A Reply to Gen. Tsadkan’s Reply: Narrowing the Gap By Messay Kebede (PhD)

Below is my response to Gen. Tsadkan’s reply to my review of his article. The reply is posted at: http://www.ethiomedia.com/1012pieces/5863.html

Dear Lt. General Tsadkan Gebre Tensay:

I thank you for sending me your reactions to my review of your article on the political difficulties of Ethiopia and of the solution you suggest to overcome them. Your response constitutes a very welcome clarification, not only for me, but also for the many more readers who have questions about your article. I have received many emails from various circles. Some of them agree with my assessment of your article; others reflect the opinion that my review was unnecessarily harsh and missed the core of your argument, which is the necessity of taking the constitution as a framework of a broad agreement to avoid chaos and conflicts. Still others consider your article as a misleading attempt to prolong the life of the existing ruling clique.

Let me affirm from the outset and in the most categorical terms that I do not share the view of those who maintain that your article is an exercise of deception. Your article reflects a genuine concern for the future of Ethiopia and suggests solutions that appeared to you most realistic and feasible. As to the view of those who accuse me of missing the main point of your argumentation, my reply is that I did not miss it. On the contrary, as I will try to show, my criticism was setting the conditions for the constitution to become a framework for all parties concerned to work together.

Your clarification begins by stating the basic agreement that I share with you, namely, that Ethiopia is going through a deep crisis that threatens its very existence and that the only way to counter the danger is by implementing democracy. There is no other solution than the democratic one, given that the use of force will only aggravate the crisis to the point of making it unsolvable through peaceful means. Where we disagree is that the implementation of democracy means for you the unrestricted application of the constitution.

Here I need to specify what I mean by “disagreement.” For me, the problem pertains not so much to the core features of the constitution as the people who are supposed to implement it. If the present ruling clique is the implementer, 25 years of experience tell me that it is not going to happen. Those who are ruling the country went to the extent of claiming a parliamentary electoral score of 100 percent even as deep frustration was looming everywhere and flared up in Oromia after only a few months. I have used the term “naivety” to express this reality. Yes, our solution must be realistic, but equally realistic must be the possibility of implementing it.

What does “realistic” mean? No more no less than the imperative necessity of cleansing the ruling clique of all those elements opposing the implementation of democratic principles. Without this prior measure, no rapprochement between the government and the opposition is thinkable. In particular, your call for a “structure where all political forces and the populace at large through various forms of organization, shall participate and reach consensus on the way forward including revising some of the laws and reorganize some of the institutions, especially those related to elections,” cannot see the light of day unless the TPLF undertakes the purge of die-hard ethnicists and anti-democratic forces from its ranks. In addition to an internal reshuffling, measures to build up confidence must be taken, like the unconditional release of all political prisoners, the lifting of the ban on demonstrations, free speech, etc., as well as the unambiguous abrogation of the infamous anti-terrorist law.

My understanding is that the cleansing of the EPRDF can be undertaken legally if enough members wish to do so. Be that as it may and whatever means are used, there is no possibility to organize fair elections so long as the present ruling clique remains in power. Better yet, things would move decidedly in the right direction if a transitional government of national reconciliation in which all parties, community leaders, and important civic organizations would participate, is established. This would dismiss the present parliament, a move that simply acknowledges that the total electoral victory of the EPRDF was illegal because it was obtained by undemocratic means.

At this stage, I would like to deal with your major argument, which is the necessity of taking the constitution as a basic framework if the country is to change peacefully. I have already acknowledged that you do not reject the alteration of the constitution provided that it is supported by the majority of the Ethiopian people. I agree with you on both accounts. However, given the undemocratic nature of the EPRDF government since it came to power, it is untenable to state that the constitution was approved by the Ethiopian people. It is not an exaggeration to say that the constitution was fundamentally the work of the TPLF and OLF. This is so true that many groups were deliberately excluded and, most of all, there was no open, public debates on the spirit and content of the constitution. Without open debates, there is no democracy. Rather than being democratically established, the constitution was an imposition by the victors on the vanquished.

