December 19th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

Thoughts For The Opposition: On Developing A Winning Plan For Ethiopia’s Liberation



Dear fellow Ethiopians in the struggle, in his Nobel Peace Laureate’s Acceptance Speech, the late Dr. King spoke of both immorality and impracticality of choosing the path of violence rather than the non-violent struggle for justice he advocated and practiced with courage & passion. His words ring out today to those who thirst for peace and justice with the same urgency in which we heard them then when soldiers were killing and dying in Viet Nam and another immoral President was waging an unjust war for oil. Violence like that of the TPLF is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in those destroyers.

Non-violent Struggle: A Challenge for Change in Ethiopia

Brothers and sisters, it is really and truly an honour and privilege to be free to express my feelings, ideas & to be among persons committed to the liberation of the Ethiopian people and the development of a democratic society in a liberated Ethiopia. I am not writing to tell you what to do, as you all should know what should we really have to do, to free our oppressed people and liberate Ethiopia. However, I do have some knowledge of dictatorships and resistance movements to share with you, and especially struggle with political, social, economic, and psychological weapons i.e. pragmatic non-violent struggle. Lest there be any misunderstanding, this article has nothing whatsoever to do with pacifism. This is an article about struggle, peoples’ power, and effective means of fighting to win. I intend only to offer some ideas for consideration in thinking through the problem of how to end a dictatorship and planning how best to achieve a democratic society with freedom and respect for all human dignity. Those are difficult goals to reach. I hope that these ideas may be relevant for Ethiopia. However, that is your own decision.

Determining the objective

A responsible movement, which faces dictators and hopes for freedom, must decide what is its objective. Is it to make gestures of defiance, to express its hostility, to glorify freedom, and to identify one’s self as one of the ‘good guys’? Or, is the movement seriously committed to the struggle to bring down the dictatorship and to establish a viable and responsible democratic political system based on freedom and all other democratic principles? The gestures of defiance are relatively easy to make. To disintegrate the dictatorship and establish a lasting working democracy are harder goals to easily attain.

Requirements to succeed

To succeed in both of those goals requires that a responsible movement include persons who think, evaluate, plan, prepare, and then act in ways that can be successful. I mean strategists and experts.

Reflect on this century which is passing

We need to remember that this has been not only a century of dictatorships: Nazis, Communists, Maoists, military, fascists, and others like the TPLF who pretend to look modern democrats but a Mafia type of group and bandits. It is easy to feel that the dictatorships are all powerful, and that to feel that people are helpless. Those who today struggle against dictatorships can be strengthened by the good knowledge that the future course of history is not pre-determined. Those who believe in freedom can help to shape the future by their own choices of what to do and how to act tactfully to defeat our enemies. Otherwise, it is no good to sit around, split hair, criticise those who do their best to make a lasting difference. The next general election is fast approaching but it did not seem we’re prepared at all.

There are grounds for realistic hope

Provided that the exponents of freedom: use their heads and think carefully, reject ideological dogma, stop bickering and doctrines, plan strategically, mobilize own sources of power, learn how to undermine dictatorship intelligently, build independent institutions like media outlets, radio transmissions outside the dictators’ control, and implement their developed strategic plans with sound judgment and courage.

Rejecting dogmas

When developing a strategic plan for liberation, it is necessary to set aside past dogmas such as these: Belief in the necessity of violence, which produces only defeatism, desperation, and disasters. Avoid the presumption that answers lie in coups d’état, guerrilla warfare, terrorism, military adventurism, or foreign intervention and the belief in the omnipotence of dictatorships. They actually may be fragile if action is taken to strike where they are weakest, where they are vulnerable, at the very sources of their power.

