A Peacemaker, Who Might Oversee the Collapse of His Own Country

By Max Lyster
Staff Writer

In October, Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, won the Nobel Peace Prize 2019. It might have been the case that many people were perplexed by this surprising announcement because they simply had no idea who Ahmed was. On closer inspection, it is clear why he won the prestigious award: being a fighter for democracy, human rights and peace.

Abiy Ahmed came to power in April 2018, inheriting a country that has long been plagued by ethnic violence, authoritarian practices and a decades-long war with its neighbor to the north, Eritrea. But Ahmed was determined to fix his country, and immediately brought about much-needed reforms aimed at promoting democracy, human rights, and economic prosperity. 

Within months of becoming Prime Minister, Ahmed ended the war with Eritrea. The two countries had been at war for twenty years over competing claims to the border town of Badme — a city with no strategic importance or valuable resources. The war turned from a petty dispute to a bloodbath with 100,000 people dying in just two years of fighting. The two countries signed a peace agreement in 2000 and a border commission was appointed to decide the fate of Badme — which was awarded to Eritrea in 2002. However, Ethiopia never recognized the commission’s decision, leading to nearly twenty years of intermittent border skirmishes and tensions between the two countries. Two months after being elected, Ahmed announced that he would honor the commission’s decision and so now the two countries have finally agreed to end the bitter war. The newfound peace has created new economic ties, spurring economic growth in both countries. The two countries had consistently opposed each other on nearly everything, including the war in neighboring Somalia, as Eritrea backed Islamist fighters, while Ethiopia supported the internationally recognized government. The newfound peace will not only bring stability to Ethiopia and Eritrea, but to the entire region, hopefully spurring economic development and stability in the Horn of Africa at large. 

In addition to ending the war with Eritrea, Ahmed has introduced many reforms in order to open up Ethiopian society. He fired incompetent bureaucrats, lifted bans on certain newspapers and websites, freed tens of thousands of political prisoners, partially privatized inefficient state-owned companies, ended a controversial state of emergency used to crack down on protestors, appointed women to his cabinet, fired the head of the prison system and shut down the infamous Maekelawi jail, a symbol of authoritarianism and torture. All of these reforms came within less than a year and a half since Ahmed came to power. Ahmed has made incredible progress in democratizing Ethiopia and fostering the beginnings of a society that respects human rights and civil liberties.

For these reasons, its clear to see why Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize back in October. However, today the country has been driven to the verge of collapse while Ahmed no longer seems to be the reformer the world thought he was.

By no longer cracking down on political opponents and allowing more freedom of speech, Ahmed has opened a pandora’s box. Ethnic groups that have been mistreated and silenced by previous dictators are releasing decades worth of anger and strife aimed squarely at Ahmed. This boiling over of tensions has led to renewed ethnic conflict and violence. In July, there was a coup attempt that left the president of the Amhara ethnic region and several military officers dead. In October, protests against Ahmed’s government led to the death of nearly 70 people; which was made worse by the fact that he was in Russia and said nothing about the protests. Ahmed has lost the support of many of those in his Oromo ethnic group after a very influential Oromo activist and media mogul, Jawar Mohammed, claimed Ahmed and his security forces tried to assassinate him. Meanwhile, he has failed to denounce an Oromo ethno-nationalist movement, prompting other ethnic groups to claim Ahmed is favoring Oromos in his government. Lastly, the Tigrayan ethnic group that long-held power in Ethiopia, but makes up only 6% of the population, is supporting ethno-nationalist movements across the country to destabilize the country and Ahmed’s government. 

The growing chaos in the country has led to some disturbing, autocratic decisions by Ahmed and his government. Ahmed has threatened to silence media outlets that are “sowing unrest” in Ethiopia, conducted mass arrests of political opponents and shut down the internet, while claims of torture are coming out of the country’s prisons. 

The growing unrest and subsequent crackdown by Ahmed has led many to claim there is a serious risk of state collapse in Ethiopia. If Ethiopia is to fail, there would be serious consequences in the Horn of Africa and the West. 

Within the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is the main guarantor of stability, as it is surrounded by failed states and dictatorships like Somalia, Sudan, and Eritrea. Ethiopia’s collapse could lead to an unprecedented economic downturn and only perpetuate the instability in the region. Ethiopia’s fate has a large impact on neighboring Sudan and protests there fighting for democratic reforms. Murithi Mutiga, the Horn of Africa director for the International Crisis Group, explains that protesters in Sudan are looking at Ahmed, and if his attempts at democracy fail, it will “embolden the forces that really believe in increasing authoritarianism which have been ascendant in the Horn of Africa.”

