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Ethiopia’s 2010 Rigged Election: where do we go from here?

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06/10/10

  11:20:52 pm, by admin, 4090 words  
Categories: Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s 2010 Rigged Election: where do we go from here?

Ethiopia’s 2010 Rigged Election: where do we go from here?

By Terefe Masresha

June 10, 2010

When Merga Bekana, Chairperson of EPRDF’s Election Board, announced “as far as the provisional result is concerned, the EPRDF has winned” (see AP writer Anita Powell’s report posted on Ethiomedia, May 24, 2010), he didn’t only expose his poor proficiency (as representative of one of the country’s key institutions), but added a new sloppy twist to the electoral parlance.

When Merga made the statement he was perhaps bewildered; unable to comprehend the historical burden that has fallen on his shoulders. Maybe, just maybe, his conscience was tormenting him, and he couldn’t think straight.

Merga’s slip of the tongue is damaging. It reveals the discrepancy between merit and loyalty the EPRDF hold dear to tighten their grip on power.

If you read the last part of Merga’s statement as: the EPRDF has wind, it is a sardonic characterisation of the organisation, which gushes out undesirable wind that is abhorrent to sniff – deception, callousness, divisiveness, disloyalty, etc., The unpalatable and disgraceful tactics EPRDF apply to stay in power at any cost are too many to enumerate. It suffices to say that a leader that insulted the Ethiopian people and reduced their fervently respected national symbol by saying “a flag is a piece of cloth”, in the early days of his ascendance, shouldn’t have stayed in power for nearly 20 years. If a similar statement was made in another country where there is accountability and a sense of shame, the EPRDF’s philosophy would have been thrown into the gutters of history and the leader who uttered the statement would have vanished. Gordon Brown, Britain’s ex-Prime Minister, had to officially apologise for referring a women “bigoted” after she confronted him with difficult questions concerning during an election campaign. The Japanese Prime Minister resigned last week, nine months after he came to power, for not keeping his election promises.

Regrettably, Ethiopia continues to be ruled by unscrupulous persons who guiding principle is to lie and to be dismissive in all occasions and under all circumstances; with the at most disrespect to their interlocutors. When opposition parliamentarians asked Meles to report on the number of casualties as a result of the externally driven and ill conceived intervention in Somalia, he sarcastically responded ‘it is not important for the House of Peoples’ Representatives to know how many soldiers have died in Somalia and I don’t have an obligation to provide such figures’.

Returning to the subject at hand – where do we go from here - any good observer of Ethiopian politics didn’t expect the outcome of the stage-managed 2010 elections to be different from what the EPRDF told Ethiopians and the world a few hours after the polls closed. Despite the claim of a landslide victory, the EPRDF have lost morally and diplomatically. In the eyes of the Ethiopian people and the international community, the ruling party’s credibility has suffered the last blow. No one worthy of respectable political and social standing will give weight to the 2010 electoral sham.

The speed with which the election results were announced, the concocted “winning” margin and the pre-planned and pre-organised victory parade say a lot about how the EPRDF planned to handle the elections and what instructions it gave to its rank and file to make sure that there will not be a repeat of May 2005 and its aftermath. Berket Simon told Al Jazeera that his party expected to win by a margin of 60-70 percent. It seems their cadres went too far by passing their exams with 99.6 percent to embarrass the opposition camp and make them redundant, to insult the electorate and frustrate observers.

Reacting to a journalist’s remark about the possibility of his party losing to the opposition, Meles Zenawi predestined the election results. He said, “Imagine a government which has delivered double-digit growth for over seven years losing an election anywhere on earth. It is unheard of for such a phenomenon to happen.” (See Ethiomedia May 24, 2010). Clearly, the EPRDF loyalists and opportunists have adhered to their master’s instructions. For Meles the key indicator a government needs to justify its grip on power is economic growth at the cost of civil liberties. If the economy is doing well, the government need not to account for the country’s wide ranging ills. Of course, Meles is above the law and it should not, therefore, come as a surprise that his party claimed victory in the fixed elections. The EPRDF isn’t accountable to any institution and no one is allowed to question their actions.

