Between a Rock and a Hard Place – By Tesfaye Maru

July 26th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

How the formation of Ginbot 7 has put the ruling party and its apologists in a tricky position in their relationship with the legal opposition

The week the UDJ (Andinet) was formed, some EPRDF supporters made an unusual move to welcome and congratulate the former’s leaders. One of the most vocal mouthpieces of the ruling party and its atrocities, Aigaforum.com, called the moment historical and went on to add that “[Birtukan’s] decision to come forth puts her in the footsteps of Taitu” in an article by a certain Alula Nega. It goes on to praise what it calls “UDJ’s acceptance of the rule of the game and its attempt not only to abide by it but go to extra mile to show they do so and ask their adversary to do the same”.

Likewise, one of the DLA Piper representatives that followed Dr. Berhanu Nega to the EU Parliamentary hearing reportedly asked the latter why he doesn’t fight the government from Ethiopia “like Professor Mesfin does” implying that the Professor is now the standard-setter for how struggles should be waged.

Furthermore, government media in Ethiopia have also been singing praises of the legal opposition and Medrek – the discussion forum some of them have formed.

For those who have been following Ethiopian politics especially after the 2005 elections, the praises must have come as a surprise. Some took the simplistic approach and assumed that the ruling party’s apologists are praising the newly formed opposition party because the latter gives the former legitimacy. There is some truth to this assumption but it is not the whole truth. Others were puzzled and were left wondering what the “devil” may be up to this time.

There is another possibility, although highly unlikely. May be these people finally came back to their senses and started to recognize when a good thing happens and have made a decision to acknowledge it and even praise it. However, this does not seem to be the case if you read the entire article by Aiga. I will get back to this later, but first, let us look at some points to be able to understand what the real motives behind the “praises” could be.

First, it is important to lay out the reasons why people are puzzled about what the ruling party and its supporters are doing. Andinet is a party that considers itself to be the rightful heir to the former Kinijit, and appears to be accepted by a large majority of the latter’s supporters as such. The people who formed the new party are all members and leaders of the former coalition. The party has inherited the programs and ideals of Kinijit with little or no adjustment. Furthermore, its leaders like to use the names Kinijit and Andinet interchangeably. In short, Andinet is Kinijit. And the two people who have been singled out for praise – Judge Birtukan Mideksa and Professor Mesfin Woldemariam – are the same people with the same beliefs they had when they were leaders of Kinijit.

If we have established that the UDJ is Kinijit, then we need to talk about the kind of relationship that existed between it and the ruling party. Kinijit, from the onset, was defined by the ruling party as the party of chauvinists that intended to bring mayhem to the country and overthrow the government by force. The party was accused of having intentions to bring Interhamwe-style violence to Ethiopia. The EPRDF eventually attacked it in all possible ways and gave its name and symbol to people who never owned it.

In regards to the leaders of the party, they were of course treated as the supposed masterminds of the evil intentions of the party and were put behind bars for almost two years. Specifically, in addition to being imprisoned, Judge Birtukan Mideksa and Professor Mesfin Woldemariam have been special enemies to the ruling coalition at different times for different reasons. Some leaders of the EPRDF are said to have rebuked people like Dr. Berhanu Nega of associating themselves with Professor Mesfin Woldemariam. In the ruling party’s books, the professor is up there with those who have committed some mortal sin the rest of us do not know. As for the Judge, during her tour in the United States, she testified at the US Congress alongside Dr. Berhanu Nega in support of the bill HR 2003, an act that caused Aigaforum to make its infamous call up on the government to consider the death penalty for that “treasonous” act of hers.

So this is the party and these are the people that are being praised by ruling party media today. Nothing about the party’s business or the people leading it has changed. The only thing that has changed is how the ruling party talks about them. The party that was accused of trying to overthrow the government by force yesterday is a law abiding one held up as an example today. The Mesfin who was the ultimate bad guy in EPRDF circles yesterday is an example others must follow. And the Birtukan that deserved to die yesterday is a Taitu-like heroin. How did all this happen?

