Makonnen Tesfaye; October 6, 2019To paraphrase the late PM of Great Britain, Harrold Wilson, a month is indeed a long-time in Ethiopian politics, for a lot of change has happened in a short time, the resultant of which is the deepening of the generalised crisis and the widening of the principal and fundamental political divide between the democratic federalist and the One-Nation-Culture hegemonist camps in the country.
1. The General Election.
The PM’s strategic ambivalence on whether to hold the upcoming General Election on schedule or not has been one of the major issues that has divided federalists and unitarians. The chauvinists fought hard for a postponement with a view to delegitimising the “EPRDF” and the Abiy Government. This is with the goal of calling for a “Transitional Government” and the abrogation of the Federal Constitution. The PM wants to postpone the election in order to consolidate his power but has been deterred (so far at least) by the overwhelming opposition from majority political parties, political elites as well as the general population that want the Election on schedule.Although one can never sayit is a foregone conclusion in politics, the struggle of the federalists in forcing the PM to hold the election as scheduled is a tentative victory, in particular when viewed against the strategic calculation of unitarians who seek regime failure.
2. The InevitableDemise of the EPRDF.The demise of the EPRDF has been written on the wall for some time now. What has transpired recently is its formal doom. The usurpation of power within the Front and Government by the One-Nation chauvinists has proved fatal. The hide-and-seek political game amongst the constituent parties has almost ended. The divide between the democratic federalist faction that seeks to build a non-aligned developmental state and the dependent neo-liberal group has deepened. This is positive in politics since it clarifies politico-ideological positions and consequently the alignment of forces.
3. The Formation of the Democratic Federalist Front.Better late than never, the federalist forces have just begun to come together. The stealthy attack on federalism by the PM has been such that it is not an exaggeration to say that most of the democratic federalists have been dumfounded for a while.This is because incumbency provides the PM with power and authority to use the organs of the state, the media and party apparatus to supress federalist voices at all levels, including banishing and imprisoning opponents and installing supporters in the Regions, except in Tigray. Who will come together in sufficient numbers to win and form the next government is an open question. What is crucial to underline though is to think strategically beyond the next election. What is vital is that whilst fighting a rear-guard action against regime failure and defending Federalism, in particular Regional Autonomy (including opting for “a confederal arrangement” if push comes to shove), federalists need to form strategic and sustainable alliances in order to guarantee the continuation and development of the federal constitution and the state order for successive elections on the belief that there is a solid, natural and majority constituency for democratic federalism in Ethiopia. To use a military analogy, winning or losing one election is like winning or losing a battle, a short-term, tactical issue. What matters decisively is winning a war, which is a long-term, protracted and strategic matter. Short-term, tactical political expediency of winning an election should be subordinated to and serve the long-term strategic goal of safeguarding and consolidating democratic federalist politics in Ethiopia.
