How Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed derailed Ethiopia’s strong path to democracy with Tigray conflict

In Africa and the world, Ethiopia is an iconic country, a landlocked nation located in the Horn of Africa. It shares borders with Eritrea to the north, Djibouti and Somaliland to the northeast, Somalia to the east, Kenya to the south, South Sudan to the west and Sudan to the northwest.

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia and the country’s largest city, lies several kilometers west of the East of African rift that splits the nation into the African and Somali tectonic plates.

Ethiopia is so significant to Africa and the continent’s respect and pride that during the late-19th-century scramble for Africa, Ethiopia and Liberia were the only two nations that preserved their sovereignty from long-tern colonization by European colonialists. This was so powerful in Africa that many newly independent nations on the continent adopted its flag colors.

But today, Ethiopia, the pride of Africa, the symbol of strength and respect, is in big trouble. Everything seems to be stumbling apart under the leadership or rulership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

But, it was not many years ago, in 2017, that Ethiopia’s lack of open and accountable governance was considered to be the biggest threat to country’s future development and stability.

Since 1991, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of four political parties, had ruled the nation as part of a multi-ethnic coalition. Ethiopia has not had true multi-party elections since 2005.

In drastic positive change, on February 15, 2018, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned, and Prime Minister Abiy was appointed shortly thereafter. He promised to open more political space for opposition parties and civil society, and called for dialogue with all Ethiopians both inside and outside the country.

He spent his first 100 days as Prime Minister lifting the country’s state of emergency, granting amnesty to thousands of political prisoners, discontinuing media censorship, legalizing outlawed opposition groups, dismissing military and civilian leaders who were suspected of corruption, and significantly increasing the influence of women in Ethiopian political and community life. He also pledged to strengthen democracy by holding free and fair elections.

In honor of this successful emulation towards a peaceful democratic transition, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali  received the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019 to for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.

However, the recent human rights violations involving the Government of Ethiopia demonstrate a concerning regression from democracy . As of March 4, 2021, a preliminary analysis of the information received indicates that serious violations of international law, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, may have been committed by multiple actors in the conflict, including the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Eritrean armed forces, and Amhara Regional Forces and affiliated militia.

As Ethiopia aims to address and recover from the Tigray conflicts,  upholding democratic reforms, respect for human rights, and strengthening civil society will be critical for progress towards long-term gains, as well as short-term stability.

Enforcing accountably of what seemed to be a genuine transition to democracy by the Government of Ethiopia should be a priority.

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