Monday, July 23, 2018

Ethiopia-Eritrea: rapprochement achieved; now for implementation

The silver cloud (of peace) has a dark lining (the TPLF).
Elizabeth Kendal


On 5 June, Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Amhed (41) announced that Ethiopia was ready to abide by the Algiers Declaration, accept the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission ruling of 2002, and withdraw from disputed territories pursuant of peace.

For full background see Religious Liberty Monitoring
Ethiopia and Eritrea: Reforms and Resistance
by Elizabeth Kendal, 25 June 2018

Since then, progress has been rapid.

26 June: Eritrean Delegation visits Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Tuesday 26 June, an Eritrean delegation arrived in Addis Ababa for a three-day official visit. It was the first high level meeting between the states since diplomatic relations were broken off in 1998, and it was a sensational success.

For more details see Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin
Ethiopia and Eritrea: leaders have “opened the door of peace”
by Elizabeth Kendal, 4 July 2018

8 July: Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed visits Asmara, Eritrea.

PM Abiy (l) arrives in Asmara and is
met by President Afwerki (r),
8 July 2018.
On Sunday 8 July, an Ethiopian Airlines aeroplane touched down in
Asmara – the first in 20 years. The plane was carrying Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed, who was met at the airport by Eritrean President, Isaias Afwerki. It was the first time the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea had met in more than 20 years. 

Eritreans were out in numbers, eager to welcome the Ethiopian Prime Minister. According to one eyewitness, “The yearning for peace was palpable.” 

9 July: declaration signed; ‘state of war’ over
On Monday 9 July, Prime Minister Abiy and President Afwerki held a historic bilateral summit in which they signed a “declaration of peace and friendship” and declared the “state of war” over.

“We have agreed,” said PM Abiy, “to open up embassies in our respective countries, allow our people to visit each other’s cities, and allow our airlines and ports to operate freely. Love is greater than modern weapons like tanks and missiles. Love can win hearts, and we have seen a great deal of it today here in Asmara.” 

Video news report: Al-Jazeera, 9 July 2018
Ethiopia, Eritrea sign “declaration of peace and friendship”,

(Includes comment by Horn of Africa specialist Matt Bryden, on the challenge of implementation.)

10 July: Phone lines opened

On the eve of the 1998-2000 Ethiopia-Eritrea war, the Ethiopian government expelled more than 70,000 Eritreans from Ethiopian territory while Eritrea likewise expelled thousands of Ethiopians from its territory. The expulsions resulted in lives being turned upside down and families being torn apart. The pain of separation was cruelly compounded by the severing of, not merely all transport and trade links, but all telecommunication and postal services as well.  

Consequently, on Tuesday 10 July 2018 when telephone services between the two states were restored, the lines lit up. Telephone lines dormant for decades buzzed excitedly as loved ones long-separated established contact for the first time in 20 years. Others excitedly made random calls, just to chat with a stranger on the other side of the border. 

14 July: Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki visits Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

On Saturday 14 July, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki flew into Addis Ababa for a three day visit. Thousands of cheering and dancing Ethiopians turned out to greet him. As reported by France24, “Some excited Ethiopians have compared the restoration of relations with one of the world’s most closed-off countries to the fall of the Berlin Wall.” 

“A visibly moved Abiy on Saturday [14 July] praised Ethiopians for their warm welcome of the Eritrean president with chants of ‘Isaias! Isaias!’ and flag-waving. ‘I’m very emotional right now,’ Abiy told a luncheon at the National Palace.

“Thank you,” said Afwerki, “for the genuine love that you all showed us.”

16 July: Eritrean Embassy re-opens in Addis Ababa

Abiy and Afwerki raise the Eritrean flag
at the re-opened Eritrean Embassy
in Addis Ababa, 16 July 2018.
Closed since 1998, the Eritrean Embassy in Addis Ababa remained like a time capsule "frozen in time" collecting dusk for 20 years [BBC images]. 

However, at a special ceremony on Monday 16 July the embassy was inaugurated. PM Abiy handed the keys to President Afwerki and together the two leaders raised the Eritrean flag. 

