What we need, at this critical juncture, is a leader with fine mettle and lucid vision. – By Allelign Sisay
I’ll not delve here into explaining the current political condition of Ethiopia to its dwellers. Suffice to mention the abuse of human rights, the lack of democracy, the perpetuation of famine, the pseudo economic growth, the skyrocketing cost of living, the ethnic division, the landlocked situation and the travesty of justice. These and more are the byproducts of the EPRDF government and the common occurrences on the Ethiopian people, who have the firsthand knowledge and the daily experiences of the tribulation. When it comes to political consciousness, the people of Ethiopia are ahead of us. They run, we saunter. We have a lot of catch-up to do to par with them.
The choice between peaceful and armed struggle is the most controversial issue that has been confronting us. We have found ourselves at the vortex of this political controversy for quite a while. And now is the time that we need leaders with clear vision who could identify the appropriate method of struggle, scheme a wining strategy and pilot us to the finish line. These leaders could be seasoned politicians or ordinary professionals. They may have developed their cogent vision through political participation, formal education or revelation. Martin Luther King was a minister; Gandhi a lawyer; George Washington a soldier. It doesn’t matter how they obtained their political consciousness; what matters is their ingenuity to contrive a coherent political strategy and be able to lead us in the struggle and achieve our goal. I’m not intending here Micaville’s principle, “the end justifies the means.” The means rather plays a significant role for the justification of political power and acceptance by the people.
Armed struggle has been one of the successful means to seize political power though comes with its own inadequacies. It’s protracted and costly; in both human and material resources. The path is precarious, the outcome is unpredictable. Both the internal and external political circumstances of Ethiopia do not appear to be favorable for armed struggle at this juncture.
The late Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, once said, “All politics is local.” In Ethiopia, at this time, every local is infested with armed cadres and spies of EPRDF, who perceive the thoughts, surmise the connections, and even interpret the dreams of each citizen. When the cadres or soldiers hear or smell of anything fishy related to armed struggle, they take relentless action and foil any plan. They have countless sycophants as informants. Those cadres and soldiers are well trained to maim and kill, without qualm. There is no rule of law; and the cadres don’t have to substantiate anything to anyone for their callous actions. The legal tenet of “innocent until proven guilty” is unknown to them. Furthermore, this is their forte; they are adept at it. The TPLF/EPRDF has been pestering and inciting the oppositions to follow this route: the armed struggle. The oppositions are brave but they are not foolish to follow through the TPLF’s recommendations. They could do it on their own volition when they deem it be an appropriate course of action.
The other predicament of the armed struggle at this time in Ethiopia is the dwindling of galvanized mass fervent among our youths for engagement in a protracted armed struggle, unlike the 70’s. There are still many committed militants, don’t get me wrong, and lots of them have been participating enthusiastically in the peaceful struggle and in the May 2005 election, but a good number of them tend to be resume builders, quick-rich to be dreamers, Pentecostal church goers or DV fillers. Well, who could blame them? They witnessed or heard of the “Red Terror” era of Mengistu, observed or were victimized in the killings and imprisonments of the 2005 election, and presumed the better life of Ethiopians in Diaspora.
The international circumstance for armed struggle doesn’t seem encouraging either. The neighboring countries are reluctant to provide us with bases, save Eritrea. It’s not complicated, for any Ethiopian, to extrapolate Isaias sly intention from his previous action. He may wheedle some callow militants into providing a base (rather bait) to commence armed struggle in Asmara to later devour them before they became full-fledged leaders. His “help” is a noose around their necks. That has been his history of “helping” Ethiopian armed struggle and there is no inkling to deem him otherwise. Do people really believe that Isaias wants to see a successful and stronger Ethiopia? What is in it for him anyway? Practically nothing, probably menacing! Theoretically; “good neighborhood, trade partner, possible federation…” that is all bullshit! (Sorry for my French). I’m not a historian but I have never heard of a tyrant leader assisting his neighboring state to be free and democratic while subjugating his own people to the utmost servitude. Prove me wrong. The logic just doesn’t jive. Isaias political ploy is too shallow to hoodwink any Ethiopian at this time.
