BRIEFING THE STRATEGY OF EMPOWERING OPPOSITION POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS AND CHARITIES AND NGOS By Tecola W. Hagos
I want to start this brief essay with full acknowledgement of Ato Belay Fekadu’s tele-conference with media personalities of the Diaspora in North America and Europe (presentations) of 29 December 2014. Ato Belay is the President of Unity for Democracy and Justice [UDJ]. This is the type of political discussion that ought to be listened to with full attention and seriousness. In the main, the points addressed by the President were in response to several enquiries by individuals representing media organs of political groups about why UDJ decided to participate in the upcoming national election of 2015. The questions were challenging, often well taken and focused. In a way, the tele-conference helped me to rewrite my initial draft in refocusing my suggestions on few strategic formulas. My original elaborate history-based essay on political strategy has to wait for another day for posting, which was partially in response to a chat request by Abegaz who commented on my last article.
The question of establishing effective strategy to create a powerful well organized political organization must be our central point of focus. I do not intend to go into why UDJ and the other sixty three political parties needed to participate in the election exercise party by party. I am not encouraged as to the effectiveness of a democratic process where there are almost seventy political organizations in toto including the party-members of the EPRDF participating in an election process. However, the value of this form of national election is in its modality and not in its substantive results. This article is not a protest article, and I do not mean to suggest any other political group would have done any better were it in a position of power. I am simply measuring our current political situation with an ideal one.
There are several projects and programs that our Ethiopian opposition political organizations ought to adopt as part of their political agenda in their system of political and economy programs. This is not to say that they do not have such programs in their respective organizations’ formal documentation. I have read a number of such literature from a number of political organizations. What is missing in all such literature is the supplemental documentation on specific strategy in carrying out the overall goals of the individual political organization. This absence of detail might be due to internal discipline and tactical expediency.
The Significance of Civic Activities
When I studied several of the highly successful opposition political organizations around the world, what I found to be quiet striking and universal is the depth of participation of such successful political organizations in the non-political lives of the people that they served. Starting from Gandhi’s non-violent movement to the confrontational violent liberation struggle of Hammas, all successful political parties and/or movements have very elaborate service oriented relationships with the general population that they aspired to liberate. The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt is a stellar and extreme example of such strategy. No matter how badly Mohammed Morsi failed in the creation of a national agenda for all Egyptians by becoming a narrow Jihadist leader, and yet the Brotherhood’s non-political service oriented programs are highly praise worthy and still engaged in the service of millions of Egyptians. The Brotherhood seemed to have overcome such governmental interference by using the individual family unit as its basic building block. In other words, the family is the starting point for a political involvement that makes it very difficult for the government to get involved at that basic level to counter or separate charitable activity from political activity.
Under the new law “Charities and Societies Proclamation No. 621/2009 [CSP], a Proclamation to Provide for the Registration and Regulation of Charities and Societies, Federal Negarit Gazeta, 15th Year No.25, Addis Ababa, 13th February 2009,” there could be a challenge by the current Ethiopian Government on any civic activities of political parties. The new legal regime does not clarify often arbitrary existing practices but introduced the concept of “charitable purpose” far more expanded concept of charities and development [CSP, Article 14 (2)] into forms of legal norms highly susceptible to adverse interpretations by the enforcement bodies including courts. However, such challenge has a multiplier effect casting the government as even more heartless alien beast. If there is any shadow of limitation that is enforceable with minimum pain to the government, it is the limitation that is set on NGOs not to be involved in political activities. Yes, there is a fine line that one must draw in establishing the distinction between a political organization doing charitable deeds as opposed to an NGO involved in political activity. By interfering in either way the Ethiopian Government would end up undermining its popularity, thus real restraint on its part is advisable when it comes to charitable works by either political organizations or the registered NGOs.
In recent years there have been several forums both in the United States and in Britain to break the legal barrier against political organizations involvement in charitable activities or NGOs being involved in political activism. In other words, the issues that I am discussing here are hot issues at least in Western democratic societies. The fact that people in Ethiopia are concerned and often raising questions on such subjects concerning the Ethiopian Government and charities is some measure of progress of the Ethiopian government system and structure. Over all, a timely and highly competent Thesis research by a graduate law student clearly established the grim situation how far behind civic societies and related organizations are in the promotion of democracy and awareness of human rights.
