Friday, October 12, 2007

The Boycott of Parliament and the Future of Kinijit

By Fikru Helebo

Two years ago this week I was furious at the combined Ethiopian opposition (CUD, UEDF, OFDM). Why? Because, just a few months after beating the EPRDF regime in the 2005 elections with all odds stacked against them, they blinked and failed to stand together in the decision about joining or boycotting parliament, thereby giving Meles Zenawi what he wanted: a divided opposition. In the debate about joining or boycotting parliament in 2005, although I leaned towards those who advocated joining parliament, I thought that it was very important for the opposition to have a single strategy regarding the issue of joining or boycotting parliament.

Now, two years later, I think it is safe to say that the opposition's inability to adopt a single strategy on joining or boycotting parliament did not serve them well. If the opposition had adopted a single strategy, join or boycott, most Ethiopians who voted for the opposition would have supported them. If they were united either way, I do believe that the political landscape of Ethiopia would have changed for the better. Unfortunately, it did not turn out that way and the rest is history.

The verdict on those parties who joined parliament under the highly charged atmosphere of 2005 is clear. But it is not quite as clear for the party that put preconditions on joining parliament, the CUD (Kinijit). Those who joined parliament have proven nothing by joining parliament. In fact, by staying in parliament after hundreds of innocent civilians were gunned down and thousands imprisoned by the Meles regime, they have discredited themselves as an opposition and, in the process, they have become a pariah among supporters of the opposition. The party which boycotted parliament, Kinijit, is also not served well by its decision to boycott parliament,
at least from the results that we have witnessed so far. The decision to boycott may not have served Kinijit well in the short term, but it certainly has made Kinijit more popular among Ethiopians and it may help it in the long term. That, however, depends on many variables going Kinijit's way.

In as much as the decision to boycott parliament two years ago may have made Kinijit very popular, it is probable that the process Kinijit went through in reaching that decision may be the culprit for the current internal crisis that Kinijit finds itself in. It should be recalled that Hailu Shawel, the president of Kinijit, made quite a stir when he announced in Washington, DC three weeks before parliament opened on October 10, 2005 that Kinijit has decided not to enter parliament. Hailu Shawel's declaration was refuted a couple of days later by a press release
which appeared on Keste-Demena's now defunct web site, Keste-Demena being one of Kinijit's member parties and one which was led by Berhanu Nega ( served as a de facto Kinijit web site at that time). I liked the statement on Keste-Demena's web site; it sounded mature and responsible. That statement combined with a joint statement by CUD and UEDF a few days later raised my hope that the opposition may be pursuing a united strategy regarding the issue of joining or not joining parliament. Unfortunately, everything unraveled a few days later after CUD and UEDF officials met with Meles Zenawi.

This episode revealed that there were serious disagreements within Kinijit regarding the issue of joining or boycotting parliament. Disagreements within a political organization are natural, but this disagreement highlighted the existence of a deeper disagreement within Kinijit on its vision and its strategy for dealing with its opponents. Fast forward to October 2007 and, it seems to me, Kinijit is still stuck in the disagreements that arose during the decision process about joining or boycotting parliament in 2005. Most had hoped that the release of Kinijit's leadership from jail last July would re-energize the opposition. One faction of Kinijit is actually trying its best to reinvigorate the opposition camp. Unfortunately, another faction seems more interested in winning the turf battle within Kinijit than wining the hearts and minds of Ethiopians across the ethnic, religious and geographical spectrum.

As I have attempted to discuss in an article titled "The Battleground Region" last year, the Ethiopian South is where the next election will be won, if free and fair elections are to take place. At this point in the evolution of Kinijit as a party one can not deny that the base of the party is in the Amhara region. Nothing wrong with that per se. But, for Kinijit to be a majority party in Ethiopia, it will have to reach out to people in the South and Oromia regions. The faction of Kinijit that is linked to Hailu Shawel is quickly proving to be a liability for Kinijit in its effort to broaden its support base in other regions of the country. The Amhara base of Kinijit is a very important constituency for Kinijit and it looks like this is the card that Hailu Shawel is playing to keep Kinijit under his firm grip. But with Hailu Shawel's dictatorial tendencies, which can easily be detected in the interviews he has been giving since he arrived in the US, and his inherent inability to inspire, it is highly unlikely that Kinijit can make further inroads into the South and Oromia regions.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your assessment. They are acting like a kid. Like Addisu (VOA) tried to point out during his interview with Ato Hailu, I think it is showing that they aren’t on the same page. And need to take sometime and get to know each other well. We all remember how CUD party was assembled right before the election. They have to sort it out by themselves before they go public .As they claim, it is not a big issue and don’t try to make it one. I don’t think W/o Bertukan is helping either. I thought Dr. Yakob during his interview with DW radio was more mature.
Ethiopian from Syracuse, NY

Anonymous said...

