Like Tewdros II Abiy Ahmed has failed to create a centrally controlled Ethiopia

Abiy Ahmed’s leadership has followed a similar course to Tewdros  II of initial enthusiasm, then bloody despotism, and finally military defeat

Abiy Ahmed seeing himself as Tewdros II reincarnation will likely end in his fall from power just as it did for Tewdros. The struggle between a single strong central government versus a confederation of states has recurred in Ethiopia many times since the 18th century with centralism never prevailing.  The very insightful author of Ethiopia Insight, Abel Tesfaye, wrote a prophetic article in 2019 asking the question did Abiy Ahmed want to be another Tewdros II, Emperor of Ethiopia? 

Today many Amhara look with pride at the story of Kassa of Quara, an Amhara, who would go on to become Tewdros II. The popular legend is that he arose to attempt to create a unified Ethiopia which had been stopped in its development by constant infighting between Amhara, Oromo, and Tigray at the end of 18th century. In fact many Amhara blame a Tigrayan nobleman, Ras Mikael Sehul, whose capture of Gondar started an era commonly referred to Zemane Mesafint, meaning time without princes or sometimes also referred to as time of darkness.

At that time the Tigray were called woyane same as Abiy Ahmed’s followers do to them today. This time was seen as chaotic and harmful to the development of the state of Ethiopia. Tewdros ultimately killed himself when he suffered a military defeat from an invading British army which was helped by Ethiopians opposing a strong central government. Historians have often tend to define Tewdros as a “bloody madman” while many Ethiopians especially Amhara idealize his memory as that of a martyr. 

The current situation today with the Tigray Defense Force and Oromo Liberation Army close to capturing Addis Ababa does mirror what happened to end Tewdros II’s reign. Abiy Ahmed supporters portray Ethiopian history  that “hundreds if not thousands of years” of Ethiopian harmony and identity were only disrupted once by the terrorist Tigray Peoples Liberation Front. This is far from the truth. 

Tewdros tortured and killed any opponents. He disliked the idea of missionaries and diplomates and favored the idea that war was the only way for countries to relate to each other.  This reminds of Abiy Ahmed’s distrust of diplomacy and non-governmental organizations. There was only the victor and the defeated with no in-between.

Many claim that by 1863 Tewdros II was actually hated by most under his despotic rule. Like Abiy Ahmed today at first he was greeted with enthusiasm with a promise of building a stronger nation but eventually his thirst for power created death and destruction and alienation of many foreign countries. Instead what Ethiopian history tells us is that time after time a strong centrist government with one dominant ethnic group will usually fail. Maybe it is time for a new idea instead of subjecting each generation to bloody wars. Abiy Ahmed seems to have earned the same fate of failure and defeat as suffered by his idol, Tewdros II. 

Author: Professor Tony Magana

Professor Tony Magana is Head of the Department of Neurosurgery, School of Medicine, College of Health Sciences at Mekelle University in Mekelle, Ethiopia. He directs a neurosurgery residency and training program as well as neuroscience research.

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