Points to Consider for the Success of the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy

By the Center for Democracy and Social Justice in Ethiopia (CFDSJE)The recent announcement of the formation of the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD) is a significant development in the struggle of the people of Ethiopia for unity and democracy. In one respect, it appeared as a continuation of the ongoing effort to bring together the various disparate opposition groups to fight in unison against a common enemy and for the same shared goals. Unfortunately, previous efforts were not that fruitful, as demonstrated, for example, by the disintegration of COEDF in the late 90's and the withdrawal of major signatories from UDEF in recent years. What probably makes the formation of the current alliance noteworthy is the apparent alignment of groups hitherto perceived as promoting unity, with others known to advance an agenda of independence and secession.

On a different note, the formation of the Alliance has re-ignited the debate about the course of action that should be taken to advance the struggle of the Ethiopian people against the brutal dictatorship of Meles Zenawi. Since the violent suppression of the people's movement by the TPLF regime in the aftermath of the May 2005 elections, there has been a general sense of bewilderment by democratic forces both at home and abroad. But, currently the ongoing exchange of opinions in the popular media about fundamental issues that are critical to the success of the Alliance are indicative of the resurgence of interest in the search for a lasting solution to the complex problems that have thus far led to factionalism and parochialism.

This paper outlines three key points that must be addressed by the major players in the formation of the Alliance in order to ensure the success of the Alliance and to gain the much-needed trust of the Ethiopian people. Particular attention will be paid to the following basic elements in relation to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and the Statutes issued by the signatories of the Alliance:
• The question of national unity, territorial integrity and Ethiopian sovereignty,
• The significance of the 2005 elections, and illegitimacy of the TPLF regime, and
• The independence of the Alliance from foreign influence.

It is argued that the conditions for a viable alliance presuppose a willingness, vision and capability on the part of the leadership of the Alliance to address these points in a convincing and consistent manner, and a shift in culture favoring an open discussion leading to effective remedial measures.

It is also underscored that those who stand on the side of democracy and unity, both at home and abroad, have the responsibility to extricate themselves from the cynicism and apathy that have enabled successive dictatorships to reign in Ethiopia, and to focus their intellectual and material capital toward achieving a lasting solution in Ethiopia.

1. The Question of National Unity, Territorial Integrity and Ethiopian Sovereignty

A basic premise for the success of an alliance in the struggle against dictatorship in Ethiopia is the requirement that members of the alliance subscribe to the notion of a one Ethiopia, where people of varying ethnic, religious and political affiliations live in equality, liberty and fraternity.

Another equally important premise is a requirement that true and lasting democracy stems from a struggle that focuses on the individual, rather than a group, as the object of liberation, while seeking constructive and credible solutions to justified grievances of historically disadvantaged ethnic, religious and other social groups in the frame of national unity.

An alliance that is based on ethnic animosity and separatism is not destined to bring a lasting solution in the struggle against dictatorship. This was clearly demonstrated in the un-holy alliance of the EPLF and TPLF, whose political programs were based on the ultimate disintegration of Ethiopia as a nation, and the division of what remained of the land along ethnic lines.

As indicated in the 1976 manifesto of the TPLF, the original goal of the Front was “to fight for the independence of Tigrai from Ethiopia” and to establish “the Democratic Republic of Tigrai,” a goal in line with that of the EPLF that promoted the secession of Eritrea. Accordingly, the TPLF and EPLF waged a struggle against the brutal regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, excluding from their alliance any group that advocated the question of Ethiopian unity.

While the alliance of the TPLF and EPLF eventually succeeded in the dismemberment of the country and the replacement of Mengistu Haile Mariam’s form of dictatorship by that of Meles Zenwai’s, the net result has not been a victory for the people of Ethiopia. Indeed, the country is now under the grip of a ruthless dictator, the like of which has not been seen anywhere else in the post-cold war era. Fundamental human rights are blatantly suppressed, crimes against humanity are rampant, the scarce resources of the country are mismanaged, and the population is subjected to systematic ignorance, disease and poverty. As is widely reported, the picture is equally grim for the people of Eritrea.

