Posted July 18, 2012 in News

Ethiopia at Crossroads: What has to be done?

by Neamin Zeleke

News of Meles Zenawi’s deteriorating health offer an opportunity for reflection on his legacy and preparation for the day after his eventual demise. Whether Meles Zenawi passes away in the coming days or at some times in the future, we need to grapple with some serious vexing questions on where we are and where we are heading as a people and nation.

First, on the past two decades: What is Meles’ legacy? How will he be remembered? How was he able to squander unique opportunity to bring about an enduring democratic process and freedom in Ethiopia? What should we learn from the process that resulted in replacing one dictator with another? In particular his successors who are said to be locked in power struggle over succession should pause for a moment and reflect, if at all endowed with an iota of wisdom?  What factors enabled Meles to institute dictatorship and misrule for so long? What are the over-arching results of his policies? Did Meles’ policies brought Ethiopia closer to the goal of building a society bound by common purpose and united in building a strong and prosperous democratic nation or did it succeed in fracturing the society along ethnic and religious lines? We have to look back to go forward.

The future holds limitless possibilities and enormous potentials. Yet again, like all possibilities we can use it or lose it. Lack of vision and preparation will guarantee that we lose again.  To acquire the right vision, we need to answer some of these questions: What are the tasks awaiting the future leadership in rebuilding the nation and the national spirit? What are the challenges?

Assuming Meles’ is gone tomorrow, is the opposition ready to play any role? What should the role be inside and outside Ethiopia? Who should the opposition engage? On what terms? What preconditions? Should it engage without preconditions? What is the goal? The goal must be building the framework of enduring, true democracy, protection of human rights and individual freedom. Who are the players? What is their record on these principles? What about the army? Will it stay neutral? Will it take sides? With whom and why?

What should the role of western democracies and the US in working with groups committed to these principles. How can the opposition begin to strengthen and prepare itself to present a formidable power block? What are the lessons from previous coalitions and alliances? What type of coalition or collaboration should be formed? Should it be based on broad principles or specifics? Should it strive to be overly inclusive or selective? Is there a benefit to forming competing power blocks that loosely cooperate with one another where differences cannot be bridged among opposition groups? What are the metrix? These are but some of the questions that need speedy responses and actions.

Indeed Ethiopia is at a crossroads. We find ourselves, once again, at a moment of anxiety and uncertainly with the aforementioned and  plethoras of  other questions instead of clear answers leading towards the path of freedom, democracy and prosperity. A reflection and sober assessment of the balance sheet of Meles Zenawi regime’s as well as a reexamination of the very principles and vision we have espoused for the past decades are in order. Such very moments test our resolve, our backbone, and most importantly, our character to make reality many have struggled for and paid the ultimate sacrifice.

We need vision, principle and courage! We need individuals and groups to come together with common purpose and wedded to no other interest than to enshrine in our nation freedom, justice, and democracy for all citizens.

Make no mistake about it, whether we learn of Meles’s demise tomorrow or not, we have reached a watershed moment. The beginning of the end of the dictatorship demands from all forces of freedom and democracy the vision and courage to speak and act in unison. We should take stoke of lessons of past divisions. They did not get us anywhere. Past machinations, past power struggle, egos, and posturing have weakened us while strengthening Meles Zenawi’s position. The task is bigger than one person, one party, or one ethnic group. Individual ego and group loyalty, the Achilles Hill of the opposition forces, must give way to humility, common goal, and dedication to the common good. Let’s take positions not because they are our positions, but because they are the right positions. Let’s be open to change course if it becomes rational, logical and reasonable to do so. The time demands more pragmatism and less dogmatism. It is high time and the right time to do that right thing for the right reasons in the right way.

At this crucial juncture, it is imperative that all forces that aspire to bring freedom, democracy, and justice in Ethiopia, whether political or civic, armed or unarmed, ethic or multi-ethic, etc– create an alternative center and a unified voice. We don’t have to create a coalition or union. But we need to fight for a common goal. We need to support each other, find common ground and build positive relationships. This could be done based on a very bare minimum shared objective, a unity of purpose and political course of action. We can unite under an overarching principle to bring about a transition to a genuine and enduring democratic order in Ethiopia. We can agree that all stakeholders will participate in an all-inclusive transitional process.

