Shiferaw Abebe — Medrek has potentially a good shot at unseating the TPLF regime as early as in the next election. But to do so, Medrek would have to overcome four kinds of challenges in the next four to five short years. The first and most obvious challenge is the repressive measures and action of the regime. Granted the TPLF regime will use every weapon in its arsenal to try to stifle any momentum Medrek might generate from the very beginning. Medrek and its supporters should not expect a white glove treatment from a vindictive and vicious regime that cannot be entreated into becoming gentler.
The only way Medrek can withstand the regime’s repressive measures is by becoming stronger, by combining both organizational strength and political agility and judiciousness. For a period of time, the regime could remain drowsy and unfocussed from the hangover of the intoxication of the recent election results. Medrek should utilize this time window to regroup and put its organizational infrastructure in place.
Common sense might imply that as the opposition becomes stronger, the regime will become more vicious and repressive. This could be true up to a point. However, experiences in Ethiopia and from around the world seems to suggest that repression actually declines beyond a certain point. That point is where the opposition has established itself, both in the eyes of the people, the regime itself and the international community, as an unshakably and credibly contending force. At that point, further repressive actions will only aggravate the people’s rage against the regime, invites heightened international condemnation, and increase the determination of opposition supporters and activists. That is a point of no return to the status quo where a shaky incumbent will be forced to become conciliatory.
That is what happened in Zimbabwe and Kenya where repressive and corrupt regimes were forced to share power with opposition parties. The same thing almost happened in Ethiopia immediately after the 2005 election when Kinijit, despite its internal organizational weaknesses as we would come to learn later, was calling shots on significant political developments. For example, when Kinijit called the stay-at-home strike some time after boycotting parliament, the regime was almost brought to its knees. It was shaken awake from the stupor of its arrogance with a trembling fear that the entire country would respond to Kinijit’s call. It was convinced that taking any coercive measures to counter the impeding strike would only have reinforced the backlash against the government, further consolidating Kinijit’s political upper hand.
Of course, Kinijit proved to have lacked the experience or sophistication to covert this new found political power into lasting political gain. It misread the sudden readiness of the regime to negotiate, and readily responded positively to the mediation of the EU ambassador and other Western dignitaries who acted as an emissary to the regime whose only and true motive was to avert the impeding and embarrassingly paralyzing impact of the stay at home strike. Kinijit should have carried out the strike as planned promising to call it off only when the regime puts a credible and tangible concession on the table. Had the strike been carried out, the course of history could quite possibly have taken a different turn in November 2005. Unfortunately, in one of the post election blunders, Kinijit fell for the cunning and shrewd move of the regime and called the strike off. Kinijit never got its footing after that.
Many Diaspora Ethiopians blame the US and European countries for only paying lip-service to democratic and human rights in Ethiopia while failing to press the TPLF regime to relent on its repressive actions. Whether or not there is a strong rationale for the US and European governments to stand against tyranny and in support of the respect of human and democratic rights in Ethiopia, the fact remains that they have not and will not put enough pressure to force a change in the behavior of the regime toward democratic institutions, opposition forces and the rule of law.
Any level of interest by the West in Ethiopia will revolve around three factors: the war on terrorism, humanitarian aid, and the internal stability of the country. At this point in time, all of these factors work in favor of the regime in power. If Medrek ever wants to win the favor of the West, for what this may amount to, it will have to match its lofty vision, cogent policies, and popular support with organizational strength, execution and solid leadership. Without a strong, visible and credible opposition, the West will continue, tacitly or overtly, to approve the continuation of the current regime.
The second challenge, one which Medrek has more or less full control over, is keeping the coalition intact and moving it into unity. Like all coalitions before it, Medrek is not immune to internal infighting, friction and disintegration. What destroyed numerous coalitions in the last two decades were not irreconcilable differences on some substantive issue or another. Coalitions falter and ultimately get dismantled, first and foremost, because of the quality and character of the leaders. Many times, decisions that led to the collapse of opposition coalitions were made not on the basis of strategic considerations, but on tactics and useless, self-serving principles that left visionary and committed opposition leaders helpless. The bigger problem, however, seems to have been the ego and ambition of many opposition leaders. Power corrupts even opposition leaders who are either too eager or too focused on taking the reins of government into their hands or are too satisfied with their current status as opposition leaders to see themselves governing a country.
So far, Medrek has taken all the right steps. The leaders of the coalition parties have shown an amazing steadfastness. The most recent news of moving from a coalition to unity will have a positive reverberation throughout the country. Such a commitment in the morrow of an election that brought a complete shut out of the opposition from parliament can only be a good sign to what is to come in the future. All visible indications are that Medrek will likely stay united. From their public appearances, the leaders appear to be comfortable with each other and seem to have developed an amicable rapport to each other. These were the traits that were utterly absent from Kinijit leaders.
