We All Aspire for Change in Our Country: Are we clear on What Kind of Change? – By Workie Briye

June 27th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

This particular moment is a time for reflection. (more…)

This particular moment is a time for reflection. It is hard to believe that it has been more than two years since our “Tiananmen Square” was carried out against innocent citizens who demanded for the respect of their vote; nearly the same lentgth of time has lapsed since our leaders have been incarcerated. In the past two years we have tried to brush our loss, failures, sadness, and defeat under the rug. Our two years table of success in terms of keeping the promise we made to the leaders when we accept their solemn vows to respect the mandate given to them from the people is virtually empty. At the time when most of us lest expected any good news, our hope for the release of our leaders flashed up since last week. For ordinary mortals, this kind of time is a time for sobriety, spiritual unity, prayer, moderation, less spite and more thoughtful conception.

As much as I hate to depart from this code I genuinely believe in, I couldn’t resist the temptation of reacting to one anonymous article posted few days ago on Nazret.com (herein after “the anonymous author” or “writer”). The title of the article is “Ethiopia: was CUD set up by the liberation fronts?” The content of the article has nothing new or different from the same old tirade we are familiar with in all commentaries against AFD and the groups who signed the Alliance we heard mainly from the regime and few other corners. (Readers could review the entire article via the link provided at the end of this article.)

Key words and phrases in the article: OLF, ONLF and Eritrea trapped CUD to sign AFD; OLF and ONLF still stand for secession; AFD will bring crisis to CUD; AFD is last chance for OLF and ONLF to secede; Article 39 was architected by OLF and ONLF; TPLF does not support Article 39(emphasis mine); and other dooms day prophesies against AFD. These grounds of attack against AFD are not new. In the same manner, almost all basic arguments and the significance espoused by the AFD have been articulated by many writers. Accordingly, it is hardly possible to come up with a brand new justification in support of AFD. On the other hand, although the content of the above mentioned article is made of a recycled material, the way it is crafted is more vicious, the timing is sinister, and its letter and spirit displays TPLF’s sadism incarnate. Readers would have little doubt the article is either directly authored by a government propagandist or sponsored by one.

No matter who the author or patron of the article is, the effect is the same: intimidating CUD leaders right at the eve of their likely release, driving more wedge between CUD and other AFD signatories mainly OLF and ONLF. As a testament to the source of the piece, the article tries to portray EPRDF/TPLF as proponent of Ethiopian unity as opposed to OLF/ONLF. The writer in fact attempts to educate us that TPLF gave its consent and Article 39 tiptoed into the Constitution merely to entice OLF and ONLF who actually engineered the article.

Although provoked by the above mentioned article, the main aim of my comment, however, is not to outline a point by point rebuttal to the allegations contained in the source article. In the views of this writer, the misconception represented in that article is part of a larger picture: the kind of change or reform that we aspire to see in our country.

I believe that many of us who support AFD and the spirit represented in it regard the Alliance more than a mere political entity with specific structures, programs, and goals. Our understanding of the Alliance is that more than anything else, it represents a nucleus of national reconciliation, and above all it is a harbinger of the proper ways and meanse by which we need to deal with all outstanding challenges related to the unity and stability of our country. Although there can be outlined numerous political and strategic advantages in following this kinde of modus operandi, the spirit surfaced through AFD is a new and solvent scheme for achieving the same goal that all of us, on both sides of the AFD debate, seem to care for, i.e. the unity of our country. The way of AFD emerged against the background of frustration amongst many well meaning Ethiopians due to the fact that all other methods and approaches previously employed to preserve the unity of our country proved bankrupt.

At the outset, let’s pretend that a miracle rained upon our struggle enabling the CUD to take power from the jaws of the current regime, how would we wish the incoming regime led by the CUD deal with other outstanding problems and opposition groups such as OLF and ONLF? The solution we extend to this question is important for all of us no matter what kind of approach we advance to resolve the debate surrounding unity. It seems logical to assume that those of us who oppose the AFD type dialogue would expect the incoming regime to deal with these groups by force, short of submission from the groups to the solution unilaterally prescribed by the new regime. Because, the other avenue available to the new government would be the option of negotiation and a political solution, one which AFD supporters believe can guarantee both political values advocated by each side.

