Connect with us


Morality and Politics: Their relationship in answering Ethiopia’s fundamental question



By Donek Tesfaye Zemo

In recent months, many political experts and journalists have written about  the plight Ethiopia is in and predicted future scenarios of great doom if solutions are not found. In this article I  highlight three recent articles written by three opinion leaders from the three major ethnic groups which attempt to analyse Ethiopia’s fundamental problem, and conclude by providing my own analysis of the problem. Embedded in Ethiopia’s fundamental question is the idea of Ethiopia’s survival as a nation and the ensuing calamities that can result as its peoples organised in various ethnicity further destroy each other to gain power and resources. 

Professor Mulugeta Gebrehiwot writes about Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s desire for another war with Eritrea to regain the port of Assab, which Ethiopia lost when Eritrea became independent in 1993. In this quest for a seaport, he says, “Tigray is the calm eye of the coming storm”. After assessing the status of the leading security actors in Ethiopia, namely, the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF), Eritrean Defence Force (EDF), Amhara Fano militia, and Tigray Defense Force (TDF), he  discusses how Tigray is being courted separately by each of these actors. What makes Tigray desirable is that its defence force is one of the most disciplined armies capable of winning wars and its strategic location. He writes how they can be strategic allies of Abiy in his attempt of annexing the Assab port or joining the ENDF in putting down the counter-insurgency in Amhara. They can also be strategic allies to Fano and/or EDF to remove the Abiy regime. But he underlines that none of these military alliances will solve the political problems Tigray faces, arguing that it will be at a high cost to human lives and destruction of whatever livelihoods and economic infrastructure is left from the Tigray War, which started in 2020 and ended in 2022. Those consequences notwithstanding, he adds, Tigray may be forced into one of these wars if the Pretoria agreement does not materialise, since the status quo is intolerable. The fact that a large portion of Tigray is still occupied by Eritrean and Amhara forces, which has caused the residents to be displaced into dire living conditions, the pitiful humanitarian aid for the people affected by famine, and the absence of reconstruction of significant infrastructure such as water, hospitals, and schools can lead to an alliance with one of these forces.  He advises the international diplomatic community to help free the occupied areas and increase humanitarian aid to flow to the 90 percent of the Tigrayan population that need humanitarian assistance to forestall the possibility of Tigray being dragged into war.

Leditu Ayalew, who is among the few politicians who spoke against the regime’s treasonous and genocidal war on Tigray, recently called Ethiopia’s most alarming problem the “apocalypse of Ethiopia.” He argues that Ethiopia is not on a crossroad but rather on a one-way road to destruction. He places Abiy Ahmed’s regime as the existential threat to Ethiopia, arguing that Abiy does not have the skill or knowledge to govern a country and is creating and fanning conflicts and wars among the peoples of Ethiopia to stay in power. He believes that one of the main reasons that the regime has been able to stay in power is the opposition groups and parties’ prominent weaknesses and inability to correct them. 

Some of these significant weaknesses are: 

  1. The opposition is not led by strong political parties that are strongly supported by the majority of the people of Ethiopia;
  2. The opposition groups and parties are unable to come together with a shared vision and goal to fight the regime together;
  3. The opposition groups only talk about the regime they want to remove without discussing the regime they want to install in its place. For this, they do not have a well-studied, well-articulated  manifesto that incorporates solutions to the common grievances of all people that can convince most of the society, including foreign stakeholders.  

He adds that they have lost a common identity as Ethiopians, and the struggle has become ethnically focused, which makes finding common ground difficult. Lidetu claims that the opposition groups favouring armed struggle over peaceful struggle have reduced politics to historical debate and competition of victim-hood. He elaborates on the fact that the opposition is being led by emotional, race-baiting activists and social media personalities, which grows the animosity among ethnic groups. Lidetu believes that for Ethiopians to survive as citizens, as ethnic groups, and as a nation, the opposition groups must engage in self-reflection and correct the weaknesses mentioned above to create a coalition that fights the regime and brings about a regime favored by all.

The third article is by Professor Ezekiel Gabisa. He writes about  Abiy’s propensity to tell “big lies” that can easily be verified. He does this to “invite people into an alternative reality in which he can achieve his party’s ideological supremacy by compelling them to believe such vacuous concepts as unity (መደመር) and prosperity (ብልፅግና)”. He explains how this is one of the tactics Adolf Hitler used. By telling a big lie, he succeeds in deceiving people; once they believe the lie, they will not want to disbelieve it later on, and the lie becomes an alternative reality that shapes politics. He says that when people are hooked this way, the leader becomes “the anointed one who can make all their difficulties go away”. He then elaborates on the big lies the prime minister told recently. Some of them are : “Ethiopia gained a sovereign port”; “Ethiopia gained a commercial maritime access to the sea”; “Ethiopia acquired access to a naval base”. He concludes by highlighting how he used the Oromo Aba-Gadaas as instruments for “Abiy’s maneuver aimed at creating an alternative reality in which he would exploit the historic Oromo-Somali brotherhood”. 

