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Don’t Let Abiy Ahmed Become the Next Saddam Hussein

Abiy Ahmed
Abiy holding his acceptance speech after receiving the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

Just under three weeks ago, the African Union brokered a truce in the two-year war between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray Defense Forces. The war was both tragic and unnecessary, rooted in a slaughter planned by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Eritrean dictator Isaias Afwerki in order to punish Tigrayans collectively for political defiance and grievances rooted in the pre-Abiy era. Tigrayan negotiators in Pretoria faced a stark choice: Accept an unjust truce, or deal with a continued stalemate and a siege that might claim hundreds of thousands more Tigrayan lives. 

The State Department and the broader international community have cautiously welcomed the truce. There are red flags, however. The peace agreement did not include Eritrea, whose forces continue to occupy Tigray, where they loot, rape and summarily execute civilians. And while Abiy allows some trucks to carry food and relief into the region, the numbers suggest this is an effort to relieve international pressure. It allows Abiy to feign compliance, but it won’t alleviate famine. 

The world needs to remember the lessons learned from the oil-for-food scandal involving the United Nations and deceased Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In the wake of Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Iraq. While Resolution 661 did not prohibit Iraq from importing food and medicine, Saddam sought to maximize the propaganda value of sanctions by arguing that the penalties, rather than his regime’s cruelty, were responsible for suffering and starvation. The United Nations responded in 1995 with Security Council Resolution 986, which was the backbone of the oil-for-food program. The logic was simple: The UN could broker Iraqi oil sales and use the proceeds to purchase necessities for the Iraqi people. For several years, Saddam’s regime refused to allow the program, arguing that the affront to Iraqi sovereignty was simply too great. Ultimately, the Security Council compromised, allowing the Iraqi regime to run the contracting and disbursement of proceeds, but under UN supervision. 

A program that was theoretically humanitarian in nature soon became anything but. UNICEF statistics show how the child and infant mortality figures increased once Saddam inserted himself in the program. Saddam regularly invited journalists to photograph starving babies. He would use the images to incite anti-Western sentiment and rally reactionary forces around his regime. Behind the scenes, he not only refused to buy baby formula with money the UN provided for that purpose, but he actually exported baby food for profit. At no point under sanctions did Iraq lack food or medicine. Hussein simply refused to allow its distribution to his perceived internal opponents among Iraq’s Shiite and Kurdish populations. Meanwhile, he skimmed billions of dollars off the humanitarian funds entering Baghdad. 

Herein lies the danger with Abiy. While Saddam had delusions of grandeur, seeing himself as the successor to Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar, those who have known Abiy over the years say he has a messiah complex colored by his mother’s evangelicalism. Neither Saddam nor Abiy was willing to allow morality or law to interfere with what they believed to be their right to channel divine retribution upon their enemies. Saddam reluctantly agreed to silence his guns in 1991, but he continued his efforts to weaponize aid and use it for propaganda. Abiy already appears to be doing the same. He seeks to amplify the photos of aid delivery to relieve diplomatic pressure on his regime, while ensuring that he allows nothing through that could help Tigray recover. Unfortunately, his efforts seem to be working. U.S. President Joe Biden has now invited Abiy to the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit, a questionable honor for a leader whose bloodlust has killed more civilians than even Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The United States might welcome the truce, as incomplete as it is, but this is no reason to allow Abiy’s rehabilitation. To allow Abiy a platform on the world stage is to empower a leader who models himself after Isaias Afwerki, the continent’s most repressive ruler.

Ethiopians of all ethnicities deserve better. Too much is at stake for the international community to repeat the mistakes it made toward Saddam during Iraq’s inter-war years.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Damtew Tesfaye

    November 22, 2022 at 4:16 pm

    You always attend to the TPLF propaganda and write it in your own word. You will have reception in some circles but your repeated onslaught of lies about the war and the elected leader offend the Ethiopian people that have suffered and still suffer from PLF, the Liberation front that ruled the entire country with impunity without even changing its name the same name as a liberation front fighter of the province of Tigray. It brought disaster to both the province and the country. Let us hope that lessons are learned and peace is restored after the peace deal.

  2. Henok

    November 22, 2022 at 6:00 pm

    Keep digging you nonsense immoral and an biased report. You west journalist lost your mind. We know what you all did and doing against Africa. We know your thoughts are disgusting as always!

