The May 2005 Ethiopian Election: The missing ingredients
By Dr. Maru Gubena
May 16, 2006
This article is part two of my contribution entitled: “The May 2005 Ethiopian Election was held without Restructuring that is Indispensable for a Free and Fair Election Process, and without Preparing the Ground for Political and Leadership Change." As you may remember, the first part of this article has already been published on various Ethiopian websites, including other websites engaged with issues of Ethiopia. To have a background on the complex issues assessed in this article, it is advisable to download and read part one before proceeding with part two of the article.
Looking at the Sources of Ethiopians' Lasting Resentment and Animosity Towards the Ruling Party
As Ethiopians and experts on the issues of Ethiopia have said, the degree of animosity between the people of Ethiopia and the ruling party that came into being immediately after the emergence of the TPLF as a rebel movement in the Tigray region has since grown and expanded, smoldering in the hearts and minds of a large section of the Ethiopian population. Ethiopians in general and even Ethiopian intellectuals and opposition politicians do not see the members of the ruling party as part and parcel of Ethiopian society. Ethiopians in fact see the ruling party leaders through the same lenses as they see foreign powers and colonizers. As a result, the ruling party’s fourteen-year rule of Ethiopia has been regarded by Ethiopians as an imposition of power upon them and their land by black foreign powers in collaboration with some self-centered indigenous Ethiopian individuals.
Some readers of this article will undoubtedly be wondering what grounds Ethiopians might have for their deep-seated animosity towards the members of the ruling party, or what factors have led them to consider those leaders as not belonging to Ethiopia and Ethiopians. Therefore some brief background information will be provided on three obvious major points.
1. An Ethnic Policy intended to Keep Ethiopians Disunited and to Weaken Ethiopia
The first important source of the intense, longstanding tensions and bad relations between the members of the ruling party and the people of Ethiopia is the divisive ethnically and linguistically oriented political programme and economic policy of the ruling party, which are aimed at separating Ethiopians from each other and limiting their trade, working together, or other forms of cooperation. A case in point which deserves to be mentioned here is that, as some historical records clearly indicate, the idea of EPRDF rule of Ethiopia and Ethiopians on the basis of ethnicity and language was born in the fortress of the EPLF leaders - the present rulers of Eritrea - and was incorporated into the political programme of the then TPLF. The idea was to keep Ethiopians divided, disunited and weak so that they would not challenge either the rule of EPRDF or the arrangements for Eritrea’s independence, reached between the former rebel leaders who are the current heads of Ethiopia and Eritrea.
2. The Case of Eritrea, including its Expulsion of Ethiopians
The second and most disturbing factor in the deep-rooted resentment felt by Ethiopians towards the ruling party is the case of Eritrea, and the long history of secretive relations and friendships between the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea. What Meles Zenawi, the former President – now the Prime Minster of Ethiopia and leader of EPRDF, the ruling party – did to Ethiopia and Ethiopians is something that even the European colonial powers that ruled Africa and Africans have never done to the countries and the people they colonized and ruled for centuries. Indeed, as every conscious member of the international community can recall, never before had there been (and has not been since, elsewhere) a leader of a country who as in our case in apparent excitement initiated the separation of a part of the country and the people he or she rules, writing a letter to the member states of the United Nations requesting them to approve and recognize the complete secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia, thereby making Ethiopia a landlocked nation, in principle for all time. This is however how Eritrea’s independence was fashioned and realized. Though the symbolic referendum for the formal independence was held and celebrated two years later, on 24 May 1993, in effect Eritrea came into being in May 1991 on the day after the dictatorial regime of Mengistu Hailemarim was toppled, mainly by Eritrean rebel forces. As briefly mentioned in the above paragraph, and as a good number of historians of Ethiopian politics and history have shown, the unconditional independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia was prearranged in the 1980s between the two then rebel leaders of EPLF and TPLF, while still waging a guerrilla war against Mengistu Hailemariam’s dictatorial regime. In exchange for the unconditional future independence of Eritrea, the top Eritrean rebel leaders promised their then militarily weak TPLF rebel brothers and comrades to arm, train and effectively assist them in the struggle to effect a humiliating defeat on the regime of Mengistu Hailemariam. The EPLF rebel leaders not only carried out their promises to the TPLF leadership in the 1980s – assisting them in deposing Mengistu’s regime, assuming power in Addis and, as newly emergent rulers, taking control of the full responsibility of administering Ethiopia as a whole – but also they provided unlimited military assistance and the full protection of Eritrea’s provisional government to the leadership of the then militarily weak EPRDF, which was lacking in professionalism and strong leadership. This helped to silence the challenges of public unrest and the increasing opposition and protests by the people of Ethiopia to the coming to power of the TPLF/EPRDF as the rulers of our country - Ethiopia.