We have to choose among these three
- dictatorial regime with ethnic federalism – that of EPRDF
- democratic Ethiopia with Ethnic federalism– that of Dr. Birhanu group + OFDM + UDEF
- democratic Ethiopia with non-ethnic federalism- that of Ato Hailu

CUD is currently dead! Move on!

Anonymous said...

Enset, could you kindly change the heading for your blog from "southern" to "southerner's".Unless you believe you can speak for all the people in the south.

enset said...

Ethiopian from Syracuse, NY:

Yes, Yacob came across very mature in that interview with VOA and Kinijit would be well served if people like him speak for Kinijit. I agree that Bertukan's performance in the last few weeks has not been much helpful. She is young and lacks experience and I will give her some slack. But I think she has accomplished more in Ethiopian politics in her short two years than most and she is an asset for Kinijit.

Anonymous of 10/13/2007 12:15 PM:

Kinijit is not dead. If it was dead, Ethiopians would not be spending so much time trying to help it or attempting to kill it.

Anonymous of 10/13/2007 12:32 PM:

Please refer to my article from a few months ago titled "
The North-South Divide

Anonymous said...

Politics with militant tendency is short fused.

Although joining the parliament or not may be looks a thing of the past, it is good that you brought up this issue for an open debate.

From my point of view, it was a mistake that the opposition made a decision of boycotting the 2005 parliament with out proper analysis of the issue. It looks to me that the decision was taken by Engineer Shawel with out giving consideration to wider implication. It was a type of making a policy decision ion on the go. This is may be a consequence of “I know all therefore I decide” type of most African political leaders motto.

Despite of all the scruples and disgraced actions of vote rigging by EPRDF during the 2005 election, it would have been better if the opposition have joined the parliament. To my judgment, the decision of not joining the parliament had an element of militancy. The reason I am saying is that the way they decided, the action and reaction after the election was spontaneous in it character. There wasn’t clear leadership among the opposition parties and groups. They were reacting to events instead of measured and calculated response to volatile situations. One group is talking about “Ukrainian type Orange revolution”. The others are gearing up to join the parliament. Imagine Engineer Shawel is declaring not to join the parliament in Washington not at home, in Ethiopia. I don’t really know what he was doing at that critical moment away from home. The fact that his populist declaration of not joining the new parliament has earned him a standing ovation and a unanimous support on the meeting floor may gave him a good feel factor then. But in real terms that announcement had circulated uncertainty on this issue and exposed the opposition party was lacking visionary leadership. There is no doubt that the chairman has unreserved love for his country and a commitment for the opposition to be successful. But this doesn’t make one a visionary and wise political leader.

Why do I say joining the parliament was a good decision?

The demographic profile of the parliament would have been changed than the earlier one. There was a chance of delivering of a real political debate on the floor of the parliament. They are all starters when it comes to the process of Democracy and the rule of low. This would have given them a great opportunity of recognising the importance of rule of law, political accountability, and good governance.

The opposition would have a time for reflection, expanding their organization, refining their strategy, articulating their presentation, and first hand experience of a parliamentarian.

They would have a chance of exposing mostly doggy laws; they might have also a chance of passing some laws that contribute to the long process of democratisation of Ethiopia.

On the other hand one can argue that joining wouldn’t make a difference. The Meles government wouldn’t allow the parliament to function independently. So what is the point of joining this pseudo–parliament?

Ok that is a fair argument. But a comparatively wiser move should have been to open up this parliament so that ideas, debates can at least trickle through to the wider public. For a country like Ethiopia a democratic process is painfully slow.

Anonymous said...

Sad to see you are ganging up against Haily Shawel. What a waste of Education !! But no one can blame you since the entire generation is indoctrinated by ethnicism, and you as well looked overwhelmed by the ethnicism tendency labeled hailu shawel dictator just because his alleged strong hold is based on Amhara region.

Many spoke-out imprisoned kinijit officials spoke out saying Hailu shawel never had the alleged dictatorial behavior you and ethno-victimized people wanted to tell us. The fact of the matter is Hailu Shawel will never surrender to The regime while many in Kestedemena like Dr.Brehanu succumbed to the ruling parties demands. Of course, no one need to speak for hailu shawel since his integrity speaks out lauder than your blog, Ethiomedia and the tabloid Ethiopian Review.

enset said...

Anonymous of 10/13/2007 3:30 PM:

I think your analysis is sound. But my contention is that joining parliament as a divided opposition under the conditions of 2005 was futile, as it has been amply proven. Those who thought it was best to join parliament should have seen this coming and should have done their darn best to convince those who thought it was best to boycott and they should have done do in a transparent manner. This was the main reason why a group of Southerners broke away from Beyene Pertos's group. Please read
this statement
if you haven't already.