Following the announcement of the election results, anger and frustration are abounding among those who wished and aspired to see the opposition gain a good number of parliamentary seats, or even better, to see the EPRDF leave power through the ballot box. Most importantly, hopelessness is prevailing in the authoritarian environment; making peaceful struggle for change increasingly null and void.

The EPRDF say that the government will widen the democratic space and will engage all who are inside and outside parliament. This is the pinnacle of all jokes. What kind of space and engagement, and for what purpose? How can a government that didn’t listen when the opposition was in parliament be expected to listen after the opposition have lost all their parliamentary seats? Why have the EPRDF become jokingly generous? We know that the EPRDF have repeatedly made clear in no uncertain terms that ‘they would like to leave their seats to the opposition, but the seats are already taken’ – in their view, for good. I suppose by playing the space and engagement card, they are trying to ease the external pressure from donors without intending to review their draconian approach to governance. No one should fall for their deception. Enough is enough.

The EPRDF, by their arrogance, lack of vision, repeated unpatriotic handling of national affairs, and defiance to the wishes and aspirations of the Ethiopian people; have decreed their departure from power. Their latest greed is the beginning of the end. Our next action should focus on speeding up their departure from the helm of authority. We know they will do anything to stay where they are, but sustained and coordinated pressure, using every means, should be incessantly applied to bring change.

The outcome of the 2010 elections is a resounding call for fundamental change in our thinking, our approach to resolving our deep-rooted political, economic and social problems and how we must organise to get there. It is a call that says there is no greater agenda than standing in unison against the EPRDF. Business as usual, individually and collectively (channelled through opposition parties or otherwise), will undoubtedly benefit the EPRDF.

Kenyans could not have ushered in irreversible change (whose healthy fruit remain to be seen) without the Rainbow Coalition. The ANC couldn’t have brought Apartheid down without a strong, unified and sustained grassroots movement, which had worldwide support.

All rational opposition party leaders (who care about the future of Ethiopia) should realise that there will be very little their party can change if the various political parties remain divided. A divided opposition confuses the public and is unlikely to be taken seriously by the international community, which is currently more interested in stability than the exercise and thrive of democracy. If the opposition isn’t united around a common platform, it can’t be expected to be reliable ally in maintaining stability in Ethiopia and by extension in the Horn of Africa. The opposition should, therefore, do everything in its power to earn the respect of the Ethiopian people and the international community. The opposition’s scattered and uncoordinated actions shouldn’t continue to be a fodder for EPRDF‘s and its apologists’ propaganda who label the opposition as fragmented, weak, negative, hate mongering, uncooperative and destructive.

Given the complex situation the country is in, it is time to sincerely thank and ask all opposition party leaders who have served over the past several years to handover the baton to young leaders. Incumbent opposition leaders have done what they could and it is high time for them to leave the political spotlight and contribute behind the scenes if they can and wish to do so.

The future of Ethiopia depends on new leaders who are not burdened with induced or internally driven political mishaps of the past. Taking Ethiopia to the future requires visionary leaders not trapped by their personal political ambition or their brush with their individual or collective political experience. The past 30+ years have demonstrated political parties’ or politicians' ineptitude to work together for the common good. This must change. It has been repeatedly said in various forums that we Ethiopians are very good at feasting together rather than producing results by working as a team. We are very good at bickering and aggrandizing. We are adept to admiring inconsequential personal stature rather than someone’s concrete track record and transformational aptitude.

Learning from the past and taking into consideration emerging trends, the new generation of young leaders should commit themselves to:

· Putting the interests of the country first;

· Maintaining the country’s unity and territorial integrity;

· Respecting the diversity of the Ethiopian people;

· Upholding the rule of law, justice and equality;

· Resolving conflict through dialogue by applying the full extent of an open and transparent space that will encourage and facilitate citizens to express their voice; and

· Demonstrating their respect for the Ethiopian people by asking their endorsement through their representatives, or directly; concerning key national issues that will have long-term implications.