In addition, Ethiopia now has one of the world’s largest displaced populations, with over 3 million people being uprooted from their homes because of the growing ethnic violence. Ethiopia is also home to thousands of refugees from Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea. State collapse in Ethiopia, a country of over 100 million and home to thousands of other refugees, could lead to a humanitarian crisis. Europe and the U.S. would likely see a large influx of migrants from Ethiopia and the rest of the Horn of Africa, with both areas already reluctant to taking in more refugees as it stands today. 

The U.S, the UK and the E.U. should be doing all in their power to urge Ahmed to continue democratization and implore him to engage in efforts to reduce the growing ethnic violence in his country. Ahmed is starting to stumble down a slippery slope towards autocracy, while the threat of state collapse looms large in Ethiopia. The West praised Ahmed and awarded him with a Nobel Peace Prize. It is time for the West to get more involved in Ethiopia, and ensure Ahmed stays true to his early reforms and intentions. The world must push Ahmed to ensure the people of Ethiopia are safe in their country and have their rights protected. If not, the country of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa may plunge into catastrophic violence and instability, putting hundreds of millions of people at risk. It’s time for the world to take Ethiopia seriously.

*Photos are disseminated by Abiy Ahmed’s Office and are public domain images. The pictures are “free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.”

IS ETHIOPIA STILL RELEVANT TODAY?

By Siru (Rose) Zhu
Staff Writer

In July, 2015, I embarked on a 6-month trip to explore and learn about the world. During the trip, I went to the UK, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Maldives, India, UAE, Indonesia, China, etc. Despite the countless similarities in people and the many differences among cultures, there was one question that no matter where I went, I was always asked: Where are you from?

I saw this as a good opportunity to spark conversations and shine light on some historical facts that few people talk about, so I decided to say that I was from Ethiopia, where the oldest fossils of our common human ancestors are found. Not long after I said that, people began to ask me all kinds of questions about Ethiopia because many of them had never met an Ethiopian before. I realized my lack of information about Ethiopia so I then decided to include it in my trip and see the country with my own eyes.

12772942_10209128031305798_231787616_o12767812_10209128039466002_1453841749_o

(Pictures taken at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa)

 

I arrived in the capital city of Ethiopia – Addis Ababa. Staying in the capital city and visiting one of the oldest world-renowned skeleton fossils of human ancestors – “Lucy”- were on the top of my list. Lucy, also called “Dinknesh” in the Amharic language (which means “You are wonderful”), was discovered by the paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson’s team in 1974. Being “the first of its kind of that age with that kind of completeness” with 40% of the complete skeleton, Lucy can be dated back to 3.2 million years ago. Lucy is also well-loved throughout her motherland of Ethiopia. Even the Ethiopian national women’s football team is known as Dinknesh, in honor of her name. With more recent discoveries of other fossils in nearby areas, such as Ardi, “the world’s oldest and most complete skeleton of a potential human ancestor” that dates back to 4.4 million years ago, and the Ledi jaw, a 2.8 million-year-old lower jawbone mixed with “primitive and advanced features” that provides a good transitional link “between Lucy and later humans,” Ethiopia has established its undoubtable international status as “the cradle of humanity,” and presents proof of human beings’ common ancestry.

12790067_10209128025345649_682062831_o
(Holy Trinity Cathedral, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

Besides the rich history in anthropology, I was surprised to find out that Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian countries in the world if not the oldest, and it has some of the most ancient churches in the world. Some sources say that the presence of Christianity in Ethiopia can be dated back to the 1st century AD, which was before that in Europe. In the 4th century AD, the country became Christian. Today, “roughly two-thirds of Ethiopians are Christians.”

Holy Trinity Cathedral, as shown in the picture above, is “the second-most important place of worship in Ethiopia.” It is also the final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife Empress Menen Asfaw, and is also a commemoration of the war against the Italian occupation. Even though Ethiopia remained independent during the Scramble for Africa in the 1880s, there was a brief Italian presence in Ethiopia from the late 1880s to the mid 1890s, which ended with the defeat of the Italian army in 1896 that led to the independence of Ethiopia.

Being in the crowds and listening to the preaching at the churches in Addis Ababa showed me a face of Christianity that I had never seen elsewhere. There were usually two separate praying and worshipping sections for male and female devotees. Most ladies covered their heads and upper bodies with thin white clothes called “netela” that usually have decorated ends on them. Additionally, many ladies would also use netela or other similar scarves to wrap around their heads and upper bodies when walking on the streets.

