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  • Memorandum No. 8: PM Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia: Please, Please Be Our Guest in the U.S.!

    (Open Letter Version)

    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed
    C/o Embassy of Ethiopia
    3506 International Dr., NW
    Washington, D.C. 20008

    Dear Prime Minister Abiy:

    Greetings!

    I am informed and believe that you will not be visiting the U.S. in early July as part of scheduled events.

    I am writing to respectfully request and strongly urge you to maintain your scheduled visit dates in July, if at all possible, to directly engage your legion of supporters and well-wishers in the United States.

    Gandhi once said, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean, if a few drops of the ocean are dirty not everything in it is dirty.”

    You must not lose your faith in the Ethiopian Diaspora in America because we too are an ocean. Indeed, America is an ocean that is home to immigrants from all corners of the planet. We cherish not only our multicultural diversity but also our right to express our opinions with impunity. I should like to believe diversity is the reason the de facto motto of the United States is “E Pluribus Unum”, “Out of many, one.” It is the equivalent of your cherished creed of Ethiopiawinet, “ONE Ethiopia out of many nations, nationalities and peoples”.

    As you have consistently demonstrated since you took office in April, you must continue to appeal to our common humanity and Ethiopiawinet which bind us together. You have chosen the path of reconciliation and inclusiveness keeping alive Mandela’s legacy in Ethiopia.

    We live in a polarized world where fear and prejudice rule the hearts and minds of human beings. Since taking office, you have taken bold, defiant and courageous steps to win the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people with uplifting messages of love, understanding, compassion, truth and reconciliation.

    Truth be told, those who speak the truth and preach truth to power are often perceived as a threat by those who cannot handle the truth. Goethe said, “There is nothing more frightening than ignorance.” I believe there is nothing more awesome than the power of truth.

    In my very first public statement in 2006 when I joined the human rights struggle in Ethiopia, I prophesied  how change will eventually come to Ethiopia. “I believe we prove the righteousness of our cause not in battlefields soaked in blood and filled with corpses, but in the living hearts and thinking minds of men and women of goodwill.”

    You have single handedly pulled Ethiopia from the brink of certain bloody civil war and staved off internecine ethnic strife by winning the hearts and minds of Ethiopians of goodwill in the country and in the Diaspora. I am not paying you any special tribute; I am simply stating a fact!

    In my first public statement, I also asked a “question of great interest to all of us: Can we — Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans– make a difference in our homeland while living, working and struggling in America? I shall argue that we can, and in fact, are making a world of difference today.”

    On various occasions during the past several weeks, you have answered the question I posed twelve years ago time and  again in the affirmative.

    You have unequivocally declared Diaspora Ethiopians are most welcome to return and help their country or provide help from where ever they may be.

    You have said Diaspora Ethiopians are free to return and peacefully compete in the political process.

    You have invited the Diaspora opposition press to open their headquarters in the country and operate freely.

    You have strongly urged reconciliation between Diaspora Ethiopians and their brothers and sisters in Ethiopia.

    You have demonstrated your commitment to inclusiveness of Diaspora Ethiopians beyond a shadow of doubt, and in the process you have paid us great respect.

    It is written, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” In my Memorandum No. 4, I wrote, “We in the Diaspora are behind PM Abiy. He must tell us everything as it is. He must tell us his hopes as well as his fears. He must tell us what he can and cannot do. He must tell us how we can help him succeed and what will likely happen if he fails.”

    In response to your challenge that Diaspora Ethiopians have a duty to improve the tarnished image of Ethiopia over the past 27 years, I challenged you to do the same because “today you are the public image of Ethiopia. You must continue and intensify your own efforts to project an image of optimism, hope and success about Ethiopia to the world.”

    Now, you offered to pay us your respect in person by visiting us in the first week of July tell us about your vision for the New Ethiopia and in the process paint a new portrait of a rising and resilient Ethiopia. Regardless of the unfortunate circumstances, know that legions of your supporters in America could not wait for the opportunity to repay your respect.

    The American novelist Ken Kesey back in my day said, “You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.”

    Over the past 2 months, you have crisscrossed Ethiopia to make the case for the New Ethiopia and to listen to the voice of the people. I applaud you for that because the voice of the people is the voice of God (Vox Populi, Vox Dei.) The goodwill you have generated in these visits has been instrumental in stabilizing the country and inspiring hope for the future of Ethiopia and establish confidence in your extraordinary leadership.

    You have also travelled to neighboring countries to secure the release of thousands of captive Ethiopians and to seek greater cooperation for regional peace, stability and cooperation. You have been extraordinarily  successful in your efforts.

    I regard your offer to visit Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans in the U.S. as one leg in an itinerary that aims to bring all Ethiopians together to help their country and people.

    I believe your aim in coming to America is to personally deliver your message of national reconciliation and national unity and to mobilize us to join our brothers and sisters at home in building the Beloved Ethiopian Community in the manner of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You wanted to come and share with us your hopes, dreams and vision for Ethiopia. Above all, I believe you wanted to listen to our concerns, fears and hopes for our homeland first hand.

    Let me assure you that the legions of your supporters in the U.S. of A are ready for you. We can’t wait to have you in our midst and hear you make the case for national reconciliation, national unity and how we can build the Beloved Ethiopian Community. We can’t wait to tell you how ready, willing and able we are to respond to your call for national salvation from decades of misrule and bad governance.

    I wish to remind you that your leadership role model Mandela once said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

    I know you do not like the word “enemy” used in the context of political interaction. You prefer “competitors”.

    Barely two months in office, you have shown leadership skills unseen in modern African history. I make this statement as a matter of fact not maudlin sentimentality.

    You have shown leadership character and qualities that have bewildered and confounded your competitors  and energized, electrified and mobilized your supporters. You have paralyzed and petrified the Forces of the Dark Side.

    You are proving to be the kind of leader Gen. Douglas MacArthur spoke about: “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”

    To my knowledge (and to the extent that I have been able to research the fact), you never set out to be a national leader but became one by the equality of your actions and integrity of your intent to bring about national reconciliation and good governance in Ethiopia.

    Every day I hear Ethiopians saying you were sent by Providence to lead your people out of 27 years of captivity from the proverbial Babylon.

    I believe you showed supreme courage when you stood up to the Forces of the Dark Side and stared them down and let them know you won’t back down; you won’t be turned around; you will stand your ground! They looked as pitiful as a deer in headlights, frozen in time and space, with a freight train approaching fast.

    You showed supreme confidence when you declared Ethiopia can never move forward looking in the rearview mirror driving on streets called hate, revenge, retribution and retaliation.

    You showed supreme compassion when you emptied the prisons holding political prisoners in Ethiopia and travelled to the Sudan and Saudi Arabia and negotiated the release of thousands of our brothers and sisters.

    You showed extraordinary compassion when you visited a 16 year-old Ethiopian victim of medical malpractice and persuaded the government of Saudi Arabia to pay his family some 22 million birr in compensatory damages. No Ethiopian government official visited the young comatose Ethiopian since 2006!

