The security situation in the country beginning 2015 seems to be going from bad to worst with no end to the violence and attack on peaceful citizens. The widespread protest in the country more or less shifted in locations than receding and every such incident happens to claim more lives every month.
It is undeniable that the political developments in the country are unprecedented in form and substance, no less than another historical landmark in the country: the downfall of the military regime the Derg in May, 1991.
Even with the Coming of Abiy Ahmed (PhD) as chairman of the four-party Front, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and Prime Minister of the nation, who is widely applauded for his political reforms, the cloud of insecurity is still hanging over the nation.
The dust is yet to settle. In Abiy Ahmed’s words, “a house, which remained closed for many years, is bound give off some foul odder when it is opened.”
A public frustration and distaste that led to a public protest in Ginchi, a small administrative town in Dendi Woreda, West Shoa Zone of the Oromia Regional State, blew up into a widespread protest engulfing the country with rallies that spread from Konso to Bahir Dar and from Bale to Metu with the exception of Addis Ababa. With the protest reaching the outskirts of the city in all directions, the capital was also on the brim of swallowing a fire ball had the EPRDF reform not come to the rescue.
But, for the gathering at the 10th EPRDF convention, this was not a surprise; rather what they have already foreseen. At a convention which happened in Mekelle in August 2015, just three years since the departure of the party’s ideological and leadership figure Meles Zenawi, participants were warning that the people are already approaching their limits of shouldering the loads of poor governance. And that measures needs to be taken by the party to salvage however small public support it can muster at that point.
And the wind came fast and furious, the country was rocked by massive protests which claimed the lives of many youth, injured and displaced thousands and destroyed properties estimated in millions, owned by local and foreign investors. But, this was not the end, no matter how open and conceding the mammoth EPRDF has become, the protest started to spread like a wildfire, with short intermissions with the announcement of the first State of Emergency (SoE), economic revolutions in the two major protest regions, Oromia and Amhara, the resignation of Hailemariam Dessalegn, Chairman of the Front and former Prime Minister of the country, the announcement of another SoE and the election of Abiy Ahmed (PhD) as party chairman and Prime Minister.
It is undeniable that the immediate time period following the appointment of Abiy Ahmed was a time of relative calm and has seen revival of the economic activities that have taken the painful whiplash from the elongated protest; hopes was in air that the country would return to its peace and calm sooner than later. If recent months of renewed clashes and violence are something to go by, the 11th EPRDF convention is yet again tasked with bringing about this need peace and calm?
The four EPRDF member parties, the Tigryan People Liberation Front (TPLF), the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Oromo People Democratic Movement (OPDO) (now Oromo Democratic Party (ODP)) and the Southern Ethiopia Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM), make the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a party that boasts a membership of more than seven million.
The member parties are all represented by equal number of voters at all decision-making levels of the party, namely the Executive Committee, the Central Committee, the Council, and the Convention.
Apart from the member parties, EPRDF has affiliates who do not have a decisive role in party matters but they play an instrumental role in extending the Front’s mandate by helping it garner votes in the regions they hail from. These affiliates are the Ethiopian Somali Peoples’ Democratic Party, the Harari National League, the Gambella Peoples’ Democratic Organizations, the Benshangul Gumuz Peoples’ Democratic Party and the Afar National Democratic Party.
Even though these allies are generally expected to grow into member parties, the statute of EPRDF does not have any particular procedure on how these affiliates can turn into a member party.
According to the party bylaws, EPRDF’s convention is conducted every two or two and half years with every party’s equal voting representation; and it (the convention) remains to be the most powerful organ in the party.
The previous conventions of the party can be seen in terms of before and after Meles Zenawi, the longest serving Prime Minister and Chair of the Party, who died in 2012, just six months before the coalition’s ninth convention in Bahir Dar held in March 2013.
During Meles’s era, many agree that he was the one providing the shape for the party’s convention. And especially after the August 2001 fourth convention of the party, which purged high level official from TPLF and EPRDF, Meles was elevated to the level of a supreme leader within the party. This event, referred to by Hailemariam, during his address to the 10th party convention in Mekelle in August 2015, as a measure which saved the party from “rotting and parasitic dependency” is believed to be the most pivotal thus far.
The last convention that Meles attended was the 8th convention in September 2010 which was held in Adama. In hindsight, the central point of that convention which was leadership succession, which aimed at a step by step removal of veteran politicians that came from the armed struggle days and their replacement by new party members, looks to have foreseen what is to come in the years ahead. It was during this convention that Adissu Legese and Tefera Walwa of ANDM, Seyoum Mesfin and Abay Tsehaye of TPLF, and Girma Birru and Shiferaw Jarso of OPDO were sent off while Meles was scheduled to be the last to leave in 2015.
