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  09:48:43 pm, by admin, 2673 words  
Categories: Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Nonviolent Struggle: Ethiopian Exceptionalism? Part II

Ethiopia: Nonviolent Struggle: Ethiopian Exceptionalism? Part II

By Jawar Mohammed*

Part II

Social Fragmentation and Civil Resistance

One of the key reasons why dictators remain in power is the fragmentation of the society across ethnic, religious, ideological, and professional lines. Whenever their power is threatened, dictators resort to using the societal fault lines to foment division and weaken dissent. Therefore, waging vertical resistance against oppressive systems require strategically addressing the horizontal tensions within the population.

a. The likelihood of success for nonviolent resistance increases with broad societal participation by diverse and all segments of the population.

b. In the presence of intra-group fear, suspicions and competition, movements are vulnerable to the divide and destroy tactics of the regime.

The regime's divisive methods need to be countered with unifying strategies and tactics. For such a strategy to work, having accurate information on the causes of the fault lines and concerns of each segment of the society as well as studying past tactics employed by the regime to instigate conflict is critical. This should be followed up with strategic planning to counter the regime's divisive methods with tactics that not only undercut the measures but also make it backfire against the regime.

On the day the Egyptian resistance organizers announced their plan of January 25th march, a Coptic Church was bombed. In a dramatic contrast, on the second day of the uprising, the world watched Egyptian Christians protecting Muslims during Jum’a prayer. We also saw members of the Muslim Brotherhood forming human chains against possible attack on a church. In a popular slogan, repeated by the protesters, Egyptians chanted Regardless Of Which God You Pray To, We Are All Egyptians. A picture of an Imam and a Priest holding Koran and the Cross together sent a powerful message of unity. Such a change in a week’s time might sound as if a miracle had struck Egypt. But the truth is all of these actions were results of prior planning.

From the outset, the organizers acknowledged the fact that Egypt has a history of communal conflict and violence. The legacy of extremist and violent religious movements still lingers. Therefore, resolving the insecurity of the Christian minority was important not only to bring that constituency onboard and withstand Mubarak’s divisive tactics but also address the fear of the West about a possibility of an Islamic Egyptian state. They were successful beyond expectations. It is important to note that most of the ground work was done months, if not years, before put to test at Tahrir Square.

Overcoming Meles’s Divide and Rule Tactics
Ethiopia’s history and contemporary politics has led to the development of tensions among various ethnic groups and acute ideological polarization among the political elite. Over the years, competing nationalism with contradictory assessment of the past as well as diverging visions of the future has emerged. The current regime practices open discrimination and publicly promotes communal hostility. This might make civil resistance difficult but not impossible. It is possible to overcome these conditional challenges by expanding knowledge about nonviolent tactics and through careful strategic planning.

Meles has effectively utilized the ethnic card in the past. Early in his rule, he survived the Oromo resistance by scaring the day light out of the Amhara. He preached the Oromo rebels would not only exact revenge against the old ruling class but also split the country to form an independent Oromia state. Meles survived the wave of urban resistance in 2005 by scaring the previously marginalized communities about the return to the past—the Amhara oppressive rule. Furthermore, he was able to maintain the loyalty of his support base, the Tigreans, by convincing them about the possible retribution they would face, if they abandon him.

The efficiency of these strategies has significantly decreased in the past five years because;

1) The prisoner’s dilemma between the Amhara and Oromo constituency is reaching its final stage as each side is realizing that neither benefits from the status quo. The multiple efforts at forming alliances and the significant improvements in dialogue—both in public and behind the scenes—are evidence to this. Hardliners are no longer the leading voices of each political community and the shift in rhetoric has opened the door for calmer consultations.

2) The Tigrean constituency is no longer an uncontested domain of the ruling party. This can be attributed to two reasons.

a) Tigreans have begun to realize the only beneficiaries of current policies are Meles and a small circle of his cronies at a great cost to their people.

b) The emergence of ‘their own’ credible alternatives among the opposition is chipping away at the secure base that served Meles well. The defiance showed by the people of Tigray in support of the opposition during the recent election is an irrefutable evidence of the shifting ground.

This does not mean that all sources of divisions have disappeared. There is still a fear about post Meles era. The unrelenting rhetoric of Amhara groups to replace the current federal system is a serious concern for previously marginalized groups. Similarly, the refusal of ethno-nationalist movements to renounce demands for independence is worrisome to the Amhara. Both of these concerns are legitimate. However, a regime change via nonviolent resistance is unlikely to lead to realization of those fears.