If you read the Aiga article in question in its entirety, the answer is written all over it. The short article used more than a third of its space trying to take shots at Ginbot 7. Clearly, the writer of the article intended to use the UDJ as a springboard from which it could launch punches at Ginbot 7. All other praises of the legal opposition that are taking place on government media in Ethiopia are also focused on their peaceful aspect, which is a clear attempt to take a swipe at Ginbot 7. I know there are many other opposition groups that operate outside the reaches of the government and do not follow the peaceful method. However, the sudden appearances of praises of legal opposition groups point to an apparent reaction to the recent formation of Ginbot 7.

You see, ever since the formation of Ginbot 7, the ruling party must have been in desperation searching for something to prove the former wrong. Ginbot 7 was created on the premise that the situation necessary to wage a peaceful struggle in Ethiopia does not exist. For the government to prove Ginbot 7 wrong and attack what it thinks is the basis of its existence, it must show opposition parties in Ethiopia that believe otherwise. To achieve this purpose, a special focus on the UDJ is necessary. It is true that the EPRDF has at its disposal some puppet opposition parties. However, none has what the UDJ brings to the table. The UDJ has more and very diverse support than any other opposition party in Ethiopia and has credibility. Most importantly, its leaders are people who were former colleagues of the creators of Ginbot 7. Besides, apparently, not even the Ambassadors of some donor countries consider as an opposition, for example, the party that now holds the name Kinijit, which they helped to set up.

Therefore, while the government acknowledges the threat the UDJ poses for it at home and does everything it can to create obstacles for it, it also acknowledges it is the best party it could use against Ginbot 7. This is portrayed perfectly in the Aigaforum article cited above. While they praise Judge Birtukan in one sentence, they take a shot in the other. On the ground, while they allow UDJ leaders to hold their first general assembly (although not at the intended venue), they beat and detain their members outside Addis Ababa without charges. This way, they think they have got it all right. By praising the UDJ once in a while and giving the impression on the surface that it is operating without a problem, they believe they are succeeding in their fight against Ginbot 7. And by creating roadblocks for it on the ground, they are preventing it from growing and once again humiliating them through an election.

It doesn’t seem like they are getting it right, though. When Ginbot 7 was formed, its leaders said that they will always be a step ahead of the ruling party and will be manipulators of the playing field. ‘A step ahead’ is the right phrase! What is happening with the reaction of the EPRDF is really a result of the politics of staying a step ahead. It is like Ginbot 7 has given the EPRDF a giant tasty qiltim, but laced with poison. And the latter jumps at the “opportunity” with the curiosity of a child without seeing the trap. Let us look at what I mean by that.

Ginbot 7 was created with the explicit intent of making the Ethiopian people keepers of their own destiny. It will not back away from removing the government if the latter continues to refuse dialogue and deny Ethiopians their natural rights. It promises extra-legal activities to achieve its mission, and its leaders are outspoken in their direct criticism of the ruling party.

More importantly, the public leadership of the organization is based outside the reach of the government and needs no permission to hold meetings with its supporters or diplomats. But that is not even what has put the government in a very difficult position. It is one thing to not be able to reach the leaders of this organization and put them all in prison, it is another to be unable to find a good propaganda tool. It cannot accuse Ginbot 7 of trying to overthrow the government as it did with Kinijit, when Ginbot 7 explicitly says that that is exactly what it intends to do if the latter continues in its path of oppression. You cannot accuse something of what it says it is.

However, if we go back and see how the ruling party treated Kinijit about the time of the 2005 election, we cannot help but remember some of the notorious accusations that were being thrown at the latter on an every day and every hour basis from the former’s mouthpieces. The government accused the peaceful party of being violent over and over to no end. It accused it of being a club of chauvinists that aimed to overthrow the government by force. Although no sane mind bought these false accusations, I am sure it has strengthened the troubled hearts of its supporters since illusions are good enough of a reality to some people. Some masses also tend to take catch phrases to heart and register them as facts. In any case, no matter how ridiculous, these false accusations made it to the sham courts charging Kinijit leaders for treason and genocide. What this shows us is that this particular false accusation that Kinijit is violent was the single most important propaganda tool the government employed.