The two conventions after Meles, the one in Bahir Dar in 2013 and the other in Mekelle in 2015, can be said to be devotional gatherings to celebrate late chairman and his legacy. The theme of the Bahir Dar convention, “With the Thoughts and Teachings of Meles, Stronger Organization and Developmental Forces for Renaissance,” is a case in point. The Mekelle convention as well had a theme which was driven from the name Growth and Transformation Plan that was driven by the late Meles.
The ninth convention in Bahir Dar was also critical of the top leadership for not considering their capacities while attempting to implement a project like GTP I and demanded those who have shown failure to take responsibility. The lack of capability at the lower level was also blamed on the top leadership and senior leadership members were vocal in this regard including Abay Tsehaye, Bereket Simon, Hilawe Yosef, Seyoum Mesfin, Sebhat Nega, Addisu Legesse, and Tefera Derbew.
Being at the helm of the top-level management, Hailemariam accommodated all of the criticisms forwarded unlike his predecessor, who is known to defend such criticisms staunchly.
Similarly, the tenth convention in Mekelle brought the same agendas to the table including good governance issues and the capabilities of the so called ‘new blood’ at helm of the party’s leadership.
Held at the end of the first GTP and towards the end of the succession roadmap, the convention had had some tough issues to deal with. Although the criticism on the incoming leadership has subsided recognizing that they are relatively capable and fairly experienced, they did not escape lamentation for the severely lacking systematic and institutional mechanisms to tap into the experiences of the outing veterans.
During this convention, the then chairman of the party and Prime Minister of the nation Hailemariam Dessalegn, has said that the most important lessons outcome of the GTP I was the lessons learnt from the implementation which is nothing is impossible, “not even an ambitious development plan like the GTP”. But later, the backlash from the failures of GTP I, however, cost the country very dearly. The country’s export performance dwindled, the foreign currency earning of the country worsened, manufacturing export could not take off as expected and the economic structural transformation was put at a cross roads.
And this was a starting point for the protest in the country that lasted to the scheduled 11th convention of the party slated to be held in Hawassa from October 3 to 5, 2018.
What to expect
SEPDM is warming up to the party’s convention and to receive the other three member-parties in the regional capital Hawassa from October 3 to 5, 2018 after being extended by six months from its original schedule.
The convention, which is coming to Hawassa after eight years since the seventh convention that the town hosted, is a special one because of different factors including the issue of forging the EPRDF to a single national party, and the expected debate on a tacit ideological shift which is claimed by some member parties.
EPRDF’s political program is revolutionary democracy, which at least by principle, acts like a glue that holds all the member parties together in the Front. But, in a recent move, some members of the Front are reported to have brought the ideological discussion to fore, which is considered to be a departure from the party’s customs and practices.
Similarly, Abiy Ahmed chairman of the Front and OPDO (now ODP), in his address to the 10th convention of his home party, hinted a wave of reformist ideas coming to the convention saying “the Oromo can lead by introducing a leadership that is demanded by the 21st century”.
Although this agenda is not on the table for the upcoming convention, it is in the powers of the convention to raise new agendas and put forward for discussion, as is indicated by Fetlework Gebreegziabher, head of EPRDF secretariat.
But, the decision by the executive committee of the party during its one-day meeting on June 5, to privatize large state-owned enterprises as well as implement the Algiers Accord between Ethiopia and Eritrea, is an indication a strong departure from the party’s old programs or perhaps ideological foundation carved out by Meles in his own way.
Nevertheless, some observes indicate that TPLF, which retains a strong belief regarding the party program, will be a challenge to such transition, should it happen.
The convention, which is said to bring together 1,000 voting participants from each member parties and more than 800 non-voting participants, will discuss the implementations of the plans set pout in the 10th convention and the activities over the past three years as well as the performance of the new leadership over the past five months.
In this regard, the evaluation of the past three years will touch up on the performance of the second-generation Growth and Transformation Plan under implementation since 2015, which, undoubtedly, will have the same or even worst reviews as the first GTP. With the Plan half way into implementation, the results are not satisfactory given the challenges posed by the widespread protest over the past three years.
Another matter that is expected to be deliberated up on in Hawassa is the fate of the affiliate political parties and whether to elevate them to full membership status or not. Fetlework indicated that a study has been conducted regarding this issue; but it is not mature enough to be informative for decision making at this point. Nevertheless, come October 3, all these things will get clearer.
However, there also some commentators who fear the convention might end up being just ceremonial. Others also expect that the convention might be as silent as the June 5 Executive Committee Meeting which decided on big issues without much commotion within a short period of time.
The Hawassa convention, which was said to have pitted the SEPDM and TPLF against one another to get the privilege of hosting it, will also be a decisive in terms of many factors including the procedural election of the chairman and the deputy chairman of the Front.