Jawar Mohammed. Image: Screenshot taken from his final interview with Ahadu Radio 5 days earlier than his arrest

By Jawar Mohammed @Jawar_Mohammed


Addis Abeba, October 28/2020 – For the final half century or extra, there was a steady wrestle to ascertain a democratic system in Ethiopia. Beginning with the Neway brothers’ aborted coup to the newest Qeerroo victory over the Ethiopian Folks’s Revolutionary Democratic Entrance (EPRDF) regime, these struggles have induced regime adjustments however haven’t led to a democratic system. The handful of adjustments in authorities might be described as “missed opportunities.” Paradoxically, we don’t appear to have realized from these missed alternatives, and we maintain lacking new ones regardless of the heavy sacrifices we now have made to result in such alternatives.

The newest
such alternative for democratization—the change caused by the
non-violent wrestle of the Qeerroo motion—has all however been met with the destiny
of previous adjustments, whether or not we name it a hijacked revolution or a mismanaged
transition. It’s evident that any prospect of transition to a democratic
system has been thwarted.

How and
when did we lose this newest alternative? How did this chance come about in
the primary place? What might be accomplished to salvage any remaining probability of placing
the transition again on observe? On this piece, I want to provide some
insights as one of many frontline individuals within the motion that produced the
change and the two-year “transitional period.”

From #OromoProtests2014 to #GrandOromoProtests2016

The motion that introduced the present change, which first erupted in late April 2014, has its roots within the Oromo protests in opposition to the Finfinee “master plan” (Addis Abeba Built-in Growth Grasp Plan). The protests that started in universities shortly unfold to cities. The EPRDF authorities predictably responded with excessive violence, killing protestors, significantly in Ambo, the epicenter of the #OromoProtests motion. But the federal government, seeing that the protest motion was gaining momentum, issued statements indicating that it was backing down and promised to halt the implementation of the grasp plan. In response, the protests subsided.

the protests erupted for a second time on November 12, 2015, this time in
Ginchi, a small city 80 kilometers southwest of Ethiopia’s capital. This was
because of the authorities’s choice to clear a forest and soccer subject for an
funding undertaking as a continuance of the grasp plan. From November 12th
onward, the protest motion continued, increasing and spreading throughout Oromia,
bringing on board farmers and different sectors of society. The violent response by
the federal government fueled the depth and magnitude of the protests quite than suppressing

the fast reason behind the protests was the “master plan,” the final word purpose
was clearly to finish the repressive system as an entire and produce a few transition
to democracy. Nonetheless, whether or not this purpose of inducing a transition to democracy
could be attainable didn’t grow to be clear till the summer time of 2016. Because the
protests grew stronger within the face of the regime’s repressive strategies, a
tactical choice was made to check and measure the depth and width of the

Towards this
finish, the decision for an Oromia statewide rally, hashtagged #GrandOromoProtest, was
initiated on August 6, 2016, with the singular goal of measuring the energy of
the motion in order that sensible plans might be devised for the subsequent part of the

When the
thought for the rally was brainstormed, the planners and organizers had been uncertain
and in reality frightened of the damaging penalties if the rally didn’t
materialize as hoped, however the choice was made to take the danger nonetheless.
The rally was scheduled to happen inside per week. The federal government panicked
and denounced it, informing and threatening the broader inhabitants by way of native
channels. On Sunday August 6, 2016, protests erupted in over 200 cities throughout
Oromia, surpassing even the best-case state of affairs predicted by the planners and organizers.
In step with its brutality, the regime gunned down over 200 protestors—a very
heavy demise toll for a single day.

The grand
rally grew to become each a serious milestone and a decisive turning level; it proved
that the motion had the ability it wanted to mount sustained nation- and statewide
strain. It signaled that it was doable to maneuver to the subsequent part of
the motion with an inexpensive diploma of confidence in its success.

From #GrandOromoProtest2016 to Forecasting Transition Eventualities

It was with
this confidence that the concrete planning for the implementation of the transition
started. Even earlier than the grand rally, the planners and organizers had been already
interested by, discussing, and debating how the transition may, or certainly, ought to
be caused. Throughout this course of, Samuel Huntington’s principle on the three
doable methods of transitioning from a dictatorship to a democracy had been
deliberated. Every possibility was fastidiously weighed in opposition to the target and
subjective situations in Ethiopia.

Choice 1: A transition by way of the overthrow of the regime (alternative) was regarded as attainable however too harmful. In a rustic the place the state, authorities, and occasion are merged, bringing down the all-controlling occasion would threat collapsing the federal government and even the state. Significantly in such an ethnically fragmented polity with mobilized, polarized, and heightened competing nationalisms, the potential for the collapse of the state was too dangerous to take an opportunity with a transition by way of regime overthrow. This feature was subsequently dominated out as too harmful.

