of Building a United Movement for a Democratic Ethiopia*
failure of the Ethiopian political opposition forces and civil society
movements to act in unison on common ideals of national interest has
enabled the dictatorship of the TPLF/EPRDF regime to persist in power
through nearly three decades, thereby prolonging the multi facade misery
of the Ethiopian people. The daily events in the entire nation are
gripping stories of conflicts, death, destruction, looming famine, fear of
disintegration and statelessness. These dismal eventualities, by their
nature, are the common concerns of every citizen, and above all of every
organized political group and civil movement which aspires for a popular
change, but which have refrained so far from tackling the lingering
to forge a generic national vision, a common program of action to
translate the vision into a reality and the commitment to adhere to
democratic principles agreed upon appears to have been the core factors
that are hindering the realization of the cherished dream of a tormented
nation. The heeding of these factors, by-and-large, rests on the shoulders
of the organized elite, styled in the form of political or civil society
assemblage. However, these different elite classes happen to be embroiled
in unworthy squabbles some of which are indeed aged grudge against each
other or sectarian ambitions, perhaps also ideological fixations, but
certainly irrelevant as far as the national issue at stake is concerned.
urgent and inclusive dialogue on how to end the dictatorship that has
brought us to where we find ourselves now and shape the future of our
Ethiopia is long overdue. A collective vision that strikes an admissible
balance of state-society relationship, accompanied by concerted actions of
ending the culture of domination-ridden conflicts, could relieve Ethiopia
from the haunting predicaments. This is not remotely placed if the will
and sensibility required is evoked.
embarking upon the main topic at hand, let me pose a general fact that has
gripped the viability of the last four or five generations of Ethiopia.
For most part of the 20th century to this day, the overwhelming
majority of Ethiopian people have lived in abject poverty, intermittent
wars and degrading backwardness. Recurring famine is still haunting our
people; no wonder famine has become the hallmark of Ethiopia. Indeed, no
other than the successive repressive governments that manipulated the
state power for the benefit of the ruling elite bear the responsibility of
damping Ethiopia in such a shady reputation. The Ethiopian state is still
a tool of the aggressively reigning ruling class, namely the TPLF/EPRDF
that knows no bounds of repression and hence possess neither legitimacy
no nation can survive without a state nowadays, people within that nation
has the duty to install and set in motion a state that safeguards their
interest as well as enhance their development. In actual fact, the
emergence of the historical state was meant for the wellbeing of the
concerned people. Thus, without a state based on the peoples will and
influence, collective engagement in politics, stability, continuity of
peace and progress were unthinkable.
the Ethiopian case, a state of and for the people has never existed. There
is not even an equivalent word for the notion of a state in the Ethiopian
languages. This is why the state is often, if not always, mixed up with
the notion of government. Let me use this opportunity to introduce the
word MENSIH (መንስህ)
for the concept state in order to elicit the dichotomy of government and
state. We can still call a government as usual MENGIST (መንግስት)
and coin a word for a state MENSIH (መንስህ)
which I tailor from system of people’s governance, (i.e. መንግስታዊ
the conceptual differences between a state (MENSIH), i.e. the general
system of governance on the one hand, and a government which is a body
responsible for the execution of specific policies on the other, is
absolutely necessary; in that the state is the system of governance
created by people to meet the requirements of life, while a government is
a section within the state that manages the state apparatus in a given
span of time. Relatively gauged, the state constitutes a permanent set of
institution while a government is an ephemeral power of implementation.
Hence, the state stands as a collective power above both the government
and the governed until a conscious civil society outsmarts it role and
finds it redundant.
conscious elements of the society in general and the elite of political
forces and civil movements in particular, when united under such
indispensable project, can play a decisive role in setting up a legitimate
state of the people. Under such a state, governments can be scrutinized,
while appropriation and transfer of political power to run a government
could be peaceful and orderly, wherefore socio-economic progress should
not be hampered. In a nutshell, a legitimate state by and for the people
is a sine qua non of a stable and industrious society; such a state, with
all the attendant institutions of governance, should be set in place by
the combined efforts of all concerned actors before running for power.
