As Ethiopia convulses in political violence, we face new challenges and problems. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”
In the wake of the political seismic wave of immense magnitude that ripped through Ethiopia, we, Southern Ethiopians, like other Ethiopians, have been shaken to our core. We are shocked and enraged by the scope of the brutality unleashed by Meles’ government. “A crackdown on this scale has not been seen in Africa for twenty years and the repression exceeds anything by President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe for the past decade at least. Apartheid-era South Africa's onslaught against the black townships in the 1980s provides the only recent comparison", writes David Blair of The Daily Telegraph.
How sad it is, at the dawn of the twenty first century, when the exercise of democracy is commonplace throughout the world, we are being brutalized by megalomaniac leaders. How sad it is to see our psychotic leaders drag all Ethiopians through so much pain and tribulation to stay in power at any cost.
More than any other country in the world, this ancient country of ours, saddled with the most abominable level of poverty, desperately needs a stable peaceful political environment to overcome the disgraceful misery almost all of our fellow citizens face every day. Instead of working out solutions through dialogue to form a unity government, to our dismay and heartburns, we are now forced to confront an intransigent evil. The situation is so depressing that it may seem the easy way out of this conundrum is just to give up and bury one’s head in the sand like an ostrich. But how could anyone with an ounce of morality abandon tens of thousands of young people in mosquito-infested barracks at the mercy of inhuman thugs? How could we turn our eyes away from our people as they are being terrorized and humiliated? We can’t just sit around; we cannot escape the moral obligation that confronts us. We can’t give up. We must fight tooth and nail against the monsters. History will judge us unfavorably if we fail to do so.
Unfortunately, there is no recipe or charted path to overcome evil. One thing is for sure, that it will take the combined efforts of all Ethiopians to withstand EPRDF’s bestiality. In light of this, our struggle should be dual in nature: fighting in tandem with all other freedom-loving Ethiopians the repression of Meles on one hand and putting our own house in order on the other.
Yes, our house in the South is in shambles and must be put together. As we struggle with the rest of Ethiopians, we must also examine ourselves, our political organizations and the interests and aspirations of our people very carefully. This was once the region where the ray of freedom that spread into the rest of Ethiopia emanated in the 2000 elections, but now no more. Our region was once the beacon of hope and our people were the ones who passed the torch of peaceful struggle to the rest of Ethiopia, but now no more. What went wrong?
Our brothers and sisters were brutally killed by EPRDF forces during the 2000 campaign. Many more were imprisoned, and thousands went into exile for standing up to EPRDF. Our people chanted slogans of freedom and even mocked the death of EPRDF. “Where are you going?”, said the first group while going to one of the 2000 campaign rallies. And the second group replied, “to Wachamo”. “To do what?”, asked the first group. “To EPRDF’s funeral”, chanted back the second group. Way back when, in 2000, our people wished the death of EPRDF. They rallied in large numbers against EPRDF’s rule of corruption and incompetence. Has all this sacrifice of theirs been in vain? Fourteen, long years of sticking out their neck, for
Even if all else is not well in the South at present, at least the torch of peaceful struggle was successfully passed to the rest of Ethiopia; the rest of Ethiopia responded, followed suit our people and voted against EPRDF in 2005 elections. The struggle reached its crescendo. Sadly, those who were once the vanguards of opposition against EPRDF, the people of the South, are nowhere at this critical juncture as a result of absent leadership. The leadership and elected members of the Southern Ethiopian Democratic Coalition (SEPDC) have chosen to sit as pots of plants in a kangaroo parliament lending legitimacy to a brutal dictatorship. Do our people deserve better leadership and representation after all that sacrifice?
A Brand New Party, A New Beginning
Why a new party is necessary now? Is it not just enough to reform SEPDC? Or is it just enough to become part of a “pan”-Ethiopian party; after all, the South is not any different from other parts of Ethiopia? Is it not better to be part of UEDF or CUD?
These are serious questions that need serious answers. How we go about laying our foundation now will affect the course of future politics in the South for many years to come. In order to choose the correct path for the future, we must scrutinize the recent political developments especially those right before and after the May 2005 election. We must size up our political standing in the midst of other contending entities, recognize our weaknesses and strengthens so as to build on our strengths and avoid from repeating similar mistakes in the future.
In all of these deliberations certain self-evident truths must be taken into account. Some of the historical dirty linen must be washed clean to build a stronger South and, consequently, a stronger Ethiopia. Certain incontrovertible facts must be exposed in order to find the right cure for the disease that is afflicting Ethiopia. The prime culprit among the causes for most of the turmoil we are experiencing is the unequal distribution of power and the lack of check and balance that prevents one group from dominating over the other.