Anonymous of 10/14/2007 11:36 AM:

Sorry to disappoint you. I am known to disappoint those who agree with me, but I tell it like it is. As to Hailu Shawel's dictatorial tendencies, please refer to
this posting
of Ethio-Zagol from a few weeks ago in which Mesfin Woldemariam hinted about those people in Kinijit who get drunk by the applause they get from their audience. I suspect that Mesfin had people like Hailu Shawel in mind.


Anonymous said...

To the last Anonymous

I think you are missing the point. The topic of this blog is not Engineer Shawel. It is about Kinigit’s police of 2005. You have a right to sympathize the Engineer. At the same time you don’t have to be anger if people have second thought. We are all different. You need to be tolerant and persuasive than throwing phrases here and there.

By the way I didn’t get what do you mean by “ethno-victimized"

enset said...

Just finished listening to VOA's part I and II interview with Birtukan Mideksa and Hailu Araya. I will take back my earlier comment about Birtukan's performance being less than desirable. She did very well in the interview. I think she is much more capable than I thought and deserving of all the accolades she has been getting.

The interviewer, Addisu Abebe, also asked the tough questions and he deserves credit for conducting a professional interview. I look forward to part III tomorrow. BTW, I was prompted to write this piece after I listened to VOA's two part interview with Hailu Shawel. To be blunt about it, Hailu Shawel came across as a cry baby, not a leader of a major party.

Anonymous said...

Dr Merara Gudina and Dr Beyene Petros were accussed of being CUD by the TPLF debaters repeatedly before the first election which looked liked free ever in Ethiopia in May 2005. But once TPLF was sure that Drs Merara and Beyene weren't going to boycott parliament, and thinking that Aba Dula's threats-staring him down and bumping the table with his fist-towards Dr Merara has indeed worked, TPLF foucused all its attention on CUD. Dr Yakob and Artist Debebe Eshetu and other CUD leaders were beaten up by AGAZI in civilian clothes before CUD made the decision. What happened after that was horrible. Remember what happened to Muluneh just because he wouldn't take off his Tee shirt? That is what happens when you face gun totters who never made guns but were given guns to kill.

Before that and during the rainy season CUD leaders were asking the public what they want them to do all over Ethiopia in meeting halls. Not joining parliament was overwhelmingly popular amongst the voters. Intimidating CUD leaders with physical abuse and public humiliation like spitting in their faces by TPLF gangs back fired. All that was just two years ago and we all followed the news. Kiflu Taddesse [Ginbot 7] and Dr Berhanu Nega mentioned some of that in their books.

The fact that CUD doesn't have an armed force to back it up shouldn't make us all be conditioned for abuse by TPLF and all the injustice, Ato Fikru.

I was hoping you would mention the EIGHT POINTS of CUD's condition to join parliament. And I'm glad I am reading this after you changed your mind about Judge Birtukan Mideksa. And the decision not to join parliament was the right decision since, as you mentioned, the votes were stolen. Just because CUD, UEDF and OFDM don't have any guns to shoot back at the murderer TPLF's special force AGAZI doesn't make it wrong. When votes are stollen, elections mean not much. Why should very poor and starving people risk their necks again if the ones they voted for simply 'disappear' and be replaced by the angry TPLF cadre who will do anything in his power to hurt them because they didn't vote for him?

enset said...

Anonymous of 10/15/2007 3:22 AM:

The purpose of this piece was not to debate whether boycotting parliament in 2005 was right or wrong. As I have said, that is now history and it is better left for historians to judge in the future after all the dust has settled. The two points I wanted to make are found in the first sentences of the fourth and the last paragraphs of the article.

Kinijit's eight preconditions, which I referenced in the article, are important. But it is also important not to think of those preconditions as if they are written on a stone. This is politics and compromise and pragmatism should be the guiding principles for any political party that aspires to accomplish some thing concrete.


Anonymous said...


I agree with you entirely that joining or not joining was not as important as making the decision jointly. Unity is most important.

Kinijit leadership claim to understand that their main mandate is democracy-promotion, that they are a democracy movement, not a political party struggling for power in a democratic context.

But, still most supporters and even many of the leaders haven't quite internalized the fact that as a pro-democracy movement in a hostile environment, they can't afford the usual intra-party sparring for power that occurs within parties in functioning democracies.

As for disagreements about nature of the current struggle, I don't think the disagreements are of any substance, certainly not nearly enough to account for the childish infighting currently taking place.

I agree with those who say that this feuding is purely a result of cultural deficit - of an inherent lack of norms that facilitate working together.

I don't like to focus on Hailu Shawel or Lidetu or Taye or Shaleqa Yoseph Yazew or Bedru Adem or Mushe Semu or Asrat Weldeyes or Beyene Petros or diaspora ex-EPRPers or...

