No one in Ethiopia’s contemporary history had as widespread public support as you. Upon your rise to power, and following your visits to various parts of the country, Ethiopians of both genders, all ethnic backgrounds, religious affiliations and people from all walks of life gave their approval; wished you the best, and pledged to be by your side every step of the way.
However, you can't deny that things haven’t been the same for over a year now and are in fact deteriorating by the day. The Qeero / youth movement that paved the way for your elevation to power has turned against you. Your political allies have become your enemies. The Oromo diaspora living in Europe and the U.S, including those who warmly welcomed you in Minnesota, are strongly protesting your rule.
There was applause in the country and international praise for you when political prisoners were released, but prison has become a revolving door to welcome back familiar faces along with new ones. You were credited for ensuring freedom of the press; only to shut down legally licensed media outlets. You are famously quoted for saying killing is defeat, yet you are being accused of murder, including mass killings. You were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for reaching a peace agreement with a neighboring country, but peace is eluding your own country. There are violent conflicts, displacements, and deaths in various parts of the country. Law and order is falling apart; crime is becoming rampant including in the country’s and Africa’s capital, Addis Ababa.
On the economic front, inflation has hit the roof, while investment, local as well as FDI, has plummeted to the bottom. Businesses in the retail and service sectors are closing shop. Unemployment has skyrocketed. Families and individuals are having a tough time coping.
So, how did this happen under your watch despite all your rosy promises and the public’s overly optimistic expectations? Obviously, you did not plan for everything to go on the downward spiral. You of course are primarily responsible for the failures as much as any of the accomplishments in your government. Good leaders pass the credit but take the blame. Still, those around you also are responsible in helping you achieve success or letting you fail. And it’d be fair to assert that what has been happening all around you is more of the latter than the former.
From the palace gatekeeper Deacon Daniel Kibret who belongs to the Kedest Selassie Cathedral at Arat Killo; the likes of hate-induced Negussu Telahun with an ethnic axe to grind; Dr. Berhanu Negga who, while always eyeing the top, is known for running away when the going gets tough; the man you flattered as a symbol of professional journalism Sisay Agena and his genocide advocating colleagues at ESAT; the countless YouTube self-proclaimed media but are nothing more than hate propaganda machines; down to Seyoum Teshome and other bloggers in social media have certainly played their part in creating political crisis, security turmoil and the socioeconomic mess the country has been subjected to.
No doubt the legion of advisors, reform partners and politicians without portfolio have come up with political ideas and policy directions even when they are known to lead to discontent and downright failure. They have cheered all actions taken even when deserving the opposite or when caution needs to be exercised. They, for instance, have relentlessly called for the arrest of politicians, including Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba, without taking the dire consequences into consideration – or perhaps with a deliberate intention of breaking the bond so as to worsen the political crisis.
Many of them never see you as a leader who will take Ethiopia to the destination of political stability and socioeconomic development but rather as the political equivalent of John the Baptist who will pave the way for them or someone they see as more worthy of the top job than you.
So, while you could blame some of the political and administrative blunders on inexperience and growing pains, it would be utterly reckless and suicidal to repeat the same mistake after over two years in office.
Currently, the usual suspects are calling up on you to be “tough” and are openly beating war drums. Yet, truth is, they will not be there to take the responsibility when things fall apart. In fact, what is currently going on somewhat resembles Colonel Mengistu’s final days wherein a priest got up during parliamentary session to tell the much-feared former dictator: እግዚአብሄር ምስክሬ ነው መንጌ! እዚያችው እተቀመጡባት ወንበርዎ ላይ ቋንጣ ሆነው እንደሚቀሩ … / God is my witness, you will be a dead meat. Of course, Mengistu didn’t end up being a dead-meat. But that was an era when exile was the fate of elected leaders and dictators despite their atrocities and causing havoc in their respective countries.
Things indeed have changed. Political opponents and the public are not as fearful as it was the case during the Dergue regime. Leaders are vulnerable more than ever before. Even exile is not a safe haven as leaders accused of war crimes are now haunted to appear in international court.
Thus, in these turbulent times, it’d be fair even for a concerned ordinary person like me to advise you – in your position not just as a leader of a country, but also a family man and father of young children – to proceed with caution. As reggae king and the voice of freedom Bob Marley put it in his “Could you be loved” song, “Don’t let them fool you” once again. Instead, it would be wise to tell them “fool me once; shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”.
By Haile Tessema