Yesuf Ibrahim is a founding member of the National Movement of Amhara (NaMA). He worked as the head of the strategic sector in the earlier stages of NaMA’s establishment. After its establishment, he worked as the head of the strategic sector for two years. After serving the organization as a vice chairman, he is currently working as the head of the party’s legal and ethical regulations and as a manager of the government’s property management authority. He received his LLM degree in law from Addis Ababa University and has worked as a law lecturer at a university. The Reporter’s Selamawit Mengesha sat down with Yesuf on issues concerning the party, region and the country at large.
The Reporter: How would you describe your participation from the time you first started working with the government as an opposition party, and the process until you became the manager of the government’s property management authority?
Yusuf Ibrahim: I have been heavily involved since the establishment of NaMA until its present stage. NaMA’s ideology is not an organization that paints itself as a liberator. It is synchronized with the people and the country.
Because the Amhara people have special problems and are being attacked by the constitution and narrative, protecting the people is one of the political targets. However, we have come to the historical notion that the attack on Amhara people is not something that has a special historical origin but an effort to destroy the country by making the community a victim.
The movement is one that could be traced back to colonialism. Weakening the beliefs, values, and social status of this community can be a way to destroy the country. Its origin is a colonial idea. Because of this ideology, a number of internal anarchist institutions were created.
By establishing such organizations, a political party based on identity has been established over time to save the Amhara people, who have suffered a lot. When the government moves into the phase of “change”, it is important to try because “change” has not yet been seen. When we look at the power alignment in Ethiopia, it is not a place where NaMA makes friends easily. In the course of time, after studying the intricate web of power, we analyzed the power that could become the friend of the enemy.
Compared to that, even if we can’t get along with everyone, we can work with anyone. As for figuring out to what extent and with whom, there are those who are known for backstabbing, so that’s a start. It was a timely analysis that was not particularly favorable to the Amhara. Therefore, it was established to fight anti-Amhara organizations.
Currently, even though it is an institution with many problems, we have an organizational position supported by a strategic document that we must work on together with the government. In general, it is necessary to work together with the government. When elections were planned to be held during COVID, there was pressure from many political organizations. Working together with the government was our own initiative.
We asked ourselves how we could safeguard the long-term interests of our country and people. We are a political organization and we take a position based on who we believe will betray us. We do this within the bounds of the law. It is necessary to work together with the government. They did not try to make it as big as NaMA, but there was pressure from other parties to make NaMA a part of the government, but the government did not want that. Regarding this, we explained to them that Prosperity is a traditional government.
This showed that the government was not proactive and did not identify its partners. As a party, it contributes greatly to the work of saving the country. We believe that we have especially united the people.
During this process, there was a conflict in the nature of misunderstandings between various issues, and because the problems of the parties and the government were not resolved quickly, it started to turn into a war.
With all of that happening, it was important to work with the government during that period. But keep in mind that working together with the government does not mean that we are the government but, in some cases, groundwork needs to be done. We had the idea that politics based on cooperation, not competition, was best suited for the landscape of the country.
Since the NaMA did not have a clear idea about working with the government (that is, we joined the government while the country was at war), we discussed it twice with the government when the issue was raised.
The matter has been tabled at the executive level. But it was fundamentally ignored by NaMA.
When the authority was given, I was called on the phone. I arrived in Gondar at 5 o’clock in the morning and was told that the appointment would be at 7:30. They have their own reasons for doing so. Since the appointment process was during the war, it was completed in secret until the end so as not to overwhelm the government.
On the side of the Prosperity Party, there was a bit of a misunderstanding because I received a call from the Addis Ababa city administration and then, on the same day, I received a call saying that they were looking for you for an appointment in the Amhara region; I made my own decision and chose Addis Ababa.
There is no problem with opposition parties working with the government. In Ethiopia, the process of democracy should gradually develop over time. Democracy needs to be improved by learning to work together.
In fact, it would be great if NaMA worked with the government. It would have been helpful if the lower level of government was more involved in areas such as kebeles and districts.
I made a proposal that if the government does not give us authority on the lower structure, we should give up big authority positions. But the party was not unified and could not consider the proposal.
NaMA is a party established to represent the people of Amhara. The Amhara people want you to be the voice of your party in any way. Working with the government means leading a multi-ethnic population, and haven’t you faced challenges in the middle?
This is also an issue of the reform process that the party intends to follow. The reform will work to clarify which level and which concept we are working on. There might be some changes in concept with the change of leadership.
It is about continuing to explore our strengths and solving our problems. The government does not exist only through the executive branch. The government has three branches and includes Parliament in the constitution.