This is one basic challenge for all the opposition social groups in Ethiopia
upon which their survival and sway in turn would be meaningful. Such a
state can only be a product of the collective will of the national
components and not the wish of one or two individuals or parties.
is Ethiopia in Deep Crisis and heading towards State Collapse? What is the
Standing of the Opposition?
one disputes that contemporary Ethiopia is fast drifting into
unprecedented disaster, with widespread ramifications of conflicts and
total anarchy. Even the TPLF ruling class, in its recent congress
declaration, with half-baked admission of guilt, has made it abundantly
clear that the deep crisis is rampant. The point of contention however is
providing a correct analysis of the root causes of the surging anarchy and
implementing the right remedies. As the saying goes “correctly
identifying a problem is half way the solution”. To the TPLF/EPRDF, such
an approach is alien.
we inspect the crisis, it is for all to see that three agents stand out as
the main factors that stalled the future of Ethiopia and also contributing
to the sliding of this country to uncharted political terrain. These
actors are a) the TPLF/EPRDF regime, b) the foreign powers catering for
repression, and c) the opposition itself. Indeed these actors appear
independent of each other and may have conflicting interests, yet in
prolonging the misery of the Ethiopian people, intentionally or
unintentionally, they are on the same footing. Let us briefly see them one
The most hideous actor in the trauma is the TPLF/EPRDF ruling class. This
ruling clique has instituted a vicious dictatorship of the worst type and
continuously inflicted untold sufferings upon the entire people. More so,
it is adamant to pursue this path, perhaps until it burns itself out.
Since much has been said and written about the character and fate of this
moribund regime, I will not spend time reiterating the obvious but only
say that this regime has to go and the sooner the better.
Equally, responsible for the predicaments the Ethiopian people are
undergoing is the band of foreign powers who has enable such a vindictive
regime to remain in power, and also by posing every imaginable impediment
against the struggle for justice. Knowing that it is a tyrannical regime,
the foreign powers especially the USA, the UK and nowadays China who still
finance, arm, advice and, train the ruling clique are no less guilty in
the acts of collusion against our country. This unholy alliance with the
EPRDF has to stop, and can only stop when we as opposition forces and
civil movements in unison mobilize our people and stand consistent in the
struggle for our collective rights.
The third factor is the opposition itself. By opposition I am
referring to the category of all organized or unorganized citizenry that
is opposed to the regime in power and its arch patrons. Of course, in this
category of opposition, the organized political groups and civil movements
stand out as the body where the heavier chunk of the responsibility lies.
Failing to unity in order to create a formidable force of the people which
could have compelled the regime in power to surrender its unwarranted
control and also turn the scale of the foreign powers is
the grim reality we are facing these days. Can this grim reality be
reversed? Of course yes, but only if the will and determination to abide
by collective principles is alive. If
this path can bring an end to the regime which is causing so much misery,
why are we, the members of the broad opposition, unable to stand up to the
formation of united force that could lead us to the desired change? It is
this third factor of opposition groups that requires profound scrutiny, if
we are to come out of the quagmire we are drowning. Unless
the numerous opposition, in and outside the country, put themselves in the
right shape and order i.e. pulling into a united movement based on general
principles of a democratic system and worthy of registering the success
our people deserve, the whole country will continue to bleed and the worst
Nature of the Opposition and the Looming Challenges:
speaking, in the Ethiopian political culture, pluralism had no place and
therefore opposition or party politics was considered anomalous and
illegal. Monarchic, militarist and separatist individual leaders, with all
sorts of claims and demagogy, have been determining the fate of million.
This political culture is still alive as one can observe in the inner
workings of many political organizations and among ourselves.
this cultural milieu, seizure of power through brute force has been the
order of the day and still is the case, the main reason being regimes in
power allow no alternative means of political engagement other than the
usual monopoly. The TPLF/EPRDF regime seized power in this manner and bows
to continue in power that way. There exists no political space for
opposition parties to operate or for dissenting view to be expressed. Let
us leave the case of the tyrant regime for the moment as it is and instead
focus on the opposition.
regressive political culture we alluded to above in so many ways has
permeated through most of the opposition groups and is reflected in a
number of instances, regrettably deranging the harmony of working together
for a common cause. For the benefit of clarity, let us refer to some
instances of the backward cultural manifestations in which the opposition
the name of unity, many tend to deny our diversity, and with that denial
the attendant rights are negated. Conversely, in the name of secession, it
has become common to deny the merits of unity and the progress it entails.