What happened now is that the very creation of Ginbot 7, and by former prominent members and leaders of Kinijit, has created a stark contrast between Kinijit/UDJ and itself, i.e. groups who are for peaceful struggle and those who are open to other methods. It is like the EPRDF is being given a course on the difference between peaceful and legal parties, and those who aren’t quite peaceful and do not live up to the “laws” it keeps churning out to fit its purpose of oppression.

Taking that lesson at face value and in what seems to be a kneejerk reaction, the ruling party and its apologists jumped on the wagon of praising the formation of the UDJ and its leaders just so that they use it to attack Ginbot 7. By acknowledging the UDJ as a party that is peaceful, and rightfully so, and holding up some of its leaders as an example of people who do the right thing, the ruling party loses its most important propaganda tool of the post 2005 period. I call it a kneejerk reaction because I do not think they have run it by their foreign advisors.

This new strategy of praising the peacefulness of the UDJ just to show the “criminality” of Ginbot 7 and also prove it wrong requires them to do more and more praising of the former. Their success in proving Ginbot 7 wrong and successfully attacking what they assume is the basis of its existence is directly dependent on how well they portray the peacefulness of the UDJ and also show that the latter’s peaceful way works. It is like putting a black object on a gray background. If the goal is for the object to be magnified, one can benefit by whitening the background more and more. One has to be able to create a good contrast.

What the cadres of the ruling party do not seem to understand, though, is that the more contrast they create between these two organizations, the more both benefit. For the peacefulness of Kinijit/Andinet to finally be acknowledged by the ruling party is a victory for all its supporters, including Ginbot 7. It will also magnify the attacks of the EPRDF on the UDJ and make it appear even more outrageous than before.

It is true that they can always go back to accusing the UDJ of being violent as they did in its Kinijit days. We all know evidence has never mattered with them. However, today, they risk reaffirming the position of Ginbot 7. There are many reasons to believe that an increased attack on the UDJ will drastically increase Ginbot 7’s already overflowing membership and support. The two things seem directly proportional. In fact, it is not just an increased attack, but if the government continues to create obstacles for the UDJ and the latter’s activities become stagnant, that is likely to frustrate more and more of its supporters into seeking other routes they can channel their energy through; and that is more than likely to be Ginbot 7. It appears that the most effective way for the government to preempt Ginbot 7 is to open more space for the legal opposition to operate freely.

Such is the tricky position the ruling party and its apologists have been put in due to the formation of Ginbot 7. In what is a perfect portrayal of this problem they have been put in, Aigaforum came out with an article about a week after the one mentioned above accusing Ginbot 7 of using the persecution the UDJ faces back home to criticize the ruling party. I do not exactly know what they mean by “using” what is out there for all to see, but what exactly they thought Ginbot 7 was formed for – I do not know. Perhaps they must have felt they deserve some credit for giving out some praises to the UDJ.

This seems like an example of what is to come in the future. The ruling party’s moves are being manipulated by its opponents. Whether it attacks or praises the legal opposition, it will be continuing to expose itself to losses. It is as though the ruling party is stuck with no way out.

However, as a friend of mine likes to say, “There is always a way – some way”. Leaders of the EPRDF need to understand that there is always the way of facing the Ethiopian people and asking for forgiveness. There is always the way of acknowledging the people’s rights and negotiating the party’s future. Of course how much the survival of their party matters to them is only known to them. However, given the fact that many have died to bring it to existence, one would assume it is very valuable.

If the leaders of the EPRDF consider ensuring the survival of their party important, they must understand that multiple story headquarters and statues neither secure the future of parties nor win people’s hearts. Buildings and statues can be brought down with a single strike of an angry mob. That has happened all over the world over and over. What may secure a party’s future and win hearts is letting the people be. The people’s existence must be acknowledged and their government must deliver the respect that is due to them. This can be expressed by respecting their basic rights as human beings, consulting with them and giving them a chance to get involved in their country’s matters.

How the formation of Ginbot 7 has put the ruling party and its apologists in a tricky position in their relationship with the legal opposition

The week the UDJ (Andinet) was formed, some EPRDF supporters made an unusual move to welcome and congratulate the former’s leaders. One of the most vocal mouthpieces of the ruling party and its atrocities, Aigaforum.com, called the moment historical and went on to add that “[Birtukan’s] decision to come forth puts her in the footsteps of Taitu” in an article by a certain Alula Nega. It goes on to praise what it calls “UDJ’s acceptance of the rule of the game and its attempt not only to abide by it but go to extra mile to show they do so and ask their adversary to do the same”.