One could go back as far back as Emperor Menelik or Emperor Haile Selassie or The Derg or the beginning of TPLF rule in 1991. I will leave that to historians. For the purpose of this article and as we look forward the 2005 parliamentary elections could be taken as a watershed moment. After all, these elections were the first elections of their kind in which multi-party campaigns have taken place in this ancient country for the first time. And the results of the elections serve us as a yardstick to find out where we stand in the spectrum of the current Ethiopian politics.
The 2005 elections clearly exposed the Southern political landscape to all interested parties. Real numbers and actual results cannot be fudged, so we must analyze and understand them in order to learn from mistakes and plan for the future. The three major parties, CUD, EPRDF and UEDF garnered different degrees of support in the region. We have many questions to ask and also find answers for. Why did people in the towns mainly vote for CUD? Why did EPRDF succeed in zones like Woleyita and how is that related to its divide and rule strategy? Will Kaawo Tonna be proud of the Woleyitas who sold out to EPRDF? Why did SEPDC (UEDF) just win only in Hadiya and Kembatta? Why has SEPDC fared miserably after five years (since the 2000 triumph)?
The results clearly show a divide between towns and rural areas, and between different regions consisting of different ethnic groups. How could we then bridge these gaps between the different constituencies as we try to forge a strong NEW Southern Ethiopian Party? What kind of theme will galvanize the different components?
As things stand now, there is a big vacuum that has been created due to lack of a strong party. As a result, those with brutal force on one hand and others with better messages and stronger organization were able to sway votes in their favor. In the mean time, the lack of focused Southern leadership that could have organized its people contributed tremendously to the partitioning of the votes, eventually leading to a weak influence of the South on the national scene.
Setbacks are a way of life and are bound to happen from time to time. It is okay to fall down as long as one gets up. We may have received severe body blows, but we must rebound and reclaim what is our own. The South needs a very strong party, built on democratic principles, that appeals across the South. Right now there is no such party, it is time to form one. If you wander, if we have to do this from a scratch, my answer is not necessarily. We can patch up what is already present and build upon it. Existing parties are welcome if they want to join hands and form a stronger party. [For instance, The Southern Ethiopian Democratic Coalition (SEPDC) can undergo a major surgical procedure, transformed radically and can constitute a major wing in this NEW party. The New party will be much bigger than SEPDC with fundamentally different principles and will involve a much larger constituency. It will be a regional party in the strict sense of the word Southern and will be open to anyone residing in or affiliated with the South]. Even in the worst scenario, if we had to start from a scratch, we can learn a valuable lesson from an old Chinese saying : “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” We have to start somewhere and should not be afraid of starting what is timely. We cannot just sit around and not fill up the void created by lack of a strong party. I believe we can do it. Let us also remember the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, another great American President, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”
Our goal is simple and straightforward. We want something that is lasting that belongs to the people of the region and not to individuals. We want a political institution that is based on democratic principles. We want something that grows and not something that dwindles as years go by. We want a dynamic party that engages its people in its decision making, envisions the future and inspires its people to ascend to greater heights. We want leadership that listens to the voices of its people and prepares younger generation for the challenges of future leadership. We want continuity and not faith in just one individual. We do not want to throw all of our eggs in one basket. We want leadership that consults with its people and finds out what they think. We want a truly democratic party that attracts all of the South because of its ideas and promises. We want a party that challenges its elite to get involved and lead. Above all we want a truly Southern party that represents the South on equal footing around a round table of Ethiopian politics. We want to lead ourselves within the bigger tent of Ethiopia and fight for political, economic and social interests of the region.
I believe we can rise up to the occasion. If we do not do it , who will do it? Let us be bold. Let us form The Southern Ethiopian Congress.
The author would like:
From a Southern vantage point, Northerners have dominated the Ethiopian political, economic as well as cultural landscapes for the past one hundred years since Emperor Menelik conquered the South. As a result, Southerners have been treated as second-class citizens. These ugly facts must be taken into account as we shape the future not only to be free from Meles’ dictatorship but from all forms of unequal relationships and dominations, and as we establish political alliances with others.
• to exchange ideas about getting this New Regional Party off the ground.The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• to hear from Southerners from different regions of South.
• to scout for leaders in Ethiopia who will lead this New Party. The current environment is difficult, but the groundwork must be laid and struggle must continue.