A particular historical event related to the independence of Eritrea, which is partly responsible for the endless smoldering resentment and longstanding animosity among Ethiopians towards the ruling party, is the manner in which family members of the Ethiopian armed forces and Ethiopians in general were treated when they were humiliated and deported from Eritrea while their properties and money were confiscated and stolen in 1991 by the cadres of Eritrea’s provisional government of the period and by the people of Eritrea, immediately after the EPLF took over power in Eritrea from Mengistus’s regime. Because Eritrean independence was prearranged, decided by the leaders of the two rebel movements during the 1980s, and independence of Eritrea itself from the previous regime was simply achieved by the barrel of the gun, there was never a meeting, discussion or negotiation between the leaders of the two rebel groups with regard to the future, including the peaceful transfer of Ethiopians from Eritrea to Ethiopia. Consequently, and due to the lack of leadership in Addis Ababa that would have represented the interests of Ethiopia and worked for the general well-being of its people, and also because of the dependence of the leadership in Addis Ababa upon the Eritrean leadership, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians were simply thrown out not only from their houses, but also from the entire territory of the newly independent Eritrea; they were forced to face the long distances of hundreds of miles through the high mountains of Eritrean and Ethiopia under intolerably hot temperatures during the day and rain with cold temperatures during the night as they made a desperate attempt to reach Ethiopia to tell their story to compatriots who would be willing to listen. A number of them did not make it; they died on the way. Those who managed to reach Ethiopia were very sick, with many injuries. Much to the surprise and shock of Ethiopians and international NGOs, however, the ruling party prohibited these displaced Ethiopians from entering Ethiopian towns and cities, preventing them from blending in with the general public of Ethiopia. Instead, the ruling party kept all of the Ethiopians removed from Eritrea, including the sick, in the open air around the suburbs of various cities, including the capital – Addis Ababa – without shelter or food. The repeated questions and demands of the Ethiopian general public concerning the reasons for the removal of Ethiopians from Eritrea and the way they were treated, both in Eritrea in Ethiopia have never obtained any response from the ruling party leader, Meles Zenawi. But when Meles Zenawi was asked by foreign journalists who came together with the western NGOs to help those displaced and sick Ethiopians, his response was that “these people had been living in the land of other people without being invited. We don’t know why they were in Eritrea in the first place, and we do not know why they are now here in Ethiopia. We are studying whether they are a part of the Ethiopian people, and whether those people belong to Ethiopia.” Only protests and pressure from donor countries finally allowed the displaced Ethiopians from Eritrea to join families and relatives and begin to build a new life from scratch.
On the other hand however, Ethiopians of Eritrean origin living in Ethiopia during that period were never asked to leave Ethiopia to go to their newly independent nation – Eritrea. They were not only living comfortably in Ethiopia, but were also commanding Ethiopians and helping the ruling party to silence people, while preparing the ground for further repression and exploitation of Ethiopians by the ruling party. What is more surprising and even hurtful is that, while Ethiopians were being thrown into deserts and forests by the provisional government of Eritrea, the ruling party of Ethiopia was actively engaged in the 1993 referendum campaign regarding Eritrea, encouraging and providing the means and resources to Ethiopians of Eritrean origin in Ethiopia to encourage their support and votes for the referendum on Eritrea, which they did provide.
