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Published in: on August 2, 2007 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Entangled by a web of bureaucratic and legal complexity, the released opposition leaders can hardly claim a right over the name CUDP. Temesgen Zewde and Ayle Chamiso hold the key to it.

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The Accidental Men!

Addis Fortune,  Volume 8, Number 378, Published On  July 29, 2007

The first public pronouncement made on Wednesday, July 25, 2007, by the opposition leaders released two weeks ago indicated that the press release was issued by “CUD detainee leaders”. It was signed by Birtukan Midekssa, deputy chairperson, and Hailu Araaya (PhD), spokesperson, after they have met for the first time on Monday inside the headquarters of the All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP), located on Churchill Road, behind Lycee. According to sources, the meeting was chaired by Major Getachew Mengiste, in the absence of Hailu Shawel(Engineer). The agenda included how to handle the bitter division among their members in North America, the effort to secure the release of those still behind bars, and what to do with the continued propaganda against them on the state media, sources disclosed.
 

The statement that was issued mid-last week was mild in its language; it thanked all those who supported them during their trying times; remembered those who were killed during the electoral violence as “martyrs for democracy”; urged the elders to speak out on the nature of the agreement they have reached with them; and showed a resolve not to respond in kind to the propaganda onslaught the state media has put to them.
 

Although far from being clear on what exactly they are intending to do, the two-page press statement urges the public to wait for future announcements on the “activities that it [CUD] will subsequently pursue for the fulfilment of its peaceful objectives”.
 

Nevertheless, the former detainee opposition leaders find themselves in a complex legal tangle that could make it hard to land their claim on the name they and their supporters have paid dearly for. Coming out of jail, they found out that they do not simply have a political organisation under the banner of the CUD. This is a political party registered under the names of others who have their own bitter bureaucratic and legal fights, whose result is only another deadlock.
 

It was a time of great anxiety, uncertainty and chaos – November 2005. The newly constituted administration of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi detained over 100 leaders of the CUD and jailed tens of thousands of their supporters, immediately after an electoral dispute turned into bloody urban violence. The detained leaders and the political organisations they lead were subsequently charged with seven counts, including attempts to foment urban insurgency in an effort to oust a constitutionally installed government and institutions mandated by the constitution.
 

At the time of their detention 20 months ago, they were in the process of forming a political party under the name Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP). It was a decision largely influenced by public pressure that has overwhelming voted for four opposition parties that came into an electoral platform to unite their election bid against the ruling EPRDF.
 

In November 2004, leaders of the two veteran opposition groups (All Ethiopian Unity Party and United Ethiopian Democratic Party) and two other newly formed parties (Rainbow Coalition for Democracy and Justice and Ethiopian Democratic League) formed an electoral coalition. They had wanted to form a common front against the ruling party; a strategy that did help them avoid a split of votes cast to the opposition bloc.
 

Popularity in the eyes of their supporters before and after the election of May 2005 pushed leaders of these four parties to strongly contemplate going beyond a loose coalition only created for an election purpose. Thus, in October 2005, leaders of the four parties signed an agreement at the Global Hotel in order to liquidate their respective existences and merge into one political party. They had formed a 60-member council and a 20-member executive committee under the leadership of Hailu Shawel.
 

They were confronted with a demand made by the National Electoral Board (NEB) to surrender the certificates of each of the individual political parties in the coalition before they were granted a new registration under the CUDP. That was when Lidetu Ayalew and his comrades at UEDP-Medhin buckled; they refused to give up their individual existences, claiming that they wanted to ensure the merger was fully conducted according to originally agreed. This had not only led Lidetu’s team to split from the CUD, but also had created a major crisis within his party. As a result, a significant number of EUDP-Medhin members and leaders fled to the Coalition.
 

This CUD infighting worsened with the arrest of several of the CUD leaders in November 2005, leaving the party and its leaders insecure. There were, however, those who had decided to break ranks from their leaders’ will and decided to join Parliament. Their attempt to takeover the city administration after winning 99pc of the vote was not that simple.
 

A few weeks after the detention of CUD leaders, a group of council-elect started an initiative, encouraged by the diplomatic corps, to form the Addis Abeba City Administration. Admasu Gebeyehu (PhD) and Ayele Chamiso were on the frontline of this effort, although later on separated when the issue of forming a party came to the table. Ayele was elected to the city government, running against candidates from the ruling party and other opposition parties, in Wereda 10, Gulele District.
 

