“No One is Indispensable” says Kinijit Leader, Eng. Gizachew Shiferaw – EZ
Former Addis Ababa University Professor, Gizachew Shiferaw, Kinijit’s Head of Organizational Affairs, is part of the party’s delegation that will tour North America. EZ Post has a revealing inteview with him. (more…)
Former Addis Ababa University Professor, Gizachew Shiferaw, Kinijit’s Head of Organizational Affairs, is part of the party’s delegation that will tour North America. EZ Post has a revealing inteview with him.
EZ: Your upcoming tour has its critics. Why are you traveling abroad before all Kinijit prisoners are released?
Gizachew: The tour is part of the wider political activity we are undertaking now. We have to thank for the great effort and commitment Ethiopians living abroad showed both to the struggle for democracy and our release from prison. What Ethiopians abroad did when we were in prison was incredible. In 2006 and the beginning of 2007, there were massive demonstrations all over the world. They-children, the elderly, people with tremendous work and professional responsibilities- withstood the harsh weathers and made their points. They put pressures on host countries; made the media to pay attention. I haven’t seen or heard the Diaspora of other countries showing such commitment.
The Ethiopian diaspora is a force to be reckoned with. This is not only because of what it has done in the past two years but also because its potential is immense. We have a lot of educated people, people with money, people with connections, people with vigor, enthusiasm and incredible love of the country living abroad. Any political force in Ethiopia should be able to mobilize our Diaspora for the benefit of the country. Kinijit will certainly do that.
But our tour doesn’t exclude doing things at home. We have already established two committees which are entrusted with the task of getting the prisoners out. One is a data committee which gathers information about the prisoners all over Ethiopia. The other is a contact group which liaisons with the Shimagles. Part of our agreement when we were released was the release of all people who were imprisoned in connection to the election. The Shimagles are facilitating that and we are meeting them every two weeks. I think in our trip abroad we will also highlight their ordeals if they aren’t released by then.
EZ: But why wouldn’t you just wait here until they are released?
Gizachew: We can do a lot of things at a time. Our trip is short. The South African group stays for ten days. They will come and continue what we have started. We also have a lot of council members who won’t go abroad. They will also do the task. I don’t see any reason why we can’t do two things at the same time. We are a political organization. Our tasks are vast. We should be able to do a lot of things at the same time.
EZ: There are divisions in the Diaspora. Part of the reason for your trip is to solve that. How are you going to do it?
Gizachew: Our direction and vision regarding that is very clear. There will be no more appointments from Addis Ababa. It is a cliché; but I have to say it: Power belongs to the people. Ethiopians abroad will choose their own representatives for the chapters and kinijit support groups – at city, state, national and continental basis. It is each constituency which determines what its leaders will be.
EZ: That is for the future. But what about the past? There are serious allegations; allegations of embezzlement of incredible amounts of money collected in the name of Kinijit? Allegations of authoritarianism? Can you talk about the future without addressing the past?
Gizachew: We have started to address that. What we first did when we got out of prison was to take away the political powers of groups who were acting in the Diaspora on our behalf
EZ: Does it mean both KIC and KIL? Are they both disband?
Gizachew: Yes, both of them. Our task now is to investigate the allegations you mentioned in the fairest, transparent and accountable manner. The investigation will have policy and technical issues. On the technical side, for example, we have allegations relating to finance. The investigation will be done based on accounting rules, the laws of that country and other relevant rules. We will see that. On the policy side we will see issues relating to the respect of Kinijit’s democratic principles. People make mistakes when they do things. We will see both sides: The positive and the negative.
Finally, after the investigation, based on the democratic principles of Kinijit, the constituencies will decide what they will do with the people. So this is also part of what I said before. We are going to investigate the matter and send our results back to the constituencies.
EZ: Do you expect a fall out from this investigation?
Gizachew: I don’t. But if the constituencies, based on the investigation, decide that they don’t want the people, we accept that. The decision is that of the people.
EZ: Will KIC and KIL be formed again after the investigation?
Gizachew: No they won’t. Former Members will have to go back to their constituencies and be elected.
EZ: Which are the constituencies? In some cities in North America, there are two chapters representing different groups.
Gizachew: There is no reason that two chapters in one city should represent Kinijit. One of our tasks will be to solidify these chapters. I think the problem is not with the Kinijit supporters living in those cities. The divisions were created because of the alignment of the leaders. It is easy to bring the people together, and then they will elect their leaders. If one doesn’t accept that, that is one’s right. But one won’t be part of Kinijit if one does that.
EZ: If the Diaspora is going to be organized in the way you suggest and if the rules of party discipline are not applied strictly, who is going to represent you in the corridors of power in North America and Europe? Will you appoint special representatives?
Gizachew: We won’t appoint special representatives. The support groups can do it. The support groups may have party members and those who aren’t party members. We will encourage our party members to be active in those groups, to seek election and so on. But more than that, I think even though I said party discipline isn’t going to be strictly applied, it doesn’t mean the support groups aren’t kinijit. They are. They are Kinijit support groups and they will work with our foreign affairs committee in Addis Ababa. If they need expertise and political experience, they can hire professionals. But that is up to them.
EZ: There are civic groups who aren’t Kinijit but share many of Kinijit’s principles and objectives. They were doing a lot when you were in prison. There are some in the party who think that these civic groups should work under the coordinating umbrella of the party. There are others who think the party should completely be independent from them and vise versa. What do you think about your relationship with them?
Gizachew: They are different in nature from a political organization. They have issues which might overlap with ours. On those, I can’t see any reason why we won’t work together. We have to give them space. But that doesn’t mean one should be a subordinate to the other.