Finally, it is worthwhile to note that a large number of Ethiopians of Eritrean origin are still living and working in Ethiopia. It is even believed that a few among the ruling party members who dominate the Ethiopian political scene today are Ethiopians of Eritrean origin. Only when the long marriage and honeymoon between the leaders of EPRDF and EPLF came to an end in 1996, followed by the unexpected and very bloody war of 1998-2000, were a number of Eritreans suspected of having political links with the new enemy – the Eritrean political leadership –removed from Ethiopia and sent to Eritrea.
3. Disintegration of the Ethiopian Defense Forces, the Process of Criminalization and “Brain Draining”
A third important factor for the longstanding animosity of Ethiopians towards the ruling party is the complete disintegration of an estimated half million Ethiopian armed forces and their dependents, including an average of three children per soldier. The Ethiopian defense forces had existed for a lengthy period of time and used to be associated with Ethiopia’s lengthy and historic independence. It was a symbol of pride and dignity for Ethiopia and had both the affection and respect of all Ethiopians. But much to the dismay of Ethiopians, immediately after the fall of Mengistu Hailemariam the relatively modern Ethiopian defense forces were discharged from their jobs and replaced not by an army representing the ethnic composition of Ethiopia and providing for its national security, but by the EPRDF militia forces which had been waging a protracted guerrilla warfare against the regime. They were almost exclusively from rural Tigray; they didn’t know the culture and didn’t speak the language of the majority of Ethiopians. In assuming control of the administration in Addis Ababa and the entire country of Ethiopia, the ruling EPRDF party, in collaboration with EPLF forces and the then provisional government of Eritrea, confiscated most of the weapons and essential military equipment from the regime of Mengistu Hailmariam. Other military properties belonging to the regime that the new ruling party had overthrown were burnt and destroyed as Ethiopians watched. The burning and destruction of an aggregation of tanks and other essential military materials in selected major Ethiopian cities and under the eyes of the public were deliberately intended to humiliate Ethiopians. The immediate dismissal and dispersion of a half million members of the Ethiopian armed forces, including high ranking officers, discharging and leaving them totally unemployed, with no way to carry out their day-to-day responsibilities for their children and other immediate family members, clearly shows not only the unconcerned behaviour of the ruling party, but also its largely hostile attitude and animosity towards Ethiopia and Ethiopians and intention to cause more pain and outrage among the Ethiopian public.
Further, underestimating and ignoring the strong affection and respect Ethiopians had and still have for both the Emperor and the members of the Ethiopian defense forces, the official response given by the ruling party for the measures it under took was that “the Ethiopian army was a product of the previous regimes of Emperor Haile Selassie and dictator Mengistu Hailemariam, and was and is directly or indirectly a historical “enemy” of the people of Tigray and Eritrea.” Such an explanation was, however, seen by Ethiopians as unacceptable, most outrageous and degrading. Consequently, the dismissal of the Ethiopian armed forces remained one of the contributing forces leading Ethiopians to see the members of the ruling party as not belonging to Ethiopia and Ethiopians, and in fact an enemy to Ethiopians and the territorial integrity of the country.
To add salt to the wound, and despite Ethiopia’s ongoing extreme need for trained and experienced personnel, educated Ethiopians, especially from certain sections of Ethiopian society, have become outcasts in their own country and are rarely given higher governmental and academic responsibilities. By creatively inventing methods of criminalization and by manufacturing fabricated and false charges against outstanding and experienced but outspoken Ethiopians, the ruling party has and continues to be a major source of a “braindrain,” siphoning away these Ethiopian assets. Highly educated Ethiopians, including over 50 university professors, have been dismissed from their jobs and replaced by untrained and inexperienced employees almost exclusively from one region – Tigray.
