On the State of the Ethiopian Opposition – By Yeqoraw Kassa
The political opposition in Ethiopia has been waging a struggle for change in Ethiopia since Meles Zenawi with his TPLF-EPRDF thugs came to power. Before the present government in Addis Abeba, the political opposition to Mengistu and Haile Selassie has been going on with little achievement for Ethiopia as a nation. There is up to now no legal opposition to the ruling party in the true sense of the word.
It is self-evident that Ethiopia cannot afford to be ruled by a totalitarian regime as has been the case up to now. The Ethiopian people need genuine representation without any suppression or blackmailing by the ruling party. Ethiopians have to exercise their free will to choose their representatives. The people of Ethiopia cannot afford to be spectators in making their national affairs. The current situation in Ethiopia reminds us of the situation in the socialist countries of the Soviet Era of that of North Korea today. The government in power controls the media, the military and the judiciary. There is no room for opposition groups to make their opinions known and heard. Political parties which oppose the ruling party are harassed regularly and at best imprisoned, at worst killed. In such conditions, it will be impossible to conduct any constructive political dialogue. It is suicidal even to entertain such thoughts of carrying out any opposition to the ruling party.
There is a lot of evidence supporting the fact that the establishment of a legal political opposition is impossible in Ethiopia. Some members of the political opposition have been killed and many imprisoned. This should not happen in the future and a mechanism to stop totalitarian rule in Ethiopia should be sought. Whether we like it or not, our future lies in erecting a responsible democratic order. We need a responsible free media. We need to observe human rights as enshrined in the constitution. We should have a constitution commensurate with our historical and social views. The American democracy is a plutocracy in some ways. The democracies in Europe are prejudiced and exclusive regarding the rights of non-white Europeans. We have to get our own democratic norms. Our concept of human rights should depart from our ancient history and tradition, which incorporates the dignity and equality of all human beings. We should not take every human rights norm in USA and Europe without adjusting it to our historical and traditional realities. We should oppose human rights issues which undermine our national unity and sovereignty. We do accept the equality of all religions. But we do not accept if any religion becomes too fundamentalist and stands in the way of harmony of our people. A case in point will be the covering of the head by our young Muslim citizens at school and places of work. This should not be allowed for it makes us see our society being divided and being instrument of foreign powers. The second example of religious fundamentalism is the dubious practices of some foreign Christian groups like Pent Costal, Protestants and Catholics, who are set against the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Christians, Moslems and others should not be allowed to be extremists in their religious practices. We have to reach a consensus nationally as to how to go about extreme views and practices in religion of any kind. We have to accept the equality of all religions and respect all groups as long as they do not pose a threat to our national security in short and long term. Opposing extremist views and practice is no way the same as to opposing the equality of all religions.
The other point which seems to be more current than it deserves is that of ethnic equality. The so-called ethnic federalism is anachronistic and does not match the historical realities of Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s ancient history and state formation has been recorded and our people have been living under one central government, under one king and constitution. The centralist state structure of Ethiopia is not artificial and is deep-rooted. It is because of the unitary form of state that Ethiopia created such a civilization, which is second to none in many aspects. No nation in the world has its own calendar, clock system, alphabet, literature, law and legal structures with judges, lawyers, solicitor functioning for the last 3000 or more years.
Ethiopia’s transition to multiparty democracy with an independent self-censuring press and opposition parties has been confounded with prolonged birth pains. There is anxiety among concerned groups and patriots that this prolonged labour to give birth to a new Ethiopia might lead to the death of Ethiopia. This is a too pessimistic view and Ethiopia will able to tolerate and has to tolerate the prolonged labour and with it associated birth pains to give birth to a young democratic society. We cannot afford to be undemocratic and for certain groups in the society to be above the law. All citizens should subordinate themselves to the law of the country. This does not mean literally. We should in general be able to respect the law, especially those who hold high offices should respect the law. In any case of those high officials not observing the rule of law especially regarding criminal offences, they should not be allowed to continue holding any position and depending on the offence, a severe punishment should be given. At present this seems to be not the case.
