Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The opposition should change to bring a change

By Ephrem Madebo

The inability of dictators to learn from their predecessors and their desire to sway the free will of society are some of the distinguishing features that identify dictators from rational leaders. Dictators always promise to attain the un-attainable and try to prevent the inevitable. As much as I detest dictators, they are not my interest in this article; I just wanted to use them as a steppingstone to point my gun at the Ethiopian opposition that never seems to be getting a lesson from its past failure. Opposition politics in Ethiopia may be as old as the Ethiopian state itself, however, organized party politics is a very new phenomenon. From the flamboyant EPRP of the 1970s to the adorable CUDP of the 21st century, all political organizations in Ethiopia came in to existence and melted away in a very similar fashion. I assume most of the parties were forged to solve national problems, but they died prematurely burned by their own internal problems. In fact, the life cycle of opposition parties in Ethiopia can be characterized by the following scheme: New party → Disagreement→ Faction→ Another new party.

I am not trying to preach a “No mistake” sermon, mistakes happen, and they are opportunities to learn something new. Columbus failed miserably on his goal to find a route to India. However, in failing he ran into a new opportunity. He reached to the new world. In the last 17 years, the Ethiopian opposition has faced as much opportunities as it has faced threats, but despite the immense popular support; the opposition neither seized the opportunities nor avoided the threats. No political party that I know resolved, or managed conflicts and continued to exit as a unified entity. In 2002, TPLF cracked internally; and Meles used the opportunity to eliminate his opponents. In December 2007, Kinjit’s chairman “fired” party executives who disagreed with him. This damaging trend confirms that the opposition seems to have no qualitative difference from what it claims to oppose.

Recently, some scholars have shed a new light on the political atmosphere of Ethiopia. A good number of scholars have written articles on the recent debacle of Kinjit, but I want to single out three scholars who suggested a scientific approach to the problem. The approach of these scholars is systemic, dynamic, and comprehensive. The three scholars are distinguished from the pack by their ability to see the bigger picture, and seek comprehensive solution to the whole system than treating parts of the system. The three scholars are Dr. Messay Kebede,
Alethia, and Tefferi Mengistie.

Let me start with the “dialogue” vs “outrage” argument of Dr. Messay and Fekade Shewakena. As Maimire Mennasemay eloquently put it in one of his articles, “dialogue is the sanctuary of hope, and outrage is the sanctuary of principles. Democracy needs both”. The three scholars agree that the current political crisis of Kinjit is not an isolated phenomenon; it is a cascading problem that has cultural and moral background. It is a problem that dwarfs our political system, not just kinjit. As good as dialogues are, I don’t think they would solve the current crisis of Kinjit because the root cause of the crisis is explained by our negative culture of solving differences. There is a good chance of solving the current Kinjit crisis through dialogues, but there is equally a good chance that the problem would re-surface again, as long as the root cause of the problem is not dealt with.

Dialogue is a conscious act for a common good; outrage is a sudden reaction, or a powerful feeling of resentment aroused by a malevolence act. Outrage by itself does not solve conflict, but it forces perpetrators to accept the call for dialogs. The general public has two weapons to jolt politicians change their behavior; they are the ballot box and outrage. Dialogue is the rational choice for solving problems if and only if all parties in the dialogue recognize the rule of the game and are willing to accept the outcome of the game. The two warring factions of Kinjit may be familiar with the rules of the game, but I don’t think neither faction bothers to respect the rules if they don’t like the outcome. Surprisingly, these are the same people who wrote “Yeheg Yebelaynet Yikeber” as their mission statement.

