Ethiopia’s political crisis and general election

Ethiopia is Africa’s second-most-populous country with different ethnic groups. In recent years, its political landscape has been marred with repetitive reports of violence, conflicts, displacement of citizens in many parts of the country, and the long tension between the country and its neighbour, Eritrea.

The uproar was followed with accusations levelled on the former governing party, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) of repression and human rights abuses. This included the locking up of opponents and silencing of journalists. Reports emerged that the ruling party had achieved successes in economic growth, but many felt marginalized and excluded from its benefits.

Vowing to put an end to the incidents, Abiy Ahmed took office as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia in 2018. He swiftly made impacts with some outstanding initiatives in addressing the concerns in a dizzying period. Through the introduction of a new ministry- ministry of peace, he freed millions of political prisoners, lifted the ban on the independent media and invited the country’s erstwhile-banned opposition groups back into Ethiopia from exile.

His crown achievement was when he successfully restored peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the reopening of the common border for the first time in twenty years. These peaceful achievements earned him global recognition in 2019 when he bagged the global Nobel prize.

The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, along with three out of the four-member parties of the political coalition which had dominated Ethiopian politics since the overthrow of the Derg regime in 1991, namely Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) and Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM), was dissolved on 1

In December 2019, Mr Abiy floated a new political party named the Prosperity Party, by merging three of the former EPRDF member parties, namely: the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM). The new party inherited the EPRDF’s role as the Ethiopian governing party.

However, after the euphoria of Mr Abiy’s early days as prime minister, he faced a lot of challenges stemming from long-simmering tensions swept under the curtains during the days of Abiy’s predecessor. His peace initiatives were dragged into the mud. Rare occurrences that demand alarming attention surfaced; a fitting example was the assassination of prominent individuals. According to reports, close to two million people fled their residences in the country for elsewhere in 2019.

Abiy Ahmed consulted the strategy of previous governments to suppress the emerging chaos. Ethiopian Internet domain and networks were shut down several times. A mass arrest occurred by the security agencies even though some were released months after arrest.

Dealing with oppositions

In 2020, following the death of a popular Ethiopian musician Hachalu Hundessa at the country’s capital city, Addis Ababa, ethnic chaos, and tensions further erupted in Oromia, the country’s most populous region, which led to increased security measures.

Notable opposition politicians like Ethiopia’s media mogul-turned-politician Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba, Hamza Adane and Dejene Tafa, were arrested and jailed on accusations of abetting chaos and conspiring to forcefully distort the constitution illegally.

In response from Ethiopians and most especially supporters of the oppositions, accusations were levelled against Ahmed Abiy that he was attempting to wipe out meaningful opposition in the Oromia region.

While Amhara, Afar and Benishangul-Gumuz regions have all witnessed hundreds of deaths in ethnic-driven clashes this year, the Oromo Liberation Army vowed in May to wage “total war” against Abiy’s government.

There is also a standoff between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) being built on the Blue Nile, which will be the largest in Africa when completed.

Tigray crisis

As Ethiopia’s northernmost region, Tigray shares a border with Eritrea, it is home to most of the country’s estimated 7 million ethnic Tigrayans. The ethnic group, which accounts for about 7% of Ethiopia’s population, have had an outsized influence in national affairs.

In November 2020, the regional government of Tigray, ruled by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), clashed with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in a sour disagreement over his political reforms. Earlier, the Prime Minister had announced that the country will hold its first democratic elections last year. However, it was later postponed, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as a barrier.

The TPLF was aggrieved over the postponement, insisting that delaying the elections resulted in an illegal extension of Abiy’s presidential term. As a result, the group conducted self-regional elections, declaring a decisive win. This led to a full-scale siege launched against the major Ethiopian military base at Sero by the group after their elections were subsequently declared invalid by the federal government.

Sparking a war in the region, Prime Minister called the TPLF’s actions “treasonous” and ordered a federal offensive against the region. Thousands of people have been murdered in the fight so far, many of whom are said to have died as a result of Ethiopian soldiers shelling cities in Tigray without warning.

Contrary to the government position on the crisis, a university lecturer from Tigray in November 2020 believes that “this war is waged not against the TPLF only but against Tigrayan people in general. They are striving to liquidate [Tigray’s] political identity and remove it from the map without due regard for whether or not the people get exterminated in the process.”

In January, Reuters reported that the conflict had displaced more than two million people in the region. Another recent report indicated 64 people were killed and 180 injured in an Ethiopian airstrike that struck on the 23rd of June 2020 on a market around the war-torn region. Although the Ethiopian army denied the claim that the military attack was on civilians. They said the rebel fighters were the target.

“We do not accept that this operation targeted civilians,” Col. Getnet Adanesa said, insisting that the victims were rebels “in civilian clothes”. “The Ethiopian air force uses the latest technology, so it conducted a precision strike that was successful.”

General election

Despite the ongoing violence and persisting attacks in the Tigray region, Ethiopia held its general election on June Monday 21, 2021. The pandemic-delayed poll was the first multi-party election in Ethiopia since 2005, and Abiy Ahmed’s first electoral activity since coming to power in 2018. More than 9,000 candidates from more than 40 parties contested in the national and regional parliamentary elections.

Meanwhile, major Opposition parties like the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Jawar Mohammed’s Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) withdrew from the election in March, citing the government’s crackdown on their political personnel has thrown their election preparations into disarray. Berhanu Nega, the leader of the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice party, was the only national-level opposition figure contesting the elections.

Election results

The vote counting is still ongoing, although many expect the election results to favour Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

The African Union (AU) has also expressed satisfaction over the conduct of the election. The leader of the AU’s election observer mission in Ethiopia, Olusegun Obasanjo, reported that there the conducts in the legislative and regional elections were peaceful and credible.

“Despite some operational, logistical, Covid-19, security, and political challenges – most of which we have mentioned – overall, the election and election day processes were conducted in an orderly, peaceful and credible manner,” said Obasanjo.

According to observers, the first step for Mr Abiy government, if he returns as the country’s Prime Minister, must include engaging the restive regions in an inclusive national conversation to shape Ethiopia’s destiny and solve the issues in the constituencies without limiting his dialogue to the allies of the government only.

Writer, journalist, and legal researcher, Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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