The conventional wisdom, is that the route of negotiation and mutual understanding, if available, not only stands a better chance of success but also serves as a tool to avoid the risk of continued instability in the country. One can outline various political, pragmatic, and psychological factors that work behind the better chance of success that accrue from following this track. On the other hand, if the blue print we hold as a solution for the problem posed by “liberation fronts” is either the use of force or voluntary submission of the parties, it meanse that, although we all are demanding change in our country, we nevertheless creve for a change without having any common understanding on the kind of change we expect or are aspiring conflicting notions of change. Personally, this writter do not perceive any rationale for calling for change only to replace the current despot by an other despot. In our case, hundreds of children and other innocent civilians should not have been sacrificed, elected leaders of the people should not have obeyed the mandate given to them by the people and suffered from the consequence, if our dream is only to replicate the same agony our people have endured for generations.

Although there are various features that characterise a democratic system, one of the most important yardsticks of a democratic system of government is in the methods utilized and the level of commitment displayed by the regime in dealing with political opposition that come from other groups, be it ethnic based or one emanating from an ideology different from the one subscribed by the ruling party. The main reason why many of us support CUD is because we have seen its leaders vowing to creat that kind of system in our country. So far the track record of this organization and the conviction displayed by its leaders is one we found to be in concordance with their vows.

However, any discourse along these queries would not bring in any new element to what we have been regurgitating time and again over the last several years. The fundamental issue is related to the kind of future that we need and deserve after several decades of struggle and scarifies for a true political reform in our country.

The anonymous wrter and all other opponents of AFD seem to be astonished by CUD’s decision to join the Alliance. According to those who support AFD, on the other hand, CUD made active effort to form the Alliance and signed the document in keeping with the party’s committment to national reconciliation and its vision for an all inclusive political regime in Ethiopia. They argue that, in fact the single most important trophy, the CUD international leadership could display is AFD and they commend KIL for achieving this courageous progress. Coming to the point, the main reason why the CUD leaders provided the guidance and endorsed the inauguration of the AFD is rooted in the kind of change CUD envisioned for Ethiopia. The reading of some basic documents of the CUD and many landmark speeches delivered at various forums by the leaders are testaments to the kind of change the leaders are dreaming for their country. During the post election debate, I heard CUD leaders declaring time and again that CUD’s vision was “to establish a system where no Ethiopian citizen or political group will be excluded from the affairs of the country by virtue of its political views and programs.” Some of us may wish to take this dream one step further; we would like to see an Ethiopia where any citizen, including Meles and his partners-in-crime, would be able to freely cross the streets of Irri Bekentu and purchase, or vend, their grocery or whatever they need to satiate their cravings without fear of any government sponsored violence or reprisal.

It is hardly surprising that officials of the current regime now and then try to insult our intelligence by making themselves up as one caring for the unity of Ethiopia. Assuming that the author of the above mentioned writing is not one of the government cadres, what can be astonishing is that there are still some amongst us who consider this TPLF mock-up as the real thing. By the same token, it does not take a genius to figure out why the regime is so vehemently against AFD! The short answer is, because it strikes right at the pedestal of a stratagem upon which the EPRDF Enterprise has been established and operated. For many years in the past, there existed a large pit between liberation organizations on the one hand and pro unity groups on the other, a situation that created a fertile ground for the regime to enjoy free rider position in the country. Deeply convinced that the EPRDF as a political and business Enterprise could not enjoy a free ride position without implementing the time tested devise of divide-n-rule, few TPLF officials have made a huge effort to drive a wedge between many Ethiopian communities, with particular focus on the Oromo and Amhara, for various reasons, some fabricated, others exaggerated with some aid from our political history. These officials worked very hard over several years to mold political monsters out of each Ethiopian community to create and eternalize animosity towards the “Naftagnas”.

In spite of a steady campaign and huge investment, the success achieved so far by the regime in this regard may be insignificant; in fact the whole venture turned out to be a failure measured by what we observed in the pre and post election Ethiopia. On top of that, as a result of the rapprochement unlocked between those organizations that were anticipated to remain frozen in an eternal animosity, an opposite dynamic is unfolding which is naturally alarming and viewed as dangerous by the ruling group. Nevertheless, although AFD is so far yielding visible results as hoped for, this promising development should not be a reason for complacency. There is still a real possibility for the regime’s evil scheme to succeed if some amongst our rank, intentionally or unwittingly, contribute to the success of the evil undertaking. Conjuring up anti unity villains out of legitimate demands and aspirations of communities, who paid equally dearly to the survival of the country’s independence, that could be accommodated through dialogue and wise leadership, is one such act that can feed the evil scheme. Unless we learn to listen and understand the pains, sentiments, aspirations, and hopes of the various communities in our country, there is still a feasible risk that we turn this kind and gentle people into a different creature brainwashed to a dangerous faith that their “Great Satan” is some other community in their own country.

