Perspectives and constructive dialogue on Ethiopia’s political future

In a further contribution to the ROAPE debate on Ethiopia, Yidneckachew Ayele Zikargie writes that in order to discuss the political future of the country there must not be gatekeepers who determine what is a legitimate discussion while making wild accusations. Ethiopia must embrace a multitude of voices not self-appointed experts who label and condemn those who do not agree with them.

By Yidneckachew Ayele Zikargie

In response to Fana Gebresenbet and Yonas Tariku’s article discussing the Pretoria Agreement, a group of authors, including Mulugeta Gebrehiwot, Alex de Waal, Martin Plaut, Jan Nyssen, Mohamed Hassen, and Gebrekirstos Gebreselassie, presented a counterargument. Subsequently, Fana Gebresenbet and Yonas Tariku responded to the criticism in their piece titled ‘Neither a Response nor a Debate: Five Ways to Misread Our Article on Ethiopia.’ Intrigued by these engaging dialogues and being personally affected by the crisis and as an observer of the social, economic and political developments in Ethiopia, I feel compelled to express my uneasiness with the approach taken by Mulugeta Gebrehiwot, Alex de Waal, and others. This reflection aims to contribute to the ongoing debate by seeking engaging perspectives and fostering a constructive dialogue on the Pretoria Agreement and the political future of Ethiopia.

Mulugeta Gebrehiwot, Alex de Waal and others criticize Fana Gebresenbet and Yonas Tariku’s article as a reproduction of false narratives promoted by the Federal Government of Ethiopia (FGE). The response challenges the claims made in the article, including the portrayal of foreign commentators as supporters of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the dismissal of claims of genocide as TPLF propaganda. The authors highlight the ongoing suffering in Tigray and criticize the lack of nuanced political understanding and empathy in the original article. They also note a broader campaign to deny and misrepresent the atrocities committed in Ethiopia. Besides, they push their arguments by using social media, their networks and activists to maintain a hegemony of their narratives that went beyond academic dialogue and end up with character assassinations and defamatory targetting of the writers.

Yet in the article, Fana Gebresenbet and Yonas Tariku interrogate the significance of the Pretoria Agreement – asking if it is a mere instrument for the cessation of hostilities or does it herald a new era in Ethiopia? The article underlines that the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) between the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on November 2, 2022, marks a significant turning point in Ethiopian politics. It notes the significance of the agreement, which was facilitated by the African Union.

The agreement prevents further escalation of the conflict and the potential loss of lives and destruction. It ensures the return of constitutional order in Tigray, reduces the war to a battle between the FDRE/ENDF and the TPLF, and paves the way for federal forces to regain control without excessive force. Yet the agreement signifies the end of the TPLF’s dominance and the diminishing role of ethnonationalism in Ethiopian politics, setting the stage for a new era of political discourse and power consolidation under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Gebresenbet and Tariku argued that, although the CoHA is not a complete solution to all sources of instability, it symbolizes a significant step toward a more stable political environment.

In their counterargument against the criticisms raised by Mulugeta Gebrehiwot, Alex de Waal and others and personal attacks on social media, Gebresenbet and Tariku returned with a thoughtful and ethically bounded response. They demonstrate a strong commitment to academic pursuit and engage constructively by highlighting the misinterpretations and misquotations in the rejoinder. They clarify that they did not argue that claims of genocide are a TPLF propaganda ploy, but rather pointed out the partisan role played by foreign experts. They also assert that the TPLF’s attack on the Northern Command was a triggering factor, not the sole cause of the war. Their emphasis on differentiating between regime and state, as well as their call for a cohesive and just state-society relationship, reflects a nuanced understanding of the complexities in Ethiopian politics. Furthermore, they advocate for open and critical debate, encouraging engagement with their arguments for the sake of peace and stability in Ethiopia. Overall, Gebresenbet and Tariku s responses contribute positively to the ongoing discourse on the agreement, and the political possibilities for Ethiopia.

However, I observe that the ongoing debate highlights an intriguing aspect of the political landscape in Ethiopia, focusing on the production of narratives and the ethical concerns surrounding the pursuit of political hegemony. On one side, some emphasize open discussion and engagement with diverse narratives, promoting a constructive approach by positioning themselves as ‘students of conflict and security studies.’ Conversely, the opposing side adopts a posture of sole authority, seeking to dominate the narrative sphere. They present themselves as a credible source of genocide reports, citing self-documented evidence and criticizing Gebresenbet and Tariku for overlooking Alex de Waal’s selective records of genocide. However, Alex de Waal’s documentation has faced criticism for its selectivity, as it allegedly disregards extensive human atrocities committed against multiple communities in northern Ethiopia, including the Afar, Amhara, and Tigray people. This power game among an intellectual international elite appears to revolve around the manipulation of narratives into a story of triumph and victimhood.

One of the most concerning aspects of the ongoing debate is the alarming efforts made by certain individuals to silence alternative perspectives and assert a monopoly over knowledge and narratives. It is deeply troubling to witness the tactics employed, such as attacking individuals based on their academic views and pressuring a journal to remove an article that challenges their preferred perspectives. Such actions are not only outrageous but also completely unacceptable for an intellectual community that values freedom of expression and intellectual diversity.

With the ongoing debate and prevailing circumstances in Ethiopia in particular and the Global South in general, it becomes increasingly important to prioritize the exploration of diverse perspectives and foster an environment that encourages an engaging exchange of ideas. By promoting a constructive dialogue that welcomes different viewpoints, we can pave the way for a more inclusive and stable society. Embracing a multitude of voices and recognizing the value of varied opinions is essential for meaningful progress and the cultivation of a well-rounded understanding of the complex issues in Ethiopia and across the continent.

Yidneckachew Ayele Zikargie (PhD) is an Assistant Professor at Hawassa University College of Law and Governance, with a specialization in the sociology of human rights, modernist development approach, pastoral land, livelihood, and frontier dynamics in Ethiopia. His research interests include rights, power, modernism, land development, pastoral frontiers dynamics, ethnography, sugarcane plantations, and a human rights-based approach to development.

Featured Photograph: A wounded boy sits on a bed in the Ayder Referral Hospital on 4 June, 2021, in Mekelle, Ethiopia (Yan Boechat).


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