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21st Century Ethiopian Politics should be Reoriented Toward National Reconciliation and a Home Grown Ideology

Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD

June 28, 2017

This article intends to address the current complex and complicated Ethiopian politics in Ethiopia and the Diaspora by way of infusing theoretical explanations and furnishing some ideological tenets for the sake of clarity and for overcoming the dearth of political culture amongst the Ethiopian political groupings at home and the Diaspora. Furthermore, this article will attempt to diagnose the prosaic and disillusioning realities that have now afflicted much of the Ethiopian Diaspora and some opposition groups in Ethiopia.

I will begin with the so-called Ethiopian Diaspora opposition and move on to the home opposition parties and the Ethiopian government.  I say the ‘so-called’ not to look down unto these groupings but to depict them as entities that were unable to come together and find one unified organization, as they themselves admitted in the Seattle conference of May 27-28, 2017. These groupings were unable to promote a pan-Ethiopian agenda, let alone articulate a unified synthesis in the context of current Ethiopian politics. The only one ingredient that has united the Diaspora group is their one common target the “Woyane” regime (the present government) as it wants to portray it. Other than the unifying “Woyane” element, they are divided at theoretical and organizational levels; they range from Oromo, Amhara, Tigray, Gambella etc organizations to Arbegnoch/Ginbot 7 armed squads based in Eritrea.

All the above mentioned groups were engaged in incessant talks in the last two decades without producing anything substantive and tangible, let alone constructive initiatives for Ethiopia. However, a section of these groups have successfully managed to find a propaganda machine by the name the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), an effective media outlet in innuendo and lies. They have been holding meetings after meetings as if they want to revel in ego massaging at venues for talks devoid of action; by this, I mean practical engagement in educating and enlightening the Ethiopian people and meaningfully reorient the present ethnocentric politics toward a pan-Ethiopian movement.

Moreover, one other problem that the Ethiopian Diaspora opposition countenanced was geographic distance and detachment from Ethiopia and lack of mass base in Ethiopia; it is too far from Ethiopia and it could hardly enjoy a mass support from the Ethiopian people, although from time to time it attempted to establish connection with the home opposition parties like Andinet and Semayawi parties; and also managed to create some kind of networking with the recalcitrant elements in the Gondar and Oromia areas; the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Arbegnoch/Ginbot 7 leaders have even claimed that they were behind the uprisings in parts of the Amhara and Oromia regions. Their claims, however, need to be critically examined and carefully analyzed. There is no doubt that there were uprisings in parts of the two regions mentioned above, but they were not mass insurrections as some of the speakers in the Seattle conference contended; they were in fact confined to parts of Gondar and parts of Oromia and there weren’t any uprisings in Shewa, Wollo, Gojjam (except for Bahir Dar), which are parts of the Amhara region; and no upheavals in much of the Oromia region either. The only mass uprising that turned into a nation-wide popular revolution (though hijacked by the military) in modern Ethiopian history is that of 1974 people’s upheaval.

Therefore, in terms of analyzing the present Ethiopian society, Ethiopian politics, and the nature and characteristics of the EPRDF (the ruling party), the Ethiopian Diaspora has exhibited incompatibility of relevant knowledge in relation to the intriguing Ethiopian phenomenon as a whole. Quite obviously a group that lacks relevant knowledge of the larger Ethiopian society, its dialectical engagement with Ethiopian politics could be questionable, and because of the latter missing link, thus, the Diaspora was unable to fathom Ethiopian politics in depth, let alone critically examine the nature of the EPRDF.