After inaugurating the embassy, President Afwerki left Addis Ababa to return to Asmara; he was seen off by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. 

18 July: Flights resume enabling family reunions

On Wednesday 18 July, 465 Ethiopians travelled to Asmara on the first commercial flight between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 20 years. While the flight did carry some dignitaries – including former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegne and Ethiopian Orthodox Church Patriarch Abune Mathias – the passengers were mostly people separated from their families by the war.

With tickets selling out in less than one hour, a second flight was scheduled for 15-minutes later. “With the demand we are witnessing, I think we’re going to increase the frequency to twice a day, thrice a day and even more,” said Ethiopian Airline’s chief executive, Tewolde GebreMariam, at a ceremony ahead of the maiden flight. 

On the plane, passengers received roses and champagne, and sang and danced in the aisles during the 60-minute flight. 

However, the mood changed when they landed in Asmara. 

Tears flowed freely as family members were reunited with loved-ones whom they had not seen or touched for 20 years. Among them was Ethiopian journalist Addisalem Hadgu (58) of the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC). During the war his Eritrean wife took their two teenage daughters to Eritrea, and despite all his efforts over the next 18 years he had been unable to make contact with them. For Addisalem, the reunion with his now adult daughters was almost more than he could bear. 

Ninety Eritreans flew to Addis Ababa on the return trip. 

NOW THE HARD PART:
withdrawing Ethiopian troops from Eritrean territory.


Bronwyn Bruton is the deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Centre in Washington, D.C. In an insightful, nearly 3000-word analysis she explains that “there is a very clear reason why both leaders [Abiy and Afwerki] are suddenly so eager to cooperate. They are united by the presence of a still-potent mutual enemy: the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).”

See: Ethiopia and Eritrea Have a Common Enemy 
by Bronwyn Bruton, for Foreign Policy magazine (subscription) 12 July 2018

excerpts: 

“Though it governed behind the fig leaf of a larger ruling coalition, the TPLF and the tiny ethnic minority it represents have wielded unlimited power in Ethiopia for the past two decades.

“The party has used its power to obliterate civil society, the press, religious freedoms, and all forms of political opposition.

“By early this year, the TPLF’s stranglehold on power had brought Ethiopia to the verge of collapse, as larger ethnic groups, led by the Oromo and Amhara, blocked roads into Addis Ababa in protest. To avert a showdown — which would have taken the form of a catastrophic food and fuel shortage in the capital — the ruling coalition’s government was forced to oust its prime minister, release thousands of political prisoners, and consent to the appointment of Abiy, an Oromo leader, as the new head of state. Abiy has proved more of a firebrand than expected and has been moving quickly to generate a political following and dismantle the TPLF’s grip on power. . . 

“Abiy has even more reason than Isaias to fear the holdouts in the TPLF. They are the key impediments to political reform in Ethiopia, and since taking office, he has frantically sought to undo their hold on power. He diminished the military’s authority by lifting a repressive state of emergency, repealed laws that allowed the security forces to label dissidents as terrorists and arrest them, and fired a slew of senior security and intelligence officers, most of whom were Tigrayans.

“His much-lauded decision to lift the government monopolies on several of Ethiopia’s key industries, including telecommunications and energy, was lauded as a free market advance — but it was also an important swipe at the TPLF’s bank accounts. TPLF leaders have profited from self-dealing by directing these monopolies to award lucrative government contracts to firms that they own or are run by their military cronies.
“Abiy is working hard and fast to gain ground against the TPLF before its bickering leaders can organize a coherent response . . .

“The bad news for Abiy is that his maneuvers will probably have minimal effects. After 27 years of autocratic rule, the TPLF has patronage networks that run deep and are rooted in ethnic demographics. Although Tigrayans represent only 6 percent of Ethiopia’s population, an analysis of the Ethiopian military several years ago found that 57 of 61 generals in mission-critical positions were ethnically Tigrayan. It is estimated that two-thirds of the broader officer class is, too.”

