New peace institute launched in Tigray

Wednesday, 13 November 2019 11:48 Written by

November 13, 2019 News

High Level meeting launches new peace institute in the Tigray region of Ethiopia

A High-Level meeting on “Rehabilitation, youth employment and digital innovation”, organized by the Mekelle, Adwa and Aksum Universities, was held in the historical city of Aksum, Ethiopia from 9 to 10 November 2019. During the meeting, the Mereb Institute for Peace Building, Development and Rehabilitation was inaugurated and the latest two volumes in the book series “Connected and Mobile: Migration and Human Trafficking in Africa,” were launched. Authors and editors from the two volumes, “Roaming Africa: Migration, Resilience and Social Protection and Mobile Africa: Human Trafficking and the Digital Divide, spoke about the dangers of forced migration, by illustrating human trafficking for ransom in countries such as Libya, and the effects of trauma on refugees.  The books further explore the movement of people in Africa with a diverse group of authors, shifting the dominant and often negative lens through which migration is looked at. Speakers on the cutting edge of peace building and the interlinked issues that drive forced movement on the African continent discussed the nexus between digitalisation, refugees. migration, rehabilitation and youth resilience and employment in mobile Africa. 

Linking academic research with practical solutions, the participants launched several building blocks for solving factors that undermine peace, fair use of data and youth employment. H.E. Aboubacar Sidiki Koné, Chair of the Committee on Cooperation, International Relations and Conflict of the Pan-African Parliament, observed that: “Everywhere we meet refugees, but young persons must work for peace in Africa. […] It is not what you say, but what you do for refugees.”

The Mereb Institute for Peace-building, Development and Rehabilitation is named after the Mereb River that flows between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The Institute will offer training to youth from the host and refugee communities and connect them to the labour market in this way according to the President of Mekelle University, a founding institution, it will: “…enable the youth from both Eritrea and Ethiopia to access education and participate in the economic and social rehabilitation.” The mayor of Aksum city, Elias Kahsay in his opening speech pointed out that: “Young generations should be given an equal chance.” V.C. Chindanya from Great Zimbabwe University observed that the Institute will require: “… a lot of work in terms of objectives but there is clarity on what needs to be done.”

Prof Kinfe Abraha (Mekelle University), co-chair for the event, pointed out that: “In order for somebody to be employable, he or she has to have the needed knowledge, skills and attitude, and that will be the result of training.” And, Prof. Mirjam van Reisen(Tilburg University) added: “The first aim of the Institute, is a certificate programme. We need the youth to have skills and knowledge, as well as experience. It is from that spirit that we feel that as academia, we have a responsibility to make sure that we have a low-threshold accessibility through which we can train up people and bring them in the society in a way they can contribute. They want to contribute; they just need to be shown the way.”

During the meeting concrete steps and solutions linking   research and actions for building peace and combatting disruptive factors to peace, such as human trafficking were also discussed. “I want to emphasize the issue of research, because many times, in various universities, a lot of research is done, but then there is no clear pathway where research is going to inform policy.” Said H.E. Zaminah Malole, Equal Opportunities Commissioner in Uganda.

Activities in the Mereb Institute are planned to start around mid-2020 after careful consultation with stakeholders. “It is supporting the peace dealing process of both governments. The idea that we are having is just a beginning – the main thing is, people have to be engaged.”

For more information, please contact:

Kibrom Berhe – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. – +251 92 025 4476

Or Klara Smits – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. – +251 934 344 960

Roaming Africa: Migration, Resilience and Social Protection(ISBN 9789956551132) and Mobile Africa: Human Trafficking and the Digital Divide (ISBN 9789956551019) are published by African Books Collective and are available through their webshop:

Note for the press, not for publication:

For more information on the book or sales information, you may contact Carolina Bruno at