    You showed supreme integrity when you publicly apologized for the lawlessness and abuse of power of your predecessor regime and openly admitted that the government you inherited is populated by thieves, crooks and swindlers who have converted the public treasury into their  personal bank account. You minced no words when you explained the enormous difficulty of hewing out of a mountain of kleptocracy a stone of democracy, to paraphrase MLK.

    Today, you showed supreme magnanimity when you offered to come and visit us in the U.S. I am sure you made the offer knowing the duties of the shepherd who must care for his flock where ever they may be not because he must but because he is willing and “not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.”

    Now, I must tell it like it is.

    Your offer to visit us in July was a masterful move worthy of Sun Tzu. “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”

    When you made your offer to visit, you dropped it on us like a thunderbolt. It was a completely unanticipated move. It was a creatively disarming move. It was a strategic move of extraordinary brilliance.

    None of us expected you would make such a bold move, seize the moment and strategically capture the contentious political landscape in the Diaspora by such a simple graceful act.

    I can assure you that the audacity of your offer shocked some people who thought you would be too timid to come and present yourself to friends and foes in an open forum and suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous Diaspora criticism and invective.

    Your offer discombobulated some of us. We did not know what to make of it. We are accustomed to chasing officials of your predecessor government out of meeting halls in America and elsewhere. Now, you flipped our own table on us. You wanted to come and chase us on our home turf, in a manner of speaking. That takes supreme self-confidence!

    Most of us were caught off-guard. I certainly was.

    By simply making the request you kicked us out of our comfort zones. You forced us to put our money where our mouth is. You put us in an extreme predicament: Put me up on your stage and let me say my peace or shut up and stop complaining about how I do not walk the talk!

    When you said you would embrace us with open arms when we return, I thought it was a nice gesture. I felt, “We’ll see you in Ethiopia when we see you. No rush or urgency.”

    But you could not wait for us to show up. So, you decided to show up on our doorsteps in July.

    Perhaps what you did not realize by your offer is the fact that you have put some of us on the horns of a terrible dilemma. You have made life miserable for those of us who have been badgering you about being all talk and no action. Some of us said you were just talking the  talk of reconciliation, peace, forgiveness and democracy and did not mean any of it. Now, you put your mouth where your feet are and asked to be invited to show us how you walk the talk of reconciliation, peace, forgiveness and democracy.

    We like to talk about meeting our political adversaries half way. You said you won’t meet us half way; you will meet us all the way in America.

    In offering to meet us all the way, you have masterfully captured the commanding moral heights. You have shown the courage of your convictions and forced us to show the cowardice of our hypocrisy. By simply asking to speak to us, you backed us into a corner. You have done something no Ethiopian leader has ever done. You reached out to us beyond and above the call of duty or office.

    You have much to be proud of as some of us have reason be ashamed.

    You may recall in my Memorandum No. 4, I offered to coordinate an electronic town hall for you to engage Diaspora Ethiopians. I thought under the circumstances such a town hall would be a more convenient means of communication.

    I must admit you one-upped me on that idea. You decided to forget the electronic town hall and show up in person at our doorstep. By offering to come to the U.S. and engage us directly, you proved to me that an Ethiopian Cheetah could give an Ethiopian Hippo a run for his money any day of the week. I love it!

    Your offer to visit scared some of us because we are afraid of you, more specifically, the irresistible power of your ideas. Some of us fear you because we cannot hold a candle to you forensic prowess in public debate. Certainly, we cannot win an argument against your ideas of Ethiopiawinet, Ethiopian unity, rule of law, accountability and transparency in government. Truth be told, we don’t want you to come to America and embarrass us. So, you forced us, I regret to say, to fabricate laughable subterfuges and bogus excuses about why you cannot come. “You should not come because you have a lot of work to do there. You are coming to America just to show off. We can’t guarantee your safety (as if the Secret Service is no longer in service), blah, blah….

    Let me cut to the chase.

    If you had come, some of us were afraid you would have stolen the show. Straight up! No question about it! You would have brought down the house down and raised the roof. You would have upstaged the stage. You would have been treated like a rock star by the younger generation of Ethiopians and as the leader sent by Providence by the older generation.

    Sun Tzu advised, “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle”. If you had come to the U.S., I have no doubts you would have victoriously declared, “I came; I saw; and I conquered the hearts and minds of Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans in America.”

    Sun Tzu “teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.” Regardless of your coming or not coming, you have made your moral position unassailable and are sure to win the hearts and minds of Ethiopians and demonstrate the kind of extraordinary political and moral leader you are.

    The fact of the matter is that you checkmated us. We did not know how to respond to you because you win regardless of what we do or don’t. If we accepted your offer, you will come and do what you do best. Capture the hearts and minds of your Diaspora brothers and sisters. If we decline your offer, you will command the moral high ground because we turned down your good faith offer.

    Naturally, we did what we do best: Never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity.

    But one’s loss is another’s opportunity.

    Know that your legions of supporters in America are ready, willing and able to have you visit us in July, August, September or any other time of your choosing.

    You have said on various occasions that you will embrace us with open arms if we returned home. Well, your legions of supporters in the U.S. of A are willing, able and ready to return the favor by embracing you back in America. If you are willing to travel thousands of miles to deliver an olive branch to us in America, we will wait for you until hell freezes over or a moment’s notice to show up and hand you over a ton of olive branches.

    I remember September 2010 when your late predecessor came to speak at Columbia University. He was made the object of much contempt, derision and opposition. He used to call us “Diaspora extremist”, “terrorists” and such. He even devised a plan to attack and destroy his opposition in the Diaspora in the name of “constituency building”. He never, never made a gesture of good will to us. He never wanted to talk to us. He always talked down to us when he was not scandalizing, vilifying and belittling us.

    But I defended his right to speak his peace because I wanted him to experience the freedom he has denied so many back home.

    On a personal level, your predecessor regime not long ago singled me out by name and announced to the world that they “doubt my Ethiopiawinet”. I was not offended. On the contrary, I was profoundly grateful to them. They gave me a new platform and energized me beyond measure to launch my campaign of EthiopiaWINet and continue my relentless struggle for human rights in Ethiopia.

    In July 2018, you want to come to us in America and  not only share the good news of freedom, democratic change, national unity and reconciliation but also affirm to us in person that Diaspora Ethiopians matter to Ethiopia. You acknowledged that just like Diaspora Indians, Jews and others have helped build their countries, so can Diaspora Ethiopians.

    You must think some of us Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans in the U.S. are a strange breed. We did not want to hear the messenger of hate and division in 2010. We don’t want to hear the messenger of love and reconciliation in 2018.

    But the fact of the matter is that there are legions of us who want to invite you to come to America and listen to what we have to say. We want you to come and share the good news with us. We want you to come and tell us how long the road to freedom is. We want to tell you what we think and how we can help you get the job of getting Ethiopia on the right track.

