After Meles: Avoiding a Violent Transition

Ezekiel Gebissa|October 11. 2012

(The Gulele Post) – During his tenure in office, Meles Zenawi was surprisingly consistent in stating the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF) commitment to democratization, economic development, and sustained peace in Ethiopia as if these goals were not shared by any other political party. In fact, no Ethiopian disagrees that these are desirable goals for a country ravaged by bad governance, poverty, and civil war for decades. It is not just Ethiopians. People everywhere in the world aspire for the right to freely choose their government, participate in economic activities and exercise the right to be free from violence, coercion, and other deprivations. These are fundamental human rights that transcend cultural or national boundaries.

The problem with the late prime minister’s position is the gulf between rhetoric and reality. The democracy he championed excluded many from participation in politics and governance. Even so, he had no qualms justifying his party’s monopoly of the political space as a desirable and legitimate “dominant party democracy.” The aggregate economic growth that occurred on his watch produced a handful of fabulously wealthy plutocrats and a vast majority of destitute Ethiopians. But the increasing inequality and massive poverty did not prevent the prime minster from claiming “an economic miracle” and audaciously dismissing as infantile any talk that a strong middle class is essential for a flourishing democracy. The problem with his vision for Ethiopia is his inexplicable and indefensible insistence that his monopolization of the political space and concentration of ill-gained wealth would ultimately guarantee democracy, development and a stable peace.

We don’t have to guess at what will become of a system that fosters economic inequality and political alienation. All such social systems have ultimately been consigned to the dust bin of history by popular revolutions. InEthiopia, economic inequality and political alienation have invariably led to violent political transitions. In the early 1990s, many political groups concluded that the EPRDF regime was intent on establishing complete domination over the political space in Ethiopia and decided that armed struggle was the only recourse for effecting change. For Oromo nationalists, armed struggle once again became an unavoidable imperative to continue the Oromo struggle for identity and self-government. Perhaps no other conclusion could have been reached at the time, given the current circumstances and the history of Ethiopia’s violent political transitions. Much has changed since the 1990s and certainly in the last few months. At this juncture in history, Ethiopia has indeed come to a crossroads, where the available choice is between democratization and disintegration.

This time, disintegration is not just a theoretical possibility. The contours are clear. The political dynamic is not promising.  The EPRDF is trying to justify its one-party dictatorship as “dominant party democracy,” a predatory economic system as “prosperity,” and popular apathy as “peace.” The opposition that refers to itself as “forces of unity” has shown its capacity for extra-constitutionality and disregard for inclusiveness with its temerity to form a government in exile and request governments to grant it recognition as an Ethiopian government. Political organizations that claim to represent the Oromo seem to be missing in action, both in and outside the country. All of these positions are untenable. But the very real prospect of disintegration and chaos should goad everyone to eschewing the “winner-take-all” political culture – an approach that has always led to a violent political transition – in favor of renegotiating a new Ethiopian social compact.

It should be clear to both the incumbent government and to the opposition that is shamelessly jockeying for power that there will be no democratic, prosperous, and stable Ethiopia without the genuine and full participation of the Oromo. None of the charades and schemes of the last two decades have captured the Oromo for either group. It should equally be clear to Oromo nationalists that the path of the last two decades is bereft of political realism. There are compelling reasons for Oromo nationalists to actively engage in shaping the future in Ethiopia. For one, the Oromo constitute half of Ethiopia and as such whatever affects Ethiopians inevitably affects Oromos. The effect of avoiding engagement in the task of remaking Ethiopia is ceding the field and watching from the sidelines while vital decisions are made on behalf of Oromos by actors who cannot represent genuine Oromo interests. For another, the Oromo have a rich heritage of indigenous knowledge and practices of democracy, development, and peacemaking that could gainfully be shared with other nations, nationalities, and peoples in Ethiopia. By being engaged, Oromo nationalists can help create a freer and better country for all its citizens. They should not shirk from their responsibility to be a positive agent for change and improved life conditions in the whole region. Enlightened self-interest in this case actually aligns well with the greater good.

–Full Article at The Gulele Post

Related:  After Meles: Trust Institutions, Not Individuals