Opinion: Gambella in Abiy Ahmed’s Era
By Chan Gatkuoth Y .Jack
Gambella in EPRDF era
May 12, 2020 (Thessherald)–When EPRDF took power in 1991, the regime adopts new constitution in 1994 which introduce ethnic federalism. By then, the country becomes structured along ethnic lines where Gambella assumes regional state status. The region becomes identified as a home to five indigenous ethnic groups of Nuer, Anywa, Majang, Opo and Komo. These ethnic groups were granted self-administration under the 1994 federal constitution while other Ethiopians living in the region are allowed to settle and undertake business activities. From 1991, the political administration of the region is entirely handed to these five indigenous ethnic groups. At national level, Gambella is represented in the national parliament’s two houses of the House of People Representatives and House of Federation.
In the House of People Representatives, three representatives from Nuer, Anywa and Majang are elected every five years in consideration of their population size from the rest of Opo and Komo. At the House of Federation, four ethnic groups of Nuer, Anywa, Majang and Opo are represented by their respective top regional representatives while Komo is represented by Moa Komo in Benishangul Gumuz as their population is greater than those in Gambella. In executive, Gambella is represented by two state ministers, one ambassador, and one agency director. However, though the regime grants self-administration power to the indigenous groups and remarkable representation at national level, it introduces certain controlling mechanisms for regional administration.
In line with these controlling mechanisms, the regime establishes national institutional control mechanisms. For so call backward or neglected regions in Ethiopia, including Gambella, Benushangul Gumuz, Afar and Somalia. Initially, these regions become subjected to control of regional affairs department under the Prime Minister office and later under the newly established Ministry of Federal Affairs (MoFA). The federal government through this control system appoint federal advisors and send to these regions in order to supervise and monitor the admiration. It is through the reports of these advisors where the federal government intervene politically and developmentally rather than direct report from regional president. Later, the federal government separated supervisory role by giving political supervision to EPRDF’s office and administrative and development supervision to MoFA under the state minister for regional affairs.
In the political field, as the EPRDF is structured into core coalition parties and allied parties, the ruling party in Gambella along with others backward regions are levelled as allied parties. This structure as mentioned in other article, contradicts the revolutionary democracy ideological believe which TPLF-EPRDF adopts in favor of the marginalize groups in Ethiopia which the structurally isolated regions should be the target.
Through this structure, EPRDF creates allied party department at central office, headed by person appointed from core parties’ members than being from allied parties’ members. Though the assumption of the allied parties for the creation of this department was to coordinate allied system, the intention come to be a structure created to monitor and control the political system in these regions.
The department appoints four advisors to regional party representing four core parties’ members of EPRDF to supervise the political functions in the region and deliver regular reports to central office. It is then through this political supervisory mechanism where political leadership structural measures are undertaken in these regions, mostly in line with the interests of EPRDF’s leadership. Moreover, these political structural measures often conform with leadership loyalty and proximity of Gambella individuals to influential federal leaders, leading the Anywa ethnic members to lead for 21 years while Nuer ethnic member lead for 6 years. Likewise, MoFA appoints development and administrative support director with other staffs to the region. Through this support team, MoFA supervises development support provided for upgrading development status of backward regions as well as administrative functions and structures.
In addition, MoFA introduces experience sharing mechanism with four developed regions where Gambella becomes a development partner of Southern Nations region. However, all these supervisory mechanisms introduced by the EPRDF’s regime, negate genuine self-administration as the allied parties or backward regions ends being administer through national political remote control. On the development sector under EPRDF’s regime, Gambella witnessed remarkable infrastructural development. These include standard asphalt road connecting Gambella with Addis Ababa and three asphalt roads (Gambella-Burebiey, Gambella-Pagak and Gambella-Akobo) connecting Gambella or Ethiopia with South Sudan. Inside the region, roads connecting weredas to Gambella town, with the exception of Dimma, Jor, Godere, and Mengeshi are being constructed while that of Abobo is under construction.
Others infrastructural development worth to mention include renovated Gambella international airport, Gambella University, referral hospital, international stadium, international conference center, and government and individual building towers. All these development projects are remarkable since during the Derg regime, there was no asphalt road connecting Gambella region with Addis Ababa and only two roads connecting Gambella town with Itang and Pinyudo. In addition, there was only airfield intended for military purpose without constructed terminal building, no referral hospital, no international stadium, no international conference center and no building towers. On economy, the sector is dominated by Ethiopian’s highlanders’ communities as they wholly own all types of business activities in the region.
