D-Day: The Ethiopian Type
During World War II, Nazi Germany invaded several key spots in Northwest Europe including France. To ‘check’ Hitler's aggressive expansion and then abolish his rule once and for all, a number of countries including the UK, USA, and surprisingly Ethiopia formed a military front, dubbed as the Allied forces. Operation Neptune was the name of the military campaign that sought to oust Nazi forces from Europe, first from France, particularly from the area known as Normandy. The operation did not initially set a specific day for attack and was simply called D-Day. Finally, June 6, 1944 heralded the beginning of the largest allied military operation ever against Nazi. Thousands of ships, tens of thousands of planes, and hundreds of thousands of ground forces participated. In just three months, the entire Normandy and then Paris were freed and that effectively ruined Hitler’s dream of becoming a world leader. Every year in June, the D-Day is remembered and gains large media coverage in the West.
How does the D-Day concept relate to Ethiopia? Although Ethiopia was considered as one of the Allied forces against Nazism, my usage of the term now is totally different. As the West have a shared understanding when it comes to D-Day, there appears to be a story and a developing usage of “D” in Ethiopian politics. Disagreements within political parties often ended up with cloning- creating new parties that have almost identical vision and mission with original parties. The newly formed groupings will then add the suffix D- to indicate that they are democratic- to their names. Tesfay GebreAb described it this way:
“D” በመጨመር “ተገንጥያለሁ” የሚለውን ነገር የጀመረው ኢህአፓ ነው መሰለኝ። ኢህአፓ ምን ያልጀመረው ነገር አለ? ከኢህአፓ “D” በሁዋላ እንኳ፣ ስንት “D” ተመልክተናል? ቅንጅት“D” ፣ ኦብኮ“D” ፣ ኦርቶዶክስ“D” ፣ መጅሊስ“D” ፣ ታላቁ ሩጫ“D”፣ ኦነግ“D” ፣ ግንቦት 7“D” ፣ እግዜር ይቅር ይበለን። “D” የተባሉ የከሰሩ ፖለቲከኞችን ዲክታተር ከመሆን እግዜር ይጠብቃቸው። “ካልበላሁት ልበታትነው” ከተባለው መንፈስ ይሰውራቸው። በእኔ በኩል እምነቴ የተለየ ነው። ከቻሉ ከእናት ድርጅታቸው ሳይወጡ ከውስጥ ሆነው ቢታገሉ፣ ካልቻሉ ግን የራሳቸውን አዲስ ራእይ ነድፈው፣ የራሳቸውን አዲስ ስም ቢያስተዋውቁ ይመረጣል።
While I have reservations with Tesfaye’s relaxed use of D, I concur with his general idea. That Ethiopian opposition and now even the ruling party (though not checked for credibility) seem to have their Plan B, to declare cessation and form new parties that just add D to the names of original parties. The major argument put forward by cloned parties (which I called them D-parties) is that their original parties are homes of dictatorial leaders and hence the best way of avoiding that is through forming new parties. They often mention how leaders of original parties inappropriately behave in decision making, planning, and implementation.
I am a strong advocate of democracy, the rule of law, and presence of alternative voices but when it comes to D-parties, I do have serious reservations. I rather claim that forming D-parties is not the right way to fight injustices and to bring democracy. I also conclude that D-parties are not contributing any better to Ethiopian politics for the following grounds.
- Those who cry that original party leaders are dictators are themselves making a fallacy; they say that their voices could not be heard. The implication is that they would want to hear their own voices alone following the formation of D-parties. We have so far seen nothing from D-parties that goes any closer to democracy. The only difference is that defectors are turned to be top leaders of D-parties.
- Dissenters (defectors) used to have shared understandings of the vision and mission of their mother/original parties. That is why they in the first place decided to join original parties. If one has a working understanding and belief in the overall goal of a party, there is no need to form a new one. We should not expect complete agreement in all facets of political life.
- Forming D-parties seem to shake the resource base of original parties. D-parties unnecessarily compete with their mother parties for members, resources and name. The ugly thing is that the competition is not made fairly; they often must open a protracted campaign to assassin the integrity and prospect of original parties. This benefits no one except the top leaders of the D-parties and the governing party.
- That new parties just add “D” to original names really creates confusion to the general public. It is ambiguous to join or support either party. In the process, it is hard to ensure accountability.
- Forming D-parties kills public motivation to get involved in politics.
- D-parties just frustrate the public. Several people seem to consider opposition parties as hopeless, powerless, disorganized, and fragmented and the like. D-parties must be the first to take this blame.
- D-parties retard and at best kill opposition politics much more than what EPRDF does to the latter.
So far, we do not see meaningful contribution from the opposition mainly because of their divisive nature. Parties attribute their failure to the narrow political playing field arranged by EPRDF. In reality, the opposition is committing suicide and the government’s pressure is just secondary. That is mainly why several Ethiopians do not want to be members and/or regular supporters of opposition parties. If the existing scenario is not changed, it is unlikely that we will have a strong opposition that can shake the integrity of EPRDF. Given the current political fabric, it is easier to conclude that EPRDF may undergo metamorphosis from within than from outside.
Should we continue watching the opposition drama? I bet not. Every concerned Ethiopian must try her/his best to discourage the formation of D-parties and encourage democratic practices within original parties. We need to hold the opposition responsible and accountable in several ways. We argue that the West should reconsider their loan and aid policies to Ethiopia, on the ground that democratic systems and practices should be put as preconditions. That sounds logical and being responsible but we have to play fair. Our support to the opposition must be conditional, too. We can use multifaceted mechanisms to discourage D-party formation and encourage truly democratic opposition parties. We need to reconsider our belief systems and support mechanisms related to Ethiopian politics and the opposition, particularly.
- Do not support morally, financially or in anyway available the formation of D-parties
- Boycott conferences, workshops, seminars, and campaigns organized by D-parties
- Stop spreading via email, Facebook, blogs and other means the formation of D-parties
- Call for democratic and transparent practices in original/opposition politics
- Accept that disagreements are common and believe in majority vote
- Give priority to the public good (democratic governance) than to personal interests and whims
- Discourage within parties the formation of networks that rely on kinship, language, and ethnicity
- Encourage maximum participation during decision making and planning
- Mediate any form of conflict within parties quickly
- Make financial contribution to democratic and transparent parties only
- And generally oppose the opposition for any form of injustice
D-parties, created by the opposition itself and the ruling party, are not good additions to Ethiopian politics. They are among the main factors that pull back the already messy political culture. It is better to fight for justice while being within the original parties. That fight must be genuine and be free from creating networks that base on ethnicity or any other socio-economic variable. The fight must base on principles of democracy, rule of law, and freedom. If that is impossible and if one really feels the formation of new party could push the struggle a step forward, considering cessation may be the final resolution. If that is chosen, utmost care must be taken not to blackmail and push down original parties. But for now, D-parties could best be considered as an 'appendix' to Ethiopian politics.