Saturday, August 01, 2009

What's going on in the UDJ?

By Fikru Helebo

What's going on in the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) Party -- Andinet -- these days? Looking from a distance, it seems as though the party is going through a self-destructive phase. Is it a compulsory activity for Ethiopian opposition groups to self-destruct? It must be, because that is what has been happening time and again for the last 18 years.

It was not difficult to sense something was terribly wrong within the UDJ when they allowed what seems to be disagreements over tactical issues to boil out in public view soon after the re-arrest of Birtukan Mideksa, their chairperson. It seems to me the main disagreement they have is on whether or not the UDJ should have a working relationship with Medrek, a consultative forum for opposition groups.

I do believe that it is always a good idea to find a working relationship with as many parties as possible, even with parties that you do not see eye to eye on many issues. However, I am skeptical about the viability of Medrek as a political force for the same reason I was skeptical about the UEDF in 2003 and the CUD in 2004. The experience with those two groups, coupled with those of COEDF and CAFPDE in the 90s, is a good indication that coalition politics is not well suited to Ethiopian political groups as it lends itself to factionalism.

I think it is healthy for a political party to have vigorous internal debate on issues. However, the strength of a party is not measured by whether or not there are open and candid debates on issues, though that's very important, but by how it resolves contentious disagreements over those issues. My expectation for the UDJ, a party that claims to be the rightful inheritor of Kinijit, was that it is guided by folks who had learned some valuable lessons from the fall of Kinijit and will do everything they can possibly do to not repeat the mistakes that led to the downfall of Kinijit.

Although growing pains are to be expected in any young political party, I had hoped that the folks who had the courage to pick up the pieces from the ashes of Kinijit were in a position to understand, perhaps better than most, how important it is to resolve disagreements in an orderly way. It is disheartening that the UDJ folks have not yet learned this lesson. It is understandable that the party had a bit of a setback with Birtukan's unjust incarceration, but that should have been only a temporary setback, not a cause for protracted bickering over a tactical issue. The turmoil the UDJ folks are going through right now is a good test to see if they have got the collective will to continue the struggle and move it forward.

I am of the opinion that the survival and, hopefully, the blossoming, of a national party like the UDJ in the Ethiopian political space is the most important indicator of the health of the Ethiopian state. Therefore, there must be a strong national party that most Ethiopians can feel comfortable with and has the credibility to lead them against the Woyane regime out in the open. If the UDJ people believe they are such a party and want to meet this challenge, then the party's leaders must realize that they have to correct their mistakes and move to restore the trust they have lost as a result of this episode fairly quickly.

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