The deputies of the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) and the Tigrian People Liberation Front (TPLF), Gedu Andargachew, Lemma Megerssa and Fetlework Gebregziabher, who are ideological stalwarts of their respective parties, are seen exchanging a laugh or two and conferring to cement the era of the new leadership at the EPRDF Congress in Hawassa. In the midst of challenges and opportunities that are ahead for Ethiopia, the trio is to help the new leadership of Abiy Ahmed (PhD) reach a consolatory tone in time for the federal elections in 2019.
Close to half of all African nations today are ruled by some form of dominate or vanguard party which has been in power for decades. From the African National Congress (ANC), to Zimbabwe’s The Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) and Angola’s Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), one thing they have in common is the fact that they have been in power since their respective nations gained independence in 1960s, 70s and 80s. With this long tenure comes some level of party culture and mass membership.
No doubt that Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is among one of the biggest parties with over 7 million members in its roster. With that comes some level of party custom and practice: and the party Congress held every two years is one such event where such customary practices come to life.
As was the case always, the 11th EPRDF Congress in Hawassa began with a fan fare–music shows, drama, polished speeches and messages from foreign political parties with work relations with the Front. The Lake side town of Hawassa was busy, and hopeful of the changes that the outcome of the Congress would bring in terms of changing the course of the country. This is what every single taxi driver tells a new face in town.
Hawassa has been a business as well as tourism hotspot in the country; but that vibe has now been shadowed by the recent violent strike; the town sleeps early now- unlike its recent reputation. The recent conflict in the town and its surrounding which displaced thousands and claimed multiple lives is like a dark cloud hanging over its sky.
But, the coming of this meeting to the town after seven years since the last one it hosted gave life to businesses and the town looks to be getting back on track once again.
Hosted for three days in Hawassa beginning October 3, 2018, the party congress brought in a numerous new face ranging from top party leadership to the lower tier of the hierarchy, from affiliates to the opposition.
Having seen off its former chair Hailemariam Dessalegn who resigned following the wide spread conflict that engulfed the country, the party has brought in a new chair Abiy Ahmed (PhD) who gained popularity and high regard within the public since his widely shared inaugural speech. Now he is at the top of the party and is far more reformist as commentators say compared to his predecessors.
Since his coming to power, he has taken swift measures to reform the country’s democratic space, and bring about reconciliation both within the country and the neighboring countries. The releasing of prisoners of political significance as well as the peace deal with Eritrea were lauded both by local and international observers.
The Congress came to play once again at a critical juncture in Ethiopian history where the effects of the past three years’ conflicts are still been felt and the political as well as democratic reforms have not yet sunk down.
At the opening of the Congress which brought in a total of 1940 participants, the Front’s chairman and the sitting Prime Minister of the country revealed that this week’s gathering will seal the fate of the nation for years to come. Mentioning that the people and the country have now seen a light at the end of the tunnel, he called up on the nation to stand strong to build the “new Ethiopia”.
“EPRDF has never faltered in the face of a challenge; this is evident in the hurdles it has passed through in the course of its struggles. Rather, it is a recent memory that it faced its challenges and has given solution in a scientific form and transformed to new chapters by preparing for victory,” Abiy said to the gathering. “This generation should not be trapped in the mania of destroying what has been built,” Abiy underscored to the Congress.
The conference dwelt on a report from the organizing committee which reviewed the implementation of the directions issued during the 10th national Congress. On the first day, they listened to the report and divided themselves into groups to discuss the points raised in the report. This continued through the second day. On the afternoon session, on October 4, the members of the presidium which are all chairs of the four-member parties of the Front led the discussion on the findings of the report.
The Congress evaluated the implementation of the directions and the decisions of the tenth congress in three parts: political and party decisions, democratic system building decisions, and development and good governance decisions.
In its evaluation of the political and party decisions implantation, the Congress evaluated that the decision to enhance the political and ideological capacity of the members has not been successful; and in that it has stressed the need for quick remedy.
The other issue that the congress looked into is the democratic system building decisions of the previous convention in which the capacities of the Houses of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR) at all levels of the administrative division was said to be very much limited to the extent of failing to fully check the executive body of the government. It was also indicated that the executive brings draft laws to be passed by the House and they are push forward quickly for approval. Apart from this, because of the limited capacity of the standing committees of the HPR to properly assess the contents of a draft law presented to them, the end products (laws) create implementation hurdles when they enter into effect and hence are subject to frequent amendment.
The same assessment is made of the regional councils and their tendency to think that the legal documents which are sent to them are just for formality; thereby compromising their duties to ensure a prudent system of checks and balances.
The Congress also evaluated development and good governance issues in the past two years. In this, it saw the macroeconomic issues, the industrial sector development and human resource and science and technology issues as well as other sectors of the economy including trade, tourism and mining.
Having evaluated the implementation performance of the party, the Congress has set out directions for the coming two years which are meant to effectively lead the current change in the country as well as effectively implement the remaining period of the second Growth and Transformation Plan.
The Red Lines
The changes that happened in the country following the change in the party leadership has resulted in bringing about hope to the country and the Front, says the Congress’s spokesperson Fekadu Tessema. The country and the Front were frustrated but the reform gave hope to the people and the fate of country to continue as a unified nation.
And to sustain the reform there are few red lines which the party said won’t be cross going forward.
The basic principles of the reform process hence were among one of the biggest issues discussed in the Congress.
The first principle is reconciliation- closing down the chapter on the past misgivings and mistakes and thinking forward for change and a brighter tomorrow. The other is unity (medemer) which enables us solve every problem we are facing and maintain the prosperity of the country.
For the effective implementation of the plans as well as maintenance of the principles, the Congress boldly drew red lines which must not be crossed, the spokesperson said.
Organized theft is the first one. The spokesperson said that the party has no tolerance for this.
“EPRDF won’t tolerate organized theft,” he said.
The other red line is non-tolerance to non-delivering institutions, member parties, individuals or any institution within the party structure.
This point is also boldly stated in the directions that the 11th Congress has set out for implementation until the national party Congress to be held after two years.
“The party will work to keep members who stand for the objectives of EPRDF and its members as well as who are ready to pay whole rounded sacrifice and clear itself from dependent members,” states the document.
The other red line is non-tolerance to anarchy.
“Law and order need to be respected,” Fekadu said.
According to observers, these red lines could improve the current state the country is in with rampant corruption, lack of effectiveness in government institutions as well as the growing mob justice and anarchy in the country.
One of the causes of the failure to meet the targets of GTP II is lack of capable and willing human resource which implements the projects, commentators say.
Some also indicated that, the anarchy in the country will hinder the reforms in the country and if to sustain the changes, the lawlessness in the country has to be put into control.
The 11th Congress has also put a direction that the party ideological development and ensuring its hegemony will be given due attention.
Apart from the political directions, the party also put directions for the economy to grow by 11 percent on basic case scenario.