EZ: You don’t still have a legal recognition. What are you doing in that front?
Gizachew: We have agreed in principle that we should return to the status quo created after the merger. There are divided groups who were all part of Kinijit. We are trying to bring all of them together. Those who joined parliament have registered the name of Kinijit at the election board, but they didn’t receive the certificate. They have a problem of calling the general assembly because there is a division in them. But both groups say they want to hand power to the kinijit leadership. We are talking with them. But we are concerned about the delay.
So we are thinking of another option. If you remember, after the merger, we have applied to the election board for registration. We had then elected the president, the vice-president, the secretary. We have followed the electoral laws of the country. We believe that we are legal. What remained was publication, acknowledgement by third parties. That is why we applied for registration. We have now asked the election board to give us a response. Based on that response, we will proceed to the other steps.
EZ: What if both options fail? Do you have a fall back plan? Changing name for example?
Gizachew: We believe we have a right to the name. We will exhaust all legal possibilities before we think of other options. It is premature to speculate about name change now.
EZ: Before the merger, Kinijit was a coalition of four parties. Is there a possibility that you will return to that status?
Gizachew: That is unthinkable. The four parties are dead. We don’t think about them. Kinijit is the party of Ethiopian people. There is no way we are going back to the four party era.
EZ: Kinijit’s support comes for its stated commitment to democracy, economic and political liberty and Ethiopian unity. Without internal democracy, it is impossible to say that Kinijit will fulfill its commitments if it gets to power. Is Kinijit’s internal democracy reassuring? Rumors and gossips about the problem of democracy inside Kinijit are rampant.
Gizachew: Kinijit wouldn’t have committed itself to democracy in Ethiopia without being democratic itself. Our decisions are made collectively, and the principle governing us is the principle of majority vote. There are different opinions in Kinijit. The one with the support of the majority wins. Without having full internal democracy, we won’t even contemplate getting into power. If Kinijit doesn’t respect internal democracy, I will be the first one to oppose its working rules.
EZ: Are you talking about principle in the normative sense? Or are you implying that at this moment, there is internal democracy in Kinijit?
Gizachew: We are implementing them. Our attempts during decision making deliberations to reach at a consensus or to convice a dissenter before a vote shouldn’t be taken as a toleration of anti-democratic culture. It is a way of making people feel that their views are seriously taken, and that even though they have dissented; they are part of the decision. In the end, if those attempts fail, we will make decisions based on the principle of majority vote.
EZ: Election 2005 has created stars in Kinijit. People have a lot of confidence in them. They are the faces of Kinijit. When they play constructively, they have enormous positive impact. But there is a problem with stars. They have an equally enormous destructive capacity. Do you take them as threats to the internal democracy of Kinijit? Will the Lidetu phenomenon be repeated in Kinijit?
Gizachew: Kinijit has many stars. I don’t think it is only one. People may have different views about their role and status, but the truth is all of us in the leadership have one vote. As I said before, we try hard to accommodate different views, make people feel that they are part of a decision they even oppose. But if a person thinks his star shine brighter than other and tries to flout collective decision making principles, I think he is in a political football where he will certainly lose. In that sense, the Lidetu phenomenon will be repeated. No one is indispensable.
EZ: Two Shimagles were sent to America when you were in prison. There were a lot of people who were uncomfortable with the decision making then. Was that contrary to the principles of collective leadership?
Gizachew: That was decided under special circumstances. I was part of the decision. In addition to me, there was Hailu Shawl, Hailu Araya, Befekadu Degfe, Yacob Woldemariam and Tamarat Tarekegn in the decision making. All of us were in the same prison cell. I think we should have given it more time and included other people in other cells as well. Even though it was a special circumstance, we should have tried to get more views. The request for the shimagles came from the eight who were the majority then. So we thought if it wouldn’t hurt. So the seven of us decided to send Shaleka Admassie and Dr. Bezabeh. It is partially a collective decision, but not fully.
EZ: Do you regret the decision?
Gizachew: What I regret is that we should have stopped their mission when they failed to mediate.
EZ: What do you think was the point of no-return during the mediation? At what point should you have stopped their mission?
Gizachew: The role of the Shimagles wasn’t fruitful. We should have stopped them when we knew about it.
EZ: Did the Shimagles have clear objectives?
Gizachew: Yes, it was to mediate between the two groups (the eight and the four) in KIL.
EZ: Another group was formed after they arrived in Washington. Was forming it part of their objective?
Gizachew: No. Their role wasn’t to create a new forum. It was to mediate between the two groups I mentioned. They proposed that. But we clearly told that their role is different. We wrote a letter addressed to each of the twelve members requesting them to see the bigger picture.
EZ: Let’s see the bigger picture. Kinijit offered itself as an alternative to EPRDF. Now you are consumed with internal issues. What about your relationship with the EPRDF? What will the direction of your relationship be?
Gizachew: We have posed serious challenges for the EPRDF. When we debated about taking our parliamentary seats, we all wanted the seats. But we said what is the purpose of taking the seats if the questions of democracy, economic liberty and freedom aren’t answered by the EPRDF. The eight principles are the results of that deliberation. Media freedom, independence of the judiciary, human rights etc… are still Kinijit’s cardinal principles. So our relationship with EPRDF will be governed by our interest to see these principles reign supreme in the country.
EZ: Will your approach change? Do you think you were confrontational after the election?
Gizachew: Tone changes with time. But that doesn’t mean our tone will swing wildly from one end to another. In Ethiopian political culture, direct criticism is taken as confrontation. That has to change.