Trial and prisoners in Ethiopia

Two preliminary points:

First: For those to whom it is intended, the indictment reads like a shocking thriller, conjuring an image of dangerous individuals who represent a mortal threat to the Ethiopian state and its PM, who is working hard to Make Ethiopia Great Again, and must be locked up and expunged from the political scene. Take for example the scene where the script writer imagines Jawar recruiting former OLF fighters and sends them to Egypt via Kenya, for training … the amount of cynicism here … basically preying on the prejudices, fears and apprehensions of the Addis Ababa elite … A Muslim Oromo, recruiting OLF fighters, and sent them to Arab/Muslim Egypt, who is at a diplomatic war with Ethiopia (note that the PM has been desperately trying to find some ways of using the enthusiasm over the GERD for internal politics, and of course his statement after Haacaaluu’s assassination)

Second: For those against whom the script is written, it is likely to be perceived as a concatenation of provable falsehoods and outright lies designed to advance an oppressive political objective.

This indictment is perhaps the most blatant and egregious abuse of the legal system and the judicial space for political ends it has ever encountered.

The Trial

This trial is not a run-of-the-mill criminal trial. It is a political trial carefully choreographed and staged to put Oromo nationalism, which ushered the PM onto power, in the dock. The indictment reads as a prosecution of the aspiration of the Oromo public for a dignified and peaceful co-existence with the nations and nationalities of Ethiopia.

Indeed, some of the ridiculous evidence presented here and the sequence of events described and narrative makes it clear that this is part of a broader strategic maneuver by the government to depict an unpatriotic and violent image of Oromo nationalism to prepare the discursive environment for the PM’s ultimate objective of dismantling multinational federation. Jawar and the 23 accused are convenient scapegoats on which to hang the stories the government wanted to filter into the court of public opinion.

At its core, this trial represents a collision of two radically contrasting visions of the future for Ethiopia: Jawar’s ethnonational vision of a democratic multinational federal order, and the PM’s “Make Ethiopia Great Again” vision of a highly centralised state in which he reigns supreme. And there is no symmetry between these two visions.

The established order is deploying the devices of law and justice to eliminate critical Oromo voices from the political space – a practice that is in keeping with Ethiopia’s imperial origin and its anti-Oromo foundation. After all, this is a multi-ethnic empire that rendered significant parts of its population “a part of no part.” The only reason people like Jawar, Eskinder, Lidetu, Bekele, Hamza and so many others are on trial is because Abiy and his neo-neftegna regime can. Abiy sees Jawar as a potent electoral threat in the short term & a mortal threat to his “Ethiopia First” vision in the long term. He is, quite simply, using the law to protect his personal interest.

Eskinder Nega and Others

People like Eskinder Nega and Lidetu Ayalew (both could represent a potential threat to Abiy’s electoral fortunes in Addis Ababa), are on trial because it allows the state to deny political motivation in the crackdown. They can say, look, we have arrested and detained individuals from other political formations too, not just Oromos, this is merely a matter of routine law and order operation.

What I find deeply tragic about Eskinder is how his metropolitan constituency seemed totally willing to sacrifice him. In their transactional worldview, if Abiy goes after Oromo nationalism and Oromo nationalists – forces they consider a threat to the established structure of privilege that gives them symbolic and material sustenance.

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