Concerning the generals, Bruton notes that while PM Abiy has already started to “thin their ranks”, that “doesn’t make them disappear”. What's more, PM Abiy “can’t possibly afford to fire 95 percent of Ethiopia’s generals. To consolidate his power, he needs to fire the worst but co-opt the rest, and that process could take years.” Until then, Bruton warns, they will continue to foment trouble. As an example, she raises the case of Maj. Gen. Tekleberhan Woldearegay who, after being forced to resign from his powerful post as director of the notorious Information Network Security Agency (INSA), went on the radio and “appeared to call for a coup”. Describing himself as a representative of the military, he lambasted the government calling it “an enemy force” and “not of the people”. 

While Bruton does not believe that disgruntled TPLF hardliners could persuade the military into open revolt, she does expect them act as spoilers. “The assassination attempt on Abiy in Meskel Square on June 26 appears to have been just such an incident — the deputy police commissioner has been arrested, alongside 30 other police and government officials.”

Peace Process Requires International Support

As Bruton explains: “Abiy’s moves — including his overtures to Eritrea and firing of key generals — are intensely provocative to the TPLF, and they may well backfire. Ethiopia’s allies, especially Washington, should be watching the developments there with alarm and should act to ensure that the situation there does not spiral out of control. If TPLF hard-liners use their influence over the military to illegally retake power — either through assassination, ethnic destabilization tactics, or a coup — Ethiopia will face a civil war.”

Bruton’s recommendation: “The European Union and the United States should be sending an unmistakable and public message to the TPLF that any seizure of power will not be tolerated — that aid funding, military cooperation, and political backing will disappear if there is a coup attempt or any other form of anti-democratic interference. Such a message would make it emphatically clear to the hard-liners that a graceful exit is their only option.”

Further to this, nothing will or even could change inside Eritrea so long as Ethiopian troops remain on Eritrean soil. 

Bruton concludes: “Peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia is long overdue. But it’s important for policymakers to understand that the current rush to peace is a tactical matter. As long as both Abiy and Isaias remain existentially threatened by the TPLF, both will be quick to gloss over their differences. . .

“For now, hard-liners within the TPLF can be held in check by the threat of popular fury. But they also may be desperate enough to act irrationally. In the meantime, a thaw with Eritrea — and the powerful military it has posted in the TPLF’s backyard — helps to even out the balance of power, if only by reminding the TPLF hard-liners of how many enemies they have.”

------------------------------------------------------


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Monday, June 25, 2018

Ethiopia-Eritrea: Reforms and Resistance

by Elizabeth Kendal


On Saturday 23 June, a man reportedly dressed in police uniform attempted to throw a grenade towards the speaker’s platform during a pro-government rally in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Eyewitnesses report that rally attendees grabbed the would-be assassin, and the grenade exploded in his hand. At the time of writing, two are confirmed dead and around 156 wounded, of whom at least six are critical. The rally in Meskel Square was a show of support for Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali (41), and for his radical reform agenda.

Pro-government rally, Meskel Square, Addis Ababa, 23 June 2018

Elected in late March by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) four-party coalition, and sworn into office on 2 April, Dr Abiy has hit the ground running. But as the grenade attack indicates, not everyone is pleased.

See: Grenade attack caused blast at rally for PM Abiy Ahmed
Al Jazeera English (VIDEO) 23 June 2018

Ethiopia’s New Prime Minister: Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali

On 15 February, after years of escalating civil unrest and political paralysis, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn submitted his resignation.

Defense and Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy (D&FA, the magazine of the International Strategic Studies Association), Issue 3/2018, assessed the leadership change as having profound and global significance.

Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali 
“Ethiopia’s ruling EPRDF on March 27, 2018, finally, and with much difficulty, voted for what could be a meaningful change in governmental leadership, but that does not mean incoming Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali, 41, will immediately have his hands on all the levers of power. Security and defense controls seem to remain in the hands of the Tigrean minority which has controlled the EPRDF since 1991. Prime Minister Abiy’s maiden speech galvanized the country.”

English transcript of PM Abiy's maiden speech,
courtesy OPride.com (Oromo Pride is an independent news agency)

In D&FA’s estimation, “The election of Dr Abiy may come to be seen as the most significant strategic shift in the Horn of Africa/Red Sea strategic zone since the coup against Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1974 . . .”