In the trading sector from small, medium and large, including food, clothes, hotels, super markets, small shops, and trading items distributors, all are in the hands of highlanders. In others economic sectors like, carpentry work, metal work, construction materials hard ware, and constructors and construction laborers are wholly own and run by highlanders. Moreover, the investment sector of all types is wholly own by the highlanders with a pocket of foreign investors in agricultural investment. By witnessing such circumstance in economic sector, one might wonder why the sector in the region is dominated by highlanders, without the indigenous ethnic groups participating or being involve. This emanates from a combination of factors including neglect of Gambella by several regimes, backwardness, lack of business knowhow, societal and cultural obstacles in performing business.
Other factors are restrictive government regulations hindering low income involvement in business, denial in accessing trading items from distributors, and lack of government initiative in discouraging restrictive measures to encourage indigenous involvement in business. In this general assessment of the Gambella status during EPRDF’s regime, granting self-administration to indigenous ethnic groups and development activities the regime undertakes are of remarkable status. The awaiting concern of Abiy’s leadership include avoiding unnecessary national remote controlling mechanisms, increasing national executive representative, constructing roads connecting Gambella town with Dimma, Godere, Mengesh and Jor, and adjusting restrictive regulations in economic and business sectors.
Abiy’s “Medemer” reform vision realities
In late 2017, EPRDF witnessed leadership crisis on the way of responding to public concerns. This crisis relates among others to disagreement over leadership regulation and management of Addis Ababa city master plan, investment regulation, handling of evicted public and farmers, and public offices representation allocation. In all public sectors, since a particular ethnic group dominates, it generates public discontents and uprisings across the country, leading EPRDF in undertaking leadership evaluation. As the uprising in the country becomes unprecedented, with increasing scale in demand for leadership reform, it forces Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to resign paving the way for EPRDF’s leadership transition. In the transition process, by April 2018, Dr. Abiy’s Hamed, the chairman of Oromo People Democratic Organization-OPDO, a coalition member in EPRDF, becomes elected as the new chairman of the EPRDF.
Following party’s leadership change, the new chairman becomes sworn-in as the Prime Minister of the country. The new leader then begins advocating for “Medemer-Inclusive ideology” to direct his reform vision. This ideological thinking according to the leader prioritize Ethiopian and nationalism, encourages unity and inclusivity, discourage exclusion, and encourage peaceful and friendly neighborhood. In line with this ideological screen, the leader undertakes reform measures aiming at discouraging exclusionary practices, domination, injustice and peaceful and friendly relations internally and externally. In fulfilling the aim, the leadership revokes terrorist regulation act categorizing Oromo Liberation Front-OLF, Ginbot-7, Ogaden National Liberation Front-ONLF and Ethiopian Patriotic United Front-EPUF as terrorists’ organizations.
Following the revoking of regulation, the leadership invites all exiled and arms opposition groups to return into the country to exercise their political objective peacefully. This invitation lead to the return of OLF, Ginbot-7-now EZEMA, EPUF and ONLF leaders and members into the country. Internally, the new leadership tours all regions or states in the country to preach reform vision and maintenance of peace. In contrast to EPRDF’s revolutionary democracy and developmental state ideological believe, the leadership undertakes privatization of some public companies, already under government control. In addition, the leadership order the release of all political prisoners, including long time Oromo National Congress opposition party leader, professor Merera Gudina and set free all banned private media operation in the country.
Moreover, the leadership undertakes administrative and political measures in term of restructuring political and special service appointments which affects national ministers, security sectors, agencies, commissions, and ambassadors. In this political and administrative measures, the leadership consider inclusivity, fair share for majority and minority representations, and adjustment of institutions domination. Moreover, the leadership encourages leadership change and reform in all regions in which out of nine regions in the country, seven regions together with two city administration undertake leadership change. In regional leadership change, Tigray and Beneshangul Gumuz regions didn’t undertake leadership change. By implementing friendly and peaceful neighbors, the leadership declare peace with Eritrea, resulting to each other’s’ delegates and leaders visits, opening borders, embassies, and air and land transports to passengers.
Internationally and regionally, the new leadership tours across Africa, Middle East, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Europe, Russia, Canada and USA as gesture for friendly and peaceful relationship. Through all the reform measures undertaken by the new leadership at country’s national and regional or states levels, the TPLF-EPRDF’s revolutionary democracy leadership style begins to diminish. The pro-TPLF leadership and dominance disappear by being silenced through inclusion of pro-Abiy’s or pro-Oromo leadership. Likewise, Oromo sympathy begins accelerating in the country as most ethnic groups turn loyalty to Abiy’s leadership. In the new leadership, as TPLF-Tigray people feel being isolated from influence including influential political positions in the government used to be, they chose self-defense strategy through rejecting, boycotting and obstructing leadership functions in their Tigray region.
