“I am a strong man of politics” – Kihdetu exalts himself while Birtukan exalts “Kinijit” – CapitalEthiopia
Lidetu Ayalew, chairman of EUDP-Medhin, is one of the influential figures of opposition party politics in the last 17 years. He has traveled a long journey from youth council leader of AAPO becoming a vocal member of parliament. (more…)
Lidetu Ayalew, chairman of EUDP-Medhin, is one of the influential figures of opposition party politics in the last 17 years. He has traveled a long journey from youth council leader of AAPO becoming a vocal member of parliament.
As of the May 2005 historical election and the crisis which followed and after his early departure from the CUD, he became a controversial image of Ethiopian politics of the last two years. With many people thinking of him as the primary reason for the fragmentation of the CUD, last week, Capital’s Abiy Demilew took a moment with him for an exclusive interview.
Capital: Two years after the historical May 2005 elections, how do you characterize current Ethiopian politics?
Lidetu Ayalew: We have to see this issue from different angles. In my perspective, the pre-election process had been of significant value where many things were slightly opened up. The public, for the first time in its history, believed in bringing change by the ballot-box and marked a huge participation; most of us were able to see the fruit of the struggle of the last 14 years and were satisfied. But after the election we have seen that stray in the wrong direction by the mishandling of political forces.
Capital: What are the negative implications?
Lidetu Ayalew: That situation has diminished hopes and geared aback the wheel of Ethiopian politics to where it used to be 14 years ago. Afterwards, we have seen the public trust and interest in elections and peaceful struggle and politics being seriously damaged to the extent where people hate to hear and talk about politics anymore.
However, as long as we could learn from it as the opposition, the ruling party and the society as a whole, there will be a time when we will talk about it as a positive experience.
But, looking back at the two year in which we could have taken our historical chances, I still feel like we have wasted the opportunity we could have had played in the country’s democratic process.
Capital: Can we say the democratic process has been reversed?
Lidetu Ayalew: Yes somewhat yes. But it does not mean that it is hopeless. As a politician I don’t believe in giving up hope. Rising and falling should be learnt to be natural in this kind of process. We shouldn’t give up even though some things have been reversed. However the whole positive vibration could resurface as long as we all have taken a good lesson out of it. If we fail to do that, we might not be able to see that public sentiment again.
Our party [EUDP-Medhin] has learnt a lot from that momentum. We have evaluated ourselves and restructured the party’s strategic steps ahead. We have now moved into a new phase by introducing a third alternative in Ethiopian politics where we have replaced absolute hatred and support by reasonable political thought process.
We have admitted to be a part of the problem and have decided to be part of the solution as well. I think the other parties, including the ruling party, should also do the same to bring a better future to the country.
Capital: Looking at the current fragmentation of the CUD, what do you think would have happened if you had taken power two years ago?
Lidetu Ayalew: The CUD had problems in evaluating and sighting the line-up of different political forces at that time. We also had differences in marking the strategic goals of the party. These were the reasons why we had to part ways at that time.
We had differences on various issues even before the election such as in forecasting election results. My party’s expectation was that CUD will win Addis Ababa and garner significant numbers of seats in the parliament. But others in the party were in expectation of total victory and the assumption of the power.
Even after the election, we had a solid difference in joining the parliament or not. We in EUDP-Medhin believed in taking that chance even though the whole world knew the election results were rigged. Yet again, nobody wanted to listen to us. Unfortunately what happened afterwards had been just like our predictions.
I think it would have been a big challenge if we had taken power in Addis Ababa even with all those differences. Now, that big party, which had fought to be a government, has fallen in to a fight to reclaim its name, office, symbol and etc.
Capital: What do you think are the reasons for the fragmentation of the CUD?
Lidetu Ayalew: Everybody thinks that the CUD was very united. That’s where the problem is. We wouldn’t have walked out if there were that much unity.
The current fragmentation might appear new to the public, but not for us. What’s happening now is the same as what we’ve seen two years ago.
They seemed to be united, leaving their differences behind, only to address the public expectations of change, to be a government and to attack those of us considered as future threats.
I’m not surprised to see the CUD fragmented in to four groups, but the question is will it stop fragmenting?
The problem arises from not having a common binding program or agenda to not even knowing each other personally.
Capital: Differences are not to be expected in parties?
Lidetu Ayalew: This depends on the overall political culture we have. Ethiopia has never had a democratic culture in its history. It is only in the last few years that we have started talking about multi party politics and democracy so we are in the infancy age.
The country’s politics right now is just black or white. There is no gray area in between. If you’re not on one side, then you’re considered to be not only an enemy but also destructive. This shows how much we have failed to accept the existence of many alternatives. So the way we handle ideological differences happens to be undemocratic. This is the reflection of the whole social system which needs a total structural transformation.
This was also one of the reasons we had to abstain from the CUD. The leadership was not ready to tolerate new ideas and procedures. After our departure, what they’ve been doing was what I call character assassination in different ways of defamation.
I think our political culture still remains the same to Emperor Mineilik’s era.
Capital: Do you think opposition parties are contributing to the country’s democratic process?
Lidetu Ayalew: We have been in the struggle for 16 years and singing the same song “EPRDF is hated; there will be a power takeover shortly” and etc. Now, after all these years, what we are seeing now is not only that the EPRDF is still the ruling power, but also frustrated opposition supporters turning their faces towards this party. So if there was a strong opposition party of bigger values, the political situation in the country would have been different now
The main problem in opposition parties is the absence of the culture of self-criticism and democratic culture within the parties themselves. The opposition has fallen in a complicated and muddy situation from which it has failed to come out of.
In this case, the EPRDF is doing better after the election. The election has taught them they could no more continue in how they used to be. They are now looking closer to the community and trying to address the problems we had raised during the election.
Capital: Your personal and political character became controversial and bound with different labels in the last two years. Books have been written about you. But how do you define your own character?
Lidetu Ayalew: I admit that I’m the most controversial figure in the last two years. But the reason why I’ve been given different labels is because I’m a strong man of politics who has his own ideas and ways. This is a healthy reaction when you are in politics.
People who are writing books about me now are those people who used to wish my death two years ago. They are doing this because I’m a strong political actor who is not following the same old ways of opposition. We have challenged the existing traditional way of opposing just to oppose.
Capital: Do you think Ethiopia and Eritrea will go to war again?
Lidetu Ayalew: I don’t think war will be start since both nations understand the outcome of any war.