By Ephrem Madebo
In the last twelve months, the journey of the Ethiopian people towards justice and democracy has been wearisome, disappointing, and daunting. Unlike any other time in our entire history, in the last twelve months, we Ethiopians saw the sparks of a democratic process, yet as we started participating in the process, we found ourselves far-flung from democracy. Between May 2005 and May 2006, the Ethiopian people dangled between hope and despair, between power and helplessness and between joy and sorrow. This agonizing emotional rollercoaster has obligated many Ethiopians to re-examine the past and look for alternative ways of solving the seemingly intractable dilemma of our nation. From May 2005 to November 2005, the Deddesa valley and the city of Kaliti were turned in to a makeshift concentration camp for elected MPs, the streets of Addis Ababa were washed with the blood of innocent citizens, teenagers who mourned the death of their friends were charged for genocide, and mothers who protested the arrest of their spouses were shoot on the head. Just like the other eleven months, there are only thirty days in May (Eth.Calendar), but what happened in May 2005 is a haunting iniquity that hangs around to posterity. Evidently, to the citizens of Ethiopia, the May-to-May period is characterized by hope and despondency, by elevation and degradation, and by agony and short lived ecstasy. Everyday, the conscious mind of parents [parents whose children paid the ultimate sacrifice] tussles with the memory of their massacred children, and it takes an instant break each May as it fails to reason out the heartrending loss of life.
The post election drama of Meles started just a day after the election when PM Meles took the role of the legislative body and issued an emergency condition decree. PM Meles who has the “skill” and the “wisdom” to do everything, hurried to write a new law to enable his hardhearted Agazi squad to kill peaceful demonstrators. The PM was conscious of his unconstitutional move, and he also knew the Ethiopian people would disagree with him; however, he made himself the supreme commander of Addis Ababa to kill demonstrators, disregarding the constitution he wrote. In October 2005, Meles Zenawi, the same dictator who wrote the law to confine and/or kill demonstrators, ordered his rubber-stump parliament to remove parliamentary immunity from elected MPs to throw opposition leaders to jail and be a lone player in the Ethiopian political landscape.
Between July 2005 and October 2005, the opposition parties and the EPRDF regime were occupied with the issue of joining the parliament. Why? - Meles’s existence as a “democratic” leader depends on the transparency of the EPRDF system; moreover, Prime Minister Meles knows his survival as a leader depends on the legitimacy of his actions and how donor countries trust him as a lawful leader. Therefore, no matter how disgracefully he put himself back in power; he still wants to give legitimacy to his rubber-stamp parliament by imploring the opposition to join the parliament. On the other side, the opposition rejected the idea of joining an “executive branch” parliament that stripped immunity from its own members to serve the interest of a dictator. The decision of the opposition [CUD, UEDF] to boycott the parliament is crystal clear; it is to deny legitimacy to the Meles parliament. In my opinion, the decision of UEDF and CUD not to join the parliament was not even a boycott, it was a well-timed decision not to join the assemblage of people who lost the election, but found their way to the parliament through political appointment.
The May-to-May transgressions of the EPRDF regime are innumerable; some are daily emerging new tribulations, and yet some are sins accumulated for years. One of the most detestable and enigmatic actions of Meles is his justification for the 1998-2000 war against Eritrea, and his sightless acceptance of the Algiers accord that eventually gave Bademe to Eritrea. Only months after brave Ethiopians disillusioned the speculative ambition of EPLF and freed the area of Bademe; Meles Zenawi, the 21st century Sultan Ibrahim, put the fate of the freed people of Bademe back on the negotiation table. For the first time in the history of mankind a country that lost the war won the very motive of the war. The chameleon PM of Ethiopia, who has an Eritrean face at dawn and who pretends to be an Ethiopian at dusk, ratified a resolution that transferred Ethiopian territory to Eritrea for the second time in fifteen years. Today, Meles is on the verge of handing over Bademe, the Akeldama of Ethiopia, to Eritrea. If Meles is allowed to stay in power for another five years, I believe he will be job less as there will be no part of Ethiopia left to be conveyed to another country. Mournfully, to Ethiopians this can be the beginning of the end, to Meles it is mission accomplished.