The new leaders need to:

Immediately convene a conference of all opposition parties to review the state of affairs in the country (independent of each party’s manifesto) and to agree on a plan for organising a mass movement at grassroots level. The movement should be well organised and carefully insulated from the threats of the repressive regime.
Undergo conflict management training to learn tolerance, compromise and to focus on the big picture – Ethiopia’s salvation.
Work hard to transform individual expressions of no-vote of confidence in the ruling party to collective action.
Sign a memorandum of understanding by making the restoration of Ethiopia’s dignity the centre of the mass movement.
Work with all concerned in advocating for the release of Birtukan Mideksa. This will keep her cause alive and mount the pressure on the EPRDF. Focussing on her heroism and sacrifice will be a uniting force and her eventual release will boost morale in the opposition camp and will add much needed momentum to the mass movement.
Undertake a thorough analysis of the internal and external environment, identify supporters and distracters, agree on key priority issues, put in place a plan for the movement, monitor progress and review tactic (as appropriate), and regularly inform the public.
Identify a clear leader and create a mechanism for dealing with key internal and external affairs. In other words, assign competent people to deal with security matters, the economy, foreign affairs, defence, etc. Put in place a structure that functions as a shadow government (like Britain’s opposition party).
Establish an independent multidisciplinary advisory committee composed of individuals that have served and are serving Ethiopia with unshakable commitment and dedication.
The long-term aim of the united mass movement will be;

Establishing a national unity government that promotes reconciliation and the establishment of durable peace.
Creating a national reconciliation commission that will promote restorative justice and organise a public apology from perpetrators and public acceptance of apology from victims.
Undertake constitutional review and revise the land tenure system to make it relevant to a changing environment. The latter is a sensitive issue, but Ethiopian famers shouldn’t continue to be intimidated, manipulated and held hostage by successive regimes because of their relationship with the land they till.
Organise an open public debate concerning the long-term relationship Ethiopia needs to have with Eritrea and reach a consensus on how Ethiopia can have reliable access to the port of Assab. Depending solely on the ports of Djibouti and Barbara or Port Sudan isn’t strategic. Given Ethiopia’s geo-political location and the growing dispute over the use of the Nile, Ethiopia should have an option that will not, at any given time, strangle 80 million people.
Investigate all deals made with Sudan concerning the border between the two countries.
It shouldn’t take the opposition long to get their acts together and lead the Ethiopian people from the front. Dwelling on how EPRDF rigged the elections and crying their hearts out to the international community will do very little – it cannot be a substitute for unity, an effective organisation, and coming up with a winning strategy. Every effort must be made, and every means must be used to expose the ills of the EPRDF, but the focus should be on increasing overt and silent resentment, rejection and defiance through a coordinated and sustained action inside and outside the country.

The difficulties and hurdles that the EPRDF put in place need to be overcome through superior organisational and mobilisation skills. The opposition’s strategy should focus on beating the EPRDF at its own game. The EPRDF shouldn’t be allowed to continue fooling a few gullible outsiders and broaden its base among the youth. Anyone who cares about the future of the country should be part of a united voice for change – division along any line that weakens the mass movement for change should be ostracized until the EPRDF is removed from power.

We cannot now afford to waste time and resources squabbling about which party’s strategy or programme are good for Ethiopia. In addition to attacking the wrong vision, mission, values and strategies of the EPRDF, the priority for the opposition should be systematically weakening the EPRDF’s power base. In this regard, any means that is against the EPRDF should be welcome, but it should be part of a united and coordinated effort.

During these difficult and trying times, we need objectivity, pragmatism, strong commitment, maturity and motivation of leaders and followers.

As we move forward, it is important to realise that there will be setbacks. The strategy for winning should include identifying potential risks and planning for addressing the risks. Every effort must be made to ensure that temporary setbacks will not dampen the momentum of the mass movement for change – a sense of loss should not be allowed to reign. The feeling that there is a sense of direction should always be strong.

It is wise to expect that individuals will betray the movement. This will have to be dealt with in a non-violent manner for example through social exclusion, particularly during illness, death, economic interaction, etc.