As indicated earlier, the anonymous writer attempts to remind us that “…OLF was the most vocal anti-CUD group of all groups and …labeled the CUD ‘neo-neftengas….’” It is not a secret that, in its short and turbulent existence, CUD witnessed as many foes as it has allies: not new in the world of politics. However, of all enemies of the CUD, those proved to be the most dangerous cargo have been those enemies drawn from among its own officials, confused members, and uninformed or ill-informed supporters. Some of the early officials of the CUD had viewed the coalition as the best scheme to overcome the failure that plagued them throughout the 14 years that preceded the 2005 election. These individuals didn’t spend time to kick-off the proverbial betrayal once they won a parliament seat using the CUD banner. Others started computing in and comparing the price tags attached to honoring the wishes of their electors on the one hand and a power handout from the regime on the other; these also soon followed suit of the primordial traitors and opted for the latter. Owing to similar or equivalent motives, this arson set by Lidetu in Addis soon reached Washington and almost totally consumed our last ditch hope for leadership. Moreover, not so few among its members and supporters, especially some amongst the diaspora, took CUD not for what it is but for what they yearn, i.e. a new government in the same old system.

Therefore, the anonymous writer is not telling us anything new. In the first place, the writer has no evidence that OLF as organization took a position against the CUD. If the writer meant that he had heard concerns from individuals among OLF officials vis-à-vis the CUD, that is neither surprising nor should it be an eternal barrier standing in the way of dialogue between the two organizations. An organization barely six months old before the election but alarmingly successful, an organization that was being abused, betrayed, and misunderstood even by its own members, stands a very slim chance of favorable reception from other contending organizations situated far away from their country. On top of that, the only enterprise whose propaganda machine could reach the far and wide corners of the world is that of the government. The effect was that organizations such as OLF had access to a portrait of CUD brushed by the regime. Even if it is true that OLF initially had strong suspicion against CUD, that is rather one more justification for the need to initiate dialogue and mutual engagement, rather than extra animosity, as the anonymous writter seem to have wished to see among these organizations.

Be that as it may, I remember a radio interview Dr. Lencho Letta gave to the VOA Amharic service in June 2005, few weeks after the election. True, Dr. Lencho at that time voiced reservations vis-à-vis the CUD. At the same time, the whole interview was like a power point presentation of the blue print he aspired for Ethiopia. After carefully listening to that interview, I found that blue print something most of us could endorse without reservation. The most important elements of his blue print were issues such as the need for a fresh start with a genuine and strong federal structure, a united country, and a solid legal and institutional foundation that can guarantee the rights of the various regional and national units that constitute the country. On the other hand, I am not still clear as to what kind of unity we have in mind when some of us condemn those organizations that stand for ethnic rights. Although I am not privy to the OLF plans and strategy, I have had the privilege to contact some members of the leadership. From my frequent communication and close relation with these officials and few ordinary members of the organization, I haven’t observed individuals that are bent on mutilating Ethiopia as some pro unity compatriots try to scare the rest of us. What I observe are people who are equally, if not more, concerned for the future of their country. In fact it often seems to me that the care they display for the country and their view of unity is not only a viable one but also more genuine and credible than that often heard from the likes of the anonymous writer.

Yet, this is still not the most important point that we need to bear in mind as we continue debating on the future of our country. Whether valid or not, it is neither useful nor feasible to operate on the assumption that organizations we currently know such as OLF and ONLF or other groups that might pop up in the future will never entertain secession as their primary option. Accordingly, even if it is true that OLF and ONLF continue to harbor their secessionist agenda, pro unity groups need to restrain these adversaries through continued engagement and dialogue rather than reacting with similarly extremist rhetoric which, in effect, can not be any different from the type of propaganda we condemn as “narrowist” or “ethno-centric”.