To understand the nature of the ADF, it is essential to review the political programs of some of the signatories relative to the stipulation of the Alliance. As in the case of the EPLF, a major theme of the political programs of most of the member organizations is the emphasis on “national liberation from colonial oppressions,” as opposed to individual liberation. For example, this is clearly stated in the Mission Statement of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF):

The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) is a political organization established in 1973 by Oromo nationalists to lead the national liberation struggle of the Oromo people against the Abyssinian colonial rule.

The OLF views the root cause of the political problems in Ethiopia as a “… national oppression by the Ethiopian empire state and refusal by the state to respect the rights of oppressed peoples to self-determination” [http://www.oromoliberationfront.org/]. The emphasis thus being on “group liberation,” rather than individual freedom, it complicates any genuine effort to fight for democracy and national unity.

Given the clear intents of the political programs of the OLF and other signatories, it is quite appropriate to examine the ramifications of Article 2 of the Statutes of the Alliance which stipulates that “[M]ember organizations shall maintain their respective political programs”.

While the MOU and the Statutes are quick to emphasize the need for member organizations to maintain their political programs, there is a conspicuous omission of any reference to national unity and territorial integrity.

Opponents of Ethiopian unity, particularly those groups that are appendages of the EPLF and TPLF, have tirelessly and tritely equated any mention of unity to an Amhara yearning for subjugation and domination. This, of course, may serve as a convenient rhetoric to divert attention from the real struggle to create a democratic system where all ethnic, religious and political groups enjoy equal rights. However, it has proved worthless, as pointed out above, in presenting a viable solution to the problems of dictatorship in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Indeed, any program that is predicated on “group liberation” is a formula for the replacement of one form of dictatorship by another, as was the case in Eritrea and Ethiopia.

The only genuine movement that can bring true democracy in Ethiopia is one that has the liberation of the individual, rather than a group, as its core value, while genuinely recognizing the need to address the concerns of historically underprivileged groups in the context of national unity and reconciliation. The individual Ethiopian, be it an Oromo, an Amhara, a Gurage, a Tigrai or a member of any of the other ethnic groups, should be the fundamental focus of the Alliance. As such, this should be prominently emphasized in the MOU and Statutes of the Alliance, and all signatories should affirm their commitment to the sanctity of individual liberty and Ethiopian unity. Failure to address this fundamental issue in an unequivocal and convincing manner is tantamount to perpetuating the discredited policies of the TPLF and EPLF under the guise of a new banner.The people of Ethiopia have suffered too much to watch with apathy the formation of another Trojan horse in the name of freedom and democracy. Incapacitated by the brutal regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, they watched with apathy and helplessness as the leaders of the TPLF and EPLF led them in the path of servitude, ignorance and poverty. Today, the enormous oppression and brutality they are suffering under the TPLF regime, should not dissuade them to let history repeat itself. They should demand from their leaders straight answers, and they should demand nothing less than an unqualified commitment to unity and democracy.
2. The Significance of the May 2005 Elections and the Illegitimacy of the TPLF Regime
The May 8, 2005 elections marked a significant chapter in the history of the struggle of the Ethiopian people for unity and democracy. These were elections that demonstrated the maturity and sophistication of the Ethiopian people to elect a government of their choice trough the ballot boxes. The elections unveiled to the outside world the degree of unpopularity and the true dictatorial nature of the regime of Meles Zenawi. The elections also provided compelling evidence that, in their struggle for democracy, the people of Ethiopia are bound by cohesive ties that transcend ethnic and religious differences.

