Abiy Ahmed: a duel on slippery grounds

Radio Erena: 12 August 2020

Abiy Ahmed’s swift move against the Oromo political heavyweight Lemma Megerssa reveals the contours of the forthcoming battlegrounds. The prime minister decidedly suspended the membership of Megerssa and two others in the Prosperity Party Oromia branch organ.

On one hand, Under the prime minister’s feet, there are always the slippery grounds which limit his space for maneuver, on the other side, in his rivals’ camp, in accordance with the rule which stipulates that every action unleashes a reaction, appear the signs of rapid political regrouping. Both measures are intrinsically linked in the political bone-breaking battle between the prime minister and his rivals.

At a first glance at the prime minister’s camp, Abiy Ahmed has leaned heavily on the support of the hawks of his party to take the swift and decisive move. Quoting a Prosperity Party spokesperson, the BBC correspondent in Addis Ababa confirmed that the move against Megerssa was taken for his “disregard for the Party and his duties.” Legally, and according to the Party’s bylaws, the move against Megerssa and two others including his deputy while serving as a head of Oromia region Teyba Hassen might, therefore, be well justified according to the above-cited procedural terms, particularly under the recent rupture between the two former allies; but the real causes of the act lay elsewhere. For quite some time, Megerssa has been the first to oppose the reshaping of Abiy Ahmed’s of the former Ethiopian People’s Democratic Front (EPRDF).

According to Horn of Africa expert Kjetil Tronvoll, the move has been long been awaited on the part of the prime minister as he said in a recent tweet: “the purge has long been awaited to break up Lemma Megerssa’s team, removing the last person who may oppose him inside the party.”

In fact, the showdown has been expected especially after the violence that swept the country in the aftermath of killing the famous Oromo singer Hachalu Hundessa, which Abiy Ahmed mischievously used to purge his rivals including the one-time ally Jawhar Mohamed on charges of inciting violence.

Although the prime minister is busy digging his trenches, his war front is expanding beyond reach. In the restive Tigray region, and in open defiance to Abiy Ahmed’s authority, the elections are set for next September. The prime minister’s remaining resort to defy the on-going resolve to organize the upcoming elections is to delegalize the whole process, a matter which has already been declared by the National Ethiopian Electoral Commission. However, The Tigray regional government is not yielding to pressure from the Federal government. The following level of conflict, in case the elections were conducted and finished without any hindrance, is to use them by Tigrayan leaders against the prime minister who is insisting on delaying the national elections. Successful elections in Tigray will imperil Abiy Ahmed’s position as the health situation and other pretexts he uses to delay the national elections will be proven void. This will no doubt revive the charges against the prime minister, who insists on clinging to power on whatever cost, and his recent move against a one-time prime minister hopeful Lemma Megerssa is a battle in that bitter war.

As the noose tightens on Abiy Ahmed’s neck, he appears to be heavily dependent on the strong support of the Eritrean president across the border. Such a notorious alliance will prove fateful for the young prime minister; in addition to sending the wrong messages to Tigray regional government, it will also cast dark shadows on his intentions toward democracy in the country. Primarily, his Eritrean ally is known for his outspoken disdain for the multi-party democracy in Ethiopia. He had never hidden his scathing criticism of the Ethiopian federal rule formula, proposing instead an iron-fist rule, similar to his long years’ infamous rule in Eritrea. The alliance with the ill-reputed Eritrean president nurtures the Ethiopians’ deeply seated concerns about the course which the prime minister intends to take to handle the inflammable situation in the country. The counseling of his Eritrean ally will not only add fuel to the already raging fire, but it will open hellfire in the prime minister’s own front, if not in the whole country.

By Fathi Osman