Tackling ethnic and political violence in Ethiopia vital for stability – Analysis – Eurasia Review
Through Tegbaru Yared*
Ethiopia’s transition in 2018 failed to bring stability to the country. On the contrary, sporadic ethnic and political violence has since brought the nation to its knees. And his war in the north with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that began in November 2020 has tipped the country into a new crisis.
However, recent events suggest that there is hope for the peaceful settlement of disputes through negotiations and a genuine and well-designed national policy. dialogue. Planning for this can begin, but for such a process to be truly inclusive, the country needs peace first.
A recent statement by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen signals progress towards a negotiated political settlement. He says the government’s decision not to pursue military movements in Tigray “opens a window of opportunity to consider other resolution options that exist without recourse to war.”
But for successful negotiations and dialogue, all parties must understand what has caused the violence that has claimed thousands of lives since 2018. Then they must go further and commit to ending hostilities and to destructive rhetoric.
The government has recently approved legislation that mandates the lower house to set up a national dialogue commission. It is a step in the right direction to ameliorate not only the country’s recent violence, but also its historical social and structural divides.
A recent report by the Institute for Security Studies analyzed the drivers of violent conflict in Ethiopia, focusing on clashes that occurred between October 2019 and 2020. The report identified the root causes of the political crisis and conflicts that have sabotaged the political transition in Ethiopia and which must be addressed.
The goodwill engendered by the 2018 political reforms under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali prevented the violent intercommunal and ethnic clashes that so often characterize the early days of political transitions. But his reforms and his rhetoric of reconciliation could not contain these conflicts for long.
Some of the problems at the time stemmed from the post-1991 political order which had reconfigured Ethiopia along ethnic lines and declared the ethnic groups sovereign. Although it was designed to accommodate such differences, it turned out to be just a facade.
After 2015, the authoritarian and highly centralized Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) rule heightened ethnic tensions and sparked widespread opposition and mass protests. These prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn – and the installation of Abiy in 2018.
Years of protests have created multiple highly mobilized masses in Ethiopia’s regional states, with a heightened ethnic awareness. Informal youth groups began to gain ground and dominate the polarized political space. The elites mobilized these groups to achieve their political goals.
At the heart of Ethiopia’s troubled transition, however, is the contested interpretation of issues as fundamental as the country’s political history and constitution. These sparked rivalry and competition between elites for power and state resources.
These two factors, together with institutional fragility and incoherence within the state and the EPRDF – the ruling party at the time – meant that the political transition would face problems from the outset. And the “complete” liberalization of the political space, at a time when it was dominated by strongly mobilized ethnic groups, contributed to the violence. The mass euphoria of the early days of political reform was short-lived as clashes and instability began to engulf Ethiopia’s body politic.
However, Ethiopia’s problems go back even further. Conflicting readings of the country’s past have divided political elites, resulting in seemingly irreconcilable ideological views. Since the rise of the student movement in the 1960s and the incorporation of Marxism into the political arena, Ethiopia has been caught between ethnonationalism and pan-Ethiopianism, two competing modes of identity. The 1995 constitution essentially defended the former while the post-2018 reformist group claimed to support pan-Ethiopian discourse.
The institutionalization of ethnicity and resistance against it has also contributed to deepening inter-ethnic rivalry and animosity. For decades, political elites have mobilized their ethnic bases and heightened tensions for their own gain. This has created a security dilemma, where tighter security measures on one side prevent violence on the other.
Unless a comprehensive settlement is found to address structural deficits and bridge the ideological divide, instability in Ethiopia will continue. Negotiations and dialogue can help mend Ethiopia’s difficult transition. But to do so, all parties must understand the root causes of ethnic and political violence and post-2018 military conflicts.
While the government’s commitment to a national dialogue is commendable, the process must be structured and inclusive. It must have legitimacy from the earliest stages of conception and initiation and be free from partisan interference, one-sided agenda setting and spoilers. This will not only signal good faith, but also lend credibility to the process and its outcome.
The state and the opposition must redefine the way they conduct politics and iron out their differences so that citizens can accept a negotiated political settlement.
*About the author: Tegbaru Yared, Research Fellow, Horn of Africa Security Analysis, ISS Addis Ababa
Source: This article was published by The ISS today