Additionally, Ethiopian representatives in major international organizations, ambassadors and other employees of Ethiopian Embassies and Consulates located throughout the international community are a case in point. Admitting fully that it does not represent Ethiopian society, the ruling party has been and is appointing individuals only from Tigray and who are members of the ruling party as representatives of its regime in major international organizations, and as ambassadors and Consul-Generals to Ethiopian Embassies and Consulates. There is little or none of the required educational background, work or life experience; instead there is the perspective of rural Tigray, rather than a broad outlook that includes urban Ethiopia. Consequently, the so-called representatives, ambassadors and Consul-Generals from Ethiopia have become a source of embarrassment to Ethiopians visiting Ethiopian Embassies and Consulates and to those watching representatives of Ethiopia who are unable to express themselves and articulate the issues of Ethiopia, continuously stammering and perspiring while appearing on western television. Most representatives are also incapable of distinguishing between comments stated and questions raised by the interviewing journalists. Too, they generally speak the official language of the country they represent very poorly. Much to the surprise of many, they do not speak English or French. “They got their positions simply because they were former TPLF fighters,” is the comment that often has been given emotionally by anonymous former and current staff members of Ethiopian Embassies located throughout the international community, including these working in Washington DC, London, Paris and Brussels.
Since it assumed power in May 1991, discharging Ethiopian armed forces, diplomats and intellectuals from their jobs and replacing them with untrained, inexperienced TPLF members, cadres and former fighters with little or no work and life experience as well as little knowledge of the broader Ethiopian society and its historical and current relations with the outside world, has been the policy of the ruling party, and a daily reality for Ethiopia. The repeated cruel and hostile measures of the Ethiopian ruling party against well-trained and highly educated Ethiopians have forced many of those who have lost their jobs to live, with their families, in the most intolerable conditions of impoverishment. They have been left with no choice except, to the shock and dismay of Ethiopians, to become street wanderers, beggars and urban robbers. As can be imagined, only a handful among the huge numbers who have been made unemployed by the ruling party have managed to escape this man-made poverty as well as torture and imprisonment to reach neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Sudan or Djibouti, and gradually Europe and the United States, enabling them to tell their very touching, emotional and provocative stories to their compatriots, to journalists and to the international community at large.
Not surprisingly, it is such individuals, former members of the Ethiopian defense forces, diplomats and intellectuals - the victims of the ruling party who are the current forces in the forefront of those questioning and challenging the repressive policies of the current government, and the legality of the results claiming the ruling party as winner of the May 2005 parliamentary election.
As historical records of the “braindrain” of Ethiopia’s most productive assets show, the processes of driving Ethiopians into exile came into being during the initial years of Mengistu’s era and proceeded in a dramatic fashion until the final days of his brutal rule. And despite Ethiopians’ understanding of the economic policy and political programme of the TPLF – the current ruling party – they nevertheless had hoped that the end of Mengistu’s era, which coincided with the End of the Cold War, would bring a time of relative political stability, coupled with recovery from Ethiopia’s gravest and most complex tragedies, including drought, famine and the process of the braindrain. Much to the dismay of Ethiopians, however, their hopes and expectations were soon dashed. What Ethiopians got after Mengistu was and is the worst of the worst. Under the current ruling party repression has expanded; consequently, the exodus of Ethiopians to foreign countries has increased considerably throughout the past fourteen years. And both the pride Ethiopians had in themselves and their country during the nostalgic years of Emperor Haile Selassie and the respect outsiders once had for Ethiopia and Ethiopians have gradually evaporated, to the point where Ethiopians are no longer welcome at the ports of entry of a good number of nations that have built solid, rational economic structures and relatively reliable political stability.
Indeed, as far as I can recall, in the nostalgic years of my childhood and youth in the 1960s and early 1970s Ethiopia and Ethiopians enjoyed both the unlimited love and respect of the entire international community; there was no need for visas for Ethiopians to travel to some European and Middle Eastern countries. Famine in Ethiopia was just a periodic event, a matter of national concern and a collective responsibility of its people. It is additionally true that the number of Ethiopians living in exile numbered only in tens, not in millions, as is undeniably the reality today. The terms "asylum," "refugee" and "exile" were known to only a few well educated, politically oriented intellectual Ethiopians whose state of mind was affected by ideas, ideologies and goals related to political, economic and leadership change for Ethiopia. Today, however, thanks to the Ethiopian rulers of the past three decades, these words are well known even to rural Ethiopian children and rural Ethiopian grandmothers and grandfathers, since these phenomena have become indispensable as ways to escape poverty and disease, as well as persistent repression, internal and external wars and conflicts.
