When the ‘Titans” (the oppositions) clash, it is the Ethiopian people who get hurt. By Allelign Sisay
I watched the one hour and thirty minutes passionate debate between Ayalsew Dessie and Andargachews Tsege on ESAT TV. The debate was on the principles and strategies for the alliance of political forces with the liberation fronts to fight the current government. A copy of the debate is also posted on Ethiomedia, titled, “A Clash of Titans.” Both personalities are veterans in Ethiopian politics and have big time name recognitions in their protracted struggle for equality, justice, democracy and national sovereignty. Both have the same goal: to overthrow the current dictatorial government and establish a better Ethiopia where its citizens of multiple nationalities (ethics) and creeds enjoy equally under the law of the land. However, their clashes on modus operandi (tactics and strategies) plus their doggedness to their respective stances left many concerned Ethiopians anxious on what would happen next. But the titans have many major issues that unite them than their factors of division. I believe, through sincere public and private discussion and negotiation, they can stand together and be a nightmare for Meles Zenawi.
The interview was timely, informative, educational, and thought provoking. The guests are persons of high probity, eloquent, engaging and adept in their respective political stances. They exhibited appropriate decorum and respect for each other when addressing opposing views. What mired this dynamic and aptly discussion was the moderator’s tautological paraphrasing and frequent interruptions. His audiences would have benefited the most if he had asked challenging and succinct questions, and give each interviewee a limited time to explain his responses and position without the needless reiterating and intermission.
Divergence of political views and clashes of ideas on the goals and strategies of political struggle have been as old as the formation of Ethiopian political parties since the early 70s. In hindsight, there were no, as such, fundamental differences between the goals of EPRP and MEISON; but because of the party leaders’ personalities and self-aggrandizement, their tactical clash was upgraded to the highest level of struggle and ended up in attrition and elimination of both parties members by the DERG. No one questions the motives, sincerity and commitment of EPRP or MEISON members or their objectives in their struggles for the betterment of Ethiopia. However, because of their dismal failure to negotiate, compromise, and forge a united struggle against the politically suffocated DERG, they intensified their differences and supplied the DERG with some oxygen to resuscitate. Consequently, the Ethiopian people hurt and suffered under the dictatorial rule of Mengistu Hailemariam for seventeen years.
We have to be vigilant now, not to create a fertile ground for that kind of history to repeat itself. The current Ethiopian government is hated by all Ethiopians for the obvious reasons mentioned by many writers and exhibited in the daily living conditions of Ethiopians at home. What Meles Zenawi dreads the most, at this juncture, is the unity of the oppositions in the Diaspora and at home against his tyranny.
In the debate of the “titans”, Ayal-sew Dessye, representing “unity or Hibret”, affirms to negotiate with any opposition party or liberation front with the precondition to resolve all political problems and differences within a united Ethiopia. The geographical unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia is not negotiable; asserted Ayal-sew.
I don’t believe Ginbot-7, or any sensible Ethiopian for that matter, disagrees with Ayalsew’s assertion. The question to be asked is, how can we maintain the geographical integrity of Ethiopia in a peaceful arrangement that satisfies all nationalities?
Andargachew Tsege, representing Ginbot-7, has gone extra miles to reach the OLF & ONLF and initiated negotiation, without preconditions, about the strategic alliance of the struggle in Ethiopia. For that, the leaders of Ginbot-7 should not be criticized; rather be appreciated and encouraged to continue their bold effort wisely.
It is a good political acumen to break the barriers, understand the issues of the liberation fronts from their perspectives, comprehend their major questions for their struggle, and work out a mutually acceptable means of struggle and goal. It has been written and spoken on multiple occasions that there are good and bad sides to our history; there is no point to shun it; we just have to confront it and need to work on it.
Ginbot-7 has engaged negotiation with OLF and ONLF but has not yet officially declared to the public on what issues they agree or disagree and what their final objective would be. We have to wait patiently for the outcome of their negotiations and final declarations on what strategic plan of actions they agree/disagree, and most impotently, their position on the most controversial question of self-determination.
All political leaders, at different times in history, have been engaged in negotiations, diplomacy, alliances and counter alliances; usually without preconditions, for the national interest of their countries. Miracles had happened with negotiation and diplomacy in history. Negotiation could bring better results than armed struggle. We see daily, here in the US Congress, how the Democrats and Republicans negotiate on diametrically opposite issues to each others political positions but finally agree on a common ground for the benefit of their country. Great Briton and USA had negotiated with their communist archenemy, Joseph Stalin, and made alliance with him to defeat Hitler. By doing so, they saved not only their countries but also the whole world from the Hitler’s invasion and devastation. As the political saying goes, there is no permanent enemy or permanent friendship but permanent national interest. And achieving that national interest through negotiation is preferred to all other methods combined.
