Who is the President of Ethiopia

Ethiopia's fine line between democracy and chaos

Displacement and violence are increasing in Ethiopia. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed wants to democratize the country quickly. It is uncertain whether this will succeed.

In Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, life takes its usual course. Chinese construction companies are pulling up skyscrapers. Ethiopians meet for a beer in the nightlife district of Bole. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed publishes good news on Twitter and promotes female candidates to high posts. Only when the African Union meets does the city sink into traffic jams.

In the countryside, on the other hand, killings and displacement are increasing. In Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region, a man sells clothes by the roadside. The 48-year-old Tigray once owned a household goods store in the Amharic provincial town of Gonder. But there were repeated attacks on Tigray businessmen. A friend defended his pharmacy against an armed gang and paid for it with his life. "That's when I decided to go back to my homeland." His family stayed for the time being. But meanwhile his wife wants to move away too. The trip is too dangerous, says the seller: "My family is stuck in Gonder."

There are road blockades in the Amhara region. Vehicles with Tigray license plates are stopped and drivers attacked. Bus passengers have to change trains. A tour guide in Mekele explains: “My drivers no longer bring tourists to the pilgrimage site of Lalibela. You are scared."

Revenge on former oppressors

Ethnic violence is nothing new in Ethiopia. It has flared up again and again since the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in 2012. After the upheaval and the election of Abiy Ahmed in early 2018, the situation has worsened. The end of the terror regime in Ethiopia raises hope, but the new freedoms are being used for acts of revenge.

Over 1.4 million people were displaced in the first half of the year alone, according to the Geneva Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. That is a record. There weren't even more internally displaced persons in Syria or Congo-Kinshasa in 2018. Violence occurs particularly in the border areas between the ethnic groups. In the first half year of Prime Minister Abiy's office, 954 people lost their lives as a result.

"There is a war going on against the Tigray," says political analyst Daniel Berhane in Mekele. The Tigray minority had ruled Ethiopia for years. That changed with the election of Oromo Abiy Ahmed. Administrative positions are being filled, and frustrated Tigray officials are withdrawing to their region. The head of the Tigray party TPLF even sees “ethnic persecution” of Tigray in the military and the secret service, who have been charged with corruption and torture in recent weeks.

The time has come for certain ethnic groups to take revenge on their former oppressors. The Amhara are driving many Tigray compatriots out of their province and are even trying to expand their area geographically. Berhane, who was close to the previous government, sees black: "The government has become more liberal and therefore weaker." He even thinks it likely that Ethiopia will fall apart in the next few years.

Impatient liberation movement

But not only the Tigray are dissatisfied. The young Oromo, who made the change of power and opening up in Ethiopia possible with their protests, are impatient. Jawar Mohammed is one of the spokesmen for this so-called Qeerroo movement. Until August he operated from abroad and was considered a terrorist under the old regime. Now the Oromo nationalist is back in Addis Ababa, his house is closely guarded.

"Several football clubs are currently playing in the same stadium, but there is no referee in sight." Mohammed alludes to the situation that in Ethiopia different ethnic groups and former rebel groups operate with different and sometimes unclear goals. The state, on the other hand, is weak. But Mohammed plays a double game when, on the one hand, he calls on the government to demonstrate strength and, on the other hand, wants more self-determination for the Oromo. Even if he calls on the Qeerroo to be more patient.

Protests with fatalities

One of the young impatient people is Bati Muleta. He is sitting in a café in the Oromo town of Ambo, where the demonstrations against the old regime began. The 28-year-old university lecturer was only released two months ago. He was arrested two and a half years ago, "for no reason," as he says. He then sat in the notorious Maekelawi prison, seven months without light and without contact with the outside world. Bati describes torture methods such as pulling out toenails. He was immersed in ice cold water until he signed a confession.

Muleta describes the ambivalent mood in Ethiopia: “A lot has changed at the state level. But in the regions the people from the old system are still in power. " That is a time bomb. "If the Qeerroo do not see change, they will be a renewed threat to the government." Even if he emphasizes that the Oromo youth always protest peacefully.

This did not seem so in September, when Oromo nationalists on the outskirts of Addis Ababa painted entire streets in their colors red and green. Around 1500 non-Oromo were displaced and 28 people were killed. It was not Oromo, but "dark forces" who wanted to sow discord in Ethiopia, say Mohammed and Muleta in unison. The narrative of secret networks, for example from the old Tigray elite, persists, but has not yet been proven.

Yugoslav scenario or democracy

The transition from one of the most brutal regimes in Africa to a democracy will not go smoothly. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also admits that. He has to do away with the past, create jobs and extinguish or at least contain the regional sources of fire. It burns in practically all ethnic areas. In the southern region, individual areas are striving for secession. A mass grave with around two hundred bodies was discovered in the city of Jijiga in the Somali region.

All against all, seems to be the current motto. The government in Addis is trying to counteract these forces. For example with a law against hate speech. But this in turn affects the freedom of expression, a delicate plant in the new Ethiopia that must not die off again.

Last but not least, Abiy wants to prepare for the 2020 elections. The idea of ​​democracy in the long autocratic Ethiopia is beautiful and dangerous at the same time. The French Ethiopia expert René Lefort warns of the election campaign: "In the current political climate that would only increase the hysteria and irrationality." In the worst case, from Lefort's point of view, a “Yugoslav scenario” could result, that is, an ethnic fragmentation of Ethiopia.

The liberalization and democratization of Ethiopia makes the world community and many Ethiopians happy. But the power vacuum is dangerous. Abiy hopes the violence will decrease as state institutions become stronger. He seeks the loyalty of the military and is quite ready to use force against troublemakers. Too harsh an approach, on the other hand, would mean a relapse into old times. The new Prime Minister cannot and will not afford that. It's a long way to go on a fine line that runs off Ethiopia.