Amid Ethiopia’s aviation parade, Ogaden peace ends the country’s ‘permanent’ war

On Monday morning, Addis Ababa was one massive dusty gray square. By the afternoon, it was a convoy of 4,300 Ethiopian Airlines jets, moving as a whole through the empty skies above the capital….

Amid Ethiopia’s aviation parade, Ogaden peace ends the country’s ‘permanent’ war

On Monday morning, Addis Ababa was one massive dusty gray square. By the afternoon, it was a convoy of 4,300 Ethiopian Airlines jets, moving as a whole through the empty skies above the capital.

The massive fleet served as the backdrop as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the leader of the world’s most populous nation by population, said in a speech he was sending soldiers to war in Djibouti, an African country set to host the 2023 World Aquatics Championships.

On Monday morning, Addis Ababa was one massive dusty gray square. By the afternoon, it was a convoy of 4,300 Ethiopian Airlines jets, moving as a whole through the empty skies above the capital. | Abel Tesfaye/AP

But by the afternoon, Addis Ababa — the poverty-stricken capital city that has long harbored a giant reputation for nightlife and place-making — was all business. Workers scrubbed a central square from between car headlights to reveal three temporary granite seating areas and a giant central stage: the arena for a daylong concert featuring no less than 43 musicians and dancers, including Ethiopian pop stars.

The artistes performed beneath what looked like a diamond, or perhaps something similar, as part of the event dubbed “Seedlings,” or “let us bring our seeds” in Ethiopia’s predominant tribal language Amharic.

Addis Ababa — the poverty-stricken capital city that has long harbored a giant reputation for nightlife and place-making — was all business.

In October, the story of change shook Africa when Abiy announced a much-anticipated peace deal with the exiled Ogaden National Liberation Front, an armed group whose decades-long struggles for self-determination reached as far as Somalia. The talks culminated in a deal that would allow Ethiopia to withdraw its troops from neighboring Somalia — though it would continue to be an armed entity in the Horn of Africa — and eventually to transition to a post-military political role.

In November, the story of change shook Africa when Abiy announced a much-anticipated peace deal with the exiled Ogaden National Liberation Front, an armed group whose decades-long struggles for self-determination reached as far as Somalia. The talks culminated in a deal that would allow Ethiopia to withdraw its troops from neighboring Somalia — though it would continue to be an armed entity in the Horn of Africa — and eventually to transition to a post-military political role. | Abel Tesfaye/AP

For Abiy, who came to power in April as part of a wave of reforms sweeping across the Horn of Africa, his Eritrean stance was a new one in the story of change. His predecessors — President Mulatu Teshome, for one — had wavered and too long sought to confront a persistent Eritrean-aligned border conflict instead of brokering peace.

More than 20 years of bloodshed began with the early 1990s conflict over control of territory and mineral resources. Abiy’s predecessor, who killed himself before heading into conflict, began negotiations in 2009 with Eritrea, calling it a war for “peace and liberation.” The talks brought them to two agreements last year, one for a demilitarized border region, and another that would provide for troops from both sides to return to the border.

But peace was far from secured. Earlier this year, images showed Ethiopia — and its allies in Djibouti — positioning troops around the border in a sign of trouble. The news came after Arsal region was declared an autonomous entity within the country in early June.

Yemane Gebreab, head of a diaspora association that advocates for the interests of the former Ethiopian state and its largest ethnic group, explains that the current military standoff is not a new one. These efforts, he explains, are meant to serve as a deterrent.

“I have been watching as a very active diaspora community that has not supported other forms of government, but now is backing this guy,” he says, referring to Abiy. “I’m really honored and proud for us … that once again we’re seeing a bit of a paradigm shift in Ethiopia.”

There is no silver bullet, though, many observers have said. Abiy’s hoped-for reforms can only change the country as a whole, not just him.

“We are here today at a crossroads,” he said Monday. “I said to my generation that we cannot change Ethiopia with our individual intent. This is about change that will drive us to our destination.”

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