African Books Collection: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


ኢቮ ሞራለስ Image copyright AFP ናይ ምስሊ መግለጺ ኢቮ ሞራለስ

ፕረዚደንት ቦሊቭያ ኢቮ ሞራለስ፡ ብድሕሪ'ቲ ኣብ ዝሓለፈ ወርሒ ዝተኻየደ መረጻ ብዝተልዓለ ናዕቢ እዩ ካብ ስልጣኑ ወሪዱ።

ንሱ ከምዝተዓወተ ምስገለጸ ብምኽንያት ዝተልዓለ ናዕቢ፡ ኣዛዚ ምክልኻል ሰራዊት እታ ሃገር ስልጣን ክለቅቕ ጸቕጢ ገይሩሉ እዩ።

ኣጻረይቲ ኣብቲ መረጻ ዘይስሩዓት አካይዳታት ከምዝነበሩ ዝሓበሩ ኮይኖም፡ ንሱ ግን ዕልዋ ከምዝተፈጸሞ እዩ ዝገልጽ።

ብተወሳኺ ኣብ ልዕሊ ደገፍቱ ዝኾኑ ፖለቲከኛታትን ቤተሰቦምን ጥቕዓት ይፍጸም ስለዘሎ፡ ነዚ ንምክልኻል ስልጣኑ ከምዝገደፈ ሓቢሩ።

ፕረዚደንት ሞራለስ፡ እቶም ተቓወምቲ ኣብ ልዕሊ ወገናቶም ዝፍጽምዎ ዘለዉ ጥቕዓት ጠጠው ከብሉ ተማሕጺኑ።

ተቓወምቲ Image copyright Reuters

ብተወሳኺ ምክትል ፕረዚደንት ኣልቫሮ ጋርሺያ ሊነራን፡ ፕረዚደንት ሰኔት ኣድርያና ቫልቫቴራን እውን ስልጣኖም ብፍቓዶም ለቒቖም ኣለዉ።

እቲ ፕረዚደንት ብፍቓዱ ስልጣኑ ብምግዳፉ እቶም ተቃወምቲ ሓጎሶም ገሊጾም።



Eritrea: Isaias Afwerki and his inner circle

Monday, 11 November 2019 11:06 Written by

By Jeune Afrique

Posted on Thursday, 7 November 2019 16:51

Issayas Afeworki © REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Despite the lifting of UN sanctions in 2018, Eritrea remains diplomatically isolated.

And its rapprochement with Ethiopia has not contributed to the relaxation of the regime that President Issayas Afeworki introduced in 1993.

Still as secret as ever, he is surrounded by the faithful, who have accompanied him since independence.

Here are a few of the key personnel in Team Issayas.

Yemane Ghebreab

Yemane Ghebreab © UN Photo

A loyal and discreet political advisor, Yemane Ghebreab is originally from the Agame and is a Member of the Popular Front for Democracy and Justice (FPDJ), Eritrea’s sole and ruling party. He studied in the United States, where he joined the student wing of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), now rebranded as the FPDJ.

Hagos Ghebrehiwot

Ghebrehiwot is Head of the Economic Affairs Section of the FPDJ and CEO of Hidri, a consortium founded by Afeworki that brought together the country’s private companies. As the president’s financial manager, he already managed the EPLF’s money, which earned him the nickname “Kisha” (“bag of potatoes”).

Abraha Kassa

Abraha Kassa © all rights reserved

As Director of the National Security Agency intelligence services, Kassa is also in charge of the president’s security. Ethiopia accused him of organizing Asmara’s support for the terrorist group Al-Shabaab in Somalia, an allegation he has denied.

Yemane Ghebremeskel

Yemane Ghebremeskel © all rights reserved

Ghebremeskel —nicknamed “Charlie” — manages Afeworki’s communication and has been Minister of Information and Government Spokesman since 2015. He was appointed Chief of Staff in 1993 when Eritrea gained independence. He has a degree in mathematics from Imperial College, London.


Locust invasion: UN warning for Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea and Sudan

  • 8 November 2019
Locusts on a tree Image copyrightFAOImage caption The locusts are devouring tonnes of vegetation a day

The UN has said that if an Ethiopian locust infestation is not brought under control then the crop-devouring insect could "invade" neighbouring countries.

The Ethiopian government has called for "immediate action" to deal with the problem affecting four of the country's nine states, a UN statement said.

In northern Amhara state some farmers have lost "nearly 100%" of their crop of the staple grain, teff, it added.

Efforts to control the infestation have so far not been effective.

The authorities' work has also been affected by "ongoing insecurity" in some areas of the country, according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

Last week, the government said it had sent planes to the affected areas to try to deal with the problem from the air.

Man spraying area with locusts Image copyrightFAOImage caption The control measures in place have failed to stop the locusts spreading

Overall, the desert locusts have devoured crops and pasture across a swathe of land covering parts of the Tigray, Amhara, Oromia and Somali regional states.

The FAO estimated that the insects were eating 1.8 million tonnes of vegetation a day across 350 sq km (135 sq miles) of the country.

If additional control measures fail then the locusts "could continue moving within Ethiopia and invade" north-eastern Kenya, parts of Eritrea, and Sudan's southern coast, the FAO said.

The locusts are thought to have spread from Yemen three months ago.