The Western powers including the US can play a positive and constructive role as well. The western nations can help by becoming honest brokers towards a transition to a genuine democracy in Ethiopia instead of pursuing a continuation of the current cynical policy of providing support to yet another dictatorship, a post Meles status qou of his TPLF/EPRDF successors in the name of regional stability like they have been doing for the past two decades.

Ultimately  it is we , Ethiopians, who should come to an agreement  and work for the following for now  a) a speedy agreement by all stakeholders within the ranks of freedom and democracy forces  to speak with a unified voice , b) a call to the various sectors of the Ethiopian society that have been carrying the brunt of the regime’s repression. The call for vigilance and united action should also be made to the various ranks among the armed forces under the TPLF as these elements have been victims of ethnic and other forms of discrimination and favoritism.

And the role of opinion leaders and Ethiopian scholars is very important in shaping public opinion and putting pressure on all civic and political forces to close ranks. To speak as one, to act as one, to give that confidence and assurance to our people back home that we are there for them, fully on their side, in this times of anxiety and uncertainty. The average Ethiopian is in the dark, perturbed as regard to the uncertain future of Ethiopia. Ever ridden with anxiety instead of hopes, exasperation in place of inspiration, our unified voice will offer a glimpse of the bright future we can bring to our multiethnic and mulitreligious nation.

The Ethiopian people should not settle for anything less. Nothing short of liberty and justice, dignity and freedom for all people of Ethiopia can fulfill our mission. The dying and decaying TPLF must not get the chance to consolidate itself and continue the minority ethnic hegemony it has instituted for far too long. It must end, not only in its most important persona, Meles Zenawi, but the foundational body politic, i.e.  the ethnic apartheid regime must be replaced with an all inclusive transitional process that would take Ethiopia to a constitutionally liberal and pluralistic democratic and free political order.

The successors of Meles Zenawi have a choice to make too. They can choose to steer away from the destructive legacy he will be leaving for generations to come. They can choose to be part of an all inclusive transition to a genuine democracy. The other alternative is to continue the status qou ante to eventually, sooner or later, face their unceremonious demise like all dictatorships.

The only and sole alternative for Ethiopia and all stake holders is to agree on a new political configuration for the country.  An all inclusive transional process that will take Ethiopia towards the path of a truly democratic system in place of the sham repressive and minority ethnic hegemonic political order that has been in place for the past two decades. A democratic system where all Ethiopians can live in liberty and where, irrespective of their ethnic and other differences, all Ethiopians are treated justly and equally.

For this to materialize, all freedom and democratic forces and the public at large longing and demanding for a real change in Ethiopia need to cease the discordant chatter and cacophony and act in harmony and unison. Let us cooperate, listen, and be willing to lead as well as follow, win arguments as well as lose. Let us move along this path. Let us do our share, let us drop our egos and preoccupation of self, narrow organizational and other nefarious interests. Let us put Ethiopia and our suffering people beyond and above all sectarian interests. Let us be the generation that history will absolve, not condemn for failing. By commission and omission, for failing and thereby condemning our people to suffer under an inferno of misery and serfdom instead of freedom and dignity.

We need to speak and act as one. Let us all rise to the momentous occasion. This is the moment and this is the occasion. There are times that put the human soul on trial. This indeed is the very time will put each of us on trial. It is the time that each of us shall be tested whether we are for democracy and freedom or we are for capitulation and servitude under yet another round of tyranny by  a minority ethnic junta ad infinitum, in perpetuity.

This is a moment for a grand vision and a moment to act for national salvation, once and for all. Together we can. In unity we can move mountains of horror and injustice, and clear it for a bright new era of liberty and justice for all Ethiopians. Dignity and freedom for all. To be or not to be. Let us seize the Moment!