Choice 2: A transition by way of negotiations (transplacement) between the opposition and ruling events was the opposite risk that would doubtlessly be attained with adequate strain by way of protest motion and a push from the worldwide group. It was thought that the ruling occasion might be induced to take a seat for a negotiated transition with the opposition. The end result could be a transitional interval collectively managed by way of a mutually developed roadmap. Though the choice was enticing, it was deemed not viable for 2 causes. First, there was a scarcity of credible and viable opposition political events working within the nation as their leaders had been both exiled or in jail. Second, after the demise of strongman Meles Zenawi, the ruling occasion was itself too fragmented, which made reaching a binding and securable cope with opposition events troublesome to think about. This feature was subsequently additionally dominated out as too dangerous.

Choice 3: A transition by way of reform (transformation) occurs when the ruling elite provoke a transition to democracy on their very own, both because of a worry of revolution or inside and/or exterior adjustments that make their authoritarian rule unsustainable. We knew that the altering circumstances had created a schism throughout the ruling occasion that had separated the hardliners from the moderates. We postulated that when the moderates gained the higher hand, they might provoke and push by way of a transition.

Based mostly on
these Huntington
theories and a working historical past of case research, a choice was made to decide on the
final possibility. This selection was additional strengthened by the Arab Spring and its
aftermath. The collapse of Libya, Syria, and Yemen into civil warfare strengthened
our perception that making an attempt a transition by overthrowing the regime would
be too harmful for Ethiopia because it may plunge the nation into civil warfare and
result in the collapse of the state; therefore, aiming for a transition by way of reform
was brazenly and strongly advocated for with confidence.

Plotting the Reformists’ Takeover

After the
motion handed the take a look at of the August 2016 grand rally, the reformists inside
the regime had been inspired to begin seizing energy from the Tigray Folks’s
Liberation Entrance (TPLF) hardliners and their loyalists. This comprised two phases:
the primary was to seize Oromia’s state energy the place the protests had been strongest,
and the second was to construct an alliance of moderates from among the many ruling EPRDF
members, notably members of the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Group (OPDO) and
Amhara Nationwide Democratic Motion (ANDM), to lastly wrestle federal energy away
from the hardliners.

a delicate coup introduced Lemma Megersa to Oromia’s presidency. Loyalists of the TPLF
hardliners had been swiftly pushed apart and changed by reformist personalities.
The reformists’ takeover of Oromia shocked the hardliners. Alarmed, they made
the choice to impose extra violent crackdowns and tried to cease the
momentum. On October 2, 2016, they freely undermined the brand new reformist
president of Oromia by sending safety forces to bloodbath attendees of the
Irreecha competition. This was adopted by the declaration of a state of emergency
(SOE) and the intensification of the crackdown over the subsequent six months.

Nonetheless, the SOE didn’t yield the meant results of stopping the protests and weakening the reformists; on the contrary, it strengthened them. Inside weeks of lifting the SOE, the protestors had been again in motion with boycotts, demonstrations, and so forth. It grew to become clear that the motion had not solely survived the SOE, it had additionally used the time to construct a greater organizational construction and was subsequently in a position to return with better energy and confidence. The reformists, significantly Lemma, started brazenly siding with the protestors. They validated the protesters’ narratives, blamed the federal government for the disaster, and indicated that the one answer was to handle the grievances of the protestors. By the summer time of 2017, the rift between the reformists and the hardliners was widening to the purpose of no return.

reformists’ takeover subsequently needed to be rushed, and to consummate this part
of the wrestle, the promotion of the Oromo–Amhara alliance (then referred to as
Oromara) at occasion and societal ranges adopted. Because the protests grew and the reformists’
alliance solidified, the TPLF hardliners started to lose confidence and confirmed
indicators of relenting.