The Diaspora should have known from day one that the TPLF (Woynae) is the dominant party in the EPRDF but it is not alone in governing Ethiopia; the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM); the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) share power with the TPLF and they play a major role in the decision making process. The Diaspora is distracted by ethnocentric analyses of Ethiopian society and was unable to see the class dimension of the composition of the ruling party, that is to say people of like mind and mutual interests of the EPRDF leaders who consolidate power in unison. On top of this, unlike the old Marxian tenet where it is taken for granted that power resides in a ruling clique (or ruling class), it is better to attribute Michel Foucault’s paradigm of the power nexus exercised at many sites and that it is not lodged in only one distinct social group (or ruling class). In other words, Foucault’s analysis of power helps us understand the extent of power in a given political system or regime. He argues that the power dividend follows the top-bottom ladder in a hierarchy, and it logically follows that the TPLF alone could not monopolize power, and restrict or restrain other stakeholders as standby spectators. The power brokers are not the leaders at the top echelon only; they are also found elsewhere in the government hierarchy and bureaucracy. I will further elaborate Foucault’s useful methodology at the end of this essay.                

The Diaspora opposition defines the TPLF/EPRDF as ethnocentric, without ever studying the way Ethiopians are organized in the Diaspora. The Diaspora opposition has become like the proverbial monkey that sees other monkeys’ hind parts but not hers, and under this kind of Diaspora thinking, It has now become fashionable that Ethiopians are organized along ethnic lines and an all-Ethiopia inclusive organization (notwithstanding those one ethnic group organizations bearing an Ethiopian name) is now a rare commodity, and the pan-Ethiopian patriots of yesteryear have slid into deep-comma and their Ethiopian agenda into oblivion. For instance, at the Seattle conference while Major Dawit emphasized the necessity of Amhara organization, the Oromo representative by the name Lencho told his audience in no uncertain terms that they must recognize Oromo identity while at the same time endeavor to reconcile the Ethiopian identity with that of Oromo. Major Dawit additionally said, “If the Amharas are not organized, the Oromo will be attacked.” At the other end of the spectrum, Getachew Begashaw appealed to the Oromo-Amhara solidarity and made a lip service to what he calls Ethiopian national movement that includes the Afar, Sidama, Gambella and other ethnic groups, without mentioning Tigray despite the fact that Aregawi Berhe is also a part of these Seattle groupings. In an interview with ESAT, Getachew said that “Tigray is benefiting more than any other region in Ethiopia and that Tigray became number one in agriculture in all Ethiopia”, which of course is far from the truth.

Ethnocentric politics undermines the unity of the Ethiopian people and the Ethiopian nation-state, and some of the speakers like Beyan Asoba have entertained sentimental and quixotic ideas such as “if Ethiopia is dismembered, they [the Oromo] are the ones who would suffer”; Beyan could be sincere in his evaluation of Ethiopian unity but he may not have realized that there are elements in his neighborhood who could care less about the instability and destruction of Ethiopia. At this juncture, the ill-defined political program of the ethno-centrists is to forge an Oromo-Amhara unity against Tigray, because initially they were anti-Woyane but now they have embraced an anti-Tigrayan nascent politics. This starry-eyed politics Diaspora-style, of course, is too narrow to mobilize and unite the Ethiopian people and it will end up in more fragmentation of the opposition groups.

As far as I am concerned, any movement leveled against the people of Tigray, will fail ignominiously not because Tigray is the quintessential core of the Ethiopian nation, but also because ethnic hatred in all its forms is anti-Ethiopian. Any grouping that foments hatred against any nationality in Ethiopia, including the Amhara, Oromo, and other nationalities, is anti-Ethiopian. By the same token any grouping that desecrates or defiles the Ethiopian flag is anti-Ethiopian and/or treasonous. On May 26, while celebrating their independence day, Eritreans trampled over the Ethiopian flag in a public square in Asmara and the Arbegnoch/Ginbot 7 so-called fighters were among the spectators watching.  In the final analysis, thus, if the ethno-nationalists of the Diaspora and their counterparts in Ethiopia do not emancipate themselves from the shackles of ethnic politics, they will encounter a self-perpetuating cycle of dysfunction and ultimately lose ground.