Temptations to a democracy movement, which must be resisted: A democracy movement may be tempted to make promises or to take actions which may sound good at the time, but which may in the long run only help present or future dictators. These temptations include the making of excessive and undeliverable promises in efforts to get the support during the struggle promises which later cannot be kept and will lead to disillusionment and even longing for a return of the dictatorship. Another temptation is to try to fight with the dictators’ best weapon: violence. This choice can lead either to (1) defeat of the democracy movement or (2) a new dictatorship by the “democratic military” or a coup d’état clique. In focusing attention on the dictatorship there may be a temptation to ignore issue of social justice (economic, racial, etc.). The lack of attention to social justice often leaves that issue to the dictators (and hands them important supporters, which are lost to the democratic forces and who are betrayed by the dictators). This is very important. There are several additional temptations, which must be avoided by a democratic movement. This includes the temptation to idolize a democratic leader, who may therefore become a target for assassination or corruption; thereby weakening the mass movement on which victory purely depends. Another temptation is to be content with a pattern of reaction to the dictators’ initiatives.

Democrats may sometimes be tempted themselves to violate democratic standards, supposedly to increase their own effectiveness. The results can be tragic. Two more temptations are common. One of these is to ignore the potential for a coup d’état conducted either to pre-empt the democratic struggle or to seize control of the state when the dictatorship collapses. A movement, which has ignored this potential and failed to prepare to resist a coup d’état if and when it comes, may find that it faces a new dictatorship, potentially worse than the old ones, and one more difficult to resist. When the dictatorship collapses, the democrats may then to fail to institutionalise a democratic system and may flounder in the early stages of a democracy. The result may be to discredit democracy, to create a longing for the ‘good old days’ under the deposed dictators, and to open the way for acceptance of a new dictatorship. There are many democrats who lack confidence that an end to the dictatorship is really possible. Remarkably, there are some in pro-democracy movements those who despite their words do not really believe the dictatorship can be destroyed and a new democratic system created. These persons really continue to believe in the omnipotence of the dictators and that the violence of dictators is the real power in the conflict. Consequently, they are content with making only gestures of defiance and dissent against the dictators and denunciations of any who disagree with them. Gestures and denunciations are tragically all that they believe to be possible not actually ending the nasty dictatorship and bringing in freedom. Those persons quickly deny that they believe in this way but joined EPRDF like EDP & AEUP. Perhaps in their hearts, they wish it were otherwise, but they see no realistic basis to believe that the goal of freedom can actually be achieved. The consequence is weak protest gestures, unrealistic or un-ambitious plans & failures to prepare for bringing an end to the dictatorship and introduction of freedom.

Are disintegration of a dictatorship and the institution of democracy really possible?
The answer is simple. It has already happened elsewhere. Kenneth Boulding and one of the Greek philosophers both understood this, when they observed: “That which exists is possible” or “Lo que existe es possible”. It is an insight that is not too complicated but is totally profound. Extreme dictatorships have already been disintegrated and have already in recent years been disintegrated in several countries. This has usually occurred after some years of severe repression and the slow growth of non-cooperation and defiance, which gradually escalated to shake badly the foundations of the dictatorship.

Examples from recent years of this pattern of success include East Germany, Czechoslovakia, the Philippines, Latvia, Georgia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland. Additionally, non-violent struggle has played important roles in the liberation of South Africa as well, undermining the military regime in Argentina, contributing to the liberation of Hungary, and freeing India from the British Empire. Non-violent struggle has been used in the United States civil rights struggles for the rights of African-Americans, in the Soviet Union for the rights of Jews, and in struggles for civil liberties and for environmental protection in several countries. So, why can’t we do it too, to stop our citizens sufferings?

How is all this possible?

All this has been possible in the past and similar and more powerful actions will be possible in the future because: First, dictators are never as powerful as they want you to believe. There are always some things they want to do against us but are unable to do. Second, dictatorships contain important internal weaknesses, problems, and conflicts, which are usually hidden from the wider public. Resistance needs to be carefully focused on these weaknesses & their dependencies in order to make the greatest impact

Principal lessons of past struggles include:

Never attack dictators where they are strongest in military power, because one will almost always lose. Always attack dictators where they are the weakest and are least able to respond effectively. This will increase the impact of the resistance and aggravate the dictatorship’s problems and their vulnerabilities.

