Abiy’s Pan Africanism Spirit Under Threat

In Africa, the cradle of humankind, interactions with foreign powers have historically only served to reduce freedom and independence.

The late 19th century saw a movement towards attempting to revive territorial integrity in Africa through the spirit of pan-Africanism – the belief that all Africans share a common history and a common destiny, and that African unity is imperative for progress.

By this time, Ethiopia was already recognized as an independent nation, having repelled an Italian invasion at the battle of Adwa, thereby cementing its position as a paragon of African independence.

With its long history dating back to the Solomonic dynasties, from the Menelik Emperors to Haile Selassie, Ethiopia remains a primary artery of pan-Africanism thanks to the current government of Prime Minister Abiy and his predilections towards the integration and liberalization of Ethiopia and the rest of Africa.

Abiy's quest to revive the spirit of pan-Africanism has had far-reaching effects on economic integration, peace and development in Africa. However, he has faced external and internal resistance, compounded by foreign influence and sabotage from his predecessors, which raises questions as to why such an exemplary leader would be discussed within global communities not for his achievements but for atrocities in the ongoing crisis.

The prime minister's treatment necessitates a deliberate investigation of his particular brand of pan-Africanism, as well as the various events compounding his woes, not to mention the reasons for the constant pressure from the West to negotiate and share power with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) insurgents, with apparently little regard for the potential implications of doing so.

Transforming Ethiopia into a more united nation meant that the economy would have to be open to everybody. To achieve this, Abiy dismantled the TPLF coalition in favor of a more inclusive party. His Prosperity Party was not well received by the TPLF.

The EPRDF, a TPLF-led party, had controlled Ethiopia for 27 years and was made up of Tigrayans – an ethnic group that comprises only 6% of the total population. The formation of the Prosperity Party left TPLF proponents with a choice: support the new and inclusive government, or opt out.

They chose the latter, and their unwillingness to cooperate has been illustrated by their tireless work in instigating ethnic conflicts and threatening national security.

Following this tension, the TPLF ignored the postponement of the national and regional elections by Ethiopia’s Election Commission due to the COVID pandemic, and proceeded with the election of a regional government.

This escalated tension exploded into civil war on November 3, 2020, when the TPLF attacked the largest Ethiopian military base in Tigray. Sustained provocation by the TPLF forced Ethiopia’s national government to destroy Tigray weaponry near the regional capital of Mekele, and a few days later, full-scale civil war ensued.

After rejecting the unilateral ceasefire offered by the Ethopian government, the Tigrayan forces have spent the past several months escalating the war into Amhara and Afar regions and reports of heinous human right violations including systematic gang rape, mass killing, ethnic profiling are continously emerging.

To a large extent, this conflict stems from the TPLF’S refusal to recognize the national government, which is directly contrary to the spirit of pan-Africanism – as is their separtist agitation and fomenting of ethnic conflict.

Moreover, the TPLF has initially thwarted Abiy’s efforts to begin peace negotiations by rejecting the involvement of the African Union (AU) as negotiators, a slap in the face for Abiy’s instinct towards a pan-African spirit of unity and dialogue in solving African problems.

Ahmed Abiy’s trajectory in rising to power in Ethiopia has followed in the footsteps of Haile Selassie in championing pan-Africanism through regional integration and advocacy for peace and unity among Ethiopians and the rest of Africa.

Despite facing daunting challenges on domestic fronts, Abiy has been instrumental in fostering peace and security in the Horn of Africa. Upon his election, he stated his willingness to negotiate and compromise to bring about the end of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border crisis.

Abiy also helped broker a peace deal between other neighboring countries, notably easing the standoff between South Sudanese vice president Reek Machar and president Salva Kiir and mediating between Kenya and Somalia in a protracted maritime dispute.

By believing that charity begins at home, Abiy has widely promoted peace, reconciliation and justice in Ethiopia.

Even though he has had headwinds to navigate, he lifted the state of emergency that existed in the latter stages of TPLF rule, granted amnesty to political prisoners, increased media freedom and civil participation, promoted the role of women in political life and reviewed civil law to expand freedom of expression.

Abiy can be seen as a liberal-minded person who believes in transparent and fair elections, clarifying why he was accorded a ‘peace and reconciliation’ award by the Ethiopian Church in 2018.