Moreover, the TPLF rejects unification of EPRDF through inclusion of allied parties which leads to formation of single Prosperity Party-PP, thereby excluding itself from the new party. As a counter measure, the TPLF initiates the idea of rescuing “ethnic federalism and constitution” it views being endanger by Abiy’s leadership reform and calls for joint front with opposition parties to cripple leadership. In addition, the TPLF and Tigray public interprets Abiy’s reform measures and Prosperity Party unification as inclination to dictatorship system and dismantling of ethnic federalism and constitution. Moreover, they claim the reform measures aim at instituting Oromo dominance, elimination of ethnic minorities rights, and return to unitary system. On the other hand, in political opposition parties’ views, Abiy’s advocating of Ethiopian, nationalism, inclusivity and anti-domination receives varied interpretations.
The EPUF and Ginbot-7-EZEMA interprets the vision as aiming for returns to unitary presidential system, avoidance of ethnic federalism, and institution of liberal democratic system, which is one of their core political program. In OLF view, the leadership change is perceived as Oromo heroism and links reform to the erosion of Tigray and Amhara dominance, guarantee Oromo dominance and implementing Oromo demands, being majority rule and lion share in country’s resources. Likewise, the Oromo public, Oromo National Congress-ONC and radical members of Oromo Democratic Party-ODP share OLF perception and interpretation, which creates disagreement within leadership and members. The group interpreting change in Oromo favor accuse Dr. Abiy of abandoning reform’s objective and neglect implementing Oromo demands by prioritizing nationalism and inclusivity through Amhara influence
From Dr. Abiy view, such interpretation of reform is narrow and resemble previous leadership prioritization of Tigray heroism as Oromo’s demands can best be addressed in prioritizing Ethiopian, nationalism and inclusivity. Moreover, Abiy argue that the genuine intention of reform vision as clarified in “Medemer Book” and “Prosperity Party programs”, is to institute a system prioritizing Ethiopian, nationalism, inclusivity, and institution of genuine ethnic federalism and self-administration. In Abiy’s view, it is under such system where the majority and minority ethnic groups demands can be appropriately accommodated. Despite this clarify intention of reform vision, struggle continue between actual version and interpreted versions, leaving Ethiopians divided along these poles.
These diverse interpretations and expectations then create uncertainty and confusion where those expecting radical changes continue pursuing instability in the country for reform to fit their demands. Likewise, the anti-reform groups continue instigating and sponsoring instability to undermine leadership success in maintaining peace and stability, and undertaking promising reforms and prosperous development activities. However, though these obstacles prolong leadership reform measures to take hold, Prime Minister Abiy, both internally and externally manages to register resonated and inspiring measures to Ethiopia and the world. These measures include permitting the return of all exile political opposition groups into the country, release of all political prisoners, and promoting women’s leadership role in the government.
Other measure is advocating peace between various groups in the country, especially between Oromo and Somali, Oromo and Southern Nations, Oromo and Beneshangul Gumuz, Oromo and Amhara, Amhara and Tigray, and Sidama and Welaita. Moreover, the declaration of peace with Eritrea and call for friendly and peaceful neighbors is worth welcome. All these reform measures enable Dr. Abiy to be awarded with world noble peace prize winner of the year 2019. However, this peace prize is negated by continuous instability in several parts of the country, instigated by those taking reform to owns’ advantage by inclusion of varied interpretations. Likewise, the future destination of the Abiy’s leadership reform remains full of ambiguities. The first ambiguity relates to interpretation of unification under Prosperity Party as initial step in driving the country toward dictatorship, majority dominance and diminishing of minority rights.
Other interpretation links to Abiy’s advocating of Ethiopian and nationalism as an attempt to undermine ethnic federalism and self-administration. Moreover, there are simmering rumors on attempt for constitutional change which may require changes of parliamentary to probably presidential system, modification of self-determination provision, modification of national language, and change in regional structures. These issues have already been echoed by various opposition political parties, public and some hints within the reform measures of Abiy’s leadership. Such ambiguities lead Ethiopian to remain on “wait and see”, and even expecting the coming election to clarify the uncertainty.