In the months of March and April 2006, Meles Zenawi unleashed his retaliatory punch in areas where most people voted for the opposition. According to reliable sources, in rural areas where TPLF lost the election badly, the ruling party cadres and district officials are intimidating and harassing farmers. The implementation of Planned Development projects is being transferred from areas of opposition supporters to areas of EPRDF supporters. Agricultural credit extension services and the distribution of fertilizers are used as weapons to punish farmer who voted for the opposition. Towards the end of March and at the beginning of April 2006, Meles’s killing squad left Addis Ababa and roved the calm squares of Awassa, Leku and Dilla killing the most vulnerable citizens of society, students and teachers. In Gedeo, the ruling party poured its poison among the Gedeo and Gurgahe nationalities causing a confrontation that claimed the life of innocent people.
In the last six months a series of unexplained explosions have been rocking the city of Addis Ababa. Though EPRDF is still trying to fabricate evidence that links opposition parties to the explosions, so far, neither the Ethiopian government nor opposition parties have come forward with a full explanation of the bombings; moreover, none of the home-grown armed groups have claimed responsibility for the bombings. Some Political Analysts who profoundly understand the anatomy of TPLF blame the ruling party for the explosions. In deed, the TPLF regime that went to war for no apparent reason can easily do such cheap blackmailing bits and pieces to blame opposition parties and distract the attention of Ethiopians and the international community.
After May 2005, the political reality of Ethiopia changes daily and takes an indeterminate path. In this sometimes theatrical and sometime callous reality show where victory recedes as one gets closer to it, there are three groups of actors that collide with each other.
In one group there are the Ethiopian people who are determined to talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk, on the second group we have a divided opposition that failed to provide a unified leadership to the popular movement; and on the third group, we have an enemy who is determined to harm our country. Today, many opposition party leaders who defied the titular parliament are jailed. Other opposition parties who preferred the parliamentary path of fighting for justice have joined the parliament. Yet there are some others who started playing a safe game. There is no doubt that there is a slim possibility of exposing TPLF’s empty promise by categorically challenging and opposing every bill that comes to the floor of the House of Representatives, however, one should bear in mind that joining the parliament legitimizes an illegitimate institution that serves the interest of a tyrant. Finally, I have the following advice for the safe players: In the face of the current political reality of Ethiopia, playing safe is the same as playing for the wrong team.
In Ethiopia, the gleaming pre–election democratic process and the election itself were the outcomes of a consistent and bitter struggle of all Ethiopians. Obviously, the popular movement was facilitated by a myriad of political parties and civic organizations that were less coordinated. In fact, lack of coordination and trust between the different political parties has adversely affected the journey of the Ethiopian people towards democracy. From the Paris conference to the Rockville forum of unity and from the nomenclature change of AAPO [AAPO to AEUP] to the formation of CUD; In the last 15 years, the sons and daughters of Ethiopia have tried to forge a united political party, but the much awaited unity eluded Ethiopians as the different parties and groups firmly stood for their minuscule agenda at the cost of the superior national agenda. In my opinion, in the last twelve months, the failure of UEDF and CUD to work together was the worst political debacle that gave life to the otherwise dying regime of TPLF. Between the months of May and September 2005, the heart of Ethiopians was so big and many Ethiopians were ready to bump into their enemy. In September 2005, when the informal alliance of CUD and UEDF called the stay home labor strike, Meles and company were disarrayed and taken aback, however, the shrewd leader of TPLF knew how to pour water on the fire ignited by the opposition, where as the naive and irresolute alliance of CUD and UEDF listened to the Western powers and dropped its ball to negotiate with Meles. The inexperienced opposition gave Meles ample time to cool off the people’s wrath, the only force that could have brought his totalitarian regime to an end. The opposition failed to use its only power, the people’s power. All in all, the net out come of the negotiation was that Meles successfully defused the grenade that would have destroyed him.
Why was Meles Successful?
There are three factors that helped the Meles regime to slow down the popular movement.
Failure to forge a political alliance: In the May 2005 election EPRDF faced a divided and in many cases a competing opposition. In precincts where EPRDF faced a single opposition candidate, the opposition won, where as in places where EPRDF faced multiple opposition candidates it won. In Oromya and South Ethiopia, in some precincts, both UEDF and CUD had multiple candidates running against EPRDF and each other. After the May 2005, many Ethiopians were impatient to see CUD and UEDF work together. In deed, during the first two months after the election, the two parties responded positively. When the opposition negotiated with EPRDF, the two parties worked together, but when the negotiations failed and Meles showed the tendency of playing his preferred game [muscle game], the two opposition groups failed to work together. The failure of the opposition to deliver a unified leadership culminated to its worst level when CUD boycotted the parliament and the two UEDF member organizations, SEPDC and ONC, joined the parliament.
