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Ethiopia: Desalegn’s Distraction? An Analysis of Recent Developments


Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn


Ethiopia: Desalegn’s Distraction? An Analysis of Recent Developments
August 16, 2014



Last week, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn conducted an interview in which he threatened northern neighbor, Eritrea. Desalegn warned that Ethiopia has shifted its policy towards Eritrea, and is now determined to unseat Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki by force. The interview was quickly followed by news that the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organisation (RSADO) – a terrorist1 group harbored and financed by Ethiopia – has vowed to “step up military attacks” to topple the Eritrean government.

While the respective statements are serious – in that they precipitously challenge, if not flagrantly violate, accepted international norms, laws, and diplomatic protocols – they do not constitute “breaking developments” per se. For example, prior to his passing, the late Meles Zenawi had similarly changed Ethiopia’s policy toward Eritrea from one based on “no war-no peace” to the active pursuit of “regime change” in Asmara. Further, the RSADO has made similar threats in the past. Rather, the developments are possibly better understood within the broader context of Ethiopia’s own internal socio-political challenges and dynamics.

In the fields of political science and international relations, the diversionary theory of war and foreign policy is one of the most speculated about and debated concepts. Most simply, it argues that political leaders who are confronted with public antagonism over domestic economic, social, and political problems may seek to divert the populace’s attention from domestic problems and strife by focusing upon external issues – thus hoping to survive politically. Shifting national attention to an external entity or topic can absolve vulnerable leaders of blame, produce a “rally around the flag” effect, garner support or buy time for leaders.

Within this analytical framework, Desalegn’s remarks offer much insight. By shifting the emphasis to Eritrea, Desalegn removes the spotlight from his own government’s crises and troubles as it continues to face rising popular discontent with its various policies, crackdowns, and interference in socio-religious affairs. Further, with “democratic elections” on the near horizon, the comments serve to burgeon Desalegn’s image as a strong leader.

The Ethiopian regime’s challenges – and response via harsh repression and silencing of all forms of dissent – were highlighted by the April arrest (and ongoing detention) of the “Zone 9” bloggers.2 Troublingly for Desalegn, the issue refuses to “go away” and instead has garnered increasing international attention and condemnation.3 As well, coinciding with the arrests were mass protests by Oromo civilians, especially students, condemning the “Addis Ababa Master Plan.” This led to a brutal crackdown by Ethiopian authorities and scores of arrests, injuries, and deaths.4

The simmering discontent within Ethiopia was mirrored by protests in Washington, DC during the recent US-Africa Summit. Hundreds of Ethiopian protesters gathered outside the State Department to vociferously denounce the Ethiopian government and also demand the US “stop funding [Ethiopia’s] dictators.”5

In addition to the various protests, the government faces an ongoing insurgency by the separatist Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). In attempting to counter the ONLF, the Ethiopian army has engaged in executions, rape, torture, arbitrary arrests, and various other abuses.6 Ethnic groups residing within and around the region have endured arbitrary detentions, torture, and mistreatment in detention, as well as severe restrictions on movement and commercial trade, and minimal access to independent relief assistance7 - all of which serves to inflame ethno-regional tensions and support the resistance.

Although Desalegn leads a country that has witnessed some economic growth, and improvement in agriculture – which accounts for nearly half of Ethiopia’s economic activity – much of the progress has actually been driven by an out of control “land grab.” Many multinational companies and private speculators vie to lease millions of acres of the country’s most fertile territory from the government at bargain basement prices.8 Consequently, this has engendered numerous rights violations (particularly via villagization programs),9 much discontent, and growing resistance by indigenous communities. Further, national poverty and drastic inequalities remain prevalent. Around 90 percent of the population of 94 million still suffers from numerous deprivations, ranging from insufficient access to education to inadequate health care; average incomes are still well below $500 a year; and more than 30 million people still face chronic food shortages.10

Overall, Desalegn’s recent comments regarding Eritrea remain aligned with previous stances taken by the Ethiopian government. Further, they serve to deflect attention away from the Ethiopian regime’s serious internal challenges and popular discontent. With “democratic elections” on the near horizon – which have historically involved widespread tension, violence, and crackdowns – Desalegn’s comments also attempt to strengthen his image, while laying any potential troubles or disorder at Asmara’s door.