Whenever there was preaching or chanting, churches were usually filled with overflowing crowds, and many people would stand outside of the churches praying and chanting due to the lack of space inside the churches. I also noticed that some people would pray to the outside wall of the churches while occasionally kissing the wall to show their respect and devotion. These were scenes I had never seen elsewhere.

12767941_10209128058026466_1206889619_o
(Merkato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

I went to Merkato in Addis Ababa, which is one of the largest markets in Africa. The word “merkato” is influenced from the Italian word “mercato.” The market is said to be established during the time of the Italian occupation, and was originally called “Merkato Indigino” – market of the indigenous. One can find all kinds of merchandise here, including spices, herbs, cooking wares, vegetables, beans, flour, clothes, shoes, baskets, livestocks, plastic, metals, handcrafts, cleaning supplies, etc.

pic 5

12776733_10209128012145319_1143475827_opic 7.png

pic 8.png pic 9
(Merkato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

There were about six ladies sitting in a store chatting and laughing. They waved at me and invited me over for a cup of coffee. To my surprise, the coffee is salty. Later on, I learned that the traditional way to drink coffee in Ethiopia is with a pinch of salt, instead of sugar. To the knowledge of a few, the origin of coffee is actually from the Ethiopian Highlands. It was from Ethiopia that coffee spread to Yemen and the Red Sea Coast and later to the Ottoman Empire. Then, when it spread to other areas of Europe, Southern Europeans started to drink coffee. For centuries, people associated coffee specifically with Turkey. But, Turkey did not produce coffee. The biggest port for exporting coffee was called Mocha, which was on the Southern Arabian coast. Therefore, the term “mocha” became associated with coffee, and with a certain kind of coffee. [1]

pic 10.png
pic 11
(Merkato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

Among the many other things that I had never seen before were these stacked starch piles I encountered while walking in Merkato. A local Ethiopian put some of the “starch” on my hand and asked me to taste it. I put a little bit in my mouth and could not believe that people actually ate this. It tasted a little bit bitter mixed with other strange flavors while also leaving an unsmooth feeling in my mouth. It almost tasted like an unripe green banana, but with a more complex flavor. I frowned and spat it out.

Later on, I found out that this substance that forms the starch piles is called “kocho,” which is a fermented starch derived from a plant called “enset.” Kocho is often used to make flatbread. Before using it, people, usually women, take the amount needed out of the pit and then chop it up until there isn’t any unbroken fiber left in there. The “dough” is then often mixed with spices and butter, and later on formed into flatbread. The flatbread dough can be wrapped in enset leaves and baked with various cooking wares.

What interested me more was actually the information I came across about the enset plant, which some people call “the miracle crop.” It is deemed miraculous because every part of the plant can be used with different functions. For example: enset leaves can be used for making kocho and wrapping; the enset plant itself traps rainwater, which helps coffee to grow better; “enset groves accumulate plant matter and nutrients” while leaving the soil more fertile; enset leaves and fibers can be used for cooking, packaging, making ropes, baskets and roofing materials, some people even use the leaves as carpets, etc. Furthermore, enset is “typically more productive and sustainable than the cereals” that are brought in to replace it by the international agronomists. It is truly a “miracle crop.”

pic 12

12789718_10209128013545354_2027011601_o-2

pic 14.png
(Merkato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

pic 15
(A restaurant in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

Another “miracle” that I encountered was the national food of Ethiopia – injera. Injera is this thin spongy pancake-like food that tastes a little bit like sourdough. The picture above shows a common way of local people eating injera – by putting a small amount of different sides on the injera, ripping some injera off starting from the edge, using it to grab the sides, and then putting the whole small wrap in the mouth. Injera is a “miracle” because it is made by fermented teff flour. Teff has been produced and consumed in Ethiopia “for millennia,” and it may become the new “super grain” of Europe and North America, “overtaking the likes of quinoa and spelt.” This grain is high in protein and calcium, gluten-free and high in resistant starch which is “a newly discovered type of dietary fiber that can benefit blood sugar management,” and is also extremely prolific compared to planting many other popular grains such as wheat. “One pound of teff can produce up to one ton of grain in only 12 weeks,” and this minimal harvest time and seed requirements have protected Ethiopia from hunger when food resources were under attack from various invaders in the past.