How can this breach be corrected? The agreement to take the constitution as a framework, a point of departure must be accompanied by the understanding that one of the major tasks of the transitional government or the forum, as you suggest, is to organize official and public discussions on the constitution and gather suggestions and amendments, be they structural or functional. The second step is to put the suggestions and amendments to the test of popular verdict. If a majority of the Ethiopian people decides that the major provisions of the constitution as they are now are acceptable, then this ends the debate once and for all. However, if the majority decides to include amendments, the amended constitution will be the final one.

A crucially important note is that the main condition for this kind of open debate and democratic procedure is the removal of article 39. The threat of secession will polarize and radicalize various groups, thereby preventing any move toward mutual concessions. For pro-unity forces, article 39 amounts to negotiating with a gun to one’s head. By contrast, my belief is that a clear majority will support the principle of decentralization and self-rule if the threat of secession is removed. The deletion of the article will also open the possibility of changing the structure of the government so that any hegemony of one ethnic group over other groups is definitively excluded. Moreover, alongside the fortification of self-rule, measures that integrate all ethnic groups into a national unity could be designed and given the necessary political tools.

These amendments should facilitate mutual concessions and the formation of a representative government. If both national unity and self-rule are protected, only extremists on both sides will find a reason to oppose the proposal. In a democratic system, one cannot eliminate by force extremist positions, but precisely the effectiveness of a true democracy is to isolate them and turn them into a negligible minority.

I hear you when you argue that perfect democracy cannot be established given the conditions of our country. I also admit that the TPLF’s option of armed struggle against the Derg was not conducive for the development of democratic culture and methods of work. My issue is not TPLF’s inability to establish a perfect democracy, but its abysmal failure to put democracy, however limited it may have been, on the path of growth and expansion. Worse yet, it rolled back on its declared democratic intent by effectively moving toward a dictatorial system of government.

The failure and the betrayal are no accidents. You recognize it, the TPLF has followed Leninist principles from its inception. Allow me to add that it never got rid of those principles. Leninism is an anti-democracy ideology based on the goal of establishing a hegemonic party in all political, ideological, and economic spheres of social life. A party cannot be governed by Leninist principles and be as the same time democratic, any more than a square can be a circle at the same time. I really have trouble agreeing with you when, after admitting that the TPLF was a Leninist party, you write: “This is why I say the TPLF was democratic and revolutionary. But it was not without defects and challenges.” The essence of Leninism is not to limit democracy; it is to exclude it by the practice of “democratic centralism,” the addition of “democratic” being nothing more than a deceptive adjustment. The truth is that the TPLF must be demystified for Ethiopia to advance in light of the fact that it rejected the content of Leninism but retained its spirit. My criticism was a call for self-criticism, which is the primary condition for renewal. Needless to say, renewal is also highly dependent on a complete critical assessment of Meles’s rise, methods of government, and actual outcomes.

I welcome your clarification about the issue of developmental state versus liberalism. You bring out the “dilemma” between restricting freedom and leaving the whole economy to the forces of the free market. I applaud that you reject the use of coercive methods while not turning a blind eye to the danger inherent in the principles of the free market when they are applied to an undeveloped economy. Agreed, the debate is raging and the final truth on the question of knowing which one is best for developing countries is not yet in sight. However, it is clear that Ethiopia under Meles has taken the path of the developmental state. The intention of my criticism was not to take side for or against developmental state: I was merely pointing out that Meles used the ideology partially, that is, to justify authoritarian methods while ruling out and neglecting the other conditions, without which the model of development cannot work. Hence my suspicion that he did not choose the path to accelerate development, but to justify authoritarianism. In the end, Ethiopia ended up with nothing, that is, with neither development nor freedom.