Why should this be true? This is possible because of this important insight: all dictatorships, and indeed all governments, are dependent on a constant supply of several sources of their power.

Power is essential in all social and political systems. Power is the combination of all influences and pressures, including punishments, available for use to control the situation, to control people and institutions, or to mobilize people and institutions for some activity. Political power is intrinsic to politics, and is involved, directly or indirectly in all political action. Without effective power it is impossible to achieve one’s goal, to defeat hostile forces, and to defend positive gains. Political power is not intrinsic to those who wield it. Power comes from the society they rule & there are specific sources of that power.

These sources of power include:

Authority (or legitimacy, belief in the right of some group or person to lead and give orders);

Human resources (who and how many people obey and assist the power holder). Skills and knowledge (what kind and to what degree these are available to the power-holder) Intangible factors (religious, emotional, and your belief systems). Material resources (economic, financial, transportation, and communications). Sanctions (or punishments, violent or non-violent). The extent to which these sources are supplied to those who would wield power determines whether they are strong, weak, or only objects of ridicule. These sources of power are supplied to the regime by “pillars of support” in the society.

These pillars of support include: Religious and moral leaders help in the case of authority. All sections of the population in the case of human resources, people who actively cooperate, obey, and assist the regime. Specialists with particular abilities and capacities in the case of skills and knowledge are also very much needed. Acceptance of the pattern of submission and of beliefs, which lead to polite obedience and help in the case of intangible factors. Cooperation in the functioning of the financial economic, transportation, and communications system in the case of material factors. Fear and submission in face of threatened punishments by the regime, and obedience by the police and military of orders to inflict repression on those who disobey or refuse to cooperate. Yet, all of these sources of power are not automatically available because the pillars of support may choose not to provide those sources. These sources of power can be restricted, their supply slowed or outright refused.

Undermining and mobilizing power: Consequently, the regime will be weakened and at times subjected to political starvation. Without being “fed” by supply of the sources of power, the dictators cannot remain powerful. If the acceptance of the regime, cooperation with it, and obedience to it are ended, the regime must weaken and collapse. This explains the phenomenon of ‘people power’ or non-violent struggle, and the collapse of the dictatorships, which I earlier cited. Parallel with the weakening of the power to the regime by non-cooperation and disobedience is the mobilization of power capacity by the population, which has previously been thought to be weak and helpless in face of the regime’s organizational and repressive capacity.


This struggle will not be easy or without cost. This disobedience and non-cooperation will not be welcomed by the dictatorship because it is non-violent. To the contrary, this resistance will be seen to be more dangerous to the dictatorship than opposition violence. The regime is likely to see this type of resistance for what it is a realistic effort to disintegrate the dictatorship. Consequently the dictatorship will respond with denunciations, lies, imprisonments, violent repression, provocations to violence & assassinations

Four important tasks

If one wants to attempt to undermine a dictatorship by these means, there are four important tasks which need to be undertaken: (1) study the requirements, history, and strategic principles of non-violent struggle; (2) spread the knowledge of this type of struggle; (3) develop a wise strategic plan for liberation based on knowledge of the specific situation and of the requirements and dynamics of the non-violent struggle; and (4) mobilize the dominated population to correct its own weaknesses and increase its strengths, so that it is capable of dissolving the oppressive dictatorship and carry out a successful transition to a democratic system.

Strategies of liberation

Several strategies of phased campaigns are likely to be required to undermine a dictatorship and later to achieve its disintegration. As the long-term struggle develops beyond the initial symbolic strategies into more ambitious and advanced phases, the strategists will need to calculate how the dictators’ sources of power can be further restricted. The time will come when the democratic forces can move beyond selective resistance at key political or advanced economic points and instead launch the mass non-cooperation and defiance intended to disintegrate the dictatorship. The combination of such strong non-cooperation and defiance and the building of independent institutions of civil society is likely in time to produce widespread supportive international action but one must not depend on that but be aware.

