By Ephrem Madebo
Two years ago in the month of May, Ethiopia and the political process in Ethiopia was at the center of international spotlight. From the Washington Post to the LA Times, from the Le Monde to the Le Figaro, and form the Daily Nation to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, all newspaper columnists from around the globe converged on the political arena of Ethiopia to delight their readers with a uniquely different news from a country known for its intermittent war, devastating famine, and mind numbing malnutrition. More than 75 million Ethiopians from all walks of life and in every corner of the world were on their feet for days to witness a western style democratic transfer of power from the old to the new, from the few to the many, and from the voted out to the voted in. Unfortunately, the man who assumed power with the aid of gun failed to understand the language of the people and spoiled the international party from the get-go. PM Meles, the universal prince of turmoil, scrubbed the pre-election blueprint of the democratic process, and changed the streets of Africa’s capital in to an open air slaughterhouse. Today, two years after the infamous May-05 election, party leaders and elected Parliament members whom many Ethiopians entrusted to overhaul the corrupted justice system are languishing in jail with no due process. Article 17 of the constitution states: “No one shall be arrested or detained without being charged or convicted of a crime except in accordance with such procedures as are laid down by law.” But, in a city where the constitution was authored, defenders of democracy were thrown to jail in November 2005 and they were indicted a month ago in 2007.
May 2005 has come and gone, we have said a lot before it and left with a broken heart after it. But, in real terms, what have we done to correct our mistakes? What steps have we taken to avoid the repeat of May 2005? All in all, what is our strategy to build a transparent democratic process in Ethiopia? I am not a political strategist, however, I do believe I can throw mind provoking ideas and see provoked minds synthesize a winning strategy. Any political party that lacks strategy and a roadmap to the strategy is doomed for failure. No matter how good words and propaganda statements we use against our enemies, and no matter how many members and how much money we have; we can’t plan in to the future with out strategy. Let’s remember that failing to plan is planning to fail. Retrospectively speaking, had we planned ahead and coordinated our efforts, most of our failures of the past would have been victories. We all run individually to meet similar objectives, and we all fail because our enemy(s) is [are] greater & stronger than us individually. When do we put our pieces together and face our enemies as a single unit? I know the answer to this question is full of ambiguity because our enemies do not fight us face-to-face; all they do is make us fight and draw out the time that we need to stand as a unit. PM Meles is a man of “principle”; whose cardinal principle is - “If you can't convince them, confuse them” Do we all understand what this is? This is the strategy of our enemies, they have strategy; we don’t. We keep on loosing as long as we lack a better or a matching strategy that out maneuvers our enemies.
In the late 1970s, Deng Xiaoping, the de facto leader of the People’s Republic of China (late 1970s to the early 1990s) promoted the following pragmatic slogan: “Seek truth from facts”. The slogan advised the Chinese Communist party to look for economic and political solutions that have practical application rather than those based on the political ideology of Mao Zedong. Mao Zedong’s China did not change much of its political ideology, it is still the symbol communism in our planet, however, in just 30 years; China’s economy has transformed from agrarian commune based farm to the industrial envy of the whole world. Today, China’s economy grows at unprecedented rate of 10% per annum. Can we Ethiopians emulate the Chinese? Can we seek truth from facts? When do we start gathering facts that point at the truth and stop making an emotional walk to arrive at our own truth, and look for facts to support them? In the context of social communication, emotions are not inherently bad, wrong, rude, or immature. Emotions are good, they can often add valuable context to our social understanding, making the human element impossible to ignore. However, they can derail communication and become overpowering if we emotionally react to daily events and plan our responses based on our emotional reaction.
The May 2005 election has devoured a good number of heroes; yes, it is true that the life of heroes is short, but we need to understand that an instance of a hero comes only once, when he/she is gone, we should be looking for another hero. Is it morally acceptable to sit back and watch when heroes vanish and demand their replacement? How about sometimes we die for our heroes instead of them always dying for us! In the aftermath of the election when the Agazis killed in hundreds, we made a momentary scream and went back to our comfort zone. TPLF responded by arresting the very people that we entrusted to lead our nation. We denounced the arrest and alerted the entire world, we called our local and national representatives, and demonstrated in front of a non-responding Whitehouse. The Ethiopian people (inside & outside) have always initiated the right response to every evil act of the TPLF regime, but lack of strategic continuity from our political parties and civic organizations killed all of the initiatives. I hope we all remember how the people of Nepal forced king Gyanendra to bend for public demand when he declared a state of emergency after sacking his government and assuming direct powers. The tanks of Nepal roamed the streets of Katmandu just like the Agazis did in Addis Ababa; but the curfew, the street killing, and the mass arrest did not keep angry Nepalese from demonstrating and imposing their will on the king. When compared to Ethiopians, Nepalese are not extraordinarily courageous or exceptionally patriotic. The marked difference between the two movements is that the political parties in Nepal (including the radical Maoist rebels) were ready to halt their differences and work together for the national interest. As the last thirty five years political history of Ethiopia would indicate, political alliances in Ethiopia have a prohibitive overhead cost. The debacle of EPRP in the 70s’, the bloody alliance of Dergue and MESION, the 1991 honeymoon of OLF and TPLF, the post election meltdown of ONC & SEPDC, the unstable existence of UEDP-Medhin in CUD, and the recent Merry-Go-Round alliance of Kinjit with OLF are evidences that demonstrate the pre-mature death of political alliances.
