The tyrant defying the will of the people: the issue of an all-Ethiopia resistance forum

By Kahsay Berhe
August 7, 2006

6. Ethnic based parties (Oromia and Tigray) The Ethiopian people suffered under serfdom and the policy of assimilation under a unitary state for a long time. The resistance of the people had made it difficult for the power holders to deny the people their rights to self-administration, use of their language or any language of their choice, take care of their heritage etc. Today, the state can no longer deny the nationalities these rights. These rights do not pose danger to the unity of the Ethiopian people. Ethiopia’s democracy and prosperity can be based on the rights of the people and not against the particular interests of the people.Ethiopia is an old country and internal wars and resistance against foreign intruders dominate most of its history. That is our history. People disagree on the interpretation of that history. Thorough study of our history will bring us closer. I thank professors Mohammed Hassen and Bahru Zewde who contributed to who we are. The problems arise when ethnic politicians use the past grievances for political mobilization. The facts are that the Ethiopian people demonstrated repeatedly their unity and struggle to change their lives for the better.The issue at hand is how to devise all-Ethiopia political vision and corresponding organizations in order to institute a democratic system that enables the entire people to determine the nature of the government and the distribution of state power between the center and the regions according to the principle of Subsidiarity.I will take the ethnic politics in Tigray and Oromia to illustrate the general problems of the ethnic based political movements and their relations to the general question of democracy and peace. The policies of the ethnic parties in Tigray and Oromia seemed to be decisive for the success and failure of the movement of the Ethiopian people. The strategy of the TPLF to dominate Ethiopian politics through divide and rule and the impotence of the OLF and other independent ethnic political organizations to adopt national political programs that address the particular and common interests of the people had render the struggle of the people ineffective. The problems in Oromia and Tigray differ in form. In Oromia, like in other parts of the country, the people are condemned to indirect rule of the TPLF while the people in Tigray suffer under the same brute force.The TPLF is no doubt a thorough separatist organization. The group in power has consistently infringed on the unity of Ethiopia. They authored and distributed a program for the secession of Tigray from Ethiopia in 1976. The content of the anti-Ethiopian manifesto was discussed neither by the rank-and-file members of the TPLF, nor by the members of the Central Committee. It was written by Sebhat Nega, Meles Zenawi and Abay Tsehaye and taken to a printing press in the Sudan and distributed by Seyoum Mesfin. (Kahsay Berhe, Ethiopia: Democratization and Unity, 2005, p. 70).

The May 2005 elections have revealed, more than others have, the true nature of the EPRDF. During the eve and the after math of the elections the loudest and sharpest opposition against the opposition and the mass media came from the TPLF and its affiliated Websites, mass associations. TPLF functionaries disseminated centrally prepared Communiqués in the name of Tigrean Communities in the Diaspora against the incarcerated elected leaders of the opposition. Why are not there similar reactions in the other EPRDF member organizations and their supporters? Why is not there condemnation against the opposition and the press by the various ethnic groups in Ethiopia? Why is Tigray singled out by the EPRDF as vulnerable to the ‘planned genocide’?The people of Tigray have been victims of a tiny group of power thirsty led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Today, several interdependent factors make reforms in the TPLF very difficult. Firstly, there is no culture of open discussion in the TPLF. Any internal problems are solved by intimidation, mass imprisonment, and killings. Force has always been used to get rid of internal and external contradiction.Secondly, The TPLF controls the major production and service industry in Tigray and the financial and trade industry in all parts of the country. The main capital sources include Relief aid donated by the international community for the famine stricken people of Tigray since the mid 1980s, state assets such as banks seized when the TPLF marched to Addis Ababa in 1991, deceitful transfer of state owned capital to the TPLF firms in the name of privatization and conspiratorial trade activities of party firms. The TPLF leaders will fight with all means to retain their political power without which their business empire would not be safe at all.Thirdly, TPLF leaders had killed thousands of innocent fighters and civilians in Tigray (Tesfay Atsbeha and Kahsay Berhe, Can one Acuse a Dictator in Ethiopia?, 1997). Then, after the seizure of state power in 1991, the TPLF consolidated and extended its killing machine to all parts of Ethiopia. Through the regime’s state-terror, thousands of innocent Ethiopians were killed in Awasa, Gambella, Gonder, Jimma, Jijiga and many times in Addis Ababa.

