Torture, State Terrorism and Ethiopia’s Transformation | Abiy Ahmed


On June 23, a grenade exploded during a rally in support of The new Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his reform policies, killing a number of people. It is clear that not everyone is happy with the path of transformation they have embarked on.

Barely five days earlier, Ahmed appeared in front of parliament to answer questions about his government’s performance. During the session, parliamentarians began asking serious questions ranging from the government’s decision to normalize relations with Eritrea to liberalizing the economy, from community cohesion to the release of tens of thousands of prisoners. policies.

Debate was a magnificent moment in history which marked a promising turning point for one rubber stamp parliament which has enlightened the Ethiopian public for 27 years and a new beginning for the people he represents.

In his response, the Prime Minister offered an honest, impressive and very strong defense of his administration’s transformational decisions. While all of Ahmed’s policy statements were clear, detailed and nuanced, it was his astonishing admission of state terrorism and torture that marked a new dawn for the country and the continent.

In response to a challenge to the constitutionality and legality of certain government actions, including the release of thousands of prisoners accused of terrorism, Ahmed argued that terrorism is not simply an act of trying to overthrow a government by force, and added that The unconstitutional use of force by the government to stay in power should also be considered terrorism.

He then admitted that Ethiopian security forces had tortured people in the past and asked lawmakers whether the country’s constitution allows for torture.

Admitting that his own party, decision Council of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), used torture and terrorist tactics to stay in power in the past, Ahmed has shown he is serious about changing the Ethiopian state for the better and further cemented his already ineffable magnetism.

However, it is important to note that his admission came against the backdrop of a power struggle between the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) and the current administration. TPLF, a faction of the ruling coalition that dominated Ethiopian politics for the past 27 years, does not seem ready to accept the sweeping changes unfolding beneath his feet, and appears to be genuinely surprised when the violence he has used to maintain his privilege is exposed.

State terrorism in Ethiopia

Over the past fifteen years, the Ethiopian regime has used the rhetoric of terrorism as a political weapon to maintain and further consolidate its authoritarian hold over the population. Inasmuch as “war on terror”Has become the centerpiece of American foreign policy, Ethiopia positioned himself as Washington’s most trusted front-line counterterrorism ally in the Horn of Africa – all with the goal of benefiting from its unprecedented political and economic fallout.

At the height of this militarizationof the “war on terrorThe Ethiopian government passed one of the most draconian anti-terrorism laws in the world, and used it as a justification to crush dissent and opposition.

Can Ethiopia’s new ruler bridge ethnic lines?

Security forces brought together opposition politicians, journalists, academics, activists, religious leaders and bloggers and submitted them politically motivated legal proceedings which bear the mark of Stalinist show trials. A number of autonomous political movements that had been expelled from the country – the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and Ginbot 7 – have been designated as terrorist organizations.

After criminalizing autonomous opposition organizations, the government began to use arguments of ideological censorship and counterterrorism to legitimize the growing security of political life in the country.

To ensure their absolute invulnerability, the ruling elites have used counterterrorism-related technical and economic aid to build an Orwellian surveillance state similar to that of East Germany. The complete decimation of the press and civil society, and the increasing use of violence against dissent and opposition, all justified by accounts of terrorism, allowed the ruling party to win 99.6 percent of the vote in the 2010 elections and 100 percent of the seats in the 2015 elections. elections.

In the “war on terrorThe Ethiopian government of the day found convenient validation for its authoritarian practices and deplorable human rights record. It is no wonder that Meles Zenawi, the former prime minister and architect of this police state, described the “war on terrorAs “a godsend”.

It was these fundamentally inhuman practices of the former Ethiopian government and the systematic and widespread use of systematic torture by police and security forces that Prime Minister Ahmed finally admitted, acknowledged and characterized as state terrorism.

What does this mean for Ethiopia?

Ahmed’s confession of guilt, on behalf of the Ethiopian regime, is highly significant – especially for those subjected to torture and gross human rights violations at the hands of the very state that was supposed to protect them.

The Prime Minister’s admission that the government failed in its fundamental duty of care when it engaged in terrorist acts to preserve the privilege of a few is wholly therapeutic for victims of torture and its victims. a sincere apology can go a long way in healing from the corrosive effects of their trauma.

For Ethiopian society in general, Ahmed admission that the army and security agencies were used as instruments of domination sand the stage for a new era of hope and optimism.

Admission is also legally important. Although the constant and widespread use of torture by the Ethiopian regime has always been well documented, the government has always denied such accusations. Ahmed’s confession would impose legal responsibility on the Ethiopian government to investigate these crimes and prosecute those responsible for the abuses.

However, Ethiopia may also need to initiate much broader and robust processes to address its conflicted and often violent past. Whatever the institutional form of these processes, the country must find a way to come to terms with its past.

Whatever the long-term historical and political significance, Ahmed’s confession to state terrorism and official torture is a triumph of courage in the face of adversity.

Ahmed’s transformation agenda

Although Ethiopia’s nascent transition has taken shape in the crucibles of popular struggles of the past three years, Ahmed has played a pivotal role in transforming the country’s political landscape. Since taking office less than three months ago, the Prime Minister has shown remarkable Success, especially in promoting unity and the healing of the divided and very agitated country.

At the June 23 rally called to support his vision for change and transformation and attended by thousands of Ethiopians of all political stripes, the Prime Minister expressed his determination to bring lasting social and political change to the country.

Thanking those who paid the ultimate price to change the political direction in which Ethiopia was heading, he said: “they could have lived without us, but we could not live without them”.

Ahmed was rushed off the scene as a grenade exploded and killed a few people. Speaking after the attack, the Prime Minister described it as a deliberate act, planned and studied by those who can afford to stage it.

Ahmed was of extraordinary courage. He brought his reform program to areas considered off-limits, to powerful security agencies and the army.

While facing the grim political and economic realities facing the country, Ahmed challenges all Ethiopians to imagine and perceive their country and region differently. It tells stories of hope and transformation not only about Ethiopia, but also the greater Horn of Africa region.

The Prime Minister’s confession to state-sanctioned terrorism and torture came at a time when its popularity is skyrocketing.

Bold, dynamic and outward-looking, he has managed to draw on a large cross-section of Ethiopian society. Across the country, he is seen as a symbol of liberation from self and others, a new light guiding Ethiopia’s renewal and transformation.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.


Thelma J. Longworth

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