Wishing you success in your endeavors

Yours truly

Messay Kebede

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Posted by on August 3, 2016. Filed under COMMENTARY,VIEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Responses to A Reply to Gen. Tsadkan’s Reply: Narrowing the Gap By Messay Kebede (PhD)

  1. Anon.

    August 4, 2016 at 2:11 PM

    I have never come across a Tigraian that is against the annexation of Amhara lands and ceding of Amhara lands to Sudan. Would the general be the first one to do so? If he is so concerned about the deteriorating situation in Ethiopia, he should advance the appropriate remedies for this and all other egregious crimes committed by TPLF. I don’t need to list down all the crimes perpetrated by TPLF in the whole country
    because, as a major player, he knows more
    than anybody else.
    After destroying the fabric of Ethiopia by
    ethnicizing, I find it hard to believe
    this guy is genuinely concerned. If he is,
    he must try to convince his peers who are still commiting crimes as we speak.

  2. Hanna Kuribachew

    August 5, 2016 at 9:45 AM

    To be frank, I am not impressed by Dr. Mesay’s response to Gen. Tsadkan’s explanation. Compared to Dr. Mesay’s, Gen. Tsadkan’s points appear well thought out and difficult to refute. My conclusion from their discussion is that Dr. Mesay is anchored in a political position he held for décades and is not ready for new views and approach to address problems back home. He is not the only one in this; many in the diaspora are also anchored in the same political position not to budge.

    Dr. Mesay’s criticism is on the suggestion that ” . . . the constitution . . . become a framework for all parties concerned to work together.” To exclude the constitution from this role, he argues that ” the government in power will not allow its implementation; it has been seen in the last 25 years.” He appears not to have realized the past year or so has brought in new political actors (the people of Oromia, Amhara and many others) that demand for a new political order. Given what we are witnessing right now, wasting time in talking about what happened in the last 25 years will not help. The speed with which things are changing in the country are almost maknig the last 25 years history. Now, what can be achieved and how with least human and material cost are the questions for all of to struggle with.

    I feel that General Tsadkan has rightly identified a document – the constitution – on which Ethiopians – irrespective of their ethnicity and political leanings – can work on together to address political and other complex problems the country is facing. There is no other political document of concensus we know of. There is no other cultural, religious or national political norm or principle that can be invoke. Or even a general understandig ( written or unwritten) on which there is a reasonable degree of agreement.

    Unless the government, representatives of the people in the uprising and other stakeholders in the political game come together to draw a new document which seems unlkely as things stand now, the constitution provides a way out to the impasse. The government, the people and the opposition (including the armed and violent ones) invoke some important articles of the constitution when it serves their purpose. That is to say – article related to law and order by the government and democratic and human rights by the people and the opposition. As General Tsadkan suggested, respect of the constitution and rights enshrined in it will surely change the situation in Ethiopia.

    One worrying point in Dr. Mesay’s reply is reducing the the uprising in the country to a problem of “rapprochement (or lack thereof) between the government and the opposition.” For this to happen, he argues “the government should clense itself from anti-democratic elements from its ranks.” I do not oppose this idea, but question the place Dr. Mesay gives to the opposition. I feel that it is irrelevant if the opposition in and out of the country rejects the constitution as a working document since it is not leading the people in the struggle or even make part of the struggle of the people itself. Whenever the opposition see the people confront the government on a certain issue it makes statements (typical to the OLF and Arb-Gen 7 after one or another uprising) as if they are leading the people in the struggle. In fact, let alone lead they have not shown that they are seriously following what’s going on. This confirms the observation that over the past fifty years organized opposition politics in the country (from Meison to Eprp to Seded to OLF and now to AG7, etc.) have miserably failed to lead. Meison and Eprp were after power and never got it. It won’t be different this time.

    One other confirmation that the opposition has no role in what is going on right now is the uprisings in Oromia, Amara and elsewhere are by the people themselves and never recognized local or diaspora organizations as their leaders. The diaspora media might confuse the situation by giving the impression that the opposition is on top of the uprisings in the country, but the reality is they have nothing to do with it. Even the calls the opposition makes to the people in uprising (say calls for armed resistance or establish local governments) have invariably gone unheeded. That’s a proof of total disconnect and incompatibility of means and goals of the people and the opposition.

