By Ephrem Madebo
He is a farsighted politician, an inexhaustible intellectual, a charismatic person, and a visionary leader who is entrusted to lead our nation to a new direction, ending fifty years of dancing in a political quagmire. Unlike the “My-way or no-way” politicians of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s; Dr. Berhanu is one of the few open-minded Ethiopian politicians who not only values the idea of others, but makes the most use out of it. His charisma, his love for others, his attentiveness, sense of humor, knowledge of politics, respect to dissent, and his consummate ability to deal with people of different attitude and political interest makes Dr. Berhanu Nega the most fulfilled Ethiopian politician of all time. To many who adore him without knowing him personally, he is a rock sold refuge of hope. To his close friends, he is an inspiration and a reason for optimism. To his party colleagues, he is a motivator. To the nation, he is a true vector of change with a solid, clear-cut, and steady trajectory.
For many Ethiopian politicians (past and present), the whole idea of open mindedness has been a toss-up concept which could mean many things. Dr. Berhnau is one of the few public figures that seems to clearly understand that being open-minded has nothing to do with how one treats other people, but how one treats him/herself. Our mind is autonomous from the minds of others. As social elements, we may be influenced by others, but we make our individual decision. The core idea of open mindedness is to have the capacity to admit mistakes, and gulp down our arrogance and allow ourselves to be corrected by others. If one is arrogant, proud, and hostile then he/she cannot be open-minded because they don’t have the will to accept that they are wrong.
Dr. Berhanu Nega and his party colleagues are persons distinguished by exceptional courage, nobility, and strength. To put it differently, for this generation of Ethiopians, they are heroes. After closely following Dr. Berhanu for the last 50 days and after having a close encounter with him; I was morally and intellectually forced to cherish his balanced view on the following important features that single him out from the crowd.
Vision: A vision is a clear and compelling long-term goal of strategy that sets the overall direction for a country or an organization. It is a summary statement of what a country, or an organization ultimately intends to become five, 10 or even 15 years into the future. I read Dr. Berhanu’s 22 pages of immaculately written strategic speech, I heard most of his public speeches and interviews in North America, and most importantly I had the opportunity to be inches closer to him and to his collogues in their recent Washington DC public appearances. His rich, concise, and plainly stated vision is what forced me to devote my pen for this mastermind of contemporary Ethiopian politics. His vision is to establish a nation where all citizens are equal before the law. His vision is to see a politically free nation where all things are decided by the free will of the people. His vision is to build an economically powerful nation that produces most of its needs. This is as good as it gets!
Emphasis on the future: I’ve participated in countless Washington, DC “Unification Church” meetings, I’ve met a myriad of party leaders, and I have listened to many radio interviews and participated in paltalk discussions. Everything I heard until September 16, 2007 adds up to two highly charged political groups that kept the opposition camp divided for decades. In one corner, there are power monger people who seek to grab power at the cost of the nation itself. On the other side, there are victim-minded politicians who start everything by blaming others for the past, and end their day hating everybody outside their circle. Dr. Berhanu’s emphasis on our country’s future should be a bridge that curbs the gap between these polarized groups and pulls them to the pragmatic part of Ethiopian politics. This is what Dr. Berhanu said: “My emphasis on the past does not imply that we should set aside the past. The past is where we get our lesson for the future. We don’t dwell in the past; we plan everything for the future”. The future is daunting without hope, and there is no future without the past. To conquer the future and give hope to people, we should forget the burden of the past. A society that does not forgive shall not have a good future.
Ethnic Politics: Dr. Berhanu’s stand on ethnic politics is firm and straight forward. He has no taste for ethnic based politics, but he still has no intention of denying people their right of organizing in any form they want. His major departing point from ethnic politics is summarized in the following statement: “When one changes a decaying system, he/she should never burden the process of change. If one burdens change, he/she will fall altogether. The process of changing any society should be divided in to different stages. In our case, the first stage is to separate politics form ethnicity and set the tone for the principles of liberal democracy”. In a nation where the constitution protects the individual right of all citizens, there will be no loophole for ethnic oppression. The severance of politics and ethnicity is a major point of departure between Kinjit/Berhanu and TPLF/Meles.