During the Egyptian uprising, many feared the Muslim Brotherhood will take over after Mubarak and establish an Islamic caliphate. Similarly, in Pinochet’s Chile and Marcos’ Philippines, moderates and business elites feared a communist takeover. White South Africans worried about economic expropriation and physical revenge by black nationalists. Now we know none of these fears were realized. This is one of the main differences between change through armed struggle and via nonviolent resistance. In armed struggle, almost always a single dominant force emerges. Moreover, as conflict is waged between two armies, the defeated military of the state is often dismantled and replaced by the rebel soldiers. This allows the winning party to have the ability to monopolize power and impose its partisan will.

Victory in civil resistance is an outcome of collaborative work among various political and social organizations and largely that of unaffiliated individuals. Thus, the likelihood of a single group determining the outcome is negligent. Whereas the dictator and top cronies are removed, most of the state institutions, including the military remain intact. As a result, no single group will have the capability to impose partisan objectives unilaterally. In a sense, regime change through nonviolent resistance open doors for reform rather than ushering in a full revolution as in the case of armed insurgency.

Therefore, the post Meles era should not be scary because;

a) The immediate power vacuum will not be filled by a single group rather by a transitional government likely dominated by moderates including those from the old guard.

b) Constitutional writing will not be a unilateral work of a single party but a product of an inclusive, long, and tiresome bargaining. My bet is that the current constitution will be adopted with slight amendments. Even in case of a gridlock, the issue will be settled through an electoral process.

c) Because the army and state institutions will remain intact, secessionists will not be able to break away any part of the country and have to wait for the due process.

d) If secessionists or hardcore ‘unitarists’ are unwilling to compromise on their agenda, they will have to do it through free, fair, and competitive election and referendums. If they can garner the necessary public support, then the people have spoken, no one can stop it.

e) All of the groups calling for self-determination have indicated in different occasions that they would settle for a genuine federal structure built on a firmly democratic, representative, and equitable foundation.

Nonviolent Conflict and Fear of Civil War

When we speak of nonviolent resistance, we are talking about waging a conflict against often a repressive government to destabilize it, obstruct its normal routine, and create nervousness and uncertainty within the pillars of power to drain the systems endurance and bring it down. But unless carefully managed and guided, such confrontations create a precarious situation and could make the country and the people vulnerable to prolonged chaos.

Dictators are most dangerous at the end of their reign. They will do whatever it takes without any concern for consequences. They would use saboteurs to instigate conflict among the population and even within the military and security apparatus—and such actions will have serious long-term consequences particularly in fragile multinational states like Ethiopia. But these dangers could be avoided through strategic planning.

• Organizers should anticipate every possible action the regime will take and prepare responsive tactics. Every repressive or divisive action by the regime should be met with action that strengthens the movement towards unity while delegitimizing the system.

• Nonviolent discipline is the key to the movement’s ability to manage conflicts. The less physical violence on the part of the resisters, the more control they have over the course of the conflict and ability to maintain momentum. This can be achieved by training as many organizers as possible to build the necessary skills. Such preparation helps to identify and pacify the impact of agent provocateurs that aim to turn the situation unto uncontrolled chaos.

• Aim for quick victory but prepare for a long struggle. A prolonged conflict could lead to a stalemate and power vacuum where neither side controls large part of the country making it vulnerable to opportunistic spoilers. With well thought out strategic planning, it is possible to bring down a dictator within a brief period of time. Tactics can be sequenced to reinforce each other and multiply their impact on raising pressure on the status quo to quickly dismantle the pillars of support. But unforeseen circumstances, mistakes in implementation of strategies and external factors could derail the efficiency of the movement. In such cases, it is crucial not to lose momentum for prolonged periods which gives the regime breathing space while weakening the movement’s cohesion by inducing skepticism.

• Diversionary tactics should be employed to cover strategic vulnerability. In the case of a stalemate, new combat front should be opened. Halfway through the Egyptian revolution, Mubarak stopped attacking protesters and tactically waited for the movement to run out of momentum. On the last days of the second week, the Egyptian regime looked unmovable. The number of protesters began dwindling with only few thousands hardcore leaders left at the square. Some opposition members began advocating for negotiation while America walked back from pressuring Mubarak, fearing the survival of his regime. The organizers responded by mobilizing a nationwide boycott. They opened new battle fronts, with fresh combatants—this time workers reinforcing the youth. This counter offensive strategy escalated the conflict, destabilizing the remaining institutions and completely crippling the state.

• If momentum continues to decline, suspending the campaign by emphasizing concession gained should be considered. There will be another round. Learn from mistakes, improvise strategies, and prepare better for the final push.

• Another way of avoiding a civil war is to make sure that no segment of the population (ethnic, religion or region) remains as the last strong hold for the dictator. Cornered in Tripoli, Gaddafi is trying to frame the conflict as a civil war between Western and Eastern Libya. I could anticipate Meles fleeing to Mekele and fortifying himself there to use Tigray as his shield. Such a move can be prevented by organizing resistance in every part of the country thereby creating unwelcome environment everywhere. Statement of denunciation and rejection by high profile members the specific community could also help in discouraging the dictator.

