The Two Decades of EPRDF Hegemony in Ethiopia and Somali Region By Mohamed Hassen
The overthrow of the military regime or Derg in May 1991, brought the Ethiopian Peoples Revolution Democratic Front( EPRDF) to the power and everybody thought this will usher a new democratic and prosperous dawn in Ethiopia; however, things are not going the way it is supposed to be in the last two decades. Somali Region governance is one of the worst cases in Ethiopia. EPRDF is celebrating its 20 years in the power seat on May 28, 2011, but the regime has not addressed the notion of power distribution between the Federal government and the region and within regions.
The Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), led by its chairman and prime minister, Meles Zenawi, has radically reformed Ethiopia’s political system. The regime transformed the hitherto centralised state into the Federal Democratic Republic and also redefined citizenship, politics and identity on ethnic grounds. The intent was to create a more prosperous, just and representative state for all its people. Yet, despite continued economic growth and promised democratisation, there is growing discontent with the EPRDF’s ethnically defined state and rigid grip on power and fears of continued mediocre regional states that have been creating political crisis in the nine states.
The case in point is Somali Region. President Abdi Muhamud Omar who is a leader of Somali Region is not only incompetent to manage the region, but the Federal –regional state power is not paying attention to the human rights violation of its “ police Militias” Liyu Police and the power abuse that the President is orchestrating every month with a new corrupted style that reminded us the old dictator Zaid Barre that cost the collapsed state of Somalia whereby mistrust among Somali nation had created chaos and conflicts in the last two decades. For example, Ziad Barre had formed fabricated regions and that had resulted tensions and mistrust. That was the reason, Somalia was dismembered into tiny regions that reflected clannish political groupings; in addition the former dictator of Somalia has exchanged governors and filled all key positions his won sub-clans. Currently, the same thing is happening in Somali region; the current myopic and corrupted President Abdi Muhamud Omar has himself surrender with his own sub-clan, Ali Yusuf Ogadeni, commenced to exchange governors and created several vice presidents. On top of this political nightmare, the President has killed many Somalis elderly from all Somali clans through his happy trigger and criminal “Liyu Police”.
Last week, the police militias, “Liyu Police” consisted of one monolithic sub-clan Ali Yusuf ogadeni and armed to their teeth by the money of federal government killed nine elders of other Somali clan. This is the first time in Somali region history that one sub-clan has dominated the rest of all Somali inhabited and the Federal government is looking other way instead of tackling the crisis. In Somali Region, the tension is very high and invites to a prolonged civil war if the Federal system does not step in and resolve the crisis.
Democratic centralism, the dominance of the party ( EPRDF) apparatus behind the façade of regional and local autonomy, an extensive patronage system and the use of force to silence opposition have severely hampered genuine democratization. The recent Arab world uprising will not teach us a lesson that this kind of political crisis an autocratic system will not last forever. Glaring examples are Egypt and Tunisia. It will take a few groups to take its grievance to the street and will go to unknown state. Although it has broadened its membership, the EPRDF’s support base has continuously eroded since the disastrous war with Eritrea (1998-2000).Once close to their rural Tigrayan constituency, the TPLF and the EPRDF top leaderships now largely operate in seclusion from the general public. The Somali Region citizen are not allow to be part of any party that affiliates to the EPRDF and considered as “AGAR” means to be associated to the ruling party. Last year, when I visited Somali region, many talented and seasoned politician of Somali region are left in limbo. This has led to a situation in which an increasingly smaller number of politicians – the TPLF executive committee and the prime minister’s immediate advisers – decide the political fate of the country.
The government has created nine ethnic-based regional states and two federally administered city-states. The result is an asymmetrical federation that combines populous regional states like Oromiya and Amhara in the central highlands with sparsely populated and underdeveloped ones like Gambella and Somali. Although the constitution vests all powers not attributed to the federal government in them, the regional states are in fact weak and left with predator such as the Somali Region President Abdi Muhamud Omar who is not schooled to lead a government let alone has an experience to run Somali Region.
The constitution was applauded for its commitment to liberal democracy and respect for political freedoms and human rights. But while the EPRDF promises democracy, it has not accepted that the opposition in regional state is qualified to take power via the ballot box and tends to regard the expression of differing views and interests as a form of betrayal. For example, the ruling party (ESDP) in Somali region is the only legitimate one to be elected and advanced its members to any position whether it is regional or Federal. In Somali Region, there is not election.
The party executive members are exclusively from one clan Ogadeni and to certain extent Darrod (my clan). The other Somali clans, Isa, Gadarbursi, Shekaal, Carenle, and Isaaq to name a few, are not allowed to take the key positions. The President of Somali, Abdi MuhamudOmar, is the one who runs the show and does not allow anybody to challenge his opinion.
Before 2005, its electoral superiority was ensured by the limited national appeal and outreach of the predominantly ethnically based opposition parties. Divided and disorganised, the reach of those parties rarely went beyond Addis Ababa. When the opposition was able to challenge at local, regional or federal levels, it faced threats, harassment and arrest. With the opportunity in 2005 to take over the Addis Ababa city council in what would have been the first democratic change of a major administration in the country’s history, the opposition withdrew from the political process to protest flaws in the overall election. The opposition party members were chased from Somali Region.
The Federal government should not close its eyes and leave this predatory regional leaders to their own; The Somalis in Diaspora as well as in the region are puzzled to the treatment of Somali Region’s people by its state.The Federal government should take Somali regional state’s governance problems much more seriously and adopt a more principled position towards the region before all out war breaks out. Without genuine of all clan inclusiveness and democracy, the tensions and pressures in Ethiopia’s polities will only grow, greatly increasing the possibility of a violent eruption that would destabilise the country and region. And ushers the winds of change of Libya and Yemen. As the Chinese military theory put it, “a tactic without strategy is the noise before the storm.”