As Medrek moves to unity, it has to elect one permanent leader. A revolving chair is no good indication of lasting unity. Nor does it fit well with the psychology of Ethiopians. Ethiopia is in dire need of a true and charismatic political leader, who is insightful, clever, calm, patriotic, and most of all selfless – a Mandela!
Third, Medrek will continue to face opposition from those who are opposed to the very idea of a political coalition consisting of multinational and nationality or ethnic based organizations. The opposition could come from two sides – from those who support only multinational political parties and from those who would only support nationality or ethnic based organizations. The fracture in UDJ before the 2010 election was partly a consequence of such an opposition.
This challenge is likely to dissipate over time. First, Medrek is already broadly received in Ethiopia and abroad. Second, if recently reported developments come to fruition, Medrek will become a unified party instead of a coalition. Third, despite the fine points of the theoretical arguments against such kind of a coalition, in practice, such a coalition will prove to be the best invention not just to undermine the TPLF regime’s ethnocentric propaganda. More importantly, in the long term, Medrek will prove to be the most viable model to move Ethiopia from a state where ethnic groups see each other with suspicion, if not with outright implanted animosity, to one where they trust each other and organically integrate with each other to build a thriving Ethiopia for all.
There are still many Ethiopians and political organizations who believe that the political, economic and social interests and aspirations of nationalities and ethnic groups should be addressed in their own right, not just as a by-product of the respect and promotion of individual rights. They are convinced that some of the group rights cannot wait until individual rights take root and flourish. They see the dichotomy between or sequencing of individual and group rights as false.
It is also true that, contrary to two decades of ethnocentric social engineering by the authors of Article 39 of the current Ethiopian constitution, ethnic tension in the country is undeniably stronger now than 19 years ago. Medrek is the model for our times with a pragmatic and forward-looking agenda. It has a unique opportunity by the nature of its composition to loosen the tension and ultimately address it permanently. Medrek’s stand on major national issues – Article 39, Ethiopia’s unity and integrity, Ethiopia’s legitimate right to a sea-outlet, economic liberalism and many others – could only inspire hope and confidence in the organization’s vision for Ethiopia’s unity and prosperity where diversity is celebrated rather than manipulated for divide and conquer.
There is no such thing as a predestined or a made-for-all time political course. History and politics influence each other. The political path a given country or organization takes is greatly influenced by current realities. Throughout Ethiopia’s history, many important, judicious political decisions were made under less than ideal conditions, combining pragmatism, idealism, and history.
Fourth, an increasing number of Ethiopians, particularly in the Diaspora, have come to doubt if the authoritarian TPLF regime could ever be removed by a peaceful struggle. They cite the outcome of the 2010 election to justify their doubt. The problem is, no one is able to show how a non-peaceful form of struggle could be a better and short cut choice. That is even if one were to be assured that a non-peaceful struggle would beget a peaceful, civilian and law abiding government. For several years now, there have been groups who took up arms to challenge the TPLF government, many of them using Eritrea as a launching base. However, so many years later, there is no much certainty for their self preservation, let alone for their capacity to liberate Ethiopia from the clutches of the TPLF regime. The recent alleged attempt at a non-peaceful form of struggle involving army officers inside the country has also shown the precarious and costly nature of this form of struggle.
Even if one were convinced in the workability of a non-peaceful form of struggle, one should not stop supporting the peaceful struggle. For a politically weak government will eventually be weak militarily and security wise too. The converse is also generally true. But for political organizations operating inside the country, the only choice they have is to stick to the peaceful form of struggle. They should not give the regime the pleasure of finding a pretext to associate them with a non-peaceful form of struggle.
Ethiopians inside the country, who should be the ultimate deciders of their own fate, have three real choices: support the opposition camp peacefully, courageously and sacrificially; support the regime in power for whatever reason; or shut their eyes, ears and senses and live their individual lives in subjugation bordering slavery. With the right kind of leadership in the opposition camp, they are likely to choose the first.
In conclusion, despite the above discussed challenges, the fate of Medrek and its promises are quite remarkably in its own hands. The regime in power is still hated broadly by the people it rules. Its vices are not hidden from its Western donors. If Medrek stays united, disciplined and committed, if it proves its capacity to remain true to its promises, it will earn the trust and support of Ethiopians inside and outside of the country and the respect of the international community. It can unseat the TPLF regime quite possibly in the next election.