False Narratives of Ethiopian Conflict Are Toxic

(Courtesy of souncloud.com)

False Narratives of Ethiopian Conflict Are Toxic

Lawrence Freeman

April 5, 2021

In two months, Ethiopia will have national elections, which can potentially shape the future of the largest nation in East Africa. False narratives of the cause and description of the fighting in the northern section of Ethiopia, Tigray, remain misleading and detrimental. This can undermine the efforts of Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed to introduce a non-ethnic based discourse with his newly created Prosperity Party.

Unfortunately, much of the narrative that dominates the news and reporting is falsely framed as a contest between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the government of Ethiopia, headed by Prime Minister Abiy. Some news reports refer to Tigray as a “contested” region between two opposing armed forces. Other commentaries attempt to legitimize the actions of the TPLF as defenders of their territory from “outside” military. Let us be clear. There is no equivalency between the TPLF and the government of Prime Minister Abiy. Such analysis is not only faulty but is dangerous to the nation of Ethiopia. It invites other disingenuous ethnic leaders to launch destabilizations against the Ethiopian nation. Some accounts of the conflict even question, who was responsible for initiating the fighting, blatantly attempting to rewrite history.

It is well known that in the early hours of November 4, the TPLF without cause, attacked the Ethiopian Defense Forces at the Mekele outpost,  stealing munitions and murdering soldiers in their sleep. The government of Prime Minister Abiy was obligated to respond with a military counterattack to ensure that Ethiopia remained a sovereign nation.

As long as policy and deliberations in Ethiopia are twisted around the contours of which ethnic group is in power, the nation’s progress will be disrupted and curtailed.

Allegations of Ethnic Cleansing

The United Nations defines ethnic cleansing as:

“ a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas…. rendering an area ethnically homogeneous

Ethnic cleansing is intolerable and repugnant to civilized society. Given the highly contentious environment in Ethiopia between different ethnic groups, unsubstantiated charges of ethnic cleansing and genocide are inflammatory and pernicious. Hurling such accusations without incontrovertible proof is more than provocative. It can lead to increased violence, threatening the very fabric of Ethiopia as a sovereign nation only months away from its national election.  Yet these unfounded accusations are repeated again and again.

In a March 30th letter to United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, Congressmen Gregory Meeks, and Michael McCaul, condemned Ethiopia for “acts of ethnic cleansing,” without offering any evidence other than hearsay from the media. Unfortunately, Blinken himself had used the same provocative language earlier in March, accusing the Ethiopian government of ethnic cleansing, without proof. Protest from the Ethiopian government in Addis Ababa prompted President Biden to send Senator Coons to Ethiopia as his special envoy. Upon his return, Sen. Coons not only refused to repeat such charges, but expressed optimism in the subsequent actions of Prime Minister Abiy.

Atrocities or other illegal actions that have been reported, must be thoroughly investigated, as Prime Minister Abiy has promised to conduct in conjunction with the United Nations. However, the continued use of unsubstantiated accusations of ethnic cleansing by U.S. officials, repeated by the reckless media, are imprudent and perilous to the entire Horn of Africa.

The same congressional letter threatened sanctions against Ethiopia. Ethiopian Ambassador to the U.S., Fitsum Arega, responded the next day, March 31st with his own letter to the two congressmen:

“Your call for what appears to be blanket sanctions is not only counterproductive to the goal of providing support for those in need, but also significantly undermines the two nations’ long cooperate relationship. The U.S. should be working to ensure that funds and supplies are  going to those in need, not in threatening behavior that will diminish cooperative efforts to bring much needed help to those in need.”

U.S. Senator Coons says Ethiopia trip was ‘constructive.’ (Courtesy tadias.com)

Human Identity Transcends Ethnicity

Ethiopia’s upcoming election on June 5 will be historic. For the first time, with Prime Minister Abiy’s national Prosperity Party on the ballot, there will be an alternative to the destructive politics of ethno-nationalist partisanship. It is important for all Ethiopians to take responsibility for ensuring that this election is not marred by violent ethnic confrontations.

