If I were Birtukan! by Kuchiye
Not by any stretch of the imagination, I cannot be Birtukan. Nonetheless, the rampant “what would she do next?” question tempted me to join the speculative frenzy which is pervasive in every household and on every Ethiopian and international media. First, I don’t for a second believe she will quit politics.
The Birtukan I perceive will ponder over her options very carefully. Will recognize the worth of her national and international stature and make use of it without undue delay. She will refuse to be burdened by IOUs, albeit politely. She will refine her chosen method of struggle, will scrutinize the ever evolving dimension of Ethiopian politics and muse over why the road followed so far did not take anywhere. She will dare to clean house and start anew, will not allow herself to be surrounded by perennially angry, hopelessly paranoid and egotistically disposed constituents. She will not be mad, but most certainly she will work smart to get even. She will think and act long term – never getting overly entangled in the hurly-burly of the day.
It is about organization!
Yes, it is all about organization and organizations don’t grow on trees. They require insight, expertise and patience. Most of all, they need to be designed to serve a given purpose within a given environment and time frame. The design will take into account required resources and anticipate factors that will have direct and indirect bearing over expected outcome. This sounds bland but let me continue…
The here and now for Birtukan, as far as organization goes, is to offer a reengineered UDJ that looks and smells fresh. One that has shade its old sheath, one that portrays enough vitality and agility to challenge EPRDF come 2015. A new image for UDJ is an absolute necessity given the self inflicted and adversary fanned stigma surrounding the party. I am, of course, assuming UDJ will continue to conduct the struggle from within the country as I believe it should.
Now, does Birtukan have anything to learn from parties of yesteryear? Not very much I am afraid, since their module, ideology and language is a thing of the past. I would rather she focus on fashioning an organization that suits today’s need, uses today’s technology and attracts today’s youth (69% of population under 30!). She should not be afraid to surround herself with the educated youth of Ethiopia for even if they make mistakes they have their life ahead of them to make the mistakes good. Zenawi seems to have captured the essence of this palpable strategy as demonstrated in his recent government and party reorganization, even though many will hasten to add “for devious motives!” Bottom line is only through the instrument of a vibrant and creative youth machinery would UDJ hope to counter the equally energetic and well oiled organization of EPRDF.
OK, what good is an organization or an army without clear mission and strategy? UDJ should pay special attention and make sure the mission and strategy of the party is not shrouded in high sounding nothing. Rather, it should be concise and easily understood so that party operatives and supporters of varying educational levels use them to advocate the causes of UDJ. Time and again, even as the Republican Party in the recent US mid-term election demonstrated, simplicity of mission and strategy lends to expanding and exciting the member base; it lends to consistency of ideas and messages and prevents the adversary from toying with the purposes and intentions of UDJ as it did in the past.
The need for strategic plan that marries mission and resources needs no emphasis, of course. UDJ’s plan should be specific enough to outline what it intends to achieved in year one, two, three and until the next election. That is what people will buy into, specific action plans.
Birtukan should accept the fact that there is a confidence crisis hovering over UDJ. The way the 2005 election and its aftermath was handled, the ugly and protracted internal wrangling, the despicable way some in the leadership position paraded themselves has left bad test in the public’s mouth. Public confidence is easy to lose and hard, very hard, to regain. That is why UDJ needs to craft a public policy strategy and commit resources in order to gain back confidence. Only when the public sees a revitalized UDJ in action will confidence be renewed. Only when UDJ’s leaders demonstrate astute management in organization and politics, only when they measure up to a respectable statesmanship level with regard to language, attire, yes attire too, would the public respect them and bring them back to its fold.
If I were Birtukan, I would pay special attention to the irksome feeling among Ethiopians, scholar and lay alike, that the present ethnically federated structure carries eminent threat to the country’s stability and might even lead to ethnic conflict. In UDJ, people want to see an organization with deep understanding of the intricacies of the challenge, capable enough to play a leading role in efforts aimed at averting it, and strong enough to manage it if such a fateful crisis occurs. During my recent trip home, what I observed is people don’t have much confidence in the opposition in general, and who would blame them for that? Ironically, it is because of the inherent fear of instability that many opt to live with EPRDF knowing fully well it is the proponent of the ethnicity virus and also the one with organizational muscle to manage it.
UDJ has unenviable tasks ahead; but its leaders have to come to terms with the fact that time and resource invested in building a solid, well-oiled organization has enormous returns. Just look at the opportunities missed for lack of an organized party that could have lead and empowered the Ethiopian people: 1960, 1974, 1989 and 2005 to name but a few. Let’s think organization and let’s think long term. Who wants to be the family who set out to prepare the “berbere” as the bridal party was knocking at the door?
And oh! If I were Birtukan, I would never pay attention to the vicious insinuation, mostly from competing opposition groups that she broke down in prison. A good politician lives to fight another day – ask St. Paul who built the largest institution on our planet.
(To be continued)