Averting the creeping disintegration of the Diaspora Kinijit

By W. Selameab


A significant segment of Ethiopians believe that Kinijit represents a clear departure from the traditional opposition politics of the last 30 years. Part of the promises of Kinijit rested on the fact that it was formed and led by seasoned and mature intellectuals. Kinijit’s founding leaders thrusted themselves into politics, though politics continues to be a very dangerous field of human endeavor in Third World countries, due to a keen sense of social responsibility and the higher calling of public service.  Many of these leaders are accomplished professionals in their respective fields and many of them have advanced in age. While they had the wherewithal to spend their twilight years in a relative comfort and tranquility in Ethiopia or abroad, they decided to jump into the political fray risking everything.  Now, they along with their families are paying dearly for their naiveté in trusting Ethiopians.  Kinijit’s founders’ relative cleanliness from past political ‘baggage’ and the academia background many of them came from gave Ethiopians a sense of authenticity and a measure of political idealism. Ethiopians cherished that idealism as a breath of fresh air after near-exhaustion and awful disappointment from the years of political infighting and intrigues of the “mature” opposition parties.

Kinijit not a Trojan horse

Those “old” parties that are fond of asserting their political maturity, have very little to show for their strategic thinking and tactical prowess for all the years they have been involved in politics. On the contrary, many Ethiopians viewed them as serious stumbling blocks strangle-holding opposition politics for far too long. It is amazing that elements of these “mature” parties are now openly vilifying Kinijit. Of course, this is not new. They have been doing that to just about every fledgling coalition in the last 16 years. Now, that Kinijit had demonstrated its capability to mobilize millions of Ethiopians and overwhelmingly win an election, I would have expected the “mature” parties to be a bit more circumspect in their criticism of Kinijit. Instead, they seem to be doing it at full blast.  Here is an example. A Haile Abai in a recent web-article said the following:“Had the fathers of Kinjit envisioned a well-solidified coalition that incorporated banned organizations as vectors of the struggle, the struggle of the opposition would likely have weathered the shameful defections of Beyene, Merera and Lidetu, and would have continued to galvanize the Diaspora and citizens inside to force TPLF to respect the vote, release the jailed, and the struggle may have been crowned with success. Another opportunity lost in a series of lost opportunities!”

Kinijit’s leaders have definitely made tactical mistakes. But, the severe problems the party faced since the May 2005 election had been imposed on it by the ruling TPLF. While forming a broad-based coalition is always desirable, to portray “banned organizations” that are externally based as saviors of the struggle is foolish. Those that “shamefully defected” actually were the very leaders and long-term allies of the externally based “banned organizations.”


Externally based organizations could help the struggle for democracy and the rule of law in Ethiopia only at the margins. Political organizations that would make the greatest difference are those that are in the midst of the people inside the country. Accordingly, no self-respecting political party operating inside Ethiopia would consent to external manipulation by parties that have no significant physical presence inside the country. It is also pointless for Diaspora Ethiopians to use up their resources in bolstering externally based parties.  The resources provided to such parties over the last 20-25 years have not produced any tangible results except disappointments for thousands in the Diaspora.


Averting a disaster within the Diaspora Kinijit


Now, to the main point of this article. The Diaspora Kinijit movement, at least, the one I am somewhat familiar with in North America, has been facing a near-paralysis since the imprisonment of its genuine leaders in Ethiopia. In particular, the recent crisis within the North America Kinijit’s leadership group has accelerated the downward spiral.  In my view, the following have to be considered to stop Kinijit North-America’s freefall to oblivion.


a)         Living and not preaching democracy


Part of the problem that led to the current dysfunctional sate of the Diaspora Kinijit movement had to do with the lack of commitment to basic democratic percepts. Very few of the current leaders of Kinijit in North America are genuinely elected officers of the chapters they represent. Even some of the elected officials do not feel that they have to answer to the constituency that put them in office. There are a number of examples where chairpersons of chapters had taken substantive actions without consulting their constituencies. U.S laws governing nonprofits, however, stipulates that officers are to be directly responsible to their constituencies.


It is no secret that Kinijit’s leaders in Ethiopia, based on friendship and personal relations, appointed some of the current Kinijit North America leaders. In such instances, leadership ability, management competence and ideological clarity were not the primary consideration for assessing the individuals’ fitness to the leadership positions. In a way, this may have been unavoidable. Very few individuals with the leadership talents and political acumen may have come forward to help with starting-up regional chapters. 


Nevertheless, once the chapters were established, based on the laws of each state, a constituent assembly should have elected the leaders of the chapters in an open and transparent manner. In some cases, this may have taken place nominally. However, that may not be sufficient. To move forward, therefore, it is important to fully assert the sovereignty of local chapters to elect, recall or dismiss their elected officials. To establish this principle and to advance the movement with new vigor, it is important to immediately undertake a new round of elections for chapter leadership teams and bring new people with new vision and vitality to the struggle. In addition, administrative and control instruments would have to also be put in place without further delay.


b)         Lack of clarity on the relationship between local chapters and the North America-wide Kinijit


Attempt was made to organize a North America wide organization to better coordinate and streamline the activities of regional Kinijit chapters. The effort was not successful since it lacked clear definition of the relationships between the center and the regional chapters. Control mechanisms for the continental organization were awfully lacking or left deliberately vague leading to huge financial scandals


While local chapters are expected to transfer funds to Kinijit North-America, in return, they are not given basic information on how their funds are utilized. The justification has always been that providing such information even to the leadership of local chapters would jeopardize the works of Kinijit, which, it is asserted, had to be pursued clandestinely both at home and in the Diaspora.


