Nebire Jinurgurnetun, Woyanes Gotegnanetun Melewot Yichala? (Amharic PDF Article)
The purpose of this personal comment and testimony is to share my experience for raising appropriate awareness, for the sake of genuineness and fairness, and for a call to remove the suffering of our dear fellow citizens.
1. The Importance of Participatory Politics
A popular struggle for the emancipation of oppressed people has always been the joint responsibility of all concerned, enlightened and conscious citizens against the oppressors and their selfish servants. Indeed, the invaluable contributions made and the heavy sacrifices paid over the last 40 years in the Ethiopian people’s protracted political struggle was not at all limited to a single gender, generation or class. Girls stood side by side with boys, women with men, and the youth with the elders, for the betterment of their people. That struggle has been between the vanguards of change and the oppressed people on one side, and the oppressive regimes and their selfish cadres on the other.
Struggle for democracy is all inclusive. It is the fundamental human rights to respect and encourage the active participation of all stakeholders. There can never be equality of opportunities and democratic exercises if some sectors or groups are denied a full participation in a democratic struggle on the basis of gender, ethnicity, age or class.
Those who made positive contribution should be appreciated. Those who committed crime against humanity should be condemned. It is hence natural and logical to suggest that the continued struggle can bear good fruits only when all genuine citizens join hands without any form of discrimination that will lead to distortions and unnecessary disengagement of important members and groups.
2. The Popular Struggle During the Emperor’s Monarchy
2.1. The strength and success of that popular struggle
The important landmark in the struggle for democracy was the attempted coup d’état that was led by the Head of the Imperial Bodyguards, General Mengistu Neway. His brother was educated in the United States of America with distinguished democrats such as John F. Kennedy and Kuwame Nykrumah. General Mengistu and his heroes such as Workneh Gebeyehu were among the few most highly privileged elites. However, they could not bear the grossly suffering of their people, especially the Peasants, under the Absolute Monarchy of the Emperor that only favoured the Feudal Class. They took the courage to struggle to remove that Absolute Monarchy and paid precious life sacrifices.
But they did not die in vain. Their legacy continued unabated. The heroic and most renowned Ethiopian Students’ Movement started. That was followed by the movements of the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association and the Trade Union. The most famous banners of the struggle were ‘Land To the Tillers’, ‘Equality of Classes to respect Workers’ Rights’ and ‘Equality of All Nationalities’. Those ad hock and separate struggles finally culminated in the formation of the first opposition political party – the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP). The EPRP was formed in 1972 to lead that struggle to abolish the Monarchy and the Feudal System and to facilitate the setting up of a popular democratic system. It is important to stress the fact that this party evolved from the radical movements of students, teachers, workers and peasants. The programmes were regularly disseminated in a clandestine manner, using party organs, notably, the most famous and articulated ‘Democracia’. During the devastating famine of 1973-74, we, the University students evacuated from our campuses. We went to all the famine – affected provinces – notably, Wollo, Tigray, Hararghe and Bale. We lived with the Peasants for one year to achieve two integrated objectives: assisting our rural people while increasing their consciousness on their democratic rights. Our beloved Lectures used to visit us with motivation and awareness through the distribution of Democracia. Other students went back to their respective regions and carried out similar political activities. However, the formation of the EPRP was not officially declared until 1975. Unfortunately, being a new party, the EPRP was organisationally not yet strong enough to lead the 1974 popular revolution that brought down the reign of the Monarchy. Without any exaggeration, however, it was that protracted struggle and People’s Power that eventually brought down the strong Empire.
2.2 The Limitations of that struggle
Although part of that struggle was for the equality of all nationalities, some secessionist groups such as the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and the Eritrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (EPLF) were not happy to see the development of stronger Ethiopian National Movement. It was with this in mind that the EPLF sponsored and supported the formation of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), to weaken the national struggle under the leadership of the EPRP.
Although there were many members of the armed forces that joined and supported the EPRP struggle, the 1974 popular revolution and its eventual victory was hijacked by the selfish Military Junta that came to power in the name of the Dergue, through the might of its weapons and cruelty.
