By Faisal Abdi Roble
In less than a year since PM Abiy came to power in April 2018 and only six months for the President of the Somali region, Mustafa Cagjar, both Ethiopia and the Somali region resemble their past than a hopeful future.
There are more inter-ethnic conflicts in almost 7 of the nine regions the federal system consists of; the truce and cessation of hostilities between the ruling EPRDF of PM Abiy and Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) are no longer holding. For the first time in history, Ethiopia military jets have bombed targets suspected to be OLF camps; the relationship between Abiy’s government and the Ogden National Liberation Front (ONLF) is lukewarm at best.
Fire is ablaze in several cities, the scariest and devastating conflict is taking place in Dri Dhawa between Oromo and Somalis. There are other conflicts along the borders between Oromo and Somalis with daily human casualties. The federal government completely failed to quell conflict between Somalis and Oromo.
It is that conflict (between Oromos and Somalis) that has taken off the veil of PM Abiy and exposed his masquerading autocratic tendencies towards regional governments. The conflict between the Somali Regional President and his EPRDF and the Oromo Democratic Party counterparts is a window to glance at the true nature of Ethiopia’s government.
For 27 years, Ethiopia has been ruled by Meles Zenawi through EPRDF with an iron fist. According to Alex We Waal, Meles Zenawi was a master security buff. He worked like a spymaster. In his book, The Real Politics of Horn of Africa: Money, Power, and the Business of Power,” which he dedicated to the late Meles, Alex writes that because Meles was there when EPRDF was established, and he knew every trick, every secret of the organization, its members as well as its allies. He was in total control of the security apparatus of the country.
Also, Meles established a system where he used budgeting as a highly sophisticated system of corruption where he bought leaders’ loyalty (at the federal, regional and local) and kept a tight leash on anybody who had a role in the system.
When he died, Haile Mariam came to the premiership but failed to fill the shoes of Meles, because he could not muster the security apparatus of the country.
On his part. Abiy does not want to fail, and for that, he is carefully reading the Meles formula and the management of intelligence and security technologies as did Meles. In addition, and unlike Haile Mariam who was his predecessor, PM Abiy is a seasoned security cadre himself and a protégé of Meles; they both are trained in the culture of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Founders of TPLF fashioned it in the image of the Albanian-style peasant-based communist system. If Envier Hoxha was the father of the Albanian democratic centralism Meles Zenawi is that of Ethiopia’s EPRDF. We have yet to see a real departure of PM Abiy from this horrible system of rule and come to the arena where rule of law works supreme.
In democratic centralism, the leader of the party rules on every issue and she or he work as the boss of a mobster. Democratic ethos is not respected at all and the enemy is any ideology or person that seeks to transfers power from party bosses to people’s representative.
Worse of all, in democratic centralism, the people have no voice. The party apparatus and its central committee bosses have a say on all general and local issues of the people. In extreme cases, the party even rules on food prices, water rationing, medicine and political seats for different groups. In short, the party is the country and the country is the party.
Given what is taking place in the Somalis region, there are more facts on the ground that PM Abiy has dusted off that culture of democratic centralism with gusto. His style of running a business at least in the Somali region is akin to the democratic centralism that Meles has utilized in his long reign. It is not therefore farfetched to argue that PM Abiy will not refrain from making Jigjiga a carbon copy image of Tirana of Albania during Envier Hoxha.
The more salient cause for the conflict that has been brewing in the Somali Regional State for the last two months is a fight over the leadership in the region. The new president which was installed about six months ago would like to run the region as the sole executive of the region. To that end, he would like to see some former leaders in the previous government face their crimes and be taken to the court systems. But the Somali Ruling regional party does not want some of their members to face the law. There is also a not so salient struggle over who rules the region. Another area of conflict is the management of the security of the region. Mustafa wants to safely integrate the ONLF fighters with his regional forces, a move EPRDF and ODP totally feel discomfort with.
These conflicts are manifestations of the ideological tension between democratic centralism and liberal democracy, the latter being championed by Mustafa Cagjar who has been the President of the Somali region for only six months. The party bosses, guided and supported by EPRDF, are still pursuing the overarching political culture of democratic centralism. As such, Addis Ababa wants President Mustafa to know that there is no other system accepted here in the region except democratic centralism.
One may ask why PM Abiy wants to pursue this archaic and autocratic system. Simply put, it is the most utilitarian tool for complete control of a country like Ethiopia, where some of the old political questions, such creating a government by the people for the people, are too painful for the fainthearted and populists like PM Abiy to seriously address and resolve them.
The Somali region has seen all types of abuses and hit rock bottom. About 16 presidents have come since 1991, and all of them have been removed by the federal government. Most of them served for a short period of time, and that itself is telling of the lack of autonomy in the Somali region.
There is no more tolerance left for more abuses and the people of the region had enough! The only route left for the people of the region is to pursue their liberal democratic system even if it is not perfect and even if the cost to be paid is high. Churchill once said: “That democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” In time, Somali Regional State will perfect liberal democracy, but it does not want to go back to democratic centralism. And that needs to be respected, even if PM Abiy does not like our wishes.
By FaisalAbdi Roble