You may want to watch/listen:

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The island of Agios Efstratios is battling a plague of locust

Media captionHow locusts were tackled on a Greek island
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Scientists at three British universities have researched why locusts swarm


Sudan's Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok speaks to the media after the swearing-in ceremony on 21 August 2019 (AFP Photo)
November 5, 2019 (KHARTOUM) - Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok said on Tuesday he would hand over ousted President Omer al-Bashir to the war crimes court to meet the demand of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur.

On the occasion of his visit to Zamzam, Abu Shouk and Salam camps on Monday, IDPs raised placards calling for al-Bashir’s handover to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In a television interview aired on Tuesday, Hamdok said he would spare no efforts to address transitional justice issues.

"We must achieve what pleases the victims and makes them feel justice," he said.

"This is a fundamental demand that no barrier can stop it," he further stressed, referring to their demand to hand over al-Bashir to the ICC.

Hamdok’s comments came after statements by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) leading member Ibrahim al-Sheikh on Sunday announcing their agreement to hand over Bashir to the International Criminal Court.

Last September, Hamdok said they would try al-Bashir inside the country after the needed legal and judicial reforms.

The ICC issued two arrest warrants against al-Bashir for alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide committed in Darfur.



Africa, Eritrea, Horn of Africa

The Eritrean Ministry of Information has published documents showing how the CIA, Mossad and others are attempting to undermine the Eritrean government.

But the ‘documents’ are not actually published. Just summaries [see below]. Eritrea suggests the ‘subversive operation’ was actually undertaken by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

These allegations alone should ring warning bells. Neither human rights organisation would ever get involved in such activities.

If these reports are genuine, let the Eritrean government publish them in full, without redaction. Then we can judge their veracity.

From Recent Confidential Archives

Excerpts of the aborted subversive operation concocted against Eritrea by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in 2011 were published on this website few weeks ago.

Today, we present condensed reports of:

1.    A subversive scheme mapped out by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to instigate turmoil and upheaval in Eritrea to precipitate “regime change”;

2.    A confidential report circulated by the Israeli Intelligence Agency (MOSSAD) with malicious intent of demonizing the Government of Eritrea by falsely associating it with “terrorist organisations” in the Middle East.

These outlandish schemes were hatched in the second half of 2011.  In terms of purpose and intent, they were intertwined with numerous other acts of hostility pursued by various powers with much frenzy in those times.

As it will be recalled, acts of hostility perpetrated against Eritrea in the past 20 years, purportedly to advance certain “global strategies”, were numerous indeed.  Some of these reprehensible acts include:

•    The blatant act of aggression launched from 1998 until 2000 under the pretext of a border dispute;

•    The various subterfuges peddled to obstruct implementation of the ‘final and binding” EEBC Arbitral Decision;

•    Baseless accusation levelled against Eritrea at the UNHRC in 2013 and thereafter;

•    Organized human trafficking and youth migration pursued for the purposes of “strategic depopulation” and downgrading of Eritrea’s defense capabilities; etc.

All these hostile acts were frustrated and ultimately overcome through the resilience and steadfastness of the people and government of Eritrea; even if they had incurred much cost to the country.   To a large extent, those unwarranted hostilities against Eritrea constitute inexcusable episodes and vestiges of the past with little consonance to current realties.   Still, past history is relevant both for drawing appropriate lessons as well in the interpretation and analysis of current and future events with greater depth and wider perspective.  The condensed reports of hostile CIA/MOSSAD acts committed in 2011 are being published today within this framework; as a reminder of what had transpired in the past.

  • 1.    CIA’s Subversive Scheme

This highly condensed report is culled from the minutes of a secret meeting held by CIA agents in Nairobi, Kenya, on 4 June 2011 and other related confidential information.  The agenda of the meeting was to chart out a plan “to topple the Government of Eritrea” in a short time.  The participants of the meeting were:

1.    Joey Hood – former Political Officer in the Embassy of America in Eritrea, and at the time,  Top Advisor on Eritrea and Afghanistan in the State Department;

2.    Mathew A. Bokner – Second Secretary, Kenya;

3.    Lisa Davis – Freedom House, Deputy Director, New York;

4.    Jay Zimmerman, Regional Refugee Coordinator, US Embassy Kenya; and,

5.    Three other CIA officers who used aliases

  • Excerpts:-

•    These are critical times.  We are in the midst of executing an organized and well- coordinated operation against the Eritrean government just as what we have accomplished in Libya.

•    It is not only the US which is vehemently pursuing the policy of regime change in Eritrea.  The European countries which were reluctant before are fully on board now.