Likewise, one of the DLA Piper representatives that followed Dr. Berhanu Nega to the EU Parliamentary hearing reportedly asked the latter why he doesn’t fight the government from Ethiopia “like Professor Mesfin does” implying that the Professor is now the standard-setter for how struggles should be waged.

Furthermore, government media in Ethiopia have also been singing praises of the legal opposition and Medrek – the discussion forum some of them have formed.

For those who have been following Ethiopian politics especially after the 2005 elections, the praises must have come as a surprise. Some took the simplistic approach and assumed that the ruling party’s apologists are praising the newly formed opposition party because the latter gives the former legitimacy. There is some truth to this assumption but it is not the whole truth. Others were puzzled and were left wondering what the “devil” may be up to this time.

There is another possibility, although highly unlikely. May be these people finally came back to their senses and started to recognize when a good thing happens and have made a decision to acknowledge it and even praise it. However, this does not seem to be the case if you read the entire article by Aiga. I will get back to this later, but first, let us look at some points to be able to understand what the real motives behind the “praises” could be.

First, it is important to lay out the reasons why people are puzzled about what the ruling party and its supporters are doing. Andinet is a party that considers itself to be the rightful heir to the former Kinijit, and appears to be accepted by a large majority of the latter’s supporters as such. The people who formed the new party are all members and leaders of the former coalition. The party has inherited the programs and ideals of Kinijit with little or no adjustment. Furthermore, its leaders like to use the names Kinijit and Andinet interchangeably. In short, Andinet is Kinijit. And the two people who have been singled out for praise – Judge Birtukan Mideksa and Professor Mesfin Woldemariam – are the same people with the same beliefs they had when they were leaders of Kinijit.

If we have established that the UDJ is Kinijit, then we need to talk about the kind of relationship that existed between it and the ruling party. Kinijit, from the onset, was defined by the ruling party as the party of chauvinists that intended to bring mayhem to the country and overthrow the government by force. The party was accused of having intentions to bring Interhamwe-style violence to Ethiopia. The EPRDF eventually attacked it in all possible ways and gave its name and symbol to people who never owned it.

In regards to the leaders of the party, they were of course treated as the supposed masterminds of the evil intentions of the party and were put behind bars for almost two years. Specifically, in addition to being imprisoned, Judge Birtukan Mideksa and Professor Mesfin Woldemariam have been special enemies to the ruling coalition at different times for different reasons. Some leaders of the EPRDF are said to have rebuked people like Dr. Berhanu Nega of associating themselves with Professor Mesfin Woldemariam. In the ruling party’s books, the professor is up there with those who have committed some mortal sin the rest of us do not know. As for the Judge, during her tour in the United States, she testified at the US Congress alongside Dr. Berhanu Nega in support of the bill HR 2003, an act that caused Aigaforum to make its infamous call up on the government to consider the death penalty for that “treasonous” act of hers.

So this is the party and these are the people that are being praised by ruling party media today. Nothing about the party’s business or the people leading it has changed. The only thing that has changed is how the ruling party talks about them. The party that was accused of trying to overthrow the government by force yesterday is a law abiding one held up as an example today. The Mesfin who was the ultimate bad guy in EPRDF circles yesterday is an example others must follow. And the Birtukan that deserved to die yesterday is a Taitu-like heroin. How did all this happen?

If you read the Aiga article in question in its entirety, the answer is written all over it. The short article used more than a third of its space trying to take shots at Ginbot 7. Clearly, the writer of the article intended to use the UDJ as a springboard from which it could launch punches at Ginbot 7. All other praises of the legal opposition that are taking place on government media in Ethiopia are also focused on their peaceful aspect, which is a clear attempt to take a swipe at Ginbot 7. I know there are many other opposition groups that operate outside the reaches of the government and do not follow the peaceful method. However, the sudden appearances of praises of legal opposition groups point to an apparent reaction to the recent formation of Ginbot 7.

