The New, the Old, the Terminator: Where does AFD fit in this configuration! – Workie Briye

December 22nd, 2007 Print Print Email Email

From May 2006 to Nov. 2007: “KINIJIT distances itself from AFD” was one of Addis Voice’s lead comments posted on November 17, a day after the KINIJIT (US tour wrap up) press conference. (more…)

From May 2006 to Nov. 2007: “KINIJIT distances itself from AFD” was one of Addis Voice’s lead comments posted on November 17, a day after the KINIJIT (US tour wrap up) press conference. Although many of the pro-democracy blog sites remained mute on this issue, that declaration from the leaders evoked intense reactions from many groups and individuals behind the lime light. For many KINIJIT supporters, it was a disbelief that something of gauche from their enlightened leaders was heard; that something incongruent with what they had been hearing from the leaders over the previous two months flashed across their ears. For the so-called “extreme” elements within OLF and ONLF who had all along been hostile to AFD, the news was received with a sense of déja vu: “Oops!! Haven’t we told you that ‘one can not make a lasting deal with the Xs, Y’s, and Zs?” For some optimist KINIJIT supporters, the language of the press conference was just a politicians’ lingo tailored to the consumption of the “dummies”, to use Fekade Shawakena’s catchy and thoughtful nomenclature. The reaction from the “dummies” was obviously one in tandem with that familiar line of thuggish giggle typical of bigots: “see! It works!!”

Many KINIJIT supporters still prefer to believe that the press statement was only a specific reaction to a factual question that has nothing to do with KINIJIT’s vision and long term commitment for national reconciliation and inclusive political paradigm. Nonetheless, no matter what the real denotation of the leaders’ reaction on AFD may be, the bottom line remains that the statement has supplied the skeptics of both sides with something to brag about, offered them with an ‘All Skeptics Day’ to celebrate.

From May 2006-Nov. 2007: The formation of AFD on May 22 2006 was the talk of the town. The entire pro democracy blog was affirmative and fully seized of the matter for several weeks if not months; the general public was upbeat; it had sparked a gush of articles, commentary, and letters supporting the blue print, commending the leaders of all sides who negotiated and signed that courageous venture, praising their God for answering their prayer by blowing the vicious scheme of divide-and-conquer formula designed by engineers of doom off with the smoke. True, the formation of AFD had also evoked reactions hostile to the whole scheme. Accordingly, there have been blogers who were visibly savoring any material garnished with a flavor inimical to AFD. This was, in a nutshell, the overall picture exhibited in the aftermath of May 22, 2006.

Fast forward Nov. 15 2007! Although not entirely unexpected given the tight legal and political thread it is trotting, KINIJIT, the party known as one of those pillar groups supposed to be the bastion of everything the AFD project was ordained to stand for “distances itself from AFD.” Although privately the reaction to that statement ranges from utter disbelief to mocking ululation, it is so far relatively quiet on the surface. Be that as it may, the feeling expressed in private underneath the apparent silence is some how different. The night of the very day of the press conference, a friend of mine who is close to the OLF confided me in the following words: “you know, in the past, at least within the OLF, there has always existed a second layer of wrestle wedged between the cynics and the optimists. After AFD, however, it was clear that the optimists prevailed in the face of all odds; but now, it seems that the cynics have it once again and everything seems to flip back to square one.” I tried to convince my friend that the Nov. 15 press conference was still a wrong place to look for KINIJIT’s view of AFD and the spirit it embodies. I tried to refer my good friend to the most appropriate location to find KINIJIT’s outlook of the AFD project, i.e., the speeches and discussions wherein the leaders outlined their vision since the mergence of KINIJIT. Nonetheless, as this is not intended to be the object of this article, I now change my lane heading to what I intend to be the core point of this piece.

The broader background of the “split” in KINIJIT and the nexus with AFD: Throughout much of the 50 year period since the 1950s, the biggest fault line in the politics of our country has, directly or indirectly, been its ethnic dimension. This has been perceptible throughout the whole political confrontation between the state and those who have fought against it. As a corollary to this major fault line, the unity of the country has occupied another important place in the thinking of political groups. On the one hand was the ethnic-centered politics with a propensity towards secession; on the other side of the political conundrum was the correlated apprehension of the other pole for the unity of the country .

