Thursday, May 25, 2006

AFD, the Flicker of hope or . . .?

By Ephrem Madebo

The people of Ethiopian have always been ready to die defending their country from external enemies, but they have been hesitant, indecisive, and reluctant to die for domestic causes. From General Mengistu Neway’s endeavor to get rid of the feudal regime to General Teferi Benti’s attempt to topple Colonel Mengistu and to the infamous "Ginbot Siminent" Military coup, Ethiopians repeatedly failed to root out internal enemies. In July 2005, 38 people died protesting the result of the May 2005 election, two months latter, another 40 people died and the entire CUD leadership was rounded up and sent to prison. Recently, in Nepal, the death of 14 people, the dusk to dawn curfew, and the number of armored vehicles around Kathmandu did not deter Nepalese from protesting and fighting for the return of the parliamentary system. In Ethiopia, the mass protest that started with upbeat took a long pose after sacrificing more than hundred people. For how long do we Ethiopians keep on sacrificing our people and yet not get the job done?

In 1991, when TPLF dethroned Colonel Mengistu and controlled Addis Ababa, OLF was part of the transition government , however, it pulled itself out of the TG because Meles and company did not want to share power with anyone outside the TPLF elite. In its 33 years history, the objective of the OLF has always been to form an independent Oromo state, and this objective has distanced many opposition parties from OLF. As a result, in the last 15 years, the Ethiopian opposition lacked a unified leadership and the political fire that could have come from the Oromo Liberation front. The recent good will and readiness of CUDP and the Oromo Liberation Front to form an alliance and work together with other opposition parties should be seen as a sign of victory to the Ethiopian people and the beginning of the end for the TPLF criminal regime.

The new beginning of AFD is qualitatively different from all past political alliances that appeared and disappeared. AFD seems to be the first alliance that truly represents all segments of the Ethiopian people, and of course the first alliance to include liberation fronts such as OLF and ONLF, once considered taboos. The recent hasty and misguided comments that dismiss the usefulness of AFD by citing OLF as an ethnic organization are myopic in nature and lack the understanding of the past and current political dynamics of Ethiopia. Yes, OLF is an ethnic organization that fights for one particular ethnic group, so are TPLF (Tigray People Liberation Front), SLF (Sidama People Liberation Front), and ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation front). As we all know , an alliance is not a forum of identical thought, it is a forum where people or groups of different ideas converge to a common idea that enables them to work together. If we closely analyze the Sidama, the Oromo and the Ogaden people, none of these people are properly represented by CUDP, UEDF or any other major opposition party. A closer look of the May 2005 election clearly shows that the Oromya, the Ogaden and the Southern zones were the three main places where EPRDF had a relatively strong footing compared to UEDF and CUDP. So looking forward for the 2010 election, why should it be wrong if CUDP and UEDF create a political alliance with OLF, SLF, and ONLF?

In Ethiopia, there are many opposition parties, but there has never been a nationally accepted alliance that has the potential to propel the popular movement, hence, the struggle of the Ethiopian people for justice and democracy was always contained by dictators. Individually, the different opposition parties have done their best to break the backbone of the TPLF regime, however, their non-co-ordinated effort couldn't damage the regime in a noticeable way. For example, when CUDP and UEDF make a call for a stay home strike, OLF orders its constituency to withhold marketable supplies, and the civic group Tegbar-League orders students and other segments of the society to wage civil disobedience; and yet there are some other opposition groups that claim to waging a parliamentary struggle. What one party considers as victory is noting to others who have a different set of objectives. How can one define success and be successful in the face of such a fragmented and disjoint objective?

After years of individual journey and fragmented struggle, it seems that the different Ethiopian opposition groups have agreed to board on the same boat and sail together. In the political history of modern Ethiopia, for the first time Ethiopians have forged an alliance that truly represents the Ethiopian people. Evidently, one should not be overjoyed with the formation of the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy by the OLF, CUDP,ONLF, SLF and EPPF, however, all Ethiopians inside and outside Ethiopia should say "AMEN" to the latest holy news that originated from the Dutch city of Utrecht. Yes, the cake is not yet baked, it is being mixed, but we can still be optimists and lend it a yeast for it will not be baked before it is mixed.

A political alliance can be stable or unstable depending on the nature of the groups that created the alliance. In an alliance, no group would compromise its underlying core value overnight, likewise, no group would join an alliance knowing that another groupn’s non-compromising core value contradicts its core value throughout the life of the alliance. Obviously, OLF, CUDP, ONLF, SLF, and EPPF, should have critically analyzed their comfort zone of give and take (compromise) before they ratified the formation of AFD. There is one important question that we all should ask ourselves - Why do people form a liberation front? From what do the Oromos, the Sidamas and the Ogaden people want to be liberated? The answer to this question is unambiguous, people want to be liberated from all types of oppression and social and economic injustice. Is there any condition that the Oromos, the Sidams, and the Ogaden people enjoy justice and democracy within the framework of a democratically reincarnated Ethiopia? If the answer to this question is yes, then OLF, ONLF, and SLF should be part of the reincarnation process. We can’t change objective realities in Ethiopia without embracing major players like OLF. In my opinion, AFD is the first stage in the process of creating a true democratic Ethiopia, therefore, Ethiopians should not deny this newly born alliance the benefit of the doubt. If we want to see AFD as a matured alliance that respects ethnic identities and transcends ethnic politics, we should clear our ethnic infested mode of thinking and work together for the formation of united Ethiopia.

The Alliance for Freedom and Democracy will achieve its goals if the member parties develop trust between each other before going in to any kind of major social contract. As we all know, the imprudent political and economic relations of the past hundred years have drained the trust that one group has for the other. Therefore, any party that desires to earn the trust of others should earn trust by trusting others. All in all, trust needs transparency, respect, and believing in democratic principles. Trust is the only factor that compels OLF, SLF and ONLF to build a united Ethiopia abandoning their long time objective of secession. The element of trust is not limited to the parties that formed the alliance, all Ethiopians should trust each other and work together by putting the past behind us. If there is a strong determination and will to correct Ethiopia’s ugly past, AFD is the sparkle of hope for millions of Ethiopians, otherwise it will be yet another marriage domed for divorce.

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