After putting off for three years, the Ethiopian government launched the National Dialogue just over a month ago. Today, the doubts of the main opposition organizations are emerging, but probably the most burning question is another one: is the PM’s Prosperity Party (PP) sincere in wanting to build an open and inclusive dialogue, or does this decision stem from the need to take time to consolidate its power? And from this follows another question, which is a classic one about state-building in Ethiopia: are we facing yet another Ethiopian nationalist project that will centralize power and leave the periphery to its own devices?
A National Dialogue that is constructive is a necessity in Ethiopia and this should include members of the opposition, government, civil society and international bodies so as to be neutral. However, the National Dialogue Commission was constructed by the Council of Ministers, part of the executive, and the Parliament, which is also completely dominated by the PP.
The Joint Council of Ethiopian Political Parties complained about this last February 14, then the OLF, through its spokesman Lammi Gammachu, said that it does not know “what the National Dialogue is all about” and that anyway the Oromia Liberation Front did not receive any invitation. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) expressed itself, through its leader Abdirahman Mahdi, as follows: “What we see is a one-party affair that is not representative… Thus, the hope of starting a genuine dialogue that could find a viable solution to all the injustices and political quagmire in Ethiopia is in jeopardy”. Moreover, the TPLF is unlikely to be invited to participate given the situation, which completely excludes an entire region of the 9 that make up the Ethiopian federal republic.
At the same time, the exclusion of the OLF risks excluding a large portion of the Oromo population, the country’s largest ethnic group that occupies the largest and most productive region. In addition, clashes with the OLA, the armed wing of the OLF, and the government have left many territories in the hands of the Oromo Liberation Front, further strengthening the position of the OLF.
As pointed out by Buli Edjeta, an Ethiopian journalist, excluding the major opposition parties, with some of their leaders in handcuffs, while the country is at war on various fronts is not a constructive start to a National Dialogue. As of today, we do not know if this will happen or not, but it is fair to ask: is Abiy trying to buy time or is he ready to sincerely confront the other forces undermining his authority in the country? The time to change the direction that the National Dialogue has taken so far is there and the country would definitely need peace and to build a united platform shared by all political actors to avert the various conflicts, famines and economic problems that the population is experiencing – also due to sanctions – we will see what Abiy will do.