The dictatorship disintegrates

When dictators are then confronted with the increasingly empowered population and the growth of independent democratic groups and institutions, both of which the dictators are unable to control, the dictators will find that their whole venture is unravelling. Massive shut-downs of the society, general strikes, mass stay-at-homes, defiant marches, loss of control of the economy, transportation system, and communications, slow-downs and defiance by the civil service and police, disguised disobedience or outright mutiny by the entire military, or other activities will increasingly undermine the dictators’ own organization and all related institutions. As a result of these consequences of such defiance and the built up non-cooperation, executed wisely and with mass participation over time, the dictators would become powerless and the democratic forces would, without too much violence and blood-shed, triumph. The dictatorship would disintegrate before the defiant population when these actions occur: When the religious and moral leaders in the society denounce the regime as illegitimate, when the masses of the people are disobeying orders and non-cooperating with the dictatorship (and instead obeying the democratic leadership), when journalists and broadcasters are defying censorship and issuing their own publications and programs, when the transportation system operates only according to the needs of the democratic forces, when the civil servants are ignoring the dictatorship’s policies and orders, when the police refuse to arrest democratic resisters, when the army has gone on strike, then, the power of the dictators has dissolved. The democratic forces should be aware that in some situations the collapse of the dictatorship might occur extremely rapidly and or fast, as in East Germany in 1989. Hence the democrats should calculate in advance how the transition from the dictatorship to the interim government should be handled at the end of the struggle, so as to establish a viable democratic system. The path should be blocked to any persons or group, which would like to become the new dictators.

Advantages of this kind of liberation

Among the advantages of this type of struggle for liberation are these: It is more likely to bring about an end to the dictatorship than violence, which may entrench the regime. The struggle can be conducted self-reliantly without dependence on bloody two-faced foreign governments, which may have their own objectives and could be unreliable allies. Potentially the whole population can participate in the strong non-violent struggle for liberation and not only a restricted group of the population. The casualty rates, though could be serious, are most likely to be significantly lower than in a violent resistance movement.

The struggle will require much lower economic costs than a violent struggle, because no military arms and ammunition will be required. The society will not suffer massive physical destruction, as is likely in a civil war. No group in command of military forces will be ready to impose a new dictatorship after victory. Non-violent struggle has strong democratising effects through the process of diffusing power throughout the society and ‘arming’ the Ethiopian people with knowledge of how to struggle against oppressors.

Conclusion: In conclusion, may I call attention to three main points relevant for planning a liberation struggle against TPLF dictators? Knowledge of the nature and use of non-violent struggle is power potential. With new knowledge of this option and confidence in its capacity, people in situations in which they otherwise would passively submit, be easily crushed, or use self-defeating violence, can apply these forms of non-violent struggle and wield power. Knowledge of how to act, how to organize, and how to transform one’s power potential into effective and systematic power through non-violent struggle enables otherwise weak people to wield effective power and to help to determine the future of their own lives and society. The mistaken wild impression that history-making political changes require or entail violence is not what I have explained here in this article. Indeed, far from it. I wish our opposition leaders and members read such things too? And that in turn reinforces the wrong belief that non-violence is the ultimate and or even the exclusive form of power, in conflicts with dictators, invaders and other nasty rights-violating rulers like Meles. Yet, the truth is that over the last hundred years, bloody tyrants & even military forces have been neutralized and overcome through the use of strategic non-violent conflict. In none of those nations who have experienced non-violent struggles, it is certain that the regime will be able indefinitely to suppress the people’s aspirations for genuine self-rule and democracy? We should not allow any more reckless suppression, brutal repression, ruthless oppression, ugly intimidation, constant harassments, illegal imprisonments and merciless judicial killings. We say enough is enough!!




Capt. Woldemikael Dagnachew

The author can be reached at:

  1. Shiferaw
    | #1

    My dear confused and therefore erroneous captain whatever, Captains and generals belong to the battle field and not to be found dancing fandango in women’s skirs in cyber space.
    You wrote: “Requirements to succeed
    To succeed in both of those goals requires that a responsible movement include persons who think, evaluate, plan, prepare, and then act in ways that can be successful. I mean strategists and experts.”

