Ethiopians seem to have stopped asking what the new leadership’s vision and direction is – its masterplan. I posit this is by design than by default as the new leadership (the Prosperity Party – PP) is highly invested in diverting public attention to rather trivial matters. The public and concerned citizens have largely been excluded from meaningful dialogues on key domestic and international policies. Instead, the PP’s time and resources are busy in creating confusion and tensions between the PP and those that sit on the other side of the aisle – mainly the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF). It is public knowledge that the PP was part and parcel of EPRDF’s history and is responsible for the party’s good and evil. But why did the PP’s leadership and its allies frame their prime objective around a blame game instead of addressing the issues that led to the public outcry? Why was the masterplan sacrificed to promote a strategy focused on assassinating the character of PP’s former ‘partner party?’
When the prime minister came to power, he had many alternative paths to chose from. The most appropriate for Ethiopia would have been a peaceful and inclusive approach and one that promotes the country’s national interest. Ethiopia didn’t need restarting from zero but refining and adjusting the policy grounds in a manner that responds to the public demands while at the same time maintaining the successes. Most of EPRDF’s flagship policies and economic strategies had worked fairly well – though some contend this assertion.
Completely wiping out the legacies of the EPRDF does not serve the country as Ethiopia had entertained multiple ‘false starts’ in its century-old nation-building journey. Unfortunately, the PP continues to orchestrate a campaign against the TPLF as an indirect war against the current policies because TPLF is viewed by the PP as the guardian of the country’s policies. Other reasons include, first the PP and its allies want to hide behind an artificial and rudimentary agenda to buy time and steadily alter the country’s key policy instruments. Even though the PP has not unequivocally stated its socioeconomic policy and governing ideology, the prime minister and others in his circle have been working with parties and groups that oppose the constitution and the federal arrangement. However, directly and openly opposing the federal arrangement and the constitution can lead to suspicion as to what might the PP’s true agenda is.
Second, according to the new leaders, the TPLF has the political capital to strongly challenge the PP’s agenda. By cornering the TPLF, the PP aspires to neutralize its capacity to challenge the new leadership and dissuade any potential partnership and collaboration between the TPLF and other likeminded parties and movements. As one of the senior officials of the Amhara Prosperity Party stated during one of his media interviews “…if the TPLF can be contained, others are just bubbles.” Third, the enmity with the TPLF is also PP’s strategy to posture itself as a group that saved Ethiopia from ideological imposition. What the new leaders want Ethiopians to believe is that if the messenger is bad the message is equally bad. In essence, the campaign is PP’s strategy to gain legitimacy while at the same time denying similar legitimacy to its former partner. Of course, this approach did help for a while. But, through time the public has realized the PP’s strategy of diversion and manipulation.
The battle between the PP and the TPLF by itself does not pester me or other Ethiopians. However, this project of wiping out EPRDF’s legacies both domestically and internationally has started to cost Ethiopia prodigiously. Domestically, lack of peace and stability has become the new normal subsequently abashing the dreams of Ethiopia’s youth to get employment opportunities. Internationally, Ethiopia’s diplomatic influence plummeted within a short period of time. Ethiopia’s strategic partners and vital friends have been sidelined while new allies were selected without regard to the regional and international political dynamics. In the past few decades, the country was able to rally IGAD and the neighboring countries behind it on matters of regional peace and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Today, our prime minister is seen by countries in the region as divisive and one who has no regard for regional political instruments. The prime minister and his advisors eroded a hard-earned trust and confidence Ethiopia was able to forge in the past decades. His miscalculated allegiance with President Isaias and his naïve political approaches made Ethiopia’s friends distant spectators.
Currently, Ethiopia stands alone in an uphill struggle against foreign players that desire to meddle in its internal and international affairs. As we speak, Sudan stands against Ethiopia in the negotiation on the GERD, and the rest of the upper riparian countries remain indifferent. We know, for Egypt, the Nile water is a national interest that doesn’t change with governments or leaders. Unfortunately, Ethiopian politicians see the Nile as a political instrument and when the country falls in the hands of amateur and unwise politicians, the county’s interests are bound to be compromised.
