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Cracking Open Ethiopia’s Political Can of Worms

Professor Desta, Asayehgn

In order to halt a late 2015 wave of anti-government protest and eventually stimulate political and socio-economic reforms, Ethiopians elected Dr. Abiy (hereafter referred as Abiy) Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia on April 2, 2018. After six months in power, instead of facilitating a peaceful and democratic pathway, Abiy appears more focused on self-aggrandizing and enhancing his popularity. By ignoring the parameters and ideological premises of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in favor of various opposing groups, Abiy seems to further balkanize the Ethiopian state by opening a political can of worms.

Thus, Abiy has failed to provide conditionality for other Ethiopian political groups to operate inside the country. Admittedly, the EPRDF is currently rotten and irreparable. The Oromos believe Abiy’s party, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization  (OPDO), is defunct; they believe the Tigrai Liberation Front (TPLF) purposely created it after the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) declared its withdrawal from the Transitional Government in 1992 so OPDO could counteract potential pressure from the OLF (Milkissa, 2015).

Given this reality, Abiy should assume the Oromo people would naturally choose their own genuine political organization, the OLF, in the upcoming 2020 election. Unlike Abiy’s OPDO, the OLF has always stood to pursue cession for Oromiyaa by establishing an independent Oromiyaa after a hundred years of colonial rule by the ‘habashas’—similar to what Eritrea accomplished in 1993 (Milkissa, 2015). Since the OLF’s stance contradicts the ideals of Abiy’s Party, the OPDO, how will Abiy reconcile this contradiction?

Veering from his original pledge to change Ethiopia, “from the inside out—and fast” (Sengupta, 2018) in order to galvanize the masses, Abiy has preached religious dogmas of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation as Ethiopians either kill each other or flee their homes in fear of intercommunal violence and ethnic conflict. 

While claiming to institute democratic order in Ethiopia, Abiy may contribute to his own downfall by rolling out red carpets and singing procession songs to welcome freedom fighters and appeal to politically antagonistic Ethiopian diaspora. The question is, without seriously investigating their incivility, their ethical positions, and their lack of any worthwhile vision for Ethiopia’s future, what leadership judgment did Abiy use to consult the collections of unofficial advisors or kitchen cabinet? Sooner or later, Abiy may seriously regret his decision.

For example, Abiy’s confidants have raised hue and cry to disrupt Ethiopia’s hard-earned economic awakening; after years of distressing trauma, Ethiopia has established a basic infrastructure to make it Africa’s manufacturing hub. Instead of siding with his confidants, Abiy should recognize and preserve the previous regime’s successes.

Abiy’s position on Ethiopia’s external economic perspectives seems perplexing. He is gradually steering Ethiopia’s economy toward dependence upon and subordination to the American-backed Arab regimes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Under Abiy’s leadership, Ethiopia is gradually destroying its hard-earned strategic and economic partnership with China that took years to develop. Today, Abiy is shifting Ethiopia’s geopolitical sights from China and toward its United States and Middle Eastern Clients (Cunningham, 2018). Realizing that these US-backed Arab regimes are acting mainly to protect Egypt’s ‘life and death’ interest on the Nile River, as argued by Cunningham (2018), it seems that Abiy is acting “…more like a Trojan Horse figure whose entrance to office is primarily serving the geopolitical interests of Washington and its Arab clients’ regimes, while jeopardizing his own country’s stability” and economic vitality. 

Taking Cunningham’s argument to its logical conclusion, Abiy’s administration may have decided to delay the privately funded; almost 60 percent completed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). If he attempts to complete the GERD, Abiy would create tension within the newly created hegemonic order he has accepted from his new patrons, the US-backed Arab states. Since Egypt is a core member of the Arab states, it has been hiding behind the US-backed Arab league to create the illusion that if the GERD project is abandoned, Egypt’s water supply from the Nile will remain steady and Egypt will not face an existential threat from Ethiopia.

In conclusion, if Abiy seeks to implement serious political reforms in Ethiopia, then he must deliver equal footing to all domestic political parties for fair and effective competition. Importantly, a level playing field could help these parties act as conveyor belts between their constituencies and the genuine democratic government Ethiopians have long aspired to create.

Before cracking open Ethiopia’s political can of worms, Abiy’s Government must seriously plan to galvanize and reverse the flow of knowledge through the “re-integration process so that the Ethiopian returnees are gainfully employed and can participate in the social and economic development of their home country” (Desta, 2014, p. 87).  However, if the Ethiopian diaspora have the desire to involve themselves for the 2020 election period, as in other African countries and as my book, “From Economic Dependency and Stagnation to Democratic Development State” (see Desta, 2014), explains, Ethiopia must consider extending dual citizenship to natural-born Ethiopian diaspora.


Cunningham, I. (20.08.2018). “Ethiopia’s in Turmoil of US, Saudi-Backed Coup, Nor Reforms” Available at https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/08/20/ethiopia-turmoil-of-us-saudi-

backed-cup-not-reform.html/   accessed 9/20/2018.  

Desta, A. (2014). From Economic dependency and Stagnation to democratic Developmental State.Trenton, New Jersey: The Red Sea Press.

Milkissa, Ch. ((2017). “What Forced ORMO Liberation Front (OLF) withdraw from Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE).” Available at https://yerooblog.wordpress.com./2015/10/22what-forced-oromo-liberation-front-withdraw-rom-

transitional-government-of.ethiopia-tge/ accessed 2/20/2018.

Sengupta, S. (Sept, 2018). “Can Ethiopia’s Leader, A Political Insider, Change His Country from the Inside Out? The New York Times. Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/17/world/africa/ethiopia-abliy-ahmed.html. Accessed 9/17/2018. Sengupta, 2018.