Every dictator wants to limit his subjects’ imagination to a choice between living under tyranny and facing Armageddon. However, time and again, unified, disciplined and strategically planned nonviolent movements have disproved such prediction. Once people break the chain of fear and tear down the wall of tyranny, they can use the resulting civic environment to find creative solutions to their multifaceted problems. Under the watch of the free press and demand of practical results by the population, politicians who now rely on populist rhetoric will be forced to be realistic and moderate their position in order to broaden their appeal and garner electoral victory. Extremist ideologies will be put to test in competitive election or can be resisted peacefully. Public sympathy for such ideologies during repression usually does not translate into electoral support afterwards.

Conclusion: Word of Caution

There is no model revolution: The quick success of the latest revolutions have given rise to simplistic perceptions of nonviolent resistance. Commentators are debating whether the Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan or East European model should be adopted in Ethiopia. This is a misguided debate because no country can serve as a model for another. Due to differences in social structure, nature and strength of the regime, every movement must develop realistic strategies based on careful and detailed assessment of the realities on the ground. Strategies and tactics that worked in one country may fail in another. We should look into both successful and failed movements not with hope of replicating what they have done, but to learn from their experiences and devise our own strategies to suit our unique realities.

“It’s so easy even a caveman can do it” attitude: This is yet another simplistic interpretation that underestimates the level of preparation that is needed for a nonviolent uprising to succeed. Deceived by seemingly spontaneous swelling of crowds, the importance of leadership and organization are sometimes written off as unnecessary. A nonviolent movement needs leadership, but it does not require a figurehead. Leaders of nonviolent movement are usually invisible because such resistance is not organized in the traditional hierarchical manners. There is also a need to detach the movement from personalities and their politics.

It is also important to clear up the confusion between two social phenomenons: protest and movement. Both are group action by means of expressing views aimed at influencing public opinion to bring change policy. The difference is that protest is a specific reaction to a particular event or situation. A movement however is a sustained series of contentious and collective public campaigns that employs varieties of tactics and methods. In a movement there is a common objective, and not only do the actors know what need to be changed but they also have strategies to achieve it.

On the other hand, a protest could be one of the tactics used by a movement just like boycotts, sit-ins, and strikes. For example, take a rally in the aftermath a stolen election as a tactic for a movement. In case of a protest, participants would disperse after brief standoff. In a movement, protests could be preceded and followed by actions targeting the system—a sign for a larger objective than just airing grievances. Prior strategic planning can be evidenced from the unity, sequential tactics, and discipline shown by demonstrators. We would see a sustained build up of momentum, and the demonstration survives and even gets stronger in the face of a violent response from the opponent.

It takes building a movement to bring down a dictator and replace it with a democratic system. It is true certain riots could bring down a regime. But only an organized movement guided by well planned strategy can sustain the uprising, maintain focus and unity of the public to prevent a return to dictatorship either in the hands of a military junta or due to a consolidation power by new hardliners.

Therefore, while it looks quite simple, successful nonviolent revolution is usually the result of a sophisticated and innovative strategies and tactics. Expanding our knowledge of nonviolent strategies and building our tactical skill is essential to successfully crushing a determined and well financed regime with absolute control over all means’ of coercion.

*Jawar Mohammed is an independent researcher and a recent graduate of Stanford University. He can be reached for comments at; you can also access his articles at or on OPride – Jawar’s Corner.

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Nonviolent Struggle: Ethiopian Exceptionalism? Part I (By Jawar Mohammed)

  09:47:34 pm, by admin, 2368 words  
Categories: Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Nonviolent Struggle: Ethiopian Exceptionalism? Part I

Ethiopia: Nonviolent Struggle: Ethiopian Exceptionalism? Part I

By Jawar Mohammed*

Part I

The long oppressed citizens of Tunisia and Egypt have freed themselves. Libyans are almost there. Bahraini, Yemeni, Algerians, and Moroccans are in the middle of a fierce struggle. Our neighbors, Djiboutians have also risen up. In Ethiopia, debate is raging over whether the current wave of people’s uprising should, could or would reach Meles Zenawi? While the successes in the Arab world have a visibly energizing effect, skepticism is still dominating the discourse in much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Fortunately, in the last month, most of the misconceptions about nonviolent resistance have been debunked. Thanks to the tantalizing nonviolent discipline demonstrated by the Egyptian protesters, the cultural determinism school of thought, which long declared Arab and African societies as incompatible with ‘civilized’ politics have been practically refuted. The growing successes of civilian movements against the brutal regimes in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain have disproved the belief that nonviolent resistance works only against soft-authoritarians who value human life.