•    European countries are furious because the NGO’s they have been sponsoring were asked to cease operations and leave the country.

•    Our original expectation was for regime change from within through some elements in collusion with the US and its allies.  But this is not going to work; people’s uprising is unthinkable in Eritrea.  This has zero possibility.  So the only option we have is to use an external power which has an intimate knowledge of the military capabilities of the Eritrean regime.  The external power that meets these requirements is the TPLF regime.

•    The full report the TPLF has submitted to us on the structure, military capabilities and nature of the Eritrean regime is based on factual analysis and gives hope for accomplishing the mission in a short time.  They were intent on launching a second war after the 1998 war.  They refrained from doing so because we advised against a hasty move.  Now they are prepared to launch war against Eritrea aimed at regime change.  And they have secured the full support of the UN and partners.

•    In tandem with this, the implementation and enforcement of the sanctions, which has remained nominal so far, must be ensured.

•    Other tasks are being planned and coordinated to instigate the people’s uprising and internal turmoil.

•    This will be followed by the intervention of an African Peace Keeping Force in response to the demand of the Eritrean people.

•    The task of brainwashing Eritrean youth, especially inside the country, is progressing well.  In the Diaspora, those who wish to see change have lent 100% support to our scheme.  Some of these are academicians, some are businessmen and some religious figures.

•    Therefore, a mechanism has been put in place to remove the Eritrean government from power.  It will be either through the pressure of sanctions and people’s rising as a first choice, or through the military intervention of the Ethiopian government with the international community being behind them.

•    Parallel with these activities, the Pastor we have recruited in Nairobi is preaching for unity between Eritreans and Ethiopians.  The plan consists of recruiting other Pastors too.  We are sponsoring funding of these activities through Freedom House

•    We are also working to ensure special handling of Eritrean refugees and facilitate the processing of their cases.  UNHCR have been instructed accordingly. All necessary preparations for giving asylum, for the second time, to the National Eritrean Football Team in Nairobi have been completed.

•    Ambassador Claude Heller, Chairman of the UNSC Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group, and who had visited Eritrea in April 2010, is working on indicting the Eritrean Government at the ICC.

(Full list of Eritrean quislings, and, foreign individuals and organisations hired for this subversive scheme is spelled out in the documents.   This has been omitted in this report for obvious reasons.)


  • 2.    Defamatory Circular by MOSSAD

At about the same time when the CIA was involved in mapping out a subversive agenda of regime change in Eritrea, MOSSAD circulated a confidential report entitled: “Eritrea’s involvement in Weapons Smuggling in the Gaza Strip”.
Main Contents of the allegations

•     According to our information, some of the weapons smuggled into the Gaza Strip originate from Eritrea. These are surplus from the Eritrean military, and hence, originating from its procurement and build-up channels. The weapons arrive in Sudan via the border area between the countries.

•    We assess that ties with the military attaché at Iran’s Embassy in Asmara, are being exploited to promote Iranian interests in the region, including transferring quality Iranian weapons to Eritrea, and from there to Sudan and to the Palestinian Organizations in the Gaza Strip. (Note; Iran does not have, never had, an Embassy in Eritrea).

•    Sudanese Weapons Smugglers with links to smuggler infrastructures in the region are in contact with weapons smugglers on the Eritrean side of the border. The strength of these ties stem from common financial motives and tribal links.

•    The border area between the two countries, particularly the area of the towns Kasssala in Sudan and Tesseney in Eritrea, is a centre for the smugglers, most of whom belong to the Rashaida tribe.

•    According to corroborated but not up-to-date information, an Eritrean company is promoting weapon smuggling from Eritrea. In 2008-2009 many reports were received linking this company to weapon smuggling.

•    We also know that representatives of the Rashaida tribe, who operate in Eritrea, established direct links with Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip and mostly with Hamas elements.

(The Confidential Circular contains names and other particulars of Eritrean and Sudanese Government officials whom it falsely accuses of involvement in this operation)

Ministry of Information
1 November 2019

Eritrea Liberty Magazine Issue No. 59

Sunday, 03 November 2019 21:50 Written by

Eritrean mothers and children at clinic

Source: Independent Catholic News

A demonstration will take place in front of Westminster Cathedral on Saturday 2 November, from 2.30-5.30pm to draw attention to the repressive treatment of Christians in Eritrea.

After Catholic bishops in Eritrea protested over the regime’s indefinite military conscription of young people, government forcefully confiscated all the health centres and schools of faith groups, including 29 Catholic Church health centres and seven schools that have been serving people of all faiths in the country for over 60 years.

