Unity of purpose By Bahir Kemal
Plurality of political parties and the presence of multi party system are essentials of democracy. However, as democracy does not have an answer for question, the increase in number of political parties in a given country can divide the community by creating rivalry amongst the parties. In a country where democracy is introduced for the first time, the emergence of numerous political parties is inevitable. As time goes on, some of them will become major (dominant) political parties, and others merge to form bigger one or survive as coalition. And of course others disappear.
No political party exists without debate about what policies it should support. Party members argue with their political opponents and among themselves during an election debate or/and at town hall meetings. It is important to realize that citizens can belong to a political party without agreeing with every position it supports. Even though political parties do not have their people’s mandate until they get elected to the governing position or as an opposition, they provide the connection between politics and society by developing policies and programs and by picking up demands from society as well as bundle them into a package. Those political parties, who are organised as Ethnic parties do the same except that they champion the interest of the group or ethnic group they tend to represent.
In the case of Ethiopia, there are reportedly over 80 registered political parties in the country. But, we don’t see much of the merging or forming viable coalition to help the change needed for good governance. This is true to all parties, including to those organized along ethnic lines, in some cases too many parties within the same ethnic group. Instead of merging, they rather consume resources and manpower which could be of more use if allocated within few leading major parties who share similar goals. Since TPLF itself was ethnic-based party, it encourages ethnic based organization and suppresses multi-ethnic parties. At the beginning, Ethiopians hoped that the change that was taking place in early 1990s could be for the betterment of the country and tried to participate mostly by organizing themselves on ethnic basis. It is in our fresh memory all what happened in 1992 between the EPRDF-led by TPLF and Ethnic-based parties,organizations or fronts after the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) was formed.
Understanding the danger of the ethnic-based ideology followed by EPRDF/TPLF, there are many who rejected the policy from day one. They tried their best for the last twenty years to bring the ruling party to the round table hoping that it would be possible a better outcome through peaceful struggle using any means possible including diplomacy. TPFL gave deaf ear to the call and continued it arrogance and tried to make sure that no any viable and strong opposition exists in the country. By harassing, jailing and killing journalists, members of opposition parties and civic organization, it succeeded in its attempts and the country became one party dictatorship. Few of the opposition parties those who survived the harsh condition imposed on them by current regime still didn’t give up peaceful struggle for their goal while the rest chose any means possible to defeat the regime. Those who put down their arms are forced to pick it up again. Where there is not freedom of expression, free media, independent judiciary & freedom of movement in the courtly, it is impossible for opposition parties to do their works and introduce their program to the population to become viable or strong dominate parties. That is why coalition is crucial and one of the means to tackle these problems.
Opposition groups within the country or outside tried to forge coalition to strengthen the struggle. By creating mergers or coalitions, they managed to put pressure on TPLF government. However, the pressure was not enough to force the regime to change its course to the will of the majority or get replaced by democratically elected government. For officially unknown reasons the coalitions couldn’t survive longer and those survived couldn’t accomplish much due to internal and external problems. Nowadays, we are back to the issue of forming strong coalition. Although, coalition is important to achieve our goals, this time we need to carefully craft our plan before we jump in any coalition bandwagon.
In our past history, Ethiopians in general and minority ethnic groups in particular, have suffered and are still suffering under brutal regimes. To change the system of government and replace it with a government elected by the people, by forming political parties (national, multi-ethnic & ethnic based), we went through enormous protests, uprisings and revolution. Unfortunately, all of those efforts were hijacked by few and led us where we are today, dictatorial regime.
From the second half of the last century, especially after the cold war was over, world politics changed absolutely. Unfortunately, this change didn’t make any difference in our country. The regime in Ethiopia painted it facade with free market economy while practicing socialism and revolutionary democracy, which is rejected in every corner of the world. If change has to come, it should involve the opposition elites, in order to achieve our goal, which is the goal of the Ethiopian people. To embrace the change, we have to change ourselves first, taking into consideration the situation on the ground at the present time. The fact on the ground in the country indicates that the solution for our problem is not unitary democracy or separation, rather it is federal democracy which unfortunately the current TPLF government uses to its advantage for divide and rule policy while this system of government works in many part of the world.
Nancy Bermeo in her book ‘A new look at federalism’ said “Each failed federal state that gave birth to a secessionist civil war was either an outright dictatorship or an inchoate regime led by a no democratic party”. She argues that “Hard-liners should remember that separatist movements are more often the stepchildren of threats than of concessions.” I share Nancy’s idea partially. If we can resolve, at least plan to resolve, ethnic issues through federal democratic system, there is no reason why we have to raise the issue of separation. Obviously there was, is and will be ethnic problem and inequality in our country. It took us several years to be in the situation we are in now and it will take more time to resolve it and can shorten the duration only if we start doing something right now, instead of magnifying the problem as created by the current regime.
Regarding those ethnic based parties OLF, ONLF…etc when someone raises a question about their stand on Ethiopian sovereignty and territorial integrity, especially based on their manifestos, it can be said that it is a valid question. However, I believe the leaders and elites of these organizations understand that there is solution for the issue beyond separation. We need open dialog with all stake holder by avoiding unnecessary suspicion and being more open. After more than two decades leading their respective ethnic groups with their original manifesto it is not easy to change the course overnight. The political groups may need time to convince themselves as leaders then their followers. We are seeing good things and we have to use it to the advantage of our people with patience. Hard-line approach extends the suffering of our people than resolving the issue at hand. Hopefully the leaders of those ethnic parties are acting genuinely at this time, not going for some kind of “hidden agenda” or “buying time.” If that is not the case, they will be on the wrong side of history.
We need policy-based debate and dialogue, not just polarisation and one side blaming the other and vice versa all the time. Putting the interest of the people ahead of ours, agreeing to disagree, and tolerating each other, we can see democracy in action.
Involving the youth is very important at this time. Let the youth participate. The future is theirs and they have to shape it while the old generation extending its advice and support needed to prevent repeating past mistakes like the time when the popular revolution was hijacked by unwanted groups which led us to the situation we were and we are in now.
Organizing town hall meeting is also very crucial at this time for participation of all stake holders. In any public meeting focusing on solution than repeating the same problem over again and again, giving more time for the audiences to let them to be part of the discussion, and decision makers and to make them feel the ownerships of the struggle. All public meetings have to be held openly and transparently, recorded and broadcasted when possible, to the people who may not able to attend the town hall meetings, and specially for the people we are fighting for, the Ethiopian people. They have the right to know who we are and what we are doing in their name. It is also part of the free media and freedom of expression which we believe in.
It is noble to fight for justice equality & freedom of our people. It is not however easy and we have to come out of our comfort zone to do something by uniting ourselves on purpose. Here in Diaspora we have a lot of means to help the straggle of our people back home. In the history of underdeveloped countries members of Diaspora played and are playing a big role to change their respective countries to the better future so there is no reason why we can’t be part of that history making process.
Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and test of our civilization. –Gandhi
Allah the Almighty Bless Ethiopia
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org