Dashed Hopes for Democratic Reformsin Ethiopia
- The current Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, came to power in April 2018.
- Local and international media and countless international bodies breathlessly praised him as a “peacemaker” and a “reformer.”
- Since waging a genocidal war in Tigray on November 4, 2020, multiple international commentators have used the term “Orwellian” to describe Abiy’s government.
- One of the characteristics of an Orwellian system is a denial of truth. For example, “war” is “peace” and “peace” is “war” in such a system. To the tune of Orwellian tendencies, he has established the Ministry of Peace mirroring the Ministry of War of 1984.
- Despite Abiy’s image as a “reformer,” human rights violations have worsened under his rule. He tried to capitalize on his “reformer” image to consolidate power.
- Ethiopia under Abiy has taken a sharp turn to authoritarianism in record time with countless political prisoners, media and free speech repression, gross human rights violations, the delay of the constitutionally mandated elections, and the escalation and commencement of multiple conflicts and wars, including the genocidal war in Tigray.
A Very Misleading "Reform" Agenda
- As part of his “reforms,” Abiy tried to take actions perceived as democratic or progressive. All his “reforms” have either been reversed or used to centralize his authoritarian rule.
- Two months after taking power, Abiy lifted the nationwide State of Emergency (SOE).
- Reality: This was short-lived, as it was reinstated 100 days into Abiy’s rule.
- Abiy made a “peace deal” with Eritrea’s dictator Isaias.
- Reality: Abiy used this “peace deal” to solidify his allegiance to Eritrea and strengthen his military power to wage a genocidal war in Tigray.
- Abiy released political prisoners.
- Reality: Since the initial release of some political prisoners, Abiy’s administration has arrested and executed several key political and social figures. The former PM Hailemariam Desalegn had begun releasing political prisoners prior to Abiy taking control.
- Abiy put women in government leadership roles.
- Reality: Abiy’s administration ignored the kidnapping of 17 girls in Oromia and has not condemned the use of weaponized rape during the genocidal war in Tigray. His administration has even gone as far as undermining the reports of rape.
- Abiy formed the Ministry of Peace soon after coming to power.
- Reality: Abiy surrounded himself with former armed insurgent leaders who collaborated with Isaias Afwerki for regime change in Ethiopia before coming to power. The Economist called the Ministry “Orwellian.”
"Peace Deal" with Eritrea’s Dictator Isaias
- Abiy’s relationship with Eritrea’s dictator Isaias dashed any possibility or hope that might have existed for democratic reform in Ethiopia.
“Isaias and Abiy have found a common enemy in the Tigray People’s Liberation Front… The TPLF was instrumental in Eritrea’s defeat in the1998-2000 border war, and leaders in Asmara have not forgotten. In the Tigray conflict, Isaias saw an opportunity to exact revenge, while Abiy saw an ally against the remnants of Ethiopia’s old TPLF regime […]” — Foreign Policy, July 12, 2018.
- It is now clear that the “peace deal,” for which Abiy won a Nobel Peace Prize, was, in fact, a war pact against the people of Tigray and its leaders.
“The two leaders travelled regularly to each other’s capitals, scheming the eradication of their common enemy, the TPLF, which took precedence over the permanent settlement of the border issue. The Eritrean leader especially betrayed his country’s best interests in pursuit of vengeance against his enemies now confined in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.” –Mesfin Hagos, former Eritrean Defense Minister, April 15, 2021.
Free Speech and Media Freedom
- Under Abiy, freedom of speech and press have faced grave attacks.
- On February 13, 2020, a new law, the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation, was adopted.
- Many free speech and human rights organizations criticized the law for being too broad, the government being the sole arbiter of “truth” and “false information,” disproportionate penalties, and censorship.
- Tigrayan journalist Dawit Kebede was killed in broad light, in Mekelle, for expressing his views.
- Abiy has targeted Oromo and Tigrayan media sources, journalists, and communication outlets.
- Tigray Media House (TMH) is constantly being blocked and censored.
- The Tigray TV studio is reportedly now based in Ethiopia’s capital (Addis Ababa) instead of Tigray’s capital (Mekelle) to better control the in formation about Tigray.