In his initial article, Dr. Messay points at the structural problems of Kinjit that must be resolved. I don’t think any body will have a second thought on Dr. Messay’s proposal of structural change. The caveat is, large-scale structural change is limited, in part, because in the Kinjit case, the Diaspora elements and the domestic elite often seek out the most acceptable and efficient means of managing serious social conflicts rather than resolving them. When Dr. Messay proposed a structural change within Kinijit, this is what he said: “What the crisis shows is that the CUD has a structural problem that must be resolved. I implore that those who write cease to assign a hidden intention to this or that leader so as to reflect on the structural issues with an eye to proposing solutions” I don’t think Alethia has any objection to Dr. Messay’s notion of structural change, but his proposal of “root cause analysis” is not limited to Kinjit, he is eager to see structural changes deep in the moral fabric of the whole society.

Alethia’s far-reaching remedy for the current Kinjit crisis seems to be the better of all the alternatives. He strongly argues for a root cause analysis and blames others - in his own words “I think all the solutions proposed by these three gentlemen fail to deliver the goods they recommend. Their responses fail because all three of them, like many others like theirs, are oblivious to the more fundamental root cause of the current Kinijit crisis”. Dr. Messay might not have mentioned the word “root cause analysis” in his article. However, if what I think is right, I don’t see much difference between the root cause analysis approach [Alethia] and the structural approach [Dr. Messay] in solving the moral and cultural problems associated with the Ethiopian way of problem solving. Given Kinjit’s current problem, one can not solve the root causes of the crisis independent of the structural problems.

A brief walk through the history of opposition politics in Ethiopia reveals a clear moral resemblance between opposition parties and the party in power, or to put it in a different way, TPLF and the opposition parties are instituted in a closely similar moral foundation. The on-going struggle between the incumbent and the opposition parties is not a genuine run for a radical change; it is a mere competition for power. I know we don’t expect freedom and justice from dictators; I wonder why we should expect them from those who are not morally deferent from them. A complete transformation of our country requires an irrevocable change in the moral foundation of our society, and the readiness of the society to accept this change. We should always be able to see our existence in the context of the person next to us. We all should firmly stand for the truth and denounce egotism, dishonesty, and obstinacy no matter who the perpetrator is.

As Alethia repeatedly reminded us, the root causes of our problems today ultimately have to do with the moral foundation of our society. We denounce violence, but violence is our preferred route of conflict resolution. We fight political oppression, but we support political icons whether they are dictators, liars, or crooks. There are many of us who eagerly accept our own freedom, but do not respect that of others. The history of our country has time and again showed us that freedom can not survive for long unless it is based on moral foundations. We must understand that Ethiopia is a perpetual entity while political parties and individuals are indispensable snapshots in this perpetuity. Therefore, in everything we do, we should always put Ethiopia first; and never consider parties above Ethiopia and individuals above party. We don’t have to chew up our political figures for every minor incident, but we should always have the courage to tell them “enough” when their accumulated mistakes take our nation to a hole.

So how should the leaders of Kinjit solve their current crisis and save the party from going down in history? In the short run, dialogue is a plausible means that could avoid the total fiasco of Kinjit and keep the hope alive. Dialogue is a practical means to not just bring the factions together, it could as well be a path to peacefully depart the party. I strongly believe in dialogues, but I don’t want a dialogue to be a ploy to keep together ideologically divergent individuals, or groups in a party. In the short run, the responsibility of avoiding the political collapse of Kinjit falls on the leaders of the two factions. The factions may disagree on a number of things, but they must agree on the fact that the survival of Kinjit is more important than their individual group. As numerous as Kinjit’s problems are, a single stroke may not avoid them, however, solving the deep-seated problem that got the party in the hole may enable the leaders to buy time and gather cohesiveness to solve other problems. The leaders of Kinjit have undisputedly failed in keeping the party together. Is this by itself a mortal problem? Well no, because the greatest triumph of political leaders is not in never falling, but rising from a fall. Will they rise?

