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Ethiopian PM's Karamara victory remarks face backlashes amid ethnic violence

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , Garowe Online

ADDIS ABABA - What was intended to be unity remarks by Ethiopian PM Ahmed Abiy may have after all left an egg on his face, even as the reformist leader continues to advocate for his "medemer" philosophy.

On Thursday, the Nobel Laurette led hundreds of Ethiopians in commemorating the 42nd anniversary of Karamara's victory, which remains an indispensable date in the Ethiopian calendar.

Karamara victory is a commemoration of the famous defeat inflicted by thousands of Ethiopian militias against Somali National Army [SNA] troops, then under dictator Siad Barre.

But at the event on Thursday, Mr. Ahmed took a swipe at Barre, terming his invasion in Ethiopia as "a mistake" which was "dearly punished" by patriotic troops.

“He was able to control extensive areas in our country as he did not face major resistance. But Ethiopians proved themselves what they could do when they stand up,” he said.

By 1978, Ethiopia had been exposed to weak leadership following the toppling of Haile Selassie, who was replaced by Col. Mengistu Hailemariam, a move that informed Siad Barre's incursion.

The 1978 victory against the invading Somalia troops, now commonly known as "Karamara victory", Mr. Ahmed said, is a manifestation that Ethiopia can handle external enemies as long as they remain united.

Mr. Ahmed, who is facing the re-election puzzle added, “Whenever we have ‘gaps’ internally, we invite a foreign enemy. When we get strong, we will be respected."

Abiy Ahmed's remarks face retribution

But the PM remarks are now fueling internal divisions, which could further precipitate rebellion from the fragile Somali region, which has been fighting against marginalization for decades now.

Mustafa Muhammed Omer, the interim president of the Somali region, otherwise commonly known as Ogaden, has accused Mr. Ahmed of being "economical" with the "truth and history" of Ethiopia.

In a statement, Mr. Omer insisted that the battle in the West was "a legitimate guerrilla war", adding that the 1978 victory was "just a phase" in the struggle against colonialism.

"We must be honest with our history and not let anyone else define our history," added Mr. Omer. "The martyrs who died in the defense of their country and their people deserve our constant remembrance and honor."

And Jawar Mohammed, the media mogul who has been lately the face of dissent in Ethiopia, was also quick to take a swipe at Mr. Ahmed, accusing him of whipping tribal emotions.

The youthful entrepreneur, who contributed to Ahmed's significant rise to power in 2018, has been lately at loggerheads with the PM, over the management of the country.

A future of peaceful coexistence and regional socio-economic integration, he insisted, "cannot be built by such romanticization of past wars of mutual destruction".

On his Facebook, he said Somali people have begun to smell the "neo-imperialist" project being cooked in "Shagar" saying "If you think the Karamara saga is an isolated incident or mistake, you are in for more surprise".

"Look closer and you will see the whole package being prepared with the fancy name of 'Prosperity' to reset the clock to the old evil days," he added in reference to Mr. Ahmed.

Terming the remarks "betrayal", Jawar wants Somali people in Ethiopia to defend their hard-earned "multinational federalism" and say no to "nostalgic push towards monolithic authoritarian empire".

Last year, Jawar was at the epicenter of clashes at Oromia region which left over 78 people dead, following protests by youths after the withdrawal of his security details, police said.

Why is Karamara's victory important?

Every 5th of March, Ethiopians usually commemorate the date, which is the hallmark of victory against the SNA, which had significantly encroached Ethiopian territory.

A determined Siad Barre, with the backing of Americans, invaded Ethiopia with the sole aim of seizing the Somali region and merging it with the rest of Somalia.

Having seized over 700 kilometers inside Ethiopia, Addis Ababa's leadership became worried forcing Mengistu to mobilize over 300,000 amateur soldiers in preparation for the struggle.

Buoyed by close 16,000 battalions of Cuban revolutionary troops, the Ethiopians were able to liberate the Somali region, marking a significant defeat against Siad Barre's team.

Since the 1978 victory, subsequent Ethiopian leaders have been leading the nation in commemorating the famous victory, which is usually preceded by visits to statue consisting of Ethiopian troops and Cuban counterparts.

Thursday's assembly was the third to be overseen by Mr. Ahmed, who has since folded the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front [EPRDF] for a single Prosperity Party, much to the antagonism of sections of coalition's founding parties.

Ahmed's struggle to unite Ethiopians

The remarks could now wreck his widely celebrated foundation to unite the entire country, which has been embroiled in regional marginalization due to tribal dominance of big ethnic groups.

Mr. Ahmed recently argued that the Prosperity Party would give an opportunity to minority groups "so that they can feel like part of the government" compared to the past.

But ethnic violence has almost overshadowed his progressive approach, leading to persistent clashes as federal regions try to stamp their authority in national administration.

So far, over 100 have been killed with critics accusing the government of using "excessive force" to quell tensions which are attributed to "democratic space" that has dominated Ethiopian politics since 2018.

Fundamentally, Ahmed's remarks which have been viewed as "offensive" by Somali region leaders, risk eroding confidence in his unity philosophy which has earned him international accolades.

Ethiopia is set for elections in August and already, Mr. Jawar Mohammed, who also holds an American passport, has projected himself as an "alternative" voice of reason thus complicating the matrixes given that both come from Oromia region.

Also, Ethiopia has been dragged to the "illegal" take over of federal states in Somalia, where Ethiopian non-AMISOM troops are said to have invaded Jubaland and Galmadug in aide of weakened federal leader Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.

The matter has since seen the US intervening, calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Gedo to pave way for "dialogue" between the warring parties to avoid Al-Shabaab resurgence.

Mr. Ahmed's remarks could also belittle his diplomatic gains that were rewarded with Nobel Peace Prize victory in 2019, given that he's now involved in a tricky mediation exploit between Somalia and Somaliland.


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