The current Ethiopian Diaspora opposition groupings are constant reminders of the vanishing Ethiopian organic intellectuals that I have dealt with once in one of my articles entitled “Saluting the Wonderful Ethiopian Intellectuals.”1 It was Antonio Gramsci who first used the phrase ‘organic intellectual’ but my definition of the concept is completely different from his. Gramsci’s ‘organic intellectuals’ are the byproducts of the political system and/or a regime who facilitate consent among the populace so that the status quo governs without challenge. My ‘organic intellectuals’, on the contrary, are the high caliber educated intellectuals who are patriotic and who are engaged in the promotion of the welfare of the Ethiopian people and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia. They are also known as public intellectuals or public advocates, and sadly for Ethiopia a significant number of this type of organic intellectuals were eradicated by the Derg regime when it launched the Red Terror against the revolutionary parties and the youth of Ethiopia.  A significant number of the Derg remnant officials and functionaries are now active members in the Diaspora Ethiopian opposition, and most of them are in the United States.

The lack of organic intellectuals amongst the Diaspora opposition and the opposition parties in Ethiopia has negatively impacted the Ethiopian political discourse, and it is not surprising that the opposition is bedeviled by lack of ideological and political clarity, an important problem that I will address later.

If we now carefully examine the resolution of the Ethiopian opposition groups in Seattle, we can easily detect the defects of the various items within the resolution. For instance, Item # 5 states, “that the gate for peaceful resolution is immediately opened so that there could be a genuine dialogue, and [we] seriously call upon [the Government] for peaceful democratic transition.” This indeed is a great idea, but the Seattle group includes organizations like Arbegnoch/Ginbot 7 and OLF whose political programs advocate the violent overthrow of the Ethiopian government, and it is doubtful whether the haphazardly organized panelists of the Seattle conference are ready for a genuine dialogue with the government of Ethiopia. However, it is never too late for reconciliation, but I am afraid that the Seattle groups need to make another extra mile to catch up with the Ethiopian reality on the ground; they are lagging behind in light of the initiative the Ethiopian government took in conducting dialogue with the opposition parties in Ethiopia.

With respect to the dialogue that was conducted between the EPRDF and the opposition parties, Ethiopia has scored a wonderful achievement in contemporary Ethiopian politics, but on the opposition side, Medrek or Forum leaders were unable to understand the complexity of politics and the dynamism of history, and they decided to discontinue the negotiation process in the middle of the dialogue and opted rather to remain aloof, and I suspect they will regret their action in the future. They have underestimated the power of dialogue and negotiation on a round table and as a result they have missed one historic opportunity in Ethiopian politics. The Medrek leaders must reorient their outlooks if indeed they can be part of the energy that will make a marked difference in Ethiopian politics.

Seven years ago, I contributed an article entitled “National Reconciliation and National Development in Ethiopia” and the following idea is incorporated in what I have entertained then:

This essay intends to reach out the Ethiopian Government and the opposition by way of suggesting to both parties so that they can and should make efforts to iron out their differences and create a political climate, conducive enough, to enable the two blocs to sit in a round table for dialogue and for the peaceful smooth development and transformation of Ethiopia. …reconciliation, negotiation, and dialogue are designed to bring together opposing or opposite forces and not birds of the same feather that flock together.2  

As pointed out above, though a little late in terms of conducting dialogue for national reconciliation, the EPRDF at least held series of discussions and consultations toward reconciliation with the legally operating opposition parties and the ruling party was successful in this regard.

But the Diaspora Ethiopian opposition groupings were unable to initiate dialogue with the EPRDF, and on the contrary they have been clamoring and evoking the psychopathology of dissociation from the Government of Ethiopia; they thought that talking to the EPRDF would give the ruling party unwarranted legitimacy, but they are wrong for two reasons:- 1) talking to the EPRDF actually would give the opposition a huge leverage in promoting its own agenda; 2) whether the Diaspora opposition talks to the EPRDF or not, the government in power is recognized by the global diplomats and by governments of the Western democracies and China, not to mention African countries that view Ethiopia as an exemplar nation in the African context.