The Eritrean Catholic Bishops have written a letter strongly opposing the actions of the government and asked the authorities to stop persecuting the church and to return its properties.

The protest rally on Saturday supports the Bishops’ letters and condemns the government’s cruel actions and policies.

.The Catholic Church in Eritrea has now been limited to operating within the confines of its church buildings, denied of its rights to providing free health care and education. The confiscation of the health centres and the schools is having an adverse effect on the most disadvantaged sections of Eritrean society, especially on the vulnerable – children, pregnant women and the elderly who live in remote and difficult to reach areas of the country.

Sisters from the Comboni, Franciscan, Daughters of Charity and Filipino missionaries are among some of the institutions who have been stopped from offering their vocational services and evicted from their places of worship and residences. Eritrea is in a sad state of affairs.

Eritrean Catholics in London write: “A young country full of hope is now at a crossroads. The Eritrean government’s policy of indefinite military conscription and persistent human rights abuses are among some of the main causes of the sufferings and endless mass exodus of the youth, which is becoming an existential threat to the nation. The government does neither allow dissent nor voices that are critical to its policies. It has prohibited free press and imprisoned tens of thousands of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience and independent journalists without trial.

“A United Nations panel investigating Eritrea has found ‘very clear pattern’ of human rights violations and the absence of rule of law. We, who are lucky enough to become a voice of the voiceless from outside the country, are very disturbed by the actions of the Government of Eritrea and its policies.”

“We want to raise awareness among our Catholic brothers and sisters in the UK as well as the wider British public.

“We plead with our faith leaders in the UK and the Cardinal’s Office in Westminster to convey our concern to the faithful of the church, the UK government and the international community by highlighting the religious persecution and human rights violations in Eritrea, particularly, the confiscation of the religious institutions and properties.

“Faith groups in Eritrea are going through a difficult and testing time. They need the support of the international community to get justice, peace and the return of their institutions to resume their vital services to vulnerable people. The Eritrean people need and deserve a full service from its religious institutions. This protest rally is to witness and express solidarity with the Eritrean people and the Catholic Bishops who have courageously called for Truth, Reconciliation, Forgiveness, Justice and Peace for the people and the country.

Africa, Eritrea, Horn of Africa

Source: ACAPS  – an independent information provider – has just declared Eritrea to be a nation in which it is all but impossible for humanitarians to work.

Three nations are given the designation – “Extreme access constraints” – the other two are Syria and Yemen. Both are at war: Eritrea is not.

Full report here.

Gathering information is extremely difficult, but ACAPS’s assessment is that Eritrea’s risk of humanitarian crisis and disaster to be high, with

  • 4,955,000 People affected
  • 3,964,000 People in need

Eritrea retains its status as one of the countries with the highest access constraints. INGOs are prohibited in the country.

President Isaias Afwerki allows only a few UN agencies to operate, including UNICEF, FAO, and UNHCR, which has defined the operational environment as “challenging, but permissible for day-to-day activities”.

Incoming funds from the UN and other donor agencies are subject to strict limitations and must pass through the Government of Eritrea.

Information gaps are noticeable, for example on the obstacles encountered by Eritreans in accessing services or movement restrictions within the country.

Historically, Eritrea has not shared information about the level of humanitarian needs.



The Eritrean government significantly restricts humanitarian access and there is very little information on humanitarian needs. The country is governed by a one-party state; elections have not been held since 1993.

Human rights violations including arbitrary detention, indefinite national/military service, and extrajudicial killings have been reported. OHCHR 26/05/2018" class="wysiwyg_source" style="border-bottom-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2); border-bottom-style: solid; border-bottom-width: 1px; box-sizing: border-box; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); outline-color: invert; outline-style: none; outline-width: medium; text-decoration: none; transition-delay: 0s; transition-duration: 0.1s; transition-property: all; transition-timing-function: ease-in-out;" href="">?

Following the signing of the “Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship” by the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea in July 2018, border crossings between the two countries were re-opened in September 2018 for the first time in 20 years. However, the last open border crossing was closed in April 2019, with no official reason given." class="wysiwyg_source" style="border-bottom-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2); border-bottom-style: solid; border-bottom-width: 1px; box-sizing: border-box; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); outline-color: invert; outline-style: none; outline-width: medium; text-decoration: none; transition-delay: 0s; transition-duration: 0.1s; transition-property: all; transition-timing-function: ease-in-out;" href="">?