Throughout the political, diplomatic, and military history of the world, we often notice that the winning parties are those powers who persistently utilize dialogue or equivalent approach to resolving national problems of a similar nature. All others who insisted in the old or the contrary approach they are familiar with have failed often with tragic consequences. (A case in point is Milošević of Yugoslavia.) Accordingly, it is a proven theorem that a party who rejects engagement and coalition will sooner face the consequences of countervailing coalition. If tomorrow CUD rejects AFD and resume the old way of rancor and hostility, the smart alic Meles will soon grab the opportunity and forge alliance with those same groups in a bid to alienate CUD and other CUD type entities.

Still with in the bounds of a worst case scenario analysis, we need to realize that it doesn’t always mean that all efforts of engaging secessionist organizations or other opposition groups are guaranteed of reciprocation or will always bear the most favored outcome. The main point however is that, if the whole project is successful, which is the most likely outcome, it yields substantial benefit to the country. If it failed or if the peaceful and civilized approach pursued by the pro unity camp is rebuffed, as is the concern of AFD opponents, this party can be sure to remain on guard and thereby avoid the risk of strategic failure. In a polarized climate, however, all parties including the lofty aim of national unity will be losers. The single scavenger profiting from such a loss will be the regime in power. Therefore, a pagmatic approach, flexible and inclusive policy, and a skilful use of coalition building must become the new cements of Ethiopian unity in the 21st century.

As pointed out earlier in this comment, the most important effect intended of the anonymous article is that of intimidating the CUD leaders and driving more wedges between the CUD and “liberation organizations.” One of the scare crows flagged by the writer that is meant to intimidate the leaders is wrapped up in the form of legal and technical hurdles the CUD, as legal organization, will have to face if the leaders opt to pursue any deal with the Alliance that embrace out-lawed and “terrorist organizations”. Suffice here to mention that the CUD leaders know full well the challenges and hurdles that will be set by the regime in pursuining many aspects of their struggle. Nevertheless, what some of us seem to miss is what the prime objective to be achieved through the AFD is. The most important goal is that AFD will serve, and is serving, as a potent instrument to make the divisive scheme of the current regime go amiss its target and even cause to backfire against the divider itself: it is the most effective antidote to immunize the various ethnic and religious groups of our country against schemes invented to instigate hate and violence between them (on point cases include the Massacre in Gambella in 2003/2004, the recent tragedy in Jimma, and a host of other similar incidents.) AFD and the spirit of dialogue and constructive engagement espoused in it is not only the civilized way of resolving or managing differences but also the reliable approach to stave off the danger of further secession and disintegration in our country.

Principled leaders and politicians do not back track from such lofty ideals simply because the ruling regime will be displeased or even may take other measures against the leaders. Pursuing the AFD spirit does not necessarily mean conducting regular meetings or exchange of official visits. AFD has already achieved part of the objective it was intended to acheive: hostility and internecine warfare between pro unity groups on the one hand and ethnic based organizations on the otherhand has been a thing of the past. This is acheived both at the level of the organizations and at grassroot level on the ground. Although nurturing and expanding the spirit of mutual engagement requires a continued effort from all groups, this is not necessarily dependent on official meetings or a blessing from the current regime.

In conclusion, there has never been any better time in our recent history to formulate a viable equilibrium between national unity and the rights of ethnic and regional units. All the methods we tried to safeguard the unity of our country have turned out to be seriously inadequate and devoid of “political solvency” to be of viable tools in the 21st century. In the aftermath of the bloody war we fought with the newly seceded Eritrea, the persecution we all suffered at the hands of the TPLF regime, and many other unifying factors lying at the background, today liberation fronts and other opposition parties share much more common ground on the most fundamental issues of achieving democracy and good governance which has the potential to adequately meet the aspirations of our people and the demands articulated by the various political actors.

To the surprise of the anonymous writer, the CUD leadership is made up of highly experienced and far sighted intellectuals who recognized the urgency of striking a workable balance between preserving our country’s unity and the rights of the regional, ethnic or national entities that make up the nation. It was the articulation of such inclusive and thoughtful objective that enabled the CUD to reap a bonanza reward at the ballot box in May 2005. As we continue praying for their freedom and personal wellbeing, we have full confidence in that leadership that it will carry on its conviction that the unity of our country could be preserved and even enhanced only by crafting a new strategy that is socially desirable and politically sustainable. Falling into a wicked trap set by few divisive elements in the ruling party and drifting back towards the old way of polarization would be a dangerous failure that may result in irreparable harm against our country.

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