Both Meles Zenawi and members of the splinter group that were dismissed from the TPLF in 2001 do not show any interest in unity and self-determination of the Ethiopian people. The splinter group has not organized itself in any open political form. However, its organ, Hizbawi, propagates not for an all-Ethiopia political and organizational forum but is engaged in competing with the TPLF for the control of Tigray.

It is in the nature of ethnic politics to pursue policies of hate and division in the people. In 1998-2000, the regime in Asmara invaded part of Tigray and bombarded Tigrean towns and schools. The entire people of Ethiopia grieved with the people of Tigray and paid with their dear daughters and sons to save Tigray. Did Meles Zenawi and co. acknowledge the extraordinary solidarity among Ethiopians? Of course, they did not. After the May 2005 elections, Meles Zenawi and co. accused the elected representative of the people of planning genocide against the people of Tigray. How can the very people, who paid with what they have including their daughters and sons, become a threat to the people of Tigray and/or elect forces with the mission of eliminating Tigreans? How can people elect people who intend to set the people against each other? Tigreans should not let themselves deceived by a small clique and take the excesses expressed by some fellow Ethiopians against Tigreans as evidence of the allegation by Meles Zenawi. Some fellow Ethiopians may express their disapproval on the behavior of Tigreans because they rightly expect us to stand for the victims of the tyrant.  

The TAND is the only existing independent Tigrean organization. It is a member organization in the UEDF. Its founders are former TPLF leaders and other Tigrean intellectuals. To my knowledge, the TAND is the only ethnic-based organization that had openly declared its intention to make a union with other political organizations.

Recently, Aregawi Berhe, Chairman of TAND, assured me that TAND stands for Ethiopian unity and for the formation of an all-Ethiopian political party through union with other political parties. He further told me that TAND had since 2000 been calling for a merger with the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), All Ethiopia Socialist Movement (MEISONE), Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU), Ethiopian Medhin Democratic Party (MEDHIN), Gambella People’s United Democratic Front (GPUDF), Oromo National Congress (ONC), Southern Ethiopian people’s Democratic Coalition (SEPDC) and Ethiopian People Federal Democratic Unity Party (Hibre Hizbe). To my mind, it is necessary that the concerned parties react in one way or another on the TAND offer. It is also important that TAND adopt an all-Ethiopia political program and organizational structure on its own rights.

A political organization strives to run state organs as a one party with parliamentary majority, as a coalition partner at a level it is registered, and its programs cover. The political interests of the Ethiopians of Tigrean origin who had settled in Shashemene are focused on the city council of the town, then on the state of Oromia and finally on the Ethiopian federal state. Organizationally, they can preferably join multi-ethnic parties or Oromo regional organizations or form caucuses and register with the corresponding state organ in Oromia.

The TPLF had been diligently working to instill into the people’s mind the false notion that the interests of the, people of Tigray are identical with the interests of the TPLF which, quite clearly, is wrong at least in two ways. Firstly, it denies the people the right of choice. In every ethnic group there is, of course, a plurality of interests. The diversity of interests and tendencies makes it difficult for a single ethnic party to represent the large variety of interests of its people. The interests of the different social groups within the ethnic group cannot be represented by one ethnic organization. (Kahsay Berhe 2005, pp. 264-265)

Secondly, The TPLF is an undemocratic force that practices Stalinist centralism. Its members and the people it controls do not have any right to oppose its programs and policies. The people of Tigray have not yet had the chance to elect their leaders. Without the existence of a free election, how can a political party claim that its interests and the interests of the people are equal? Even an elected party cannot claim to equate its interests and the interests of the people entirely because elections are made for a specific period of time and on certain issues.

The TPLF planted the OPDO in Oromia to use it to control the people of Oromia. It also tolerated or even encouraged and supported some of the ethnic organizations in Oromia in order to set them against each other and to keep them away from politics in the center. The Oromo people have consistently struggled for the right of self-determination for several years and paid dear. In the 1970s, the Oromo people and the democratic forces in Ethiopia abolished feudalism and consequently millions of peasants regained their right to their land. As the Dergue collapsed in 1991, the OLF, the major independent organization at that time sought participation in the TPLF government as regional force. It worked out for the self-administration and the use of local language with success. These moves were also part of the TPLF’s policy of divide- and -rule.