Eritrea is subject to harsh climatic conditions, including cyclical drought and flooding during rainy seasons. These events heighten the vulnerability of communities, making it difficult for families to fully recover from the effects of one emergency before another strikes. In recent years, the country’s climatic conditions have tested the coping capacities of the population, which is largely dependent (80%) on subsistence agriculture." class="wysiwyg_source" style="border-bottom-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2); border-bottom-style: solid; border-bottom-width: 1px; box-sizing: border-box; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); outline-color: invert; outline-style: none; outline-width: medium; text-decoration: none; transition-delay: 0s; transition-duration: 0.1s; transition-property: all; transition-timing-function: ease-in-out;" href="">?Domestic food production is estimated to meet only between 60-70% of the population’s needs." class="wysiwyg_source" style="border-bottom-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2); border-bottom-style: solid; border-bottom-width: 1px; box-sizing: border-box; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); outline-color: invert; outline-style: none; outline-width: medium; text-decoration: none; transition-delay: 0s; transition-duration: 0.1s; transition-property: all; transition-timing-function: ease-in-out;" href="">?

INFORM measures Eritrea’s risk of humanitarian crisis and disaster to be high, at 5.2/10." class="wysiwyg_source" style="border-bottom-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2); border-bottom-style: solid; border-bottom-width: 1px; box-sizing: border-box; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); outline-color: invert; outline-style: none; outline-width: medium; text-decoration: none; transition-delay: 0s; transition-duration: 0.1s; transition-property: all; transition-timing-function: ease-in-out;" href="">?

Ethiopia: A flicker in the gloom

Friday, 01 November 2019 12:41 Written by

Africa, Ethiopia, Horn of Africa, Uncategorized

By Rene Lefort

Source: Ethiopia Insight

A flicker in the gloom

If Abiy succeeds in transforming EPRDF into a single party, at least it will offer a possible—albeit still highly risky—way out of the morass by presenting two distinct political choices.

Ethiopia’s situation is incredibly complex and dangerous. Nevertheless, beyond the recent tragic events, perhaps the first signs of a light at the end of tunnel are emerging—weakly flickering in the gloom. The strong push by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to create a new party from the ashes of the ruling coalition could set in motion a process to exit the current crisis. Yet, it is highly unlikely to be a peaceful one.The current political context in Ethiopia is characterized by ineffectiveness at federal level and a gaping power vacuum at regional level, except in Tigray. Generally, authority at the grassroots is unsteady. It is either only nominally in the hands of powerless local officials, or in those of emerging informal local groups of influential personalities or new community groups, frequently armed. The two main symptoms are the persistence of insecurity and frequent occurrence of nominally ethnic-based clashes.

This vacuum starts from the top, and spreads through the EPRDF party-state’s chain of command. In Addis Ababa, the confusion inside the ruling circles is palpable, as demonstrated by conflicting official statements over the night-time drama at Jawar Mohamed’s residence that led to protests and deadly violence.

The EPRDF is a Front only in name. The opposition remains scattered and disorganized, although Oromo parties at least remain in discussion with each other. Elections are widely considered as a lifeline, but the schedule is overly ambitious, given the lack of conducive conditions for polls.

From this situation, two strategies present themselves for the political classes:

The first, to proceed to elections in May, come what may. This strategy is supported by a wide range of political forces, including the Prime Minister himself. The oft-stated reasoning behind it is that a postponement would only exacerbate tensions further. Following an election, it is argued, newly elected MPs will finally be legitimate enough to build a coalition which can set the course to resolve two key issues: the type of federalism to be adopted and the degree of economic liberalisation to be pursued.

The second, to defer elections and agree on something akin to a transition period towards orderly elections, or even constitutional reform. This strategy is supported by those who fear that the closer voting day gets, the more tensions will rise. Ultimately, far more important than adhering to the electoral schedule, they say, the survival of the Ethiopian state will be at stake. Therefore, holding premature polls is deemed too risky.

There are key obstacles for the first strategy:

Security problems are frequently mentioned as decisive. But elections cannot bring the crisis to an end if the political landscape is not clarified in advance. The voters should be offered clear electoral options, so that they can decide with at least a minimum degree of knowledge and confidence what the parties represent.

At the current conjuncture, however, the competing ideological positions are radically different not only between different political groupings—which is normal—but also within the EPRDF, and, furthermore, inside three of the four coalition’s parties, namely the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), Amhara Democratic Party (ADP) and Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM). Currently, voting for any of this trio would not mean making a clear statement on Ethiopia’s future political settlement.

