Jawar’s Foolishness

By the Strathink Editorial Team


“Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding” (Proverbs 9:6)


Jawar Mohamed’s recent interview with Addis Standard should finally put to bed any notion of Jawar’s potential to make a positive contribution to Ethiopian politics. He unfailingly represents the sad adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. His absolute lack of understanding of Ethiopia’s political realities, having spent a number of years in the United States pursuing a degree, is astoundingly naïve and his grasp of the governance process is, well, infantile.

We understand these are strong words about a person welcomed by the Ethiopian government to return home and participate in the political process. In some circles, and certainly in his own mind, Jawar is given credit for the EPRDF’s power shift and the OPDO winning the Prime Minister’s office. Certainly, the violence that has overtaken the country for the past three years was a contributing factor to the party’s realignment. And most certainly, Jawar was at the forefront of calls for violence among the disaffected youth of Oromia.

Yet, we ask, is Jawar playing an outsized role in Ethiopian politics given that he holds no public office, has a very narrow base of support and has, this far, shown no other skills than using social media to inspire young people to take to the streets? Is it enough to command the support of Oromia’s youth in a country of 100 million people? He has said that there are now two governments: the EPRDF and Qeerroo. Oromia is a large and significant region within the federal system but does Jawar consider Oromia all of Ethiopia?

These might be unfashionable questions to raise given the current political climate, but we don’t believe that opening the door to opposition groups, including those groups that have advocated violence as a means to overthrow the government, gives these groups the right or the mandate to govern. We don’t believe that the Prime Minister’s party accepts Jawar’s statement of a parallel government. What sitting government would accept this naked power grab based on a man’s illusion of political power?

Just who is Jawar?

We are trying hard to understand just how Jawar has come to occupy such a prominent place in Ethiopia’s political life. We have read his numerous interviews, articles and tweets; nothing stands out that, in normal times, would elevate him to such an undeserved lofty position. While we quote here just one interview that he gave to Addis Standard, his answers are essentially no different from those repeated to a number of other journalists—answers that are confusing, contradictory and lacking in understanding the fundamentals of politics and governance. Indeed, his thoughts resemble those of a high school student who has mastered the first chapter of an introduction to politics and has set aside his book to play on his smartphone.

In the Addis Standard interview, when asked how it feels to be home after so many years, Jawar says his return was made possible “by this bitter struggle.” We assume he is referring to the protests and violence over the past few years he directed with his smartphone comfortably ensconced in a coffee shop somewhere in the frigid state of Minnesota. Yes, there was a struggle but the most bitter part of the struggle for Jawar could only be his coffee. His distance and disconnect from the disaffected youth he encouraged to take to the streets, oftentimes violently, made him, at best, an armchair revolutionary who used other peoples’ children to advance his narrow self-interests. Now that he has left the comfort of Minnesota, has he moved away from violence?

Here is a tweet pulled off his Twitter account on August 29, 2018 following the death of 9 Somali Ethiopians.

Jawar Mohammed‏Verified account @Jawar_Mohammed @Jawar_Mohammed

Its sad to hear 9 of our Somali brothers were killed near Chinaksan today. With Abdi Illey gone, there is no more reason for these killings to continue. Leaders of the two regional states and the federal government… https://www.facebook.com/Jawarmd/posts/10104089839545563 …

Going back to his interview, he states: For the political leadership to develop a sustainable game plan, there has to be stability in the country. The leadership needs to have a stable presence of mind, they have to focus.  Sporadic conflicts flaring up here and there are proving to be quite difficult for them. So the citizenry and people like me have to help in stabilizing the country. Stabilize the country and then transition to democracy.

Jawar says that “people like me” have to help stabilize the country. Yet, his tweet clearly shows his attachment to violence. If Abdi Illey was still president of Region 5, does this justify the killing of 9 people! Or 100 people? Or one person? How can Jawar serve the Ethiopian people when he throws around words that de-humanize his fellow Ethiopians?

Jawar posits two options for Prime Minister Abiy. The first is “to drive straight to the place where democratizing Ethiopia takes place.” Does anyone know what this means? Does Jawar know what this means? The second is to “try and hold the brakes.” If the Prime Minister holds the brake (assuming this means to avert “democracy”), the country will disintegrate before it transitions to democracy.