In Ethiopia there are many political stakeholders that follow different paths (peaceful, non-peaceful) to solve their problems. Just to name a few, we have Kinjit, UEDF, OLF, SLF, ONLF, AJC, ENUF, EPPF, etc. The infallible fact in the existence of these political organizations is that all of the above organizations are Ethiopians and fight for the segment of Ethiopia that they call home. They all have individually been bleeding fighting a common enemy, but their scrappy effort failed to stop the bleeding collectively. Last year Kinjit tried to break the vicious circle by joining AFD, but most members of the old guard condemned it and warned the public of such alliances with secessionist forces. We all knew AFD was composed of LFs. In fact, ONLF, an organization that carried out one of the most dreadful killings in our nation’s future development effort is part of AFD. However, as the most recent experience of the Irish peace accord to share power explicitly indicates, peace is made between enemies and groups that have deep rooted contradiction, not with friends. Compromises are negotiated between competing factions, not between groups of similar principle. OLF and the other liberation fronts, Kinjit, UEDF and other political entities should learn from the forty years old Irish movement that ended with an accord to share power. As the old saying goes, political power might come from the barrel of the gun, but political stability and economic growth will never come through the use of gun. Guns kill people, but they can never kill the will of the people.
Today, we find ourselves two years after the May 2005 election and three years in front of another election. What were the internal weaknesses of the opposition that kept it out of power that it arguably won? What were the opportunities that the opposition camp failed to materialize? What are the external threats that impede the progress of the opposition camp? What is the strength of the opposition that should be augmented? To stay ahead of events and lead the popular movement to victory, the Ethiopian opposition should understand and complete the above SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threat) analysis and develop an elaborate and systematic plan of action to accomplish its objectives. Such an elaborate plan is nothing, but strategy. In one side, we have an impoverished country and 77 million people who live in sub-human conditions; in the flip side, we have a ruthless dictator determined to perpetuate misery among Ethiopians. To make things worse, we have most of our elite political leaders awaiting fabricated trial. What should be our strategy that enables us to face such a multiplicity of problems? Do we as a society have problems? Yes, we do have many complex problems, but our resolve and common endeavor dwarfs all of our problems combined. Do we learn from Deng Xiaoping’s pragmatic slogan of “Seek truth from facts”, or do we let our emotions rule over our intellect? I will leave the answer to our political leaders. My advice to our political leaders: Don’t think of the next election like a politician, think of the next generation like a statesman. You should say good buy to the era of noisy politics. Noisy politicians are like an air conditioner that makes a lot of noise but doesn't keep the room cool.
The next three years should be times of reconciliation; in deed, they should be years of converging towards unity, and a time to stop throwing mud at each other for those who sling mud generally lose ground. As we move to the new millennium, our resolution should be to change our old mode of thinking and make a transition to the third millennia with a “let’s do it” attitude. We should not be fascinated by the millennium change; naturally, it changes every thousand year. To have control of our destiny in the ever changing millennium, the real change should come from our inner most. Some of us may hate our enemies more than we love our country, but such a hate by itself does not do any good for our country – We need to change! Most of us love our country more than anything, but such a love is empty if it is not accompanied by a real positive contribution– We need to change! Some of us are preoccupied with “my way or the high way” attitude and don’t give value to the idea of others – We need to change! Some of us are endowed with excessive wealth, but we live a parsimonious lifestyle totally forgetting our roots– We need to change! We shouldn’t blame past generations for the current backwardness of Ethiopia, like wise, we shouldn’t be overwhelmed by what we can do for the future generation. As a society, let’s pay back the debt we owe to our country. Let’s diligently and genuinely do what is expected from us and pass the rest to posterity. Nation building is not the responsibility of one generation, but the initial step of laying the foundation must be handled by one generation, we are that generation.
Like any society on earth, the pursuit of happiness is the ultimate goal of all Ethiopians. If the pursuit of happiness is a radar that guides the endless journey of our society, the task of our political leaders is to build the radar, not to guide society throughout its journey. Today, our people are being forced out of their desired destination at gun point. They are being told to “shut” their mouth and go where ever they are told to go. All of these awful things are done in the name of freedom and democracy. Among the TPLF gangs (current Ethiopian government), justice and democracy are the two things that everybody wants to have exercised, but nobody wants to exercise. This is a bad taste of democracy that our people are forced swallow for the last sixteen years. If we are not willing to change such acts of evil, then lets not be stones on the path of the willing. I will again make a call to all political actors of Ethiopia, and specifically urge Kinjit, UEDF, and OLF to avoid their differences and work together for the sack of the national interest. Please start your effort now, running around like a mad cow in 2010 will only repeat the failure of May 2005. Regardless of your political affiliation, your short term plan should focus on the release of the CUDP leaders and other political prisoners. In the long run, you should be able to forge an alliance that can decisively defeat TPLF in the next election.
As is everywhere in any society, there are some of us who live to eat, and many of us who eat to live. I guess we’ve both eaten enough. Let’s all live every single day of the next three years to build a political system that ensures a peaceful transition of power, lay the foundation for a transparent legal system, and erect an economic institution that guarantees basic necessities to our people in the foreseeable future. The pitiless crime of the TPLF regime is that it governs people without their consent. As Abraham Lincoln said: “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent” In 2010, let’s ask the Ethiopian people the privilege to govern them…Amen!