In addition, what legitimacy would MPs possess if it cannot be guaranteed that the elections will be reasonably fair and free? Particularly so, when the PM himself admitted that he cannot take this for granted. Abiy aims for “a relatively free and fair election as compared to the previous elections.” But this would be far from sufficient. Taking the long view, it is notable that previous elections lacked even the minimum requirements of freedom and fairness. What guarantees are in place to give the electorate confidence that the upcoming polls will be any different?

With regards to the second strategy:

The idea here is that elections should only be held after a minimum of consensual rules are set through a process of dialogue between a wide range of stakeholders. While this should restore some calm, even adherents to the plan agree that a pre-condition needs to be met for such a process to succeed. That is, a pivot of the political class towards compromises in order to establish basic rules to proceed lawfully, orderly, and peacefully towards elections. But why, amid the present toxic stalemate, would this turn out well in the next few months when the political class has been unable to reach a compromise—not only since the beginning of the crisis but throughout the last half century?

Towards bipolarity

Amid this deadlock emerges a third strategy:

This is an impulse from the top—from the Prime Minister himself. Abiy has noted that he cannot assert his authority and wield his influence over EPRDF. Thus, he seems to have decided to try and force into life a new organization, tentatively reported as the Ethiopian Prosperity Party (EPP).

This potential party will not merely be an EPRDF expanded to include affiliated parties, adopting representation proportionate to their regions’ size, population, etc. Instead, it would mean the creation of a new party. One which would turn its back on the past ideology and organisation of the EPRDF. Its unifying factor would be his person alone and his philosophy of Medemer. Abiy Ahmed wants to build EPP to cement his power, now and in the future.

The former Zone 9 blogger BefeQadu Haile recently stated that according to the PM’s recently released book, the main values of Medemer are “National Unity, Citizen’s Dignity and Prosperity”. Nothing substantive is mentioned about group rights, nothing about diversity. In short, nothing about ethnic federalism.

In addition, in his statement after the recent mayhem, Abiy focused on reconciliation at the grassroots level, mediated essentially by religious leaders and elders. He did not utter a word about politicians or parties. In a press release, he also sent a strong warning to the so called “enemies”, stating: “We won’t stop the journey we have begun. We will continue, uprooting the weed and taking care of the wheat”. And further, “we will pay whatever price it takes to make sure that the prosperity of Ethiopia and its people will be realized.”

As hostilities against Abiy rise in different circles, his journey to try to concentrate more power into his hands brings to mind Ethiopia’s age-old attachment to the teleq säw, the Big Man. Presently, this trend is fueling discontent.

But, above all, if the EPP comes to life, the development will likely lead to a political choice between an “Abiy pole” and an “ethnic federalist pole”.  The hope is that, thereafter, the currently diverse and divided multitude of political forces would then—more or less—gravitate to either of these two poles. This could be the beginning of a clearing-up of the political landscape:

On both sides, this rift would be based on sincerely held political beliefs and, in the long run, ethnicity should diminish in importance. Thirst for power and control over and access to resources—which go with in the present oligarchic system in Ethiopia—will undoubtedly also play a crucial, if not primary, role.

Obviously, TPLF, the Oromo opposition, and parts of ODP and SEPDM—possibly even the strong Amhara identity wings of ADP and the National Movement of Amhara—would gravitate towards this latter, “ethnic federalist pole”. While Abiy’s EPP would perhaps be more allied with one-nation, Ethiopianist political forces, such as the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice Party (Ezema) or movements like Eskinder Nega’s Baladeras Council.

Risky strategy

Nevertheless, it is highly probable that the rift over the EPP, which has already deepened the splits inside the EPRDF, will, in the short-term, only deepen the country’s ongoing crisis.

Moreover, it is not at all clear if the risks of further party splits have factored into Abiy and his advisor’s strategic calculations and contingency plans. Thus, in the meantime, I share the fears of commentators, such as Tsedale Lemma, Awol Allo, Birhanu Lenjiso and others who “ring the alarm bell” with convincing arguments that this (third) strategy of creating the Prosperity Party may, at first, breed further instability.

And, in addition to the risk of exacerbating deadly tensions, another question is if Abiy’s primary focus is really to move towards a democratic transition—or if it is to cement his power?

Jawar seems to share this concern. He has, since his return from exile, stood by the PM and his reform and reconciliation process. He only began criticizing Abiy openly once the latter proposed to create a unified party. Jawar then accused the PM of “taking Ethiopia back to ‘the old ways’ of authoritarian rule”. On this, Tsedale aptly noted: “Jawar Mohammed drops a bombshell when he not only outlined the dilemma of the new party, but set forth the possible scenarios, as a result of it, of a ‘constitutional crisis’ (quite frankly convincing), and which, he says, may culminate in snap elections regionally and nationally.

