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Solomon Gebreselassie

The fact that the TPLF/EPRDF regime initiated a negotiation proposal with the opposition inside the country regarding the multi-faceted problems of the country is commendable. The regime further stated that it was dropping its stubborn demand from years past that MEDREK sign its civic charter as a precondition to negotiate. This is also a welcome sign.

Obviously not all the legal opposition invited by the government to the negotiation are genuine opposition parties. Some are clones of the regime, and still others have a high negative rating by the people. And then of course there are opposition groups that are not part of what the government calls “legal”, a few of which have even been categorized as terrorist.

Despite all these caveats and markers, the fact that there is going to be a negotiation gives rays of hope.  Following the recent massive anger of protest, the regime has been taking patchy and inadequate steps to address the people’s grievances.  Many are not convinced by the regime’s contemporary slogan of “deep rejuvenation”.  Some of the invited opposition have correctly warned that this time around this call for negotiation should not be a ploy for cheap political scores and vacuous exercise. The warning is based on recent history, and the regime should heed of the warning. Similarly, the invited opposition should not shy from raising the basic and main political problems that have been gnawing at the country’s fabric for a quarter of a century. The opposition should be mindful of the fact that the unrest in the  last 2 years in particular, and generally the protests of citizens over the last 2 decades indicts the opposition as deep and as wide as it does the regime.

1.   The most pressing problem needing immediate attention is national dialogue and reconciliation. Sadly in the past, TPLF/EPRDF has been utterly dismissive of this notion when it was presented with the demand and the opportunity. It is no secret that a large segment of the Ethiopian population resents the Tigrean community at their real and perceived possession of the lion’s share of the socio-economic pie. While a case has been made of such favoritism for those aligned with TPLF and EPRDF, it is unfortunate when the resentment is extended to a blanket indictment of a whole community, including some victims in their ranks. The cyber wars that have turned Ethiopian chewannet on its head by stereotyping  whole communities is but a surface symptom of what is bubbling in society and what has reached the boiling point. This was not the case in the long history of the country, and it can be reversed with the implementation of dialogue and reconciliation that has at its core some concrete corrective measures. For instance, the fact that the army and security brass in Ethiopia is dominantly by members of  the Tigrai community needs to be corrected swiftly. Torture victims of this regime routinely complain at their Tigrean torturers, and this has immensely contributed to the resentment. TPLF/EPRDF should be able to rein in their die hard and extremist ethno-racist members and supporters that believe in a lion’s share entitlement in Ethiopian resources. As General Tsadikan reminded them, this is a no-starter for peace and a non-sustainable enterprise. The fact that up to 60,000 TPLF fighters died in the struggle should be viewed in the context of the deaths and murder of all Ethiopians who valiantly fought against the Dirgue that is 7 times or higher than that number. All sacrifices are equal, and it is neither logical nor legal to claim permanent favoritism based on one-sided notion of sacrifice.

There are other disagreements that should be subjects of dialogue and reconciliation, such as religious animosity within and between religions, on the history of Ethiopia, between the regime and the Moslem community, etc. Religious leaders could play a crucial role in leading these dialogues and resolving the problems.

Then there is the issue of famine and undernourishment. Although this government has done a commendable job to deal with famine and undernourishment, the problem is a recurring one. Currently up to 200,000 pastoralists and millions of hinterland citizens are facing famine and the regime has made a plea (once again) to the international community for help. This is a huge shame for Ethiopia. The patriotic Ethiopian Diaspora alone would have been able to deal with the preparation, prevention, and alleviation of famine in Ethiopia even in the face of unpredictable global climate that may deny our country of necessary rain from time to time, or flood our crops. The Diaspora has the financial and technical resources to deal with this scourge that has permanently blemished Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the regime and the Diaspora are like hodna jerba. This can be resolved through a national dialogue and reconciliation.