The explanations and chronology above should help to explain the cardinal sources of the longstanding, deep-rooted hostility and grave resentment of Ethiopians towards the ruling party and its cadres. The events and atrocious crimes detailed above, committed against the people of Ethiopia by the ruling party in tandem with EPLF leaders, continue to boil, smoldering indiscriminately in the hearts and minds of every true Ethiopian citizen, young or old, woman or man.
An Election held Prior to Restructuring and Reorganization of Public Institutions: Leadership, the Process of Democratization and Requirements for Realization
As is well known, most African countries have been – and some are still – ruled by leaders who came to power through a military coup d’état or through guerrilla warfare waged against a seated government, elected or unelected. Often the newly emerging powers, the coup and guerrilla leaders, are revolutionaries and love or are even addicted to structural change, wanting to see not only the leader or leaders they have defeated replaced, but also all of the systems and patterns of the previous regime, including the constitution, the entire judiciary system, the courts, judges, the socio-economic policy, the education policy, the media and many other aspects that are indispensable to the lives of the population that the newly emerged powers have come to rule. Since they are the backbone of a well-trained defense force, existing military structures are always maintained and even expanded by the leaders of a new military coup d’état. In countries ruled by military leaders, high-ranking members of the armed forces are often given ministerial, diplomatic and other important civil positions.
This is, however, not the case for policies and political programmes of new rulers who were previously rebel leaders. In overthrowing and taking power from a seated government, former rebel leaders often choose to annihilate the military structures and the entire membership of the defense forces, replacing them with militia forces and military equipment of their won. This is exactly what happened in Ethiopia. When the leaders of the current ruling party came to power in May 1991 as guerrilla leaders, they replaced Ethiopian defense forces with their own militia forces; reorganized the so-called government media, replacing all personnel with members of the ruling party and those affiliated with TPLF and EPRDF; and reorganized and changed every segment of governmental institutions and personnel, except for buildings. Writing their own rules and laws to replace the previous ones was the first priority of the ruling party. Other changes included the replacement of many Ethiopian court judges; city mayors and high ranking civil servants and administrators; high ranking police officials, civil aviation officials, pilots and high ranking airport officials. Personnel changes in diplomatic fields were even more dramatic. During the initial years of its rule, the ruling party replaced almost all Ethiopian representatives at the United Nations and other major international organizations, ambassadors and other officials in Ethiopian embassies located throughout the international community.
There is historical evidence that some former rebel leaders after firmly establishing their power as rulers do review, revise and change their restrictive and rigid policies and political programmes, replacing them with policies conducive to coming closer to, and embraced by the people of their nation state. Unfortunately, however, this has not been the case in Ethiopia. Instead, what we have been observing and experiencing since the ruling party came to power almost one and half decades ago is an expansion of the socio-economic, educational and cultural policies and political programme drafted in the rebel bunkers in the 1980s and brought to Addis Ababa in May 1991. In addition it is true, as far as Ethiopians can recall, that there have never been any sort of positive initiatives, or willingness on the part of the ruling party to redress the harm caused by its policies in various socio-economic fields or other educational and industrial sectors, including the multiple injustices inflicted upon the people of Ethiopia and the territorial integrity of the country.