You see, ever since the formation of Ginbot 7, the ruling party must have been in desperation searching for something to prove the former wrong. Ginbot 7 was created on the premise that the situation necessary to wage a peaceful struggle in Ethiopia does not exist. For the government to prove Ginbot 7 wrong and attack what it thinks is the basis of its existence, it must show opposition parties in Ethiopia that believe otherwise. To achieve this purpose, a special focus on the UDJ is necessary. It is true that the EPRDF has at its disposal some puppet opposition parties. However, none has what the UDJ brings to the table. The UDJ has more and very diverse support than any other opposition party in Ethiopia and has credibility. Most importantly, its leaders are people who were former colleagues of the creators of Ginbot 7. Besides, apparently, not even the Ambassadors of some donor countries consider as an opposition, for example, the party that now holds the name Kinijit, which they helped to set up.

Therefore, while the government acknowledges the threat the UDJ poses for it at home and does everything it can to create obstacles for it, it also acknowledges it is the best party it could use against Ginbot 7. This is portrayed perfectly in the Aigaforum article cited above. While they praise Judge Birtukan in one sentence, they take a shot in the other. On the ground, while they allow UDJ leaders to hold their first general assembly (although not at the intended venue), they beat and detain their members outside Addis Ababa without charges. This way, they think they have got it all right. By praising the UDJ once in a while and giving the impression on the surface that it is operating without a problem, they believe they are succeeding in their fight against Ginbot 7. And by creating roadblocks for it on the ground, they are preventing it from growing and once again humiliating them through an election.

It doesn’t seem like they are getting it right, though. When Ginbot 7 was formed, its leaders said that they will always be a step ahead of the ruling party and will be manipulators of the playing field. ‘A step ahead’ is the right phrase! What is happening with the reaction of the EPRDF is really a result of the politics of staying a step ahead. It is like Ginbot 7 has given the EPRDF a giant tasty qiltim, but laced with poison. And the latter jumps at the “opportunity” with the curiosity of a child without seeing the trap. Let us look at what I mean by that.

Ginbot 7 was created with the explicit intent of making the Ethiopian people keepers of their own destiny. It will not back away from removing the government if the latter continues to refuse dialogue and deny Ethiopians their natural rights. It promises extra-legal activities to achieve its mission, and its leaders are outspoken in their direct criticism of the ruling party.

More importantly, the public leadership of the organization is based outside the reach of the government and needs no permission to hold meetings with its supporters or diplomats. But that is not even what has put the government in a very difficult position. It is one thing to not be able to reach the leaders of this organization and put them all in prison, it is another to be unable to find a good propaganda tool. It cannot accuse Ginbot 7 of trying to overthrow the government as it did with Kinijit, when Ginbot 7 explicitly says that that is exactly what it intends to do if the latter continues in its path of oppression. You cannot accuse something of what it says it is.

However, if we go back and see how the ruling party treated Kinijit about the time of the 2005 election, we cannot help but remember some of the notorious accusations that were being thrown at the latter on an every day and every hour basis from the former’s mouthpieces. The government accused the peaceful party of being violent over and over to no end. It accused it of being a club of chauvinists that aimed to overthrow the government by force. Although no sane mind bought these false accusations, I am sure it has strengthened the troubled hearts of its supporters since illusions are good enough of a reality to some people. Some masses also tend to take catch phrases to heart and register them as facts. In any case, no matter how ridiculous, these false accusations made it to the sham courts charging Kinijit leaders for treason and genocide. What this shows us is that this particular false accusation that Kinijit is violent was the single most important propaganda tool the government employed.

What happened now is that the very creation of Ginbot 7, and by former prominent members and leaders of Kinijit, has created a stark contrast between Kinijit/UDJ and itself, i.e. groups who are for peaceful struggle and those who are open to other methods. It is like the EPRDF is being given a course on the difference between peaceful and legal parties, and those who aren’t quite peaceful and do not live up to the “laws” it keeps churning out to fit its purpose of oppression.

Taking that lesson at face value and in what seems to be a kneejerk reaction, the ruling party and its apologists jumped on the wagon of praising the formation of the UDJ and its leaders just so that they use it to attack Ginbot 7. By acknowledging the UDJ as a party that is peaceful, and rightfully so, and holding up some of its leaders as an example of people who do the right thing, the ruling party loses its most important propaganda tool of the post 2005 period. I call it a kneejerk reaction because I do not think they have run it by their foreign advisors.