- Gambella in Abiy’s reform mirror
When EPRDF, a coalition of ethnics’ liberation movements, along with allied parties, with the vision to free and guarantee ethnic groups’ rights overthrow Derg regime, this collective national victory becomes interpreted as Tigray ethnic heroism. This perception ultimately leads Tigray ethnic members to claim country’s leadership for 26 years, resulting to all rights intended for all Ethiopian to end being directed in guaranteeing Tigray’s interest. In consequence, other ethnic groups feeling isolated from the benefits of this collective victory and equal enjoyment of rights, collectively wage struggle for reform which ultimately result to coming into power of Dr. Abiy in 2018. Likewise, in Gambella, similar national scenario is witnessed where Anywa ethnic group interprets this collective victory as their heroism.
Such interpretation leads Anywa to claim regional leadership for 21 years where all the rights intended for all Gambellian end being directed to guarantee their benefit. Throughout their leadership period, they pursue political intimidation and killings as mechanisms to reinforce the exclusion of other ethnic groups as well as highlanders in the region. As a result, the other ethnic groups in the region, with Nuer being in the frontline claim for the reverse of the status quo. However, such attempt often faces violent resistance of Anywa, leading Gambella becomes a conflict prone region. When Hailemariam Desaleng becomes Prime Minister in 2012, the status quo is reversed where Nuer assumes leadership from 2012-2018 for 7 years. In Abiy’s leadership era, similar scenario in EPRDF’s leadership nationally is witnessed where several interpretations and expectations are being leveled on “Medemer” reform vision.
Likewise, in Gambella the national scenario is reflected within the ruling party where Anywa interprets the reform as owns heroism while Nuer, Majang, Opo and Komo endorse Abiy’s vision version. On regional opposition parties, some group admire Ethiopian and Nationalism while other entertain TPLF-EPRDF status quo of ethnic federalism and revolutionary democracy. In October 2018 when Gambella region witnessed leadership transition, the Anywa ethnic member who assume regional presidency translates transition and reform vision as their victory on Nuer. The new leadership under the cover up of implementing Abiy’s reform undertake measures which prioritize and guarantee Anywa’s demands and benefits. These measures include granting lion share of regional government’s political appointments to Anywa in disregard of population criteria by allocating them nine cabinets and majority Nuer with seven cabinets.
Gambella ‘s leadership transition realities
4.1. Anywa in leadership sustenance strategy
Such measure is witnessed in distribution of agencies, police officers, education opportunity, development projects as well as oil, sugar and bread flour provided to region by the federal government. However, these leadership measures of rewarding Anywa, through ensuring their supremacy, pursuing injustice and unfair distribution of resource, and revenge acts on Nuer, generate public discontent from those endorsing actual reform vision versions. In addition, the situation forces those losing patience to abandon Prosperity Party-PP and joint opposition parties and TPLF-counter reform coalition opposition parties while others remain being submissive and silent to cope up with the system. Moreover, those voicing objection on leadership receive illogical category of anti-reform and finally end in isolation and intimidation. This circumstance welcomes the question of whether Gambella leadership is in genuine Abiy’s reform vision mirror or not. As Gambella find itself in reform versions struggle, which scatter public, it requires either early federal government intervention or wait for country’s general election to clarify genuine version, while dalliance embody negative precaution for PP party success.
During the country’s leadership transition period, Anywa utilizes accusations that TPLF controlled government’s armies’ massacre Anywa civilians in 2003 and evict farmers from land through investment pretext and handling it to retire Tigray armies. In addition, they accuse the government as Nuer ally which illogically handle regional presidency to Nuer in 2012. Through these accusations, Anywa manage to capture Oromo and Abiy’s leadership sympathy and attention as people sharing similar atrocities with Oromo under TPLF-EPRDF controlled leadership.
By guaranteeing the new leadership sympathy, they begin undertaking violence atrocities against Nuer and violence scouted demonstrations against leadership of president Gatluak Tut for being Nuer.
Following Anywa’s violence activities in the region, federal government under Abiy’s leadership politically intervene by calling regional ruling party central committees to Addis Ababa for evaluation and then advice president to resign in October 2018. When Omot Ojulu from Anywa assumes regional presidency in October 2018, the new leader undertakes administrative measures which only guarantee Anywa interests. These measures later delighted Anywa despite being not their first-choice leader. However, though Anywa differ in leadership ambitions with loyalty divided on president Omot, former vice presidents Olero Opiew and Senay Akwer, state minister Alemitu Omot, Dr. Ojulu and Obong Metho, all share leadership sustenance strategy. In maintaining regional leadership and safe it from being smashed by Nuer, they pursue on dismantling and spoiling Nuer image and status nationally.