The so-called kilils and self-administration enabled the Meles Zenawi group to impose its indirect rule on the people through marionette ethnic based organizations. Any regional administration will not be able to become autonomous and democratic as long as it is controlled by one party system headed by a tyrant at the center. The distribution of power does not reflect the size of constituency with regard to the ethnic groups.  Separatism and ethnic mobilization leads to mutual destruction and enslavement of the people. Ethiopians deserve a government of their own, formed by the people and responsible to the people. The formation of such a government system is feasible only when the majority of the political elite from all groups of people talks to each other and create common forums for the people. The interests of Oromia for self-determination and development could be best served through the institution of a democratic federal republic of Ethiopia. The particular concerns of the regions could be satisfied by allowing the regions far reaching self-administration, which will eventually benefit the entire people. Development is regional in nature. The initiative of the Mecha-Tulma association in the 1960s and its attraction of thousands of non-Oromo Ethiopians is one example.The recent alignment and realignment between various forces in Oromia and the recognition of cooperation with other groups to form unity with equality is a positive development in Ethiopia. The formation of the FFOS out of the Oromo Abo Liberation Front, Oromo Liberation Unity Front, Oromo National Liberation Party, Gada System Party and Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement with the aim of self-determination for Oromia is a positive development which could go further to enhance the development process of the entire Ethiopian political spectrum.I think it would be proper to insert a few paragraphs here on the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy, AFD that was formed after I had prepared this article. The struggle of the people in Oromia, especially in the schools, universities, towns and cities as well as the constructive activities of Ethiopian democrats and intellectuals from Oromia wound up the struggle for concessions from the central state and promoted the struggle for the struggle to assume state power. This development could have persuaded the OLF to decide to join hands with other Ethiopian democrats. With the formation of the AFP, Ethiopian unity and the prospective for democracy, equality and prosperity has become brighter than any time in the past years.Opposition to OLF came, for obvious reasons, from the TPLF. Critics from other groups and individuals are not as such against the OLF but they demand for more clarity on the unity and future of Ethiopia. The main partner of the OLF is CUD. Ethiopians from Oromia are playing big role in CUD. Therefore, the alliance is not between Oromo and others. It is an alliance of organizations. Our concern is that the alliance must be based on the level of the current level of struggle of the people. The alliance must not be confined to unseat the incumbent tyrant but for the democratization of the Ethiopian state and society in unity. The unity of Ethiopia with equality and liberty of its people forwarded by the CUD and accepted by the people must be the basis for the alliance of the AFD parties and for further cooperation with other forces. The ethnic parties may inject what they cherish much must be incorporated in democratic and united Ethiopia.As to the connections of the OLF with the Eritrean regime, we must believe in the wisdom and patriotism of Ethiopians. What is wrong in establishing relations with Eritrea? The question is on what are the relations going to be based, what short and long-term interests of Ethiopia are pursued. There are several potential areas of interests for the people on both sides of the border. It is fair to say that the OLF had persistently resisted Somalia’s attempts to annex Ethiopian territories. OLF leaders did not compromise our people and territories for support from Somalia. They rarely put their organizational interests above the interests of the people and territory of the country.

The divide- and- rule policy pursued by the incumbent regime during the last fifteen years has further divided the Oromo politicians. I think the unity and liberty of the Oromo people is achievable in the context of a democratic and federal Ethiopia. The people need to build democratic regional organs and at the same time form political and organizational alliances with the other regions to participate in a central state, determining and controlling it jointly.

The TPLF had organized the people over the years in the name of liberation. Now, through the financial and political resources at its disposal it had corrupted hundreds of people to run the machine of control. Resistance to Meles must assume the demand for the rights of the people. The political organization must take form of national form. Tigrean ethnic organizations like the TAND and TPDM must ally with other political organizations of their choice. Tigreans will be free and live in peace in free and peaceful thiopia. Therefore, Tigreans must stretch their hands to their compatriots in the entire country.

7. Concluding Remarks

To be continued.

Published in: on August 6, 2006 at 10:03 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Very reasonable article, except its stress on unconditional unity. I do accept and respect unity as a result of self-determination, as a result of free will of all peoples concerned. To preach unity as unconditional is dictatorial, just as preaching independence unconditionally is dictatorial. I do agree with all opinion of the author except his view of unconditional unity i.e. “dictatorial unification”.

  2. Very interesting site… I wish I could build one like yours!nancy

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