The pro-Soviet Dergue (military junta) that seized power in 1974 systematically dismantled Ethiopian national identity in line with Marxist ideology. And as D&FA explains, it is a wound from which Ethiopia has never recovered, causing Ethiopia to remain internally focused and fractured.

However, D&FA believes that, “Dr Abiy has the potential to reassert Ethiopian unity, in part because he is an Oromo leader” and the Oromo – the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia – has long been the most restive and opposed to the Tigrean control of government.

D&FA makes it clear that the EPRDF coalition did not elect Dr Abiy because he is weak and pliable. To the contrary, when it comes to leadership, Dr Abiy is a rising star. He is a former soldier, having served as a colonel in intelligence and communications. He is also a technocrat and cyber warfare expert. He has a PhD (2017) in conflict resolution . . . and more. D&FA describes his career as “intense”, noting that Dr Abiy, despite his youth, has already served as Minister of Science and Technology (2016-2017), Director of the Federal Science and Technology Information Centre (2013-2016), and Director of the Federal Information Network Security Agency (2007-2010).

D&FA continues, “Dr Abiy, for all that his name reveals his Muslim birth, is a Protestant Christian, having – like many Muslims now associating with the ruling elite in Ethiopia – converted from Islam to Protestant Christianity. So it is interesting that, for all that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was seen as often subordinating itself to the Government since, essentially, 1974, the EPRDF leadership has itself associated more with Protestantism.”

Dr Abiy was born in 1976 in the restive, Muslim-majority Jimma region of south-western Ethiopia.  The youngest of 13 children, his father was a polygamous Muslim and his mother (the fourth wife) a Christian. Deutsche Welle (DW) notes that when violent unrest erupted between the region’s Muslim and Christian communities, Abiy “actively engaged in a peace forum for reconciliation”. OPride adds: “Abiy completed his Ph.D. at the Institute of Peace and Security Studies of Addis Ababa University with his doctoral thesis entitled ‘Social Capital and its Role in Traditional Conflict Resolution in Ethiopia: The Case of Inter-Religious Conflict in Jimma Zone.’ His dissertation was built around the work he had done in a government led mission to resolve conflicts between Christian and Muslim communities in his hometown of Beshasha.”

Dr Abiy is married with three daughters.

For a more detailed profile see: 10 quick facts about Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed,  OPride.com.

Radical Reforms

Prime Minister Abiy’s reforms are causing alarm among those invested in the status quo; consequently, resistance is to be expected.

In power for less than three months, PM Abiy has already removed Ethiopia’s intelligence and military chiefs along with the national security advisor and several other older government officials. “These people have been in the system for far too long and are by and large blamed by the public for the problems,” said Awol Allo, an Ethiopian commentator who teaches law in Britain. “My worry is that he’s moving too fast in a country without the institutional safeguards to implement these policies.”

PM Abiy has also made moves to liberalise the economy, privatizing key state-run industries – among them Ethiopian Airlines and Ethio Telecom – industries in which many EPRDF elites are believed to be entrenched. Such big reforms carry big risks.

Further to this, he has lifted the state of emergency and released thousands of political prisoners.

Peace with Eritrea

One of PM Abiy’s most controversial moves – and the one that would be of the most interest to religious liberty observers and analysts – is his move to make peace with Eritrea.

click on map to enlarge
Between 1998 and 2000, an estimated 80,000 soldiers died fighting over the Ethiopian-Eritrea border. The conflict ended in December 2000 after a peace accord known as the Algiers Agreement was signed by both parties. In 2002 the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) issued its final and binding ruling on the border. The EEBC awarded “Badme” – a town with a population of a little over 1500 – “and its environs” to Eritrea, and ordered Ethiopia to end its occupation, dismantle its illegal settlements and withdraw its troops to Ethiopian territory. Ethiopia rejected the ruling and continued its occupation of the disputed territory. Ever since then, the two states have existed in a state of “no war, no peace”.