    Personally, I want you to come to America and answer the questions I asked in my January 2018 commentary:

    How long, eske meche (እስከ መቼ!) will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the dirt roads in the countryside and the highways be lifted and the hearts and minds of every Ethiopian healed?

    How long, eske meche (እስከ መቼ!) before the truth crushed to earth rises up again in Ethiopia?

    How long before the dark cloud of oppression is lifted from the Ethiopian skies and the sun of freedom returns to the Land of 13 Months of Sunshine?

    How long will justice be crucified in Ethiopia, and truth bear it?

    How long before Ethiopia is free from the yoke of ethnic apartheid?

    I am sure I know how you will answer these questions, but I want to hear it from you.

    How long Abiy?

    “Not long! Qenu derswal (ቀኑ ደርሷል)!”

    I would like to hear you say in America that you will fulfill Mandela’s promise in Ethiopia: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”

    In my self-appointed role as the Diaspora defender of Ethiopian human rights, I have a feel for the pulse of Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans. There are legions who pray for you every day to succeed. There are legions who watch you online and hang on to your every word. There are legions who doubted you at to first but are slowly changing their minds and becoming your supporters. There are legions who believe you are sent by Providence.

    Then there are a few who have made a religion out of negativism, defeatism, cynicism and pessimism who simply can’t stand you. I wrote all about them in my Memorandum No. 4.

    Lastly, I am going to try and use all of my forensic skills to appeal to your deep sense of Ethiopiawinet  to come and be with your legion of supporters in America.

    I will offer you seven compelling reasons why you should come to visit us soon.

    Reason No. 1: We love you. Machiavelli wrote it is better for the Prince to be feared than loved. Your late predecessor believed in that maxim and failed. Your late predecessor weaponized hate. You weaponized love and reconciliation. He lost. Every day you prove to the world love conquers all. Everyday you are winning hearts and minds. Well, come to America and let’s show you some LOVE!

    Reason No. 2: We respect and admire you as a role model for political leadership and engagement. I do not believe there an instance in the last 27 years in which a high official from Ethiopia has come to America to engage Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans and not faced the wrath and opposition of the activist community. They have all been tarred and feathered, humiliated and disgraced. Against this historical background, you displayed supreme self-confidence by offering to come in person and brave the slings and arrows of those who may disagree with you.

    On a personal level, I have the greatest respect and admiration for you as a human being and as a leader. As you know, I was not enamored of your predecessor regime. In fact, I coined at least a dozen new unflattering English words to describe them. It testifies to the moral authority of your leadership that I should completely cease any negative references to that regime and its members despite the fact that there have been many occasions for me to say a word or two to them since you took office. I have resisted the temptation to lash out following your counsel that we cannot move Ethiopia forward by engaging in the politics of recrimination, denunciation and castigation. Come and let’s show you our respect and admiration.

    Reason No. 3: We are super proud of you. As the youngest leader in Africa, you make us proud. Is it not ironic that the oldest country in Africa should have the youngest leader? We are proud of you for the uncompromising and courageous stands you have taken on the issues. You make no compromises on the rule of law. On democracy. On human rights. On corruption. On peace and reconciliation.

    A couple of days ago, you spoke truth to the “generals”. You said “a sergeant in free country has more respect than a general in a poor country.” In doing so, you demonstrated the true constitutional meaning of Art. 74(1) of the Ethiopian Constitution: “The Prime Minister shall be the head of government, chairman of the Council of Ministers and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.” You schooled the “generals” on what it takes to have a professional army. The armed forces must be a nonpartisan and nonpolitical institution that fully respects and takes orders from its commander in chief. A professional army is not a “shadowy semi- autonomous paramilitary group accountable only to a select few senior echelon members of a party” or a “private army resembling a mercenary group that is hired by warlords to protect their interest”. Come and let us show you and all of America how proud as a peacock we are of you!

    Reason No. 4: Our young Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans want to see you, hear you and have you listen to them. I am sure you know that America’s higher educational institutions have a substantial number of Ethiopian and Ethiopian American students at the graduate and undergraduate levels. I know because I interact with them all the time.  In my view, they probably love Ethiopia more than many of us in the Hippo Generation. You need to come and talk to them and persuade them to come and help out their ancestral home for however long they choose. For a very long time, the best and brightest of these young Ethiopians in America have been turned off by the political situation in the country. They will visit but say they will never live in Ethiopia given the way things are. But you can talk to them in person and turn them around. You are young like them. They will listen to you because you speak their language and understand their culture of technology, science, innovation and entrepreneurship. Think of these young Ethiopians as incubators of  innovation and entrepreneurship for Ethiopia. Come and reach out to them and convince them that they can achieve personal success in Ethiopia while ensuring Ethiopia succeeds.

    Heed Margaret Mead’s advice, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” You have a powerhouse in the young Ethiopians in America who can change not only Ethiopia but also the world. Come talk to them and win their hearts and minds!

    Reason No. 5: As I have assessed your role since taking office, I have concluded that you strive to be a man of principle intent on living out the true meaning of those principles. I have also concluded that you  have been as much a teacher as a political leader. There is an old saying that “leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” I see you doing just that. You want to produce more leaders and fewer followers.

    In your public statements and speeches, you do not fail to teach the people the true meaning of good governance. At the foundation of good governance is truth and reconciliation. You resonate MLK every chance you get: “An ‘eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing. The end of nonviolent social change is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends.” You resonate Gandhi every chance you get: “Before we can change the world, we must change ourselves. You must be the change you want to see in the world. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” If you had been in Tanzania, they would have called you “Mwalimu”.

    Your supporters in America admire and seek to emulate your commitment to the principles of Ethiopiawinet, national reconciliation and unity, respect for the rule of law, nonderogable sovereignty of the people and protections against government wrongs by human rights. Come and give them a lecture or two.

    When Britain staggered under relentless Nazi bombardment and was almost defenseless against the Nazi war machine, the world wrote off Britain as “gone, finished and liquidated.” But Churchill took a defiant stand as he told some school children: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.“

    Two months ago, the world had written off Ethiopia to the doomsday of ethnic civil war. They said Ethiopia’s account is closed and she is finished.” Our young people never, never gave up their commitment to the principles of civil disobedience and peaceful resistance and produced you, Abiy Ahmed, as the result of their triumphant struggle.

    I say come to America and teach us about commitment to principle. Nations are built on principles; whether they live up to them is another question. America is founded on the “self-evident truth” that all men and certainly women are “created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; and that governments are instituted to protect those rights and derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    Come to America and tell us on what principles the New Ethiopia will be built on. Will it be founded on truth and reconciliation…?

    Reason No 6. Come to America and meet the “enemy”

    In my commentary in July 2008, I addressed the very issue involved in your visit today using the lessons from an old comic strip called “Pogo” which appeared regularly in American newspapers. The funny animal characters in Pogo lived in a swamp community, which figuratively represented the diversity of American society and issues facing it. That community began to disintegrate because its residents were incapable of communicating with each other to deal with the most important and urgent issues facing them. They wasted valuable time on non-issues. One day, Pogo saw the swamp they live in filled with debris and litter. In reflective frustration he sighed, “We have met the enemy. He is us!”