While there may be a genuine need for secrecy, the arrangement quickly tuned out to be a recipe for financial mismanagement. The recent report of a single official transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars under his own signature to a bank account known only to him is a good reminder of the danger associated with the lack of transparency and accountability. We have also heard about unnecessary travels and lavish expenditures by some Kinijit North America officials.


Critical steps for quickly stopping the hemorrhage of the Kinijit movement in North America would have to include the quick reconstitution of effective mechanism for chapters’ oversight. Officers of chapters have to report to their constituency periodically and they should be prohibited from taking substantive decisions without the expressed will of those that elected them. Officers should be promptly relieved of their duties when they consistently fail to implement the directives of the oversight organs. Failure to provide effective oversight of nonprofits is a serious matter in the U.S.  According to the law, members of oversight entities would be legally liable, collectively and individually, for failing to exercise their fiduciary responsibilities.


c)         Prohibition of the practice of “democratic centralism”


There appears to be an emerging effort by a few to transform Kinijit’s regional chapters to party outposts. First, I am not even sure if Kinijit could be organized as a political party in North America. And if it is actually possible to do so, I’m not sure how the Party would operate particularly how it would be funded. What has been tried so far has been organizing Kinijit support groups to assist in garnering resources for supporting the humanitarian and educational activities of Kinijit in Ethiopia.  I would assume that Knijit support groups are organized as nonprofits under the laws of each state. Nonprofits that are eligible to solicit funds from the public are required to operate as democratic entities accountably and transparently. Nonprofits are also required to maintain records of their activities and such records have to be made available to the public upon request within a reasonable amount of time. 


I do not have insider information on the motive of the Kinijit faction that is trying to organize Kinijit as a party in North America. If I had to speculate, I would say it may be because of the desire for instituting democratic centralism or “drijitawi aserar” in order to manipulate the relationships between central and local chapters. This dubious practice has been effectively used by Marxists to manipulate millions of people without much accountability. It had offered effective cover to close-knit cliques to embezzle public funds and to engage in questionable activities with no one asking tough questions.


Kinijit support groups have to remain grassroots volunteer-driven participatory entities. They have to be proving grounds for democracy and accountability for Ethiopians. In each chapter, all issues have to be settled on their merits and after through deliberations by members. The old top-down command and control structure of “ye belay tiezaz new” (It is what higher ups want) should not have any place for any Ethiopian and/or Ethiopian group operating in the most democratic societies of North America. Most of all, drijitawi aserar fosters corruption and the empowering cliques while disenfranchising millions.


d)         Keep KIL at bay


Kinijit’s founders in Kaliti have the right to appoint any individual or group to carry out any task. Such is the essence of commissions. However, when the task is accomplished commissions submit reports and usually disband. It was in that light that I looked at the so-called “Kinijit International Political Leadership (KIL)” earlier.  I was wrong!


It appears that this un-elected body is a permanent supra-local chapter entity with the power to fire and appoint chapter officers and continental Kinijit leaders. I was appalled when I read KIL’s communiqué of October 16, 2006 through which it suspended Shaleka Yosef from his chairman position in the North America Kinijit to which, I assumed, he was elected by local chapters. This is not a defense of the Shaleka. In fact, the Shaleka may deserve removal, if for nothing else, for his audacity to transfer a huge sum of money from Kinijit’s official account on his own authority, whatever may have been his motive. This is about upholding democratic principles including the sovereignty of regional Kinijit chapters!


Where did KIL draw its authority to remove an elected official of Kinijit North America? The only democratic way for accomplishing what KIL attempted to do would have been through convening a meeting of the North America Kinijit chapters and providing the opportunity to the Shaleka to present his case. It was also important to receive the report of the Inquiry Commission that was established earlier by the chapters.  The power to relieve the Shaleka from his responsibilities should have ultimately rested with the chapters that put him in office in the first place. The un-elected KIL has no legitimate reason to usurp the power of the chapters.


As stated earlier, KIL may continue to operate as a commission with no direct say in the management and activities of chapters and their North America wide organization. It should limit itself to whatever assignment Kinijit leaders at Kaliti may have given it. It must also remain in the background and let elected officers run the show, so to speak, in North America.


Most importantly, KIL should not act as if it is a party in exile. There is no need for such a party in the Diaspora. As I stated earlier, Kinijit endeared itself to Ethiopians by staying inside Ethiopia and resisting tyranny. By forming KIL in the Diaspora, if the intention of Kinijit’s founding leaders is to henceforth prosecute the struggle from abroad, they would, at least, loose me as a supporter. I have no interest to support an externally based Kinijit!


e)         Pull Kinijit out of the AFD immediately


 Kinijit North America’s problem compounded after it unwisely entangled itself with the so-called “ Alliance for Democracy.” The confusion and anger that followed the  announcement of AFD had completely sucked the life out of the strong Kinijit movement world- wide. The way to get back to the pre-AFD status has to begin with the unequivocal disassociation of Kniijit from AFD. AFD has not shown interest to rectify the glaring discrepancies in its bylaws and memorandum of understanding.  Kinijit’s association with this group has completely derailed the struggle off its base. It has relegated the focus of the struggle, which includes the freeing of the gallant leaders from prison, democracy and the rule of law in Ethiopia off the radar screen for many Ethiopians in the Diaspora.  At this stage, AFD cannot be redeemed. It has to be abandoned. Kinijit has to disassociate itself from this group if it is to refocus its efforts on the most important issues facing Ethiopia and rehabilitate itself with the Diaspora Ethiopian communities. 

Published in: on November 4, 2006 at 8:30 pm  Comments (7)