Moreover, they dismantle Nuer loyalty on Oromo and Abiy’s leadership by attaching Nuer loyalty to TPLF and Tigray people, and strengthen political divisions among Nuer politicians through political post bribery to hold them submissive. Further, they pursue on strengthening friendship with Oromo public, influential Oromo business persons and Prosperity Party’s Oromo leaders. To reinforce strengthening loyalty on Oromo and Abiy’s leadership, they are undertaking financial contributions individually as well as organizing contributions from Anywa business personalities including Ojulu Adey, Ukum, and Dr. Magn.
In addition, they are organizing contributions from Anywa diasporas in USA, Canada, Europe and Australia. To sustain these strategies, they establish an independent body led by Ojulu Adey, entrusted to make sure, if change comes which unseat Omot Ojulu, the next president must be Anywa by all means.
Moreover, this body establishes a system which guarantee Nuer shouldn’t take advantage and return to leadership by any means possible. It is later leaked that, when Omot Ojulu fall seriously sick leading him to USA for better treatment, the established body suspend Omot’s resignation submission to regional and federal government before realizing the possibility of other Anywa to assume the post. To reinforce the leadership sustainability strategy, it is leaked that the establish body open bank account regulated by Ujulu Adey to bribe most influential personalities in Abiy’s leadership. By using this strategy, Anywa manages to tighten federal government friendship and silence its intervention to address unjust practices and atrocities committed by president Omot’s leadership and Anywa public on Nuer and highlanders. However, though such strategy permits and pardons atrocities in Gambella, it seems temporal in silencing blood, while early remedy from federal government is advisable than being too late to act.
4.2. Nuer in disgruntle strategy
During the 2018 country’s leadership transition period, while Anywa undertakes accusations to dismantle [the] Nuer image and loyalty on new leadership, Nuer were instead divided in two groups with some in favor of Gatluak leadership while other being against.
Those against the leadership establishes coalition with Anywa and pockets of Majang and Komo, then finally manage to develop strong relation with federal government leaders at EPRDF party head quarter. It was later leaked that some leaders in the party head quarter inform the group that, the Prime Minister is interested to change Gatluak from regional presidency for being suspected as loyal to TPLF and Tigray military generals. The group was also advised to create disagreement in the party leadership in order to effect Gatluak removal and instructed not to accept any reconciliation that can endanger or fail the plan.
Moreover, in order to sustain commitment of Nuer group’s members for successful execution of the plan, they were promised to strengthen division for federal government to have room to intervene for removing Gatluak and hand presidency to one of them. Such promises make hard for attempted reconciliations undertaken by church leaders and community elders as the group remain firm and unchecked from their stand, while some federal government leaders continue encouraging not to give up their stand. Although those in favor of Gatluak’s leadership attempt to rescue loyalty by influencing federal leaders to welcome dismissal of anti-leadership group, they fail to get significant support as federal leaders bonding with later group become compact and hard to breakthrough.
The group in favor of Gatluak’s leadership then remains being derived and pulled or pooled by vague and tricky advices and promises of some federal government leaders, void of reality. As disagreement in party cement, with some members of central committee submitting call for evaluation, while initiating violent scouted demonstrations against the leadership to step down, the federal government now find room for intervention. This result in call for party evaluation to be undertaken in Addis Ababa where the federal government instructed the resignation of President Gatluak Tut and Vice President Senai Akwer. It is later leaked that, some leaders in EPRDF central office insist on convincing Gatluak even at the last minutes that no action will be taken on him for being allowed to remains in power till election while only vice president and his group will be dismissed.
However, such convincing is later leaked as a trick to please Gatluak and make him relax. The strategy means to prevent him in trying to convince influential federal government leaders either to allow him remains in power or plan various options and mechanisms of leadership transition and several choices for successor. Moreover, the strategy means to confine Gatluak thinking for successor within party central committee members to ultimately be among those triggering leadership change for his removal. However, despite the group designs a strategy which confine Gatluak to their advantage, at surprise, the leadership transition come contrary to the plan. As the outgoing president’s view for successor is welcome, the fore runners’ credentials for the posts are turned down by recommending unimagined persons to take advantage of group’s struggle.