There is also the question of inequality and corruption. Again it is no secret that a large segment of Ethiopian society believes the regime’s top officials are deeply corrupt, and that they have robbed billions of the country’s resources, and they protect their minions from facing charges, and only the fleas are hauled to courts while the tigers are untouchable. The prime minister’s recent answer to a question on this issue where he said there simply is no evidence is regrettable and, had not the case been directly related to the livelihood of our people, laughable. Through dialogue and national reconciliation, an independent committee has to be established to provide the Ethiopian people fact-based investigation results for a solution. There may be honest and unblemished TPLF/EPRDF leaders whose names might be entangled with the corrupt ones. Only an independent investigation sheds light on this dark secret. While millions of Ethiopians survive on scraps and without a decent meal every day, it simply pricks one’s conscience to see corrupt officials and their allies selfishly gobble up the nation’s resources.


2.   Democratizing the Ethiopian political system: Even many ardent supporters of the regime admit that while the regime has made tangible results in the economic arena, there is a lot of blame on the slow and negative rate of democratization in the country. One of the biggest impediments is the ethnicized politics introduced by the TPLF/EPRDF. The results are here to see after 25 years of experimentation and self-congratulations. We have seen the shameful expulsion of Ethiopians from their birth places or abodes because they are considered as “Others”. Mainstream Ethiopian politics says the rights of ethnic groups have to be respected and codified within a democratic and united Ethiopia. Ethnicity is not the end-all, be-all, organizing principle as it has been for 2 ½ decades under this regime and its disastrous results amply show. Mainstream Ethiopian politics says Ethiopiawinet, as understood unity in diversity, has to be affirmed and not weakened as its fate has been so far.

We should not be seduced by the allure of the here and now. Ethnicity as the end-all, be-all organizing and inspiring principle has led the country to a zero sum game. In the 21st century, there are more modern, non-primordial methods of democratizing and organizing themes. To start with, TPLF/EPRDF has to agree to unconditionally stop hounding and restricting independent and lawful civic and professional organizations. EPRDF has historically leaned towards cloning puppet organizations and has been intolerant of independent organizations. The zero sum game of ethnic gamesmanship will be diluted if multi-ethnic and profession-based organizations like the following were to be set in motion:

a)   Ethiopian journalists association – independent journalists have unsuccessfully attempted in the past years to form such an organization. Because they were persecuted and prosecuted, they were exiled en masse leaving behind a government media to which few pay attention. We have seen a glimpse of the power of unfettered investigative journalism in the Diaspora. An Ethiopian government would be helped tremendously by a free media to correct the ills of society, and to focus its attention on the nation’s priorities.

b)   Union of Ethiopian workers and laborers: This is akin to a labor union. Workers in industrial and service sectors would be organized to negotiate for better wages and working conditions, and as citizens of a modern nation to volunteer in woreda, kebelle and school board councils.

c)   Ethiopian women professional associations: this would not include degreed professional women only, but also house maids and street cleaners and sex workers. They would fight for the recognition of women’s role in society and better working conditions.

d)   Union of pastoralists and land workers; This would include the coastal people of our country, and they would focus on grazing land rights, land grabbing issues, fair compensations, etc.

These types of associations and others may be how the foundational bricks for democracy are laid, and where the whole society would be stakeholders with mutual recognition, equality and pride. Dividing Ethiopian administrative regions not exclusively by languages, but also by ease of management and service provisions, historical geographic divisions such as rivers, etc. would complement the democratic foundations.

Finally, confidence building measures between the regime and the opposition should include releasing all political prisoners, doing away with undemocratic laws and regulations used to stifle democracy, legalizing all political parties and establishing an independent electoral commission. Any party/ies that wins the first democratic free and fair election should pledge to form a coalition government with members of the opposition that lost in the spirit of charity and national reconciliation. This would create a precedent for understanding and country-first worldview.

West Africa has become the beacon of hope in Africa as recently witnessed in pressuring the autocrat that lost election to cede power. There is no reason democratic Ethiopia cannot be the steward for democracy in East and north-east Africa. But it has first to get its house in order and bury the foolish zero-sum game of ethnic rivalry.


January 2017