    Furthermore, the people in the uprisings have not demanded for the exisiting governments (federal and local) to leave office. That shows the confrontation is between the people and the governments which makes it easy to address issues whithout much chaos.

    One justification for the relevance of the constitution is that a sizable portion of the population in the regions supports the constitution because of article 39. From his writings and speeches, one can easily understand that Dr. Mesay is opposed to Article 39. It is sad that he wanted to make Article 39 an issue before democracy since democracy might make the implementation of Article 39 irrelevant. Dr. Mesay will be shocked if he knows firsthand how people feel about ethnicity in the country and oppose people who want to reduce it to simple self-rule and language issues. The other point is only the constitution restrics the army from contention for power and ensures its peaceful transfer from one party to another. Should one oppose this? Not in his right mind. To help one make an informed choice on accepting the constitution as working document, we suggest that he-she reads it cover to cover. Most people in the opposition have not done that; they have heard only about article 39 which they abhor. I feel that that is not enough.

    Honestly speaking, does it matter matter who drafted and adopted the constitution or what its weaknesses are at this juncture if it can be used as a workng document in the absence of any other? I don’t think so. Again, given the urgent situation we are in, discussion on these issues only opens old wounds and compound the pain. There is no need to open a constitutional debate which is a highly divisve issue in an already divided country at the verge of collapse. If such a debate is opened, we’re sure the kind of unitary state Dr. Mesay wants will not come into existence. His idea of a transitional government is equally unhelpful to deal with the urgent situation. The kind of transitional government we’ll have now will be the same (if not worse) to the one we had under the exisitng government. There will be a thousand or so ethnic organizations to muddy the political climate. So, why repeat the same thing? Instead, why not build on what we have right now?

    I agree that accepting the constitution as a working document presupposes certain things the opposition including Dr. Mesay might not like. If the constitution is upheld, the government stays because the constitution states power is not to be taken by a means other than election. Should this be an issue if democratic rights are respected? I don’t think so. And that’s what the General seems to have said. To me, his concern is that the risk to the country and its people is enormous if the government including regional governments fall. His concern is founded. He called the government to respect democratic rights including free and fair elections and live by its outcome which means orderly transfer of power without chaos.

    The way things go in the country right now might precipitate military takeover – invited by the government or without invitation. Given our history, military rule will not be a pleasant experience. The military is capable to stop mass uprisings anywhere in the country and rule by a decree for a decade or so without a risk of overthrow. If the government falls and military takeover is avoided miraculously, it is fair to assume the chaos in the country will only compare to that of Somalia. For someone with open eyes and ears, the recipe for mutual destruction is already in palce. The suggestion that the diaspora oppostion which has started talking to each other lately will reign on the chaos in the country is simply a hope that will never materlize. As I said above, the uprising in the country is a popular one without organized leadership on which the opposition has little or no leverage. Time might be the essence here. If the uprising drags for long, the opposition and other countries with interest as to what is going on (such as Eritrea, Egypt and states across the Red Sea) may enter through the cracks and persuade or even force people to ask or do what they are not asking or doing now. And the result will be devastation of biblical and Koranic proporstions combined.

    This is not fear mongering, but a call for the government to come to its senses, listen to the people and avoid an impending disaster. If the popular uprising is hijacked by the oppositionparticularly by the violent diaspora opposition and others mentioned above, the disaster will be without parallel. We pelead to the government and others not to create and feed that possibility. As the situation permits, change or reform yourselves as government, organizations and leaders and open the space for gradual and peaceful transfer of power to whoever deserves by meeting the demands of the people.

    My understanding is that the e General called the government to respond to the demands of the people openly as expressed in the recent uprisings and demands of other millions which have not taken it to the streets. We don’t know his opinion on Eritrea, Egypt and others, but he does not seem tobe worried about diaspora opposition or the weak opposition in the country. His concerns are rightly placed on lack of respect of democratic rights and free and fair elections. Would the government listen and avoid disaster? Let’s cross our fingures.

