Ethiopian opposition figures are calling for talks reported Anita Powell of the Voice of America on August 23, 2012.
After the TPLF/EPRDF regime under the late Prime Minster, Meles Zenawi’s that ruled Addis Abeba since 1991, has duped and ripped off opposition parties under the ruse of dialogue, consensus, reconciliation and peace, Ethiopian opposition parties still seem to be undone in to calls for "talks” with the most "untrustworthy” regime. In the same report, the representative of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) made a similar statement as Dr. Berhnau Nega of Ginbot 7 Movement, he said "the ONLF has met with other rebel groups and they all agree that negotiations are the way forward”. Is this the right timing for Ethiopian opposition parties to call for dialogue and talks? Do Ethiopian opposition forces own the leverage to pressure the incumbent for a win-win talk? And basically do they trust the incumbent? Living costs in Ethiopia are growing leaps and bounds. The political repression has also intensified as was in the pre-Meles Zenawi era. The unemployment rate is unaccounted. Most people often talk about hopelessness and of desperation. Farmers are suffering from fertilizers and micro credit debts and district level political control. They take dangerous routes to emigrate. Angered by these, other personal, ethnic, rights, and national infamies, many have started or joined the struggle to remove the incumbent and run for office, liberate their groups or democratize Ethiopia. Most are fragmented and their means to removing the incumbent is fragmented as well. There are groups that promote "Arab Spring type protest”, others as for reform and dialogue; few make calls for a coup, revolution, and there are those that want the status quo to remain. There are also groups that advocate an "all inclusive” strategy but we won’t dwell much on this as the means is very "vague” and "unspecific”. Which is the best means now though? "Arab Spring type protest” and demos This means is often advocated by those who are active at home or those that are lenient to peaceful change. Although some political parties have changed this option and even famous journalists/bloggers have written about it, they all ended up in prison. Learning from North African counterparts’ experience, the Ethiopian regime has closed all apertures that could lead to "Arab Springs” in Ethiopia. The recent wave of arrest of political prisoners was due to same. Some parties that use an "all inclusive” means list public demo as one method of fighting the dictatorial regime in Ethiopia. When the Arab spring was at its height in Egypt many political, academic and media experts were discussing about the possibility and odds of an Arab Spring in Ethiopia. Some were pro while a good number were anti "Arab Springs” in Ethiopia. Professor Alemayehu Gebremaraim in his article titled "Ethiopia: An "African Spring” in 2012?” writes quoting the renowned Ghanaian scholar George Ayittey that street protests are not the best option of removing African dictators.
George Ayittey, the distinguished Ghanaian economist argues that African dictators cannot be defeated through "rah-rah street demonstrations alone.”
To purge Africa from the scourge of dictatorships, Ayittey says three things are required:
First, it takes a coalition to organize and coordinate the activities of the various opposition groups like an Alliance for Change… Second, you got to know the enemy, his modus operandi, his strengths and weaknesses. Third, you have to get the sequence of reform correct…
Against the prevailing view that peaceful mass demonstrations work well in Ethiopia, others contend that as Ethiopia doesn’t have even distribution and use of new media, as the majority of the population live in rural areas and there is wide heterogeneity along many sects, it would be unthinkable to even entertain the idea. Nonetheless, Ethiopian politicians who are against any form of violent struggle vow that "Arab Spring” like peaceful demonstrations are the best means of removing the "ethnic Apartheid” in Ethiopia. Although recently stipulated as a ‘terror act’ in Ethiopia’s proclamation, mass demonstrations and protests are being continually held every Friday by Ethiopian Muslims who opposed regime’s interference in their religion. Tamiru Hulika (name changed for safety reasons) is a student of political science at a regional university in Ethiopia. De Birhan has approached him to learn his views about the scenarios of "an Arab Spring” in Ethiopia. He says,
Arab Spring type protest is not the chanced alternative in today’s Ethiopia. Looking at the recent reactions and situations in Ethiopia that occurred following the death of the Prime Minister is a good proof. The public reactions of the past few days explains what grinding poverty, sole State Media (TV) manipulation with little regime pressure does to a ‘little informed’ public. Therefore, due to these reasons, mass demonstrations cannot be considered as one of the ways of destroying the one tribal regime.
