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Dark Horses in Ethiopian Politics

 IDEA Viewpoint

April 30, 2010

Ghelawdewos Araia


The dark horse or the black stallion is a very impressive and beautiful animal, both in its complexion and its stature. ‘Dark horse’ in politics, however, has altogether a different meaning: it is either ‘a person about whom little is known’ or ‘an competitor or candidate who has little chance of winning against expectations.’ Here, the latter part of the definition is most relevant to our viewpoint on current Ethiopian politics, in which dark horses seem to play the role that essentially undergird the government’s objective of undermining the crucial impact of Forum or Medrek would have on May 23, 2010 election.


The dark horses are many, but some of them operate totally clandestine and others perform overtly and attempt to sabotage the efforts of the Opposition. One such dark horse is the octogenarian Professor Mesfin Woldemariam. His recent disrupting actions against Andinet is not at all surprising, given his almost always soliloquy but egregiously arrogant stances on many issues.


I have read the open letter (in Amharic) addressed to Mesfin Woldemariam by some undisclosed concerned Ethiopians. They appeal to the “good professor” to refrain from his actions, but they also politely implied that they are running out of patience. I kind sympathize with these Ethiopians, but for those of us who knew the professor since the days of Haile Selassie University, we don’t harbor any illusion with respect to the paradox of mental vision of Mesfin.


It is true that Mesfin has made some positive contributions in the past, such as uncovering (along with Dr. Abraham Demoz) the hidden famine of the early 1970s and writing books on famine etc. However, he was very much disliked by students in campus for his pompously narcissistic behavior and his incompatible political stances with the Ethiopian Student Movement (ESM). Once (sometime in the early ‘70s), he delivered a speech at the Africa Hall and dismissed the Imperial Government as “the unlimited private company of the Royal family” and soon after he was summoned by the emperor and appointed as administrator of Ghimbi. To Mesfin, of course, the appointment was retaliatory and tantamount to banishment, but his students perceived it as a product of his own disjointed political action that was not coordinated with the student movement. Incidentally, Mesfin never supported the cause of the students, nor was he sympathetic with their trial and tribulations. On the contrary, a significant number of his students had to encounter his rigid and redundant geography classes, including expulsion from class if they chat with one another or come late. Mesfin was deeply authoritarian!


With the above brief background of Professor Mesfin, thus, one can understand his present toxic activity as a charlatan and upscale huckster. If Mesfin was honest with himself, he would have admitted his faults and weaknesses and reconcile his differences with his old comrades of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ; now Andinet) instead of serving as a dark horse. Unfortunately, Mesfin, even in his old age, seems to exhibit ambivalently pleasurable emotion in his miscalculated actions.


While the ruling EPRDF party is attempting to reverse the role of history in Ethiopia, Mesfin as a dark horse is collaborating with his incarcerators against his former Andinet comrades. Whether his actions are witting or not, his role (along with the plethora other dark horses) would certainly contribute to the Government’s success in promoting propaganda against the opposition. The dark horses’ flagrantly counter productive actions also would result in the disempowering function of diluting the upcoming election. More so, the dark horses would bring unforeseen bonus to the government in power by serving as distraction from the more pressing problems confronting Ethiopia.


The dark horses are extremely opportunistic; their inconsistency in politics is startling; and they are imbued with negative energy absorbed in denial. They are perfidious and deleterious. History always suggests caution and the Ethiopian people must be extremely cautious!


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