We have representatives in the federal parliament in the state. The relationship between the party and its members at the top should be defined. As a party leader, when we work with the government, it must be based on the party’s principles. If I am going to move in that way, we should either leave the party or leave the leadership of the government.
There should be a strict procedure. In the current state of affairs, the federal structure that our party and the country are led by all is based on ethnic lines.
The constitution itself rarely even uses the word “citizen.” We want this to be liberal over time. We follow the philosophy that individual citizens should be the foundation of democracy. We want our organization to be a center for correcting the many mistakes made by extremists.
It should not be restricted only to Amhara. It should also be connected with other communities. Once this is fixed, the Ethiopian status will be announced. We believe that when we work as a party and as Amhara, we are operating as Ethiopia.
The Amhara community is the Ethiopian community. It has been pushed by many things. We are not saying it should be paid by revenge. We only remember the past to be able to fix the future. We do not believe that our people would be harmed if equality and freedom prevailed in Ethiopia. This is a modern principle. I do not believe that I am an advocate for the politics of a community at any time. As a company, we believe that we work for all Ethiopians.
It is one of the pillars of our society that it should not be affected by special circumstances. We want to be seen from the Ethiopian perspective. We do not want to separate Amhara. We want it to be governed by justice along with its fellow citizens. Amhara is affected in the same way that the rest of society is, but the incorrect narrative that has developed over time must be corrected. The question of who is the representative of political philosophy is bound to arise. Since NaMA is of Amhara origin, it is organized accordingly.
It is necessary to adapt to solve this problem for the time being. I think NaMA can adapt to all the parties. While working here, I am color-blind. I have neither the capacity nor the desire to take sides by saying who belongs to which nation. I also do not share such political views. We think that the perceptions created on us by the TPLF is in conflict with the people of Tigray. This is because the TPLF has been equating itself with the people of Tigray. But we still see their segregation. We believe that the TPLF is a criminal group. During the century, narcissistic institutions were created to hold back society and live for profit.
A while ago, it was tiring to find the issues that separate the people of Tigray and the people of Amhara. It was bound by various social, geographic, religious, and economic ties. We have to solve the existing problems with different justifiable methods. As it is known in Ethiopia, we do not accept ethnic politics. Therefore, I am running the people’s question in alignment with the government’s work.
Is there a division between the leadership of the government and other members of the party? What kind of situation is NaMA in right now?
Currently, changes are made every time political dynamism changes. The struggle is that when more energy is needed, society needs change. We have gone through many problems in our struggle for organization and society.
As the country’s problems continue to expand, members of the family are always at war. Therefore, leaders and members do not meet regularly. NaMA’s children are dying on the war fronts.
Don’t ask me how a peaceful party can fight with weapons. Since the declaration of seclusion, there has been a call to participate in the war. War has been waged on the Amhara people directly.
There are NaMA members in Raya, Wolkait, and in all the districts where there were members that were killed while in command of the brigade. There are several fighters in the structure. Therefore, the central one, the one at the top of each leadership, and the one at the bottom are not formally connected; we are connected informally.
During the second round of fighting, the party did not have a central committee or executive meeting for four months. Many gaps were created during that time, and it is not possible to update regularly. Politics brings the change of opinion closer to you when you meet and update regularly.
However, the more it is separated, the more the case is defined. So far, we’ve been supporting the idea that had majority support in debates. I have never seen a decision made without the approval of NaMA members.
Because we do not meet regularly, we have lost the opportunity to make decisions through debate and consensus. There were talks of NaMA coming into government appointments without the party’s consent, but in the process, although there were violations of discipline, the matter was adopted at the central committee level and this concept of working together will hopefully continue in the future.
The forces that wanted change were created in NaMA. First, there was a question that you should not lead the party part-time while in government, as the party requires a full-time dedication.
We will restructure. The party is a movement, and a movement needs to open up. It is not just a random party in power. Until the struggle reaches a certain level, the movement will open its doors and attract new talents, and it is not feasible to say that I will remain on the throne of the establishment once it is over. It is not correct, and it is not the principle of our struggle either.
People feel worried if there is no open discussion. There will be people who want to make the party a powerhouse. But in the end, the contradictions could not be easily reconciled.
On the other hand, it has shown differences in the way we see politics. But it is only in the top management that the difference should be noted. A certain difference was created between the Central Committee and the Executive Committee with only 10 to 20 people. There is no difference in the bottom structure of the broad members.
Due to Bahir Dar’s protest, I resigned on my own accord and changed from the position of vice chairman to the law department. What the party wants is not the change of one person or two. They say the movement wants to change from top to bottom. And this is their right.
An inquiring generation should be encouraged. There were misunderstandings with the top management. It deviated from NaMA and the general concept of democracy, which did not accept the reform and were going through a process that did not encourage internal democracy.