3. The Popular Struggle During the Military Dictatorship
3.1 The strength and success of that popular struggle
After the one-year University evacuation mentioned above, we were called back by our University Students Union Association (USUA), to gather around our respective Colleges to consolidate the popular struggle. The Dergue was scared of our recollection. Thus, they planned and executed the ‘Development through Cooperation Campaign’ (Idget Behibret Zemecha) that started in 1975. The purpose of the Zemecha was to disperse University and High School students and Lecturers/Teachers (above the 10th Grade) to rural areas to buy time for power consolidation. But that Campaign also gave us more opportunities to organise the rural population. When a clash between us and the rural farmers on one side and the Dergue Army on the other became so serious, we decided to abandon the Zemecha after about 10 months and were forced to move to a higher level of political struggle.
The EPRP formally declared its formation while we were on the Zemecha. Soon, this first Ethiopian Opposition Political Party was joined by all genuine, enlightened and conscious members of the society, including Professors, Doctors, Engineers, the elders and the youth from all parts of the Country. Members of the EPRP infiltrated into the Trade Unions, the farmers and others, to lead a coordinated and protracted struggle.
Based on the good knowledge of the nature of Military Dictators in the world, the EPRP expressed its opposition to the leadership of the Dergue. The EPRP called for:
- The respect for unrestricted democratic rights
- the immediate cessation of repression
- formation of a transitional popular government composed of representatives of all sectors.
The Dergue refused. It outlawed the EPRP, while harbouring those groups that accepted its administration. The organisational and political movements of the trade unions and other civil groups were heavily repressed. Peaceful demonstrations were banned and crashed with heavy hands. But the popular struggle continued against those repressions and gross violation of basic civic and human rights. When the popular resistance got stronger around 1976, the Dergue declared an open war against the EPRP and its supporters. The Dergue officially declared a nasty Red Terror against the opposition that was responsible for the death of over a quarter of a million people and the displacement of millions. Bodies were left on the streets for several days to deter others from the struggle. Mothers had to pay for the price of the Dergue bullets that killed their children before collections for burials.
3.2 The Limitations of that struggle
Although there were considerable members of the Feudal Class who supported the popular struggle for democracy, many of them were resentful not to lose their possession of land, property and power. However, there was a period when the Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU) under the leaderships of such prominent and far sighted people as the Great Bitwoded Adane and General Nega Tegegn developed a very close alliance with the EPRP. That interesting collaboration did not last after the mysterious assassination of Bitwoded Adane by the TPLF sponsored saboteurs.
There was also a strong faction of the prior student movement that chose to join the Dergue, probably thinking that they may be able to overthrow the regime from within. However, the nasty clash between those who opposed the dictatorial regime and those that joined the regime led to an unfortunate, nasty and unnecessary conflict between the same popular forces.
In addition, the EPRP and the other opposition forces that had an Ethiopian agenda had to face animosity from the following internal and external enemies:
- The Soviet Blocks that supported and armed the Military Government to its teeth,
- The Westerners who did not want to see strong nationalist and genuine Socialist Government in Ethiopia;
- The EPLF and the TPLF that had strong external support to destabilise the Country.
Due to those combined internal and external enemies, the EPRP struggle was weakened and the life of the dictatorial rule extended for some 19 years. However, the popular struggle, with its ups and downs, continued until the peoples power brought down the Dergue Regime, whose victory was again hijacked by the Consortia composed of external Western enemies and the internal secessionist EPLF and TPLF movements.
4. The Popular Struggle During the Woyane Dictatorship
4.1 The strength and success of that popular struggle
Nobody needs a reminder about atrocities committed by the Woyane Dictatorship as all of us have witnessed them equally.
We are all equally aware of the following facts:
- The number of innocent citizens that have been murdered,
- The number of innocent citizens that have been harassed, intimidated, beaten and imprisoned or sent to unbearable concentration camps,
- The innocent leaders of opposition political parties, their supporters and members of the free press and other civic groups that are still languishing in prisons, especially following the drama of the last so called national election,
- The number of leaders and members of opposition political parties, notably the EPRP, who disappeared in the hands of the EPLF/TPLF.
The ‘crime’ of the Ethiopian people is their peaceful struggle to respect their voices and democratic rights. Both from within and in the Diaspora, all genuine citizens conducted ferocious and unabated peaceful struggle against those atrocities.
In the Diaspora, joint task forces were formed, composed of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) and the civic groups. Through the leadership of those joint task forces, Ethiopians were highly organised and carried out interesting and effective political discussion meetings, demonstrations, vigils, lobbying and fundraising. Thanks to those strong joint movements, the following important objectives were fulfilled especially during the initial stages:
- The International Election Observers were made aware of the realities that led to the publication of eventual true Reports,
- External Funding Bodies such as the European Union, the World Bank and the IMF were forced to suspend budgetary assistance to the regime, and
- Restrained the brutal regime from killing more.
