiy Ahmed has checked off every point on our checklist of what it means to be an autocratic leader.
- He has exploited existing tensions and appealed to nationalism while also having extended his influence on an international scale (created newer and stronger relationships with neighbouring and western countries).
- His government has pulled the emergency card to postpone the elections but waged war on Tigray shortly after.
- His move to control information within the country and abroad, which has led to a lack of government accountability, is one of the main characteristics of an autocrat.
- Finally, his elimination of the opposition has guaranteed him a victory in deeply flawed elections, allowing him to stay in power.