As stated in the first part of this article, published on various Ethiopian pro-democracy websites, the 15 May 2005 parliamentary election was held in the face of both longstanding and freshly developed resentments and animosities. The promises made by the ruling party to Ethiopians and donor nations in 2004, that it was prepared to hold a free and fair national parliamentary election in 2005, in the face of a resolute rejection of recognizing and redressing the atrocious crimes the party had committed, and the implementation of an election without preparing the ground and making arrangements for the future safety of the leaders of the ruling party (in case they should lose power in a truly democratic election), clearly indicate that Prime Minister Meles Zanawi and his ruling party wanted the election to be held not with the possibility of winning or losing, but with the sole purpose of winning. A large number of Ethiopians are convinced that without fundamental changes in its main power bases, the ruling party will never give up power based on a one-man-one-vote system of elections. They have been engaged in a diplomatic war on many fronts, urging the members of the ruling party to agree to a national dialogue and reconciliation with the people of Ethiopia, and to democratize and restructure major Ethiopian institutions - the Ethiopian defense forces, the judiciary system, the election board and the media prior to any future elections. At present these are all under the total control of, and serve as power bases for the ruling party. Consequently, not only leaders of the Ethiopian opposition parties, but also other Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia have been insistent in arguing that such institutions – the very backbone of any society – can only remain such a total monopoly when a country is ruled by a dictatorial regime, offering few prospects of democratization or free and fair elections. Although at present the leaders of the ruling party in Ethiopia say daily that they are deeply involved and tirelessly engaged in a process of democratization, in practical terms this seems far from reality. While completely denying Ethiopians the right to follow a logical process of democratization on the one hand, the leaders of the ruling party talk of themselves as the leading forces in the process of democratization and had told the Ethiopian people and the wider international society that they were ready to hold free and fair elections and were prepared to step down if not elected.
The leaders of the ruling party have resolutely denied the repeated demands of Ethiopians for restructuring and reorganizing the Ethiopian defense forces, the judiciary system, the election board and the media – the leaders saying continuously that such changes will take place only “over our dead bodies.” The central argument for this persistent denial of demands to free the four major public institutions from the total monopoly of the ruling party seems to be, as we often heard, that these institutions are independent organs and capable of operating independently even though these institutions were created by the ruling party itself and even though the employees, chairpersons and judges are loyal members of the ruling party, appointed by Prime Minister himself. However, it is in fact clear that the power and quite literally the survival of every individual member of the ruling party are entirely dependent on, and can only be guaranteed by, these four public institutions. In responding to irrational arguments based on the current “independence” of these organizations, one tends to conclude that Ethiopia and Ethiopians are being ruled by a leadership with no interest in or will to either listen to the heartbeats of Ethiopians or to understand the urgent and explosive need for the implementation of the forces of democratization and democracy in our country - Ethiopia. And Ethiopians are indeed in immediate need of a leadership willing and capable of cultivating the habits and cultures of democracy. Yes, Ethiopians are in extreme need of a leadership that belongs to Ethiopia and Ethiopians, and is capable of reviving the lost respect and affection Ethiopians have had for themselves.
The cardinal reason underlying the need for a change of leadership is that a relatively true democratization and its implementation in a society requires a leadership made up of individuals with a democratic state of mind, who are part and parcel of the society, who are deeply concerned with maintaining the territorial integrity of the nation state, and who are involved with the burning issues, concerns and desires of the people who make up the society. As we all know from numerous books of political science and other scientific disciplines, the concept of democracy and its implementation process undoubtedly require a leadership that is not intoxicated with a desire to control every segment of socio-political, economic and power structures, but that instead is concerned with and willing to effectively and meaningful engage with the general well-being of the people under its rule; willing to listen and understand the hearts and minds of the people and work for their peace and tranquility – a leadership interested in communicating rationally and effectively, working collectively and cooperatively with the people under its rule. Above all, a process of democratization certainly requires as a basis the creation and expansion of a climate for relatively harmonious coexistence among the people, with respectful relations and interactions between the people and those who rule them. Even more essentially, however, in countries such as Ethiopia, before everything else a process of relatively healthy and acceptable democratization and its realization demands of the people and the leadership the creation of thoughtfully constructed mechanisms and climates for nationwide dialogue and debate conducive to the removal of both longstanding and freshly developed resentments and animosities among the people and between the people and their rulers. However, none of these fundamental and indispensable requirements are present in the land of Ethiopia today.
