There seems to be a consensus by all concerned that Ethiopia is at cross roads. Even TPLF/EPRDF is speaking about the need to make a critical choice. Most of us are curious to see the tour and detour the ruling party is about to take. What is sad is, the televised lectures of Ato Abay, and Ato Seyoum have only increased our pessimism about the most talked about Renewal. The Old Guards’ perception of reality, about the present political and economic problem in Ethiopia, is quite contrary to the events on the ground. They don’t seem to realize that the very appearance of the two TPLF veterans projecting power, undermining the image of the incumbent Prime Minister Hailemariam, is a problem by itself.
Going further, when most Ethiopians are angry about the real massacre that took place in Amhara and Oromia regions, Ato Abay and Ato Seyoum chose to dwell on a massacre that did not occur, by making a cunning and imaginary prediction of a genocide against our Tigryean brothers and sisters. The demonstrators were shouting about ending hegemony of TPLF, but the authorities were accusing the protest as an attack on the constitutional order. The protesters on the streets were shouting about Wolkait, but the Old Guards were seen belittling the youth by talking about its unemployment problems. The riots were seen demanding for a regime change to save the country from disaster, whereas the authorities were talking about renewal of the party for growth and transformation.
Despite the political lingo and gyrations, the bottom line should be about a detour from ethnic tension and not its escalation. Whatever the outcome of the ruling party’s self-evaluation of the country’s problems, it is necessary that we have a good inventory of what a minimum renewal should be about. The root causes of the present ethnic tension in Ethiopia are Legality of Secession , the Divisive Ethnic Parties and TPLF’s lack of willingness to divest its grip of political power & to share it with its pariah partners ANDM (Amhara), OPDO (Oromo), SEPDM (South).The following is a brief commentary on the three specific issues. Any renewal effort that does not resolve the trio challenges fails to address the basic concerns of all Ethiopians, who consider peaceful power transfer as the optimal solution.
First: Secession and the Constitution. Whether we like it or not, the question of secession is the multi trillion dollar question presented before all Ethiopians today. TPLF/EPRDF considers inclusion of secession in the constitution as the hallmark of its achievement; it strongly considers right to secede as the essence of the constitution to guarantee protection of Nations and Nationalities from ethnic oppression. There is an inherent belief that the only recourse of an ethnicity, in the face of ethnic oppression, is to run away from the Federation by declaring independence.
However, taking secession as a solution comes from a serious lack of confidence on the collective power of all Ethiopians to identify what is good for their common destiny, and collectively fight any form of oppression, be it ethnic or individual in nature. Agreed or not, it was Walelign, an Amhara, who made the first remark regarding ethnic oppression in Ethiopia. The Constitution should emphasize our unity in diversity; it has to empower citizens so that they may stand up together and fight, whenever their right is infringed, than encourage a coward act of fleeing the country, opting for secession.
The innate assumption of the constitution is that there is a chicken egg relationship between a region and its inhabitants. Every ethnicity is assumed to have laid the region as an egg or vice versa. Hence an ethnic group is deemed to have exclusive right on the region it inhabits, by disregarding the stake of other Ethiopians in that region. This is completely illogical and hence it is wrong! If we take the recent Ethio-Eritrean border conflict as an example, all Ethiopians paid sacrifice defending a frontier we all claim to be in Tigray and not in Eritrea. So, theoretically, how fair will that be to argue only the people of Tigray have a say on secession of the region from Ethiopia? Given our rich history and diversity, it is correct to accept the right of ethnicities for self-administration, but not necessarily the right to secede.
In one of my articles published in March 2016 entitled ‘Ethiopia’s Ethnic Parties, Hate for Oppressors but not the Oppression’, I quoted a Statement of Objects and Reasons in the 42nd amendment of the Indian constitution that sent a clear and resonating message about why it was necessary for India to outlaw cessation declaring cessation to be anti-national and hence illegal. Following was a relevant excerpt:
“A Constitution to be living must be growing. If the Impediments to the growth of the Constitution are not removed, the Constitution will suffer a virtual atrophy. The question of amending the Constitution for removing the difficulties which have arisen in achieving the objective of socio-economic revolution, which would end poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity, has been engaging the active attention of Government and Public for some Years Now…”
So, would the so called ‘Comprehensive Renewal’ of TPLF/EPRDF have a prospect of accompanying such a serious change, as was seen during the 42nd amendment of the Indian Constitution? A similar bold move can save Ethiopia from the ever growing ethnic tension. It can clear the serious doubt most Ethiopians have about the real motive for inserting such a dangerous phrase in the constitution, which most consider as a sugar coated time bomb. Ethiopia has not still seen democracy, and the up to secession clause has not added any real value to Ethiopians. However, its existence has, in fact, intensified and solidified the mistrust and suspicion among us.
