Simply put, it is a roller-coaster ride. The tempo of changes we are witnessing in Ethiopian politics is quite breathtaking. On some occasions, it is hard to follow, let alone analyze. Undoubtedly, the ancient African country is in one of its defining moments in its three thousand years of existence. The twist and turns, the suspense, and the tensions we have been observing in the landscape of Ethiopian politics flow like the way it is in the plot of a thriller novel.
The current hectic political situation in the country is the direct result of bad governance and divisive policies of the 27 years of TPLF rule. And that has subsequently brought the nation to a challenging and desperate situation, having some semblance of a ship sailing fast toward a barely visible iceberg mountain. Over the last three-plus years, the reformist government has made several bold and dramatic measures to steer the country away from the road leading to catastrophe and destruction towards the road of peace and development.
Since the holistic reform process started in April 2018 with the removal of TPLF from the helm of the federal government as a ruling power, Ethiopia has witnessed several changes that were almost unthinkable a few months earlier. All of those changes and political developments may not be well-come and cheered by the majority of the populace. Even some of the decisions of change made by the government may politically divide public opinion, affecting the interest of the citizens in contradicting way. Nevertheless, the calculus of the strategic political and economic decisions the government made so far have ensured that the resultant of the changes introduced have eventually proven to have been a positive step that has taken the nation forwards.
The sudden release from prison of TPLF bigwigs was the latest political bombshell that exploded on Orthodox Christmas Day, receiving both praises and condemnations of roughly equal intensity. The TPLF big shots’ case file was one of the three case files whose proceedings terminated last week. But it was the Tplfites case that drew wider media attention and public reaction. Some people have welcomed the news of the release of the prisoners, who are from various categories of political groups having a broad social base. Others criticized the decision as untimely and a potential cause for wrangling among pro- Ethiopian nationalist forces.
An Ethiopian residing in the USA, who came to his home country in response to the call made by the Ethiopian Premier to the Ethiopian Diaspora and friends of Ethiopia to visit their homeland during the current Ethiopian holidays season said; “At first, my friends and I were startled to hear about the release of the TPLF ‘s senior leaders from prison. But after we got the explanations from the officials, we assumed the government arrived at this sensitive decision after a thorough investigation into the matter. Whatever stance we may have on this issue, we need to maintain our unity of purpose to fulfill our mission of helping our country rise above the current difficult times. Whatever happens, and whatever decision made by the politicians, we shall never be distracted from our patriotic duties. We will keep our eyes on the ball, -our irreplaceable Ethiopia,’ he said.
The controversial decision shows the government’s determination to take all logical actions to bring lasting peace and put an end to the 14 months of conflict that has been raging in northern Ethiopia. According to some analysts, the release of the prisoners is one of the preparatory steps laying grounds for the inclusive national dialogue forum that Ethiopians look forward to with great anticipation as a bridge to peace and reconciliation among various sections of the society, and political outlooks.
The discontinuance of the prosecution of the six high profile TPLF prisoners, who were captured by the Ethiopian army during the law enforcement operations in Tigray last year, could also be taken as a signal for the upcoming bold steps the government expected to take to bring sustainable peace and reconciliation in the nation’s politics in the shortest time possible.
The government has grasped the reality on the ground and is acting accordingly. It is not a time when things are going like business as usual. Obviously, the nation is in a conflict and post-conflict situation. Plus, the political transition process is far from over. Against the backdrop of these situations, it is appropriate to act in a more innovative way different from the usual to react appropriately to the existing challenges in serving justice. What is at stake now is the maintenance of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation. At this moment in time, the question of whether a few crime suspects should be behind the bar or otherwise is the least of our concerns. Thus, instead of the usual one which is based only on trial and punishment, the government seems to have prioritized a transitional restorative justice system as the way forward.
The international media which are normally known for spreading disinformation against the Ethiopian government has made positive remarks about the government’s decision to release the prisoners. Financial Times wrote: “After 14 months of fighting and a string of atrocities, there may be a reckoning in the making. The suggestion of dialogue, analysts say, is arguably the most significant breakthrough since war broke out in the northern Tigray region in November 2020 – a war that endangered the unity of a federal patchwork of about 80 ethnic groups and an economic powerhouse in the Horn of Africa.”
The decision was seen by the international community as a powerful symbolic gesture of peace, showing a willingness to even budge on matters of principle that prompted the other to do the same in the interest of peace. The Ethiopian government has once again demonstrated its position regarding its eagerness to reach a peaceful conclusion of the conflict in Northern Ethiopia without compromising the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation.
Within three days after the announcement of the unexpected news of the release of the opposition political leaders and the TPLF top officials, US President made his first phone call to the Ethiopian Premier. That is not a coincidence. That is proof of how significant and profound the decision to release the prisoners is in changing the future course of the country’s politics and its international relations, especially with western countries.
Similarly, few hours after the announcement of the release of prisoners, the UN Chief praised the bold move by the Ethiopian government by saying: “I welcome today’s release from prison in Ethiopia of numerous detainees, including key opposition figures. I call upon the parties to build on this significant confidence-building step by agreeing a cessation of hostilities and a lasting ceasefire, as well as launching a credible and inclusive national dialogue and reconciliation process.”
Despite the plea of the UN Chief, asking all political forces to support and encourage the government’s confidence-building measures and its conviction that the key to lasting unity is dialogue, the reaction we saw from the TPLF was quite the opposite to what should have been. Instead of reciprocating the government peace gesture, the TPLF is intensifying its military preparation for another round of invasion and making military provocations in various areas in Amhara and Afar regions. In doing so, TPLF and its sympathizers have revealed themselves to be anti-peace forces that thrive only in a conflict situation, and that they could not care less about the suffering of the people they claim to represent.
BY SOLOMON WASSIHUN
TUESDAY 18 JANUARY 2022