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Why Ethiopians Must Support Medrek and Aspire for A Democratic and Peaceful Transition

Ghelawdewos Araia

During the 1974 revolution, Ethiopians had high hope that the revolution would bring about economic transformation, stability, and peace. On the contrary, the country was plunged into civil strife and nationality vs. government armed confrontations that claimed thousands upon thousands of Ethiopian lives. Since the 1974 upsurge, i.e. in the last thirty-six years, Ethiopia did not witness any meaningful transformation that could justifiably put the country among the list of middle-income nations. Its people still suffer from abject poverty and widespread famine.

The 1974 revolution, at least conceptually, promised the formation of an Ethiopian republic. Unfortunately, however, the first republic under the Derg (1974-1991) was a military dictatorship and the second republic under the EPRDF is a combatant-turned-civilian dictatorship and whatever the latter entails and appears in many shapes and/or forms, is a negation of democracy. It is not surprising, thus, that Ethiopia was unable to foster a democratic political system under the current regime. The EPRDF’s motto, ‘revolutionary democracy’ is neither revolutionary nor democratic and quite obviously the ruling party, since it captured state power in 1991, could not transform Ethiopia radically nor find democratic institutions as it is generally claimed by its spokesmen. It is true that the EPRDF brought about some change in infrastructure, education, and housing construction, but these are reformist initiatives and drop in the bucket compared to the relatively still backward mode of production in the countryside (where the poor of the poor Ethiopians reside) and incompetent small-scale industries in the urban areas.

On top of this reformist snail progress in economic overhaul of the EPRDF government, the latter also committed major error in its economic policy: 1) The Ethiopian economy as a whole and change wrought by the EPRDF is dependent on foreign aid, loan, and/or grant and given the stark reality of modern history of the world and the intricacy of globalization (which also engenders inequity) any dependent nation could not hope to realize a sound economy that could, in turn, enhance, the welfare and standard of living of its people. Temesgen Zewdie of Medrek has made a very interesting exposé of the Ethiopian economy in his recent interview with Addis Fortune and it is suffice to read his analysis. 2) EPRDF’s priority in commodity production (such as flowers) and the cashing strategy in other food crops (such as Teff, maize, wheat, barley etc.) is a diabolical policy mischief. Out of this cash crop frenzy, that has now bewitched Ethiopia, the country may gain some hard currency and maintain trade balance, but if the cash crop-food crop nexus is not balanced widespread and recurring famines could hover over the Ethiopian villages. Now, it is not only the traditional cash crops like coffee that have become the targets of cash grab insanity, but even Teff (the staple Ethiopian food crop), very much like cattle, is for international trade to satisfy foreign interests. As a result, food prices have skyrocketed in all Ethiopia and the majority of Ethiopians could not afford to purchase items in the market.

What is the point of having a government that impoverishes its people and governs without their consent? During the pre-election debates the ruling party and the opposition parties have tried to address the state of the Ethiopian economy, good governance, health, education etc. and both sides have attempted constructing rational analyses. However, while Medrek representatives were sincere in their deliberations those of EPRDF were providing only glib answers; superficially smart but on close scrutiny empty, vacuous, and insincere.  For this apparent reason, thus, Ethiopians must go to the polls and vote for regime change, and they must cast their votes for Medrek.

Voting for Medrek is very crucial in terms of deciding the future of Ethiopia, but it is only one step forward in the electoral process. The post election job could be fraught with frustration vis-à-vis the manipulative and coercive nature of the EPRDF and its self-perpetuating cycle of ill governance. Even if Medrek wins in the polling stations, the EPRDF may not be ready to concede defeat, let alone cooperate with the new government in the smooth transition of political power.

If the EPRDF acts in the same manner as it did during the 2005 election and grabs power by force, it should not be a shocking revelation, for it has become standard practice in EPRDF’s operations to stifle any democratic process that is perceived as threat to the status quo. The Ethiopian people knew too well about this kind of scenario and it is no longer a mystique obscurity. But they could be scared of government forces including the intimidating cadres, the police, the secret service, and the military forces.

Therefore, voting for Medrek alone is not a guarantee for a peaceful and democratic transition. Under this circumstance, the armed forces should not be idle bystanders; they should not necessarily vote for Medrek, but they must defend the will of the Ethiopian people. They are not only morally obligated to support their people but they also have an historical duty to make sure that a smooth transition takes place.

Ethiopians now wanted an alternative leadership that can replace the EPRDF and it is highly probable that they would vote for Medrek. I personally would have cast my vote for Medrek if I were in Ethiopia and my decision is based on the following rationale: The EPRDF still upholds the right of nationalities (states) to secede (Article 39 of the Ethiopian constitution) from the Ethiopian body politic. Medrek, on the other hand, is against secession and in favor of Ethiopian unity in diversity; it supports the self-determination of nationalities but prioritizes Ethiopian unity as clearly stated in its party program. While the EPRDF leadership signed the Algiers Agreement of 2000 that transgressed Ethiopian sovereignty and territorial integrity, the Medrek leadership unequivocally declared Algiers null and void. The disjunction ‘revolutionary democracy’ and ‘liberal democracy’ could be controversial, but as indicated above, EPRDF’s slogan is an ideological gibberish and that of Medrek promises freedom, democracy, and creativity. While EPRDF’s agriculture-led-industrial-development gained some currency during the 1990s due to its surrealistic imagery, it is nonetheless a non-viable wrong development strategy. By comparison, Medrek’s economic policy framework is comprehensive development package with emphasis on industrial development.