Now, let us deal with the core issue confronting Ethiopia’s society, which politicians, reporters, Washington think tanks, and NGOs, do not understand; Ethiopian people are not defined by ethnicity.

We are all human beings first and foremost. What does it really mean to be human, and what is its relevancy to the current circumstances in Ethiopia?

Our heritage, no matter how much we respect our parents, cherish our birthplace, and traditions, does not determine our essence as human beings. Our worth, as human beings is not derived from where we were born. What distinguishes us, all of us, as human, as opposed to all other creatures is; that we are bequeathed by the Creator with the very special quality of creative reason.  No animal possesses creativity, and no machine can reproduce this unique quality, which I will identify as our soul-mind. The power of reason-creativity is not deduction, induction, or logic. It is the ability to discover, through hypothesis, new physical, and social principles embedded in the universe by the Creator, awaiting for us to uncover.  This characteristic of creative-mentation distinguishes the human species, as having a single human culture, which cannot be subdivided.

All societies, going back at least million years in Africa, have progressed as a result of human creativity.  Continuous, uninterrupted discovery of new universal principles that advance civilization from one level of science-culture to the next. This, our human culture, coherent with the physical universe, lawfully shatters the silly belief of a preordained  limit to the growth of humankind.

Thus, deep down in our soul-mind, we are all universally unified, and alike. We are not fundamentally different, except in secondary features that serve to enrich the breath of our universal human culture. African nations can no longer allow themselves to be ruled and divided by ethnicity and religion. No ethnic group, religion, or class ought to enjoy any superiority. Religious and ethnic differences should not undermine a nation’s national unity.

Each nation has developed uniquely, contributing to the diversity and richness of our civilization. Each nation has uniquely fashioned an identity from historical events and future aspirations.

Let that national identity moored to our exclusive human identity prevail. Any lesser identity is an assault on our unique humanness.

With this concept in mind, let Ethiopia demonstrate its commitment to protect and care for all its citizens by allowing justice to overcome propaganda and prejudice in judging the crimes committed in this conflict.

ReadTwo Key Members of Congress Condemn Atrocities in Tigray and Call for US Action

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. Mr. Freeman’s stated personal mission is; to eliminate poverty and hunger in Africa by applying the scientific economic principles of Alexander Hamilton.

 

Ethiopia’s Medemer Philosophy

 

February 25, 2020

I had the pleasure to attend a fascinating and enlightening discussion on what Medemer means and why Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has introduced this concept into Ethiopia today. The conversation was led by Ambassador Fitsum Arega, Ethiopian ambassador to the U. S. and included; Lencho Bati and Mamo Mihretu, both in the prime minister’s office in Addis Ababa, and Etana Dinka, Oberlin College.

Prime Minister Abiy has authored a book, Medemer, (Amharic) and simultaneously launched the new nationwide Prosperity Party, which is an application of his Medemer philosophy.

The panelists explained to the overflow audience at the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) in Washington, that the Medemer philosophy should guide both Ethiopia’s domestic and foreign policy. Medemer embodies the concept of national unity and the need for all to work for the common good; for Ethiopia’s prosperity, and its elimination of poverty. Amb. Arega said that Ethiopia cannot change the past, but Ethiopia needs new ideas that go beyond its highly charged ethnic politics. He spoke of the need for forgiveness in Ethiopian society, with no finger pointing, in order for Ethiopia to move forward. The idea of a shared-common humanity, embodied in Medemer, is the underpinning for establishing sound relationships with other nations.

Ethiopia is entering a challenging period, economically, politically, and socially. The nation is attempting to create an appropriate economic policy that will enable millions of educated youth to be absorbed into its workforce. The nation is also coming to terms with the limitations of almost thirty years of a federation of ethnic states. With national elections scheduled for August, Prime Minister Abiy’s non-ethnic based Prosperity Party is provoking a healthy discourse about Ethiopia’s identity.