It is impossible to think of the rule of law, multiparty democracy and free elections in a country where there is no strong and independent opposition to the ruling party. In TPLF-EPRDF’s Ethiopia or rest Ethiopia (Ethiopia is the country including present day “Eritrea”), there is no intraparty democracy. The TPLF dominates EPRDF and the other groups are simply appendages, which makes the whole party undemocratic. Since TPLF-EPRDF is undemocratic internally, it cannot be democratic externally, i.e in it’s relation with the people of Ethiopia and other parties, which have a legitimate right and duty to represent and lead the people of Ethiopia. TPLF-EPRDF has a poor record of interparty relations. TPLF and EPRP still do not have any communication as two distinct organizations standing for the people of Ethiopia, albeit with different ideologies and principles. Even though some former members of EPRP joined TPLF-EPRDF, there has been a very destructive political co-operation with EPRP as an organization as a whole. Relations with EDU and other groups have been very suicidal to say the least. Relations with Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUD) and other groups are very destructive. CUD is seen as an enemy by TPLF-EPRDF. This is one of the main obstacles in the struggle of the Ethiopian people for democracy, justice and economic liberation. Let us hope history and time will heal the scars and we will become one of the promising democracies in the world. If we examine the interparty relation of TPLF-EPRDF, it is very disturbing and counterproductive. TPLF-EPRDF has put a precondition that any party should be a loyal opposition. In other words, TPLF-EPRDF is looking for organizations that do not challenge it’s policies. The TPLF-EPRDF has created this barrier and has delayed it’s own evolution to be a full-fledged avant-guard of the people tested by the fires of criticism from genuine opposition groups. TPLF-EPRDF has no right to demand from opposition groups to be loyal. All parties should be loyal to Ethiopia. No opposition group which co-operates with groups at war with the Ethiopian State cannot claim to be a legal or illegal opposition group or party. Such organizations are enemies of the people of Ethiopia and should be dealt with with all means necessary. They are the real enemies, much worse than the ruling party.
TPLF has been dominating the EPRDF. A power mechanism that allows only one group to control, decide and execute policies that affect 80 million people cannot be democratic and productive. TPLF supported the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia without giving Ethiopia access to the Red Sea and without consulting the people of Ethiopia. TPLF has no legitimacy to land lock Ethiopia and time will tell if this could be accepted by international law and the UN. These grave crimes of TPLF are well documented and it will be for Ethiopian and African nationalist to unravel these crimes against Ethiopia in particular and Africa in general. The fact that Ethiopia is landlocked is unacceptable and it is an open secret that UN Secretary General Mr. Boutros Boutros Ghali of Egypt was instrumental in the land locking of Ethiopia. During his visit to Addis Abeba on January 1993, Ethiopian students of Addis Abeba University demonstrated against his active role to secede Eritrea from Ethiopia. The mercenary army of Meles Zenawi, the current self-appointed prime minister shot at the demonstrating students, as a result of which some died and about 40 were bayoneted. Mr. Ghali is an Egyptian of Arab origin from the Middle East and was instrumental in land- locking Ethiopia to give Egypt and the Arabs an upper hand to control the Red Sea. History and time will tell if the RED SEA could fall to the Arabs. Mr. Ghali seems to forget that he is an Arab and not an Egyptian. He like the majority of Arabs living there is a descendant of migrants who came to Egypt 1000 years ago. Some Arabs migrated to Egypt even as recent as 100 years ago. For more than 5000 years Ethiopians and non-Arab Egyptians have been living harmoniously, sharing the same religion and tradition. Once again Ethiopia will have to renew it’s old relation with non-Arab Egyptians. Mr. Ghali has to answer for the bayoneted and murdered children of Ethiopia. The traitor regime of Zenawi will have to be brought to justice for bayoneting and murdering innocent young students, whose crime was demonstrating against the land locking of their country. I appeal to all Ethiopian patriots to commemorate the day Ethiopian students were killed and bayoneted (January 1993) as National Martyrs’ Day of the Ethiopian Student.
The Ethiopian people and friends of Ethiopia should not tolerate such criminal acts against the children of Ethiopia. Meles Zenawi and his henchmen should be brought to justice. Zenawi is responsible for all the suffering of 80 million people, who are denied through sheer manipulation and blackmailing the right to their Red Sea coastal regions. It is incomprehensible that the International Community is tolerating such acts of betrayal and falsification of history. The area now called “Eritrea” was taken through deceit and war by Italy with the support of France and England. Italy, France and England have the obligation to respect the historical borders of Ethiopia. Such illegal occupation of Ethiopian sovereign territories will have grave consequences for the current political and legal order. Relying on sell-outs like Meles Zenawi of Tigre of Eritrean origin and Issayas Afewarki of Eritrea would not be a solution.