“Moreover, the number of CSOs/NGOs that registered their programs as focusing on issues related to human rights, advocacy, and democracy was less than 10 in 1997. There is no convincing evidence that these few have made even modest attempts to follow this up. The contribution of CSOs/NGOs in Ethiopia towards the emergence and consolidation of democratic values has been insignificant.” Abiy Chelkeba, Impact Assessment of the Charities and Societies Law on the Growth and Programs of Non-Governmental Organizations (A Survey Study of AddisAbaba City Administration, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia). P15 (2011).
Let me give you a clear example of the problem I am discussing here: Suppose UDJ opens a political school that also teaches people to read and write, or opens a free medical service clinic for poor Ethiopians, et cetera would that violate the legal requirement or limitations on charitable activities by political organizations? The regulatory power of the Government comes into play because it has the legal/constitutional power and authority to give privileges of tax exemptions to charities. Do I need registration if I simply want to provide free meals and money to poor people and I am willing to pay the legal taxes such as gift tax, transaction tax, income tax et cetera associated with my activities? Is it possible to use the same analogy with political organizations doing charitable deeds without any tax exemptions? Do I need a registration or license to give alms to beggars on the street? As we can observe the Ethiopian legal regime on charities and NGOs is not well developed and has holes in it.
The obvious absurdity of the new Proclamation is its limitation of contributions from outside sources to local charities to not more than 10% of the total contributions (Article 2 (2) of the CSP). This form of absurd limitation on foreign currency goes against any rationality and against the need of the country for every scrap of foreign currency. The narrow mindedness of the Leadership of the Ethiopian Government and the controlling political organizations EPRDF/TPLF would not allow them to see beyond their narrow interest to control the Ethiopia government, for they seem to be far more worried about Diaspora Ethiopians influencing the local charities through their financial contributions more than the benefit of allowing unlimited contributions to local charities thereby increasing the foreign currency reserve. The same type of state of mind that was focusing on acquiring political power in disregard to the welfare of the people of Ethiopia and the territorial integrity of the State, led into losing our coastal territories and territorial sea through unnecessary capitulation and appeasement of political forces against Ethiopia’s vital interests.
Recruiting Members for Political Parties
I often see, near DuPont Circle, young Americans trying to recruit new members to this or that political groups. I am always amazed how nonchalant they are, simply acting as blasé as selling or introducing some new products. I do not expect that recruitment would be that matter of fact in Ethiopia. It might require different approach and a much higher level of effort. How do you recruit new members for political parties under a repressive regime? One can attract more bees with a drop of honey more than anything else. Here is a new approach I suggest than the usual process of portraying the opposing party i.e, the Ethiopian Government as a monster, one should rather offer a great picture of one’s own political and economic plans. It should be appealing to the individual being approached.
Because of the political atmosphere in Ethiopia, people seem to be weary to enlist as members of political parties. It is understandable after half a century of turmoil and repressive governments that people are weary, but such fear and mistrust should not have persisted this far. In fact, the distrust of citizens of each other is a major stumbling block of democracy and economic progress. I believe new members of any political organizations are interested to be a stake holder in a political and economic process. People must believe they have something of value in their participation in political organizations. Thus, my suggestions of a series of sharply defined points or themes for protest demonstrations are offered hereunder with such articulation and membership drive in mind.
The problem with almost all demonstrations launched by Ethiopians both in the Diaspora and locally in Ethiopia that I have studied dealt with abstract principles mostly on representative governments, democratic freedoms, et cetera far removed from the existential reality that can be easily incorporated with the life process of individual Ethiopians. What do most Ethiopians want or need? Food security, clean water, good education for their children, peace and justice. Without intimate connection between ideas and the existential reality of individual lives, political demonstrations will be ineffective and episodic not sustained and deeply felt by the Ethiopian public. I have few points that all protest demonstrations could use as thematic points, one such point as theme for every demonstration. The following points for demonstrations have direct appeal to the public’s sense of well-being and patriotic zeal:
1.Protest against international investors’ leases of huge tract of land of millions of hectares that is often not fully developed but held down due to greed and cheapness. Protest against lack of transparency of such sales and the absence of full disclosure.