    As members of the Ethiopian pro-democracy movement we have been unable to look in the mirror and ask basic questions of ourselves: Why can’t we unite as a global force for justice and human rights advocacy in Ethiopia? Why can’t we build strong bridges across ethnic lines and use the language of human rights to communicate with each other? Why can’t we support a leader of good will and demonstrated competence? Why do we have to be crabs in a basket pulling back the one trying to get out and lead? Why can’t we join hands, lock arms, put our noses to the grindstone and help our suffering people?

    We cannot get to our destination of the New Ethiopia by traveling the same old road paved with accusations, recriminations, denunciations and castigations. Nor can we get there on the wings of bitterness, pettiness, subterfugess and bogus excuses.

    We must take a different road, the road less traveled, the road of truth and reconciliation of which you speak. In the verse of Robert Frost:

    … I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood,
    and I — I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    Come to America and meet the “enemy”. Come and hold hands of friendship with the “enemy” and lead us into the future on the road less traveled by, the road not taken. The road of truth and reconciliation. It will make all the difference for us as human beings! It will make all the difference for us as a people, and as a nation known for millennia as Ethiopia!

    Mandela believed a good leader follows his people. I say come to America and follow us back home.

    To those who do not want to lead or follow, I say, “Get out of the way on the road of truth and reconciliation”.

    P.S. Kudos for lifting the state of emergency. There was no doubt in my mind you would lift it. There will be a state of emergency only if you are not at the helm of S.S. Ethiopia!

    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Gandhi

    ETHIOPIAWINET TODAY

    ETHIOPIAWINET TOMORROW

    ETHIOPIAWINET FOREVER!

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    Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday warned his government is investigating public officials who allegedly have illicit foreign bank accounts.

    Ahmed, made the remarks during a discussion with senior government officials at the Prime Minister residence office, reported state media Ethiopia News Agency.

    The PM didn't specifically identify government officials currently under investigation or the names of foreign countries that are collaborating with his government to uncover alleged illicit foreign bank accounts.

    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was sworn in on April 2, with promises to instill good governance and fight corruption in one of Africa's star economies.

    The Ethiopian government has identified corruption and rent-seeking activities as part of the reason Ethiopia was rocked by sweeping unrest in 2016.

    The Ethiopian government has since then promised to crack down on grand scale corruption which has afflicted one of the world's fastest growing economies.

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    በኢሕአዴግ ምክር ቤት በተሰጠው ድምፅ መሠረት ዶ/ር ዓብይ 108፣ አቶ ሽፈራው ሽጉጤ 59፣ ዶ/ር ደብረ ጽዮን ገብረ ሚካኤል ሁለት ድምፆች ማግኘታቸው ተሰምቷል!

     

    ኢሕአዴግምክር ቤት ከማክሰኞ መጋቢት 11 ቀን 2010 .ጀምሮ ለአንድ ሳምንት ባደረገው ስብሰባ፣ የኦሮሞ ሕዝብ ዴሞክራሲያዊ ድርጅት (ኦሕዴድ) ሊቀመንበር ዓብይ አህመድን (ዶ/ር) የግንባሩ ሊቀመንበር አድርጎ መረጠ፡፡

    ማክሰኞ መጋቢት 18 ቀን 2010 ዓ.ም. ከምሽቱ አምስት ሰዓት ከምክር ቤቱ የወጣው መግለጫ እንደሚያመለክተው፣ ዶ/ር ዓብይ በምክር ቤቱ በተደረገ ምርጫ ተመርጠዋል፡፡

    የብሔረ አማራ ዴሞክራሲያዊ ንቅናቄ (ብአዴን) ሊቀመንበር አቶ ደመቀ መኰንን ደግሞ በኢሕአዴግ ምክትል ሊቀመንበርነት እንደሚቀጥሉ ታውቋል፡፡

    በኢሕአዴግ ምክር ቤት በተሰጠው ድምፅ መሠረት ዶ/ር ዓብይ 108፣ አቶ ሽፈራው ሽጉጤ 59፣ ዶ/ር ደብረ ጽዮን ገብረ ሚካኤል ሁለት ድምፆች ማግኘታቸው ተሰምቷል፡፡ የኢሕአዴግ ምክር ቤት አባላት ቁጥር 180 ቢሆንም፣ በተለያዩ ምክንያቶች የተጓደሉ አባላት እንዳሉ ይነገራል፡፡

    ምክር ቤቱ የኢሕአዴግ ሦስተኛውን ሊቀመንበር ከመምረጡ በፊት የጠቅላይ ሚኒስትር ኃይለ ማርያም ደሳለኝን የሥራ መልቀቂያ በሙሉ ድምፅ ተቀብሎ አፅድቆታል፡፡ ከሊቀመንበርነት ምርጫ በፊት ምክር ቤቱ የአራቱ የግንባሩ አባል ድርጅቶችን የጥልቅ ተሃድሶ ግምገማ ሪፖርት አዳምጦ ሰፋ ያለ ውይይት አድርጎበታል፡፡

    ምክር ቤቱ ለአንድ ሳምንት ያህል ሲያካሂድ የነበረውን ስብሰባና የግንባሩን ሊቀመንበር ምርጫ በተመለከተ ረቡዕ መጋቢት 19 ቀን 2010 ዓ.ም. መግለጫ እንደሚሰጥ ተገልጿል፡፡

    ከምክር ቤቱ አስቀድሞ በተደረገው የኢሕአዴግ የሥራ አስፈጻሚ ኮሚቴ ስብሰባ የአራቱን አባል ድርጅቶች ግምገማ በጥልቀት ገምግሞ ከጨረሰ በኋላ፣ ለምክር ቤቱ የሚያቀርበውን የመወያያ ሰነድ መዘጋጀቱን  የደቡብ ኢትዮጵያ ሕዝቦች ዴሞክራሲያዊ ንቅናቄ (ደኢሕዴን) ሊቀመንበር አቶሽፈራው ሽጉጤ ተናግረው ነበር፡፡ በወቅቱ በምክር ቤቱ የጠቅላይ ሚኒስትርና የግንባሩ ሊቀመንበር አቶ ኃይለ ማርያም ደሳለኝ መልቀቅ የፈጠረውንየአመራር ክፍተት ለመድፈን፣ የአመራር መተካት እንደሚኖር አመላክተው ነበር፡፡

    በኢሕአዴግ የተለምዶ አሠራር የፓርቲው ሊቀመንበር የአገሪቱ ጠቅላይ ሚኒስትር እንደሚሆን ስለሚታወቅ፣ ተመራጩ ሊቀመንበር በፓርላማ እንደሚሰየሙ ይጠበቃል፡፡

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    Ethiopian security forces have re-arrested a number of recently freed politicians and journalists as they gathered for a social event outside the capital with family and friends, a lawyer said on Monday.