  3. Atse Menelik

    November 22, 2022 at 8:26 pm

    the war in ethiopia started when TPLF butchured Ethiopian soldiers and threw missiles at Eritrea. prior to that, TPLF have looted Ethopia, killed indigeneous Amharas to take over their land. like the Nazis, TPLF is an extreme nationalist and expansionist. recentlyt, in Amhara and Afar, TPLf rapes women in front of their family, looted and destroyed schools and hospitals.
    Like Nazis, TPLF should be destroyed and the west should stop collaborating with a monster crimal called TPLF.

  4. Abel Bedesta

    November 22, 2022 at 11:58 pm

    So Abiy was finally invited to the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit? Good for him! Things are looking up for our hero Abiy Ahmed, the savior of Ethiopian unity. The author of this article, Michael Rubin, has always been the TPLF mouthpiece, so he’s not to be taken seriously. For example, look at this sentence: “Ethiopians of all ethnicities deserve better.” Seriously??? What a sanctimonious thing to say for a white person about an African country. Maybe we deserve the TPLF back in Arat Kilo? Not happening, buddy. It’s game over for that group. Even though the peace agreement is totally in Abiy’s favor, as it rightly should be, it still pisses me off that the TPLF has not been completely vanquished militarily. I was so hoping for that group’s total annihilation.

  5. Addisu Kitat

    November 23, 2022 at 3:37 am

    You are an ignorant pretending to be knowledgeable about my country. I am ashamed for you.No matter how many stupid, biased articles you write we will never break or be slaves of your evil aim.

  6. braun

    November 23, 2022 at 4:43 am

    the dumest journalistic work I have ever witnessed you need to do your job first before you you right this Kind garbage Remember Africans have evolved and can see thru your nonsense of strategy

  7. Embay

    November 23, 2022 at 5:51 am

    Abiy and Issias are conducting a very well-planned crime against the people of Tigray and Oromia. There is already ample evidence of genocide happening in Tigray by the joint forces of Ethiopian & Eritrean soldiers and Amhara fano-militias. Abiy will not hesitate from killing or starving any group of people in Ethiopia if he thinks it can help him keep his grip to power.

  8. Abegail Ashenafi Esayiyas

    November 23, 2022 at 6:09 am

    Stay out of Ethiopia’s business .
    You know nothing

  9. Masresha Dawde

    November 23, 2022 at 7:07 am

    Full time best quality of you are making, backing, cooking fake narratives & rhetoric for leaving. It is a nasty business at this age buddy.

  10. Aman Goitom

    November 23, 2022 at 7:24 am

    As an Eritrean and someone who has been politically and culturally close to the history of the middle east, I agree 100% of the message you are sending. it proves your political sagacity in the region and global developments, keep your fabulous analysis.

  11. Johnny Geb

    November 23, 2022 at 8:35 am

    You are a disgrace to your profession and unworthy to speak Ethiopia’s or it’s leader’s name.

  12. Abebe Mekuria

    November 23, 2022 at 9:37 am

    Obviously, TPLF terrorist group sympathizers paid you to write this garbage.

  13. David Chang

    November 24, 2022 at 7:07 pm

    God bless people in the world.

    Folks, your angry response to this erroneous statement is correct, because American Enterprise Institute is responsible for promoting atheism, worshiping democracy, and opposing moral truth, they make socialism and evolution to be gospel.

    American Enterprise Institute and Communist Party are teaching people in Asia to worship democracy and science. And Saddam Hussein don’t obey Ten Commandments and practice socialism in Iraq.

    But I hope that the people in African stop working with EU, Democratic Party, and Communist Party, but just obey Ten Commandments.

    God bless America and Africa.

  14. David Solomon

    November 25, 2022 at 2:06 pm

    Michael, you are a Goebbelsian schwein who put things upside down, presenting blatant lies as truth over and over again until you end up like the Hitlerite propagandists.

  15. Teg

    November 26, 2022 at 9:17 am

    I don’t understand how someone like you with such ignorance and swamped with evil thoughts and blinded to see the goodness of humans can have the Dr. title? Are you telling the world that IRAQ and Iraqis are jubilant about Sectarian democracy? Yes, I agree you have to do something for living but shouldn’t be at the cost of Ethiopia. Are you not at the age of confession for all evil things you did in your life? Why more?I tell you this, if you were a genuine researcher and academician, you could have devoted your pen ink writing so much on the excellence of PM Abiy. Unfortunately you’re not lucky enough to enjoy that part of the purpose humans existence.

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