The repeated denials of the ruling party regarding the demands of Ethiopians for the independence of the Ethiopian armed forces, the judicial system, the media and the election board from the control of the ruling party, and to have these institutions serve not just the ruling party, but the people of Ethiopia to whom these institutions belong, clearly demonstrates the undemocratic nature of these leaders and their readiness to use oppressive, impoverishing, apartheid-style policies to rule our country. Further, preceding the 15 May 2005 parliamentary election, a number of Ethiopian civic organizations and many capable Ethiopian nationals wanted to register and participate as observers. While foreign nationals were registered in a timely manner and allowed to observe the election process, the ruling party imposed restrictions upon Ethiopian nationals. This not only suggests that the ruling party had premeditated plans to prevent a free and fair election, including the usual obstruction and intimidation during the vote counting and the announcement of the results, but also can be cited as an example of the ruling party’s disinterest in the well-being of Ethiopians, which extends to the peace and democratization process in Ethiopia. As has been argued in various sections of this article, Ethiopians at home and in the Diaspora are convinced that neither the dominant members of TPLF specifically or the ruling party in general have any interest, desire or heart to see an economically prosperous and politically stable, peaceful and democratic Ethiopia in which the human rights of its people are respected and equality among the people and the various ethnically different groups are the norm.
The repeated statements of the leaders of the ruling party, in particular of the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi – that they and their party are working tirelessly, assuming full responsibility for laying the foundation for, cultivating and expanding a democratic culture in Ethiopia, crafting strategies, implementing selected developmental policies appropriate to the political and economic needs of Ethiopia, and expanding health and educational sectors so as to decrease the extent of dependence of Ethiopians upon handouts from outsiders and gradually free them from chronic poverty and disease – are politically motivated statements, and far from Ethiopia’s socio-political and economic reality on the ground. It is additionally true that the war of words waged uninterruptedly by the ruling party and its cadres, presenting themselves as patriots of democracy, is merely intended to buy time and to maintain the existing economic and diplomatic relations with donor countries and major international banks. This is also true of the undemocratic parliamentary election held on 15 May 2005. Over 95 percent of Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia, including a good number of insiders among the ruling party itself, are convinced that the May 2005 election was held not with the aim of cultivating a culture of democracy, learning to debate with each other, to agree and disagree and yet be able to live harmoniously together; and certainly was not meant to include the potential for a democratic transfer and change of power. Instead, it appears to have simply been intended to fulfill the demands and requirements of bilateral and multilateral aid from donor countries.
It is on the other hand important to recognize that, though the available negotiation tools were limited, the efforts of the opposition leaders and their supporters prior to the May election – to at least partially influence and reverse the intentions of the ruling party, which, by making the brief period of the election campaign relatively free, was attempting to create the impression among donor countries that a democratic process was under way in Ethiopia – were far from sufficient.
Although I dare to say boldly and with conviction that the participation of the Ethiopian opposition parties in the 15 May 2005 has brought tremendous and irreversible changes in the face of the political map of Ethiopia, and has successfully exposed the ruling party’s complex mechanisms and tools of oppression and impoverishment of the people of Ethiopia, it is still my view that the efforts carried out and the diplomatic tools employed by the major opposition parties and those fervently struggling for the democratization and leadership change in our country to convince or force the ruling party to agree to restructure, reorganize and gain independence for Ethiopian institutions have been far too limited, compared to the enormous number of meetings held between the leaders of the opposition parties, their lobbyists and the international diplomats and with the various US and European departments after the election. There were also few or no physical activities before the May 2005 election compared to the number of demonstrations, media transmissions and conferences held in various major western cities. It is additionally true that the few western journalist and diplomatic friends we have today who are ready to add their voice to our struggle are also products of the collective and persistent struggle made by Ethiopians after the election.
