An Open Letter to Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia
End the bloodshed; open the windows of freedom to all
Dear Prime Minister Abiy,
We are scholars of Africa in Japan who are concerned about the continued bloodshed in Ethiopia. We also like to raise the issue of political opposition figures arrested more than a year ago.
The human, economic and social cost of the Tigray conflict for Ethiopia is truly incalculable. The price the country is paying in terms of diplomatic capital, too, is staggeringly high. For over seventy years, and possibly even longer, Ethiopia had enjoyed a respectable place in African diplomacy. But the conflict is in the process of eroding this hard-earned status.
Ethiopia’s enhanced diplomatic symbolism in Africa is a product of the cumulative experience of generations of Ethiopians—its leaders and its people. If the bloodshed continues, a question is also likely to arise whether Ethiopia shall take for granted the honor bestowed upon it as the seat of the AU. Following the news in the first week of November 2021 that the Tigrayan forces were advancing toward the capital, reports also began to circulate that the AU was going to relocate temporarily its headquarters and staff to an unspecified African country. The reports were found to be false. However, the fact that the AU itself had to state this by releasing an official note on November 7 suggests that the issue was serious.
This does not nevertheless mean that Ethiopia is in any danger of losing its role as the capital of Pan-Africanism. There is and will always be enough residual goodwill among Africans—despite challenges—that prevents such drastic action. Africans are sympathetic to Ethiopia, where, like in many of their own countries, a shared sense of identity has yet to be forged. On October 4, 2021, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya expressed a continent-wide sentiment when he said: “Ethiopia is our mother. And as we all know, if the mother is not at peace, neither can the family be at peace.”
Another equally urgent issue pertains to the opposition figures who were arrested immediately after and/or in connection with the apparent assassination of an Oromo singer in June 2020. We were hoping that they would be brought to a transparent and fair trial speedily if there were charges they must answer. It should be possible to release them now. It is a matter of record that some of them were strongly in favor of reconciliation between the current rulers of Ethiopia and the Tigray elites. Could the war in Tigray have been averted if these opposition figures were not put in jail? We can only speculate. What we can say for sure is that the cost of keeping these patriotic individuals behind bars is just too high for the country.
It is incredible how quickly Ethiopia has drifted in the direction of political arbitrariness, suppression of dissent, and civil war. Please let the bloodshed end. A key step toward this would be to release all opposition figures –immediately. They have a sizable constituency, they are patriotic Ethiopians, and their release can be a part of the solution. Therefore, please release them and let the long process of national healing begin.
Africans and friends of Africa are watching you.
SSALI Vick Lukwago,
On behalf of the Japan Society for Afrasian Studies.