By Daniel Teferra (PhD)
Professor of Economics Emeritus
The current Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, took office two and a half years ago. Abiy Ahmed belongs to the second generation of OPDO (Oromo People’s Democratic Organization), a member of the ruling coalition, known as EPRDF (Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front).
Abiy Ahmed came to power on the heels of the TPLF (Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front), which dominated the ethnic-based ruling coalition for twenty-seven years. He received a widespread support especially from Ethiopians who have been alienated by EPRDF’s ethnic politics for so long.
Abiy Ahmed turned EPRDF’s ethnic politics on its head when he introduced his medemer politics, the politics of synergy. He wanted to bring both Ethiopians and ethno-nationalists together by preaching a collective Ethiopian heritage: “We are all Ethiopians when we live; we become Ethiopia when we die,” he reiterated.
He thought he could satisfy both sides, but he ended up pleasing neither. Therefore, the Prime Minister is now facing fierce resistance from the two camps. The Ethiopians accuse him of reneging on his plea for Ethiopiawinet or a one Ethiopian, nation. The ethno-nationalists on the other hand blame him for violating the Constitution, which enshrines ethnic federalism. But, Abiy Ahmed never promised a one, Ethiopian nation. Furthermore, he is an Oromo nationalist himself and promotes a multi-national Ethiopia.It is unlikely that Abiy Ahmed’s politics of medemer can resolve the differences that exist between the two camps. The two camps are polarized. Neither is united, except by its dislike for the other camp.
Presently, what is lacking in Ethiopia is an independent political activity that can check the excesses of the powerful ethno-nationalists. However, an independent political activity is not fully allowed. For instance, the restrictions placed on Baldaras, the committee for the rights of Addis Ababans, is a case in point. And worse still, in the rural towns, Ethiopians live in constant fear of ethnic killings let alone engage in an organized political activity.
Ethiopians, on the other hand, who live in the West have opportunities far beyond those that exist within the country. First, they are free to meet and discuss the future of their native country and initiate actions accordingly. They have the advantage of material and intellectual resources that are desperately needed inside the country. However, they are not capitalizing on these opportunities.
The Prime Minister seems to be trying in good faith to bring the two sides together. He may not, however, succeed in his efforts while ethno-nationalists still have the upper hand. Thus, the two sides could come together when Ethiopians organize themselves and become a countervailing force. Then the two camps may, through a peaceful negotiation, craft a democratic union, dedicated to federal autonomy and representation for all.
No discussion on Ethiopia is complete without mentioning the economy. The toughest battle confronting the Prime Minister today is the economy. The population of Ethiopia has been exploding since several decades ago. Consequently, the demand for food, housing and other consumer goods as well as employment opportunities has been rising astronomically. An economy controlled by government cannot meet the growing needs of a rapidly growing population. The Prime Minister needs to free land first. This will enable the population to unleash its potential to feed itself and provide the surplus needed for industrialization. Politics guides economics. Therefore, the Prime Minister should get the politics right first in order to get the economics right.