To prevent traitors and opportunists from joining the mass movement, a thorough background check should be conducted on anyone volunteering to join the movement. While a lot of work must be done to poach genuinely progressive, but ill informed, EPRDF members and sympathisers, care should be taken not to recruit moles.

Most importantly, the movement can reduce risk by building an effective organisational capacity. In this regard, the active participation of a majority of the Ethiopian people will be very important. As much as the movement can be lead by a group of individuals, it shouldn’t be entirely elitist. Mesay Kebede writes “What fails Ethiopia is ... the inability to create a grassroots movement in support of modernization, that is, of democracy and economic pursuits. Ethiopia cannot modernize if ordinary people do not participate in the venture, if they do not see modernisation as their own purpose. [Initiatives] that exclusively come from above have failed again and again. A change in direction cannot happen unless those who govern and those who aspire to govern remove elitism from their programme.” (See Ethiomedia August 4, 2004).

Long-term fundamental societal transformation can only be achieved by first, preparing the mindset of a constituency and leadership, which knowingly or inadvertently maintains old ways of thinking, behavior and practice.

The advent of change requires sound programs, plans, guidelines, which take into account not only the internal state of affairs, but the external environment that directly or indirectly influence the direction and, possibly, the outcomes of the desired change.

Nelson Mandela once said "... decision should not be taken out of pride or embarrassment, but out of strategy". What needs to be done next shouldn’t therefore be based on venting anger for losing the elections, because it hasn’t been lost. The strategy needs to be derived from a thorough appraisal of the nature of the ruling party and its leadership. Stephen Kinzer points out that "Leaders of armed revolutionary groups are a harsh lot. To survive they must be mistrustful, conspiratorial, and willing to countenance murder and other acts of violence. Those who succeed in seizing power are expected to abandon these habits and adopt opposite ones. Few manage the transition." This implies that EPRDF leaders are unlikely to become what they are not. They are what they are. Even the most beautiful thing in the world cannot please with more than what it has been bestowed with.

If we expect all of the above from leaders, what is expected from us (the followers)? The direct answer in my view is: we need to be good followers – leader friendly shall I say?

Whether you look around you or observe from afar, poverty, hunger, destitution, illiteracy, disease, migration, etc., are manifestations of the country. The UNDP Human Development Report for 2009 gives Ethiopia a rank of 171st out of 182 countries. The Human Poverty Index value of 50.9 percent ranks the country 130th among 135 countries. Against this background, a series of questions must be raised. For how long can we allow such a situation to continue? Why do we continue to fail in coordinating our actions? Why are we so effective in destructive efforts? Why can’t we move forward? When do we start to learn accepting criticism with grace? For how long are we going to accept the mistakes of others to avoid hurting their feelings – when is truth going to be told? What is the threshold for respect? How do we learn to compromise and work for a win-win situation instead of seeking the total annihilation of a person or group that has a different point of view from ours? Anyone concerned about the current or future situation in Ethiopia shouldn’t invest time and energy denouncing an individual who expresses a different point of view.

Ethiopia’s rulers give governance the wrong notion. There is a sense that governance can’t happen without repression, prosecution, persecution and disdain to the people. This has created intergenerational resentment and a tendency to resort to vengeance. What do we need to do to end such dysfunctional behaviour and destructive practice?

Despite our invariable bad experience, no one wants to take responsibility for the lack of progress. We are very good at blaming one another and worse even God. Although we say that strings woven together can tie a lion, we are so individualistic, suspicious, and self-centred. We are afflicted with the idea and practice that one’s importance and greatness is justified by diminishing the other person. We are adept to relish individual failure not realising or refusing to accept that a collection of personal failures could eventually bring the downfall of society. Tamagne Beyene in his moving appeal for change said “we should stop deriving joy from [individual or collective] failure”. (See video on Ethiomedia).