From the point of view of this generalized, perhaps simplified, configuration, a panoramic view of the last fifty years displays that only these two categories of political groups have been conspicuous in the entire political match. Attempts by both groups to seek for common ground solutions were very rare, perhaps even nonexistent. Within this broad tug of war, a leftward force prevailed in 1974 and inaugurated the beginning of the 17-year-old era of the Dergue. Despite the fact that a radical regime change took place in 1974, the major theme of the various conflicts that continued throughout the Dergue period were informed by a theme similar to the previous battle between the same poles rallying around ethnic questions and the conservation of national unity.

In 1991, the leftist government of the Dergue was replaced by the ultra left group led by TPLF. Although the TPLF regime claimed to have deciphered an answer to the fundamental question of ethnicity vs. unity, it soon became clear that the new regime was nothing more than a replica of the previous ones by continuing the domination by individuals from one ethnic group of all others. For that reason, the period between 1991 and 2005 demonstrated an intermittent replay of the key authoritarian features of the previous regimes. Although a limited space for organizing political parties was opened, all political parties that emerged under the post-‘91 period could be similarly categorized into two broad configurations: ethnic based groups on the one hand and multi-national political groups on the other. In keeping with the political tradition established by all pre-TPLF regimes, most of the TPLF era pro-unity parties continued to be dismissive of all ethnic related questions regardless of merit. In a nut-shell, the first 14 years of the post-1991 period was characterized by a political environment dominated by a conflict between ethno-centric parties on the one hand and groups that sermonized the unity of the country on the other.

Apart from remaining as a stumbling block in the way of viable solutions for the fault-line problem, the ethnicity vs. unity configuration and the mutually destructive propaganda adopted by the respective camps throughout the TPLF era had one other detrimental impact on the emergence of broad-based consensus. The gridlock resulted from the inflexibility of the ethnic-based and pro-unity poles has afforded a political climate conducive for the survival and thriving of the more perilous ideology maintained by the TPLF. The dismissive style of propaganda avowed by the pro-unity camp served as an inexhaustible source of nourishment to the ideology of the ruling group. At the same time, the most rigorous and mutually neutralizing exchange of blows between the ethno-centric and pro-unity camps assured the diffusion of any meaningful pressure from these groups against the regime thereby awarding TPLF with a free ride over the country. Consequently, one of the most conspicuous features of all political movements in our country has been that in spite of repeated regime changes and radical revolutions, the perennial problems in our politics had undergone no significant changes. In spite of the immense human and material sacrifice paid to bring about lasting and democratic changes, the ills of our country rather degenerated from bad to worse.

Thus, the most formidable challenge before all sober Ethiopian politicians during their preparation for the 2005 election was one of how to address these ambivalent features and recurring challenges of our national politics. In the views of the writer, the emergence of KINIJIT in 2005 sparked the first promising and viable indication for a chance to putting an end to the ideological and strategic pandemonium that plagued all political movements in the past. With the emergence of KINIJIT, it seemed that the sprouts of a new tone within the unionist camp triumphed as a dominant gene in the newly formed entity. KINIJIT also seemed to have adopted a brand new line of thinking based on knowledge and competence exercised with moderation and a reasoned debate practiced with a culture of civility. In its manifesto as well as the conduct of its election campaign, KINIJIT presented, introduced, and passionately practiced these and other novel ideals in a striking contrast to the blaming and name-calling convention that had in the past prevailed as a standard ritual often resorted to by opposition entities and the ruling elites alike. KINIJIT appeared to have adopted a less dogmatic, and more pragmatic and deliverable approach to addressing the country’s problems. Accordingly, KINIJIT’s new language and fresh approach seemed to have stricken a cord in the hearts of many Ethiopians, and became the first party to enjoy a significant support across ethnic and regional lines in the society.

It was with such challenges and opportunities on its table in Nov. 2005 that the entire KINIJIT leadership was sent to Kaliti, which for the 22 months that followed up to July 20 2007, was to become the spire from which they would continue the advocacy of their ideals outlined during the election. After the release of the leaders in July 2007, the split in KINIJIT dominated the political scene. Parallel to this development, a much clearer political configuration emerged and is rapidly taking shape. The new configuration is molding itself along the lines of differing political views vis-à-vis the major political questions of our country. One of the groups that split from KINIJIT seems to be rallying around the old views and failed solutions of the past. On the other contrary, KINIJIT proper and other important political players appear to be promoting fresh approaches and enlightened solutions for which they have attracted a clear majority on all sides of the fault line. The third group in this new configuration is the government which shows no other interest than preserving the satus quo of power and terminating any embryo representing the future.