Meles Zenawi has no legitimacy to rule over Ethiopia. He is ruling Ethiopia by sheer force. Through the assistance of some sell outs in some regions of Ethiopia like the now Tigray, Amhara and Oromo regions, Zenawi has created a Stalinist form of government. There have been 3 fake elections since Zenawi came to power. In all those elections, Zenawi did not face a strong opposition. Ethiopian Opposition political parties did not participate for fear of suppression and killings. In the last election, in May 2005, the different opposition parties, which participated in the election, had won in most of the regions and in Addis Abeba, the capital city. Zenawi ordered his troops to kill those who opposed the rigging of the election. Some of the leaders of the opposition were imprisoned and others killed. Through a deal after negotiating with the power holders, most members of the Opposition were released. Cynically Miss Birtukan Midkesa , a young charismatic lawyer and a former judge, was re-arrested for expressing her views about the terms of her release from prison.
The Opposition in Ethiopia should stop entertaining such a suicidal act if it is trying to participate in the next elections, for it is impossible to hold any fair election under the self-appointed government of Meles Zenawi. The Opposition should force Zenawi to stand down by all means necessary. The security and military arm of the Ethiopian state should be under the control of a neutral national body. Otherwise as long as the security and army is under Meles Zenawi, there will be no fair and free elections. The Ethiopian people should be able to have representatives of their own choice. If the election which is supposed to be held in 2010 is to go through as it is now without a right of the Opposition parties to organize and address the public without fear and suppression, Ethiopia will definitely enter the Dark Age led by tigreans of Eritrean origin. The economic development which the government is supposed to have undertaken will have no impact on the future for the development projects of Zenawi are meant for propaganda purposes. Meles Zenawi and his henchmen are the last persons to bring about any economic change in Ethiopia.
The Opposition will have to boycott the election unless there are guaranties that the election will be fair and free. The Opposition should help the people of Ethiopia to intensify their struggle to take state power. Boycotting the election means working on another alternative of getting control of the Ethiopian state. We have to work on other alternatives of getting control of our country. Among many things, the Opposition should focus on ousting Meles Zenawi and his henchmen. After Meles Zenawi and his henchmen are brought to justice, a free and fair election of all patriotic parties can take place. We will be wasting our energy and resources if the Opposition parties participate in the election under the present undemocratic conditions. On the other hand it will be a crime not to be able to discharge a national duty of representing the people of Ethiopia by not taking part in the elections. Why should the Opposition give the ruling party a free hand by boycotting the election? The ruling party will get the opportunity to manipulate through the mass media, which are solely owned and controlled by the government, so that the outcome of the election will be already decided before the election. The Opposition should not rely too much on foreign countries and their assistance. The opposition should make an assessment of the political situation in Ethiopia and draw strategies which would make the situation better for the Ethiopian people.
Why is the Opposition ready to work with a government which has betrayed Ethiopia 1000 and more times? Is the Opposition of the opinion that some foreign powers will be against the ruling party in power? Of course the foreign powers which support this or that group have their own interests at heart and would not care about Ethiopian interests. We have to approach the foreign powers but this does not mean these foreign powers will sacrifice themselves for the Opposition. Countries like USA, UK, Sweden, Norway, Italy etc have supported the government, even though they are well aware of the fact that Meles Zenawi is a sell-out. China is also aware of the precarious situation Ethiopia is in. The Chinese are more than ready to support a government that has the full support of the Ethiopian people, for in the long term the national interests of China can only be safeguarded if there is a a stable government in Ethiopia. TPLF does not represent the people of Ethiopia and the power base of TPLF-EPRDF is even not broad-based in Tigray region.
We should be happy that we are not dealing with a government which has a wide support of the population. The people of Ethiopia are being ruled at gun point and are more than ready if they could have an opportunity to elect a government of their own choice. Under the current political situation in Ethiopia, where the ruling dictator has the control on every media and the security services, the people of Ethiopia will not be able to have a genuine representation in parliament. If the Opposition participates under the current conditions in the election, it will only be legitimizing the ruling party to be elected again and to rule the country for another 5 dark years.