What the Ethiopian people expect from Ginbot-7 or from all other opposition leaders is honesty, clear talk, trust and due respect for each other in the process of their struggle and negotiation to save our country from the current political quagmire. In the ‘titans” debate, I heard Andargachew Tsege saying, “We are not running for political power…” That is either a slip of the tongue or a disingenuous statement. The ultimate goal of any political movement or party is to seize political power; this is just ABC in politics, not only to any politician but even to an ordinary citizen. Ginbot-7 is not running a nonprofit organization or leading a get-together association. There is nothing wrong to state honestly about their goal: to overthrow the dictatorial rule of Meles Zenawi, hold political power, and establish democracy; equality, justice, the rule of law, one man one vote; and work for the prosperity of the Ethiopian people. The people need genuine and unambiguous messages from their political leaders.
Allow me to digress for a minute here. I also read Dr. Getachew Begashaw’s recent article in Amharic, Why we need to talk with OLF and ONF? posted on Ethiomedia. I was surprised about his accusative statements on the opposition parties, who call themselves Unity or Hibert. Dr. Getachew said that he has retired from politics and has no political affiliation or ambition for power. That could be partially true; but I have never seen him being actively involved in politics now than the past few years while he was a member of a political party; albeit what he is doing now is good for him and good for our country. Dr. Getachew is not new to Ethiopian politics. He was one of the student activists and was elected as president of AA University students in 1975/76, (I voted for him at that time). He paid more than his fair share participating in the struggle against the Mengistu fascist regime; and after he came to the US, he worked hard on his academics and made himself an international stature in his profession. That is admirable.
He reiterates the need to negotiate with OLF & ONLF with respect and appropriate etiquette. Because he is human like the rest of us, he may have some flows in his political approaches or strategies, but no one stands on a higher moral ground to question his motives and intentions as well as his struggle for the betterment of the Ethiopian people. By the same token, we expect him to apply the same standard of respect and etiquettes to those opposition groups who expressed their concern about his promotion of negotiation with OLF and ONLF. In the aforementioned Amharic article, he wrote, “… the failure for the creation and continues success of unity among different organizations is because of those opposition leaders’ squabbles for their personal advantage and livelihood…” Page 4, paragraph 4 & 5. What kind of personal advantage do they get, besides devoting their precious time and spending their own money? If Dr. Getachew questions the motives of all other opposition groups who fret about Ginbot-7 initiative; then, he is not sacrosanct and will be questioned about his own motive and ambition. If he is not offering the same respect and understanding to the other opposition groups that he provided for the OLF and ONLF, how is he going to forge another alliance with them? Disrespect, condescending, arrogance, and questioning motives in negotiation are destructive and polarizing; it neither addresses the real issue nor provides an iota of solution.
Leaving aside the political wrangling and rhetoric of the politicians; let me cut the cheese in the middle and make it clear to my readers the main concern for most Ethiopians about the ongoing negotiation of Ginbot-7 with OLF & ONL.
It is not the initiative of G-7 negotiations with the OLF and ONLF that worried a lot of Ethiopians; it is the apprehension of what kind of agreement they would make with the liberation fronts on the question of self-determination.
The OLF and ONLF made it very clear about the nature of their problems and the objective of their struggles in their respective websites.
The OLF wrote in its program or mission statement: “The OLF is a political organization established in 1973 by Oromo nationalities to lead the national liberation struggle of the Oromo people against the Abyssinian colonial rule…The fundamental objective of the Oromo liberation movement is to exercise the Oromo people’s inalienable right to national self-determination…and to form, where possible, a political union with other nations.”
The ONLF political program or objective is stated as follows: “Recognizing that our country has been colonized against our will and without our consent by Ethiopia…The struggle of the people of Ogaden and the aim of their movement is to obtain the right of self-determination, rather than a struggle aimed at realizing the identity of a nationality. This is because Ogaden has never been historically or politically part of Ethiopia.”
Is the OLF and ONLF question really a colonial question? Is separation the solution? And what is the position of Ginbot-7 on these fundamental questions?
What is the meaning of self-determination in the context of national or colonial question? According to the online Wikipedia encyclopedia, “Self-determination is the principle in international law that nations have the right to freely choose their sovereignty (independent authority over a geographical area) and international political status with no external compulsion or external interference.”
Self-determination includes cessation or separation from the main country (in this case from Ethiopia) to establish another country. The OLF and ONLF made this objective apparent in their program and they have been fighting for over 30 years to be independent from “colonialism.” However, separation is not the only option in self-determination. The other options of self-determinations include: federation, protection, some form of independence or autonomy within Ethiopia.
Dr. Getachew quoted Eskinder Nega, the known journalist in Ethiopia, and said that the majority of the Oromo population supports the OLF struggle against the Meles tyranny. I agree with him; but I don’t believe that the majority of the Oromo populations consider that their question is a colonial question and their solution is separation from Ethiopia.
Therefore, what kind of strategic agreement is Ginbot-7 pursuing to achieve with OLF and ONLF that could catapult the struggle of the Ethiopian people, overthrow the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi, and establish a united democratic Ethiopia?
It will not be only unwise but also unfair to speculate on the possible strategic agreements of Ginbot-7 with OLF & ONLF and comment on it now. We have to support their endeavor and wait patiently for the announcement of their agreement. There is no magic wand to resolve this complex and complicated question, besides understanding and engaging in earnest negotiation.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org