The Unimaginable Has Become More Conceivable: A Warning to the International Community
bloodletting hastens the next, and as the value of human life is degraded and
violence becomes tolerated, the unimaginable becomes more conceivable.”
In most countries, the decision to delay an election is a clear sign of authoritarianism. Yet, the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s decision to postpone elections, first scheduled to take place in May 2020, because of COVID-19, is judged “good governance” by the government’s Western allies.
Conversely, the decision made by Tigray to hold its regional elections is viewed as unconstitutional because the National Electoral Board refused to grant permission to the people of Tigray to exercise their constitutional right.
In most countries, a government that deploys its security forces to fire on protestors, killing at least 239, is a clear sign of repression. Abiy Ahmed, however, is given a pass. After all, he won the Nobel Prize for Peace.
In most countries, the assassination of the Chief of the Defense Forces followed by a year of silence of the part of the Prime Minister would be a heads up that something is amiss in the Prime Minister’s office. The silence continues.
In most countries, the abrupt resignation of the Speaker of the Parliament, citing reasons related to the constitutionality of the Prime Minister’s policies, would send out a red flag to the international community. Yet, the international community dismisses the principled stand of the Speaker as political theater.
In most countries, the arrest and detention of opposition figures, including journalists, is condemned with loud calls for their release. In the case of the Ethiopian Prime Minister, however, the Prime Minister is exercising enforcement of the Terrorist Act—a law roundly disparaged by the international community for a decade after its passage under the previous government.
In most countries, the appearance of the Prime Minister dressed in battle fatigues in a televised broadcast threatening violence against the people and falsely implicating his political rivals in the assassination of a young activist would result in universal outrage and condemnation.
In most countries, the federal government’s relentless animus towards a group of people based on their ethnicity would be universally denounced. The fact that that the Prime Minister, colluding with a foreign power (Eritrea) has threatened war, against its own people in that region (Tigray) would be a call for international sanctions.
But Ethiopia is the exception.
The international community has turned a blind eye towards Abiy Ahmed’s growing authoritarianism and the precipitous collapse of the country.
Ethiopians today are living in a dystopian society under a government acclaimed by the international community as reformist, inclusive and peace-loving. This narrative, created and promoted by the Prime Minister’s international backers led by the U.S., exists side by side with a government that has systematically shred the constitution, declared war on its own people and continues to fuel ethnic violence.
It is time the international community holds the Ethiopian Prime Minister and his government accountable for the unceasing and brutal attacks on the people of Oromia, the genocidal intentions targeting the people of Tigray, the wholesale abandonment of the constitution, and the extrajudicial killings and detentions of opponents of the government.
The international community must acknowledge its role in propping up yet another dictator and use its leverage to support the people of Ethiopia. As a first step, it must drop the useless and destructive narrative it has been promoting and take a hard look at the Ethiopian reality.
1. Abiy Ahmed has emerged as an increasingly authoritarian leader with no apparent brakes on his exercise of power.
The mythology of Abiy Ahmed as a “reformer” needs to be put to rest. The notion that Abiy is anything but a dictator is an insult to the Ethiopian people. He has systematically dismantled Ethiopia’s democratic institutions, consigned the constitution to the bottom of a trash can, colluded with a foreign power to declare war on Tigray and used hate speech to fuel ethnic tensions. Abiy Ahmed is running a ruthless junta. This is Ethiopia’s reality.
2. The TPLF is not the cause of Ethiopia’s problems.
The repetitious and false blame for all of Ethiopia’s problems placed on the TPLF by the government and its Western allies is a narrative meant to divert attention from the calamitous policies of the current Prime Minister. Abiy Ahmed, in his vulgar and relentless pursuit of power, has systematically marginalized and, more dangerously, demonized the TPLF and the people of Tigray to serve this end. The fact that Isayas Afewerki has sent hundreds of his security forces to Addis Ababa blending into the population of Eritrean refugees sends shivers down the spines of Tigrayan residents of the Ethiopian capital city. This is Ethiopia’s reality.
3. Abiy Ahmed has declared war on the people of Oromia.
The recent arrest of opposition leader Jawar Mohammed, the accusation against the OLF for the murder of Oromo musician Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, the killing of at least 239 protestors, and the jailing of thousands of Oromo youth are acts of war. Abiy Ahmed commands no base of support in his own region, which explains why there will be no elections this year. This is Ethiopia’s reality.
4. Abiy Ahmed has declared war on the media.
Abiy Ahmed has imprisoned journalists, cut off the internet and closed down the Oromia Media Network, operated by now imprisoned Oromo opposition leader Jawar Mohammed. A journalist has been imprisoned for reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic. This is Ethiopia’s reality.
5. Abiy Ahmed has declared war on the people of Tigray.
The official rhetoric expressed by the government in the past few months has escalated into an unambiguous call to action to crush the TPLF and the people of Tigray. Has no one learned from Rwanda? Hate speech comes straight out of the Prime Minister’s office with a call to send troops into Tigray. Former government officials of the TPLF living in Addis Ababa are being forced out of their homes and detained. This is Ethiopia’s reality.
And while Abiy Ahmed plants trees and dances alongside Isayas Afewerki, the international community cannot seem to acknowledge that they bet their money on the wrong horse.
For decades, Western governments and human rights organizations have carried out an intensive campaign to delegitimize the EPRDF and its member parties—particularly the TPLF. The TPLF, never very adept at explaining itself to outsiders, bore the insults with marked indifference.
It is time, however, for the international community to acknowledge Ethiopia’s reality and stop the fairy tale diplomatic statements and journalism that elevates a dictator to the imagined heights inside the Western mind.
The international community is here and now put on notice—the unimaginable has now become more conceivable.