EPRDF walking a tight rope
The eagerly anticipated 11th Congress of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which was held for three days in Hawassa, the capital of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State, wound up yesterday. The Congress took place at a time Ethiopia is undertaking a raft of reforms following four years of fierce popular protests that culminated in a new beginning. Although the EPRDF can rightly claim to have registered notable achievements, its autocratic rule engendered simmering resentment that eventually erupted into violence leading to the death of thousands, the maiming of countless others and the destruction of public and private property ofinestimable value. The death and displacement of innocent citizens, mostly due to intercommunal conflicts, continue to recur at an alarming frequency. It’s in this backdrop that the EPRDF sat down to pass decisions determining the fate of the country.
The EPRDF has acknowledged on several occasions that its inability to address the pent up demands of the public is attributable, among others, to the unchecked metastasis of undemocratic attitudes and practices within the organization. It habitually announced at the conclusion of the series of “deep renewal” it undertook over the years that it is to blame for the absence of the rule of law, the infringement of rights and freedoms, the thriving of corruption and the prevalence of bad governance. The imposition of a state of emergency twice within a space of 18 months in an attempt to quell popular protests that had spread uncontrollably and Ethiopia on the brink of collapse had the effect of plunging the nation into deeper political crisis. Cognizant that its “deep renewal” exercise had not had the desired outcome, the executive committee of the Front held a 17-day marathon meeting in December 2017 at the end of which the leaders of the four constituent parties said the leadership took full responsibility for the havoc wreaked by the political instability. Subsequentto the shock resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in February 2018 Prime Minister the change sought by the public was effected with the appointment of Abiy Ahmed (PhD) as chairman of the EPRDF and soon after to the premiership. Ever since Prime Minister Abiy’s ascent to power Ethiopia has been undergoing change at a breakneck pace. Nonetheless, the reform underway has to go further and far deeper.
As the Hawassa Congress dwelt on agendas that shape Ethiopia’s destiny, it set the stage for a battle of wills.In remarks he madeon the eve of the Congress Prime Minister Abiy said though the challenges confronting it may seem to be insurmountable,the EPRDF was determined to take lessons from past mistakes and pass decisions charting a new course which would steer Ethiopia on a new path to peace, democracy and prosperity.And on the opening day of the Congress he underscored the imperative to demonstrate in deeds that all sovereign power is vested in the people of Ethiopia. Time will tell if this will come true. One thing needs to be emphasized here though.Ethiopia and its people have gone through trials and tribulations because of the multitude of faults committed at the hand of the EPRDF.The public has given the Front numerous opportunities to redeem itself. The premier has repeatedly alluded to this point and stated that Ethiopians ought to seize theopportunitybefore them with prudence. A host of steps aimed at redressing gross mistakes and injustices have been taken since he took the reins of party and state power. These include releasing thousands of prisoners and facilitating the return of exiled opposition groups and activists in a bid to broaden the political space. However, the public expects a lot more from it in terms of laying the groundwork in building a stable, democratic and prosperous Ethiopia.
Although the organizational structure and operational procedures of the EPRDF are internal matters, its manifestshortcomingsas they pertain to the quality of the leadership and responsiveness to the needs of the public. How can an organization which takes excessive pride in what it deems to be success stories and yet embraces members mired in egregious human rights violations and grand corruption remain a viable entity? The EPRDF may continue to be relevant in the 21st century insofar as it is able to properly manage the kind of change that the present generation aspires for. Needless to say the change can see the light of day when the leadership demonstrates the requisite commitment.
While the statement issued at the conclusion of the Hawassa Congress may indicate that it was democratic and ended on a high note, it is incumbent on the Front to translate all the decisions as well as pledges made therein into concrete action in the shortest possible time. But above all it is duty-bound to uphold the rule of law arrest and see to it that the next general elections due in 2020 are free, fair and peaceful. Had the Congress failed to reassure the public that the EPRDF was genuinely determined to consolidate the ongoing reform the consequences would have been dire. Given the deteriorating situation of law and order in different parts of the country, the resulting death toll and displacement of alarming proportions the absence of a culture of democracy as well as the reluctance to abandon the politics of intolerance it would be catastrophic if the very foundation holding Ethiopian was shaken to the core. The EPRDF is walking a tightrope. It cannot afford to roll back the change it has initiated. It has to tread carefully for the sake of its own survival and that of the nation and its people!