The outgoing president’s leadership transition trick is then lauded by Nuer and all his loyal for not surrendering the power to enemy, despite being criticized later for recommending incapable Nuer person, leading the dictator and discriminator Anywa person to smash the position. In this leadership transition process, Gatluak initially reports to public that through his recommendation, power balance is done where Thakuey Joack from Nuer is the president and party vice chairman while Omot Ojulu from Anywa is the party chairman and vice president. Such arrangement was lauded and welcome, especially by Nuer who accuse Anywa of instigating crisis to overthrow regional president for being Nuer in order to take the post. The arrangement initially calm hostile nature of leadership transition as it balances Nuer and Anywa counter leadership claims.
However, this arrangement is soon revoked under the pretext of Thakuey Joack incapability claim and the fact that, article in party regulation giving room for power balance is not yet endorsed by party general assembly. This revoking action which turn Omot Ojulu to be the president and party chairman with Thakuey Joack deputizing him in government and party, angered Nuer leading them to boycott regional parliament’s leadership transfer session done in October 2018. The “Goa animal Youth Association” then took the lead through making roads blockage to prevent Nuer MPs from going to parliament and participate in power handling session. However, such boycotting measure was later foiled by national security forces and public meeting called by Gatluak to convince Nuer and youth to accept the revoked leadership transition arrangement void of power balance.
In the meeting, Gatluak told the Nuer public that he was responsible for revoking the leadership transition arrangement because, Thakuey lacks experience and capacity to be president and the party didn’t change the regulation which could allow power balance arrangement. This Gatluak speech anger Nuer and publicly insults him as deceiver, misleader, coward and greedy, where he even responds by insulting public and demonstrate publicly his physical ability to fight as verification of not being coward. Such acts later degrade his dignity and loyalty, and thereafter, Nuer reduce further moves for obstructing the leadership transition as they feel being betrayed by their own son. As Nuer becomes reluctant in boycotting, it enables the leadership transfer session to be undertaken by the day without facing any obstacle.
However, it is later leaked that the federal government pressures Gatluak to conduct public meeting to convince Nuer and failing to do so, definitely leads to his arrest, which force him to confront Nuer and commercialize their right to escape arrest. Moreover, the logic behind federal government pressures on Gatluak to convince Nuer rest on the fact that, such arrangement of handling regional leadership to Anywa has already been secretly agreed upon, despite misleading Gatluak to propose power balance mechanism. It is later leaked that some federal leaders initiate Anywa’s opposition to power balance arrangement and after securing party chairman, they ask why the arrangement isn’t done under Gatluak and why to be done under Anywa leadership. In addition, the Anywa insists that such arrangement requires party regulation amendment, only possible after being endorsed by party general assembly.
Such claims then convince federal government leaders to agree on Anywa demands and reinforce the already secret agreement to handle leadership to Anywa. Since this leadership transition process doesn’t comfort Nuer, they keep on blaming Galuak of surrendering community under Anywa’s dictatorship hostage. Immediately in the aftermath of leadership transition, the Nuer find themselves in disarray, divided along several political groups. The initial grouping was in two political groups of Galuak leadership loyalist and anti-Gatluak leadership. These groups continue to Thakuey leadership with Gatluak loyalist being Thakuey’s loyal group. The anti-Gatluak group continue being anti-Thakuey for viewing him being nominated by Gatluak from his loyalists’ group and continue working under interest and guidance of Gatluak.
Later, Thakuey group disintegrate as the hope in defending and implementing Nuer rights and interests diminish. This loss of hope and trust develop as Thakuey fails to adjust and counter atrocities and injustice measures perpetrated on Nuer by Anywa and president Omot. These atrocities and injustices include among others, the continues killing of Nuer on roads and government decision to forcefully evict Nuer from cultural village residential area in Gambella town. Other include the president rejection of establishing safe bus station in Nuer residential area as bus station in Anywa residential area becomes murderous center for Nuer passengers. In the government, president undertakes measures which guarantee Anywa interest, by allocating nine cabinets to Anywa and seven cabinets to Nuer, contrary to country’s constitution, allowing 47% majority Nuer lion share than 21% Anywa in population.
Likewise, such circumstance is witnessed in other offices allocation as well as development and trading sectors, having unfair and discriminatory distribution. All these injustice measures undertaken by Anywa and the president on Nuer receives silence reaction from Thakuey and whenever “Goanimal Youth” file appeal on leadership and attempt to undertakes peaceful demonstration, they end up in prison. Since Thakuey fails to prevent their arrest, while other Nuer political appointees even encourage their arrest, they become losing moral and unity in struggle to rescue Nuer from hostage. By becoming the target of leadership intimidation without rescuer, they scatter where most choose being silence. Similar despair is witnessed among Nuer politicians where they scatter along submissive, opportunists, silence, and radical (Nuer safety or anti-Anywa dominance) groups.