    Amha Mekonnen has represented a number of the detainees. The lawyer told the Associated Press news agency the arrests Sunday afternoon occurred because they were accused of displaying a prohibited national flag.

    “I also understand they were accused of gathering en masse in violation of the state of emergency rule.”

    Among those arrested are journalists Eskinder Nega and Temesgen Desalegn, politician Andualem Aragie and prominent blogger Befekadu Hailu.

    Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

    State of emergency

    Under Ethiopia’s latest state of emergency declared earlier this year, people are prohibited from such gatherings without authorities’ prior knowledge. A proclamation regarding the use of the Ethiopian flag prohibits the display of the flag without the emblem at its centre and those contravening the law could be sentenced to up to a year and a half in prison.

    In a surprise move early this year, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced that members of political parties and other individuals would be released from prison in an effort to open up the political space for all after months of the worst anti-government protests in a quarter-century.

    Several dozen journalists, politicians, activists and others arrested under a previous state of emergency were freed. Since then, however, the prime minister announced his plans to resign, and Ethiopia introduced a state of emergency for the second time in two years.

    A new prime minister is expected to be installed by the ruling coalition in the coming days.

    Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most prominent economies, Africa’s second-most populous country and a key security ally of the West but is often accused by rights groups and opposition groups of stifling dissent and arresting opposition party members, journalists, activists and bloggers.

     

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    Art & Culture oF ETHIOPIA

    Wosene Worke Kosrof, America — The New Alphabet, (2017).

    One of the most exciting features of Art Dubai is the Ethiopian art on show, as the country’s leading gallery, Addis Fine Art, brings two notable artists to the emirate in a thoughtfully curated collection.
    While the annual art fair – like its home city – is as multicultural as it gets, this is the first time Ethiopian art has made an appearance, with the hope of building an international audience for the country’s burgeoning arts scene.
    While Ethiopia has a rich and ancient art heritage – dominated primarily by religious art led by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, until around the middle of the 20th century, when secular art started to be created – the arts have certainly made a resurgence in recent years.

    Girma Berta, Moving Shadows II, I, (2017).

    According to Rakeb Sile, co-owner of Addis Fine Art: “The number of Ethiopian artists invited to participate in art fairs and to show their work in prominent galleries and museums around the world today is unprecedented. International collectors are noticing and buying, while local collectors are also spending significant amounts on artwork, which was unthinkable just a decade ago.
    “The growing public participation in art-related events is also very encouraging. The youth of the city, in particular, are the most visible participants, and the most receptive to new forms of expression that challenge traditional norms.”
    Getting to this point hasn’t been easy, however, with the geopolitical challenges that the country has faced for decades. “Soon after the transition from church-influenced art to modern expression occurred, the political revolution from the early 1970s onwards greatly inhibited artists’ ability to practice freely along with their counterparts across the continent,” explained Mesai Haileleul, Rakeb’s partner and co-owner of Addis Fine Art gallery.

    Girma Berta, Moving Shadows II, II, (2017).


    However, thanks to the persistence of dedicated members of the art community and institutions such as the pioneering Alle Felegeselam School of Fine Art and Design, today there is a growing number of gifted Ethiopian artists practicing their craft across various media, and enjoying increasing interest and appreciation from the global art world.
    One such artist who has had a significant impact on the current scene is painter and sculptor Wosene Worke Kosrof. His journey of becoming an artist back when “it was not viewed as a viable occupation” to be exhibited around the world — including at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC — and being considered a vanguard of modern Ethiopian painting, can be considered a metaphor for the Ethiopian art movement, in fact.
    He represents the old guard of Ethiopian painting with his use of Amharic script forms as a core element, which he often combines with abstract influences from the American Modernist movement.
    “I want to present to international audiences something of the richness and complexity of Ethiopian culture. However, my artworks are not just about Ethiopia; they are about our shared human experience. American jazz is also a major influence and inspiration in my work,” said Wosene.
    Offering an appropriate counterpoint to his seminal works will be young photographer Girma Berta, whose signature style of creating painting-like images of solitary figures set against vivid backdrops has rapidly garnered international acclaim.
    The Instagram-savvy millennial artist effectively portrays the new Africa, one that is in the midst of a digital revolution.
    “My work relies heavily upon this digital age, both through the technologies required for my artworks, as well as social media — which is not only a reality of the millennial African’s life, but has also provided me with a global audience,” he said. “We have a unique story to tell, our own personal narration of Ethiopian culture. And like many of my contemporaries, I seek to take back control of our narrative, and convey our own story to the world.”

    Girma Berta, Moving Shadows II, X, (2017).

    It will, no doubt, be a story that many aficionados at Art Dubai will want to hear.
    As Rakeb put it: “The art world’s interest in art from Africa is a positive, albeit a belated development. And we believe that the discourse on African art and the global contemporary art movement would be incomplete without recognition of the immense amount and quality of contemporary expression coming out of Ethiopia.”
    As growing international interest elevates African art on the global arena, the hope is, in this era of diversity and inclusiveness, that some of this art will “transcend the label and become sought-after on its merit, hence sustaining itself by integrating into the mainstream.”
    The 12th edition of Art Dubai takes place March 21-24, 2018, at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai. Wosene Worke Kosrof, My Favorite Things II, (2018)

     

    SOURCE: http://www.arabnews.com

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    In Summary

    • Controversial deal between UAE's DP World and Ethiopia has opened old wounds of the decades-long discord between Somalia and Somaliland, in a major diplomatic stand-off that has sucked in several Arab countries.
    • Somalia argues that Somaliland cannot enter such international contracts with other countries as the responsibility to sign such agreements remains to the Federal Government of Somalia, but Somaliland said that it is a sovereign state that can enter into independent agreements.
    • Somalia refuses to recognise the 1991claim of autonomy by Somaliland

     

     

    Ethiopia’s latest attempt to overcome its geographical and economic disadvantage as a landlocked country by acquiring a stake in the Somaliland port of Berbera earlier this month has re-ignited a long-standing rivalry between the Federal Republic of Somalia and the self-declared autonomous region of Somaliland over the latter’s determination to separate from Somalia.

    Sources privy to the matter say that the controversial deal which was signed on March 1 has opened old wounds of the decades-long discord between the two countries, in a major diplomatic stand-off that has sucked in several Arab countries.

    Sharmarke Jama, principal consultant at UAE-based consultancy Clear Horn Ltd and a former Somaliland trade and economic adviser, said that Mogadishu’s resistance to the deal could be linked to the involvement of Ethiopia, which has traditionally conflicted with Somalia for over six decades.

    “Somalia feels betrayed by Somaliland,” said Mr Jama.

    Through the tripartite agreement, Ethiopia acquired a 19 per cent stake in the Berbera port for $80 million, while UAE logistics firm DP World and the Republic of Somaliland retained 51 per cent and 30 per cent stakes respectively.

