By Tibebe Samuel Ferenji |
Mao Zedong once said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” In this view, whoever has the most and biggest guns will control things. The state is regarded as a single, monolithic entity of tremendous power and vast resources… which leads to the conclusion that resistance is futile.
The preceding view is common, even among libertarians, but it is essentially collectivist in nature. The truth is that organizations, including the state, do not act; only individuals do. The key idea of nonviolent struggle is that governments are not abstract, monolithic entities; rather, they are groups of flesh-and-blood individual human beings, each making their own decisions, seeking their own goals, and following their own agendas. Furthermore, the power of any government depends intimately on cooperation from many other groups outside of the government itself, as well as on cooperation and obedience from the populace at large. Political power is therefore fragile, and can collapse with startling suddenness if the right conditions are created.
To quote Gene Sharp, a researcher who has for many decades studied and written about the technique of nonviolent struggle:
“The rulers of governments and political systems are not omnipotent, nor do they possess self-generating power. All dominating elites and rulers depend for their sources of power upon the cooperation of the population and of the institutions of the society they would rule.”
So we need not take over the State’s decision-making process (elections); we need not physically destroy the State’s coercive resources (violent resistance); instead we can win our freedom by striking at the heart of the State’s power, disrupting the patterns of cooperation and obedience on which it depends. This is exactly what we are witnessing today in Egypt and Yemen; and what took place recently in Tunisia.
The wave of protests, disobedience and changes engulfing the Arab Nations soon or later would arrive to Ethiopia whether we like it or not. The similarity that Tunisians, Egyptians, The Yemenis and the people of Ethiopia are going through is almost identical. High unemployment, corruption, hyper inflation, power abuse, human rights violations, arrogance, and totalitarian regimes and so on are the root causes of the demand for change and disobedience that is shocking the world. What started in Tunisia is spreading like a wild fire to the rest of the countries ruled by despots. The only differences we have witnessed are the response by the police toward the protesters. In case of Tunisia even the police have joined the general public in demanding the removal of a despot ruler and his cronies.
Mr. Mubarek who ruled Egypt for the last 30 years is now in the verge of departing Egypt. Like his counter part in Ethiopia, Mr. Mubarek held power with fake elections and with the support of his Western Allies in guise of fighting terrorism. The Westerners who have been funding this brutal despot are now unable to defend him; and may be, they are planning his safe exit from Egypt. In Egypt, at least there are well organized political organizations that are able and willing to fill the vacuum should Mr. Mubarek depart Egypt.
The last time we witnessed such a spontaneous movement in our country was in 1974; which in 1975, the military regime deposed Emperor Haileselassie. We wanted change but the change we got was not the desired one. We did not have an effective political organization that could lead the struggle and eventually fill in the power vacuum. The opportunity allowed brutal military junta to take over power and to ruin the nation for 17 years.
This is not the first time that such opportunity presented itself in Ethiopia. In May 1997, we had the perfect “February 1974”; unfortunately, like then, we did not have effective leadership that could direct that perfect storm to force the desired change in Ethiopia. In May 1997, Merchants were protesting the high rent increase by the regime, the Gojam peasants came in mass to Addis Ababa to lodge their grievances, the dissatisfied Taxi Drivers were about to stage a work stoppage, and there was a belligerent and continues human rights abuse by the regime and an angry population was about to join the merchants to protest against the regime.
The opposition slept through it without doing any thing. The Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and the Ethiopian Chamber of commerce led the protesters and organized the merchants to close their business to paralyze the entire city. There wasn’t a single political entity that was ready to take the “Bull by its Horn” and force the regime to reform itself and change the political discourse. It took only a single radio announcement by the regime to threaten the merchants and force them to re-open their shops. In a show of an enormous disregard to the concerns of the general public, the regime imprisoned about 80 merchants, revoked hundreds of licenses and shut down several businesses. This ended that perfect storm. The opposition could only look back with regrets for failing to step to the plate.
As we witness what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen, we also observe that the opposition in Ethiopia is not providing any leadership so far. We have an enormous crisis in our country that requires sensible leadership. We don’t want this crisis to be hijacked once again that will allow another despot to replace a despot. I am aware that the opposition is agonizing how to take charge of the situation. If the opposition leadership believes that Non violent struggle means to function only at the will of the government, then, they have failed to realize that effective none violent struggle requires sacrifice; it requires saying no to the government; it requires being defiant and mobilizing the general public to demand justice and freedom. Such a humongous task requires strong leadership.
We have a dangerous storm looming in our nation; a perfect condition for public disobedience and nonviolent resistance. In order to direct this storm to a perfect storm, the opposition needs to use the opportunity to galvanize support for peaceful public disobedience to demand that EPRDF either make genuine reform or surrender power to the people. Without effective organization and leadership, it would be very difficult to bring the desired change in Ethiopia and to strike at the heart of the State’s brutal machine. What we need is an entity that will create conducive atmosphere for a democratic system of government where the rule of law reigns. What we need is a genuine change so there can be a protection of human and civic rights. What we need is a genuine change where people live in their own country without fearing their own government. What we need is a government by the people for the people. What we need is a government that governs with the consent of our people. Is the opposition ready to bring this desired change? If the answer is yes, then, the time is now to galvanize support and to direct the current discontent and public dissatisfaction into a perfect storm to bring the long awaited change to our nation.
There is no question that the EPRDF has been a thorn in the path of the opposition and has made it difficult for the opposition to galvanize public support to its cause using its brutal Agazi force. As we see before our eyes, you don’t need the regime’s permission to conduct an effective none violent struggle. All the ingredients are there for “a Revolution” except one thing-LEADERSHIP. I hope the Ethiopian people are watching, the opposition is learning and the regime is paying attention to what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen. It should not come to street protest and public disobedience to bring about genuine reform in Ethiopia; but if that is what it takes to force the regime to change; then let the opposition lead the public, before the public spontaneously leads the opposition.
Once again, that we have witnessed the achievement of effective none violent struggle. Such an effective struggle needs effective leadership. It is clear that we don’t need to resort to armed struggle to bring despots to their knees. This is the perfect time for visionary and concerned leaders to consult with one another. This is not the time to be hungry for power, but a time to reflect how to establish a democratic system of government in our nation. This is not the time to be pretentious and lecture the impossibility of such action in Ethiopia. This is the time for our patriots to stand up and lead the way to say NO MORE! NO MORE! This is the time to say to Mr. Meles and his cronies ATNESSAM WEY; ATENESSAM WAY; YEGEF AGEZAZ AYEBEKAHEM WEY? As the saying goes you have to break eggs to make an omelet, it is unfortunate that it requires a sacrifice of human lives to get rid of despots who are sucking the life of our nation.
Reference: Introduction to Nonviolent Struggle, by Kevin S. Van Horn