The key word here, for Jawar, is “transition.” Jawar considers the government of Prime Minister Abiy, as well as Abiy himself, as “a transitional government.” Moreover, this transitional government, according to Jawar, is “almost a new party.”

At the same time, Jawar argues that “disgruntled generals and intelligence officers” are “not organized” and “not a group,” but well-financed and responsible for the conflict between Oromia and the Somali Region. The disgruntled generals and intelligence officers are also trying to collapse the economy and spread lawlessness.

Are you confused yet? We are.

Jawar talks about young people stopping to frisk people, spreading misinformation, collecting taxes and burning things down. The reason they do these things is because they don’t trust the police. At the same time, the police both brutalize young people and stand by when they are “burning things down.”

Exactly where do the police stand concerning the young people—we assume he means qeerroo? Brutalizing them or allowing them to burn things down?

These are Jawar’s own words.

According to Jawar, the bulk of the military has been “transformed.” The intelligence service, however, has not been “transformed.” Here is his statement about how to transform the intelligence service verbatim:

The technical intelligence is easier, I think because Information Network Security Agency (INSA) was incompetent and ineffective. They were trying to hack us, we used to hack them. They were really vulnerable. So, INSA was an exaggerated mess. It was a corruption power house filled with people who don’t know anything about modern technology. So since it is not really a well established, sophisticated institution, reforming it and replacing it doesn’t require much. They just need to bring in new hardware and new experts and I think there are a lot of young people these days who are good at these technologies. But the human intelligence is where they are going to need some more time.

So, let’s get those sophisticated youth who know Twitter and Facebook into the intelligence service and, voila, Ethiopia will have an intelligence service who “knows about modern technology.”

Jawar then moves to the role of Qeerroo in “democratizing” Oromia—as yet a word used frequently but without a clear definition of what he means. Jawar says that Qeerrroo got rid of the country’s “dictatorship” and argues that the Qeerroo are capable of not only bringing democracy t Oromia but to the rest of the country. He then jumps into the failure of the TPLF to serve the interests of the Tigrayan people and Meles’ destruction of the TPLF.

We are still not following the logic.

Finally, Jawar is asked by the interviewer what is his message to the Ethiopian people. Again, we quote Jawar:

The biggest challenge [for  Ethiopia] is rather our own internal security, particularly the breakdown of rule of law in various parts of the country.  So my message is, both to the government and the people of Ethiopia at large, don’t miss this chance.

What Does This All Mean?

Parsing and analyzing Jawar’s answers is an exercise in trying to make sense out of foolishness. His facile answers to serious questions expose both his lack of understanding of basic politics and his naked ambition for power. Yes, he was able to use social media to incite a disaffected and marginalized population of young people to rebel and, in the words of Jawar, burn things down. His timing was perfect given the turmoil and indecision of the governing party. He knew what to say, when to say it, and on what platform to say it on.

But tweeting incitement to violence using 280 characters on a smartphone is different from articulating a vision and a strategy for the country.  Jawar’s return to Ethiopia generated a lot of excitement among Oromia’s youth—a symbol of their voices being heard by the government and the success of their movement for change—no doubt. But what now? Jawar seems incapable of expressing any kind of vision beyond the 280-character limitation of Twitter yet imagines himself a leader.

It is charlatans like Jawar, who use the ephemeral passions of youth not to build but to destroy. Despite Jawar’s confidence in himself and his followers to build a more democratic Ethiopia, he appears lacking in the kind of real world substance needed to promote genuine change.

We live in a time where communication technology expands political space from across continents and one person with one smartphone can mobilize thousands of people to take the street and make their voices heard. This is the upside of the technology revolution and governments everywhere are put on notice that the desire for change cannot be ignored.

At the same time, those who have mastered the art of communication technology and messaging cannot be complacent and mistake their dexterity with Twitter as leadership. His superficial views about the political process reveal the shallowness of his power play that may temporarily appeal to Oromia’s youth but cannot be the basis for leading a country of 100 million people.

Much like the paltriness of U.S. President Donald trump’s reliance on Twitter to message his minority base, Jawar commands attention from a slice of Ethiopia’s people—youth—who, in their minds, have little to lose against a system they feel is stacked against them.

Resolving Ethiopia’s current political crisis takes more than Twitter can offer. #Jawarisafool







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