Ayele recalls that the need to form a party under the CUDP came due to a demand by officials at NEB as a prerequisite should they be able to take over the city government. Close to 11 of the council-elects started forming the party that was deemed crucial in their ambition of governing the capital; many, however, were unreceptive of the idea.
 

“Many of the CUD members, including those who have taken seats at Parliament were very hostile to our initiative,” Ayele told Fortune.
 

He remembers a particular meeting held in Ethiopia Hotel in December 2005 with three CUD council members who were not detained: They had told him that they knew his group not “as CUD members but only elected to the Addis Abeba City Council”. 
 

Neither were the detained leaders friendly when he and Admassu went to visit them, according to him.
 

“They accused us of being traitors and selfish,” he told Fortune.  Undeterred, the former teacher and once governor during the final years of the Military regime pursued his agenda of forming the party on a federal level.
 

Ayele, 56, and a father of four, is not new to politics. Once a member of the now defunct Workers Party of Ethiopia (WPE), studied management and public administration, graduating from Addis Abeba University (AAU) in 1987. After graduation, he had joined Meta Brewery in the personnel department and later on was promoted to head the administration department. He was promoted by the political establishment to administer the Kembata Awrage, in the south, in 1988, although his reign was stopped short with the takeover of the EPRDF in 1991. He was back to Meta Brewery in 1992 where he had served for another eight years.
 

Retired from the Brewery, Ayele toured several private companies in the 1990s, while joining the UEDP in early 2000. He was its member until the party met its ill-fated merger in the CUD.  
 

Indeed, Ayele was the first person to pay a visit to Tesfaye Mengesha, acting head of the secretariat of NEB, in early 2006, according to authorities at the Board. He was told he needed to collect 1,500 petitions from across the country before being given a registration.
 

The Board requires 1,500 petitions from at least four regions in order to register a political party that operates nationally, while the number of those operating regionally is lower by half. Selling his car, Ayele claims, he financed the effort to mobilise a petition from members of the CUD: When he submitted the application for registration of the CUDP in March 2006, he had managed to collect 2,500 petitions from Oromia, South, Harari, and Amaha regional states, and 40pc from Addis Abeba.
 

Although the newly formed CUDP had initially 11 names submitted to the Board as founding members, a belated involvement by senior Western diplomats in Addis Abeba persuaded Ayele to include what was then known as “the parliamentary group”. Indeed, at a meeting held inside the United States (US) Embassy here, and chaired by its former Charge de Affair, Vicky Huddleston, a new list of 10, comprising people such as Temesegen Zewdie, was added to the application submitted to the Board.
 

In what is today described by Ayele as “political naivety”, this group had chosen Temesegen as its interim chairman and himself as deputy.
 

A returnee from the US after 22 years of life in Texas and Florida states and father of three, Temesegen’s track record in politics was not as long as that of Ayele, although his grandfather was a two-term parliamentarian during the time of the Emperor, representing a constituency in Hamer Backo, Southern Regional State. Returning to Ethiopia in the late 1990s, Temesegen left behind a daughter and a job as a technical assistant at Union Pacific Resources, an exploration company based in Texas. He too was a teacher who once served as an instructor in Addis Abeba Commercial College, from where he graduated in the late 1960s. He then studied Business Administration, graduating from Paul Queen College, Texas, in 1976. Once returned, he had joined Admas College as an assistant dean before moving to New Generation University College, where he still teaches. Nevertheless, he was not affiliated to any political party in 2005, when he was running for Parliament as a private candidate, in Ayer Tena area. It was Lidetu Ayelew who courted him to join his party and convinced him that he had little chance to win under a private platform. He was nominated by the UEDP-Medhin to run on the platform of the CUD in Wereda 5, Addis Ketema District.
 

Both Ayele and Temesegen were nominated by the UEDP-Medhin, run under the CUD platform, and voted for the City Council and the national Parliament, respectively. Today, not only are they also archrivals in politics, they harbour mutual contempt to one another.
 

Ironically, they are bound to work together, after bureaucratic and legal rulings imposed it against their wills.
 