How does AFD fit in this new configuration: While the configuration within these political forces is gradually taking a clear shape, what requires a close examination is the place other important political players such as AFD and its constituent organizations take within the new configuration. The answer to this important question can be obtained not from a mere examination of the stated policies of these organizations but also from the point of view of the long term interest of the country and its constituting parts.

First and foremost, it is not an accident that some of the most important ethnic-based organizations, notably OLF, ONLF, and SPLF, for the first time in their organizational history, displayed the much awaited sole-search and opened, some of them even took the initiative for a dialogue with various political steak holders including pro-unity organizations like KINIJIT. This was a policy about-face and a strategic detour from the point of view of these organizations. Perhaps one of the most important factors that spurred the process and supplied the much needed confidence that facilitated the sole-searching was the new tone of inclusive politics adopted by KINIJIT. Some observers opine that for the ethnic based organizations, KINIJIT appeared to be the first of its kind to declare such a bold and daring approach to addressing the issues without focusing on one dimension of the problem at the expense of the other.

Although KINIJIT’s leadership was not able to materialize this dream due to jail confinement, it seemed that KINIJIT politicians in the diaspora who were committed to upholding the cardinal visions of the party rose to the challenge apparently presented by some farsighted politicians of of both sides, and negotiated and signed AFD on May 22, 2006. KINIJIT’s vision for a broad based and inclusive paradigm representing a complete departure from the paternalistic policies of Atse Haile-Selassie, the prescriptive demagogy of the Dergue, and the destructive impulse of the TPLF apparently matched with the similar vision adopted by OLF and similar political players. According to many analysts the internal review process that has been taking place within the OLF over the previous few years coinciding with the emergence of an enlightened new breed party like KINIJIT on the other side of the “isle” jingled a salvation bell for Ethiopia. According to these views, unlike the dismissive stance of old unionist groups, KINIJIT recognized that Ethnicity had been one of the sources of conflict in the multi-ethnic Ethiopia and resolving this conflict through dialogue must be of a primary concern to achieve sustainable peace. This writer also shares the view that total neglect of this problem, or addressing the issue through cosmetic liberalization like the Dergue did, or politicizing the legitimate problem to achieve myopic political goals like the TPLF is doing, or more gravely, attempting to deal the problem with force, further complicated the scourge and increased the country’s vulnerability from with in as well as from without.

From this point of view and considering the precarious legal and technical situation KINIJIT currently finds itself in, the most important issue does not seem to lie in the question whether KINIJIT is formally a member of the AFD or not. The critical point rather is that as the most popular pro unity party, KINIJIT shares with the other critical players a historic responsibility to nurture this new trend of dialogue and mutual understanding among political groups that were in the past inimical to one another. On top of KINIJIT’s new approach, the May 2005 Election, the tragic episodes followed in the aftermath of the Election, as well as the recent split within KINIJIT have also acted as a catalyst for the necessity of a new political configuration with AFD being as one critical block to be considered seriously and urgently. This new momentum has to be seized. Though not a member of AFD in the formal sense, KINIJIT can contribute to reinforcing AFD by employing various methods that can contribute to, 1) prevent a possible return to the era of suspicion and rancor, 2) lock and institutionalize this new opportunity by reaffirming KINIJIT’s vision to the satisfaction of the political groups forming the AFD, and 3) reinvigorate the struggle by pulling resources with other forces that endorse democracy as their end goal.

