Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize Winner Failed to Ensure Peace at Home

Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize Winner Failed to Ensure Peace at Home

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been much praised by the international community (for putting an end to the stalemate between Eritrea and Ethiopia and for his effort to negotiate the Sudanese rivals). That effort paid off earning him a Nobel peace prize for 2019. However, he couldn’t enjoy similar hailing at home due to conflicts surfaced here and there across the country. The skirmishes have been lingering mainly in Amhara and Oromia regions, motivated by different factors. No one is certain whether political actors in the government including the prime minster himself are involved to manipulate the conflicts for political ends. Speculations are already floating though. The conflict in Oromia is basically connected with the factions of OLF regiments that rejected the demobilization approach and that of the transition after OLF’s return from Asmara to Addis Ababa.

It was reported that some 1300 troops came home from Eritrea in September 2018. The returnee combatants questioned the procedure in which OLF dealt with the government. They put some prerequisites before entering military camps for “rehabilitation”. When the requisites were turned down by the government, they ran to the bush in two routes Southern Oromia -Guji and Western Oromia-Wellega areas. They immediately recruited militias and started armed struggle with the government. Mediation efforts initiated by ex-activist Jawar Mohammed, Mr. Bekele Gerba and Abba Geda Beyene Senbeto failed though some members of the combatants accepted the offer presented by government of Abiy and to join the already encamped ex-OLF troops. However, their handling was a nightmare and that also pissed off those who rejected the offer.

Now what is going on? What do we expect? The government claims it is waging a war against bandits to ensure rule of law. One would ask: are the rebels really bandits, is it possible to quell them by force? Even if the government succeeds to crush them would it benefit Abiy Ahmed’s project of “reclaiming Ethiopia’s past glory”? Big NO! Here are Abiy’s misguided approaches in dealing with ex-OLF fighters (I call them ex-fighters because OLF declared they don’t have any armed wing).

Misnaming the rebels

I don’t personally support war and worrying parties. I encourage both sides to solve differences on a round table. However, I don’t accept misnaming of the OLF ex-fighters. The government has already labeled the fighters as bandits. Bandits are outlaws, crooks, robbers, thieves, gangsters who have no defined objectives other than satisfying their instinct needs (by earning money and wealth through looting no matter how). The rebels who are fighting Ethiopia’s government are not aimless bandits as such. Their senior leaders have been fighting for freedom over a decade or so based in Eritrea and home. They are not ordinary bandits engaged in robbery, rape and gross human rights violations. They have made their claims clear that on media interviews. One may disagree with their claims but cannot call them mean gangsters.

Government secrecy

The rebels in Guji and Wellega have come out several times to tell the media about their positions and their disagreement with Abiy’s government. No response is heard from the government as to how they want to handle the issue and where they failed to agree with the rebels. Informal reports are suggesting that much of the lootings, killings and violations of rights are orchestrated or committed by the government but alleged on rebels. No independent body has investigated the blames, violations and abuses. However, innocents are suffering the consequences. It is up to the government to disclose the facts, assume responsibility or make culprits accountable based on facts no matter where the blame falls.

Trying to dry the ponds to kill the fishes

The problem of fighting rebels is that they hide in the villages. They operate being hand and glove with communities. They don’t involve in conventional war. They are not that naïve to expose themselves in the open field while fighting with huge force that is armed with long range ammunitions, heavy machine guns and helicopters. They mix with communities. The mixing naturally comes out of necessity. Rebels need supplies and protection because they don’t have established military bases. Communities provide rebels with subsistence out of sympathy or being forced; they may or may not support objective or rebels. Yet, the more you try to press the communities, harass and abuse them, the more you become hostile with them and force them to side with rebels.

Undermining rebels’ power

When it was heard that the arbitration attempt by Jawar et al failed, Ethiopia’s Defense Operation Head General Behanu Julla was heard that the government forces would eliminate rebels operating in Oromia in 15 days. However, they haven’t yet ensured peace over more than 12 months. No matter how weak the rebels are, no matter if government forces clean holdings of the rebels, victory to be achieved by government forces through violence would become counterproductive for the commander in chief, the Noble Peace Prize winner. No surprise if huge military force crushes the rebels, but the rebels will remain in the memory of the public as heroes. Legesse Wogi in my mind. If Abiy could bring the rebels to table and end the conflict peacefully, he will become a hero, though seems too late.

Double Standard

There have been lots of killings of innocent people by Amhara militias (special forces) and informal armed groups in the region. June 15, 2019 was a bloody day when regional officials and federal military heads were assassinated. They have killed lots of people in the region and beyond. They committed attacks tantamount to genocide on Qimant community in Gonder, on Gumz in Benshingul. They killed and kidnapped a number of Oromos of Wollo, Derra and Kerrayou. Groups linked to the same formal and informal militias killed at least 7 Oromo students in Amhara region universities and many others are believed to have been jailed or kidnapped. The road from Gonder to Tigray was closed by a self-appointed group Fanno and properties were looted in the open. Even that same Fanno representatives gathered in a town hall in Gonder some months ago and made a televised pledge to crush Oromo youth (Qerro) in Oromia, not in Amhara. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been lenient to bring culprits in Amhara region to justice. He hasn’t imposed curfews nor a command post. Why does he exercise double standard tactics when it comes to Oromia?

Disproportional force

Informal reports coming from Wollega are disgusting. No independent body has yet verified amount of causalities. Government soldiers are said to have been using excessive force to crush rebels, while in actual terms innocents are paying huge price and villages are burning down by bombs. We had such government force abuses in history during Hallessillase and Mengistu times. The Bale, Rayya, Gojjam revolts, etc. were crushed by excessive forces. Dergue tried its best to quell Eritrean and Tigray rebels. At times, the regimes quelled the revolts. However, at the end of the day cumulative effects brought about collapse of the regimes. TPLF attempt to contain Oromo protests is a recent memory.
Hiding the war from the world
In an attempt to hide the ongoing war in Wollega Abiy’s government has shut down the internet and telecom. No one is sure how long the disconnection will continue. Shutting down the internet and telecom cannot hide the truth. The truth will come out because the world is watching and will scrutinize what has happened on that corner of the world. This approach will completely destroy Abiy’s reputation and will worsen speculations and mistrust on his government.

Conclusion

I don’t encourage rebels to continue fighting. Their voice must be heard. They must be invited to a negotiation table. I don’t believe war will bring us sustainable peace. I still I blame Abiy’s government for the mess. How come a man who is recognized by the world to negotiate neighboring countries fails to ensure peace in his own home land.

Tullu Liban