Most importantly, the Medrek leadership, unlike the expressionist EPRDF leadership, does not exaggerate and distort reality. The EPRDF leadership, for the most part, tried to authenticate reality by embellishing it with ideal and fictional characters; the Medrek leadership, on the other hand, is down to earth, realistic, and in harmony with the grassroots. And in the last two decades that I have observed the EPRDF, its core leadership, in most instances, acted as ‘the monkey that does not see its hind parts but sees others’. It is in the business of blaming others for any fault and evades responsibility by deceit. Pathological liars are brilliant at deception!

The one important element in all politics and a prerequisite in the conduct of good governance is rule of law. What we have in Ethiopia is a government that rules by decree smoke screened by the paper constitution. On top of rule of law, any government is expected to fulfill the minimum: security, stability, and provision of goods and services. The killings of Medrek supporters in Tigray and the Oromia region and the harassment of Medrek supporters by government forces and EPRDF cadres, is a clear testament to the lack of security in Ethiopia. On top of the general security, the government has obligation to ensure safety, not only for its foot soldiers but also for ordinary Ethiopian citizens including members of the opposition.

Beyond security and provision of goods and services, any well-meaning government must ensure human rights of all citizens including members of the opposition and allow basic constitutional rights such as freedom of speech and press and peaceful demonstration. In my article entitled Pointers of Justice and the Ongoing Debates in Ethiopia (www.africanidea.org/pointers.html), I have extended credit to the government for allowing debates on policy-related and other broad ranging issues. The credit still stands. But insofar the debate culture remains ephemeral it could only be compared to a dissatisfied thirsty person who was given a spoon-full of water instead of a cup-full of water to quench his thirst.

The EPRDF should have tolerated strong rivals like Medrek and allow genuine democratic contestation to take place, instead of permitting the ludicrous legal personality for plethora of useless parties, some even without any political agenda and others representing ghost members presided over by single persons. However, it is not in the nature of the ruling party to host and accommodate contending parties and that is why it is actively pursuing rivals that could potentially undermine the power grip of the EPRDF and that is why the government has put many opposition leaders, including Birtukan Medeksa, behind bars.

Instead of allowing a modicum of democracy and tolerance, the EPRDF leaders seem to justify their actions of incarcerating prisoners of conscience and verbally attacking political opponents. Just few days ago, for instance, Bereket Simon declared, ‘that [the] government would not intervene in the law of the country and discharge Birtukan from prison.’ Notwithstanding Bereket’s insinuation of ‘the supremacy of law in Ethiopia’ (which in fact is conspicuously absent in the country), the message he has conveyed to the public (especially to the opposition) is clear. It simply means, “We are not going to tolerate opponents!” or “enemies” as they call them. By the same token, the Foreign Minister, Seyoum Mesfin, in his recent interview with Woyin (TPLF radio) mercilessly attacked Siye Abraha as if he was not his former comrade. I would not mind Seyoum criticizing Siye, but engaging himself in total smear campaign against the former Minister of Defense in an effort to belittle his present (as Medrek) and previous (as TPLF leader) roles actually diminishes the integrity of Seyoum. Even this level of belittling may get some acceptance in political campaigns, but Seyoum calling Siye and Gebru “waste matter junks” is not only demeaning but it is quite shameful.

Is this what we get from the EPRDF in the last two decades? Does the EPRDF at all have a positive façade? Let me begin with the latter and galvanize the central theme of this paper. I have always argued that objectivity and integrity are two faces of the same coin. If I claim I have integrity, I would be remiss if I fail to mention EPRDF’s achievements. All hitherto governments of Ethiopia had merit and demerit and even the murderous Derg government had initiated some major development projects like the Melka Wekena Hydroelectric, the Shiwushu-Gumaro tea plantation, the Bahir Dar and Komblecha textile industries, the Beles agricultural project, the Muger cement factory, and Gilgel-Ghibe Hydroelectric. The latter is now being expanded under the EPRDF.

In the last two decades, the EPRDF has augmented infrastructure including feeder roads and highways; the school system including the establishment of new colleges; and the overall expansion of primary education. These achievements are subject to criticism for their qualities but at least they physically exist and they will be registered in the annals of history. I personally have critiqued the quality of education in Ethiopia in Pointers of Justice in light of UNESCO’s Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report 2010 but at the same time I have underscored the hard facts on the ground.

On the other hand, the EPRDF was unable (or unwilling) to promote good governance, rule of law, and a justice system that could serve the interest of the Ethiopian people and jealously guard their welfare. The other major defect of the EPRDF is its inability to defend the territorial integrity of Ethiopia in an international public arena (world court) and on the contrary signed the Algiers Agreement that virtually eroded the sovereignty of the nation. Luckily for Ethiopia, the Algiers Agreement is not implemented but it is not officially revoked either and Ethiopians must have serious concern about the latter.

Overall, the EPRDF government could be likened to a slick gardener that slacks off even when flowers were about to bloom and simply allows the weeds to take over. And because the weeds are all over Ethiopia, the country was unable to make progress as it should and that is why Ethiopians must look for a diligent, committed, and visionary gardener. That gardener is Medrek and Ethiopians must seize the moment and vote for Medrek. In due course of the electoral process, Ethiopians who are actively engaged in supporting Medrek should transcend any provocative violent action and aspire for a democratic and peaceful transition.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright © IDEA, Inc. 2010. Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia can be contacted for constructive and educational feedback at dr.garaia@africanidea.org