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25/10/2020 01:11 PM
Ethiopia and the Isaias Afeworki factor
by Dr Berhane Woldemichael
Meles Zenawi’s untimely death was a great loss, not only for Ethiopia but for the whole region. He had the foresight to fend off potential threats for Ethiopia. An astute diplomat, he had the skills to keep powerful countries on his side and kept potential enemies and destructive forces at arm’s length. He started constructing the Great Renaissance Dam over the river Abay, a main tributary of the Nile river, and he cleverly neutralised the noises that started to come from the downstream countries and their Arab supporters. Ethiopia became a power house and all countries were vying for a close relationship with it. Under the leadership of Meles, Ethiopia was held in high esteem and any thought of a break up into different parts became an unthinkable possibility. That was the Ethiopia that Meles built.
The death of Meles Zenewi caused a huge vacuum in Ethiopia and troubles started to emerge when his deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn, took on power. Infighting among government officials and inter-regional rivalries became rife. Poor Hailemariam Desalegn could not bear the pressure that was building up and voluntarily stepped down.
Hailemariam Desalegn was replaced by an unknown quantity by the name of Abiy Ahmed. Abiy gained immediate and wide recognition in Ethiopia by his charm and smooth talk of love and togetherness. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that Abiy was all gloss with no substance and the house that Meles cleverly built started to crumble. Ethiopia’s fault lines have been getting wider since and may lead to a breakup into different parts.
Abiy’s biggest mistake was putting too much focus on his own image. A photo opportunist, he could do anything to portray himself as a peace maker. He even managed to deceive the world by claiming peace with Eritrea, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. It soon became clear, though, that Abiy is a conman who would do anything to promote himself. The image of Abiy’s Ethiopia has dwindled to such a level that the United States of America, a traditional ally, is now openly siding with Egypt on the dispute over the dam.
Unbelievably, Isaias Afeworki of Eritrea, a dictator known for his quarrelsome behaviour and rightly dubbed as the Kim Un of Africa, has become Abiy’s best friend. Abiy has thus brought himself to the lowest level on the world stage. Following Isaias Afeworki’s advice, Abiy has started rounding up and imprisoning his political opponents and the country is on the edge of a civil strife whose outcome could not be imagined.
Naturally, Ethiopia’s instability will have negative consequences for the whole region. Historically, Ethiopia had never been at peace with itself nor with its neighbours. Now that the Oromo ethnic group have taken over the mantle of power, they have been making threats that they want to rule Ethiopia for centuries and come to equal the oppressive Abyssinian rule of the past.
The current Ethiopian generation will have a responsibility to chart the future for peaceful coexistence of all the nations within Ethiopia. The old way of subjugation by using force will only lead to endless conflict and blood-shed. So, the only option Ethiopia has is a peaceful transition to some kind of a union of independent nations.
Eritrea's National Interest: Divided or United Ethiopia
As we all know, Eritreans are fierce nationalists. During the liberation struggle, some Amhara chauvinists used to annoy me in conferences with their "access to the sea" claim based on some historical connections. This claim lingers on and I have no doubt of the inevitability of another war if the Amhara chauvinists (and some misguided allies) somehow establish a power base in Ethiopia.
Strangely, I had always argued for a united Ethiopia as a strategic choice for Eritrea. Maybe I have subconsciously taken this position because of my cultural affinity with Ethiopia having lived there from the age of 17 onwards. I was there during my formative age and I loved (still love) Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people - no doubt about that.
However, and on deeper reflection, I am now leaning to the idea that a balkanized Ethiopia might be the best outcome for the long-term peace and development of Eritrea and the whole region for that matter. Eventually, I can imagine how a unity of purpose could develop with all the different parts on an equal footing. The Economic Union of the States of Eritrea, Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, Somalia, Afar etc. Some fancy name could come out of it.
I think it is time that Eritreans entertain such an idea and take a united stand. Is the strategic national advantage for Eritrea a united or a divided Ethiopia? My gut feeling is for the latter.
Dr Berhane Woldemichael
See also Recent Articles by Dr. Berhane Woldemichael / ኣቐዲሞም ብ’ዶ/ር ብርሃነ ወልደሚካኤል ዝወጹ ጽሑፋት፡-
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