Self Governance: He is an ardent proponent of local governance and self- reliance. Yes, he is also a strident advocate of liberal democracy, but trust me, though he is an accomplished economist (PHD), he does not buy the whole sale concept of political liberalism. He understands and believes in the architectural role of governments in guiding the development process of third world countries. According to Dr. Berhanu, local economic, political, and social affairs of people should be left alone to local people.
Political Alliance: As long as an alliance benefits his nation positively, he is open to work with any political group. The following is what Dr. Berhanu said on working with others: The fundamental legal and democratic principles that we [Kinjit] preach are not mere campaign slogans. They are the guiding principles of every movement in our party. According to Dr. Berhanu, there is no permanent political alliance as there is no lasting political animosity. Therefore, any group that wholeheartedly works for a strong Ethiopia, consents with the fundamental principles of equality before the law, and belives in the political freedom people is our political ally.
The importance of official language: Of all the things that Dr. Berhanu’s thinking stood clearly superior to mine is, his analysis of language in the Ethiopian society. Personally, he believes that having two official languages benefits Ethiopia. Most Ethiopians will benefit by learning the language of the Oromo people, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. If they become the dual official languages of Ethiopia, Amharic and Afaan Oromo will definitely benefit the nation as good unifying factors. Speaking multiple languages adds a positive tone to our diversity and eliminates artificial hurdles between people.
Political Campaign: A political campaign often refers to an organized effort of parties, or individuals to influence voters. Such influences could occur through media campaigns, town hall meetings, and Internet messages. Campaign politics is a new phenomenon to Ethiopia, and unquestionably, Dr. Berhanu Nega, campaign manager of CUDP [during the 2005 election], is the pioneer of media based campaign politics in Ethiopia. It was his ability to successfully disseminate his party’s message of hope alongside the soundbites of TPLF officials that dwarfed EPRDF in nationality televised debates. In 2005, Dr Berhanu effectively used the creative ability of the youth and the limited media slots to propagate the different identities of Kinjit such as “Kinjit is Fikir” “The Spirit of Kinjit” and the hard to forget symbol of Kinjit (V).
Sense of Humor: The social aspect of most of our political leaders is detached from the daily life and experience of the common people. To these isolated leaders, going to the places of ordinary people and addressing them using their own language/slung is a taboo. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Berhanu’s “The Quest for Democracy in Ethiopia” speech: We have a matured and a politically transformed youth. Today, the creed of our youth is: “Only the “Faras” [bumpkins] shun from political activism” Dr. Berhanu has a unique ability of wrapping his messages with giggling gags to take the full attention of his audience. When he switches gear away from burning issues, many people may pass Dr. Berhanu for a comedian.
As our society faces a rapid upswing in poverty, unemployment, and an ever worsening health and land tenure problems, we need leaders who will keep unemployment down and restore accountability to our government system. In my opinion, Dr. Berhanu is that leader. His noisy opponents try to align him with EPRDF. I guess, these barefaced “Talk-show” politicians either don’t know why they oppose EPRDF, or they are not good enough to distinguish good from bad. Dr. Berhanu might not be as good a leader to others as he is to me, but his ideology and his vision to Ethiopia are diametrically opposed to that of EPRDF. To me, TPLF and Dr. Berhanu don’t even seem to be working for the same country. I am not here to shield Dr. Berhanu; he has a much better weapon to do that. I’m here to defend the truth he stands for. Through the years, we have assassinated characters, dragged down promising leaders, and poured water on our hot issues. Let’s have a change of heart, to love others. No matte how polarized our ideas are, let’s change our attitude and listen to others. Let’s change our path and do things differently. Let’s embrace our heroes and help them realize their vision. May God be with all of us!