As Thakuey group supposed to guarantee and rescue Nuer right comes disintegrating into four camps, Nuer community then disintegrates along these camps including anti-Gatluak camp. By taking advantage of Thakuey’s incapability, insignificance of his loyal party central committee and disintegration of his group, the Anywa and anti-Gatluak or Thakuey group continue insisting to implement the vision to remove Thakuey and all radical loyalist from government. In the implementation of this vision, the radical loyalists of Gatluak (Nuer safety or anti-Anywa dominance) ends in target while submissive, opportunist, and silence group remain staggering on bidding Thakuey, Anywa (Omot) and anti-Gatluak group loyalty. As Nuer becomes in such disarray, it leads to absence of developing strategy to counter Anywa atrocities and injustice as well as future strategy to attract Abiy’s leadership sympathy to regain regional leadership.
Therefore, while Anywa is undertaking future leadership sustenance strategiy, Nuer remain lacking initiative to approach and develop friendship with Oromo public and influential personalities in Abiy’s leadership to acquire loyalty. In addition, they remain idle in undertaking activities aimed at reversing the image being dismantle by Anywa nationally. Moreover, they lack contacts with influential business personalities of Oromo community and lack financial contribution internally and even from Nuer diasporas. Further, Nuer then place hope on federal government intervention without filling appeal for injustice and undertaking other measures to initiates intervention. Such circumstance then provides Anywa’s easy ride to continue atrocities and injustice as well as sustaining leadership while making hard for Nuer to breakthrough.
4.3. Majang, Opo and Komo in opportunist strategy
Although Komo and Opo ethnic groups were known in Gambella during the Derg regime, they lack significant contribution and influence in the government while Majang was only incorporated into Gambella during the EPRDF regime. When Majang becomes incorporated with some minor population remaining under Sheka zone-Yeka wereda of Southern Nations region, the three ethnic groups’ contribution in the regional government become significant as indigenous ethnic groups of Gambella region. However, as the groups remains accepting their minority status, they usually chose a wait and see result of Anywa and Nuer regional presidency struggle. Such position is witnessed during 2002 Anywa and Nuer conflict and 2003 Anywa and highlanders’ conflict, which often leads to new arrangement in regional administrative and political structures.
In certain cases, the groups chose separate support on Anywa and Nuer in references to whose leadership preserves their interests and rights. Following 2002 regional restructuring into three zones, where Nuer and Opo come under Nuer zone with Anywa and Komo under Anywa zone, Opo and Komo in most cases render political support to owns’ zone’s mate, while Majang remains rendering political support to leadership which they view can best serves their interest. In the October 2018 regional leadership transition, the Majang ethnic group wholly side with Anywa despite being at odds during their violence conflict. Such bonding is reinforced by their dissatisfaction on highlanders’ encroachment of land through the pretext of investment and illegal resettlement leading to forceful and violence eviction of their farmers.
4.4. Federal government in crisis resolution strategy
As the measures undertaken on two ethnic groups’ land receives significant backing of the TPLF-EPRDF controlled government, the groups turn anger on the leadership, where those politicians and civilians taking leads in rejecting such measures end being imprisoned. Such circumstance then leads two ethnic groups to develop common anti-TPLF/EPRDF’s leadership front, and in turn developing anti-Nuer/Gatluak leadership front in Gambella region. When Anywa instigates leadership change in Gambella, the Majang along with Komo and pockets of Nuer politicians joins them, thereby forming anti-Gatluak leadership front, while Opo remains siding with Gatluak leadership loyalists. As anti-Gatluak leadership front manage his removal, they continue to cement their front in support of president Omot Ojulu (Anywa) leadership, while Opo ethnic group’s politicians continue support to vice president Thakuey Joack (Nuer). In such circumstance, Mjang, Opo and Komo ethnic groups remain under disarray, with no common strategy to either claim top regional leadership or neutralize Anywa and Nuer violence leadership struggle. This validate the claim of being in opportunist strategy by insisting on rendering support to best savior of their interests.
