Ethiopian PM's puzzle despite winning Nobel Peace Prize

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , GAROWE ONLINE

At 43, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is probably one of the youngest people to claim the lucrative Nobel Peace Prize, which comes with almost $1 million.

Last Friday, Mr. Ahmed was honored by the Nobel committee ostensibly for his contributions towards the historic peace agreement that ended Eritrea's two-decade internal conflict.

In the words of Berit Reiss-Andersen, the Norwegian Nobel committee’s chair, he received the prize “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.”

During the first tripartite meeting in September, the trio have issued a four pillar comprehensive joint declaration, which included the establishment of a high level committee tasked to oversee the multifaceted collaborations included in the declaration.

Ahmed's radical internal reforms within Ethiopia especially enhanced Democratic space where he released over 10,000 political prisoners portrayed him as a progressive leader with phenomenal dialogic skills.

During the reign of his predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn, the autocractism was the order of the day in the streets of Addis Ababa. Thanks to his regime, liberalism is the new order in Ethiopia.

Also, there is a raft of internal reforms pertaining to the economy which has seen Ethiopia almost rival East Africa's economic giants, Kenya. These and among others contribute to his global fete.

But despite the achievements gained within a short period, Ahmed's administration is facing a host of challenges within and outside Ethiopia, which could soil his international reputation if there is no swift response.

Ever since taking over in 2018, Ahmed's administration has witnessed the rise of worst ethnic violence, which has led to the death of dozens of people. Ethiopia has over 80 ethnic groups.

The main reason behind the violence is a power struggle, with many political parties composed of ethnic groups. This has resulted to endless squabbles with minority groups decrying exclusion in government.

Ethnic Amharas who were evicted and displaced from the Benshangul-Gumuz and Oromia regions are yet to receive government assistance.

Most of the ethnic Oromos who were evicted in their hundreds of thousands from Ethiopia’s Somali region in 2017 remain displaced.

The ethnic Somalis who were evicted from Oromia in retaliation are also still displaced. Ethnic Gedeos who were evicted from Oromia’s Guji areas are now living in appalling conditions in schools, closed factories, and temporary camps.

Ethnic groups have, over the past few decades of coalition rule, staked claims to territories administered by other tribes.

Ethnic Amharas, for instance, have claimed ownership of the Wolqait and Raya territories in northwestern Ethiopia, leading to tensions with the Tigray region, which currently administers these areas. Violence has often erupted over the claim.

Ethiopia’s Somali and Oromo communities have also seen their fair share of violence over ownership of ancestral and pastoral land.

"Abiy must now take measures to reduce such conflicts and address ethnic tensions. Creating a framework whereby cultural, religious, and social organizations could utilize the rich social capital at their disposal would be crucial. Moreover, Abiy should not shy away from the possibility of constitutional change," observes political analyst Yohannes Gedamu.

Ethiopia's incursion in Somalia

Ethiopia's incursion in neighboring Somalia in late 2006 is yet another contemporary matter that Ahmed must confront head-on to avoid any backlash from all parties involved.

The invasion has led to major defeat of the Union of Islamic Courts who had controlled the capital for years. Since then, the Ethiopian troops have joined AMISOM, operating in Bay, Bakool, Gedo, and parts of central regions.

Recently, the Ethiopian troops almost differed with their counterparts KDF, protecting their long-time ally, Ahmed Madobe, who helped them liberate Kismayo and other towns in southern Somalia in 2012.

The rivalry between the two AMISOM troop-contributing countries has created a conflict of interest in Somalia that literally evoked serious security concerns in the fragile nation, recovering from 2 decades of war.

Both Kenya and Ethiopia seemingly have an interest in the strategic Jubaland.

In August this year, the Ethiopian plane was blocked from accessing Kismayo, with the federal government of Somalia under Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo accusing Kenya of using the strategy to rig in Ahmed Madobe.

Ethiopian army generals, including AMISOM’s commander, have several times visited Kismayo before Jubaland elections as they try to intervene in the local administration’s determination to pick its leaders.

Ethiopia sided with Mogadishu in an attempt to oust current Jubaland president, Ahmed Madobe who is in a bitter deadlock with the Federal Government of Somalia, which he blames for destabilizing his state.

Nyambega Gisesa, a senior investigative journalist with Kenya's Daily Nation, says Ahmed's legacy as a peace ambassador will only be sealed when Al-Shabaab militants are crushed completely.

This, he argues, needs a collaboration attitude by Ahmed and other AMISOM allies.

Despite Ethiopia sharing the longest border with Somalia, the country has however been able to put Al-Shabaab at Bay for over a decade.

“Illegal interference tainting Abiy Ahmed's reputation 

In December 2018, the non-AMISOM Ethiopian soldiers arrested Mukhtar Robow, a former deputy Al Shabab leader and spokesman, who publicly renounced violence and recognized federal authority in 2017.