    Somalia opposed the deal involving Ethiopia, declaring it null and void on the grounds that it breached international standards and violates the sovereignty of Somalia, a stance that Somaliland and DP World have dismissed.

    This week, the dispute exacerbated with Somalia’s Upper and Lower Houses voting in a Bill declaring the deal defective and banning DP World from Somalia. The Somaliland parliament responded by voting unanimously to approve the deal.

    The EastAfrican has learnt that the deal is yet to be formally approved, as the concession agreement, including the new shareholding, is yet to be tabled before the Somaliland parliament.

    DP World has been running the port since May 2016, when it took a 65 per cent stake after it won a 30-year concession billed at $442 million for the development and management of a multi-purpose Port of Berbera.

    Somalia argues that Somaliland cannot enter such international contracts with other countries as the responsibility to sign such agreements remains to the Federal Government of Somalia, but Somaliland said that it is a sovereign state that can enter into independent agreements.

    Addis-Berbera Corridor

    “If Somaliland didn’t have a compelling legal argument for claiming sole ownership of Berbera Port — Ethiopia and the UAE wouldn’t have conducted business with Somaliland,” said Robleh Mohamud Raghe, the former communications aide to Somaliland’s fourth president Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo who signed the original agreement with DP in 2016.

    Sources say, the dispute has already spread beyond Somalia’s borders as the two parties seek support in and outside Africa.

    According to local media reports, Somaliland’s President Muse Bihi Abdi flew to the United Arab Emirates last week Tuesday, while Somalia President Mohamed Abdulahi Farmajo is expected in Qatar next week in what sources say are moves to strengthen ties with Arab allies.

    “Arab world interests and politics definitely have role in this situation and that’s why all the leaders are rushing there amid this dispute. In fact, the plane the Somaliland President used to UAE was chartered by the UAE,” a source told The EastAfrican on condition of anonymity said.

    “Somalia is siding with Qatar while Somaliland stays with the UAE.”

    Landlocked Ethiopia which exported $1.71 billion and imported and $19.1 billion worth of goods in 2016 is banking on the port to secure an additional logistical gateway for its expanding import and export trade.

    “Ethiopia has been a friend to Somaliland. The two have several bilateral trade and transit agreements including the $300 million Addis Ababa-Berbera Corridor financed by the UAE which is set for completion three years and the green field economic free zone,” Jama said.

    Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopia’s national carrier has two daily flights to Somaliland’s capital of Hargeisa and the country plans to add electricity to its vegetables, cement and khat exports to Somaliland once it completes the construction of its construction $4.7 billion, 74,000 million cubic meters, Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

    Somaliland has declared itself and autonomous region since 1991, after the collapse Somalia’s central government and has been fighting to officially separate from Somalia for close to three decades without much success.

    In 2001 referendum and 97.1 per cent of the two-thirds of eligible voters who took part voted for its separation, from Somalia which has been heavily objected by Somalia.

    “Although, it is not internationally recognised, Somaliland is technically an independent country with its own army, constitution, elected leaders and currency,” Mr Jama said.

    The lack of international recognition has made it impossible for Somaliland to have access to loans from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions.

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    Protests are taking place in Ethiopia’s Amhara region an opposition stronghold. Zehabesha/Courtesy

    Former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn sent shock waves through the region when he abruptly tendered his resignation.

    Desalegn said that he had made the decision to facilitate efforts towards political reforms which started with the release of political prisoners. But rather than pursue a reform agenda, the Ethiopian government followed his announcement by declaring a state of emergency. This not only jeopardises the regime’s apparent intent to institute democratic reforms, it also pits citizens against the security forces. And it’s already led to more violence, not stability.

    The state of emergency is being defied in a number of regions. Citizens have protested in Gondar, which is in the opposition Amhara region, as well as the opposition stronghold of Nekemte which is in Oromia. Much of the Oromia region is also defying the emergency measures.

    As a result, the regime has targeted the Oromia region, and its protesting youths who are collectively known as Qeerro in the Oromo language.

    Despite the release of thousands of political prisoners and talk of reforms, the political climate remains more uncertain than ever. It’s now feared that any government measures to suppress ensuing chaos could result in more violence, and deaths.

    Instability in Ethiopia could have repercussions across the region. Unrest in the country could have a domino effect in what is an already volatile part of the continent. It could also affect regional peace efforts because instability in one corner of the Horn of Africa could spread and destabilise the entire region. This is especially the case because Ethiopia is home to so many cross border communities.

    Implications for the region

    Ethiopia is influential in the region and across the continent. It is the second most populous country in Africa and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It also hosts the African Union’s headquarters in its capital, Addis Ababa.

    But its standing has been diminished by the political turmoil of the last few years when two of its largest ethnic groups, the Oromo and Amhara both started demanding political and economic equality. The ruling coalition’s responses to these demands has highlighted the fact that it isn’t committed to democratisation.

    The risks for the region are significant. Unless the regime acts on political reforms to entrench democracy, equal distribution of resources and freedom of the press, Ethiopia – with more than 100 million citizens – could emerge as the largest politically unstable nation in an already volatile region.

    An unstable Ethiopia could also affect peace efforts in neighbouring countries. For example, it’s role as a long standing mediator in the South Sudanese peace talks could suffer a setback.

    And its army is also the only peacekeeping force in Abiye, an oil rich region that has been at the centre of the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan since 2011.

    In addition, Ethiopia is second only to Bangladesh in the number of its troops involved in international peacekeeping. Across its South Eastern borders, it also maintains thousands of troops inside Somalia.

    And although its role in Somalia has drawn criticism Ethiopia remains a critical ally to the US’s counter terrorism strategy in the region. Instability could also create a power vacuum that could affect the US-led anti-terror strategy.

    Ultimately, an internal crisis in Ethiopia will affect the power balance with its arch rival Eritrea. After the Ethiopia-Eritrea war which ended in 2000, the two countries have remained engaged in a proxy war by supporting each others’ political opposition groups.

    Cross-border communities

    Most African states share cross-border societies. The Horn of Africa is no different. The Oromo for instance are a majority ethnic group in Ethiopia and also a minority in Kenya. The Nuer are South Sudan’s second largest ethnic group and also a minority in Ethiopia’s western Gambella region.

    There are also Somalis in Ethiopia. They maintain strong ties with their clansmen in Somali, Djibouti and Kenya. The Afar ethnic group in Ethiopia are also minorities in Eritrea, and Djibouti.

    A new influx of Ethiopian refuges into Kenya due to the recent massacre in Moyale town underscores the fact that problems in the country are starting to affect cross border societies in the region. In fact, authorities and analysts in neighbouring Kenya are deeply concerned about the situation.

    Instability could also affect refugees in Ethiopia itself. The country hosts the second highest number of refugees in Africa. Asylum seekers from Eritrea, South Sudan and Somalia often seek refuge within its borders.

