by Nahusenai Mekuria
Since the recent rapid changes in the Ethiopian political sphere, we have seen encouraging outcomes that included expansion of the political space, burgeoning free press and release of political prisoners. Accommodating these in the current political landscape is bringing its own set of challenges and threats aggravated by the suppression of speech for a significant period and lack of tolerance spanning decades. This is further fueled by television as well as social media outlets that fan perspectives that are extreme. The larger public is at war with itself unlike the previous setting where most voices and establishments were fighting a single central power. Not so many, including the current people in power, saw the repeated upheaval coming. The lack of prediction comes from possible lack of awareness what this opening might create as well as lack of an independent intelligence institution replacing the brutal command post. The change agents who sacrificed a lot are at war with each other fighting over nearly every word uttered from the other camp. Poisoning of the air can be witnessed for any spectator watching few media outlets. This is causing significant national security threat as well as risk endangering the current peace progress. We have seen a significant number of people displaced, a large number killed and injured [i] and properties destroyed in meaningless cycle of violence. This article tries to offer suggestions. It offers the need to immediate institutionalization and operation of high-end security establishment to ensure stability and peace is secured prior to the election process taking the country to its affirmative destiny.
If these positive changes are not accompanied by signs of stability and peace, the long term effects of the internal displacement, loss of life, personal injuries, trauma, and property loss will be disastrous. It effectively brings lack of trust amongst nations and nationalities who lived together harmoniously. It will eventually birth religious intolerance and loss of life the like of which we may have seen never before in our history.
What should be done:
A. Instituting a national security force – a security institution should be established composed of the regional police, federal police, intelligence as well as the military directly accountable to the prime minister working in conjunction with the National Security Council. It should be instituted with the best and brightest, fully funded and operated separately in its command structure. We have seen potential bias in some of the conflicts that regional police actors have a tendency to show favor to the group that they seem is close to their interest. The case of Burayu is exemplary to this. In the Somali region conflict, regional actors not only organized a merciless Liyu Police, but also used it for their own interest as a gate keeper. Leaving the regional police alone has shown time and again conflicts are rather aggravated and damage appears even momentous. If the regional police are accompanied by federal police and the military elites, this will help give a more independent and quick resolution of incidents as they arise. It takes off the bias element if instituted properly from various ethnicities. The national security force should be fully funded through prime ministerial directive since the country has lost irreplaceable lives, experienced property damages giving the country a gloomy image for its citizens and foreign investors which it needs. Containing it in short term restores the image portraying strong posture.
B. Mapping out conflict areas for action – the first and immediate task of the national security force should be to:
- Understand the current conflict areas and provide security that it does not happen again. The national security force should study, analyze and investigate the cause of the current upheavals wherever they occurred, use policing intelligence to learn the real cause and ensure future potentials are cut short before they materialize.
- Do intelligence work on the ground in coordinated manner so that the country does not experience this again and contain. It looks like we are not learning enough from the current calamities to learn our way out. They keep happening since we have little to no awareness when disaster strikes next. An example for this is the case of Dire Dawa where the media has been reporting potential threats and how the local police contained it by educating the public through mass awareness, perform their policing duties, providing extra vigilance and requesting support from federal government. Visibility and presence is a tactical policing instrument to posture power intimidating fear mongers who incite violence.
- Ensure the entire country has a member force within an acceptable distance to assist in cases of calamity. What we heard so far in unconfirmed news sources is that in Benishangul area conflict, security apparatus did not respond in time for days which could have prevented more lives and contained the situation earlier. Moreover, the “liberation” fighters could have been contained knowing their movement through proper intelligence (HUMINT, SIGINT or related). This can be done via GIS mapped charts positioning locations for the various forces well equipped to enforce stability. Has there been intelligence in Burayu, the last significant part of the conflict would have been averted. The reluctance or as some put it support of the regional police accompanied by absence of federal police intervention demonstrated some of the conflicts can be contained at inception. Firing the force without an institution to take over full policing capability is ludicrous.
- Understand where the conflict brewed regions could be Map out regions do where ethnic conflict is imminent by prioritizing the entire country. We have seen in the past few months that TPLF policing shows there is little to no risk in the Tigrai rigion for ethnic brewed conflict leave alone appetite for it. Other regions especially those multi-ethnic hosting towns should be closely analyzed and understood for threat. The threats should be highlighted via gradient from low to critical depending on interventions. This helps focus the limited resource to be directed prior any damage is reported.
- Establish a multi-location national security tip line. This helps empower people tip to be acted upon as they see issues brewing. We understood that Burayu residents reported instigators acting viciously and imminent danger coming which was not acted upon. If the tips were taken seriously, as well as there was a responsible entity to take charge, what we saw could not have happened. Even more, it would not have been repeated on what we see in Benishangul area. By now we understand that regional police is not trustworthy unless there are federal entities accompanying it giving unbiased look. Resourcing the area, mass communication and policing can easily follow if the threat is deemed significant based on the teams assessment.
C. Establishing a situation room under the national security force – the establishment of this office helps achieve two major objectives.
- First, given the current open media space, there are a number of television stations, radio channels, blogs as well as social media outlets that are influential in brewing conflict. In the US, we have learned how a state actor tried to methodically and systematically influence the opinion of people during the 2016 national election. Given the rate of irresponsible and reckless media appearances by political figures, activists, journalists and politically appointed figures, to play divisive tune, situational analysts will take thorough look at each outreach and its impact. The broadcasters sing for their own choir demeaning the other camp overlooking what that tone creates in the larger green field. The situation room takes closer look at each media outlet broadcast by the hour, analyze their social media outlets and provide daily digest to the national security force as an intelligence briefing to the premier and his national security team. This is part of what will be utilized as intelligence on future plans for violence, security threat and mitigation. Interesting enough, some of the violence we witnessed recently was predicted by some pundits which poses a plausible question on their foreknowledge unless they somehow had a part in the conception or planning. The analysis is done to help forecast and its sole intention is to understand what is being aired and how the audience interprets it and not as a censoring mechanism nor to stifle dissent of peaceful nature.
- Second, understand if there are external entities that are in play through intelligence sourcing analysis. It has been reported that some of the players are funded and supported by external entities aiding third party actor’s national interest. Identify those players and ensure the rules of the game are only to the interest of Ethiopia and its people alone.
D. Giving the regional players and their motive a thorough look via political and regional desk – foreign affairs ministry, national intelligence and related parties should give thorough look on nearby countries who have interest in the change the country is going through. Understandably, there are actors whose national security is threatened as Ethiopia shows signs of stability and embarks on positive unifying journey. We have seen indicators that such players have been sabotaging our sovereignty for centuries. Ample intelligence gathering will help identify their connection to local actors intermingled with the external entities especially the ones that moved from abroad. During the past, they may have used it as a systematic struggle, but now time is up for such sabotaging. It should be not be tolerated and such actors who have not severed their foreign alliances need to face justice.
King David, the most highly favored king, had a disastrous situation at his hand in one battle. The people cried, he distressed and everyone grieved. The people eventually wanted to stone him. But he turned his face up high and prayed looked unto the one who can only give him strength for fear he would be stoned. He encouraged himself in the Lord his God and went to take down his enemies and pursued won and restored what he lost. Time for looking up high, strategize and take back control.
1 Samuel 30:6 And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.
[i] Citing examples of the conflicts in various regions which by no means is comprehensive
Ethio-Somali Region conflict
Moyale region conflict
Benishangul Gumuz conflict