    As to Dr. Mesay’s opinion, his criticism of the General’s essay is off the mark. He goes into what all of us have known for decades: what TPLF was and actually is, why the constitution was put in place and its shortcomings such as Article 39 and land issues, etc. If he disapproves the General’s suggestion that the government respects the constitution which means it also respects democratic rights including free and fair elections, it is fair to expect from him to put forward a better alternative. Did he suggest any alternative? No. Not at least openly on his present opinion. From his previous speeches and writings, it is clear that he is for toppling the government no matter what comes in the aftermath.Once that happens, he will simply say “ooops! here they go again.”

  3. Maerrid

    August 5, 2016 at 4:27 PM

    Allow me to rebuff the bold letter this preposterous Woyane wrote, oblivious of the offence it evoked in the hearts of Ethiopians like myself.

    Tsadkan, like his partners in crime, Woyane Tigres are are all mortal enemies of a nation they have deeply wounded and left for the dead.
    At personal level, they are responsible for the cold-blooded massacre of my father, three uncles and my only brother and many more close relatives.
    It offends my sensibilities that anyone chooses to engage with convicts and traitors who will end up breathing their last like their spiritual master, Benito Mussolini.

    Justice must be served, Tsadkan Gebretensay. Your men have not relented from their killing spree as they gunned down among others a one year old child and a 13- year- old bright lad in Awoday, Harar the other day.
    The callous, sub-human Tigre savages you trained and unleashed reportedly threatened to shoot the father for wanting to bury his son.
    How dare you propose a way out of the inferno you created only when you sensed that it is going to consume you?
    You are perhaps not even aware of your attempt to insult the intelligence of a nation that is grieving for so long? Woyanes sustained Mengistu’s brutal regime.
    Ethiopians endured the beast in order to ward off the greater threat you and your SHabia paused to the country’s integrity.
    As perfect traitors you partitioned our country, annexed vast swathes of land from Begemdir and Wollo, ceded land to Sudan, rendered us land-locked, destroyed our national army to replace them with Tigrean occupation forces. You are worried that the wrath of the millions of Amara and Oromos in particular has reached a boiling point. Hang yourself if you repent. Or else others will do it of course legally.

  4. ስንዱ

    August 8, 2016 at 5:32 AM

    ከዚህ በላይ ሀሳብህን ያካፈልከን ወንድም እናመሰግናለን እንዳልከው የሞራል ሰው ከሆነ እራሱን ይሰቅላል ግን አያደርገውም ይህ የሞራል ወንድነት ይጠይቃል። ለመሆኑ ምን አፍ አለኝ ብሎ ነው ልምከር የሚለው? መሳይ የሚሉትስ ፈረንሳይና ኢትዮጵያን መለየት ቸገረው ማለት ነው? የምን መፈላሰፍ የምን ዲፕሎማሲ ነው? ግምባር ግምባሩን እየተመታ የሚወድቀው ወገን ትዝ አይለውም? አንዴ ችግራችን ሊወገድ የሚችለው በዘውግ ስርአት ነው አንዴ ነጻነት የሚገኘው በሻቢያ ነው እያሉ ህዝብን እና ወገንን ማዋረድ ተገቢ አይመስልም አሁንስ በነዚህ ሰዎች እና በትግሬዎች መሀል ያለው ልዩነት ግራ እያጋባኝ ሂዱዋል.

  5. Asrat

    August 8, 2016 at 6:55 AM

    I fully agree with the views aired by Merrid. I hasten to suggest a lasting solution to our perennial problems with Tigre Woyanes.

    What the rest of Ethiopians should accept graciously is what Woyane Tigres say the thing they fought for passionately for years- their independence from colonial Ethiopia. Let us be brave to concede and severe our relationship with Tigrai. Many Ethiopians in and outside the country indeed talk about this idea in private.

    Let us envisage an Ethiopia without Tigrai. I think that would be the best thing to happen in our country since the battle of Adwa.
    Never mind, that Adwa will be across our future boarder. Let us have the courage to espouse this thought and help bring to fruition. The current generation of Tigres have proven beyond any shadow of doubt their damn incompatibility with the rest of Ethiopians.