Divergent Views on the Transition Chief

By late
2017, an evaluation confirmed that each the target and subjective situations
for the takeover of the whole authorities by the reformists had been ripe, far
ahead of had beforehand been predicted. In September 2017, the important thing
coordinators of the reformists’ workforce traveled overseas to converse with diaspora
activists. An important challenge that was mentioned was the significance of
agreeing on a chosen candidate for the premiership. This was meant to keep away from
a doable energy wrestle within the final essential part, which might enable the
hardliners to take advantage of the ability wrestle throughout the reformists’ camp. Initially,
the selection appeared apparent—Lemma Megersa, most notably as a result of he had already
emerged because the unifying determine within the reformists’ camp and amongst activists and
protestors. Nonetheless, the core workforce throughout the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic
Group (OPDO) proposed an alternate candidate, Abiy Ahmed. Their
reasoning was that Lemma Megersa was not a member of the federal parliament and
was therefore ineligible for the prime minister submit. This was not accepted by both
the diaspora-based activists or the native protest coordinators. Abiy was despatched
to the diaspora to foyer these against his candidacy. He traveled overseas in
October and November 2017, spending two weeks attempting to steer lecturers,
activists, and intellectuals however attaining solely partial success. After his
conversations with me over these two weeks, I grew much more skeptical about
him. I knowledgeable him of my evaluation upon his departure and despatched a report back to
the coordinators of the reformists’ workforce again dwelling to clarify my opposition to his
candidacy. I raised two essential issues:

I feared
that Abiy’s inexperience, extreme private ambition, and lack of appreciation
of Ethiopia’s advanced politics and the required transitional management would
imperil not solely the democratic transition, but in addition the fragile politics and
even the survival of our divided nation because it entered its most precarious
part. I subsequently proposed that Lemma Megersa take the helm for the two-year
transitional interval, Gedu Andargachew be appointed the deputy prime minister,
and Abiy himself be given the function of the chief of workers to the prime minister.
Whereas many within the OPDO central committee and navy commanders agreed with my
evaluation, key members of the reformists’ camp didn’t. This included Lemma
Megersa himself who vacated his submit because the OPDO occasion chair to pave the way in which
for Abiy’s premiership place and persuaded/coerced the central committee
members to simply accept Abiy because the candidate for the prime ministerial submit. Ultimately,
I aired my opposition publicly, not within the hope of stopping what had already been
determined by the reformists’ camp, however quite to go away my opinion on the general public

After the
reformists formally took over the middle in April 2018, I got here underneath strain
to help the prime minister for the sake of unity and the success of the
transition. I reluctantly determined to point out measured essential help although
I may see my fears relating to his management materializing from the outset of
his premiership.

Assembly in america

In early
August 2018, 4 months after taking up the federal authorities, the
reformists’ management flew to america to converse with the diaspora
group. They had been welcomed with enormous pleasure. In our personal assembly in Minnesota,
we mentioned three points that I believed had been essential for a profitable
democratic transition.

1. Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration of Insurgent Teams

The insurgent
actions and organizations that had been engaged in armed wrestle wanted to be assured
and persuaded to disarm and take part peacefully within the transition course of.
To this finish, I identified that these political organizations and their leaders
needs to be approached and guaranteed of a secure return dwelling in order that they may mobilize
their forces accordingly. I emphasised the function of worldwide organizations in
offering monetary and technical help to efficiently demobilize and
reintegrate these combatants and to help the senior and aged leaders of
these organizations with technique of dwelling to ensure that them to reintegrate right into a
peaceable political life after many years in exile. I additionally strongly emphasised how
essential this demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR) course of was
to constructing belief between the opposition and the federal government as I firmly
believed it was essential for a profitable transition to democracy. I forewarned
that failure to undertake profitable DDR wouldn’t solely derail the transition
to democracy, but in addition endanger safety on the essential time of the political transition
when stability was most wanted.

2. Rapprochement, reconciliation, and reintegration of TPLF

After dominating
the authoritarian system for 27 years, TPLF lastly noticed the writings on the
wall and relented, opting to go away energy earlier than it confronted complete defeat. Their
choice was partly primarily based on a promise given to them by protest leaders and
reformists to not search revenge, be it within the type of prosecution or a punitive redistribution
of wealth (by way of nationalization, confiscation, judicial seizures, or different
processes). Since coping with the earlier dominant ruling group was certainly one of
probably the most essential elements figuring out the success or failure of the transition,
the problem of TPLF wanted an pressing and well-thought-out answer. Whereas
decreasing TPLF’s affect, I suggested that the reformists mustn’t current a
retributive risk to them given TPLF’s affect within the safety and financial
sectors, which they may leverage to destabilize the transition in the event that they perceived
a risk to their occasion or political base. Therefore, my counsel was that we must always
strategy them to diffuse the stress constructed in the course of the protests, reconcile them
with the remainder of the nation, and reintegrate them into the nation’s political
course of. I envisioned that this might be accomplished formally by way of the occasion or
authorities officers and assisted informally by way of elders, intellectuals, and
enterprise leaders.