On Tuesday 5 June 2018, Stratfor Global Intelligence reported: “After years of bad blood, Ethiopia is taking steps to mend fences and reach an agreement on its shared border with Eritrea. On June 5, Ethiopia’s ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, opted to accept an agreement that would give Badme, a town on the border, to Eritrea. If Ethiopia follows through, the move could help settle some of the differences between the two archrivals on the Horn of Africa.”

Badme
Video reports:
Disputed border to of Badme to be recognised as Eritrean territory
CGTN Africa, 6 Jun 2018

Ethiopia accepts peace deal with longtime rival Eritrea
France 24, 6 June 2018

In announcing the move to pursue peace, PM Abiy explained: “All that we have achieved from the situation of the last 20 years is tension. Neither Ethiopia nor Eritrea benefit from a stalemate. We need to expend all our efforts towards peace and reconciliation and extricate ourselves from petty conflicts and divisions and focus on eliminating poverty.”

PM Abiy rejected the characterisation of relations between the two countries as a “no war no peace” situation, arguing that the psychological burden and the endless antagonism means that the two states are in reality, still in a state of war. “Every Ethiopian should realise,” he said, “that it is expected of us to be a responsible government that ensures stability in our region, one that takes the initiative to connect the brotherly peoples of both countries and expands trains, buses, and economic ties between Asmara [the Eritrean capital] and Addis Ababa.”

But as Ludger Schadomsky, the head of DW’s Amharic Service, observes, Abiy’s reforms have not been welcomed in all corridors of power. In particular, “he has alienated powerful people in the security and military establishment who view his recent peace initiative vis-a-vis Eritrea with great scepticism”.
political map
click on map to enlarge

Indeed, PM Abiy’s peace overture is eliciting strong resistance from the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a political party which forms part of the ruling EPRDF four-party coalition, and which has dominated government for decades. The move is also opposed by Ethiopian veterans of the war and other Tigrayan settlers living in Badme as well as ethnic Tigrayans living in Tigray province, along the Eritrean border.

It goes without saying though, that peace with Eritrea would radically transform the security situation in the Horn of Africa. Indeed, the implications of peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea are absolutely enormous. And as Al-Jazeera notes, the ball is now in Eritrea’s court. 

Eritrea and its President, Isaias Afwerki

Eritrea is one of the world’s most repressive states and its president, Isaias Afwerki, is one of the world’s cruellest dictators. Eritrea is also one of the world’s most severe persecutors of Christians, in particular Protestant Christians, thousands of whom have suffered appalling abuse and inhumane mistreatment, including torture, in Eritrea’s prisons and desert camps. The state generates thousands of refugees per month, many of whom are Christian [RLPB 235 (6 Nov 2013)].

All secondary school students must complete their compulsory military service in order to graduate. Yet while in military service, these teenagers are abused and mistreated, their Bibles are confiscated, and unrepentant believers (in particular Protestants) are beaten and tortured.

Of those who have fled, thousands have become stranded in camps in Sudan or Libya, while others have fallen prey to human traffickers who sell them to terrorists who then hold them in bunkers in the Sinai desert where they are tortured for ransom [RLPB 205 (10 April 2013)].

Survivor: Eritrean Christian refugee, Philemon, tortured in the Sinai desert.
"God brought me out of the deepest darkness . . ."
Philemon's story
For more details on persecution of Christians see:
Religious Liberty Monitoring: Eritrea 
World Watch Monitoring: Eritrea
Morning Star News: Eritrea
Submission to CCPR by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) April 2018

Critically, Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki legitimises his repression and the cruelty on the pretext that the war with Ethiopia never really ended, and as such, Eritrea must remain on a permanent war footing and in a permanent state of emergency.

Unsurprisingly, Afwerki – who has been Eritrea’s president since independence (1993) – is not rushing to embrace PM Abiy’s peace overture.

Marcos Hailemariam (not his real name), an Eritrean refugee living in Addis Ababa told The Ethiopian Herald that he suspects the Eritrean regime will either ignore Abiy’s overture or find an excuse to discount it.“First of all,” he said, “the no war no peace situation is one of the pretexts the regime uses to extend its life span as a dictatorial regime. If the tension between the nations is solved the people would raise various questions against the dictatorial regime.”