The highly necessary efforts that should have been made collectively prior to the election did not occur. And, as has repeatedly been said by a good number of highly experienced Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia, the entry of a small number of elected opposition MPs to parliament on the basis of the results declared by the Ethiopian National Election Board of the ruling party would undoubtedly be not only a disappointment, but could also be regarded as a collective suicide by the people of Ethiopia. Like most of my compatriots, I have been reading and listening to the comments and advice given to Ethiopian opposition MPs by many national and international diplomats and experts on issues of Ethiopia, including comments by Ambassador Herman J. Cohen, Former US Assistant State Secretary for Africa, that the “elected” opposition candidates should enter the newly opened parliament and work with the ruling party. We listened attentively to the interview given on the Voice of America Amharic Service about two months ago by Ambassador Cohen – someone I had included as a speaker at an international conference on Africa I organized, and with whom I had discussions on wide-ranging issues of Ethiopia when I had the opportunity to visit him at his office in Arlington, Virginia – but it is my understanding that his advice to Ethiopian opposition MPs to enter and participate in the newly opened parliament was based simply on the experience of opposition parties of other Africa countries who had already lost one or more elections but finally managed to defeat a powerful ruling political party. As can be recalled, Ambassador Cohen mentioned the case of Kenya as a solid example of how a seated President or Prime Minister can eventually be defeated. In advising Ethiopian opposition parties, Ambassador Cohen stated that “the then opposition leader of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, had lost two elections. To the surprise of many people, however, Mwai Kibaki finally managed to defeat the longtime Kenyan strong man, Former President Daniel Arap Moi. Now Mwai Kibaki is the President of Kenya. It is therefore a question of patience and time. Who says that that the Ethiopian opposition cannot win the next election?” My response to Ambassador Cohen’s comments and advice is that he does not seem to know the most outstanding differences in the relations between the leaders of Ethiopia’s ruling party and the people of Ethiopia vis-ŕ-vis the relations of leaders of other African countries with their people. The former President of Kenya, Daniel Arap Moi was Vice President of Kenya during the 1970s. He became President after the death of Jomo Kenyatta on 22 August 1998. Since Daniel Arap Moi did not commit appalling crimes against his people and fervently and gallantly managed to defend and maintain the historical integrity of Kenya, he was never regarded as an enemy by his compatriots and never accused of being a foreign power and an outsider. He did not need to worry that a free and fair election followed by a loss of power through a one-man, one-vote system would threaten his personal safety and that of his family. The historical and current relations, as detailed in the pages above, of the leaders of the Ethiopian ruling party with the people is quite different. Ethiopians across the country are well aware that the leaders of the ruling party will never, never simply give up power through a one-man, one-vote system. As the May 2005 election and its aftermath have clearly shown, until the four major institutions have been restructured and reorganized and have become wholly independent, negotiations with the leaders of the ruling party or participation in the periodically held national elections under their rules will not produce any gains. It should be abundantly obvious that getting rid of repressive regimes, such as ours, requires not just a war on the diplomatic front by a few opposition leaders and party lobbyists, but a collective determination to persistently and tirelessly engage the enemy to the last, until a collective freedom is gained.
Summary and Concluding Remarks
As suggested by the first paragraph of this article (in part one), the rationale behind my disagreement with the participation of Ethiopian opposition political parties in national parliamentary elections that take place before restructuring and democratization of the main supports, the backbone of governmental and peoples’ institutions, is that one-man, one-party controlled parliamentary and judiciary systems are likely to allow little or no change in the existing political and power structures and relations. One could even go further and argue that the active participation of opposition political parties in an election, followed by the acceptance of the few parliamentary seats that the opposition parties have been permitted by the ruling party to secure, becoming lawmakers in a one-man, one-party controlled parliamentary system, would not only be ineffective with respect to real political and democratic changes, but can also be detrimental to furthering the peaceful resistance of the people of Ethiopia, and could provide the ruling party a legitimacy and recognition by both Ethiopians and donor nations as an elected political party – which in fact is not the case. As the bulk of the population of Ethiopia have voiced and convincingly argued, participation in the newly reopened unlawful parliament of the unelected ruling party will undoubtedly also provide an enormous amount of ammunition that it can use to further and expand its subjugation of the people of Ethiopian in a desperate attempt to silence and force people to relinquish peaceful resistance. Additionally, the participation of opposition parties in an unlawful parliamentary system will certainly also provide fertile ground for the ruling party to hold and win the next parliamentary election without an effective opposition.
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