3. Growing a Transition Roadmap

research of profitable transitions to democracy present {that a} roadmap developed
primarily based on negotiation and consensus among the many contending political forces is
necessary. This roadmap, on the minimal, ought to comprise the principles of engagement
for the political events, the election timetable, and the pathway for the
drafting of a negotiated election rule. The roadmap also needs to include a
mechanism for battle administration and a plan for nationwide reconciliation.

reactions to those three factors I had proposed we deal with had been indicative of
what was to return: they, significantly the prime minister, had been fast to agree
with me, however it was obvious that he was not inquisitive about critical
deliberation. He simply needed us to maneuver on. One explicit utterance was fairly
revealing about his thought processes. He requested me, “Why are you so
anxious concerning the election? We’re certain we’ll win; take a look at all of the help we
are getting.” After I defined how help in the course of the honeymoon part may
be misleading and will evaporate shortly, he commented, “I can recruit 500
medical doctors and engineers and defeat any occasion.” I responded {that a} rival
occasion may recruit 500 farmers, costume them in fashionable flags, and beat him. Our
dialog didn’t progress additional, and we scheduled a continuance of our
dialogue upon our return dwelling.

Preliminary Conversations at Residence

reformist workforce was uncomfortable with my return to Ethiopia. They’d been
signaling this from the second I had indicated my want to go dwelling. Lastly,
they despatched 5 elders to the U.S. to steer me to not return. Their official
reasoning was a priority for my security, however it was clear that they feared I
might be their rival or a challenger to their newly acquired energy. I
understood their concern, and I assured them that I had no want for political
energy. I expressed to them that my return was motivated by my want to help
with the transition through the use of my affect as an activist and that I meant to
ultimately return to academia after the two-year transition interval. I politely
turned the elders away and affirmed my choice to return.

I set out three roles I may play to help with the transition upon returning dwelling:

Beginning the
day I arrived within the capital with my speech on the Millennium Corridor, I started tirelessly
taking part in these roles over the subsequent few months. I held quite a few conferences with
federal officers to debate the continuing transition and the way greatest to handle it
to usher in a brand new period for the nation. In a number of circumstances, I submitted memos
containing theories and case research of profitable and favored transitions.
Though I toned down the severity and frequency of my critique of the
management, I continued to make use of the social and conventional media to lift
sure issues and level out obvious errors within the administration of the
political transition.

stability to be a very powerful problem, I traveled throughout the nation to plead
with the general public, particularly the youth, to relax and provides the reformist
management an opportunity in order that they may deal with managing the transition. One in every of
my efforts included an try to facilitate negotiations between armed teams
and the federal government in order to allow profitable demobilization. Sadly, these
efforts didn’t produce the meant outcomes as a result of the federal government had
completely different plans from what we had assumed and hoped for.

As time
went on, it grew to become more and more clear that the management, significantly the prime
minister, was aiming to consolidate a brand new one-party, one-man rule quite than
lead a transition right into a multiparty democracy.

Downward Spiral

Whereas opposition teams and the youth more and more grew to become disillusioned and upset as the federal government veered off the trail of a transition to democracy, a extra troubling improvement was brewing throughout the reformist camp itself. The elimination of key members of the reformist camp similar to Gedu Andargachew, Workeneh Gabeyehu, and Lemma Megersa despatched a robust sign that the prime minister was eliminating even potential inside challengers with the goal of consolidating private energy and had no intention of  inviting and cooperating with opposition leaders as wanted for a correct democratic transition.

The Formation of the Prosperity Social gathering: The Stick That Broke the Camel’s Again

transformation of the coalition EPRDF, along with the dissolution of the
constituting member events, into the centralized Prosperity Social gathering (PP) positioned
additional roadblocks within the path towards a profitable transition to democracy.
First, the rushed course of and unwillingness to construct an inside census widened
the divide throughout the reformists’ camp: some brazenly rejected the choice whereas
many silently withdrew. Second, the method wherein the PP was based additional
intensified the stress with TPLF, which was opposite to the notions of reconciliation
and reintegration that the transition wanted. The formation of the PP was
accompanied by a sudden ideological shift within the ruling occasion from left to
proper, each by way of politics and the economic system, which heightened the
contradictions throughout the nation. Politically, the clearly signaled shift away
from multinational federalism to a centralized state, coupled with the
infatuation of the prime minister with previous kings, generated a polarizing
discourse, significantly among the many Amhara and Oromo political communities, at a time
when narratives that bridged the hole had been most wanted.