In Gambella, it remains to be permanent strategy for federal government to intervene following violence crisis eruption. This is validated by the 2002 Nuer and Anywa conflict and the 2004 Anywa and highlanders’ conflict. In the Abiy’s leadership period, similar strategy is witnessed where the federal government intervene following violence atrocities and demonstration against Nuer leadership. Likewise, following removal of Nuer guy, despite the Anywa guy’s leadership instituted through the support of some leaders in Abiy’s leadership pursue atrocities and injustice in the region, it is believed that the leadership waits for crisis resembling that of 2002 and 2004. However, such strategy often ends to be temporary solution to the crisis than aiming for sustainability. This lead many to ask why federal government admire crisis resolution strategy for Gambella than crisis prevention and management.
In analyzing the intention of the strategy, it becomes clear that, the leadership objective and loyalty dictates, in which the federal intervention is only necessitated when loyalty that determines handling power to particular ethnic group in the region becomes exposed to danger. This is what EPRDF-TPLF’s leadership did in 2002, 2004, and 2012 when loyal leadership enter into danger. Likewise, it is presumed that as Abiy’s leadership previously encourages instigation of uprising against the regional leadership suspected of having negative loyalty, the leadership then waits for exposure of Anywa’s loyal leadership into danger to intervene. Such circumstance lead to question why federal government entertains waiting for violence incidence in backward regions to intervene while such scenario doesn’t apply for advance regions in the country. This necessitate the advice of reversing strategy as it comes after Gambella plunge in blood basket.
As witnessed earlier, the EPRDF’s regime is remarkable for instituting ethnic federalism, granting undermined rights including self-administration, and undertaking promising development activities. However, unjust national control on regional administration and unjust leadership system working to fulfil Tigray interest, negate enjoyment of opportunities and generate national popular struggle to terminate leadership, leading Dr. Abiy to take power in 2018. In Gambella region, as the regime turns working to fulfil Anywa interest, such tendency generates regional popular struggle to terminate unjust leadership, leading Gatluak Tut to take power in 2012, despite the struggle often faces Anywa’s violence resistance.
Likewise, despite Abiy’s leadership receive wide hope to address EPRDF’s leadership injustice, it soon encounters varied interpretations, relating to reform measures, leaving country under varied speculations on leadership system. In Gambella, the leadership transition measures of instigating division, demonstration, requesting president’s resignation, and handing presidency to Anywa, undermine unreserved welcome of Abiy’s leadership. In addition, as the measures lack legal and political justification, they signify Abiy’s leadership loss of trust on Gatluak’s leadership, in which his early resignation request intends to remove power to safe so call transition loyalists dismissal. Moreover, the measures invite interpretation that, Abiy’s leadership loss trust on Nuer and develop trust on Anywa, leading regional president to undertakes unjust leadership practices which create ethnics’ hostility and deferring regional leadership strategies.
In general analysis of EPRDF and Abiy’s leadership systems, it would be wise for Abiy’s leadership to reverse EPRDF’s leadership style of establishing unjustified national controlling mechanism on regional administration which negates genuine self- administration.
In addition, it could be wise to clarify leadership vision intention before undertaking reform measures to avoid incorrect interpretations and speculations as well as dilemma on leadership vision. Likewise, it is wise to reverse attaching leadership change to particular group which often lead regime to focus on fulfilling the group interest and neglect the populace. Moreover, it is wise for the leadership to reverse crisis resolution strategy by adopting crisis prevention strategy for justified intervention in the regions. In Gambella, it could have been wise for Abiy’s leadership to refrain from instigating leadership change which end in favor of one ethnic group against other.
Moreover, regardless of Gatluak’s lacks of strategic leadership transition plan or threat of intimidation from federal leaders, it could be wise to design resignation probation period like former Prime Minister Desalegn. The period would have been favorable to arrange healthy leadership transition through calling urgent party’s general assembly meeting to address party regulation which can allow power balance arrangement. In general, these measures should avoid ethnics’ hostility, interpretation of transition as particular ethnic victory against other, injustice leadership system, and ethnics’ varying regional leadership strategies. Therefore, it seems valid to conclude that, under such circumstance, the Abiy’s leadership nationally remains under the custody of varying interpretations and speculations, which lead the country to dilemma on leadership vision destination. Likewise, Gambella regional leadership system proves hard to categorize under Abiy’s vision mirror as the leadership fall under the custody of undertaking reform measures against genuine Abiy’s vision version.
The author is an Ethiopian citizen, Former Gambella Deputy Police Commissioner, Former Deputy Anti-Corruption Commissioner and
Former Regional National Security and Intelligent Advisor. He’s currently a PhD candidate in Peace and Security studies in Leizig University in Germany and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia.He can be reached via his email at: Chanpost2004@yahoo.com
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