    Next steps

    There is still room to resuscitate democratic reforms and to create space for national dialogue and reconciliation. Given the potential ramifications of prolonged unrest in Ethiopia, it should be in the interests of the international community to promote peace and stability. To do this it must pressure the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front to suspend the state of emergency.

    The international community must also stress that the regime needs to open its doors to the opposition and pave the way for a transitional government. In my opinion this is the only way the ruling coalition can play a critical role in pacifying the country and the region. And the only way it can have a political legacy worthy of praise.

     

    The views expressed in this Commentary are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of Ethiopian Tribune

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    Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has met his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo, as the two countries look to repair ties that were recently frayed over an upstream Nile dam being built by Ethiopia.

    At a joint press conference Monday, al-Bashir and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi vowed to cooperate in managing the effects of the dam, which Egypt fears will cut into its share of the river. The Nile provides virtually all of Egypt's freshwater, serving as a lifeline for the country's 100 million people.

    Tensions had risen in recent months, when Sudan appeared to take Ethiopia's side in the dam negotiations and revived a longstanding border dispute with Egypt. Ethiopia has vowed to go ahead with the dam despite Egypt's concerns, saying it is vital for the east African country's development.

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    An Unstable Ethiopia: Wobbles in Addis Ababa

    Michael Jones
    Commentary, 19 March 2018

     

    The resignation last month of Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has shaken the assumption that the East African state is a ‘bastion of stability’ in a sea of collapsing states.

    Ethiopian Prime Hailemariam Desalegn’s departure after five years in power to pave way for political reform was abrupt, but not unexpected. The move followed a ‘do or die’ executive committee meeting of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in December.

    For years, a triad of ethnic federalism, revolutionary democracy and state-led development has underpinned the regime’s claims of legitimate, effective governance. However, this edifice appears to be cracking.

    The government is struggling with youth unemployment, high public debt, inflation and a shortage of foreign currency. Export volumes are flagging, and despite significant federal government investment, the productivity of domestic manufacturing industries cannot keep up with more efficient global producers.

    By framing itself as the indispensable engine of economic development, the EPRDF has been hobbled by an inability to translate double-digit national economic growth rates into higher living standards. For all its hailed dividends, the top-down disposition of Ethiopia’s development with its long horizon-rent centralisation, often at the expense of civil liberties, has been divisive.

    The resulting anger has expressed itself in increasingly ethno-centric terms since 2015, with local rallies against the physical urban expansion of Addis Ababa morphing into nation-wide anti-government demonstrations.

    By framing itself as the indispensable engine of economic development, the ruling party has been hobbled by an inability to translate double-digit national economic growth rates into higher living standards

    Ethnic-Oromos and Amharas, collectively representing more than two-thirds of the population, are in the forefront of these protests, decrying their marginalisation and demanding more commensurate political roles.

    While these protests don’t advance a single set of grievances, they all touch on a perennial question in Ethiopian politics: ‘how to build a modern nation-state?’

    The political orthodoxy peddled by the EPRDF has always relied on state-led development and ethnic federalism, with the party’s founder, Meles Zenawi, gambling that Ethiopia’s material transformation would ‘cause parochial attachments to wither under a new nation-state identity’.

    Nevertheless, it seems ethno-regional loyalties have lost little of their mobilising appeal, largely because the federal model is widely considered a proxy for minority rule.

    As a national coalition, the EPRDF controls Ethiopia’s regions through satellite parties, including the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO) and the Amhara National Democratic Movement.

    However, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has long been dominant, co-opting its ‘partners’ as vehicles for making Tigrayan hegemony more palatable. Representing only 6% of the population, ethnic-Tigrayans under both Zenawi and Desalegn have disproportionately benefited, seizing positions in government, the security services, and EPRDF-sponsored endowment companies.

    So, rather than defusing inter-regional tensions, Ethiopia’s federal configurations have institutionalised a frozen conflict.

    Galvanised by mass protests, the TPLF’s nominal ‘partners’ are flexing their own muscles. Under the leadership of Lemma Megersa, the OPDO has rebranded itself as a quasi-opposition party, advocating Oromo nationalism and localised forms of identity as an ideological panacea to the EPRDF’s unpopularity.

    Even nostalgic references to the pan-Ethiopian nationalism of the Derg military regime, which took over the country after the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, are circulating as an alternative to the status quo.

    Desalegn’s resignation last month has triggered a succession struggle and created space for debate. This should be welcomed; doctrinal rigidity has hampered the EPRDF for years and new leadership may introduce needed reforms.

    But, the process also carries risk. The imposition of another state of emergency creates latitude for a violent pushback by TPLF hardliners. Centralised rent allocations under its developmentalism ideology also leave Ethiopia vulnerable to the same temptations of patronage, cronyism and corruption as suffered by its neighbours.

    Desalegn’s resignation last month has triggered a succession struggle and created space for debate. This should be welcomed

    Similarly, belligerent expressions of regional identity may tip into ethnic chauvinism or open conflict. Ethnicity has already been securitised through lethal crackdowns on protesters, but emerging reports describe attacks on Tigrayan civilians, and violence in the Somali Region between Oromos, Somalis and ‘Liyu’ (Amharic for ‘Special’) paramilitaries. Political rabble-rousing will only accentuate tensions, particularly if expectations of change are frustrated.

    Crucially, the resulting lack of clear leadership coincides with pressing regional challenges. Analysts also fear the ENDF is becoming politicised, with ethnic tensions stoking infighting between Oromo soldiers and Tigrayan officers. Tigrayan hardliners in the EPRDF have already deployed the ENDF in domestic policing roles, and these measures are likely to persist under a renewed state of emergency.

    Given the limited capacity of the SNA and a destructive competition for regional influence from the Gulf, any withdrawal of Ethiopian troops risks severe strategic setbacks. There is a reason why the US and European governments often overlook the EPRDF’s authoritarian leanings: the political expediency which comes with harnessing Ethiopia as a critical partner in the ‘War on Terror’.

    However, if the Ethiopians can no longer satisfy their part of the bargain, this international leniency may start diminishing.

    The $4.8 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is another strategic concern, with work on the biggest hydroelectric project in Africa set to finish in late 2018. But its position at the head of the Blue Nile is liable to restrict downstream flows to Egypt, a ‘fatal’ threat for an agriculturally dependent economy already experiencing water shortages.

    The prospect of absolute water scarcity is considered a ‘matter of life and death’, and, in the absence of a diplomatic settlement, Cairo’s contingency plans for a military action against Ethiopia’s project must be taken seriously.

    And time is running out. Negotiations stalled last November after Ethiopia refused to recognise Egypt’s right self-declared right to 55.5 billion metres3 of Nile water annually.

    However, forthcoming Egyptian presidential elections leave incumbent Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi little leeway for further comprises. And, if this were not enough, disputes over the Hala’ib Triangle between Sudan, Egypt and Eritrea raise additional complications.

    Desalegn’s resignation jeopardises the handling of all these issues, for it raises the stakes for all concerned, and restricts Ethiopia’s own room for compromise.