In the long run, the responsibility of revolutionizing our method of conflict resolution falls on the back of scholars, civic organizations, opinion leaders, and of course the general public. We the “enlightened” must be vectors of change and appreciate conflicts as unavoidable episodes in the process of change. Democracy requires a clear-cut moral precondition. Those who are in the forefront of the fight for freedom must believe in the principles of democracy and respect its rules. Freedom of any kind must exist within the framework of law; otherwise, it means only freedom for the strong to oppress the weak. We must enrich the moral foundation of our society and make it compatible with democracy. In countries like Ethiopia, it is morally acceptable for leaders to think that they are above the law. In fact, this kind of “dysfunctional behavior” [Teferi Mengiste] of our political leaders has a lot to do with their social consciousness than their individual character. To be honest, it is this kind of moral maxim that Dr.Messay, Alethea, Teferi Mengiste and many others must fight boldly to ameliorate the current hurdles in the Ethiopian political arena.

In the past few years, many scholars, political figures, and blogers have extensively discussed liberal democracy and emphasized on its importance for Ethiopia. Liberalism has also been ubiquitous in both the academia and the public realm, so much so that it is often presented as the unsurpassed alternative. What is liberal democracy? Is Liberal democracy the right prescription for Ethiopia? Is the moral foundation of our country well-suited for liberalism? Are the moral principles of liberalism good enough to smooth and gradually do away with the “dysfunctional behavior” of our political elites? What are the moral principles of liberalism? By the way, it is important to understand that the moral foundations of society do not extend only to its political system; they must extend to its economic and social systems as well. This article will continue on these issues next week.


Anonymous said...

I am very happy to read this excellent article !

“The on-going struggle between the incumbent and the opposition parties is not a genuine run for a radical change; it is a mere competition for power.

The two warring factions of Kinjit may be familiar with the rules of the game, but I don’t think neither faction bothers to respect the rules if they don’t like the outcome.”

Behind the curtain, the struggle was reduced to elite competition for power!

“We must understand that Ethiopia is a perpetual entity while political parties and individuals are indispensable snapshots in this perpetuity. Therefore, in everything we do, we should always put Ethiopia first! “

God bless you!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Madebo:

What a shift you made. I congradulate you for making a 180 degree turn of praising and brandishinng the one faction of CUD led be Dr. Berehanu to making it responsible for not making reconciliation.

It wasn't long ago You yourself and the person you named in your article ,Althea, prescribing a solution to the division. You and Mr Althea were on the fore front on praising and advancing Dr. Berehanu's ego to be a leader by advocating for him and calling him a visionary leader. It is in our memory that both of you wrote artlicles titled "My moment with Dr. Berehanu" to lift him to a leadership position in the CUD he dreamt for long.

Now, don't you think you are also responsible for the deep crack amongst the CUD supporters? In my beleif, you are. You should have persued the dialogue and reconciliation anthem you are writting now long time ago. Instead you completely sided to one faction and made the division wider. I didn't like the idea of blaming our culture here. i blame you and people like you who are gifted on presenting fictions as facts.

just two months ago, you were blaming Hailu Shawel for all these mess. and now you realised that the Berehanu faction takes the wider share of these mess. And i asure you that you will realise in a couple of months that the Dr Berehanu faction will take the entire share of the wrongs commited in the split of CUD. These, i will tell to everyone and as the saying goes "Ewnetena weha eyader yeteral" it will be clear for all and everyone of us who killed the CUD struggle.

Ephrem Madebo said...

What is important to you? Hailu, or Ethiopia? Kinjit, or the Hailu Berhanu dialogue? There is significant difference between Berhanu Nega as a person and him as a member of CUDP. I can always blame the faction that embraces Dr. Berhanu and praise Dr. Berhanu as a person. One thing you need to understand is there are always rational people in both sides of the faction, Berhanu is one of them, Hailu is not! I still see Berhanu as a very able visionary leader. This doesn’t mean I support all decisions decided by his faction. Berhanu has the potential to bring people together because he listens to people. If you really followed my argument in the article, this article is not about Berhanu or Hailu. It is about Ethiopia and how Ethiopians should solve their differences. Read paragraph # 9 and understand the essence of this article. Let’s discuss on ideas that change Ethiopia, and on political organizations that sponsor change, forget individuals. This will be my last take on the Hailu-Berhanu issue. Thank you

Anonymous said...

