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Ethiopia’s planned election faces problems besides logistics

Ethiopia’s planned election faces problems besides logistics

What you need to know:

The board, in delaying the vote, cited logistical issues and low voter registration as well as the need for proper security arrangements. But the poll faces other undercurrents that could punctuate its fairness or even its actual conduct.

The National Election Board of Ethiopia has finally settled on June 21 as the new date of the country’s election, having pushed it twice since last year.

The board, in delaying the vote, cited logistical issues and low voter registration as well as the need for proper security arrangements. But the poll faces other undercurrents that could punctuate its fairness or even its actual conduct.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, is facing criticism over suppressing his opponents, including jailing some without formal prosecution.


The vote is supposed to be his first ever electoral test as head of the Ethiopian federal government. He took over in April 2018 after Hailemariam Desalegn resigned amid protests for more liberties.

Abiy initially began well, freeing political detainees and unbanning some political parties initially seen as terrorist movements.

Ahead of the sixth national elections in Ethiopia’s history, however, the same charges are being levelled against Abiy.

He incarcerated some of  his rivals like Jawar Mohamed, who is an Oromo media mogul, and Bekele Gerba, deputy chairman of OLF, Shamsudeen; and house-arrested Lamma Magersa, a former minister of defense and the then president of the Oromia Kilil (region).

Moreover, under Abiy’s administration, the sought-after iconic musician Hachalu Hundessa was assassinated in the heart of Addis-Ababa (Finfinne) in July last year.

I was among many who believed that the musician’s killing was politically-motivated as he was inspiring his community, especially young Oromos, through music, to demand civil liberties.

The slain musician advocated for self-rule for the Oromo community during the Tigray rule under PM Meles Zenawi.

Ethiopians protest in July 2020 following the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa
Ethiopians protest in July 2020 following the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa

Ethiopia announced immediately the arrest of several hundreds of people it said were linked to the assassination and the violence that followed but it turned out to be a harassment charade, rather than an operation aimed at finding the killers.

In the past, parties from the Oromo community, the most populous in Ethiopia, such as the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), and Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), boycotted en masse the election, citing the detention of some members.

Read: A year after Nobel, Abiy tries to beautify a divided Ethiopia

Also read: Ethiopia: Flashpoints in a fragile country

Tigray conflict

When Ethiopia’s House of Federation delayed the election last August, citing, the Tigray community defied the announcement and organised their own local election that September.

Abiy didn’t intrude but when they announced that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) had won unanimously, the PM nullified the result, which the front defied once more.

He went ahead to declare the group a criminal clique and its top echelons and their businesses targeted fugitives.

It should be remembered that Abiy’s dispute with the TPLF, now declared a terrorist group, began in 2019 when he formed the Prosperity Party, from the merger of parties that had formed the then ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

TPLF rejected the merger.

Abiy, a former EPRDF official, has maintained a feud against the Tigray officials who dominated the party.

The PM and the fugitive former president of the Tigray region, Debretsion Gebremichael, contested within the EPRDF for the leadership of the party. Abiy was appointed.

His rapprochement with Eritrea, which TPLF saw as a mortal enemy, twisted the knife.

In 2018, after normalising relations with Eritrea, he agreed to the terms of the Algiers Accord, including the borderline which TPLF had perennially reneged on.

This normalisation led Abiy to the Nobel Peace prize but it also served a second objective for obliterating the TPLF in domestic politics.

Before he authorised invasion of the Tigray region in November, he had publicly stated that the front had been responsible for atrocities, which led to a third objective – teaming with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki against the TPLF.

On November 4 last year, Abiy officially ordered the Tigray invasion by Ethiopia’s National Defence Forces (ENDF). Eritrean troops assisted.

It was initially known as the Law Enforcement Operation which Abiy promised to last only a few days but this was not the case.

Abiy later admitted that the war in Tigray was difficult and costly and human rights watchdogs have since documented evidence of atrocities committed by Eritrean troops including rape, torture, murder and looting.

More on this: Ethiopia’s PM Abiy Ahmed: From peace prize to air strikes

Communal violence

The meddling by Eritrean forces and Abiy’s machinations in the Tigray region were to vanquish Tigray as his political nemesis.

Some have even claimed it was a ploy to rig the poll, although Tigray will officially not be included in the upcoming election.

What went wrong in Tigray surrounded inside wars and targets. Fighters from the neighbouring Amhara region saw this as an opportunity to settle an old score with their traditional rivals in Tigray.

Once they achieve that, who knows who their next enemy will be? It may not be far-fetched to imagine Abiy will be their next target, meaning he will have to contend with agitation from Amhara.

Apart from that, there is internecine communal violence in the country, especially in Beninshangul-Gumuz, the Oromia region, the Somali region and Afar, as well as the Tigray region.

Abiy’s callous administration didn’t listen to international humanitarian agencies delivering humanitarian aid to the Tigray region.

The European Union (EU) canceled its observation plan for the upcoming election after the Ethiopian government failed to fulfill the standard requirements.

Firstly, there are allegations of egregious voter registration fraud and enormous irregularities within the process. Secondly, the Tigray region is still a battleground, which makes an organised election impossible

In the Somali region, the incumbent president Atto Mustafa Omar, aka Cagjar, is suppressing the copperhead opposition groups, especially Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which has deep-rooted support from the region.

ONLF, and other opposition groups established a new coalition called the Somali Region’s Salvation Organisation.

Voter registration in the Somali region is dominated by fraud, political patronage, nepotism and irregularities. Mustafa surreptitiously has distributed the voters cards to regions dominated by his supporters while oppressing dissenting regions, especially those where ONLF has a political clout.

The US Special envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman spent closely two-weeks in the region from May 4 to 13.

During his trip, he met PM Abiy and discussed the pressing issues in the country, including the upcoming election and the festering situation in the Tigray region.

Feltman stressed that the ongoing nefarious actions against humanity in the Tigray region are unacceptable and intolerable, and called for withdrawal of the Eritrean forces frm the Tigray region.

In reality, Ethiopia’s upcoming election will encounter many delays and boycotts because of the simmering ethnic conflicts across the country, the detainment of opposition members, the exacerbating humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region, and the meddling and the machinations of Abiy and Afwerki, and these will form a tinderbox.

Unless all these straitjackets are fixed, the long-awaited election will not be viable.

The opinions of this commentary are solely those of the author.

Anwar Abdifatah Bashiir Think Tank, Ph.D. Student

Email: Anwaryare1@gmail.com

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