It is not a question of whether we like or hate individuals; it is a matter of history. It is the struggle of our people. It doesn’t define division for me. It is fundamentally settled by law. The structure is not split.
The main foundation is structure. I don’t think that the creation of division in the leadership of two or three people will divide the structure. We intend to hold a general assembly by October, which will hopefully restore NaMA.
Will the party become more organized by resolving the controversy within NaMA?
NaMA will come prepared. This happens at any party because it is a massive collection. The party needs time. The fight will then go into negotiations. The negotiation will be based on the concept of transitional justice from our point of view. There are a lot of processes that go through both material and human life. All of that should be resolved.
Politically, where are we going? Where are we going as a country and what is our collective ambition? NaMA must be prepared for this soon.
There are those who have applied what we brought as an idea to Ethiopian politics, which shows NaMa’s power to exert great pressure. After many pushes, debating and explaining to the people of Ethiopia, if politics is about to bear fruit, it will not happen unless the party exists.
There may be individuals with egos within the party leaders. They should be dealt with on the inside first. We were hoping that it wouldn’t show on the outside.
Most of the leadership and central committee members have petitioned the General Assembly’s request. A petition has been filed for reform. Yet undisciplined work is being done against the will of the people and the structure of the organization. That should be corrected. They are all being looked at from every angle.
Let us come to the current national issues. We have been at war for the past two years. Various efforts have been made to resolve the war peacefully, but another war broke out. Can you explain to us the whole political process and what Ethiopia’s politics should be in the future?
NaMA wants Ethiopian politics to be based on citizenship. Ethnic politics means a gathering of extremists where everyone who is offended hides. The TPLF and ONG should be held accountable for the Ethiopian-ism they attacked. It is a country known for caring and living together. Politicians must engage in a certain strategy. The structure should not be manipulated as intended.
NaMA will always cooperate with forces that can weaken the TPLF. As the TPLF has been in politics for a long time and has led the country, it must correct the mistakes of the past by deciding which is the most viable path for the future. They could not think of a way that would benefit the people of Tigray, whom they think they represent.
I do not think that the separation of the Amhara and Tigray peoples, a society that has lived together for many centuries and is bound by religion and culture, will achieve the goal. The people of Tigray must show that they are not enemies to the Amhara community.
During the war process, NaMA has been doing many other things by standing with the defense force, delivering food and coordinating with the diaspora. When the Amhara region was in battle, it gave studies on why they should fight for a purpose. It was heavily involved throughout the war.
How and under what conditions do you think the negotiations should be conducted?
Conflict always ends in negotiation. Even if the TPLF itself thinks that we should be divided, it knows that they will lack both resources and manpower. The TPLF should not go any further on the path of brutality and revenge. Ethiopia should follow the liberal approach and solve its problems. The war against the TPLF was not for revenge but was brought on by themselves.
In my view, I want transitional justice to happen. It is not because I believe transitional justice would calm everything down, but because it is an option. Justice is being served now, not for revenge but to bring harmony and move forward.
Negotiations should be conducted for the sake of peace and justice, with the decision that it will not happen again in the future and that what happened in the past was not right.
But in Ethiopia, it is seen that negotiations are used as a plot resource. It has been observed that only if the power to be negotiated is dangerous and one party wants to survive, is the proposal submitted for negotiation.
That is why I am afraid that the proposal presented by the TPLF might be some sort of treason. The deal requires a genuine broker. Since the war will inevitably end in negotiations, it all depends on who comes up with the better negotiating package. There is a risk that the negotiator who believes in violence may resort to violence at the negotiating table.
The TPLF should not exist as a political force. It is difficult to say that the TPLF is deceiving all these people with mobilization. I think most of them believe it. While the party was scattered, the individuals in the party lined up, reorganized, and attacked the defense force.
Such regeneration should not be ignored. The security guarantees should be adjusted and then they can enter into negotiations. A ceasefire is one way it can be done. But beyond that, there must be other stakeholders. The negotiations that should have been entered into after the collapse of the Derg left us in the situation we are in now. I believe that the Amhara region should have a negotiator on their behalf.
In the end, it should be known what level our politics should be at. Any person should be able to go and live in the area they want without being displaced from place to place because of ethnicity.
The TPLF has the capacity to rebel, not organize and re-enter. War itself should not be based on ethnicity. Who will benefit from this war?
There is no need to pretend like there is a war between two different countries. Both must work together. The negotiations must be conducted in moderation. Negotiations range from a ceasefire to a new proposal.
Although the African Union has little experience, it must mediate. They should all enter into the negotiation with good intentions. The very idea of secession is unethical.