The analysts at the ERI platform agree, suggesting that PM Abiy’s move could “pull the rug from under Isaias’ feet”.

“Removing this state of no peace, no war denies him [Afwerki] the pretext of national security and puts Isaias in a dilemma – either way, it could be the beginning of the end of the unravelling of his dictatorship. The fact that he is unable or unwilling to respond in kind is likely a reflection of that concern. . .

“He [Afwerki] is probably afraid that either way would spell his undoing. He is facing a dilemma, because that could be the beginning of the end of his regime. With an end to the state of no war, no peace in sight, there would be no excuse for business as usual for the regime.”

See: The Missing Facts in the Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Debate
ERI Platform, 12 June 2018

It took Afwerki two weeks to respond to Abiy’s offer and to confirm that Eritrea will send officials to Addis Ababa to “gauge current developments directly and in depth”.

On Wednesday 20 June, Stratfor Global Intelligence reported: “Dynamics in East Africa have the potential to change dramatically in the near future. After weeks of silence, Eritrea’s reclusive president, Isaias Afwerki, finally weighed in on June 5 reports that Ethiopia could give disputed territory to its longtime enemy. During Eritrea’s Martyrs Day, Afwerki stated that the recent events in Ethiopia warranted attention and that his country would send a delegation to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, to discuss potential cooperation.

“While seemingly insignificant on the surface, the move from Afwerki is likely borne of desperation. The president has justified his decades long grip on power by claiming that Ethiopia wanted to wipe his Red Sea country off the map. Indeed, Eritrea’s political and economic systems have largely revolved around the need to maintain a huge military apparatus that is capable of going toe-to-toe with Ethiopia. However, Afwerki slowly transformed that system into one that perpetuates his rule, and he has used illicit activities to buy support from military elites.

“Addis Ababa’s decision to flip the script has, at least temporarily, called into question the narrative that Ethiopia presents an existential threat. Because of this, Afwerki is compelled to at least appear willing to hear out the Ethiopians to appease his people and avoid potential protests. But luckily for Afwerki, there are also signs that hard-liners in Addis Ababa may be prepared to fight the reforms that new Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is pushing. For example, the key party in Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front [TPLF], recently voiced its concern over the recent zeal for reform and said more deliberations were necessary. In the context of Ethiopia’s politics, this likely means the hard-liners are preparing to bite back to reassert control and ensure they continue to profit from the regional rivalry.” (emphasis mine)

Resistance Escalates 


PM Abiy (in blue jacket) visits
victims in hospital, 24 June.
(source: Fana)
Biting Back: PM Abiy’s radical reforms and the resistance they are eliciting, provide the context for the 23 June grenade attack in Meskel Square, Addis Ababa. Thirty people have since been arrested over the attack along with nine policemen accused of gross negligence.

The blast has sent shock-waves through the country. Mohammed Ademo, political commentator and founder of OPride.com, told Al-Jazeera, “Abiy’s effort to move the country forward has angered those who for a very long time maintained a stronghold on the country’s politics and economy. They are trying to scare people and undermine the prime minister so they can send a signal that he is not capable of stabilizing the country. Many Ethiopians are shocked that people would go to such lengths to stop what they [many Ethiopians] see as a really positive move – the reforms they say this country really needs.”

Reasserting Control: Further to this, on 24 April, World Watch Monitor reported that, “Ethiopia’s northern Tigray State is considering adopting a new law that would restrict Christian activities to within official [Ethiopian Orthodox] church compounds. . .

“A similar law was recently ratified in neighbouring Amhara State which, together with Tigray, is home to most members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and local church leaders fear other states will copy the move.”

PM Abiy's radical reforms -- especially his peace overture with Eritrea -- are infuriating Tigrayans, (especially those in the TPLF) and threatening powerful people who profit from the status quo. In this context, it is highly likely that this move by the governing authorities in Tigray and Amhara regions is not religious policy so much as it is reactionary politics. It would be interesting to know what the Ethiopian Orthodox Church's position is on such an unconstitutional law (see Article 11), one that in some ways mimics Eritrean policy. It is a move the central government will surely challenge, hopefully before too many Ethiopian Protestants are negatively impacted.

END

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com