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Ethiopia in Transition: the Progress and Perils Facing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopia, a country steeped in history where change happens at a glacial pace, is sprinting into political and social transformation. After 27 years of iron fisted control by previous despots, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed rose to power amid the turmoil of ethnic strife that threatened to engulf Ethiopia into a civil war. What has taken place over the past ten months is truly breathtaking as Ahmed released political prisoners, implemented reforms and liberalized institutions that were once reserved for regime loyalists.

With rapid change come chaos. Sectarianism, a byproduct of ethnic federalism that shattered Ethiopia among tribal lines, is growing amid frustrations felt by the vast majority who were excluded from Ethiopia’s foreign investment driven economic development. The challenge before Ahmed and his administration is to foster a sense of inclusion among all Ethiopians and avoid falling into the myopic vision of retribution that could inflame ethnic tensions.

Truth and reconciliation are both urgently needed; the pains endured by the people in the past at the hands of government sponsored campaigns of intimidation cannot be glossed over. However, there is a difference between accountability and vengeance, blaming all for the excesses of a few and targeting people based on ethnic or ideological affiliation only ensures a continuity of discontent that is gashing the nation . Revenge is a road to destruction, if Ethiopia is to avoid the cycle of internal destabilization that has been the bane of Africa for more than a century, it is imperative to seek justice without bias. Click To Tweet

Conversations about past wrongs and dialogue about a way forward must be had without inflaming passions. The same way Nelson Mandela urged forbearance and forgiveness in order to heal the scars of Apartheid, Ethiopia must likewise chart a course towards inclusiveness. A nation fractured by decades of tribal grievances, which were only heightened by an ideology that placed primacy on ethnicity above nationality, will only devolve further into the abyss of dissension if payback is sought more than rapprochement.

There are powerful factions within and outside of Ethiopia who have a vested interest in fomenting animosity. Key figureheads who once enjoyed unrivaled influence and dominated private and public sectors would rather set the country on fire in order to regain prominence. Their task will be made easier by those who revert to collective judgement and by people who seek justice through the narrow lens of self-interest. Empathy for those who suffer should not be predicated by whether or not they share your last name or your language, Amharas, Oromos, Tigrayans, Somalis, Gambelans and Ethiopians of all stripe are feeling the burden of uncertainty as displacement and discord heightens from Addis Abeba, Jijiga, Moyale and beyond.

Suffering is not limited to one tribe nor is justice reserved for one side, the only way to heal is if the voices of all are heard without dismissing the plight of anybody.

Though a privileged few did monopolize power, and most within this group happened to be of one tribe, that does not mean all from that tribe were given preferential treatment. The truth is that most Tigray people were leading lives of hardship and hopelessness  like most other Ethiopians while a tiny minority were living like sultans. It is unfair and immoral to turn around and malign one tribe and make them the scapegoat, extra care must be taken to seek justice with a laser instead of a blowtorch. It is incumbent upon all to refrain from needless bickering and instead seek collective healing.

The only way Ethiopia can mend is if her people understand that suffering is not limited to just their own and decide instead to pursue equality for all. Years of pent up anger has boiled over throughout the country as tribal conflicts are threatening to break society apart. If this happens, if tensions give way to warfare, all will suffer irrespective of ethnicity. The only way to avoid this perilous development is if everyone lowers their rhetoric, stop finger pointing and realize that pettiness will only lead to more antagonism and increase factionalism.

As I noted earlier, there are factions who are pushing conflict in order to further their own personal interests. It is my hope that all Ethiopians take a deep breath and reflect about what the implications of violence before they take the bait of incitement and resentment. The same people who are encouraging guns to solve problems will be nowhere to be found when the bullets start firing. The blood of innocents without regard to tribe, religion or belief, will be the cost for our inability seek unity.

The task before Ahmed and the newly elected government are many, but none is more important than lowering tribal hostilities. Ethnic persecution, perceived or real, must be avoided like the plague. Conversations about past injuries must lean towards amnesty, wherever possible forgive for the sake of mending a wounded nation. This requires everyone, from Ahmed down to the average Ethiopian, to listen as much as they are talking. Yelling past each other will not accomplish anything other than perpetuating a cycle of enmity that is threatening to break apart Ethiopia.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” ~ Lewis B. Smedes

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Lij Teodrose Fikremariam
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Lij Teodrose Fikremariam

Lij Teodrose Fikremariam is the co-founder and former editor of the Ghion Journal. He is currently the chair of Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy. A published author and prolific writer, a once defense consultant was profoundly changed by a two year journey of hardship and struggle. Going from a life of upper-middle class privilege to a time spent with the huddled masses taught Teodrose a valuable lesson in the essence of togetherness and the need to speak against injustice.

Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
Lij Teodrose Fikremariam
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