- On June 30, 2020, Abiy Ahmed’s government raided Oromia Media Network and detained several journalists.
- During the current war in Tigray, Abiy’s government has near totalitarian control of the media. Domestic reporters do not dare report anything that is happening in Tigray. Those who try are detained, harassed, and/or killed.
- Abiy has allowed media outlets that spread misinformation and hate speech—including the infamous ESAT—solely because they support his ideologies.
- The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)government used to illegally repress free speech mostly by accusing suspects of violating the country’s anti-terrorism law, which has cosmetically been revised since.
- After two years in power, on January 2, 2020, Abiy’s administration adopted a new anti-terrorism law with minor modifications from the previously criticized version.
- In some ways, the new law is worse than the previous one.
- “The newly proposed bill removes key provisions which were a point of contention among rights activists, who argue they violated the basic human rights of individuals. Nevertheless, the proposed bill has come-up with stricter provisions and even loftier punishments, both in prison terms and in financial penalty.” — The Ethiopian Reporter
- The new law includes authoritarian control over “legally recognized” protests, giving the government the power to deny the legality of demonstrations. Disruption of public services as a form of protest is still classified as a terrorist act unless it is a labor strike.
Human Rights Violations
There has been an increasing number of reports of human rights violations in Ethiopia since Abiy came to power. Some of these violations include:
- In waging a genocidal war in Tigray, Abiy has committed numerous war crimes with his Eritrean dictator ally. These war crimes include: sealing off the region and not allowing humanitarian aid, allowing Ethiopian and Eritrean military forces to massacre, bomb, and rape civilians, and allowing Ethiopian and Eritrean forces to destroy and loot Tigray’s infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, markets, religious places, and government offices.
- Political repression, mass arrests, rampant extrajudicial killings, rape, and gross human rights violations in the Oromia Regional State escalated under Abiy Ahmed’s rule. Most of the recent egregious human rights violations are documented by international media and human rights organizations.
- A wave of genocidal massacres has swept Metekel, in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, creating a humanitarian catastrophe that has left hundreds of thousands displaced, thousands killed and injured, and many more left destitute with their homes and livelihoods burned to ashes.
Manipulation of Elections to Stay in Power
- Since coming to power Abiy has manipulated elections to stay in power. At the beginning, Abiy found ways to delay the national elections, even hinting that they are not necessary.
- “Holding elections isn’t an obligation. There are countries around the world that haven’t held elections for 20 or 30 years.” — Abiy Ahmed, June 10, 2019
- Government officials claimed that delaying elections was necessary due to a lack of security and later because of Covid-19.
- In December 2018, Birtukan Mideksa, Head of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), stated, “[If] the security of the country is not going to improve, we can’t tell voters to go and vote.”
- In 2020, Abiy’s government used Covid-19 restrictions to declare a state of emergency as a pretext to restrict free speech and postpone the national election scheduled for August 2020.
- Although the security crisis in Ethiopia has worsened since December 2018and the Covid-19 situation is the worst it has been, the Ethiopian government changed its stance and decided to hold elections in June 2021with much of its
political opposition imprisoned and censored. The European Union announced that they would not send observers, citing low turnout.
Hiding Behind a Reformist Agenda
- Abiy had initially called the war in Tigray a domestic “law-and-order operation” that would not last more than 5 days, but it has lasted seven months and involved large deployments of Ethiopian National Defense Forces, Eritrean forces, Amhara militia, Somali soldiers, and aerial bombardments.
- Seven months into the war, the world is fully aware that the “law-and-order operation” is a full-blown war that is far from over. Over 70,000 Tigrayans have been killed, over 70,000 Tigrayans have fled into Sudan, over 2.2 million Tigrayans are internally displaced, and 5.2 million Tigrayans are at risk of starvation, amidst 350,000+ in famine.
- Abiy has rejected international pressure for dialogue despite his “peacemaker” image.
- No “reformer” would declare a genocidal war on its own citizens. No “reformer” would also invite foreign forces to terrorize, loot, kill, and rape its citizens.