Second: Ethnic Political Parties. In my other articles dated February 2016, ‘Demystifying: Ethnic Politics and Ethnic Federalism in Ethiopia’, I have tried to show that it is possible to have the federalism without its malice, ethnic politics. Ethnic parties stand for an ethnic group at the exclusion of others, based on differences that emanate from the act of God. I have shown that there is a nexus between ethnic parties and the phrase …”Including the right to secession”. If secession is outlawed, ethnic parties would lose the prime justification for their existence, their leadership role, when the need for secession arises.
It is not uncommon to see people who mistake an opposition to secession as opposition to federalism. The ruling party erroneously equates anti-secession as ethnic chauvinism. This comes from inability to grasp the essence of the problems that befell our country. At this historic juncture, no politician of a sound mind could dare to deny Oromos of Oromia. However, Oromos may choose to attain efficiency and overcome the Addis Ababa dilemma by willfully dividing Oromia in to North/South or East/West with two respective flourishing cities, comparable to that of Bahirdar or Mekele, for the forty million Ethiopians. This could be a natural outgrowth of true democracy. The problem does not lie in the zoning of regions or the use of languages other than Amharic; it is the ethnic parties that need a serious reorientation to gather members around ideologies and public policies than merely on ethnicity.
If we look at the experience of the US, it accommodates all races of the planet. But, it will be awkward and funny, even to imagine a US with German American Liberation Front, Hawaiian Democratic Movement, or African American Liberation Front. Why would they? After all what everybody needs, as a citizen, is Democracy and Freedom that renders equal opportunity in Education, Health, Jobs, Investment etc. The needs of an African American and a German American does not require an ethnic political party, but the constitution and the rule of law. The various races are members of ideology based political parties like Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or the Green Party. In India Congress Party and Janata Dal Parties can also be a good example for reference.
Likewise, why are we still struggling to recognize that the individual need of an Oromo, an Amhara, a Somali or a Tigre does not require membership in ethnic based political parties? The right of a minority like an Oromo who resides in Tigray, working languages of Governments and their boundaries should be articulated in the constitution. Any violation of such rights should be left to the judicial body, and not to ethnic parties that thrive only through conflicts. We need to reorient the system towards language competence than a primordial ethnicity. If a Somali from Ethiopia is able to be a Member of Parliament in Holland or in Portugal, why can’t we improve the constitution so that it enables an ethnic Oromo person run for a political office in Tigray or a Somali in the Oromia etc., if elected democratically?
Third: True EPRDF: Today, any change initiated by the ruling party towards democracy is bound to be a two-step progressive process. The second step cannot occur without walking the first. The first step is about TPLF’s commitment to let go of its control over EPRDF allowing TPLF/EPRDF to truly become EPRDF. It is futile to expect democracy from undemocratic TPLF/EPRDF. Equality within EPRDF should be accompanied by serious of measures by TPLF to divest its control over the security apparatus of the country through a genuine ethnic diversification, separation of the Army from politics and a genuine commitment to rule of law. Although we are all aware of the general truth that power is taken and not given, it is not uncommon to see a peaceful transfer of power as in Poland or South Africa. So, the first step towards democracy is that TPLF should be willing to truly relinquish power, and share it equally with the members of its coalition.
When all members of the ruling party have equal power and the freedom, to express descent, there could be a light across the tunnel for the second step, sharing power with the opposition. Any renewal effort by ruling party without taking the first step, will be a nasty bed time story for the opposition. A democratic EPRDF that is based in rule of law than the dictatorship of TPLF may have the capacity to admit its mistakes, to free political prisoners, to free journalists, to listen to criticisms, to design appropriate policies, to resolve conflicts amicably, to have a genuine dialogue with the opposition or to allow a free and fair election. This is what I call the second and the last step of peaceful power transfer.
In summary, given the growing ethnic tension and mistrust jeopardizing the peaceful coexistence of Ethiopians, it is crucial that a serious consideration is given to understand the pillars of the ethnic tension. And these are acceptance of a dispensable Ethiopia with legalized secession, the divisive role of ethnic political parties and absence of Democracy. TPLF/EPRDF has been talking about a fledgling Democracy for twenty five years without any evidence that a boy or a girl called Democracy is in fact born. We all know that what is not born cannot grow! Democracy is said to be born only when there are at least two democratic political parties that have a fifty-fifty chance of winning an election. Simply put, the renewal should be about removing the impediment to growth of the constitution from virtual atrophy by outlawing secession and ethnic political parties, peaceful transfer of power by TPLF to EPRDF and finally a peaceful transfer of power to opposition parties, through a free and fair election. Given the history of the ruling party, considering any higher or faster route would be indulgence in shear fantasy.