One of the gravest mistakes one may make in life is exclusively focusing on individuals and not on ideas. In countries where dictatorship is the norm, people usually consider the death of top leaders as the beginning of the end of tyranny. But that does not often translate into reality. Africa is a region where this assertion stands tall; decades witnessed the replacement of one dictator by another. In Ethiopia, the collapse of the imperial feudal system culminated only in the entourage of one of the harshest military rules on earth. That again is succeeded by what appears at the surface a mild form of governance where democracy, the rule of law, freedom and being human are all systematically put at the edge. Still, people expected positive developments following the death of the late PM Meles Zenawi. So far, golden opportunities are missed mainly because we Ethiopians focus on individuals: Haile Selassie, Mengistu Haile Mariam, and Meles Zenawi. We failed so far to dissect, choose, and act on ideas, which could have led us elsewhere.
Medrek's Tenben Meeting
The Ethiopian opposition was expected to exploit the perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity given two months before. The governing party is now reconsolidating power and confidence while the opposition talk s of divisions and skirmishes thereof. Fortunately, the media, particularly ESAT, have been playing a much more greater and useful role. This does not however mean to deny the efforts being made by some opposition parties such as Medrek. Although Medrek has not shown us its capacity to maneuver and use available opportunities, it has been active in getting itself stronger and bigger. It managed to enlist several parties as members and is working towards creating a possible unification.
This has been given warm welcomes from many writers including Professor Mesay Kebede. In his latest piece entitled “Medrek’s path to unity and charisma” (http://www.ethiopianreview.net/index/?p=46380), he lauded the party’s moves to grow by numbers and offered seminal ideas related to issues of federation, cessation, sea port, and the like. Professor Mesay focused on ideas, philosophies, options, and challenges. Medrek will surely benefit if they take up his reflections and suggestions.
I also consider Medrek as a viable option in Ethiopian politics on condition that the party continues to take steps towards meeting its goals and responsibilities in a very transparent and accountable way, something political parties in Ethiopia really lack. To me, if Medrek is to become a functionally competitive party for millions of Ethiopians, it has to attend to the following eight challenges and issues. Yes, I am aware of the harsh political climate in the country; but that should not be used as an excuse for opposition failure. To me, a strong party must overcome all the hurdles the ruling party puts on its way. If Medrek does attend to at least the following, Ethiopians will surely give their hearts and minds as they did for Kinjit.
Medrek is privileged to have some notable figures who were once among the top leadership of EPRDF. The public must accept warmly such defectors as that would in the end contribute to positive change. The problem is when such people join the innocent crowd who once has been their victim. My point is that if we really are up for positive change and development, former EPRDF leaders who join the opposition must be held accountable for all what they did before. That EPRDF preferred collective leadership before its grand division justifies the move to ask defectors for a public apology. As a matter of fact, every appointed or elected leader must be accountable and responsible for wrong doings. It is illogical and insincere to say that doing so is not among the priority for now. But if defectors want to get embraced well, they must clarify their political history sincerely. The opposition camp should not be considered a safe haven for fired, frustrated and retired leaders from EPRDF. They must learn from Dr Negasso Gidada, who publicly apologized.
One strict similarity between EPRDF and the opposition including Medrek is that their executive committee members are seniors who are in their sixties and seventies. Opposition and EPRDF leaders have been in their positions for years and years. There is hardly enough room for the youngsters. This not only suppresses the immense potential of the young generation but also sends a bad message of clinching to power until death, as what happens to the governing party. Do not play the “there is no committed young people” card. If no one is really there, it just shows the incompetence of the party itself. Training and preparing future leaders must be a crucial aspect of political struggle. Though mainly a trick, even EPRDF talks of leadership succession. What happens to the opposition?
Front as success?
It seems Medrek is busy creating a unity. All resources are devoted to it. This is fine but it pushes the party away from the most important part of the struggle- to formidably challenge the regime. Creating a forum and then bringing a complete unification may take time and even if it happens, it is just a process or a means to reach an end. Keep the ‘fighting’ while creating unity among the opposition. Afterall, all parties need not join Medrek; they must be seen as alternative voices, too.
Evolution vs revolution
To me the grandest mistake Kinjit made was its failure to take EPRDF-acknowledged votes. While it was true that the regime stole votes from Kinjit, it was a disaster for Kinjit to reject joining government and finally to disintegrate. Had they been able to take their officially acknowledged seats, including the entire Addis Ababa administration, we might have seen at least some changes. Taking that opportunity, the opposition could have strengthened themselves, by for instance getting more institutionalized. Their hunger for a revolution prevented them from harvesting the benefits of evolution. Medrek must believe in incremental or cumulative change while staying open to and working toward drastic changes.
Rural vs urban
One major strength of Kinjit was its ability and capacity to get known by the rural population. Millions of farmers echoed and chose Kinjit although their votes were stolen in day light. Unfortunately, Medrek is snailing around some of the major towns and in Addis. Considering that over 80% of Ethiopians resides in rural areas, this will lead the party to nowhere. They must sell themselves to the rural majority by any means and in good time. Sporadic and even intensified campaigns at eve of elections will surely not suffice.
Yes, the ruling party is limiting the political playing field for the opposition. Limited visits to towns and villages are in no match with the scale of the problem. So Medrek must create and sustain a virtual identity so that the Diaspora and the international community are updated of its moves. This does not mean creating a static website but having a dynamic and regularly updated online ‘office’. News, analyses, policies, strategies, challenges, issues, and the like could be clearly communicated there. Since doing this from Ethiopia may be technically a challenge (given power outages and limited Internet bandwidth), Medrek may delegate this authority to its Diaspora members and/or supporters. The latter could get information from Addis using various means and could regularly and quickly upload it for public consumption. Blogs, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media support efficient communication and networking. This way, the party could add a new dimension to itself that will be crucial in the fight against tyranny.
Medrek members several key parties so far and is working toward a higher and noble case., creating a unification This should be commended and supported by all means available. But one has to remind that growing by numbers may not be translated into desired changes. Also all parties do not necessarily get unified and one even does not have to get unified. If consensus is reached on major national issues, it is better to intensify the struggle than to get obsessed with unification. Plus, a multifaceted strategy that involves application of modern technology and establishing grassroots networking is crucial. In the entire move, Medrek ought to eye on ideas and implications and not on people and even events.