In times of yore, the capitalist camp and the socialist blocks used to compete against each other to influence the armed struggles of developing nations to their respective camps by providing financial and material assistances as well as offering moral (actually ideological) support. Not any more. Both systems are now in unison labeling parties who engage in armed struggle as terrorists.
Most importantly, leaders who held political power by armed struggle are predominantly despotic and stubbornly cling to their powers; indefinitely. If the oppositions capture political power by armed struggle, the vicious circle will be endless. There is no guarantee of the new leaders, who control power through armed struggle, to transfer their power peacefully and democratically. And when they don’t, they would not be morally justified to edify their opponents to win power by only peaceful means. The practicality of wining political power through armed struggle appears to be waning; leaving the momentum for the peaceful means of struggle.
The EPDRF government did many wrongs to our country. On the other hand, my article would not be objective if I remise to mention its positive aspects. There is always dichotomy in everything, the law of dialects, as we used to say in the old days. The EPRDF has built more infrastructures (without maintenance), proliferated schools and universities (devoid of qualities), established many clinics and hospitals (with no doctors and medicines), multiplied mobile phone users even in the rural areas (without business or necessities), distributed or sold fertilizers to farmers (without making a dent in the rampant famine), promoted ethnic self-administration and privatized commerce (delegated EPRDF members at the top of every administration and institution), and vow the profusion of democracy (stifled it with special security force and trumped-up imprisonment.)
In view of the internal and external political situations, peaceful struggle is the favored method of struggle to topple the EPRDF government, but it’s not necessarily a shortcut means for power gripping. The crusade could be frustrating and the path meandering but the light at the end of the tunnel is brightening. Peaceful struggle requires courage, self-control, willingness to be martyr and even to face death. Martin Luther King said that one must have a living-faith in nonviolence and the courage to die without fear.
Like armed struggle, peaceful struggle has its own limitations. In our circumstances, I want to mention two overlooked obstacles: the philosophy of the party in power, and the attitude of the oppositions towards members of the incumbent government.
The second hurdle that must be taken into account, for the success of the peaceful struggle in our country, is the mind-set of some opposition parties and its supporters towards the cabinet members and high officials of the incumbent government, who want to leave their party and join the opposition parties. When some of the government officials defect and express interest in joining the oppositions, they have to be embraced graciously with open hands. Casting aspersions on their motives or previous actions and forcing them to be against the opposition does hinder the peaceful revolution. We have seen, here in the US, and must learn from them, how a reneged senator is loathed by his party but celebrated by the opposing party he plans to join. Ronald Reagan was a renegade democrat converted to the Republican Party and became one of the famous presidents of America. I don’t comprehend the rationale why some people or opposition groups treat Siye Abraha and Gebru Asrat as social pariahs by joining Medrek. I would encourage all the high-ranking officials of the EPRDF government to follow suit the actions of Siye Abraha and Gebru Asrat. If Bereket Simon, Seyoum Mesfin, Addisu Legesse, Sibhat Nega, Teferra Walwal, Abay Tsehaye, and others resort to apostasy and join any opposition party today or tomorrow, we have to accept them cheerfully without even questioning their intentions for their defections. I don’t see any flaws with this tactic; it rather helps dwindling the government force and embolden the opposition stance. Since the nature of peaceful struggle is open and transparent, there is meager chance for infiltration; and their contribution for the struggle would be gauged by their action, not by their intention.
