General Take and Competing Narratives
The nature of the challenge the EPRDF government has faced in recent months, relating to the country at large, is new – at least over the past quarter of a century.
Ironically, the situation blew up in the same year the ruling party publicly admitted its limitations in good governance, declaring the year a make or break to itself, promising to roll heads. Not much happened; rather, it was the sporadic displays of unrest that pre-empted action, at some points culminating in the use of force.
The nature of the unrest, though similar throughout the year, came from different angles and in light of a variety of issues.
The loss of life and property is clearly evident – officially declared at Parliament by the human rights commissioner to have reached 173 in Oromia and 97 in Amhara. This was before the full blown Gondar protest. Unofficial counts now go as high as 600.
Competing narratives put the situation in different contexts – the government’s version of events actually varies from time to time and depending upon the audience being addressed.
The Prime Minister’s take in different settings varies from the complete detachment of the issues from politics, to admitting to a lack of good governance as a striking factor in one of his Parliamentary addresses.
Key Narrative Voices
The man at the top
“The root cause of the protest in this country is not politics. It is having so many young people who are unemployed,” Prime Minister Hailemariam.
The man in the midst
Fikadu Tessema, Communications Bureau head of the Oromia regional state, instead pointed his finger at maladministration and believes the solution is simple.
“The Choices are simple; either [EPRDF] cut off the rent-seeking political economy or allow the nation to disintegrate,” Fikadu Tessema.
The former insiders
Many opposition leaders, unlike Hailemariam, explain the entire series of events through politics. Unaccountability and the regression of democratic culture is earmarked as the source of the issue from their end.
Former members of the ruling EPRDF/TPLF party, and now critics of the system, tend to focus on this regression in democracy.
“The country is sliding back in all aspects,” Aregash Adane, former TPLF member , and now in Arena, an opposition party.
“It is all one step ahead and two steps back,” Abebe T. Haimanot, former Chief of the Ethiopian Air Forces.
The mainstream opposition
Mainstream opposition leaders, like Yackob Hailemariam, a former opposition politician, it is all about culture.
“Staying unaccountable has become a culture,” Yackob Hailemariam.
But, for people like Bekele Gerba, member of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), though it is highly localised and focused, it is about resisting land grabs in the guise of master plans.
“We say the master plan is mischievous, because it is all about land grab,” Bekele Gerba.
The master planners
Experts who took part in the development of the integrated master plan, however, disagree.
“The draft integrated master plan was politicised before it got the floor; it was a mere proposal yet to be tabled for the public and Parliament
Series of Events
The onset of the Oromia region’s popular protest was triggered by the decision of local officials to give away a certain portion of a school compound in Ambo for other development purposes. This was resisted by a few of the youths at school, with a few losing their lives.
Private businesses, mainly foreign companies, including Suprafloritech; the Indian, Linssen Roser; Dutch flower and Akper textile, have suffered an almost total loss as a result of the disturbances.
The draft integrated city master plan was officially cancelled before being tabled for public discussion. The government, though never attaching the cause of the unrest to the plan, have opted to cancel it without any precondition.
“Nothing will be implemented without the will of the people,” said Diriba Kuma, Mayor of the capital.
The anger was contagious across various woredas in the Oromia region, which actually picked up on issues beyond anger – unemployment, unfair distribution of wealth and especially land administration and the compensation issues the surround it.
Before settling the internal unpredictable pattern of unrest that led to burning down of farms, vehicles and other properties of investors, the country had to deal with an external hostile force.
Ethiopian troops had a skirmish with their Eritrean counterparts, both suffering many casualties and fatalities. Dodging the question on numbers and budget as pointless, Getachew Reda, government communications affairs, stood clear on the way forward.
“We let the Eritrean regime decide. If it will continue to provoke us, we will crush it again,” he sai
Vocal figures in the country’s politics, like Abebe T.Haimanot, seem to have polar opposite views on how to deal with this issue. Some call for the overthrow of Esayas Afwerki’s regime; others call for an informed decision about the ultimate output before action.
“Bringing Esayas down will not be the ultimate end, but the beginning of unknown ends,” argued Zerihun Teshome, a political commentator and author of the book Kurkora.
The skirmish was brief; it stopped within days, but the trouble inside the country got a new player with popular protests in Gondar.
Dubbed mainly on social media platforms as #Amharaprotest, at the beginning the unrest had a very particular issue of identity.
“There is no such thing as Amhara protest,” Getachew Reda, Government Communications Minister, said, dismissing the notion.
He rather frames the issue with a group of people suspected of criminal acts, for whom the federal security forces had an arrest warrant for. The resistance and shoot out was all initiated from the suspects’ side, he argues.
The individuals referred to by Getachew as suspects were members of a committee – a self-assigned group that has voiced issues of identity for almost a year now.
Despite the yearlong issue of identity, the committee raised no response of a formal nature. Unfortunately, a month before the unrest in Gondar, high officials of the country were boasting about the capability of the system to handle such cases.
“We have a clear road map for resolving identity issues,” bragged Demeke Mokonenne in an exclusive interview with a radio broadcaster based in the US.
The government narrative continues to blame external forces as the push factors behind.
“The forces behind this unrest are many, among which are neighbouring enemies of the country and some liberal forces who do not want Ethiopia to set an example of success outside of their command,” said Desta Tesfaw, chairperson of the EPRDF’s secretariat office, during one of his interviews with the Fana Broadcasting Corporate.
The yearlong uncertainty on the political front is far from over, yet it has become calmer. The EPRDF is strongly pushing the limits in admitting its cracks and proposing a road map to the future. Four veterans of the party were involved in eight hours of dialogue in a flagship assertion of their commitment, yet to be checked in the new year.
The Presdient, Mulatu Teshome, has been quiet all year, until he broke his silence by calling for tolerance and cooperation, and the appreciation of diversity, without referring to any of the above.
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