It is not secret that perceived, self-imposed, government or interest group sponsored fear is destroying the fabric of objectivity. Despite the difficulties, each of us needs to free ourselves from fear. Understandably this is easy said than done, but what option do we have? We can only become strong if we are prepared to 'confront serious difficulties squarely and courageously.' We, therefore, need to try to move forward keeping in mind that 'each moment stolen from fear' can eventually lead to individual and collective freedom.

Our approach to change should not be littered with unproductive, inconsequential considerations of social correctness, nicety and appeasement. We need to breakaway with established terms and conditions of social contracts, which do not facilitate our contribution to Ethiopia's transformation.

Despite our criticism of the Chinese for closely collaborating with the EPRDF, there is a lot that we can learn from their ambition, determination and success stories. The transformation of China, which has now taken global centre stage, is partly attributed to people's appetite for hard work, incredible energy, remarkable resilience and refusal to accept defeat. Determination to succeed should be the hallmark of our endeavor. The 1920s chant of Chinese troops goes like this: "When we fight we first use bullets; when the bullets are gone, we use bayonets; when the bayonets are dull, we use the rifle barrel; when this is broken, we use our fists; when our fists are broken, we bite". Folks, we need to be persistent, learn to persevere and be prepared to bite at our problems and the leaders that create them. We cannot just sit and hope that our situation will change.

Wherever we are, whatever we do, we need to learn to work together (and develop unity of purpose) to map out the right course for our country. This will, to a greater extent, depend on how we treat each other or relate to one another. We must now stand firm against any move toward divisionism. As Rwandan's have realized after the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi "… we must flee the madness that invents [discord among people]. It respects neither the country's sons nor its daughters. It creates demons and spells, lies that become truth and rumors that are claimed as historical fact." Over the past 19 years, the EPRDF propaganda machine has poisoned the minds and hearts of many. A concerted effort must be made to disinfect those that are open for change.

Despite the trust we accord to the new leaders of the mass movement, we shouldn’t be passive observers of their actions. We need to learn how to praise them (without creating personality cults) and hold them accountable when appropriate.

Transforming Ethiopian society requires sacrifice from the present generation. This includes, using Duncan Green's words, genuine commitment to differ immediate gratification, the business community to create and reinvest wealth rather than squandering profit, willingness to redistribute wealth and income, to limit demands for public spending that are desperately needed.

Most importantly, we need to urgently start the process of fundamentally changing the way we think and act (do business). To do this, we must be prepared to assume a self-critical stance.

Consider the following food for thought from the book entitled: The Shadow of the Sun by the Polish journalist and writer, Ryszard Kapuscinski.

"… the strength of Europe and of its culture, in contrast to other cultures, lies in its bent for criticism, above all, for self criticism … Other cultures do not have [the] critical spirit … they are inclined to pride, to thinking that all that belongs to them is perfect; they are … uncritical in relation to themselves. They lay the blame for all that is evil on others … They consider all criticism to be a malevolent attack … insult. Instead of being self-critical, they are full of countless grudges, complexes, envies, peeves, manias. The effect of all of this is that they are culturally, permanently, structurally incapable of progress, incapable of engendering within themselves the will to transform."

I suppose, we can consider the notion of dignity instead of pride, accept flaw (imperfection) in place of perfection and attempt self-criticism before blaming others. Hopefully, a change in our mindset along these lines will put us on the right track!

Almighty God,

Enlighten opposition leaders and give them unbounded wisdom,

And magnanimity to realise that unity is greater than relishing a political fiefdom.

For nearly two decades, Ethiopia’s poor and downtrodden,

Called on the opposition to stand united,

Unfortunately, their wish and aspiration weren’t even remotely heeded.

Consistent with tradition and culture,

All of us allowed unity to falter.

Now, the opposition have miserably failed,

Leaving the nation 99.6 percent strangled.

We can’t afford to continue with business as usual,

Our politics should cease to be casual and abysmal.

Once again, we advise incumbent opposition leaders,

To leave the spotlight now,

Unleashing the young to hold the leadership baton,

And define a new furrow,

To ensure the void political field will not, for long, remain fallow.

Free Birtukan Midekksa

She is the reincarnation of Meyisaw Kassa

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