The so called legal oppositions in Ethiopia that oppose according to the ‘frames’ that they are given by the regime do sometimes announce that mass demonstrations by the public to demand their rights are the best ways to fight the regime. The scenarios in Ethiopia tell that mass demonstrations would bear little fruit. If unarmed people protest, the regime would retaliate by imprisoning them or brutally killing them in the streets. For people to demonstrate there have been various igniting incidences, however due to disorganization and absence of coordination, none has been used. As large scale and persistent protests are results of consistent and arduous works of mobilization, organizations, technology and training, the room and chance for that to happen in the recency is very little.
This idea is espoused by all opposition forces but mainly by external organs that consider themselves as pacifiers. International powers have it now as their policy that a strong united and stable Ethiopia would help in stabilizing and pacifying the volatile Horn of Africa region. For this reason, they prefer a situation where the incumbent readies itself for reform and dialogue. Internal reform of the ruling party has been sought by many; the main reform being changing the Chairman of the ruling party and the regime, Meles Zenawi. Meles has died and his place has been succeeded by his deputy; nature starting the reform from the top. However, the Party and the regime are not still willing to reform its long held policies, programs and laws. On the other hand, armed and unarmed rebels and opposition forces alike prefer the political problems in Ethiopia to be solved via peaceful means or dialogue than destructive conflicts. Therefore, they persistently call for dialogue. The regime is not ready for any of this. The regime unwaveringly reiterates that it will defeat all rebels and won’t change or compromise power or its set out laws and policies. Matrika33 is a nickname used by a person who attends an Ethiopian Online political discussion forum in the Diaspora. He prefers to conceal his identity but agrees to chat with De Birhan on this topic. Matrika33 says,
I think dialogue and reform are the best options for Ethiopia. Their reconciliation and consensus prevents us from permanent failure. However, although political opposition forces preach, raise funds and mobilize members to fight and liberate the people, most (especially those with nationalistic agenda) don’t want to kill a single soul. Most of Ethiopian opposition forces are led by Western educated liberal thinking humane scholars. These people don’t want to "spoil their hands”. Meles differs from them and has been better due to these commitments. Meles has the mobilizing, organizing, planning and strategizing qualities as opposition forces, but he has always edged them in being able to kill from his liberation movement to his incumbency times. None of the opposition both inside and outside are ready to kill their opponents and unless they gain that stamina which Meles Zenawi had some 40 years ago, they will find themselves begging for talks in the future.
According to Matrika33 the Ethiopian regime would "laugh and piss” at the calls for talks by Ethiopian opposition forces. The regime would only open its door for talks and could kneel to share power when it is attacked powerfully by oppositions. When they regime understands that it would lose its power or will be highly challenged, then agrees for real talks and negotiations. For him and others, although necessary, it is not the right time for oppositions to solicit for a dialogue with the regime. They should show their political, military, propaganda and other bargaining powers first. Is in the mind of many who want a swift change in the country but advocated and endeavored by finger counted opposition forces but some also consider this beyond the call of duty. There are few parties that are working for a swift regime change with all means available. Most of these parties are located outside the country either in neighboring countries or in the Diaspora with elusive members at home. One of the most recent publicly reported "coup attempts” by Ethiopian opposition movement was the one led by General Tefera Mamo, an active member of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF). The regime has accused him of affiliation with Ginbot 7 Movement and attempting to "overthrow the Constitutional Order through the use of force”. He suffers now in prison The charges were later changed into "terrorism acts”. From then onwards the few non Tigrean ethnic Generals were all either fired, arrested or transferred. Now the Ethiopian Defense Forces is under the 99% control of Tigrean ethnic generals who take the life of the regime as the life their selves. The Triple Cs : the Command, Control and Communication of the Defense are also under the hands of one ethnic group. The same is true within the other security apparatus such as the police and the Intel. "Imagining or attempting a coup in the presence of such a security apparatus is tantamount to executing an unachievable task or calling for a self destruction.” Adds Tamiru. Another Ethiopian political scholar Miaziya, from Norway said in a discussion that revolution is not needed in Ethiopia. He says the revolution types that we knew in Russia or in Ethiopia during the Derg is not necessary now. The change rather should be simply power transfer without changing the property relations and bringing new ideologies.
While rebel movements are one of the means to pursue the struggle, contemporary world situations, presence of international surveillance systems in Ethiopia, and the long span it takes to victory in civil or rebel wars, makes this choice one of the toughest ones. However, there perhaps are some active middle ranking officers out there contemplating a coup. Considering the present situation, they might perhaps be the only ones capable of executing a swift coup or mutiny in Ethiopia.