His arrest in Baidoa city, the interim capital of South-West State triggered clashes between security forces and his supporters that killed 11 people, including a regional government lawmaker.

Mukhtar Robow speaking in a political campaign Oct. 10, 2018 in Baidoa. Photo: AP Photo

The Ethiopians involved in Robow’s detention and his subsequent transfer to Mogadishu.

In January 2019, Somalia’s government took the unusually drastic step of expelling the United Nations’ most senior official in the country after he questioned the detention of a former al-Shabab leader contesting regional elections.

In a letter to the federal government, Haysom criticized the crackdown and questioned the legal basis for holding Robow without charge beyond a 48-hour limit.

The letter also highlighted civilian deaths during the protests and said they must be “thoroughly and promptly investigated.” Haysom wrote that more than 300 people, including minors, were arrested after the demonstrations in Baidoa.

Nicholas Haysom, a South African, had served only a few months as the special representative for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Somalia’s Foreign Ministry declared him “persona non grata” and ordered him to leave the country.

Haysom had only served in Somalia for 3 months after he succeeded Michael Keating who hails from Uk

In addition, the Ethiopian soldiers “plotted” the arrest of Jubaland State Security Minister Abdirashid Janan who was detained at Mogadishu airport shortly after holding a meeting with Ethiopian officials in the border town of Dolow.

Jubaland's administration called the arrest "illegal" and a "kidnapping".

Prior to his election in February 2017, Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” used his political campaign anti-Ethiopian slogan and said publicly that Ethiopia had directly interfered in the internal affairs of the nation, pledging to expel all African Union forces.

All his campaign promises were futile after winning the election as he forged a close friendship with Ethiopian PM, Abiy Ahmed who accepted Farmajo’s advice to isolate Somali Federal States’ leaders.      

Ethiopia supported Somali warlords who toppled the Horn of Africa nation’s last central government in 1991. Since then, Addis Ababa has been interfering in Somalia, turning the once proud nation into a playground for politicians allied with it.

Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia may go down in history as one of the most daring if not imprudent strategic decisions any African government has made on its neighbor.

At the present, Ethiopia has thousands of troops in Somalia who are not a part of AMISOM, the African Union force fighting Al-Shabab and they have been accused of committing atrocities in the country.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed should not follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and fully stop interfering with Somalia’s domestic affairs and clean up Ethiopia's image in the neighboring countries.

Port deal that raised more questions than answers  

Just two months after taking office, PM Abiy Ahmed paid his first visit to Mogadishu on 16th June 2018 and signed a deal with Farmajo which allows Ethiopia to invest in four seaports in the country, in an effort to boost foreign investment. 

The shadow agreement has raised more questions as the ports were not named in the dispatch but Ethiopia's latest move could be seen as it wants to secure access to the sea and build a navy as part of its geo-strategic security.

Farmajo [L] and Abiy Ahmed [R] hold joint press conference in Mogadishu on June 16, 2018

Ahmed seeks to reduce his country's dependence on Djibouti's port, which currently accounts for some 95% of Ethiopia's imports and exports.

Somalia, meanwhile, lacks the financial resources to develop its seaborne trade, making the offer of external financial support very welcome.

Al-Shabab in Decline, But Still a Threat

Unlike its neighbor Kenya, Ethiopia has not witnessed frequent attacks from Al-Shabaab, however, it shares the fear of the terrorist threat to the security of entire East Africa.

To maintain the peace in his land-locked country, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed must advise ways of increasing border patrols and heighten the level of vigilance to avert possible Al-Shabaabencroachment.

Al-Shabaab was blamed for a truck bomb attack 14th Oct. 2017 in the capital city of Mogadishu killed nearly 1,000 people, the worst bombing in the country’s history that demonstrated the ability of the group to stage large-scale attacks in Somalia and beyond borders.

The terror group could be benefiting from increasing ethnic violence and the fraught political transition sweeping the country since Ahmed ushered in a series of reforms when he came to power in April 2018.

"There were highly significant political changes in Ethiopia that led to wholesale changes in the federal government leadership and the leadership of the security apparatus as well," said William Davison, Senior Analyst for Ethiopia at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group in DW site.

Regarding how he will handle both the internal and external issues affecting Ethiopia, there is no doubt that Ahmed needs a cohesive and stringent policy that could help him evade a possible backlash that could ruin his reputation.

After the Nobel Peace Prize, Mr. Abiy should act differently, bearing in mind that Somali people hoping to see his unbiased role that helps the path to a peaceful nation based on Federalism, similar to Ethiopia.

Writing by Abuga Makori in Nairobi; Editing by Omar

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