In both cases, denial feeds dissonance and propagates uncalled-for
conflicts within the opposition and beyond.
opposition elements believe their political position is the ultimate truth
and hence leave no room for alternative opinions. Still worse, holders of
an alternative line of thought are treated as enemies, in most cases
condemned to perish. This notion puts every group in a spiral discord
which in turn diminishes the viability of each group to work with others.
lay all their trust on individual leaders, rather than on worthy ideas
that could take them through thick and thin. They forget that it is an
idea or a set of ideas that moves millions in one or the other direction
towards a desired goal. When an individual leader takes a hegemonic
position by discounting the idea that mobilized people, democracy shrinks
and dictatorship succeeds, even at the level of opposition.
are those who put individual or organizational interest before and even at
the cost of national or people’s interest, although they profess the
other way. In such instances, the process of collective bargaining suffers
most, mutual confidence is shattered and groups live in perpetual clash,
imagined or real.
to differentiate between a people and a ruling class deranges the alliance
of oppressed people and the preponderant principles that could have
unified opposition groups. The dire consequence of this miscarriage is
that the oppressive regime gets emboldened by exploiting the mistaken
views of the opposition.
to master the differences between tactics and strategy have also put the
opposition at loggerheads. Peaceful struggle, armed struggle or civil disobedience being
different forms of contention, their strategic goal could be one and the
same if tuned in to the collective cause. If the goal is defined as an
inclusive democratic system, the different forms of struggle are not
asymmetrical liabilities, instead
they are complementary assets that enhance the progress of a struggle
if they are coordinated by an apt unified body.
I have enumerated above are only a few of the pitfalls the opposition
groups are encountering and need to undo them, if a formidable united
force that could unseat the regime in power and transform the Ethiopia
society into a system of democracy is envisaged. It is such drawbacks and
the likes that is dwarfing the opposition from appearing tall and vibrant.
those pitfalls could find explanation in one general abstraction, namely
backward political culture. A political culture of win-all, instead of
win-win. This mind-set is a critical stumbling block along the path to
unity of thought and action, especial in a diverse society like ours. This
backward political culture has so many ramifications and one can see it
reflected even in our routine encounters. It is common to hear absolutist
interjections like “I know! I am
correct! Accept my way, if not you are an enemy condemned to perish!, etc.
”. Such notions are ingrained in our psychics and bubble out at
critical moments no matter how we pretend as democrats. Let me cite one or
two commonly raised but sensitive examples: one can say “I do not
support this type of Ethiopia unity, but that one”, or on the other hand
one may say, “secession is not a solution to a political problem”,
still another can say Moslems were oppressed in contemporary Ethiopia”.
In such many instants, the opponent will jump to bitter condemnation
amounting to annihilation, instead of engaging the former in a civil
argument that could influence his/her, perhaps ill thought positions.
Therefore the need to dump away this backward political culture which is
the fertile ground for all our misgivings is one of the central challenges
to all of us in general and to the opposition groups in particular, if
building a united movement is to be a reality.
the absence of a broad-based organization with a coherent vision to lead
the struggle of a diverse society, the Ethiopian people have been fighting
for their rights in different ways and means for more than two and half
decades. Those who hold the perception that the people have not been
fighting are out of range from the realities on the ground. The people
have been bleeding here and there across the country. The bitter fact,
however, is that there was no coordination among the remotely dispersed
revolts, and this deficiency enabled the ruthless regime to crash all the
isolated movements one at time. This regrettable fact highlights the
missing role a unified opposition should have played.
we can emphatically contend that the lingering impasse can be overcome, if
a united opposition emerges sooner than later. Couldn’t we lay the
ground for its emergence right here? Why not? At least, we can reach a
solid consensus upon which all opposition forces could stand on the same
common platform. Let us conclude and stand firm on our resolution that all
viable opposition forces come together, lay their positions on the table
and reach a consensus on the common objectives of dismantling dictatorship
and establishing a system for all. If there is the will and the
determination to act on the agreed on objectives, our collective goal can
be achieved in no time.
me conclude by citing three compelling quotes relevant to our situation.
The first one is from Antonio Gramsci reflecting on the crisis of 1930s
Europe: ”The disorderly and chaotic energies must be given a permanent
form and discipline, transform itself into an organized society that can
educate itself, gain experience and acquire a responsible consciousness of
the obligations that fall to classes achieving state power“.
second is from Gebre Hiwet Bykedagn, reflecting on 1910s Ethiopia: “If
there are people who collectively seek the path to development, the
process cannot be hampered by wicked men. Similarly, for people who do not
aspire it, development cannot be acquired because of some individuals. So
there is one way for peoples’ development, and if they ignore this way
and seek another one, the people will perish“(translated by Tenkir
the 3rd is from Shengo, reflecting on contemporary Ethiopia:
“Scattered and individual struggles, likely fall-pray to the enemy or
end up in transferring power from one small group to another by excluding
the great majority, but never can bring gratifying change“(translated by
paper was presented at the Frankfurt - Ethiopia Futures Conference, 9th
and 10th December 2017 by Dr. Aregawi Berhe, SHENGO Council
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