This is an indication that Abiy’s intention to push ahead with creating the EPP worries not only the EPRDF coalition and Abiy’s ODP, but also those political forces—outside the party-state apparatus—that helped bring him to power.

But what might be the actual impact of Abiy’s bold forward step? In every scenario, it would break the deadly day-to-day political routine of the highly fractured party-state and the opposition. The cards would be entirely reshuffled.

The PM’s move is, however, risky. Abiy could fail. ODP’s former leader and still popular figurehead, Lemma Megersa, has expressed in party meetings his opposition to the merger. Abiy may be obliged to backtrack if he cannot garner the full support of his closest allies, which is far from certain at this stage, or if opposition is too strong.

Nevertheless, if EPP sees the light of day, it could be that Abiy and his advisors have also overestimated the number of followers this new party might actually attract. Has not the recent stand-off with Jawar shown that—despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize—Abiymania seems to be on the wane?

In any case, such a miscalculation would mark a dramatic end of Abiy’s pre-eminence. He would be largely delegitimized as leader, or at least his privilege as a reconciliatory care-taker who can lead the transition would evaporate. Consequently, a wide space would open up for other parties to compete for power.

Becoming multi-ethnic

That said, and while all these concerns and caveats are valid, those who strongly oppose the creation of the new party should consider the following points:

A transition to democracy cannot occur without destroying or profoundly transforming the party-state structures of the EPRDF which were hitherto so centralised and consistent. Attempts to break down the old security apparatus have more or less already been undertaken. But this has not stabilised the security situation of country yet—on the contrary. Alongside disentangling the party from the state, should there not be a serious attempt—however risky, chaotic and full of ulterior motives—to reorder the currently fractured political landscape into distinct and coherent groupings? That is, clumped at two poles.

It is true that in order to allow a more constructive rationalising of the political landscape, both the “Abiy pole” and the “ethnic federalist pole”, would eventually need to become decidedly multi-ethnic. Only an embrace of ideology-based politics would allow this new polarisation to contribute to a shift away from politicizing ethnic divisions towards foregrounding political competition along policy divisions.

Pushing paroxysm

Some commentators have questioned the legal issues surrounding the creation of EPP and see the law book as the greatest obstacle to replacing the EPRDF. Taking into account precedents in Ethiopian politics, however, the reality is that legal checks and balances on the party-state are unreliable, as is the case within party organs. During the three main crises of TPLF and later the EPRDF, the rules have been systematically bypassed: during the hinfishfish (anarchy/weakening) phase at the end of the 70s; the dismissal of Aregawi Berhe and Giday Zeratsion in 1985; and by Meles and his followers in 2001 during the tehadso (renewal) phase.

Historically, in Ethiopian political culture, centralism has prevailed over democracy; the highest body can take decisions regardless of the positions expressed by the lower levels. The final winner is absolved of punishment for these infringements. I doubt Abiy will feel bound by party rules or the legislative. His rule so far has suggested he will governs by bypassing the laws if he feels it is necessary. He may well claim that the country’s de facto state of exception justifies whatever changes to the EPRDF he wants to make.

The ongoing turbulence across Ethiopia is getting unbearable. Almost all exits from the crisis seem blocked. The only option may be to slip through any remaining narrow gap. By trying to centralise power and further his authority around a clear-cut political position, premised primarily on his persona and philosophy, Abiy is set to push the crisis to its paroxysm.

Already, if Jawar’s claim is accurate, a group of high-ranking officials had decided—with or without the green light from Abiy—to try to at the very least to intimidate him. This could be part of a strategy to vigorously confront the ethno-nationalist opposition. The consequences, however, were fatal: around 80 people were killed, hundreds wounded. Thus, the widespread fears of worsening conflict are palpable.

Another consequence is that Oromia, the most populous regional state, is openly divided. This includes the top echelons of ODP, who are torn over the federation’s future. Meanwhile, Jawar has suggested that he may now stand as a candidate in the next elections. The positive effect of this is that it could give each pole—Abiy and the ethnic federalists—a hefty individual force for followers to gravitate around.

Amid the gathering gloom, and a possible descent into total darkness, let us hope that the words of one of the founders of the European project, Jean Monnet, prove prescient for Ethiopia under Abiy: “Humans see the necessity of change only when they face a crisis… then it can be a new birth”.

The alternative is almost too awful to contemplate.