By Ephrem Madebo
In the last two years, so many of us have repeatedly compared CUDP leaders to Nelson Mandela, arguably the best visionary leader of our time. Well, sometimes our emotion rules over our intellect and we do so many things that don’t give sense. Nelson Mandela is the wisest leader of this era and a living symbol of black excellence. To be honest, the only similarity between Mandela and the CUDP leaders is that both went to jail for crimes committed by their respective governments. In anything else, they are different. To a person who skimmed his article, Dr. Solomon Terfa’s recent commentary on ethiomedia seems to be comparing the CUDP leadership to Nelson Mandela.
I may be wrong, but Dr. Solomon’s inciting and incisive critique on the Shemagles is a what-if-analysis that implied what the CUDP leaders and the Shemagles should have done in the recent Shemagles brokered negotiation. As Dr. Solomon himself admitted, his article is hypothetical, i.e., there could be many imaginary answers as to what Mandela would have done if he was in the shoes of the CUDP leaders. Hypothetical scenarios or questions can be speculated in so many different ways, but it is very difficult to conclusively state them as reliable statements of truth. Let me use Dr. Solomon’s own words: “This hypothetical-scenario is an exercise that is routinely done in political science and international relation courses”. This is a correctly stated statement, and I have no second thought, but I just want readers to realize that even political scientists or seasoned political analysts would take a highly polarized stand on what Nelson Mandela would have done had he been in the shoes of the CUDP leaders.
Based on the then objective condition of South Africa and the organizational strength of the ANC party, in the 1970/80s’, Mandela made the right choice when he rejected Peter Botha’s offer of nominal freedom. It was a wise and matured decision in the South Africa of the 1970/80s’. Well, what would have Mandela done in the Ethiopia of 2007? This is a genuine, but hypothetical, a compelling, but speculative question. So why be consumed with a question that doesn’t serve our cause or purpose? Why can’t we deal with a practical question that sheds light in our path? My argument is intuitive and simple. It is very difficult to answer the “what would” Mandela has done question because we can’t read Mandelas’s mind, even if we think we can, there are significant domestic and international differences between South Africa of the 1970s and today’s Ethiopia.
“The what" should question is an opinion inclined question that can be answered by observing objective conditions on the ground and making “a what-if-analysis”. We can answer such questions in so many different ways without worrying for the risk of being wrong. “The what” would question could also be answered in many ways, but every answer has a higher risk of being wrong. In the latter case, we are answering a question by reading Mandela’ mind [which is difficult, or impossible], where as in the former case, we’re doing nothing other than expressing our opinion on how Mandela should have dealt with the issue. Opinions may be poor, so-so, or good, but they are neither wrong nor right on events whose outcome is yet to be decided.
When N. Mandela was arrested in 1963, his ANC Party was 51 years old, with a long time history of struggle in its pocket and many veteran leaders in its power structure [O.Tambo, T.Mbeki, J.Zuma, Ramaphosa, and Maharai]. Mandela enjoyed un-paralleled international support when he was in jail, while the CUDP leaders were forgotten by the international community until the day they were found guilty. In November 2005, when Meles arrested the CUDP leaders, CUDP was not even one year old. Yes, almost all of the CUDP leaders were true intellectuals, but their combined political experience was not at the level of ANC. Mandela’s incarceration might have appeased proponents of the apartheid regime, but it did not slow down the struggle of black South Africans for freedom and equality.
In the contrary, in the summer of 2005, the reckless action of Meles Zenawi dimmed the hope of democracy in Ethiopia. In late Fall of the same year, when the entire CUDP leaders were arrested, the fragile pro-democracy movement became paralyzed and went in to a coma state. Given the time & space difference, and such diametrically opposed economic, social and political conditions, it would absolutely be unrealistic to demand the CUDP leaders to behave the same way Mandela behaved when he was offered a deal by the apartheid regime. There was ANC before Mandela, but there was no CUDP before Professor Mesfin, Dr. Berhanu, Dr. Yackob, Dr.Hailu, Brtukuan, Muluneh Eyoel etc.