These people are those with a vested interest in the country and can be affected by the demise of the regime. There people are namely; most members of the Tigrean ethnic group who consider Melese as their liberator as Eritreans would Issayas, most members of the ruling EPRDF, rich business people who fear might lose their accumulation if changes occur, indoctrinated ethnic groups and people who were told that the regime’s collapse would return Ethiopia into the "fuzzy” "past administration” as the incumbent drums it every day, and foreign institutions and states that had their interests fulfilled by the current regime. Most of these groups prefer the continuation of the status quo however old, dictatorial and unnecessary it becomes. These groups do their best to sustain the life of the regime by fighting and scouting all those that oppose and struggle the regime. For these groups, there is no need for any change of whatever means: coup, revolution or protest. The pro status quo has at times a similar view to some "loyal” opposition at home that advocate for regime change only via election. Judging from previous experiences, the prospect for a free and fair election is so deem in Ethiopia. De Birhan spoke with one of the most active youth led social movement groups in social media that are based in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. The group is called Ethiopian Revolutionary Minds. One of the group admins, Hanna Metasebia actively campaigns and informs Ethiopian Facebook users on repression, moral bankruptcy, corruption and the need of political change in Ethiopia. Although there are many similar social groups in Ethiopia cyber sphere. Many believe individuals and groups like Ethiopian Revolutionary Minds have done much better than many opposition parties had done. Hanna and her group are one of the most active and effectual individuals and groups on Facebook. Hanna says,
The current situation in Ethiopia seeks for a rethought of strategies and methods of struggle. I am beginning to lose hope on all opposition forces. I think we, the youth need to come together and start a new movement that would bring swift change in the country.
Hanna says due to her active campaigns and online activism that had inspired many "politically dormant” youth, has been receiving threats and warning from regime loyalists and cadres in her electronic inboxes.
Anonymous are a group of youth with members both in the Diaspora and at home. They are active on the online media and hope to actively start actions soon on the ground. They say,
We have remained wary but cautious of making negative comments on Ethiopian opposition forces. We are now convinced that Ethiopian opposition forces are very weak and with no innovative strategies. They still skulk with strategies that have been used in the early 1960s. None of them have shown any recognizable action so far.
Anonymous say discouraged from waiting for some "miraculous action" from Ethiopian forces, they have now mobilized themselves to join the struggle. They say that confronting the military with coup or protests is the means they discourage most. Anonymous’ strategy is one which is "lead by a dozen of professionals who work to exhaust the regime’s delicate parts and force it to submit for a dialogue”. Describing their strategy with an exampleAnonymous tell De Birhan,
Let us take for example a Chat Room where Ethiopians attend and consider the chat room as Ethiopia. If the Admin (Ethiopian officials) of the room (Ethiopia) continuously and indiscriminately bounce, arrest and ban their attendees and refuse to let them in or sit for a mediation, the abused attendees will have to take some actions to be back in the room and be treated equally. Few of the abused attendees can meet and design on how they can hack the room codes and control the room even for a short time. They do it the first time and the room owner takes it back via super administrative powers. However, when these disgruntled ex-attendees do the hacking repeatedly and with more sophistication, the room owners agree to sit for a talk with them and concede to all the requests from the group unconditionally. Same is our strategy. We have experts in all fields and they would take actions on the government until it concedes and agrees for a national reconciliation negotiation and dialogue with all concerned forces in Ethiopia.
Anonymous affirm that their strategy is so modern and untested but likely to bring swift change without the application of any form of violence but technical and intellectual measures that make the regime submit in short period of time. This includes Alchemists and in fact they are at the centre of it. They say that when super powers are all side with the regime and there are very restrictive and manipulative laws and security apparatus that limit the chances of mobilizing, organizing and training members, it becomes very essential to take their kinds of actions. Baffled with the quickly changing and developing political occurrences in the country, Ethiopians and the many opposition groups are still pondering on the best means to bring about the much desired and indispensable change. Most of our interviewees don’t believe that it is the right timing for Ethiopian opposition parties to call for dialogue or talks and Ethiopian opposition forces don’t own the leverage to pressure incumbent for a win-win talk.
"And so I have studied, I have to tell you, revolutions and uprisings for a long time. They are all slightly different, but what they all look for is some kind of a mechanism to go from an authoritarian system to an open, democratic system.”Madeleine Albright.