The list could go on forever, huh?! This shows that the problem is not one of a few individuals, but a broken culture that needs to be fixed. These individuals listed above are not traitors - they think they are doing their best. Some have been arrested and suffered for years. They are just victims of the culture they've grown up with.

Unless we work on fixing the culture, we'll always have these problems, as we've been having for decades.

enset said...


I could not agree more about our broken culture. There is no reason why similar problems can't happen within the two factions that are vying for dominance within Kinijit.

But focusing on Hailu Shawel was important in this articles for a couple of reasons:

1. After the VOA interview, it became obvious that the side that was more interested in fanning the flames of the so-called "minor disagreements" within Kinijit is Hailu Shawel's side, with Hailu Shawel himself taking the lead by belittling every attempt the other side has made to cool things down.

2. It is now clear to me that Hailu Shawel shares a lot in common with Beyene Petros in how he runs the organization(s) he leads, i.e, with a dictatorial streak. I believe the willingness to listen, really listen not just hear, to opposing points of view and building consensus are two very important facets of leadership. I have known that Beyene Petros does not possess these traits for a while now. It is obvious to me now that Hailu Shawel does not possess these traits either.


Anonymous said...


Continuing on this theme, has any major Ethiopian institution ever had a leader with a 'willingness to listen, really listen not just hear, to opposing points of view and building consensus?'

It seems these are not the qualities that help one become a leader in Ethiopia. In fact, quite the opposite.

Anonymous said...

Well, If Ato Hailu think that Amhara is a card that he can play to keep Kinijit under his firm grip, he is making a big mistake. True is that he has been around the region during the election months butI don't think people will accomodate any more dictatore at this stage of frastration just like any other region in the country. Call and ask what people feel about these last VOA and DW interviews and will find where amharas are standing

enset said...

Just listened to part III of VOA's interview with Birtukan/Hailu Araya. I am impressed with their poise. Birtukan is a very mature 33 year old person. She may be destined for something great. Hailu Araya is affable and professorial.

Also listened to VOA's report on Hailu Shawel's failed meeting. I was surprised that not even half the number of people who went to see him on his arrival to DC showed up to hear him. I think the low turn out was a sort of referendum on the manner he handled this crisis.

VOA also had an interview with Mesfin Woldemariam. He chastised both factions and appealed to them to come to their senses. I hope they will all listen. But I am afraid it may have come a week too late.

Anonymous said...

Fikru, I agree with almost every thing you said and I'm aware you 'disappoint those who agree with you' :)

The lesson we learned is that TPLF won't hesitate to kill, maim and torture on the street and in prison or concentration camps. When independent media prints something that TPLF doesn't like, journalists and publishers or even paper boys on the street suffer under TPLF goons. "HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT" is a very good example of understatements.

If all opposition agreed to join parliament two years ago with the seats left/allowed to it (the TPLF election board stole more for TPLF after TPLF was done stealing), and the new TPLF parliament-rule being two third majority to even raise a question?

The opposition was more energized for the first time since it was led by Colonel Goshu, Dr Asrat and Dr Beyene in the 90s when TPLF started to kill innocent people in 2005 yet again after its genocide in Gambela and on going genocide in Ogaden.

But all that innocent blood will be for nothing if there is nobody to remind TPLF that it is a genocidal tyrannt regime whith no support outside of Tigray. The opposition would be waiting for the US and AU governments to do something rather than doing something itself (if everybody joined parliament). For instance Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were praising tyrant Meles Zenawi b/c we weren't heard and there was 'some opposoition in parliament'.

The west have given up hope on Africa and as long as the opposition is not fighting and bleeding or being killed, they believe it is 'good governing' enough for Africans, no? Am I repeating myself?

Okay, okay... the past is the past and you can delete my comment.

I think it was you or Ephrem who wrote about the "North-South divide" weeks ago. I think it is the kind of writing which hits you like a double espresso and wakes you up. I know the Sidama is the third largest group in Ethiopia after the Oromo and the Amhara groups. Other smaller groups like Tigre and even Harari/Adere have their own provinces but the whole southern Ethiopia is one province in the current system. May be there is a collective thinking in that part of Ethiopia different from Oromo or Amahara/Addis/Tigre/Somale/Benishangul or Gambela?

I admire you Enset and other pro-democracy bloggers b/c you are risking your lives and your familie's lives while I can hide under 'anonymous' and say anything I want.

I believe Ethiopians do not like cowards and they tend to admire war heroes and brave people who love their country.

Too bad we have this bad 'face saving' and bitterness over little disagreements of Orthodox culture which muslim and other christian Ethiopians all the same have.But again it has been a century and a half since Tewodros committed suicide instead of giving up on Ethiopia's honor and even today Ethiopians in the south and all over the country and in Diaspora name their newborn sons after him.