The formation
of the PP clearly confirmed that the prime minister aimed to ultimately remodel
the nation from a centralized one-party rule to a one-man rule, successfully
eradicating all of the hope positioned on him to guide us to a pluralistic society and a
participatory democracy. Moreover, motion taken for the reason that formation of the
occasion indicated a harmful development towards the monetization and militarization of
politics. The inflow of cash from Center Jap sources, the extortion-type
assortment of funds from the enterprise group, and the utilization of state
sources for the occasion and even the prime minister’s private actions
grew to become frequent occurrences.

When it comes to
militarization, the formation of the republican guard outdoors the constitutionally
established safety forces was an ominous signal for the democratic transition.
Given the truth that this republican guard was designed to function the non-public
military of the prime minister factors to his want to consolidate energy and
shield his private grip on it. The institutionalization of the safety
forces and the coaching of an enormous paramilitary drive underneath the guise of the Oromia
police, notably with an indoctrination course of centered on cracking down on
opposition actions, supplied further proof of a plan to additional
securitize politics quite than liberalize it. Such a fast and aggressive
monetization and securitization of politics doesn’t pave the way in which towards
democratization; quite, it impedes it.

The Errors Made by the Opposition and Activists

Though these tasked with main the transition from among the many ruling occasion should take the lion’s share of the blame for mismanaging/hijacking the transition, opposition teams and activists are usually not with out culpability. As talked about earlier, one of many major causes we had been compelled to decide on transition by way of reform (transformation) as an alternative of overthrowing the authoritarian occasion (alternative) or transplacement was the absence of energetic and viable opposition events as most of their leaders had both been exiled or incarcerated. The hope was that, in the course of the two-year transitional interval, the exiled leaders and people launched from jail would use the chance to construct a robust and viable different occasion or coalition. This was largely not realized. Probably the most damaging consequence of this failure was the shortcoming of the opposition leaders to current a united place aimed toward negotiating a nationwide transitional authorities. This lack of ability by the opposition to current a unified entrance enabled the prime minister to brush apart the necessity to create a nationwide transitional roadmap. In actual fact, it allowed him to play occasion leaders in opposition to each other, nullifying their positions and talent to exert adequate strain on him.


in addition to lecturers, performed an important function in guiding the favored non-violent
protest actions that produced the change. Sadly, their roles had been both
diminished or their consideration diverted in the course of the transition.

Lots of the activists didn’t have private political ambitions and subsequently didn’t participate in formal politics. As soon as the target of inducing change was achieved, they remained on the sidelines quite than stepping ahead to proceed giving steering in the course of the transition and conserving the method on observe. Most returned to their common jobs or selected to present uncritical help to the transitional management primarily based on the belief that the accountability for main the transition could be left to the political leaders and organizations. Having left the accountability of guiding the transition to the political leaders, activists turned to advocating for partisan pursuits that had been of non-public concern to every of them as an alternative of participating in a principled and unified activism as they did in the course of the protest actions. This partisan advocacy polarized the activist group and weakened their affect on the political course of. Some activists joined the federal government with the hope of helping the reformist management however had no success in influencing the system both resulting from their inexperience in navigating authorities processes or just because the ruling group had no intention of democratizing within the first place. Many had been shortly disillusioned, so that they determined both to withdraw or to stay quiet.


By now, many home and worldwide actors have sensed and began voicing their issues that the much-hoped-for transition of Ethiopia to democracy is in jeopardy. In my evaluation, the transition has already been reversed: we’re now not on the trail towards a democratic transition, however quite are transiting again to authoritarian rule—from a one-party authoritarian regime to a one-man dictatorship. This effort by Abiy to construct a brand new private authoritarian rule doesn’t solely sprint the hopes of thousands and thousands who need to see and dwell underneath a democratic system; it critically endangers home and regional peace. Making an attempt to impose a sultanistic dictatorship on such a extremely polarized and mobilized society within the presence of competing nationalism may result in a civil warfare and finally the collapse of the state. Presently, an Ethiopia engaged in civil warfare would have a detrimental affect on each regional and worldwide affairs. Therefore, each home, regional, and worldwide actors want to position pressing and coordinated strain on the prime minister to reverse the present course, reopen the political sphere and convene all stakeholders with the goal of growing a collective roadmap towards a transition to democracy. Certainly, any remaining hope of salvaging the democratic transition is quick slipping away. AS


Editor’s Notice: This text was written by the writer previous to his arrest on July 01/2020, the place he and others arrested with him are presently defending in opposition to a number of fees, together with terrorism fees on the federal court docket. Addis Customary acquired the waiver to publish the article by way of the writer’s protection workforce.
The submit In-depth: How Ethiopia’s transition to democracy derailed: Reflections by Jawar Mohammed appeared first on Addis Customary.


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