Tuesday, December 07, 2021
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Why is Abiy Ahmed’s premiership doomed in Ethiopia?

By Mohamed A. Hashi

Abiy Ahmed came to power riding on a domestic protest movement, the state reaction against which resulted in a number of horrific scenes, and loss of lives. This movement was largely led by the Oromo people and forced the remnants of the TPLF out of power. His ascendance to power symbolized people’s power over the brutal a factional government, and raised the hopes of particularly the dominant Oromo and other groups that had been long savagely oppressed and suffered under the cruel TPLF government, racketeering as a state. In the initial phase of his premiership, Ahmed practiced some of the well-known Machiavellian advice with a smile.

PM Abiy Ahmed

He removed the symbols of oppression, in the form of generals, lieutenants, and most all, he got rid of the hated regional president, Abdi Iley of the Somali region who ruled mercilessly at the behest of the TPLF. Under the rule of Iley, it became a crime to think, “the wrong way”, in essence, constituting thought-crime. Abiy jailed some of the henchmen of the TPLF such as Iley, and others disappeared after an arrest-a norm in Ethiopian politics. These early ventures were in line with what Machiavelli recommends, particularly for a new leader. Machiavelli advises that a new leader remove unpopular leaders, hated by the people so that the people would revere the arrival of the new prince and would not be tainted by their existing brutality, for such steps would generate for a new leader both the awe and admiration to inaugurate the new boss in town. According to Machiavelli, the masses are impressed by such results, and a leader must demonstrate his quality through performance.

Internationally, Abiy sought to resolve the border dispute with Eritrea, further securing his rule and creating regional and international aura of peace, earning him the Nobel Peace. He even dialed back the Ethiopian routine interventionism in Somalia, and a visit to Mogadishu, promised a “new Ethiopia”. All of these seemed at the time out of Machiavelli’s playbook, and provided a streak of successes. Ahmed misjudged, however, the law of politics in Ethiopia.

The laws of politics anywhere boil down to either politics by the ballot or by the bullet. Either, one gains and uses power through the ballet and relies on legitimate, impersonal institutional support, or through the barrel of a gun. In the former, the constituency of support for the rule of the government is legitimated by the laws constitutionalism and the government enjoys the defense of its moral legitimacy and power of its support by the people. In the latter, the government rules over people with support of a particular faction in society. In the case of Ethiopia, the government maintains itself by the forceful support of rebel forces as such the TPLF or by other rebels that backed prior regimes, for in the contemporary history of Ethiopia, each regime came to power as a rebel movement.

Ahmed conflated the support and mass showing for his government with the necessary base of new his regime to reign over large, ethnically diverse state of nations, each armed and ruling an ethno-state, yearning for or has struggled for independence.

In his reshuffle and his appointments to important posts, he further alienated a likely base of support, the Oromo Liberation Front, who would have provided the new government with enough barrels of support, anchoring his rule as an ethnic backed government in accordance with the laws of politics in Ethiopia from Haile Sallleise, to Melez, where no power changed hands without a rebel movement overthrowing an existing rebel power. In short, Ahmed violated the laws of politics in that country, and is paying the price, which is the ultimate downfall of his regime, or perhaps Ethiopia itself. He conflated the process of removing the TPLF from power with the necessary means of controlling power.

The TPLF understood this law of politics and the fact that Ahmed was not heading a benethnic government-a government backed a deep state of a particular ethnic party.  Thus, the TPLF seized on Ahmed’s neglect of this law, and his failure to anchor his rule on an ethnic defense force; the TPLF waged struggle to return to power and hastened to form an alliance with Oromo factions, who turned against his regime, feeling he had caused them to lose their turn in power.

Now, that the tide is shaping against him, what reveals his violating of this law is his calling on the people to “protect their neighborhoods”. In the real, raw of politics there, the government was the one protected from the people and reined over them by the prevalence of rudimentary structures of oppression. The laws of politics in that country seem to favor the TPLF-Oromo alliance.

What is not clear is whether the TPLF will finally be stopped by the “people”, and prove exception to the logic of politics there, and the implications of the failing state of Ethiopia for Ethiopian statehood, for the Horn of Africa, a region rife with decades of social conflict and failing and failed states. In such eventuality, Ethiopia runs the risk of the war fighting surpassing the reasons for the war. In Clausewitzian logic, “war is politics by other means”, and thus, well-organized war is best balanced against the risk of the war superseding the purpose for the war. This could happen if the rebel factions overthrow the government and fail to come to an agreement for a post-Ahmed state, creating a failed state. This was the case in Somalia in the 1990s and a failed state is condition where the war or fighting has outpaced the aims for the war, creating a condition of madness.  This time, will Ethiopia remain a country of nations, and will the fighting factions balance the war against preserving the state, the object being contested over?

Ultimately, a state survives so long as the proportion of the people defending it would be greater than that which is conspiring for its downfall, as Aristotle has established. The survival of Ethiopia will depend on the proportion of the factions wishing to preserve it and their ability to preserve the dynamic balance between waging the war against Ahmed’s rule and the purpose of the war, which is the control over the state. If the state fails, the war has overtaken the politics for the war, and would ensure a condition of powers that can cancel each other out, without neither having sufficient powers to form a functional state, a condition often known as warlordism.

What we know for certain is that Ethiopia is in the twilight zone of its statehood.

Mohamed A. Hashi
Email: [email protected]

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Mohamed A. Hashi, Ph.D Student at Kennesaw State University, Specializing in International Relations, and Peace and Conflict Studies, with a particular interest on the Horn of Africa.


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