The hate or obsessive jealousy people like Anonymous 12:47 have towards Dr. Berhanu is what made the split even wider.Hailu Shawel is paranoia about losing power to his party members, so he came up with his own laughable rule of dismissing party members, and the even funnier one was appointing a president in replace of him, if this is not crazy and wild i don't know what is.Until he started acting like an obvious dictator i had hope that they will all meet in Ethiopia and discuss issues and if there is any person or persons responsible for this nonsense will be dealt with according to their rules, but no Hailu took matters in to his own hands and with no hearings or votes he discarded his elected party members.I am very glad he did not become the prime minister because his love for power would have resulted in some repeated jailing,killing and torturing of people who questioned.You have to be a yes sir person to work with him.

Anonymous said...

Nice article.

I believe Maimire Mennasemay is responsible for the quote:

“Dialogue is the sanctuary of hope, and outrage is the sanctuary of principles. Democracy needs both.”

Ephrem Madebo said...


Thank you so much for the feed back, it shows how observant you are.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ephrem:

Great article! By the way, I also pointed out, on Addis Voice, a quote that you attributed to me. It's good that that has been taken care of here. It might be a good idea to correct it on Addis Voice as well in addition to what I've already pointed out.


Anonymous said...

Mr Madebo:

It is not long ago that we saw your inflamatory article that helped the crack on the CUD split to widen and get to the point it is now. Not only you, the man who calls himself Althea, possibly berehanu himself were writting articles after articles priasing to the point one might consider it as worshiping Dr. Berehanu.

In those days you wrote tirelessly pointing and comparing Berhanu with Shawel. Just a week ago, the vice chairman Bertukan spilled a cold water on your claim and told on public that Berehanu abandoned them and her repeated plea to have him on board failed miserebly. Now, can you ask yourself the competency of your little god berehanu? why don't you come out on open and say it wrather than disguise it by blaming our culture and both factions of the CUD. Although i liked your change of position from condemning the one faction of CUD to condemning both, i would like you to condemn yourself as well since you were putting fire on the division and in my point you take part on all these mess.

And i also want to tell you that you are so defensive and you get angry when critics come to you, which i beleive is a sign of weaker people.

Ephrem Madebo said...

Yes, I did/do blame the two factions for not being open and failing to avoid differences. This is what I said in my December 21 posting “We have heard a lot of highly worded verbal exchanges between the two groups, but neither the Kinjit leadership that toured North America, nor the other faction lead by Engineer Hailu had the courage to tell us the real cause of the split” When it comes to the personalities of the two factions, I see complete dictatorial behavior in the leader of one of the factions that I don’t see in the other. When it comes to instances of these leaders, I will judge them by what they did/do and by what they said/say. I don’t judge Berhanu by what Bertukuan says. Regarding Dr. Berhanu, there is one very important time referenced fact that I heard from himself. If that time passes and I see no action, trust me, my pen is not partial; I will jump on him and tell the world how he stole my trust. No Ethiopian politician, including Dr. Berhanu, is immune from my criticism. I do value the importance of personalities, but I don’t do things for the sack of personalities, I do it for the sack of the people who raised me and sent me to college for free!

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous Folks above:

It's amazing how you reason about what you share with your fellow Ethiopians. Ephrem Madebo does not need a help to explain himself and defend himself from some unfortunate accusations that I had a chance to see here some time ago and these couple days too.

Now some are also saying this or that about Alethia, that is me, anyway. I wrote an article on Dr. Berhanu only once and about the end of the article I said this: "Yes, there is some hope for the future of Ethiopia, if Dr. Berhanu and his comrades-in-arms continue to preach the truth and live the truth with character." If anyone who understands the meaning of a conditional statement that has an "if" to it, my reflections ended with such an attitude. But only a careful reader would care to understand such not trivial issues carefully, anyway.

