The Betrayal of Love, Forgiveness and Magnanimity: Ethiopia’s Opposition Fails the Test

By The Strathink Editorial Team


There is infinite power in the visual—a single photo can create a collective sub-consciousness that captures the humanity of the moment. Who can forget the images of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed embracing Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki? Who can ignore the image of Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) soldiers dancing to Tigrinya music in Mekelle and eating the food prepared by Tigrayan women following years of exile in Eritrea? Who was not touched by the image of an Ethiopian Airlines plane landing in Asmara for the first time in almost two decades?

These images project hope in our capacity as human beings to be better—to move forward past any bitterness or acrimony that imprisons us in a jail cell with iron bars of vengeance and retribution.

Yet, images can also obscure the underlying tensions of between imagination and reality.

The audacious overreach of Ginbot 7 leader Berhanu Nega, the Oromia Media Networks’ Jawar Mohammed, Dawud Ibsa of the OLF and Abdikarim Muse Qalbi Dhagah of the Ogaden National Liberation Front  (ONLF) revealed the misinterpretation of the government’s invitation to come home. Having been designated terrorist organizations under Ethiopian law, the official reception by the government, the cheering crowds and the vulgar posturing of some of their followers may have confused the opposition leadership’s thinking about how and why they landed back inside Ethiopia.

Let’s be clear. It was the Prime Minister and his party’s bold move to allow groups formerly designated terrorist organizations to disavow violence and enter into Ethiopia’s political life without their guns and inflammatory rhetoric. This is an important fact in the narrative of Ethiopia’s widening political space.

This fact was emphasized last week when Prime Minister Abiy reminded the leadership of these organizations that it was the choice of the Ethiopian people to allow them back in—not to create a “transitional government” but to offer new ideas within the constitutional process. The Ethiopian people will listen to their ideas and in 2020 will cast their votes for the party that best represents their interests and ideas. That is the democratic process.

In the meantime, the Prime Minister has reminded everyone that Ethiopia is under rule of law and no one has the right to abrogate the rule of law.

The Prime Minister reminded the opposition that the number of opposition group members who have returned to Ethiopia following the new policy are about 10,000 at best—this in a country of 100 million people.

Ethiopia’s political culture, which is historically based on a zero-sum game of all or nothing, unfortunately led the forgiven to forget. The continued violence that is de-stabilizing the country is a direct result of the empowerment felt by opposition leadership who are taking advantage of the government’s amnesty and widening political space.

Berhanu Nega’s call for a “transitional government” is in direct defiance of Prime Minister Abiy and his party’s decision to allow formerly designated terrorist organizations back into the country to prepare the groundwork for the 2020 elections. It seems absurd to anyone other than a narcissist that the government would facilitate the opposition’s return to Ethiopia for the purpose of dismantling the government. Maybe it is because Berhanu has no real base of support among the kilills and is mistrustful of an electoral process that does not guarantee he will emerge as a winner.

Jawar Mohammed has stated publicly that Ethiopia has “two governments”—Abiy’s government and qeerroo. He vacillates between taking credit for the continued violence of qeerroo and distancing himself by calling them “Oromo youth.” Are these the same Oromo youth who drove around Addis Ababa brandishing the OLF flag? Is Jawar flexing his muscle against OLF leader Dawud Ibsa who represents the competition for Oromia? Other contenders for the hearts and minds of Oromia include Lemma Megersa, Lencho Lata and Bekele Gerba.

Berhanu and Jawar have already traded insults. Moreover, both were disturbed by the warm reception given to the OLF troops by the TPLF on their way to Addis Ababa. The OLF was an early member of the EPRDF coalition and has ties to individuals within the TPLF. How big of a threat is the OLF to Jawar and the OPDO in Oromia? How big a threat is Jawar to Berhanu’s unrelenting desire to become Prime Minister?

On another front, the ONLF is poised to invoke Article 39 of the Ethiopian Constitution through negotiations with whom? That is still unclear. No one is even clear about who represents the ONLF.


What seems clear in the midst of this madness is that the leadership of these groups appear not be thinking very hard about the work that needs to be done to prepare for the 2020 elections. The Strathink Editorial Team has not seen any clear articulation of the policy positions held by any of these groups. And while the Prime Minister has called for all parties to be prepared to run, there seems to be little to show in the opposition’s intentions to mobilize voters based on competing ideas.

Ethiopia can’t continue on this same path. The government has given amnesty to these organizations in a show of good will intended to provide the Ethiopian people with a broad choice about who will represent them in the government. Indeed, some have argued that the heroes welcome accorded to former terrorists perhaps crossed the line from civility to grandiosity. For narcissists, such as Berhanu and Jawar, this reception empowered them in a way that could have malevolent consequences for the Ethiopian people. No one seems to be holding back a tide of discontent that is filling a vacuum left by the abrupt change in EPRDF’s leadership.

The violence left unchecked by federal institutions such as the police and security is unabated and no good can come of it. The Prime Minister will be put in the uncomfortable position of either allowing further death and destruction to engulf the country—at an incalculable price—or declaring a state of emergency. Either option is a lose-lose situation.

The opposition leadership, up until now, has reneged on its responsibility to play by the rules set in the Ethiopian Constitution. This transparent power grab in the guise of “populism” fools no one—least of all the Ethiopian people.

These organizations are not transitioning from the terrorist cells which used violence to promote their one clear objective—to overthrow the Ethiopian government—to political parties using ideas to compete for votes. Their leaders do not seem to understand the work it takes to govern 100 million people, many of whom struggle daily to provide their families with the basic needs of food, water and shelter.

Instead, these leaders are engaging in hate speech and encouraging the young and unemployed to destroy what has taken 27 years to build.

The international community bears some responsibility as well. Where are the human rights groups in condemning the violence of the groups many have embraced throughout the years? Where is the Government of the United States in decrying the naked power grab of Berhanu Nega after years of allowing him to raise funds inside its borders to support his 200-man army sheltered by the Eritrean Government? And what about Jawar Mohammed? Minnesota’s mobile phone has ensured the brute force of his infantile ideas through the violence of what he now calls “Oromo youth groups”—his qeerroo.

Prime Minister Abiy and his party’s bold move to promote love and forgiveness may be lost on the narcissistic leadership of the opposition’s disgraced leadership. So far,the forgiven have forgotten the magnanimity of the EPRDF’s gesture of reconciliation.

Edmund Burke said “Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together. In the case of Ethiopia, no truer words have been said.

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