It seems now too late for the ruling party to accept the condition for fair and free election, because it has already made some of the Opposition parties out of use by restricting their freedom of movement to reach the public. The Opposition has to boycott the election and intensify the struggle to oust the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi and his henchmen. We should be realistic and clear in our struggle to erect a democratic and accountable government in Ethiopia. The government in Ethiopia is unconstitutionally constitutional and has to be made by all means unconstitutional. The Opposition has to make it clear that it stands for Ethiopia and should not be willing to share any power with TPLF-EPRDF because of it’s anti-Ethiopia policy. Some of our sovereign land has been given to Sudan and we are made to be landlocked. Our land is being sold to foreign countries. If Meles Zenawi or his party is to be in power again, it will be the end of Ethiopia. We have to boycott the election for 2010 and rather work intensively to oust the illegal government of Meles Zenawi.
Ethiopian political Opposition should abandon the legal method of working to change the government in Addis Abeba. As some political groups as Ginbot 7 have pioneered, we should be able to use all means necessary to oust Meles Zenawi and co from office. Some groups like Andenet Party led by Miss Birtukan Midkessa and All Ethiopian Unity Party led by Hailu Shawel have suggested to use the constitution and hope to reach the public effectively by civile and patient. But the facts on the ground show that legal opposition in Ethiopia is impossible and it will be only legitimizing the policies of the ruling party. The Parliament is a worthless gathering of traitors and even will not have any powers if it wanted to speak for the national interest of Ethiopia. The Opposition parties should come to a general agreement as which strategy to follow to get a government which represents the Ethiopian people.
The unconstitutional method of struggling injustice is not only armed struggle. Armed struggle is one of the means we have at hand. Strikes, illegal demonstrations etc are other ways our citizens could use to get their voices heard. The Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) was on the right course when it appealed to the public about the suppression and blackmailing of Meles Zenawi’s government. Unfortunately in the course of time, CUD fell into groups and subgroups with different tactics and strategies as how to go about with the political situation in Ethiopia.
Most opposition parties have not disclosed their policies and programme adequately and clearly. The Opposition to Meles Zenawi and co seems only eager to get political power. The Opposition parties have failed to show the public how different they will be from the ruling party. One case in point is that Meles Zenawi and co. have given sovereign Ethiopian land to the Arabic Sudanese Government. No Opposition party has up to know filed its’ opposition to such acts of treason by Meles Zenawi and co. Ginbot 7 has a weekly in Amharic which discusses issues about the current political situation in Ethiopia. It is scandalous that Ginbot 7 has never transpired any opposition to the policy of Meles Zenawi regarding the giving away of Ethiopian sovereign lands to Sudan. EPRP and MEISON have shown deafening silence regarding this issue.
The armed struggle is being waged by many Opposition groups. Some are supported and armed by Eritrea and some countries from the Arab League. The Ethiopian Opposition groups should clearly distance from collaborating and co-operating with Eritrean secessionist forces. All opposition groups should depart from the pre-1991 status quo in Ethiopia. They should not recognize “Eritrea” as a country until the Ethiopian people have been consulted through a national referendum or their rightful representatives. Collaborating with Issayas Afewarki should not be considered at all. The Ethiopian Opposition can solicit support from Libya, Egypt, Qatar and other members of the Arab League. Countries like Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe might be able to support any armed struggle in Ethiopia for any black man in the world would see it as a great humiliation to see Ethiopia landlocked or dismembered. For this reason many African countries still do not see the need for the secession of “Eritrea” from Ethiopia. The Ethiopian opposition should also stand against all secessionist forces, but offer an alternative that the Opposition will respect all tribes equally. It is improper to tolerate such organization as OLF, ONLF etc because they are weakening the people of Ethiopia and giving opportunities to foreign countries to intervene in a negative way.
The Ethiopian Opposition has many things to do ahead. It should agree on a strategy to take control of Ethiopia. The current state of the Opposition needs much improvement. It is however very gratifying that the Ethiopian people are still struggling to take control of their country. Groups like Ginbot 7 are proof that Ethiopia will be free soon, if not by Ginbot 7, then by other nationalists, who are determined to see the unity and equality of the Ethiopian people. The opposition should not fall victim to the lies coming from Asmara. The Opposition should at the same time expose Meles Zenawi and co, who are compromising Ethiopian sovereignty. Ethiopians should be able to own their land and to be able to defend their territories. The future for Ethiopia is very bright because of the strategic position it has and because of the Nile River. We need a very patriotic and nationalist leadership to lead Ethiopia into 21st century. The Opposition should do what it takes to shoulder the responsibility of leading the Ethiopian people. The Opposition in general could be proud of it’s achievements, which is not actually too bad. However, due the interest many foreign powers in Ethiopia, the struggle for political power in Ethiopia is very complicated and might need much more sacrifices than simple opposition.