For anyone who can read carefully and get the message of any of my writings, my article on Dr. Berhanu was part of the overall theme of of almost all the articles that I've been trying to share. It's on truth and character.

I'm not defending anyone now nor was I blindly defending this person against the other or vice versa. I'm just pointing out what is publicly available evidence on the theme that I'm writing. Dr. Berhanu's life and work reflected the truth about what I was writing about and I took note of that. If and when he fails to do what he meant to do, he's not going to be spared from anything that he should be held accountable. Anyone will see then whether I was blindly writing what I did. When Dr. Berhanu spoke truth I was meaning to bear witness to truth; that is it. When he walked in truth I was trying to point out that is something we miss in our political culture and I spoke about some hope that we started to witness something crucial and desirable. Hope was the message that I was trying to communicate then.

Can I say the same things about Mr. Shawl? No, I can't. If I've any conscience, which I do, that can't happen unless all the evidence that I've about him has been proven wrong. We have seen more evidence piling up that would make all the difference between these politicians.

Why not we just say this person seems to be on the right track and there is some hope about him and also say this one does not seem to have any evidence that shows he's on the right track and there is no hope that he'll do it. What is the problem with speaking one's mind and if one is wrong about this or that then correcting the mistakes? I see no problem in such reasoning.

If there is one thing about which I hold Dr. Berhanu and Bertukan etc responsible it is this: why did they work with Mr. Shawl for any period of time if he is the kind of person that he's come to be in public, esp. in the North American drama that unfolded before the audience of the whole world? Why not challenge him right away, day one or two or three before all these mounting pieces of evidence become public knowledge making you guys look like idiots to even imagine working with such characters is a possibility? Some would be quick to say democracy says that tolerance is its virtue and why wouldn't working with such a person be a possibility? I hope that there are none who reason that way and conclude that tolerance would mean accommodating anything. Tolerance needn't have any unjustifiable room for lies and all those sickening things we hear and see in our politicians' lives.
These are my reflections at the moment.


Anonymous said...

Alethia wrote:
"If there is one thing about which I hold Dr. Berhanu and Bertukan etc responsible it is this: why did they work with Mr. Shawl for any period of time if he is the kind of person that he's come to be in public,..."

Because they are Opportunist! Creating a coalition while knowing that the leaders of some of the partner parties show “dictatorship” behavior is simply Opportunism! Truth is, Birhanu's sin is not terrible and many politicians may have, perhaps, acted in the same manner. However, his supporters, particularly Enset & Co, should tell him that this is an exact copy of the "old Birhanu EPRP,"– that is, jumpy and taking credit for others' achievements

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Madebo:

This can also be to Mr. Althea. I am sorry if I am very harsh on you on my earlier replies. But it seems that I haven’t still got an answer from you on how you conclude Berehanu is the top man, visionary, democrat or whatever to lead the complex Ethiopia? In one of your replies, you judged Hailu shawel based on “the massive amount of evidence you got on his dictatorial behaviour”. What is that evidence? Do you call him a dictator if he tries to restore order in the party based on his executive power? What is a leader supposed to do? Is a leader just a symbol? You are trying to be democrats more than the western demcrats which is nonsense in reality.

For praising Dr. Berehanu, what was your measurement? On your articles, both of you you were praising him from A to Z and from beginning of your article to its end. Was there any tangible facts for you to conclude he is the real man who can salvage Ethiopia and Ethiopians? Or is it your nature to judge people on what they say rather than what they do? In my belief, you went so emotional and tried to paint him what he is not. Dr. Berehanu has abandoned the struggle and the excuse he gave is scholarship and research. But we are watching him touring the United States in a 2nd round.

