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EPRDF’s Christmas gift

EPRDF’s Christmas gift

Referring to the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) as ‘an enigma that is covered in mystery and shrouded with secrecy’ would be an understatement. One word best describes the party’s famous Executive Committee (politburo) and Central Committee meetings – clandestine.

A coalition of four political parties formed across ethnic lines – the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM), and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – the EPRDF’s politburo is composed of 36 members; nine from all four parties.

Chaired by Hailemariam Dessalegn from SEPDM with Demeke Mekonnen from ANDM as his second-in-command, the politburo was in a closed door meeting for a little over a fortnight mulling over and diagnosing what has been ailing the country for the past couple of years to eventually finding a cure to the ailment.

Joined by seasoned politicians like Abadula Gemeda of OPDO and Bereket Simon of ANDM, the current executive committee members, comprising popular new generation politicians like Lemma Megersa and Abiy Ahmed – both hailing from OPDO – congregated inside a meeting room at the Office of the Prime Minister located off Lorenzo Taezaz Street.

The outcome of the gathering was unprecedented in very sense of the term. The closed-door meeting concluded on Sunday December 31 followed by a lengthy 24-page statement, which was perceived by many as being utterly vague. True to form, experience shows that the statements issued by the ruling coalition on the aftermath of politburo meetings were considered to be mundane even by aficionados of Ethiopian politics.

However, what left many in awe was the statement that was released on Wednesday January 3. The statement was supposed to be issued on Monday but was postponed for Tuesday and later on to Wednesday. The medium was also bewildering to say the least. Though the briefing was attended only by state-owned media outlets – Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) and Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) – Ethiopians did not have to wait for the eight o’clock evening news to hear what the EPRDF had in store for them. It was the unlikeliest of platforms that was used to spread the word – Facebook.

The chairman of the Front announced that “In the interest of building national consensus and widen the democratic space in the country,” politician who are in prison and those standing trial will be released with amnesty (although it is unclear if is amnesty or a pardon) and see their charges dropped.

The joint briefing by the four member parties of the Front, an unfamiliar experience from the EPRDF, indicated that the inter-party democracy has dwindled and the party has reached to the level it no longer entertains different ideas other than the few “in power”.

“There is change being observed in the country and the current leadership is not leading this change properly; this resulted in the current crisis in the country,” Lemma asserted. “The political crisis has posed an existential threat to the country and this is basically the failure of the leadership.”

Hailemariam, chairperson of the Front and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM), said on his part that there are problems in the party’s handling of the multiparty democratic system and the opposition despite the guarantee in the constitution. Hence, the Front has finally decided to heed the advice of the elderly and religious leaders to improve the gaps in the party and in the civic society participation, according to him.

The plan of releasing politician prisoners via amnesty and terminating the charges of some of those politicians standing trial at moment came after the Executive Committee discussion. And this will be carried according to the legal provisions of the country and in a manner that will not compromise the constitutional procedures.

But, for Lidetu Ayalew, a seasoned politician and member of the opposition Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP), the government’s decision to release detained politicians is a step ahead for bringing about a wider political space in the country.

Lidetu sees the decision by the ruling Front to release politicians who are detained or who are on trial is a great leap forward and its admittance that the democratic space is narrow is admirable.

“It did not yet admit to having political prisoners in the country and they are still considered criminals,” he said. “This shows that the party is not yet fully reformed.”

What precipitated to this change by the EPRDF is “lack of participation and free market of ideas,” according to Demeke Mekonnen, the chairman of the Amhara National Democratic Movement and Deputy Chair of the party. There are tendencies to dismiss any alternative idea believing that the only idea that works is “ours”; so, the party reached on a consensus to allow a free market of ideas governed by give and take philosophy.

The meeting “trespassed party fences” and it enabled them to see the gaps in the party, explores the suspicions and mistrust in order to bring about unity of thought and action, according to Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD), the chairman of the Tigrayan People Liberation front (TPLF).  

For Lidetu, although releasing “political prisoners” is the first step in bringing solutions to the unrests arising here and there; and he argues that the promised changes have to be institutionalized.

In spite of the promise of the leadership that the current meeting is not like the previous ones and that it has assessed the current political problems in the country, Lidetu sees less hope and he says the meeting has missed the basics of the problems in the country.

‘The party admitted its failure and took the responsibility for the crisis the country is in now but, no one was held accountable legally or lost power,” observes Lidetu.

He also takes issue with the fact that the party has only invited three journalists to discuss this national issue which shows its lack of courage to bring about real change. At least at this time, they should have invited all local and international media outlets and entertain as many questions as possible.