The source of their bitter animosity is not clear. Nor is the exact time when they found themselves on a collision course. It was not too long after 22 of them had convened their first meeting inside NEB sometime in March 2006. Subsequently, the Board has registered the CUDP in April 2006, but only on a condition that they should call a general assembly to elect their leaders and those who would assume various offices of the party. In the meantime, the Board handed out photocopies of the original certificate both to Temesegen and Ayele. “It was simply goodwill on our part to facilitate their activities that was finally abused grossly,” said a senior official from the Board. Both groups started to claim to have the right on the new party over the other; while those in Parliament continued to draw legitimacy from the public by demanding the release of “their leaders” thrown into jail. They had developed a major rift over the manner and the date to which a general assembly should be called.
 

In October 2006, Ayele’s group pre-empted in calling a “general assembly” held inside the Board’s conference hall, in the absence of Temesgen and company. Ayele though claimed that he had delivered the invitations to a receptionist at Parliament. Fortune could not verify this claim, and whether or not the invitations were received.

“Even if I were to get one, I would have not attended,” Temesgen told Fortune. “My deputy cannot simply call such meetings.”
 

Ayele challenges that assertion, claiming that Temesgen was elected as a chair only to lead the organising committee, and not the party. In the “general assembly” he had called, Ayele was elected as chairman and Temesegen as a deputy. It did not win him the right to get the original certificate from the Board; the later demanded a general assembly to be called and participated in by members from both groups.
 

Ayele marched to the Federal High Court, Ninth Civil Bench; he charged not only the Board for refusing to acknowledge his election, but also Tesfaye, the acting secretary general, for obstruction.
 

In the meantime, Temesgen’s group called its own “general assembly” held in November 2006, inside the same conference hall at NEB. Although Temesgen claimed he had invited Ayele and members of his group to attend, none turned up for it. The “assembly” had elected Temesgen as a chairman and Dendir G. Kidan, a would be councillor to Addis Abeba, as a deputy. The Board too rejected this. Temesgen’s group did not give up. It tried to inject itself in the court case fought between Ayele and the Board, thus drawing its win in the process from a court of law. Although the Court ruled in favour of Temesgen’s group to inject itself in the case, a final ruling made sometime in February 2007 was a victory to the Board and a loss to both groups.
 
The Court rejected Ayele’s bid to charge the Board, ordered him to pay compensation to Tesfaye for causing damage and inconvenience and told both parties to jointly convene a general assembly to elect their leaders as they were told by the Board.
 
“The ruling by the Court was odd,” said a frustrated Ayele. Neither has an appeal he made to the Supreme Court yielded any result. In a May 2007 decision, the Supreme Court has endorsed the ruling of the Higher Court.
 
No general assembly has been called since then. And the Board at the National Election is no longer the one that had served for the past 13 years. The Secretariat has been in suspense waiting until the transition to the newly installed Board, under the chairmanship of Merga Bekuna (PhD), is completed.
 
In the meantime, none of the groups could claim exclusive right over the leadership of the CUDP, until such time that they resolved the outstanding issue of jointly calling for a general assembly. There is little mutual respect and recognition for the two individuals to work together actively in this.
 

It is when Ayele and Temesgen are locked up in what seem irreconcilable differences that the detained leaders of the CUD came out from jail. Both Temesgen and Ayele have immediately declared their alligance to the released leaders and showed interests to hand the leadership over to them; none of the latter was, however, a member of the party temporarily registered by the Electoral Board.
 

Nor have any of the released leaders communicated with Temesgen or Ayele up until our press time on Friday night, although a group of CUD parliamentarians have paid visits to the homes of some of their leaders. But not Temesgen or Ayele.
 

“I don’t know these people,” Temesgen told Fortune. Authorities at the Board believe the released opposition leaders have different options: to go back to their respective political parties that had formed the coalition, create a brand new political party, or join the CUDP as new members and be elected when and if Temesgen and Ayele jointly call a general assembly. It looks very unlikely. Authorities at the NBE threaten to stop should the released opposition leaders continue to operate under the CUDP that is now registered under the two individuals who hold the key to the party by sheer accidents of events since May 2005.
 

For a group of people that entered into a commitment to acknowledge and respect constitutionally mandated institutions as part of their appeal for amnesty, it will be futile not to listen to the National Electoral Board.
 

“The amnesty is conditional on their living up to the promises made on their appeal for pardon,” Meles told journalists the day they were released.

Published in: on August 2, 2007 at 1:24 pm  Comments (6)