    The political crisis may give Ethiopians an opportunity to tackle their deep-rooted structural problems. But it could also result in the unravelling of the region’s bigger problems.

    Banner image: Addis Ababa is likely to be less of a stabilising imfluence in East Africa. Courtesy of Sam Effron/Wikimedia

    The views expressed in this Commentary are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of Ethiopian Tribune.

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    He supplies coffee to Starbucks. He owns much of Ethiopia. And he is known as “Sheikh Mo” in the Clintons’ circle.

    But the gilded life of Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi took a sharp turn in November. Mr. Amoudi, the gregarious 71-year-old son of a Yemeni businessman and his Ethiopian wife, was swept up with hundreds of billionaires, princes and other well-connected figures in what the Saudi government says is an anti-corruption campaign that has seized more than $100 billion in assets.

    Many other detainees, who were initially kept at a Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh, have been released, including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the well-known international investor. Mr. Amoudi’s cousin, Mohammed Aboud Al Amoudi, a property developer, was also let go.

    But Mr. Amoudi, once called the world’s richest black person by Forbes, has not been freed, leaving a vast empire that employs more than 70,000 people in limbo. He controls businesses from Ethiopia, where he is the largest private employer and the most prominent backer of the authoritarian government, to Sweden, where he owns a large fuel company, to London, which he has used as a base to set up a number of companies.

    “He was in the Ritz-Carlton but we have been told by his family members that he was moved, along with others, to another hotel,” Mr. Amoudi’s press office said in an email responding to questions. “Unfortunately we do not know where. He is in regular contact with his family and is being treated well.”

    While Mr. Amoudi lacks a princely pedigree, he is in other ways an archetype of those entangled in the kingdom’s power play: a billionaire with assets stretching across the world who had close ties to previous governments.

    The late King Abdullah was a supporter of Mr. Amoudi’s Saudi Star Agricultural Development, a sprawling farming venture in Ethiopia established to supply rice to Saudi Arabia. Such ventures are seen as strategic assets in a desert kingdom keenly aware of its agricultural limitations. While Saudi Star has had a tough time getting going, it is said to be a particular focus of the new government’s interest.

    Saudi officials have declined to comment on the charges against individual detainees as well as their status, citing privacy laws.

    The Saudi government has said its dragnet followed an extensive investigation by a newly formed anti-corruption committee headed by the country’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The prince, who has fashioned himself as a reformer, is in the midst of a charm offensive to bolster diplomatic and financial ties to the West and is scheduled to visit Washington later this month.

    The detentions, however, have been almost entirely opaque. There have been no signs of collaboration with Western law enforcement and no charges made public, leading some critics to view it as a power and money grab rather than a bona fide anti-corruption effort. Saudi officials have denied that anyone has been mistreated, but people with knowledge of the detentions have said that as many as 17 of the detainees required medical attention because of abuse, and one later died in custody.

    Given the insular nature of the country and the crackdown, Saudi officials are likely to make the most headway seizing assets within their own borders. Within Mr. Amoudi’s empire, there is much to sort through.

    He moved to the kingdom as a teenager. Although there are few firm details about how a commoner came to vast wealth, he managed to forge influential connections. The most important was Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, who served as defense minister and crown prince before his death in 2011. Mr. Amoudi ran businesses that depended on the prince’s money and position, associates said. Another of his allies was Khalid Bin Mahfouz, a billionaire who later became enmeshed in the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International in 1991, at the time one of the largest private banks in the world.

    In the 1980s, Mr. Amoudi set up Mohammed International Development Research and Organization Companies, a conglomerate known as Midroc. Early on, his biggest deal was a multi-billion-dollar project to build the kingdom’s underground oil storage capacity. Engineering and construction became core businesses for Midroc, but it operates everything from pharmaceutical to furniture factories in the region, according to its website. Mr. Amoudi also owns half of a steel company called Yanbu, and a large chain of gas stations called Naft.

    Like another detainee, Mr. Alwaleed, Mr. Amoudi’s reach has extended to the United States. He donated millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation and offered his private plane to fly Bill Clinton to Ethiopia in 2011. That offer sparked internal debate within the foundation, leaked emails showed.

    “Unless Sheikh Mo has sent us a $6 million check, this sounds crazy to do,” Amitabh Desai, the foreign policy director of the Clinton Foundation, wrote in one of the emails.

    That was not the first time that Mr. Amoudi’s name had surfaced in the United States. Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, a lawsuit by the owner of the World Trade Center described Mr. Amoudi as a “material sponsor of international terrorism” because of his funding of controversial Islamic charities. Both sides agreed to a dismissal the following year, and a spokesman for Mr. Amoudi attributed the suit to a case of mistaken identity.

    In Ethiopia, Mr. Amoudi’s allies portray him as a philanthropist and champion of African growth.

    “I am a Saudi investor, born in Africa, with an Ethiopian mother, of which I am proud,” he said in a speech in Washington in 2014. “I have a special relationship with my birth country by investing in all of Africa — north, south, east, west.”

    Sisay Asefa, a professor at Western Michigan University, has known Mr. Amoudi for years and set up a foundation with his support.

    Electronic billboards in London showed Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, with the hashtag #ANewSaudiArabia during his visit to Britain last week. Credit Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

    “He should be released immediately,” he said. Mr. Amoudi, he added, “has transformed many lives.”

    But he has also been a polarizing figure. Mr. Amoudi’s reach in Ethiopia has been so pervasive that a 2008 State Department cable, made public by WikiLeaks, said that “nearly every enterprise of significant monetary or strategic value privatized since 1994 has passed from the ownership of the Government of Ethiopia” to “one of Al Amoudi’s companies.” That called into question the “true competitiveness of the process,” the cable said.

    Mr. Amoudi has opened his deep pockets to build a hospital in Addis Ababa and fund AIDS treatment programs. But he has also long backed the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which has ruled the country for more than a quarter-century, angering opposition supporters.

    His loyalty to the ruling party has even crossed borders. When a popular expatriate group in the United States called the Ethiopian Sports Federation in North America invited an opposition leader to speak in 2010, Mr. Amoudi set up a rival group.

    “When he was imprisoned, it divided public opinion,” said Semahagn Gashu Abebe, an assistant professor of international studies at Endicott College. “The opposition is happy because they think it will greatly weaken the regime.”

    But for Ethiopia’s ruling party, he said, “It’s a loss.”

    Many see Mr. Amoudi less as a beneficent local son than a Saudi privateer. Some of his mining operations, particularly in a region of Ethiopia called Oromia, have caused resentment, protests and arrests.

    “The government and people around the government would definitely miss him,” said Henok Gabisa, a visiting academic fellow at Washington and Lee University School of Law. “I’m sure people from the Oromia region would never miss him because they feel like they were robbed of their natural resources.”

    As Mr. Gabisa put it, “Literally his presence and his absence make a huge difference in Ethiopia.”

     

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