By Fikru Helebo
In a piece titled "Is Kinijit the Way?" a year ago today I had expressed cautious optimism that Kinijit had the better chance of all the political groups out there to lead Ethiopians towards democratic pluralism. In that same piece I had also expressed my doubts on whether or not Kinijit was up to the task. I was optimistic because a few days earlier I had gone to a meeting in Alexandria, Virginia which was called by leaders of Kinijit who, having been released from two years of incarceration by the Woyane regime, did not show bitterness at their fate and their jailers but rather preached hope and reconciliation among Ethiopian political groups. On the other hand, I had reason to be guarded in my optimism because there were signs of division within Kinijit and I was concerned about the negative implications of that division for Kinijit supporters and the Ethiopian opposition groups at large.
In less than a month's time after I wrote that piece, the acrimonious division within Kinijit had gotten out of control and its partitioning had become a foregone conclusion. And in the months following the split within Kinijit, the Woyane regime added insult to injury by handing over the rights to the name and logo of Kinijit to groups that had betrayed Kinijit. In less than a year, Kinijit had gone from being called a "spirit" among its hardcore supporters to being seen as just another one of the long list of Ethiopian political parties that proved to not have what it takes to survive its first major test.
Kinijit may have become history, but the causes that it symbolized and championed (democracy, human rights, etc) still remain the cries of the Ethiopian people and are in desperate need of a party that is capable of offering a vanguard leadership. Unfortunately, by going their separate ways, the former Kinijit leaders have made the struggle for freedom, democracy and the rule of law in Ethiopia a more difficult task than it already was. Hailu Shawel's faction of Kinijit was the first to drop off the Kinijit bandwagon. Then the group which was aligned with Berhanu Nega came unhinged. That left the group led by Birtukan Mideksa as the only group that remained true to the original "spirit" of Kinijit that had won over the support of the Ethiopian people. Hailu's group reverted to its old name of the All Ethiopia Unity Party, whereas Berhanu's group has reinvented itself as Ginbot 7 movement. Birtukan's group was forced to reorganize itself under a new name called Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (Andenet). My sympathies are with Birtukan's party and I wish her and her Andenet colleagues good luck.
What surprised me the most about the partitioning of Kinijit in the last year was its abandonment by the Berhanu Nega group. I have tremendous respect for Berhanu and his Ginbot 7 colleagues for the sacrifices they have made to help the cause of freedom and democracy in Ethiopia, and I still do think that Berhanu is the most effective advocate the Ethiopian opposition has got on its side. However, I do believe that Berhanu and his colleagues have made a serious political error in judgment in abandoning their former Kinijit colleagues and forming a group which neither complements the efforts of Andenet and others, who are determined to use what narrow political space that is left, nor fills a vacuum that is not already addressed by an existing Ethiopian political group.
What a difference a year makes! Unfortunately for Ethiopians, this was not the difference they were looking for from their political parties at the begining of the Ethiopian millenium.