The above articles by three of Ethiopia’s leading commentators indicate their agreement with the core problem of Ethiopia’s existential problem: that it is a problem of politics. Professor Mulugeta makes the case that a military intervention will not solve Tigray’s problem, and a lasting solution comes from solving the political crisis. Lidetu’s central thesis is overcoming political weaknesses in the opposition party, while Professor Ezekiel’s writing about Abiy’s creation of an alternative reality by which people are deceived is an aspect of the political problem.  

Although I do not deny that Ethiopia’s existential problem lies in its inability to do politics right, I think there is an issue that precedes politics. The root cause of Ethiopia’s existential crisis is one of morality. Morality precedes politics because it is impossible to do politics right without having shared, deeply held values by all parties engaged in the negotiation for power. Ethiopians have lost the basic tenets of morality such as honesty, fairness, and compassion for the least well-off . What we observe in the nation is a type of leprosy where the brain does not recognise the pain when extremities are being cut off. It is as if we are saying, for as long as I am not starving, I am not raped, I am not killed, I don’t care. During Tigray’s genocide, we observed millions of Ethiopians march in support of the regime, denying the atrocious acts of ENDF, EDF, and Amhara militia. Today, there are human rights violations in Amhara, Oromia, and occupied Tigray, where civilians are being raped, tortured, and killed. People all over Ethiopia, especially in Tigray, are starving and dying. Yet, the faculty that experiences pain is not working, and it is business as usual for those unaffected until it comes knocking on their door. This is a moral problem that precedes politics.  

Also, during the Tigray War, we observed a hatred that had never been witnessed before. Many people ascribe this to being brainwashed by the hateful rhetoric of Abiy  and his cronies. However, the hateful rhetoric towards Tigrayans did not start then. We can at least legitimately trace it back to the 2005 election era when TPLF and Tigrayans were lumped as one enemy to be blamed for all wrongdoings under the sun. Later, making western Tigray the coalescing agenda against Tigrayans, the hateful rhetoric continued. In talking with a senior agriculture expert who knows the Humera area, he believes that if the agricultural land is correctly developed, it could give a yield that can feed the entire Ethiopia. And yet, today, both Amhara and Tigrayans are starving to death for lack of grain. But what is behind this deep-seated hate? Some years ago, during a parliament session, there was a debate about why the Amhara region was poor. The response by one of the parliamentarians took the then prime minister Meles Zenawi by surprise. He said the Amhara region became poor because the Tigray region became so rich. The source of the hate is the faulty belief that your success causes my poverty. The Tigrayan led EPRDF’s rise to power, the development of Tigray, and the creation of a wealthy Tigrayan elite became a point of contention to the extent that they wanted their complete destruction. The appropriate way of thinking would have been, if one wins, all win. If at all, it was believed that Tigray had developed during this time, it would have been more reasonable to replicate the steps Tigray took to create wealth. After all, what did Ethiopia gain from destroying Tigray? It is the repetition of the age-old Biblical story of Abel and Cain. When Abel’s offering was accepted and his was rejected, Cain, rather than trying to learn from his brother, decided to kill him. This, too, is a moral problem that precedes politics. 

Although we can further list more moral failures of Ethiopian society, let us now discuss how we can find a solution. We should offer a multi-pronged solution to this moral problem involving all society groups, including religious leaders, educators, and civic society leaders. Let me show one that I believe the Diaspora community can engage in that will make Ethiopians indirectly tackle these moral issues. Let us make the genocide the central part of our endeavour. It is the temptation of politicians to shove this to the side, but we should not let them. The fight to bring perpetrators of genocide to justice and to create a nationwide acknowledged and undisputed public memory of these events by discovering, documenting, and continuously reporting towards a permanent record of atrocities caused by the genocide is the first step towards helping everyday people in the society to grapple with these moral issues. Interventions can then be designed which lead to the rejection of harmful beliefs and values that impairs healthy political dialogue. 

Donek was the Ministry Evaluation and Learning Lead at SIM, a mission organisation committed for the holistic transformation of people including bringing real hope and help to a conflict weary world. She was responsible for giving consultation to more than 300 ministries in over 40 countries in strategic, outcome focused evaluation. Prior to that she served as the deputy country director of SIM in Ethiopia ensuring that the 30-40 ministries carried out by more than 400 workers were appropriately planned, resourced, executed and reviewed. Since leaving SIM, in February of 2023, she works as a freelance consultant and researcher.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.