    If so, how come you lost the battle when Dergue was goading you to fight? Where were your experts and strategists then? And where are they now? In parking lots? Go tell it to the marines.

  2. Reppi
    | #2

    Selam Ato WoldeMikAel
    A nation should draw its actions from its own history and culture.
    What other people do to overcome tyranny is based on their experiences
    and the conditions or modality of the time they Are in.
    There is nothing wrong in advocating peacefull resistance so long
    as it does not serve the purpose of someone else
    One has to ask who benefits from peacefull resistance.In our
    Ethiopia’s case it serves the Woyane for the simple reason that
    woyane controls every asspect of the peoples lives. Woyane has
    the weapons to kill or spy onthe oposition forces
    The western nations advocate peacefull resistance because it
    gauranties the continued existance of the puppets they install
    in poor countries. How can you advocate peacefull struggle
    when you are fully aware of what happenedduring dergs time and
    what is happening now during woyane time?
    Armed struggle to overthrow a goverment elected by a people
    is insurecction.Where as armed struggle to dismantle a government
    not elected by the people and is supported by outside forces and
    serves the interest of other nations,is legitimate in the eyes of the
    oppressed and in the eyes of Egziabher.


  3. ደምስ
    | #3

    Mr. or Ms. Capt,

    What’s missing from your article, why the Ethiopian people chose to be slave for dictator melese than dying for their freedom? Definetly it is not that they do not have guns or tanks; this can be overcome by our unity of strugle.

    Most people in Addis do not want sacrfiy themselves or any of their family members. Why not? They want someone else son’s or daughter’s to die for their freedom. Especially the well to do and middle classes. The sacrify lumb is the poor. There is no justice and fairness here!!

    Even this dictator gone, the poor will remain poor for ever. The affulent is the first to come out from their gated or wired house to grap power. If you are poor in Ethiopia you life is not precious or not worthy of like the middle class.

    We can get a new gov’t with in weeks as long as the middle class rady to die for it. At the moment the middle class chose to be slave for this evil gov’t than doing some thing about it.

    The best out come for everyone is some kind of God intervention ASAP, just like Mengistu toppled almost two decays ago. A power strugle inside the dictator cilcle would be one of God’s inetervntion.

  4. akakizeraf
    | #4

    The time has come and go for the so called peaceful struggle.Ethiopia shall only be free and whole through the blood of her sons and daughters.Its high time for us to coordinate our effort and push to victory.

  5. Ashiwa Abeba
    | #5

    When will be the time of all Ethiopians AS ONE NATION start to search their mind and their soul and come up with a solution that will say NEVER AGAIN to a blood sucker dictatorship? I can give you my opnion based on my exprience related to pure nationalist stand as to when will we say never again to dictatorship. However, my personal opnion is like now a days asking others to tell me that I am right! One simple example is the formation of too many political partys in Ethippia! Each or most of them are hail bent to compromise or negotiate on terms that will bring a lasting working system in our country Ethiopia. So, I strongly suggest that instead of wasting our time struggling individualy we have to join hands with FEW other political parties or civic groups to bring about a radical change for once and for all!

    Long live Ethiopia!

  6. Drogba
    | #6

    I totally agree with you my brother.The Ethiopian poor are the one who shed their blood and sacrifice their life while the power thirsty and their middle class followers wait for their share of the booty without lifting their fingers.We are what we are today because of their lack of responsibility when it comes defending their country.Even now under this govt they are content with the Brade crumbs they are receiving.To them,it doesn’t matter who run the country as long as they get their share of the spoils.We live in a country where the poor dies either fighting for his country or as the result of his\her govt economy vandalism.To me the selfish middle class are responsible for the disintegration of our country as Melese.Now they are deafening the desperate poor with their usual war drum from their comfort home some where in the west.

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