Indecisiveness of the opposition: When donor nations initiated negotiations failed, the opposition displayed its meagerness to decide on matters of national significance when it called off the first round of stay home labor strike. In my opinion, nothing relived the anxiety of Meles like the failure of the opposition to execute its own plan. When UEDF and CUD were making decision to join or not to join the parliament, they should have shared information and should have been matured enough to perceive the strategy of each other and their rival in order to play a win-win game. Over all, the indecisive opposition underestimated its internal forces and it expected much from external elements who repeatedly pushed the opposition to join the parliament.
Power struggle within the opposition: In the last ten years, power struggle within and between the opposition parties has created a favorable conditions for EPRDF. Meles’s swift and harsh crackdown of the CUD leadership was highly attributed to Lidetu Ayalew’s ambition for supremacy and his determination to achieve his objective at any cost. Before and after the election, instead of working with the how to get there strategy, the mind set of some opposition leaders was preoccupied with the idea of what happens after the demise of Meles. All in all, the relationship between the different opposition parties was full of distrust as the parties grappled and watched the movement of each other.
The success of a political party or any organization is highly dependent on the leadership style of the leader. Though leadership style is not the sole decisive factor for organizational success; organizations that have open, flexible, altruist and charismatic leaders usually meet planned objectives. In Ethiopia, the leadership style of some opposition leaders is not qualitatively different from the leadership style of the two consecutive dictators, Mengistu and Meles. Inflexibility, lack of tolerance, lack of compromise, individual ambition to power, and the attitude of “my way or the high way” are still rampant features among some Ethiopian political leaders. To be honest, it is the behind the scene power struggle and lack of constructive dialogue between the leaders of CUD and UEDF that avoided the much needed alliance of the two coalitions. Between 1999 and 2003, a possible political unity between AAPO, SEPDC, EDP and ONC was cut short by the self-seeking leaders of the four organizations. The recent descend of Lidetu from adored “Mandela-like” charismatic leader to the most distrusted and abhorrent political figure in just six months illustrates the unrestrained power monger behavior of our political leaders.
For many generations, lack of dualism was the main deficiency of the Ethiopian political structure, in fact; Ethiopia still lacks true political dualism. The beginning of Meles Zenawi’s regime was marked by the proliferation of parties and political organizations. Today, there are a large number of political parties and civic organizations; however, the Ethiopian political condition is deteriorating with the passage of every single day. The current political impasse of our country clearly indicates that it is about time to move to a qualitative concept of party organization. The existence of numerous parties dilutes the strength of the opposition; likewise, a zealous attempt to propel a single party to a national stage simply downplays the effort of many people whose aphorism is inclusiveness. Today, many opposition party leaders are in jail, regardless of our part affiliation, we all have the responsibility of fighting for their immediate release. During the Apartheid era, black South Africans utterly embraced the ANC which ultimately led them to victory. Our country Ethiopia lacks Mandela like leader and ANC like umbrella organization. In the last fifteen years, when every time our struggle conceived a promising leader, it was always aborted by TPLF; meanwhile the Ethiopian people have always been looking for a “Moses-like” charismatic leader who can lead them to the Promise Land. CUD has tried to lead us to victory in its own way, UEDF has rambled lonely, and OLF and some others have resorted to the use of force. It just didn’t work! Armed struggle or the use of gun might bring an end to the TPLF regime, but, in the first place, armed struggle is a very long process that consumes human life and countless amounts of material resources, secondly, it will never solve political differences except granting temporary political power yet for another dictator.
Currently, almost all of CUDs leaders are in jail, and UEDF is divided in to the domestic, and the exile UEDF. As the old saying “Divided we fall” goes, we are on the verge of failure. All in all, the two main opposition parties are in a mode of partial paralysis. The mission of TPLF is to be a sole actor in the Political scene of Ethiopia; we should never allow this dream of TPLF to materialize. Ethiopia is a combination of the people represented by CUD, UEDF, OLF, SEPDC, and other parties. It is imperative that these parties and other political and civic organizations start working together and bring the long awaited peace and democracy to Ethiopia. Remember, the love and dedication we have to our country is not measured by the quality or quantity of ideas we bring to the table, it is measured by our tolerance to gracefully acknowledge and treasure the idea of others. Each road that we build to walk alone, every dignified idea that we discard, and every progress that we obstruct will only prolong our pain and extend TPLF’s life.