Misguided reform and lawlessness: Ethiopia’s Risk of disintegration


by Zekarias Ezra

Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed.

There was once a super power in the world stage by the name the ‘Soviet Union’. The empire was considered, and rightly so, too big to fail, too stable to collapse and even had survived too much turbulence like WWII to simply implode. In short, no one has predicted this formidable super power will be no more in an instant. Yet, that has happened.

On December 26, 1991, the world woke up to find that the Soviet Union was no longer on the map. One of the world’s two superpowers had collapsed without a war, alien invasion or any other catastrophe.

True, there was strong indication to suggest that the Soviet system had been in irreversible decline consumed by the arms race. In 1985, 1986 and even in 1989, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was as inconceivable to then contemporary analysts as the prospect of the Ethiopia’s disintegration is to our experts (the current leaders) today.

Societies frequently undergo crises, even grave and dangerous ones but they seldom commit suicide. So, the prevailing theory amongst experts at the time was not the imminent collapse of the Empire.

In the end, an outcome that was perceived as unthinkable a few years back happened in an instant. The Empire was no more.  And it is exactly this twist of fate, this leap from the ‘unthinkable’ to the ‘inevitable’ that makes the Soviet disintegration experience a useful reference point in current discussions on the ramifications of the Ethiopian crisis and the choices that the current leaders face.

It is no exaggeration to suggest that the public mood is gradually turning into a combination of pessimism, bewilderment and anger.  The lines from William Butler Yeats “The Second Coming” captures this mood:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold…

The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity

How unthinkable is the Ethiopia’s disintegration? Should Ethiopians (if there are any left who choose to call themselves Ethiopian) make the mistake of taking the Country for granted? Should they assume that Ethiopia would not collapse because it should not collapse and because Dr. Abiy told us so?

The very survival of Ethiopia and its unity may depend on its leaders’ ability to manage the current crisis.

We must underscore the fact that disintegration is primarily a political one driven much more by the perceptions and misperceptions of the political actors than by any other factors.

The eminent historian Martin Malia wrote, the Soviet Union “collapsed like a house of cards, because it had always been a house of cards”. How can we be sure Ethiopia has not been transformed into a “house of cards” in the last 27 years?

Ethiopia might disintegrate, I would argue, because of decisions taken and not taken NOW when the crisis is still undergoing. To be clear, Ethiopia’s collapse is being caused by misguided reforms – even more than the lack of reforms – and the accompanied lawlessness. History teaches us that it is during crises that politicians search for a ‘silver bullet’, and quite often it is this bullet that is the cause of death.

Shortly after the ‘appointment’ of Dr Abiy, the ‘Queero’ revolt immediately stopped and “peace” filled the country. Euphoria shot through the roof. The ‘Medemer” slogan has become the currency of talk from one end to another, inside the country and outside the country.

Yet, in a few months, pockets of clashes, ethnic violence, displacement of citizens on account of ethnicity flared up almost everywhere.  The ruling front, in its hugely anticipated congress, has made it clear that the path of ‘ethnic politics’ will continue to guide the country.  New ethnic political parties mushroomed. Some ethnic groups sets in motion the process to establish their own ‘Killel’ (another term for ethnic state). Violence and conflicts have continued and, in some cases, intensified.

It is clear by now that imputing the cause of the mess to ‘woyane’ or “OLF” did not help resolve the issue. In fact, the ‘ethnonationalist’ feelings are transmitting like infectious disease from one ethnic group to another. Behind all these groups are individuals with “Crowns” in their pockets awaiting and fantasizing the day they would be “Crowned” Kings to their respective ‘mini states’.

The numerous misguided reforms of the new Prime Minister are exacerbating the situation. Instead of fully and solely committed and focused on working to chart a clear policy path about the upcoming national election, the prime minister is busy shaking up his cabinet every 4 months and keeping up ‘appearances’ with the appointments of women to positions and endless speeches.  Even today, we are yet to see any clear and concrete policy pronouncements about the rules of the game for the upcoming election. The ruling party has yet to sit down and hammer out details but time is flying. Meantime, conflicts and violence are being reported everywhere so much so that ‘lawlessness’ has become the order of the day.

It would be a prudent positive step if the government clearly communicate to the country that it ‘considers itself’ as a defacto ‘Transitional Government’ and forthwith begin the process of taking steps, in concert with all political parties, to chart out the path for the upcoming election and a rewriting of the constitution.


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