4.2 Limitations of that Struggle
Unfortunately, however, that strong unity among the different opposition groups slowly started getting weaker, as usual.
Every genuine citizens cherished the 2003 formation of the UEDF that brought together 15 opposition political parties. Some of the most fundamental terms of agreements at that historical formation were to ensure the following conditions up to, during and after the scheduled May 2005 national election:
- To pursue a united peaceful struggle’
- To ensure the formation of independent/impartial National Election Board and presence of independent national and international election observers at all pole stations,
- The presence of conducive environment for the participation of all opposition political parties in the national election, and
- In the absence of the above conditions, to boycott participation in the national election and lead a peaceful civil disobedience.
In no time, however, All Ethiopia Peoples Organisation (AEPO) and the Ethiopia Democratic Party (EDP) unfortunately withdrew from the UEDF. That was a bit of a set back. Even then, members and supporters of the UEDF and the newly emerging Coalition for Unity and Democracy made interesting joint struggles during and immediately after the May 2005 National Election. Unfortunately that joint struggle was not sustained due to the usual internal differences and divisions.
To our utter dismay and disbelief, some members of both the CUD and the UEDF even joined that illegitimate Parliament to give some legitimacy to that dictatorship. History and our people will never forgive them.
All those unnecessary differences only benefited the temporary extension of the life of that dictatorial regime that was nearly kicked out of power by the peaceful popular appraisal.
5. Concluding Remarks
5.1 Judgement of Success
It is very dangerous to assume that a failure of opposition political parties to succeed to move to the Menelik Palace is the failure of those partys’ political struggles. Ethiopia has many external enemies. The Battle of Maqdalla exposed the British Empire’s hypocrisy. Our Victory at the Battle of Adwa was a biggest blow to those external powers that were scrambling for Africa and other developing countries. The same is true during our historical and heroic resistance following the Battle of Maychew. We have the longest history and civilisation that is the envy of all. Ethiopia made historical contribution to the independence of colonised nations.
Thus, they always look for and support puppet regimes that will suppress Ethiopian’s progress and serve their interests. The Soviet Blocks did that during the Military Dictatorship and the Westerners are doing exactly that during the current dictatorship. It will take an agonising long time for genuine representatives to lead and bring their people to victory. Ghandi and Mandela did not free their people easily. Some give up. Some join oppressive regimes for selfish motives. But there are still others who die for their principles and for the sustainable interests of their people. There is time for all.
5.2 The Way Forward
Ethiopia has a great potential to serve as the bread basket of the Region. And yet, our people are starving. The whole world is wrongly led to believe that Ethiopia does not have any potentials. When the Oxfams want to beg for aid money they always display the dying skeletons of our beloved children. External donors are pressurised by their people to respond to emergency food aid after disasters. But none of them are interested in facilitating a democratic system – good governance and transparency. We all know where a good proportion of food aid and HIV mitigation support money is ending up.
As mentioned above, the Western Powers do not wish to see a strong and stable Ethiopia because of their usual divide-and-rule policy.
The way out is squarely in the hands of our people and our Mighty God that protected our nation over those thousands of years, despite a number of devastating internal and external threats.
We can make mistakes. Indeed we made lots of mistakes over the past Millennium. But can we be contented to continue with the same mistakes over the next Millennium? Can we? Can we really afford to do so?
In the name of our Creator, I call upon the following individuals and groups to join hands to bring to an end, the gross sufferings of our great people:
- Faith groups
- Political groups
- Civic groups
- The general public, both from within and in the Diaspora – the young and the old, men and women, the strong and the weak, from North to South, from East to West.
Those innocent prisoners of conscience should be freed immediately, without any preconditions. We should jointly struggle to bring to justice those responsible for the murder and torture of innocent citizens.
Let me beg the conscious of every concerned citizen to make all possible contribution to make the next Millennium a better time at least for our children and for the continuation of the great nation our forefathers and foremothers shed their bloods and lost their precious lives in her defence. I do not have any hesitation that we can make it so long as the national interest is kept ahead of our short term petty personal interests. At least we in the Diaspora can afford to have bread on our tables. Let us refrain from petty temptations and from dancing over the corpses of our beloved people.
May Our Almighty Creator Be With Us, and Protect Our Land and Our Peace Loving People.