I was fortunate to have come across some of the many “miracles” that took place in Ethiopia, and I am eager to find out more what this beautiful “cradle of humanity” has to offer mankind as a whole.

Citations

  1. HIAF 111 Winter 2016 Professor Jeremy Prestholdt, Modern Africa since 1880, Lecture 1/28/2016

Images by Siru (Rose) Zhu

ETHIOPA’S NEW LIGHT RAIL MIGHT NOT SIGNAL A BRIGHT FUTURE

By Staff Writer
Aisha Ali

Addis Ababa welcomed a new mode of transportation for the city’s 3.3 million residents when its light rail system became fully operational in mid-September of this year. Servicing 32 stations throughout Ethiopia’s capital, the new light rail is the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa and only the fifth intra-city rail system on the continent. Going into its third month of operation, an estimated 60,000 people already use the light rail on a daily basis, replacing some of the minibuses and auto rickshaws that have crowded Addis’ streets for decades. The prices are pretty comparable as well; a light rail ticket costs an average of 2 to 6 Ethiopian Birr (10 to 25 cents).

Construction on the first half of the light rail began in 2012 as a joint project between Ethiopia Railways Corporation, a government entity, and the China Railway Group, who received significant funding from the Export-Import Bank of China. All three will continue working together to finish the next two lines within the coming years. Construction has already started on a standard gauge railway connecting Addis Ababa to Djibouti, set to open sometime in 2016. The new Addis-Djibouti railway is partially a refurbishment of an existing line built by the French in the late 19th century that deteriorated in the aftermath of World War II. Ethiopia is a landlocked country with an ever-increasing manufacturing industry, and the addition of a new cross-country rail line can open up new markets for export.

Over the last decade, both China and Japan have contributed significant aid and expertise to developing Ethiopia’s infrastructure. Japan’s development assistance agency, JICA, has spent over $100 million on projects in Ethiopia, while the Chinese government has invested over $3 billion in Ethiopia’s infrastructure since 2002. These infrastructure projects are mainly related to energy, particularly dams used to generate hydroelectric power in the northern part of the country. A Chinese oil company was also in charge of an exploration mission in Eastern Ethiopia before members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a regional separatist group, attacked and killed 74 employees.

The transformation of Ethiopia from a country known for wide scale famine to one with potential is mainly the result of a regime change. After two decades of civil war, Ethiopia finally ousted its dictator, Mengistu, and formed a new, non-communist government. Years of creating and rebuilding relationships with trading partners, both Western and East Asian, has led the country to an unbelievably high 7-10% annual GDP growth rate. Despite this, trouble still looms for Ethiopia, although the economy may be expanding. Ethiopia’s GDP per capita is still one of the lowest in the world. The literacy rate for the total population is only 49% and the majority of the population isn’t actually employed, but subsistence farmers. Despite this fact, more than half of the population lacks access to sufficient food due to a variety of reasons – including poor infrastructure. The roads and railways meant to connect Ethiopia have somehow bypassed its own citizens and headed straight for the border. The new light rail in Addis Ababa is a perfect example of this disconnect; nearly $500 million was invested in its construction, but only 3% of Ethiopia’s population lives in Addis Ababa. In total, 80% of the country’s population is completely rural, meaning they rarely benefit from development projects since they are typically targeted at cities and towns.

One of the biggest problems Ethiopia will have to face in the coming years is maintenance on these infrastructure projects built by foreign countries. As of right now, the main operator of the light rail is actually the China Railway Group. The same group is also contracted to operate the Addis-Djibouti line when it opens. Both railways were built with Chinese parts, as well as imported labor, with little input coming from the Ethiopian government. There is a high possibility that once China and Japan hand over the keys, the railways and roads may fall apart just as they did after World War II. In the meantime, residents of Addis Ababa can enjoy their traffic-free rail commute and decongested roads. It may not last long.

Sources:

“CIA Factbook: Ethiopia” The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Giorgis, Tamrat. “Ethiopia: Sixty Years On Japan Changes Aid Gear to Poor Nations.” All Africa. Addis Fortune, 8 Dec. 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Maasho, Aaron. “Ethiopia Says New Railway to Djibouti to Start in Early 2016.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 28 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Melly, Paul. “Japan Brings Kaizen Philosophy to Ethiopia.” BBC News. 25 Mar. 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Nurse, Earl. “Ethiopia Opens Sub-Saharan Africa’s First Metro.” CNN. Cable News Network, 16 Nov. 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Image by Turtlewong