In addition to introducing political reforms to Ethiopia, the Prime Minister’s rhetoric of unity and progress for all citizens revitalized the spirit of Ethiopians that had been long suppressed over the previous 50 years during the communist Derg and tyrannical TPLF regimes.

With its consistent emphasis on regional integration and economic cooperation with its neighbors, the Abiy government practices what it preaches when it comes to the spirit of pan-Africanism.

This is further illustrated by his recent move to kick-start a visa-on-arrival regime for all Africans to encourage economic participation all over the continent.

He aims to unite Africa with a common goal, as witnessed in a speech at the African Union summit in 2018, when he stressed the need for leaders of the AU to stand together to survive changing global dynamics instead of remaining isolated.

With his tweet, “Our continental organisation, with a Pan-African spirit, is the right space to dialogue on issues that are of value to #Africa. The #GERD offers all stakeholders the opportunity for unprecedented economic growth and mutual development,”

Abiy seems to encourage support for solving continental issues within the continent as well as regional integration for self-sufficient development.

Notably, he has struck several bilateral agreements, such as the Djibouti port agreements, a 19% stake in Berbara port in the Republic of Somaliland, and a bilateral agreement with the Sudanese government for a partnership in the Port of Sudan.

His Ethiopia-Djibouti agreement grants the Djiboutian government the option of taking stakes in state-owned Ethiopian firms in return for services from Ethiopian Airlines and Ethio-Telecom.

Similarly, he negotiated a deal with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta to allow the construction of an Ethiopian logistics facility at Lamu Port as part of the Lamu Port and Lamu-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) project.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his tireless efforts to take bold steps forward within Ethiopia and neighboring regions, with a focus on the revival of the African spirit, Abiy has faced tremendous resistance to the point where his opponents launched a petition to revoke his Nobel Peace Prize.

Retracting his award certainly wouldn’t resolve the current situation, and it is a worryingly revisionist attempt to tarnish outstanding achievements by an African politician. Such acts suggest that the West sees gaining political leverage as more valuable than stabilizing the region.

According to the Anadolu Agency, the US and the EU are threatening to add more sanctions to Ethiopia if it fails to “engage in a dialogue” with the already stiff-necked TPLF rebels instead of taking measures to halt the TPLF aggression that has resulted in atrocities on humanity including massacre of civilians and over 2 million IDPs. This counterproductive move is only serving to destabilize the nation and the HOA further.

Andale Belay, a lecturer in the Ethiopian Civil Service University, warned that “the multipronged pressure has been defacing, confusing, intimidating and alienating Ethiopia from its neighbors and global partners to subdue it [Ethiopia] to their multifaceted hidden agendas.”

And that “the nonstarter position of the West can embolden the TPLF and other insurgents to continue with their subversive acts, weaken the federal government and derail the country’s reform and consequently destabilize Ethiopia”.

Bringing the outlawed TPLF into the equation will increase civil disobedience since it will embolden other insurgent groups in the region. This kills the spirit of dialogue embraced by pan-Africanism and disrupts Ethiopian progress while the West continues to spread its tentacles in the region.

Ethiopia's long standing record in supporting the black identity movement and pan-Africanism should not fade away because of one crisis, a crisis started by power hungry TPLF rebels.

Ethiopia should not be used as a specimen for breeding outlawed insurgent groups or a card for political leverage by the West. If the West does not recognize Hamas, Taliban, Al Qaeda or Al-Shabaab, why would they require Abiy to enter dialogue and share power with the former oppressive TPLF regime without Ethiopians’ electoral consent?

Ethiopians are understanding that Ethiopian problems can be solved in Ethiopia or with a spirit of pan-Africanism. In the first week of November 2021, millions of Ethiopians marched in Addis Ababa demanding the US to end its foregin interference that was promoting unwanted and non-democratic regime change.

This was echoed at the global NoMore Rally this week on November 21, 2021 where thousands of people from 27 major cities marched, including over 20 thousand protesters in Washington DC.

Increased Western control of the situation can only bring about worst-case scenarios, as we have already witnessed in Somalia, Libya and Afghanistan.

With unwavering commitment for Ethiopia’s unity and territorial integrity, PM Abiy has decided to defend his nation alongside the Ethiopian Defense Force just as his forefathers have done to maintain a free Ethiopia.