This new strategy of praising the peacefulness of the UDJ just to show the “criminality” of Ginbot 7 and also prove it wrong requires them to do more and more praising of the former. Their success in proving Ginbot 7 wrong and successfully attacking what they assume is the basis of its existence is directly dependent on how well they portray the peacefulness of the UDJ and also show that the latter’s peaceful way works. It is like putting a black object on a gray background. If the goal is for the object to be magnified, one can benefit by whitening the background more and more. One has to be able to create a good contrast.

What the cadres of the ruling party do not seem to understand, though, is that the more contrast they create between these two organizations, the more both benefit. For the peacefulness of Kinijit/Andinet to finally be acknowledged by the ruling party is a victory for all its supporters, including Ginbot 7. It will also magnify the attacks of the EPRDF on the UDJ and make it appear even more outrageous than before.

It is true that they can always go back to accusing the UDJ of being violent as they did in its Kinijit days. We all know evidence has never mattered with them. However, today, they risk reaffirming the position of Ginbot 7. There are many reasons to believe that an increased attack on the UDJ will drastically increase Ginbot 7’s already overflowing membership and support. The two things seem directly proportional. In fact, it is not just an increased attack, but if the government continues to create obstacles for the UDJ and the latter’s activities become stagnant, that is likely to frustrate more and more of its supporters into seeking other routes they can channel their energy through; and that is more than likely to be Ginbot 7. It appears that the most effective way for the government to preempt Ginbot 7 is to open more space for the legal opposition to operate freely.

Such is the tricky position the ruling party and its apologists have been put in due to the formation of Ginbot 7. In what is a perfect portrayal of this problem they have been put in, Aigaforum came out with an article about a week after the one mentioned above accusing Ginbot 7 of using the persecution the UDJ faces back home to criticize the ruling party. I do not exactly know what they mean by “using” what is out there for all to see, but what exactly they thought Ginbot 7 was formed for – I do not know. Perhaps they must have felt they deserve some credit for giving out some praises to the UDJ.

This seems like an example of what is to come in the future. The ruling party’s moves are being manipulated by its opponents. Whether it attacks or praises the legal opposition, it will be continuing to expose itself to losses. It is as though the ruling party is stuck with no way out.

However, as a friend of mine likes to say, “There is always a way – some way”. Leaders of the EPRDF need to understand that there is always the way of facing the Ethiopian people and asking for forgiveness. There is always the way of acknowledging the people’s rights and negotiating the party’s future. Of course how much the survival of their party matters to them is only known to them. However, given the fact that many have died to bring it to existence, one would assume it is very valuable.

If the leaders of the EPRDF consider ensuring the survival of their party important, they must understand that multiple story headquarters and statues neither secure the future of parties nor win people’s hearts. Buildings and statues can be brought down with a single strike of an angry mob. That has happened all over the world over and over. What may secure a party’s future and win hearts is letting the people be. The people’s existence must be acknowledged and their government must deliver the respect that is due to them. This can be expressed by respecting their basic rights as human beings, consulting with them and giving them a chance to get involved in their country’s matters.

  1. Azarya
    | #1

    Ato Tesfaye.

    The last time I checked EPRDF has continued to give Andnet party real hard time. (Denying its right to call a General Assembly, denying its rightful Kinijit name, putting obstacle on the way to legalizing a UDJ party, imprisoning and harassing its supporters and leaders, narrowing its chance of raising fund through pathetic legislations etc..). I don’t see any government goodwill towards Andnet precisely because this is a government that is more terrified of an Andnet party that will give it sleepless nights working from inside than a Ginbot 7 working from a far away place.

    You sited an obscure comment on an obscure “Aiga Forum” to conclude or imply (a) Andnet is seen in a favorable light by the governmnt and, (b)any progress made by the toil and wit of Andnet is an induced succsess as a result of Ginbot 7 rhetoric.

    Nothing can be further from the truth. Andnet will stand on its own account and Ginbot 7 does not need to grab the coat tail of Andnet.

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