The Ethiopian Prime Minister’s Book and Eritrea

One of the most talked about topics during the past few weeks among Ethiopians (and many Eritreans) in social media is ‘Medemer’, the launching of the book PM Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia wrote.  The book was launched on 20 Oct 2019 with much fanfare. 

 

BTW, ‘medemer‘ means, literally, ‘to add’. 

 

According to Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, the book launch was held at the Millennium Hall in Addis Ababa. The book launch was attended by senior and junior government officials, dignitaries, community and religious leaders and thousands of supporters.  An Eritrean delegation, led by Ambassador Semere Russom, took part in the festivity. The event was televised live nationally. In fact, the book was launched in more than 30 cities across Ethiopia.

 

The Millennium Hall  where the book launch was held

The 280-page book is published in three languages: Amharic, English and Afaan Oromoo (the PM’s mother tongue).  One million copies were printed for the occasion.  

 

The sales pitch for the book at Amazon reads as follows:

 

In the book, the prime minister advocates for a fresh, Ethiopian-centric approach to the country’s politics, citing the past half-century when previous administrations applied successful ideologies and theories from outside of Ethiopia that failed, being alien to Ethiopian problems and realities. Abiy calls for reversing the trend of importing ideologies for a renewed Ethiopian political ideology that emanates from Ethiopia’s social-political context and taps into the country’s historical and cultural values.

 

Why would PM Abiy Ahmed allow such a lavish ceremony for his book launch? Ethiopia has never seen such a big and elaborate celebration for a book launch in past administrations. 

 

Mengistu Hailemariam, the previous Ethiopian dictator who is still in exile, wrote “Tiglachin” (Our Struggle), a book of reflections tinted with dishonesty. Mengistu presented himself to his readers as reconciliatory, wise, peace loving, intelligentsia friendly, and premeditative; who was always ready to deal with conflicts through dialogue and impromptu discussions. Clearly the book skipped essential autobiographical elements – his childhood, his upbringing, his mistakes and murderous rule.  It was published in 2012.

 

Haile Selassie I also wrote a two volume book about his life(‘My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress’). The account mostly dwelled on the legitimacy of his power and position.  Critics said ‘he wrote with an eye towards the political impact of publication’. He published the books while he was still in power, shortly before he was deposed in a military coup in 1974. The two volumes were translated into English in 1976 and 1999.  

 

PM Abiy Ahmed’s case is slightly different.  His ‘medemer’ book reads like a lecture; a set of expressions of his wishesand intentions.  

 

The PM attended the book launch and gave a lengthy speech. He said that this is his fifth book; the first four were published under a pen name.

 

In his speech the PM dwelled on:

 

 His attack on the left;
 The peace prize;
 His ‘unity’ project;
 The Eritrean regime’s ‘brotherly’ stance. 

 

The Eritrean government and the people of Eritrean are no threat but they offer hope to Ethiopia, he said in his 45 min long speech. 

 

The PM used the opportunity to expound his ‘medemer’ philosophy and to introduce his ‘unity’ agenda – a move opposed by the TPLF. Evidently, the book launch gave him the opportunity to criticise the TPLF brazenly. Experts say such a brazen move is not wise for it incites violence.  Many believe that the PM (and his supporters) and the TPLF are firing warning shots at each other. 

Mestiat Betna’, a popular YouTubebased independent Eritrean media is ran by an activist called Zekarias Kibreab. The story he ran yesterday was on ‘medemer, the PM’s book. The commentary was critical of PM Abiy and his philosophy.  The story mostly focused on the PM’s plans in building a naval force in the Red Sea.  

  

The commentator stated that on page 262 the PM expresses his wishes to build a strong naval force in Ethiopia.  The analyst, considering Ethiopia is a land-locked country,questioned why Ethiopia needs a naval force at all. The PM stated in his book that Ethiopia needs to protect its interests and play a strong geo-political role in the Red Sea through its naval force. 

 

It should be remembered that PM Abiy Ahmed said on state TV in 2018: “We built one of the strongest ground and air force in Africa… we should build our naval force capacity in the future.”

 

Ethiopia is connected to Djibouti, its small neighbour, by a 472 mile (759 km) railway line – opened in 2017 – which links the capital Addis Ababa to the port of Doraleh, an extension of the port of Djibouti. The PM is deliberating on what happens if this link is somehow broken. The Ethiopian navy, according to PM Abiy, would protect the country’s commercial ships in the Red Sea.

 

Mestiat Betna searched for answers in PM’s book for more clarifications on the PM’s plans.  The book makes no mention of any deals with Eritrea regarding the use of Eritrean ports in particular or the Red Sea in general. Perhaps there exists a secret deal between the two countries.

 

According to Mestiat Betna the PM sounds confident how he is going about protecting Ethiopian interests in the Red Sea region through his plan to rebuild Ethiopian naval force. However, there is no information from the Eritrean government regarding this matter. At this moment Ethiopia seems determined to press on with its plans.

 

Medemer, with already a million copies printed, is retailingfor 300 ETB (£8) in Ethiopia and the proceeds, it is reported, will go to building schools in rural parts of Ethiopia.

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