Ethiopia’s plights in international diplomacy notwithstanding, the currently heated controversy over the next election is another issue that can spin into a serious spectacle. Why does the TPLF insist on carrying out elections while the PP is deliberately devising excuses to postpone it? No doubt each is advocating for its respective comparative advantages. Since the introduction of the new government, both suffer from issues of legitimacy as the previous election was condemned for not being fair and free. It is only logical to think that the next election would vindicate the winner. The feud between the two is therefore a clash of tactics. It is a measure of how confident each party feels about its chances of winning.
The TPLF wants to prove its legitimacy as soon as possible while the PP wants to buy time until it regains the popularity it enjoyed at the beginning of its tenure. Whichever is able to win, can use its legitimacy to accuse the other. That is why the PP does not want any other party to hold elections before it is ready for the show. What comes out of this ‘bull-fight’ is anybody’s guess, but the media campaigns can destabilize the country and create a fertile environment for external manipulations. Our politicians need to realize that the right to have or not to have elections and when is up to the people, not up to the parties.
Another major concern is that the PP’s media campaigns against the TPLF also target the people of Tigray as a whole. One-sided and deceptive documentaries are prepared and simultaneously broadcasted during opportune times through public media outlets. These media campaigns don’t distinguish between the TPLF and the people of Tigray. Mind you I am aware of the prime minister’s casual references to the importance of distinguishing between the people and the party. However, he doesn’t seem to understand the difference between ‘Woyane’ – the party (TPLF)- and ‘Woyane’ the peoples’ movement. Tigreans consider ‘Woyane’ as the peoples’ movement against any form of oppression and subjugation. Such movements mobilized tens of thousands to challenge King Haile Selassie’s rule and to overthrow the Dergue and will continue to support similar movements against future attempts to tyrannize Tigreans. The PP’s ignorance of the matter or deliberate disregard of this fact has created public resentment which I argue is counterproductive by any measure. The impact on young Tigreans is well reflected in the prevailing political environment in the region and can serve as a turning point in Ethiopia’s politics.
A generation that does not learn from its history is doomed to fail. Eritrea was forced into secession due to – at least in my opinion – Ethiopia’s failure to respond to Eritrea’s call for the restoration of the federation. Instead of dialogues and negotiations, drums of war sounded louder and the rest is history. Arguably, Ethiopian politics has reached a tipping point beyond which mutual coexistence might not be imaginable. Perhaps it is in a comparable political state of the 1970s where instead of political dialogue among contesting entities each group precipitated to the use of force. My main concern is not about which of the parties (PP or TPLF) are right, rather I am concerned about the impacts on the country’s unity and Ethiopia’s ability to care for its citizens, maintain its international image, and it’s capacity to safeguard it’s national interest. Ethiopia’s strength or weakness has always depended on how united it remains domestically.
If the politicking goes as bad as today where the country’s masterplan is traded for a cheap political agenda, where foreign entities and forces are allowed to meddle in the country’s internal affairs and to subdue fellow citizens, and where instead of promoting public debate and consultation secrecy and manipulation is prompted, Ethiopia’s last chance of building consensus on an alternative nation-building path can be irreversibly damaged. Ethiopia has repeatedly failed to agree on a sound nation-building project. If this opportunity is squandered, we can blame no one for what might transpire henceforth. As concerned citizens, we need to express our revulsion, in unequivocal way, on the current political feud; and demand the ruling party to engage the opposition in meaningful dialogues and consultations. Our new leaders have been granted a historical role – or have grabbed an opportunity for themselves – and have to prove that they are indeed true reformers instead of being manufacturers of new problems. Lest they risk of being condemned by the same measure.
Ed.’s Note: Maereg Tafere (PhD) is based in Toronto, Canada. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].
Contributed by Maereg Tafere