Evidently, hypothetical scenarios or questions are good because they give rise to a realistic question. So instead of speculating on what Mandela would have done, I think it would be wise to take Mandela out of the picture and consider a slightly different, but very relevant question. How differently should the CUDP leaders have acted and still secure their release? A critically analysis of this question will augment our subjective judgment and enable us to make informed decision. Otherwise, our judgments and decisions will be subjective reflecting our own ambition. The CUDP leaders could have dealt with the negotiation in many different ways, but as far as the Ethiopian people are concerned, there were only two out comes. Get out of jail, or stay in jail. This by no means is an issue of good, or bad; it is the matter of being right, or wrong.
In a pro-basket ball game, a last second call against a one point leading home team is usually considered a bad call even if the foul was committed, but it is the right call. Definitely, the referees understand the call silences more than 20k cheering home fans, but should they be emotional and not make the call? If they do, it is good for the home team and the supportive crowd, but doing so is not only wrong; it is also bad for the game of basketball. The referees have two options: 1) Make the call and do the right thing for the game of basketball. 2) Ignore the foul and appear to be good for the home team. I will leave the judgment and interpretation of the example to the reader. In the light of this example, let’s consider the following three important conditions: 1) Our country finds itself in a decisive time where the important task of keeping her unity and territorial integrity is left to those who vow to fight alongside her enemies. 2) We have elected leaders in jail and a partially aborted popular movement in coma. 3) The fourth parliamentary election is coming in less than three years time.
As to me, if the benefit largely out weights the cost, I will happily incur the political cost of any decision that stops the disintegration of my country. Here is what Abraham Lincoln said on unity: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that" If Lincoln was that determined to save the Union at the cost of a continued misery of black people, what is our empirical, moral, or historical foundation to demand how & why the CUDP leaders secured their freedom? Why can’t the elected leaders of Ethiopia do what they think is right to stop the bleeding of their country? To begin with, the crucial question is- Why are they in jail? Not how they were released!
The two years of relative silence and frustration in the opposition camp has clearly demonstrated how bad the popular movement missed the CUDP leaders. So when a condition that re-unites long separated “lovers” is created, what should be the right choice? Stay behind bars for the rest of their life, or come out of jail at a cost and energize the otherwise dormant opposition politics? Save the unity of the swiftly disintegrating Ethiopia, or stay in jail with no hope of passing the Ethiopia they inherited to the next generation? Lead the opposition for the next election in 2010, or sit in Kaliti/Kerchele and guarantee Meles Zenawi and his gang secure an easy fourth term? Social cost-benefit analysis is a good thing to consider here, but I will rather skip it to protect the innocent.
Once again Dr. Solomon said: “Let us recall that Mandela was in the dungeon of apartheid for over twenty five years. I should point out that prison did not deter the leaders of ANC from discharging their historic responsibility” (emphasis added by me). This is an absolutely true statement, but in the Ethiopian case, the prison not only deterred the free CUDP leaders, but it also created multiple Kinjit factions that crippled the popular movement. All in all, the Mandela-ANC experience and historical setting is totally different from the recent experience of CUDP leaders. Therefore, shouldn’t Mandela-ANC and CUDP be viewed independently? While the Mandela-CUDP comparative analysis is an absolutely right task to consider, imposing Mandela’s action on the CUDP leaders is an out-and-out denial of reality. Remember, too much analysis is paralysis! Currently, we all are eagerly expecting to have a town-hall meeting with the CUDP leaders, and here are some possible discussion questions: What is your plan to re-vitalize the struggle? Why did you listen to the Shimagles and bend to the will of Meles? What different things will you do in the next election? Why did you sign a document that makes you look like guilty? What do you do to create a strong political alliance? The CUDP leaders shall definitely entertain all of the above questions, but in the face of the current political crisis of our country, and the tight schedule of the leaders; some of the above questions are inconsequential to all of us individually, and to our country at large.
Obviously, the release of the CUDP leaders by itself does not give us hope for the future; however, their freedom is a vitally necessary factor to resuscitate the chocked hope of our people. The political discourse of the last fifty years did not take us anywhere because we dwelt too much in the past. Let’s change our course and give more emphasis to the future. The Ethiopian farmers, artisans, and working people want to hear our vision for the new millennium. Let’s be intelligent and brave enough to face the Ethiopian people with a vision, and ask their cooperation for its realization. If we can’t prove we’re good enough, let’s quietly leave the forum for the brave, the good, and the able people.