Two groups that took part in the elections, namely CUDP and UEDF, symbolized the aspirations of the people for democracy and unity. By overwhelmingly voting for CUDP and UEDF, the people expressed their rejection of the TPLF tyrannical rule, and their desire for change. The resounding victory achieved by the two groups made the TPLF government illegitimate and bestowed on the two groups the responsibility of carrying the banners of the people's struggle for democracy.In view of the historical and practical significance of the May 2005 elections, it is appropriate to expect that the elections would be given due prominence in the documents that have been issued promulgating the formation of the Alliance. Unfortunately, there is a glaring omission of this historic event and its significance in the Statutes and MOU.On the other hand, despite the illegitimacy of the TPLF, tacit recognition of the government is hinted in various places in the documents. Of particular note is the reference made, as a basis for the mode of operation of the Alliance, to the TPLF constitution, the very instrument the regime has used to promote ethnic animosity and national disunity, and to suppress the rights of the people of Ethiopia to elect a government of their choice.Currently, the tyrannical regime of the TPLF is in a quagmire, unable to justify to the democratic world its claim to power. The silence of the Alliance on the issue of the May 2005 election, and the ensuing bloodshed, is obviously a favorable development for the regime to distract attention and to prolong its oppressive rule.

The Alliance should give due recognition to the significance of the May 2005 elections, and ensure that the people's struggle for unity and democracy is not aborted. The Alliance should demonstrate in spirit and deeds its commitment to the protection of the gains of the people in the May 2005 elections. In particular, the Alliance should prove its credibility by including all key opposition groups that took part in the May 2005 elections. Failure to recognize the significance of this historic event by the Alliance can only have consequences of unimaginable damage to the success of the struggle for democracy and unity, and inevitably will create an environment of mistrust between the people and its leaders. On the other hand, it will provide for the TPLF a much-needed distraction from the burning question of returning power to the rightful owners — the people of Ethiopia.

3. The Independence of the Alliance from Foreign Influence

Explicit statements in the Statutes about the obligation of the Alliance toward Eritrea have raised deep concern among many observers who earnestly support the formation and eventual success of the Alliance.

Any organization must have a well-defined foreign policy that does not compromise its basic principles. When an organization enters into bilateral or multilateral agreements with foreign elements, a basic requirement is that it maintains absolute freedom to operate independently to achieve its stated goals.

In the case of the Alliance, one of the stated principles should be the sanctity of Ethiopian unity and territorial integrity, as elucidated in Point 1 above. Accordingly, the foreign policy that the Alliance embraces should not contravene this basic element.

If we go back to the guerilla days of the TPLF, we observe that they espoused a foreign policy that was in essence contrary to Ethiopian unity and territorial integrity. Despite the known objective of the EPLF to secede from Ethiopia, the TPLF worked in concert with the EPLF, and partnered with the then arch-enemies of Ethiopia, including Somalia and certain Middle Eastern countries.

Although the EPLF leaders succeeded in one of their goals, i.e., the dismemberment of Ethiopia, they did not achieve their other goal of subjugating Ethiopia economically. In the first few years following the downfall of the brutal dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam, the country's resources were plundered by both parties. With reference to Eritrea, this was documented in a recent monograph by D. Kendie [The Five Dimensions Of The Eritrean Conflict 1941 – 2004: Deciphering the Geo-Political Puzzle, 2005; p. 120]:

“… in the early 1990s, the EPLF set up a clandestine parallel government in Ethiopia, and became heavily involved in contrabands, money laundering, extortion, tax collection, kidnapping and other illegal activities. At one time, Eritrea even became a leading coffee exporting state when there are not very many coffee trees in the country.”

However, the scarce resources of the country were just not large enough to satisfy the appetites of the two competing groups (i.e., TPLF and EPLF) for hard currency and natural resources, and this led to the disastrous war of 1998-2000 between the two groups, and the eventual defeat of the EPLF.