The clock is ticking for you to accept reality. We have told you he is not going back. The vice chairman clearly stated that he simply abandoned the struggle and she didn’t need to wait the so-called 4 or 6 months of Dr. Berehanu’s research in the United States. But people like who only exist in the virtual world found it difficult to accept these facts since you went too far on believing him and putting so much hope on a person you do not to hope for a simple thing. You flirted with his speech and his persuasive tones. The fact of the matter is his character and moral integrity is far from what you think. By misleading the public I believe you are also responsible for the deep crack within the CUD. It will be a lesson for you not to jump up and down when you see nice orators and speakers.

And also, when the grace period of the 6 months of Dr. Brehanus’ stay finishes you need to know that you are expected to apologize the Ethiopian Diaspora for misleading information you fed. Critisizing Dr. Berehanu won’t save your good name. My message is that be prepared to apologize, Dr. Berehanu will stay in the U.S until Kinijit wins election again. It was then that he will go since he is a very opportunistic individual

Anonymous said...

Concerning Dr. Berhanu, I think we all will agree that he is a very intelligent and articulate individual. Now some (for example, Anon 1/27/2008 10:16 PM) consider him "opportunistic" etc. And these may well be right about their value judgment. Having said that, I don't think there is anything wrong with being "opportunistic." Another person may do things differently to which we may attach similar label. In the end, we make little or no progress in responding to Mr. Madebo's original write-up.

I don't even see any problem with the fact that Dr. Berhanu is not going back for few months or never on the excuse that he will be working on some research.

We change our minds often when we are provided with information that was not there before.

We should allow each other the liberty of learning from our mistakes, which I believe will lead to greater tolerance and respect for others. Hence, cornering Mr. Madebo for some mishap misses the point of the discussion.

I also want some explanation why Dr. Berhanu went back to Ethiopia leaving behind a lucrative and more secure job in the states for an uncertain future? And why when he could have played safe took risk to serve a two year jail sentence? It just does not make sense. Now if having served a grueling jail time he has come to the realization that it is not worth it then tough luck!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10:16pm,
Do you really want Dr Berhanu to go back to Ethiopia and join the struggle or you are wishing he disappears from Kinijit? I am confused because you sound disappointed that such a great mind is leaving behind a struggle that you think might bring a big diffrence.What if he goes back?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Berehanu didn't leave a lumpsum of money in U.S when he left to Ethiopia. He infact went to Ethiopia due to his age old opportunistic behaviour. It is a fact you won't deny that Meles fired 40 or so Addis Ababa University professors and lecturers in the 1990s. Upon the call by Meles to fill that gap in AAU and due to Dr. Berehanu's egoistic and love of TPLF he went.

Above all, Dr. Brehanu and his dady including his family opperate a big business that pays in millions. This is a fact and the whole addis ababans know it. Why he left the struggle and will remain in the U.S has the same explanation as why he joined first. He will go back when he feels it is a right time to sit on the leadership chair after so many died.

He doesn't have the gut or he is not ready to take what is needed from him. All he wants it to be a leader on the sacrifice of others by saying...."hey guys i am an economist"

Anonymous said...

I think you are obsessively jealous of Dr Berhanu and his family.We don't care he and his family have a lot of money or not.

Anonymous said...

It was Lidetu Ayalewu who understood the 'apparently strong and united Kinijit' so early.'That is it.

Anonymous said...

Listen Mr Madebo, the root cause of our problem is not found in your or your friends Alethia or Messay Kebede's articles. They are just good for acadamic exercises. Messay Kebede's and others repeated preachings on morality is laughable and in my view that is where all our problem lies. That is what should be the premisis in finding genuine solution. Otherwise it is just a futile attempt.


tekeste said...

a well thought comment! We should emphasis on building politics and parties with long term vision and principles. All those countries that are doing well have parties that passed through generations. If kinjit people are serious, then they should come out of the trivial and the details. the sooner the better. The article could have showed if kinjit has cluster of thoughts and principles that can make it survive beyond the individuals running it. Where such is lacking, neither dialogue nor outrage can make a difference.