On top of the above weaknesses, the Ethiopian Diaspora opposition (except for EPRP and EPRP/Andinet (formerly EPRP/Democracy), who still maintain an all-Ethiopia agenda, though their multi-ethnic membership has shrunk considerably) have degenerated into exclusive ethno-national entities (Amhara, Oromo, Tigray etc). There is nothing wrong in organizing along ethnic lines if the purpose is self-help and cooperative, but it would not be viable if the objective is to translate a political program into an all-Ethiopia inclusive membership of the respective opposition parties and to promote a pan-Ethiopian agenda. The latter requires a pan-Ethiopian ideology that serves as an overarching blueprint.     

The Ethiopian Diaspora opposition can learn a lesson from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) before the new nation of South Sudan was born. The SPLM/A under the leadership of John Garang entertained a pan-Sudan program with self-determination for South Sudan, but after his death in 2005 his successor Salva Kiir inclined toward total independence for South Sudan. Now we know what is going on in South Sudan; the more people become ethnocentric, the more likelihood that they will engage in fratricidal civil war. If the latter phenomenon hovers over Ethiopia, it is the ethno-centrists that will be held responsible.

How about the EPRDF-led Ethiopian Government? I would be remiss if I don’t critically evaluate the EPRDF as I have done in regards to the opposition. Like any organization or political party, the EPRDF has strengths and weaknesses, and as always I like to begin with strengths that are attributable to the ruling party. The strengths of the EPRDF include the following:

1.       Establishing a federal system that subsequently liberated hitherto oppressed and forgotten nationalities in the periphery of Ethiopian geopolitics.

2.       Allowing, to some extent, opposition parties to register and operate legally.

3.       Promoting a development agenda with a vision and guiding principle surrounding the developmental state (DS), and more specifically the growth and transformation plans (GTPs).

4.        Within the framework of the GTPs, establishing higher institutions of learning including 35 universities; constructing remarkable all-weather roads, bridges, and railroads.

5.       Within the framework of the GTPs, enabling Ethiopia to make a transition from a relatively backward agrarian mode of production to an industrial society; constructing plethora of dams including the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) for electrification and ultimately serving homes and industries; expansion of rural primary health care all over Ethiopia.

6.       EPRDF-style DS has attracted global investors from all over the world, but mainly from China, Turkey, Italy, the United States, Indonesia, the Scandinavian countries, and Nigeria. Because of the fast economic growth accompanied by investors, major cities like Addis Ababa, Adama, Bahir Dar, Debre Berhan, Dire Dawa, Hawassa, and Mekelle have witnessed qualitative changes in urban development.

7.        One other strength of the EPRDF is its ability to render effective security measures that brought about relative peace and stability in Ethiopia and, in turn, kept the terrorists and negative forces of destruction at bay.

Weaknesses of the EPRDF:-

1.       Establishing federal structure based on language and ethnicity that inadvertently promoted ethnic and local/regional consciousness and that undermined the pan-Ethiopian identity.

2.       While the EPRDF did very well in economic development parameters, it did not allow broad democracy to flourish as it should in the last two and half decades. Incidentally, the ‘revolutionary democracy’ ideology that the EPRDF adopted as its guiding principle is neither tenable nor credible given the essence of democracy as government by the people.

3.       Come elections every five years, the EPRDF proved to be the sole and dominant actor in the electoral process, and as a result the opposition parties were side tracked and were unable to enjoy seats and hence voice in the parliament.

4.       The EPRDF did not allow freedom of the press to flourish in Ethiopia as it is enshrined in the constitution. In this context, the ruling party was not tolerant to some journalists who are now behind bars. However, the failure in the freedom of press is not entirely an EPRDF problem. The freely published newspapers and magazines along with online blogs, for instance, do not seem to understand the essence of freedom of press and they resort for the most part to scatology and strings of curses.

5.       By default or by design, the EPRDF installed a giant patron-client network for the purpose of political consolidation, and this kind of political patronage alienated (perhaps inadvertently) a significant number of Ethiopian intellectuals and professionals who could have immensely contributed to the development of Ethiopia.