4. Alliance of Unitarians - The “Ethiopian Prosperity Party”.Failing to lead the whole of the EPRDF along his unitarian,neo-liberaland presidential direction, the PM appears to have concluded of the need to set up a “new party” (dressed-up as a unification of the existing Front with the exception of the TPLF and with the inclusion of other Regional parties). This has gathered momentum recently in part as a knee-jerk and tit-for-tat reaction to the TPLF’s and Southern parties recent call for a federalist front. There are a number of issues regarding the setting up of the so-called “Ethiopian Prosperity Party” (alternative name proposed is “Ethiopian National Democratic Party”). Notwithstanding the legal implications ( that is if the PM adheres to the Law, which is doubtful) of the breaking up of an existing “EPRDF” and the legal requirements of forming a new party months before the General Election, which are many and formidable, there are a number of observations that characterise the politics of the PM. True to his undemocratic and increasingly dictatorial actions, the PM has not brought up the agenda of the unification of the EPRDF parties even to the Central Committee, let alone the General Congress of the EPRDF, which is the supreme authority of the Front (This is a breach of EPRDF’s internal party democracy/bylaw) . He has not even brought up the agenda to his own party’s, OPDO/ODP, Central Committee or the Party Congress. Similarly, the other parties within the EPRDF have not discussed, or brought up the agenda of “unification” of the EPRDF to their respective Central Committees, or Congresses.This is because the PM knows well the unification proposal will not pass at least in the TPLF, SEPDM and OPDO Congresses, hence in the EPRDF Congress . In the same vein, the agenda of unification has not been brought up for discussion to or decided by the Elected Parliamentarians of the EPRDF, which shows the PM’s contempt for the most sovereign organ of the Federal State. Imagine, a Western party political leader breaking up his/her party without the approval of his/her party Executive, Council/Central Committee or Congress? This is unique in Ethiopian history of party politics, perhaps globally as well, but what is supremely ironic is that the neo-liberals wish to portray the PM as a democrat and change-maker. We can, of course, surmise as to the reasons. What is bizarre about the stealthy proposal to establish the new party is the lack of rationale/clarity about its value and ideology, vision, mission, or objectives, not least about its lack of even an outline party policy, strategy or programme. What is being offered is the PM’s political slogan, which is presented as “Medemer” (literally means Addition in Amharic). What the PM means by Medemer probably is unity/unify, which is/can be a useful, effective and articulate political messaging. But, can a plain, basic or literal idea or a universal slogan of unity constitute a political economy concept , let alone a theory,ideology , or philosophy in that order? More interestingly, the PM talks about Medemer/unify in Amharic as his idea when speaking to general Ethiopian audiences, where as he attributed the Medemer idea to OromooGadda System when talking to Abba Gaddas in Afaan Oromoo (this is according to a prominent member of the Oromo Intelligentsia, Dr Tesgaye Ararsa, in his recent interview with the Sidama Media Network). Never has the PM in his numerous Amharic speeches to the Ethiopian people onMedemer over the last two years ever referred to Oromo Gadda system being the sourceof the idea. Why different/ two-faced narratives/messages to different audiences to sell, or coin a political slogan? Perhaps, this is a staff for a political satire, such as the “ Min Litazez”, an Amhara elite satire no friend of the PM (which apparently was taken off the air by the Government and its supporters ) that appears to expose, though chauvinistically, the hollowness of some of the PM’s rhetoric and practice.
5. The Intermingling of Politics and Religion, and the Irreechaa Festival.
The One-Nation-Culture-Religion supremacists camouflage/hide behind the Flag and the Bible as in other countries. The Neftegna ruling classes and elites in Ethiopia have always sought to create equivalence (Identity) between the Amhara Nation, Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. This is with a view to justifying their hegemonic rule and perpetuating the oppression of other nationalities. Their political descendants have gone to the extent of claiming themselves as “creators” of Ethiopia (according to recent public statement of the Chairperson of the Amahra National Movement). With the establishment of a federal democratic order and the separation of the state and religion, the chauvinists went to the extent of dividing the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Churchfor 27 years by establishing a separate Synod outside the country and by flagrantly using religion as a tool to overthrow the EPRDF Government without success.
With the advent to power ofDr Abiy’s Government and the coming together of the “two” Synods (the Church can only have one legitimate Synod at any time), and following the legitimate grievances of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church pertaining to the persecution of its adherents in the South-Eastern and Western parts of the country, the chauvinistshave sought to whip-up public sentiment, in particular among the Amhara people, in order to taint Oromo nationalists as anti-Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church even though there are tens of millions of Oromos who are adherents of the Church. A proposal to set up an “ Oromia-wide administrative” office of the Tewahedo Church has been castigated as a conspiracy to divide the Church and as a forward plan to assist in the eventual secession of Oromia from Ethiopia. Notwithstanding the motive of the proposal and its legitimacy ( and more importantly given it is an internal ecclesiastical Church matter and not conducive to political analysis ) what we can only infer from this episode is the flagrant attempts by the chauvinists to stir-up (through the social media and on the ground) religious conflicts and opportunistically use the Church’s legitimate grievances for their political ends.