To this day, Eritrea has not given up its dream of gaining by other means what it had lost through defeat in that ill-fated aggression. The current policy that is promoted by the Eritrean leaders is the creation of opposition groups that would operate under the direct control of Asmara and would provide a much more manageable condition to subjugate Ethiopia than was possible with the more autonomous TPLF. As a corollary to that policy, if a post-TPLF Ethiopia is uncontrollable through one puppet group or another, the thinking is that the creation of fragmented ethnic homelands would serve as a fallback plan to ensure ease of control and exploitation.

Over the years, Eritrea has provided generous support to the liberation fronts that constitute the Alliance or has been instrumental in their creations. In particular, it is common knowledge that the OLF has received considerable support from Asmara, including safe haven for its leaders.

Besides the known dependence of the OLF and the other secessionist and armed groups on EPLF, the direct role of Eritrea in the formation of the Alliance has yet to be fully scrutinized. Anecdotal evidence suggests that key officials from Asmara were behind the drafting of the Alliance documents, and were present physically to provide oversight in the conduct of the Utrecht meeting.

While it is perfectly acceptable and, indeed prudent practice, for any organization to secure support from any source to advance its cause, uncritical dependence on foreign groups is tantamount to abdication of the people's responsibility. Blind subscription to the philosophy of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" is a sign of desperation at best, and a demonstration of departure from the fundamental cause of the Ethiopian people at worst. It is, therefore, critically important to understand and evaluate the degree and nature of support that each party in the Alliance has been receiving from Eritrea, and the strings attached to the support provided.

Repeated arguments have been made in recent days in favor of the prevailing opinion that a strong Ethiopia is in the long-term interest of Eritrea, and, hence, there is nothing to be suspicious about a hidden motive of Eritrea. One writer even went to the extent of revealing absurd ignorance by stating that a much more populous Ethiopia has nothing to fear from a tiny Eritrea of 4 million souls [http://www.ethiomedia.com/carepress/ what_with_the_adf.html].

Obviously, there is no merit to such arguments. The track record of the leaders in Asmara, including their declared party programs, is not consistent with one that favors a strong, united Ethiopia. History is also replete with examples that the strength of a disunited people is not proportional to its size.

When proponents of the friendship with Eritrea ask: "What is wrong with this?", they confuse the diplomacy of forming an alliance on one's own terms to advance one's own agenda, with that of utter capitulation and submission of the fate of an oppressed people to another cycle of oppression, ethnic strife and national tragedy.

If the leaders in Eritrea still believe that they can accomplish their unfulfilled dream of subjugating the rest of Ethiopia through another Trojan horse, it can be surmised that they have not learned from history a bitter lesson.

If the leaders of the opposition are tempted to follow the traitorous example of the TPLF to trade Ethiopian unity and territorial integrity for a temporary assumption of power, they will soon be reminded of the determination of the people of Ethiopia to not let history repeat itself.

Concluding Remarks

In summary, the formation of the ADF has presented unprecedented opportunities and challenges in the struggle of the Ethiopian people for unity and democracy. One measure of the success of the Alliance is its commitment to unity and democracy, and the means it employs to achieve these lofty ideals. The Alliance should, therefore, immediately address the lingering question of national unity, territorial integrity and Ethiopian sovereignty in unambiguous terms to demonstrate its commitment to this fundamental aspiration of the Ethiopian people. It should recognize the significance of the May 2005 elections, and denounce the repressive constitution of the TPLF regime that is designed to effect the destruction of Ethiopia as a nation and the division of Ethiopians as a people. The Alliance should also exercise absolute independence from the influence of foreign elements that have interests and objectives contrary to those of the people of Ethiopia.

The ultimate goal of the Alliance should not be to serve as a new Trojan horse for the replacement of Zenwai's form of dictatorship by another, but to establish a democratic Ethiopia in which all people enjoy freedom, justice and liberty, and live in harmony. Such will be an Ethiopia about whose numerous ethnic and religious groups one can boldly repeat the passage from Isaiah:

"And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

Published in: on June 11, 2006 at 2:55 pm  Comments (1)