6.       The EPRDF is presiding over an extremely corrupt system. Corruption, of course, is not unique to Ethiopia; it is in fact a universal socioeconomic and political ailment, and to be sure corruption has become part of the Ethiopian culture; it was prevalent during the reign of the Emperor, during the rule of the Derg, and it continues to permeate the Ethiopian social fabric now, during the EPRDF. There is no doubt that the EPRDF has attempted several times to get rid of the corrupt officials, but it was not successful. It seems to me even the most assiduous purges won’t clean the massive corruption unless the EPRDF takes revolutionary measures to weed out the corrupt officials; so far, the EPRDF has been taking reformist measures and these measures are not radical enough to combat corruption. For instance, after the second broad-based Hidase (renewal) government initiative aimed at restructuring the government and combating corruption, the scum of the earth are still bewitching the inflated Ethiopian bureaucratic machine.     

7.       Last but not least the EPRDF did not correctly handled the issue surrounding the right of the Ethiopia-born citizens who sought the so-called “yellow card” for dual citizenship and a huge number of Ethiopians were unjustly denied this right.      

By way of concluding, I like to address the significance and importance of political ideology and theoretical framework that are presently scarce amongst the opposition parties and the Ethiopian social milieu in general. By political ideology I did not mean the old ideologies of liberal and/or radical schools; I meant rather a variety of modalities that could serve as alternative narratives that Ethiopians need to uphold in order to correctly analyze emergent contours and challenges. More specifically, I meant, Ethiopians must establish articulated roadmaps for a guide to action in addressing outstanding issues.

Once Ethiopians garner alternative narratives (e.g. mixed economy of market and state-run enterprises) they can easily embrace political clarity that in turn permits them to forge a refined policy; and once they accomplish this level of consciousness, they will begin to understand that “historical change involves change in discursive formations” as Michel Foucault aptly puts it. According to Foucault, discursive formations are designed to explain the nature of society and human beings; it is also a system of knowledge to study prevailing cultural frameworks.

Ethiopians, therefore, must no longer be guided by the old ideologies of the liberal and the radical, which are alien and irrelevant to the larger Ethiopian society, and begin rather to formulate a new theoretical framework of what I call ‘social constructivist’ and begin to study their history and culture, and ultimately establish policies of their own, independent of foreign influences. This does not mean, of course, to reject anything foreign; Ethiopians must indeed receive anything foreign, including technology that benefits them; it is only to underscore the importance of independence that could altogether lead to creativity and a home grown ideology. The social constructivist theory recognizes the potential of individuals and groups as game changers in society, not only by receiving ideas from outside influences but also by methodically and creatively evolving their own distinct ideology that in turn sustains an independent national mode of thinking.

Unless Ethiopians forge a constructivist world outlook, they will remain dependent on foreign dominant ideas for a long time to come and as a result their government policies, development strategies, and curricula in the schools will reflect foreign and not Ethiopian. In this context, it should be known the revolutionary parties in Ethiopia were influenced by foreign ideology; and because the Derg dogmatically asserted the latter ideology, it blindly adopted the policies of the old Soviet Union and massacred the government high ranking officials of Haile Selassie and subsequently murdered thousands and upon thousands of Ethiopians from 1974-1991. The foreign influencing ideology is still around in Ethiopian circles if one critically examines the Gramsci-type intellectuals that are currently serving in Ethiopian bureaucracies. The latter is a little modified under the EPRDF because the ruling party allowed pre-election debates and town meetings in which people have freely directed their criticism and complaints to respective officials at all levels. However, even the latter gain could be compromised if it is not consistently carried out; in fact, it could be like what Noam Chomsky once said: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within the spectrum.”3       




1.       Ghelwadewos Araia, “Saluting the Wonderful Ethiopian Intellectuals,” www.africanidea.org/saluting_wonderful.html  June 27, 2011

2.       Ghelawdewos Araia, “National Reconciliation and National Development in Ethiopia”, www.africanidea.org/national_reconciliation.html  October 22, 2010

3.       I do not quite recall the source of Noam Chomsky’s penetrating perspective


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