All of these issues are relevant to the concept of Medemer, that was richly elaborated in the two-hour dialogue at USIP.

Watch: A Changing Ethiopia: Understanding Medemer

Read: Ethiopia’s Prosperity Party: A Revolutionary Necessity

 

Progress on Gerd-Nile River Talks in Washington With Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan and US

Courtesy of  Ambassador Fitsum Arega’s Twitter

January 17, 2020

Progress was made by Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, who met in Washington DC for three days this week from January 13-15, supported by the administration of President Trump. They will meet again from 28-29, in Washington to finalize their agreement.

Ethiopian Ambassador, Fitsum Arega, wrote on Twitter:

“Meetings of Egypt, Ethiopia & Sudan in Washington mark major breakthrough & new chapter of their historic relations. 

GERD (Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) will help bring economic integration among 3 countries: Egypt, Ethiopia & Sudan.

GERD will provide long term mechanism for their Common Destiny of Collective Prosperity, under the Guiding Principle : Cooperation for Mutual Benefit!

I would add that cooperation on the GERD and Nile River system will benefit all the nations of the Nile Basin

The final paragraph of the joint communique reads: “The Ministers recognize the significant regional benefits that can result from concluding an agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam with respect to trans-boundary cooperation, regional development and economic integration that can result from the operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.  The Ministers of Foreign Affairs reaffirmed the importance of trans-boundary cooperation in the development of the Blue Nile to improve the lives of the people of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, and their shared commitment to concluding an agreement.”

Read: Joint Communique of GERD and Nile River

Ethiopia Launches New Economic Reform Agenda

November 21, 2019

Ethiopia Launches New Initiatives To Expand Its Economy

Lawrence Freeman

In the last decade, Ethiopia, the second most populated nation in Africa with over 100 million people, has become a leader in economic growth. This is the result of the leadership’s commitment to the continuation of the previous government’s developmental state model, which directed public credit to finance vital infrastructure projects. Now, under new leadership, innovative initiatives are being launched to sustain and expand Ethiopia’s progress.

On September 9, 2019, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed unveiled his nation’s “Homegrown Economic Reform Agenda” (Homegrown Reform) at the United Nations Conference Center in Addis Ababa. Its primary goal is to expand the nation’s economic capabilities, and create employment opportunities for millions of unemployed youth. Addressing the audience, Prime Minister Abiy said: “The Reform Agenda is our pro-job, pro-growth, and pro-inclusivity pathway to prosperity.” To achieve these objectives, this new initiative proposes to entice private investment in the following sectors; agriculture, manufacturing, mining, tourism,  and Information and Communication Technology- (ICT). Key goals of the agenda’s macroeconomic reforms are, curbing inflation that is averaging over 15% in the last four years, increasing foreign currency, improving access to finance, and debt sustainability.

Home Grown Initiative

The Homegrown Reform Agenda is not meant to be a replacement for Ethiopia’s Growth Transformation Plans II (GTP II), which covers the period from 2014-2019.

Ethiopia, aims over the next three years, to attract $6 billion in new soft loans and $4 billion in debt reduction from multilateral and bilateral institutions to alleviate the country’s financial constraints. According Fitsum Arega, Ethiopia’s ambassador to the United States, “many industries are operating below capacity for lack of foreign currency to pay for imports.”

For Ethiopia to advance to the next stage of development certain imbalances and bottlenecks in the economy have to be corrected, which the Homegrown Agenda intends to accomplish through macro and fiscal reforms.  The number one constraint to growth cited by manufacturing firms, is the shortage of foreign exchange. Access to financing, inefficiency in government, and insufficient infrastructure are also leading constraints to doing business in Ethiopia.  In an effort to address these limitations, the Homegrown Reform intends to shift from relying exclusively on public sector investment, which has led to a rise in Ethiopia’s debt, to promoting private sector financing.

