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Ethiopia’s Negotiations With The OLA Align With PM Abiy’s Vision For His Country
The purpose of the present piece is to articulate PM Abiy’s vision, at least as it appears to outside observers, with the intent of helping everyone better understand what he wants to do and why. It’s hoped that this analysis will clarify matters in order to dispel any confusion and prevent folks from being taken off guard by what might come next.
A Politically Difficult & Potentially Very Unpopular Decision
Ethiopian Prime Minister (PM) Abiy Ahmed’s announcement that the federal government will hold talks with the banned “Oromo Liberation Army” (OLA) in Tanzania on Tuesday took many by surprise, but they should have expected it in hindsight. That’s because this development aligns with his vision for the country, which at times entails making politically difficult decisions that can’t possibly please all people but are still being promulgated in pursuit of what he truly believes to be the greater good.
The purpose of the present piece is to articulate PM Abiy’s vision, at least as it appears to outside observers, with the intent of helping everyone better understand what he wants to do and why. In the interests of objectivity, no value judgement is being made about his policies, nor any determination about their success either since it’s too early to tell. It’s hoped that this analysis will clarify matters in order to dispel any confusion and prevent folks from being taken off guard by what might come next.
Stabilizing The International & Domestic Security Situations
Upon entering office half a decade ago, PM Abiy immediately extended olive branches to many anti-government groups that were previously banned by the prior regime in parallel with patching up Ethiopia’s well-known problems with Eritrea. This first step of his vision was to generate enough goodwill among those aforesaid groups at home to buy him time for stabilizing the regional security situation via his rapprochement with Eritrea.
By resolving those two’s differences, he hoped to generate enough goodwill among President Isaias Afwerki that he’d then would cut off his country’s support for Ethiopian anti-government groups, which PM Abiy expected would facilitate a series of domestic reconciliations along the lines of what he’d just done with Eritrea. This well-intended plan was temporarily delayed by the TPLF’s rebellion, which plunged Ethiopia into an extremely destructive two-year-long war.
The Larger Context Of The Recent Military Reorganization
Now that it’s over, PM Abiy intends to resume implementing his vision, but first he felt that he had to address the issue of regional special forces that emerged throughout the course of the latest conflict. Without doing so, he feared that some of them might have been misled into launching a TPLF-like rebellion on the pretext of those politically difficult decisions he planned to later make regarding his vision of reconciling with anti-government groups in other regions.
Accordingly, Ethiopia set out to rapidly reorganize those regional special forces into the national military and federal/regional police, which it succeeded in doing despite opposition from some Amhara. Now that the TPLF scenario has been preemptively averted as much as is realistically possible, PM Abiy feels comfortable enough with the domestic security situation to pick up where he left off by having the federal government hold talks with the OLA.
Had the Amhara Region’s special forces not been successfully reorganized, then there’s a chance that some of them could have seriously considered following in the TPLF’s footsteps considering how hated the OLA is among many in their part of the country due to ethnic massacres. This explains why PM Abiy didn’t make his announcement until after this policy was completed. It was a politically difficult decision for him to authorize talks with the OLA, but he felt that it had to be done in the national interest.
Will The OLA Become The Latest NTAGO Or Remain Terrorists?
This assessment of his intent is supported by his statement that “The people of Ethiopia and the government eagerly need this negotiation”, which explains what’s motiving him in this respect. It’s premature to predict how their negotiations will unfold and what could be the end result, but their potentially successful conclusion (whenever that may be) could lead to him replicating this process with other anti-government groups.
There are two factors working in support of a peaceful resolution to their problems: Ethiopia’s rapprochement with Eritrea and the federal government’s victory over the TPLF. Eritrea used to support the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) from which the OLA broke away in 2018 prior to allying with their former TPLF enemies during the latest war. Now that it’s cut off from its former patrons, there’s a greater chance than ever before that the OLA might reach some sort of agreement with the federal government.
What PM Abiy is doing somewhat resembles the approach that Syrian President Bashar Assad employed over the past decade whereby Damascus began to divide armed groups into what can be described as the “Non-Terrorist Anti-Government Opposition” (NTAGO) and bonafide terrorists. The first refers to those groups that are interested in compromising throughout the course of an incipient peace process while the second are radicals who want to continue killing until they reach their maximalist goals.
The Three-Step Path From Geopolitics To Geo-Economics
Recalling that the first phase of PM Abiy’s vision was to stabilize the regional security situation through his rapprochement with Eritrea, then the second – which was delayed by the TPLF’s war – concerns the abovementioned means for stabilizing the domestic security one. After the division of all armed groups into NTAGO and terrorists is completed, the first are expected to remain in talks with the government while the second will continue to be targeted by them unless they relent or are destroyed.
The third phase, which might still be some time away, involves the resolution of Ethiopia’s myriad interregional disputes. There’s no telling at this point whether that would involve unilateral actions at the federal level, grassroots democratically driven ones in each relevant area, or a combination thereof, but it’ll inevitably have to be done. PM Abiy envisages the country finally moving towards the future instead of being held hostage by past divisions that perennially risk erupting into conflict.
Only by completing this last and admittedly most complicated phase of his geopolitical plan can his subsequent geo-economic one unleash Ethiopia’s full potential. Without first stabilizing the entwined international and domestic security situations in order to then facilitate the resolution of his country’s interregional disputes, there’s no chance that PM Abiy could ever turn Ethiopia into a global economic powerhouse in the emerging Multipolar World Order like he’s planned to do all along.
Responding To The Rumors Of PM Abiy’s Allegedly Secret Affiliations
Guided by this vision in which he sincerely believes, he’s felt compelled to make many politically difficult decisions over the past-decade in pursuit of the greater good, which resulted in numerous accusations against him every step of the way. His rapprochement with Eritrea prompted claims that he’s secretly an agent of that country, while the national military’s alliance with the Amhara special forces against the TPLF in the last conflict saw some allege that he’s secretly an Amhara Nationalist.
Most recently, the latest claims to circulate are that he’s secretly an Oromo Nationalist after ordering the military reorganization that upset some Amhara and especially following his announcement of federal talks with the OLA. While everyone in his country and among its diaspora are entitled to their own opinion, it’s obvious that he can’t be all three plus whatever else he’s been accused of. From an outside perspective, he actually doesn’t appear to be any of those.
Rather, as was explained throughout this piece, he comes off as a well-intended visionary leader who’s had to make politically difficult decisions during his tenure in pursuit of what he truly believes to be the greater good, which is stabilizing Ethiopia in order to unleash its full economic potential. From PM Abiy’s perspective, that would bring the greatest benefits to the greatest number of people over the long run, including throughout the Horn of Africa region and eventually beyond.
To be sure, he, his team, and their supporters could have communicated this vision more clearly to everyone, which might have prevented a lot of confusion about his policies and related rumors about his intentions among average folks (not counting bad actors with their own interests of course). Hopefully they’ve learned from everything over the past five years and can therefore more effectively convey PM Abiy’s ambitious vision to everyone so that they can better understand their stakes in its success.