2.Protest the private ownership of gold mines. Demand full accountability and public disclosure of all earnings, tax and royalty payments since 1991 to date.
3.Protest for full disclosure of the financing and payments made by the Grand Renaissance Dam corporate office to subcontractors with proper identification of all companies and consultants who are pad from the Fund of the Dam.
4.Protest Kililization and ethnic cleansing. Protest against specific proclamations that affect the freedoms and civil liberties of Ethiopians.
5.Protest the imprisonment of journalists and political leaders by identifying specific individuals incarcerated. .
6.Protest the bureaucratic corruption by identifying corrupt officials by name and their corrupt deeds. Protest for blue sky laws full disclosure of governmental development oriented activities and for government audit of all public bids and constructions.
7.Protest for a free and responsible press. Protest must be focused on specific activities of the Ethiopian Government’s violations of the Constitutional rights of named media..
8.Protest for proper land ownership. Protest against the concentration of uneven investments in different regions of the country.
9.Protest against low standard of education.
10.Protest against unemployment. Target specific segments of the unemployed and address their needs.
11.Protest against the Government’s high officials interfering in the courts’ judicial responsibilities.
12.Protest against the Government’s lack of protection of abused Ethiopian Citizens in Arab countries and elsewhere in the World.
13.Protest against the exploitation of Djibouti with its extortionist fees and charges of Ethiopia.
My very brief treatment of a subject that is vast with subterranean vexing problems must be considered as indicator of important issues for our further investigation and research and in-depth understanding. The Charities and Societies Proclamation No. 621/2009, is a poorly conceived and poorly drafted legislation that raised far more degenerative and insoluble problems than being helpful in easing the transition into a democratic society. Because of the legal barrier set between charities and political organizations, the cooperation between charities and political organizations is a tricky one. It is often used by unscrupulous governments as an excuse to step in and disrupt the charitable activities of political organizations deeming them not permissible violations of the separation of charities from political organizations.
The fact that the “winner” of the 2015 national election is very much obvious, that the election process already started out with problems of getting impartial “domestic observers” and polling station workers in the administrative structure of the Election Board, that the central and local government officials are harassing some members of the opposition political organizations et cetera are all discouraging. It is clear to me that Hailemariam Desalegn will be elected again by the EPRDF as Prime Minister now that the “Leaders” of the old TPLF modus operandi seem to be in full control, and reformists, such as Deputy Prime Minister Dr Debretsion, are caged-in and isolated with minimal influence in the Army, an Army whose leadership recently has been restructured and solidified to insure that old Meles Zenawi continues to rule Ethiopia even from the grave. It is always impossible to read from the outside what is going on within TPLF’s leadership, and what I think is the case may be just one layer of the puzzle wherein several more layers may be hidden from my radar and the reformists might overturn the current situation.
Ethiopia is in far more serious trouble than just going through the election charred, which charred I consider harmless. Despite the fact of such monumental problems, I still believe that participation even in a corrupted election process is a form of political struggle and helpful in exposing further the failure of democracy under the inelasticity of political leadership of the current Ethiopian Government and the EPRDF. The real problem facing us all, including even those that blindly support or overlook EPRDF’s divisive ethnic based federalism, is that the current Leaders of the Ethiopian Government still continue to cover-up the seriously flawed philosophy on government structure, devastating ethnic based federalism, corruption due to lack of accountability and the silencing of the press.
I am growing into a pessimist day by day as I watch absolutely mediocre individuals in leadership positions devastating my beloved Ethiopia with silly schemes of government structure and function born out of the mind of appallingly inexperienced individuals hateful of our Ethiopian history and past achievements. It took us thousands of years to build a nation and maintain it in sovereignty, but we are destroying such a great nation in mere decades. In my accusations or criticisms, I do not single out any one group for blaming, for we all are responsible in some ways to the state of affairs now facing us all. Now that we set aside our individual or group agendas, and that we start thinking “Ethiopia.”
Tecola W. Hagos
January 1, 2015