Since 2015 the TPLF/EPRDF led regime has lost one of the competitive edges it had over regional governments: relative stability. Its track-records of peacekeeping and peacbuilding in neighboring countries such as the Somalia and South Sudan are now long gone as Ethiopia finds itself in very similar condition as the two countries.
According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), from January 2016 to January 2018, there were nearly 250 conflict events such as violence against civilians, riots and protests, remote violence and battles. The graph shows that from September 2016 to September 2017, there was a gradual decrease of events due to the declaration of the State of Emergency (SoE). From January 2016 until the declaration of the SoE, the number of violence against civilians and riots and protests were high. However, during the declaration of the SoE, the number of battles were higher than the other events i.e. violence against civilians, riots and protests and remote violence. And then we see a gradual rise of all the events after the SoE was lifted in September 2017.
The novelty of recent anti-government protests in Ethiopia has been the fact they were highly advanced and smart protests that creatively and diligently applied Gene Sharp’s the Politics of Nonviolent Action or 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.
These events are unprecedented given the relative peace and stability in Ethiopia in the past 27 years. The events are worrying and needing a deeper solution because they have not gone away easily.
In 2018 these events have resumed in a bigger and wider scale including the Gurage Zone in Southern Ethiopia in addition to the Oromia and Amhara regions. The regime immediately declared another SoE in February 2018. However, this time, the SoE didn’t decrease the events but it rather led to the launch of wider riots and protests and also violence against civilians by the Command Post ( a military junta like team of 7 officials), which has neutralized the civilian administration and regional governments.
Although the regime has since released some famous politicians from jail in what seems to be a gesture of reform, it has however declared a SoE, intensified killings and arrest of civilians, continue to track down protest leaders, reverted to the discourse of Us versus Them instead of finding radical solutions to the roots causes. The regime is only trying to prolong its stay in power by diffusing all forms of dissent and cracks.
Peaceful protests are already giving on willingness of the regime to listen to their peaceful methods of demanding therefore, a few are resorting to violence and possibly, extremism could likely intensify and be catastrophic.
As the ACLED report in a fairly right manner forecasts “While the SoE did result in a prolonged decrease in violence, unaddressed demands from the demonstrators as well as conflict in the Gulf, could produce an eruption of further violence in the future.” The demands of the protesting public have not been yet answered except the partial release of some opposition, civic, religious and media figures. The demands of the protesting mass from the majority of Ethiopia’s regions are as big as demanding the regime to step aside. However, various types of compromising solutions are being suggested by several parties and stakeholders.
Given reports of army defections and public defiance by members of the Ethiopian Defence Forces, there is a possibility of mutiny. This is one of the most unnecessary scenarios in addition to the Adwa group of the TPLF refusing to leave or negotiate until the last bullet.
What can we suggest?
- Completely release all dissenters including religious, civic, media, rights and political activists.
- The time is now for the backers of the Ethiopian regime (especially friends of the deep state) including China to pressurize the regime to prepare for a genuine solution-seeking talk. No group or concerned and interested party or individual should be left out.
- The situation does need third party mediators, of course. It would be good if these mediators are trusted local and continental leaders but should also invite international organs to “support” the processes.
- It is important for all international actors and players in the region and already active in Ethiopia to understand that there are now multiple players in the region. It has become more sophisticated and vested than it was couple of years ago. No single powerful country or bloc should attempt to single-highhandedly solve the mess but work together with other players. Similarly, no bloc or country should attempt to back the regime against another powerful country or the vice versa.
- Foreign analysts and policy groups should refrain from making uninformed and distant analysis and recommendations.
- Among the main issues of discussion and agreement should be the administration of the security sector “Defense, Intel, Police and Justice” by a multi-party and multi-ethnic care taker administration until the future course of the country such as calling elections or formation of a provisional government is decided.
- The best example to follow is perhaps the Kenya of 2008, which is very similar in many terms. Yet, unlike Kenya, Ethiopia should make sure that at the end of the provisional period, no single party or ethnic party becomes hegemonic.
What is the worst that can happen if the regime (Command Post) refuses to give in or even honestly address the demands of the people? The worst case scenarios are the post 2011 Syria and the post 1933 Germany. They could be repeated in the Eastern part of Africa, in fact they are already walking in.