From peace to war, the metamorphosis of Abiy Ahmed

What a fall and what a disillusionment for the international community! Two years ago, the Ethiopian Prime Minister received the Nobel Peace Prize for “His efforts to achieve peace and in favor of international cooperation, in particular for his decisive initiative aimed at resolving the border conflict with Eritrea”, according to Berit Reiss-Andersen, president of the Nobel committee. At 43, Abiy Ahmed became one of the youngest winners of the prestigious award. Smiling face, youthful silhouette, the energetic Prime Minister said when receiving his distinction: “War is the embodiment of hell for all parties involved. “

A year later, in November 2020, he set off “hell” in the north of his country to regain control of Tigray. And here he is today calling on citizens to use “Any weapon (…) to block the destructive Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), overthrow and bury it”. And to encourage the constitution of armed militias, to cover up the abuses attributed to the federal forces, to assume the complete blockade of Tigray, thus depriving civilians of the humanitarian aid they urgently need. The preacher of peace and reconciliation is now opposed to any form of negotiation with his adversaries.

“He went into a spin, says a European observer who has often met him. He doesn’t want to listen to reason, he doesn’t listen to anyone and when he has decided something, he doesn’t back down. “ A character trait judged yesterday to be positive when it came to reforming and liberalizing Ethiopia, but perceived today as dangerous. “He will go all the way, thinks Horn of Africa specialist Gérard Prunier. He has an old score to settle with the Tigrayans. When he came to power, he had succeeded in sidelining them. Now they are back in the game by arms, Abiy Ahmed can not imagine going back, the Tigrayans have left too many bad memories of the time of Meles Zenawi [président puis premier ministre de 1993 à 2012, très autoritaire et sous lequel de nombreux Éthiopiens de l’opposition ont été éliminés, NDLR]. And too bad if the conflict has already claimed thousands of lives, if hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped and if the crisis is now in danger of winning.

The hope that Abiy Ahmed raised at the start of his term – he took office in April 2018 – was high. His young age; his discourse on reconciliation; its measures taken in favor of political prisoners, exiled opponents, prohibited movements… And above all, its spectacular rapprochement with Eritrea, burying in a few weeks the state of war that had prevailed between the two countries for twenty years. Its openness to women, too, giving them key positions in its government, offering diplomat Sahle-Work Zewde the post of President of the Republic. “He wants to lead our country on the path of development, democracy and reconciliation, it is a great opportunity for all of us”, confided the latter to The cross in 2019.

If the rapid transfer of the prime minister in chief of war surprised the international chancelleries, raising a very strong disapproval, this is less the case in Ethiopia, starting with Addis Ababa: “Abiy Ahmed is condemned by the West. However, he is waging war against the TPLF against his will, says Hermela, a student at Addis Ababa University. He fell into a trap set by the TPLF which wants to regain power from which he was driven out in 2018. He is very supported by the vast majority of Ethiopians as shown by the victory of his political party in the legislative elections in June. “ His movement, the Prosperity Party, won 410 of the 547 seats in the legislative elections on June 21.

“What is happening is incomprehensible, adds anthropologist Katell Morand from the University of Paris-Nanterre. He really initiated reforms to democratize Ethiopia. But the liberalization movement he instigated has turned against him. Among the actors of the violence and the radicalization of speeches, we find political prisoners that he freed. Likewise, media liberalization has benefited the dissemination of extremist identity rhetoric throughout the country. “

Katell Morand recalls that the engagement of the armed forces by Abiy Ahmed against the TPLF followed the attacks of November 4, 2020 carried out against the bases of the federal forces in Mekelé and in the Tigray region. “The Liberation Front and its supporters massacred soldiers, took others hostage and took a large quantity of weapons. It was a trauma for the majority of Ethiopians, little reported in the Western media ”, she remarks. “My interlocutors do not understand the criticisms of the West against Abiy Ahmed”, adds anthropologist Marion Langumier, specialist in Ethiopia. “The Tigrayans are not altar boys, underlines an inhabitant of the center of the country. They were the first to commit massacres on soldiers, but also on civilians.That is not said in the lawsuit against the Prime Minister. “

Among these abuses, “The Mai Kadra massacre, November 9 and 10, 2020, emphasizes Katell Morand. The Samri militia, linked to the TPLF, eliminated hundreds of Amhara civilians.The shock has been considerable in Ethiopia. “ Now forgotten, this massacre, committed in part with knives, has been documented by Amnesty International and by Dutch anthropologist Jon Abbink. According to him, 800 Amharas were killed by the TPLF and its allies. “This does not justify the massacres committed against the Tigrayans, but it qualifies the role and the responsibility of our leaders”, insists an Ethiopian from the center of the country.

The behavior of the Prime Minister must also be understood in the light of the history of Ethiopia, explains Alain Gascon, of the National Institute of Oriental Languages ​​and Civilizations: “If he doesn’t or no longer listen to the international community, it is not necessarily out of madness. He no longer understands it and, like all Ethiopians, he distrusts it. The Ethiopians have not forgotten that in 1936, when the emperor Haile Selassie had called for the aid of the League of Nations against the Italian invasion, the international community, against its commitment, had washed its hands of it. “


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