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11 comments:

  1. PR. ISAYAS AFEWORKIAugust 17, 2014 at 3:19 AM

    KOLEA YEGOYEY ENBER NEBUU AYKEDEMON EYU. WE KNOW THEM VERY WELL FROM HAILESELASSE TO MELES CHENAWE ZERAF ZERAF ZERAF TIGRE GEDAY KAB MEBAL ABEY KEYBETSEHU. HOLY GOD BLESS PR. ISAYAS AFEWORKI AND PPL OF ERITREA FOREVER.

    ReplyDelete
  2. PR. ISAYAS AFEWORKIAugust 17, 2014 at 3:23 AM

    ATA ATA EZOM DEHULAT ENTAY ZEYBELU ! BETRE SHAEBEYA YEFELTUWA ENDEYOM. ALLAHYOMNA SEGABZEBLU BETRE SHAEBIA TEEMOMA EYOM. HEJI DEMA BETRE HGDEF TERRER( HEYEL) ZEBELET EYEA EMO BEDEHER HEJI NABANA GETSOM KULIHE KEMZEYBELU KETKETSOM EYA. HOLY GOD BLESS PR. ISAYAS AFEWORKI AND PPL OF ERITREA FOR EVER.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Lets Forget woyane for nowAugust 17, 2014 at 5:01 AM

    berhane • 15 hours ago

    Born: June 24, 1989 in Eritrea.

    Live: Kode (Kungalv).

    Club: Hälle IF.

    Branch in EM: 5000 meters.

    Personal best: 14.59,49 (Swedish record).

    Coach: Ulf Friberg.

    Background: Competed as a junior for Eritrea. Come to Sweden as a refugee in 2009, Swedish citizen since December 2013 Europe Second on 5000 meters in the year and sixth of 1 500 meters. Lowered in May the Swedish record by seven seconds. (TT)

    Meraf Bahta Defeats Sifan Hassan 5000m Final Euro Champs Zurich 2014

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?...

    1



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    Congratulations ! berhane • 23 minutes ago

    Well Done Meraf, you are an inspiration to all Eritrean Female that there is no boundries that can hinder an Eritrean from reach our goals. The Sky is the limit !
    I encourage all newcomers to follow the path and do whatever they can to gain all positive things possible from their new country be it studies and intelligence to be someone and confident Eritrean, wherever we are.
    Good luck one more time for Meraf and C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S ! for your first but not least - European Champion and Gold Medal ever !!! in the name of Sweden.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Good News is Meraf Bahta (Eritrean) is the Gold Medal European Champion 5000m Winner for Sweden. The Can-Do Eritreans shinning allover with all hardship we are facing we still are dedicated and hardworkers allover. Eritrean is known for his/her honesty/integrity/confidence/dedication ! Let woyane hit their war drums for awhile.
    God Bless Eritrea !

    ReplyDelete
  5. If she want chased away from her own country by misguided economic policy of the Tegaru maffia in Asmara, she would have brought us several international medals. Thanks to the dictator doctors, minsters, generals, teachers, fotball players, runners etc are leaving the country in masses without the dictator taking any action to stop it. As he said once in Aljazeera interview "Why should i care if people are leaving this country". Yes why should a leader of Tegaru maffia group (DIA) care about Eritrea and Eritreans anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  6. nay baela enahareras naydamata tehabir yibilu Amharu. in Ethiopia at least there is a court but in Eritrea there is no judge like what happen to G15. it is better to care for Eritreans than Ethiopians. I think there is no shame on Eritrea.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Idiot is one who repeats the same thing again and again and expect a different result.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Kinda agame Zeigezakha entry tigebir nabti dembe tegaru zeytitsedif himak agame

    ReplyDelete
  9. At um tegaru bizey eritreawian aykonelkumin dyu abgezakhum zeytikhedu.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Nayka ilaHarere laymatka tekawis ima Arsikha imbey, intama inhiheka awzuy atayo hasas !

    ReplyDelete
  11. That's what neighbors are for.Eritrea ewin b'zey Tigray Aykonelan Eyu.

    ReplyDelete

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