Another area of concern for the government is relying on inefficient state-owned firms. A case in point is the military-run industrial conglomerate METEC, which is being investigated for corruption and suspicion of misappropriating public funds.

To complement the new reforms, it is recommended that the government make additional efforts to; discipline public expenditures, attract remittances through legal channels, and end contraband.

Ethiopia On The Road of Progress

The following indicators of economic growth are reported in    A Homegrown Reform Agenda: Pathway to Prosperity power-point. From 2004 to 2015, Ethiopia succeeded in reducing the percentage of people living in poverty-$1.90 per day or less- from 39% to 24%. From 2004 to 2018 per capita income grew from $200 per day to over $800. During that same time frame, child mortality (under age 5) decreased from 123 to 55 per 1000 live births, and life expectancy increased from 56 years to 66.  And from 2005 to 2016 the percentage of the population with access to electricity rose from 14% to 43%–a 300% increase.

Ethiopia aspires to reach the status of a “lower middle income” nation by 2025. This is an ambitious goal that will require; raising yearly per capita income from its levels of $856 to $2,219, reducing poverty from 27.3 % of the population to 13.8%, and increasing access to electricity to 86% of its citizens. For Ethiopia to achieve its objective in the next five years, it needs to mechanize its agriculture sector to be more productive and less labor intensive, and increase manufactured exports five-fold.

Ethiopia’s Job Offensive

Simultaneously, Ethiopia’s leadership is tackling the critical issue of unemployment, especially for the growing number of college educated youth, who are seeking jobs and upward mobility. Ethiopia’s Jobs Creation Commission-(JCC) announced on October 30, a bold plan to create 14 million jobs by 2025, and a total of 20 million new jobs by 2030. This will provide employment opportunities for millions of new entrants into their labor force. The government intends to create 3 million jobs in the budget year that began this July.

In partnership with the JCC, Mastercard Foundation presented its Young Africa Works Initiative–committing $300 million to assist in this job creation program.  Their focus will be generating new employment opportunities in the ICT and Small Medium Enterprises-(SME) sectors. According to the JCC website: “The Young Africa Works in Ethiopia is an initiative that will enable 10 million young people to access dignified and fulfilling work by 2030…It was designed in partnership with the government, the private sector, academic institutions, and young people and; is currently aligned with the Ethiopian government’s plan to create new jobs to spur economic growth.”

Economics and the Nation State

Ethiopia’s economy has been growing at a faster rate than other sub-Saharan nations. However, its prolific university system is graduating more young people than Ethiopia’s economy can employ. Simply put: despite the progress that Ethiopia has accomplished in reducing poverty and building physical infrastructure; the economy is not growing at a level fast enough to accommodate its large and expanding population.

Frustration over the slower than desired rate of development is being expressed by various elements of society. Economic well-being is a substantial motivation that underlies the anger by ethnic movements at those in power. Ethnic groups believe it is necessary to have “their leaders” in charge, in order to ensure a bigger slice of the “economic pie.” People, who judge that they are being economically neglected or marginalized can become desperate, and thus susceptible to being manipulated and aroused to take action against their own government.

To avoid such instigated conflicts, the only real and lasting solution is to create a “bigger economic pie” that equally satisfies the needs of all people regardless of geographical region or ethnicity. It is the unique responsibility, nay obligation, of the nation state to provide for the “general welfare” of its people and their posterity, as beautifully articulated in the preamble to the US Constitution. The nation state transcends (not negates) regionalism, ethnicity, and religion. Its primary concern is the continued existence of a single sovereign Ethiopian nation with one integrated and unified people.

The government is responsible for ensuring that every Ethiopian has the  necessities of food and shelter, and the opportunity for a meaningful life for oneself and one’s progeny. Deliberating on the best pathway to achieve these goals is the responsibility of every citizen. It is in the self interest of all Ethiopians to collaborate in securing a prosperous future for their nation.

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa with thirty years of experience in Africa promoting infrastructure development policies.