The other important factor for peaceful change of power is that the opposition has to be magnanimous in its approach and declares reconciliation and amnesty for the incumbents, for one time transition. Unless the opposition asserts reconciliation without retributions for previous actions (Mandela did it), we should kiss goodbye to the notion of peaceful revolution and revert to the armed struggle as the one and only solution. The ruling party will not transfer power peacefully knowing that its party members will be disenfranchised, persecuted, jailed, tortured and killed by the opposition party after it seizes power. If they are not assured to be left alone, guaranteed to pursue their careers without discrimination, and promised to live safely as ordinary citizens; they would not have any incentive to transfer their government peacefully but to continue clinging to their power tightly and fighting to the last drop of their blood furiously. The peaceful struggle is not a zero-sum-game; it is a win-win solution for both EPRDF and the opposition. Why the EPDRF need to comply with the peaceful transition of power? Because they are not insuperable and can not be in power forever; and the other alternative (armed struggle) of power transfer will not allow them to abdicate their “throne” in civility. Otherwise, as John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Although peaceful means of struggle is a new phenomenon to our country, there has never been any other form of struggle in Ethiopian history that participate all segments of our population dramatically like the May 2005 election. The oppositions campaigned tirelessly, led their organizations adroitly and exploited the available democracy extremely. While the rogue government rigged the votes, debating the essential issues publicly, raising the consciousness of the people nationally, winning that many seats in parliament radically, exposing the naked corruption and treachery of the government internationally were unprecedented achievements in the history of our country. By doing so, we have an international advocates for our cause, like Anna Gomez.
In retrospect, if CUD members claimed all the seats they won in parliament and continued the peaceful struggle within, using the “leftover” democracy; may be, just may be, they could have influenced the current election rules and results significantly; they would have another chance to expose the government’s sordid actions internationally. But hindsight is always 20/20, and I don’t invest much time in it because I don’t have any stake in a mute point.
And now, using the modicum of democracy in Ethiopia, the oppositions can employee different tactics of peaceful struggle (in all social, political and economics spheres) to topple the EPRDF government. Dr. Gene Sharp, one of the leading scholars on peaceful revolution, known as the “Machiavelli of nonviolence,” has developed a list of 198 forms of nonviolent actions including: vigil, social disobedience, students strike, stay-at-home strike, sit-down or general strike, boycotting buying government goods, abstaining from government sponsored social affairs, suspension of social and sports activities, and even boycotting of elections. The opposition can intensify these and other appropriate tactics to the maximum extent and garnish national and international support. The opposition in Diaspora could raise funds, organize vigils and marches, hire lobbyists, solicit international support and elevate awareness of the oppressive government among donor agencies and countries using available mass media (presentations and speeches in international agencies and testifying in Congress and MPs, debating in television and radios, writing in newspapers, journals, and websites). In this way, the opposition can diminish the moral legitimacy of the EPRDF government among the international communities which could lead to international condemnation of policy and economic embargo. The government cannot rig every election and bamboozle the Ethiopian people and the international community all the time; and the oppositions should not be frustrated and give up the peaceful means of struggle if it was unable to seize power in one or more elections.
Some ask, legitimately, “How long are we going to wait to change the government peacefully?” The short answer is: as long as it takes! Theodore Roszak, professor emeritus of history and advocate of nonviolent revolution, once said, “People try nonviolence for a week, and when it ‘doesn’t work’ they go back to violence, which hasn’t worked for centuries.” There is an underline misconception in the “How long” question. It seems to allure armed struggle as the fastest solution. But it’s not! History doesn’t attest to this assumption, unless we are talking about coup d’etat or overnight armed insurrection. Both armed and peaceful struggles could be shorter or protracted. It depends on the eon and circumstances of every nation. Frederick Douglas and Martin Luther King as well as Mahatma Gandhi fought peacefully and passed away in the struggle. At the same time, many eastern European countries changed their oppressive governments in few months in 1989, using peaceful means of struggle. The beauty of seizing power through peaceful struggle is the establishment of new culture of power transfer by vote, instead of by bullet. On the other hand, the Irish armed struggle against the British has been going on for centuries and the Palestinians armed struggle against Israel has been over six decades. One of the quickest transfers of power through armed struggle was done in Cuba, by Fidel Castro in 1959; and we all know who has been in power since then.
To reiterate, one of the salient aspects for the success of peaceful struggle is the clear vision and determination of the leaders and their ability to persuade their population to support their cause as well as their method of struggle. In our situation, Birtukan Midekssa has been a prodigy in the peaceful struggle who amassed plethora of aficionados nationally and internationally. Her current imprisonment shouldn’t despair us but rather inspire us by recalling the history of Mandela in the prison of South Africa. She is our visionary leader with a fine mettle, and we all need to fight for her release and pursue her vision in unison, to arrive at our final destination.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org