As much as it enjoys a massive support, AFD has its own share of critics and skeptics. In such a scenario, we believe that KINIJIT’s primary mission should not only be of consulting with but also educating its supporters on the political returns the AFD project could pay in the long term. This writer believes that KINIJIT occupies a unique position to educate its members and the general public on the net political dividends the country stands to gain from adopting a new path of addressing outstanding problems with new approach. This can be achieved without jeopardizing the unity of the country and the aspirations of its peoples. In view of the commanding moral authority it enjoys among a significant portion of the people, KINIJIT can prevail over its members/supporters and convince the latter that within ethnicized political environment, ethnic conflicts and related problems are rarely resolved by orthodox methods such as political campaigning, winning elections, and ordinary parliamentary opposition. These are indeed the key features of the process, but need to be complemented by a political process so as to get an optimum result out of the whole endeavor. KINIJIT needs to educate its constituencies about the truth that sound methods of achieving unity and political stability must focus mainly on the willingness, initiative, courage, confidence, flexibility, and capacity of pro unity organizations and citizens for compromise, bargaining, and mutual accommodation of differences and special interests. The same applies to other organizations on the other side of the “isle”.

This writer further believes that a political entity possessing ample moral authority like KINIJIT can afford not only to educate on but also experiment with even the most unpopular of ideas and options. We the people expect such an organization to take the lead and say “enough” to the old formula of hollow slogans of “unity” while summarily dismissing other equally important elements of the equation. The issue of “unity”, like other national issues, is not an all or nothing game. It is high time that political groups that are used to stoking the fires of division need to be checked. When it comes to a genuine concern to the country’s “unity”, these individuals and groups do not have the courage to go beyond their sanctimonious slogans of “unity” and “Ethiopiawinet”. Our recent history is full of evidence detailing the damage inflicted by such a misguided view of “unity”, and we paid dearly. Hence, forging a new alliance between pro-AFD groups following the patterns of the new configuration is the only antidote to circumvent another bankruptcy in our cherished enterprise of maintaining national “unity”.

Indeed, some scale of ethnic tensions undeniably antedated the TPLF regime and the regime before it. It was however the TPLF movement and the policy it pursued as a ruling party that sadistically exploited the problem by fomenting hostilities and openly promoting ethnic disparities pretending to favor certain ethnic groups over others. This colonial style of manipulating ethnic related problems to achieve myopic political goals fostered differences with some measure of success. Hence, as much as TPLF utilized the problem as a perfect instrument to rule the people, so also is important to contain and reverse the gear of hostility to avoid further cracks in the country’s unity and pave the way for democracy by addressing legitimate demands of ethnic communities and ensuring equal participation of all citizens in the country’s affairs

The AFD project with its limited achievements and the experience gained from other countries demonstrate that even the most contentious political issues can be resolved with an honest commitment by the parties involved in the dialogue. Compromise and flexibility is not equivalent to waving the white flag of surrender. Preserving “national unity” is not a matter of adrenalin, as some splinter groups of KINIJIT seem to consider. For these groups, joining AFD with OLF and others was considered as an act of “handing the leadership of KINIJIT over to the OLF intellectuals “. Luckily, KINIJIT proper and other matured organizations seem to realize that, at a time when our country is faced with serious problems of varied dimension, we cannot afford the luxury of tearing one an others’ heart by opening multiple battle fronts along ethnic lines. The events of pre and post 2005 election and the open arm reception KINIJIT leaders were accorded during their recent tours in Europe and America have amply demonstrated that the people are surprisingly in the same wavelength as the leadership of the organization on many political issues of national importance. Moreover, although AFD seemed to have been rolling at a neutral gear since its birth, we have nonetheless achieved so much out of it behind the lime light. To mention but one, some of the OLF and ONLF statements issued before July 20 2007 in support of the call for the release of KINIJIT’s leaders had evoked tears from many KINIJIT supporters.

AFD was born at a time when conflict and division in our country reached record high in the aftermath of the massacre committed by the regime in Gambella, Awassa, Tepii, Ambo, various other towns in Oromiya, as well as the post election massacre throughout the country. After decades of gridlock and extreme partisanship grooved along ethnic lines exacerbated by the TPLF divide-and-conquer strategy, much of the Ethiopian public had had enough of polarization along ethnic and religion lines.

Last but note least, AFD is not an end in it self, but a means to an end; ends of unity, equality, justice, stability, and etcetera. When establishing AFD on May 22, 2006, representatives of the different political groups, by performing such solemn acts as putting their signature and exchanging group hugs, they were not pretending that ethnic questions or national unity do not matter any more. On the other hand, it was a proof of realization by all sides that no one often is lucky to get his or her way through mechanisms other than honest dialogue and compromise.

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