Will the United States help facilitate the exit of a defeated tyrant, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, from Ethiopia once again as it did in 1991? Jeffrey Feltman is coming to Addis Ababa tomorrow. Clearly the Tigray Defense Force and Oromo Liberation Army will not settle for peace talks when they are so close to almost certain victory. This may prevent prolonged bloodshed and misery that is otherwise destined to occur. It is interesting that Abiy Ahmed was considering allowing the still exiled Mengistu Haile Mariam to return to Ethiopia.
On May 21, 1991 President Mengistu Haile Mariam fled the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, after 12 years of war fighting the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front. At the time Alex du Waal said the only language Mengistu knew was brute force. He sapped the Ethiopian economy trying to overcome the rebel resistance. Upwards of 500,000 were killed and millions displaced in the bloody war which draws consequential similarity to the crisis under Abiy Ahmed.
Dictators like Abiy Ahmed become most dangerous to their own people when they realize they are going to lose power. There is a saying among hunters that a wounded animal becomes dangerous in its last moments.
There have been numerous academic studies by political and social scientists on the mechanisms used by dictators to gain power and how it often backfires. If you compare their findings with the recent history of Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, you see he must have read the textbook on how to be a dictator.
Abiy Ahmed has created strawmen as threats to his supporters well-being namely the TPLF and the foreign influences. Feigning that following his cause is the righteous one, the one true path to Ethiopian autonomy and greatness. That Western democracies intent is to see Ethiopia broken into pieces as a nation while Abiy promises a mighty state rivaling the global superpowers. This call for action against a falsehood facilitated his drawing together a coalition into the Prosperity Party as a test of loyalty.
For dictators to come to power they need kingmakers. They do not have to be a majority of the ruled population but kingmakers have to be activists and committed. By supporting the dictator they will gain influence but at the same time the dictator must mistrust them and find means to control them. They have to remind the kingmakers that they can easily at the dictators wish be removed from the inner circle.
There are different theories about how dictators use power. The “romantic theory” says if dictators obtain absolute power they are just free to do whatever is necessary. Another more pragmatic view is that the key to their power is controlling those who control necessary functions or resources such as the military, press, etc.
In true democracies civilian interest groups can organize through voting to replace leaders. However in a dictatorship one of the problems for dictators is that the very people they put in position to control functions or resources can turn against them. The majority of dictators who are overturned are not replaced by elections but by coups of the power groups they helped create. Although some dictatorships last decades the average dictatorship in modern times has been 3 1/2 years.
It is interesting that Abiy Ahmed has now reached that time where most dictators are dethroned. Although for there are still many buying into his straw men delusions the reality of the weakness that has come to the Ethiopian state rather then the strength he proclaims is beginning to be undeniable. He now finds himself daily reversing his previous declarations such as the Ethiopian and allied forces completely vanquished the Tigray leadership and military to just “flour in the wind“, that Mekelle was just a poor village not capable of any significant military threat, that record prosperity for all Ethiopians was just around the corner, that freedom of the press would become law not a memory, and that political opposition would be given a “seat at the table” not a cell in the jail. Instead he has reigned on all these promises. Like previous dictators now he is in a delusional state wantonly punishing those who are “not with him in supporting the state” encouraging starvation, genocide, even killing of his own armed forces for withdrawing from battle. I pray to God that the many Tigrayans, Oromians, and others in custody through out Ethiopia are not killed out of a crazy man’s spite.