Skeptics are using “Ethiopian Exceptionalism” to argue that nonviolent strategies would not work in Ethiopia. Three of the most repeated arguments are: ethnic fragmentation, composition of the military and low Internet penetration. These arguments have strong factual bases and do not warrant outright dismissal. However, Ethiopia having a different condition from Egypt or Tunisia does not necessarily prevent waging a successful nonviolent resistance. It just requires a strategy specifically tailored for the exceptional realities in Ethiopia.

The Internet

Social media gave a tremendous boost to organizers in Egypt and Tunisia. But its role is exaggerated. Now, some are saying nonviolent strategies don’t work in the absence of extensive access to Internet. However, it is important to remember that, nonviolent movements have achieved their objectives in India, Chile, South Africa, Philippines etc even before the invention of the Internet. The Internet made some aspects of strategic planning easier and faster. It eliminated the security risks involved in clandestine physical meetings while making it simpler to reach and mobilize large population, quickly.

Less than 1% of Ethiopians have access to the internet through a single provider owned by the state. This will obviously make Ethiopian organizers less advantageous than their North African counterparts. Yet, it is primarily the critical mass (students and young professionals) that is involved at the strategic planning stage. In Ethiopia, sizable members of this social group have access to Internet and mobile phones. Besides, as we have observed elsewhere, once a resistance movement takes off, a regime will most likely cut all communication services, rendering the Internet useless. Therefore, organizers have to develop alternative means’ of communication in order to coordinate actions and expose the regime’s atrocities.

Egyptians were not fully prepared for the Internet blackout. But they overcame these challenges by reaching out to the outside world to which Google responded by creating a voice to text system. The call to tweet system allowed people to use landlines to leave messages that were posted on their twitter accounts as tweets. As such, the low Internet penetration will not save Meles; it might just make it a bit harder for the organizers. In fact, if he chooses to follow on Mubarak’s footsteps and unplug both the Internet and telephone, he will be the one at the losing end as his security apparatus, party structure and public share the same telecom system. Shutting off the country’s sole telecom system will disconnect most of his oppressive machinery. This was one of the factors for the quick demise of Mubarak’s 1.5 million strong police. Since the least financed individual citizens have proven to be more creative than the resourceful state bureaucracy, it is likely that the movement will find a way to turn darkness into strategic advantages.

In the past, activists had difficulty attracting international attention to atrocities committed by authoritarian regimes. The ongoing wave of revolution has captured the global spotlight more than ever before. Every dictator is under a media watch and any sign of resistance will definitely gain broader coverage. A picture or video clip taken on a cheap cell phone in rural Ethiopia can instantly wind up on social media. This fresh and irrefutable firsthand account will reach the biggest news outlets - fresh and unedited. There was practically no media in Libya in the early days of the protest. Gaddafi shut down all communications to the outside world. But this did not prevent the evidence of his brutality from reaching the watchful eyes on international community, sometimes as it was happening.

Therefore, whether Meles is butchering the people of Adigrat, Gode, Moyale or Matama, the fact will be on Aljazeera, broadcast back to his subjects and to the wider world. He cannot stop it. At the moment dictators are at a great disadvantage. This is a golden moment that needs to be seized by all oppressed people yearning for freedom.

Composition of Military

The Egyptian army was showered with praises for its neutrality, and rightly so. However, too much credit is given to the “professionalism” of the army than other factors such as the role of the United States and most importantly the strategy organizers deployed to restrain the military. By emphasizing the ‘professionalism’ of the army, the planners made a tactical choice long before the confrontation. Once repeated by analysts and pundits alike, the army was systematically put under moral pressure to protect its image.

The primary duty of every military is to protect the government of the day. The degree of its loyalty could be different depending on connections with the ruler. A lot has been said about the loyalty of the Ethiopian military to the system. Much of the discourse focuses on the top commanders’ ethnic identification with Meles. It is true that Meles has assigned Tigreans to most of the key command positions. And the primary rationale for this is a cold strategic calculation rather than favoritism (see my article on Tigrean Nationalism).

Unfortunately, the opposition has been attacking the strength of this strategy. They attack the military because they seem to have resigned to the assumption that all those officers are loyal to Meles. This was exactly what the strategy was designed to achieve. This strategy must change now. Correcting factual errors and myths about the composition and internal dynamics of the military is crucial. It is common to refer to the current Ethiopian military as the TPLF army. This is factually incorrect because;

a. Members of the military come from all corners of the country and Tigreans make up no more than 10%.

b. Most of the soldiers below the rank of colonel were not part of the rebel movement. As such, they have little ideological or personal connection with the rulers. The majority of the TPLF’s rebel soldiers were demobilized early on to engage in business activities and some were purged while many others have retired.

The scary image about the “Agazi” division that was involved in quashing the 2005 protests needs to be reexamined. This division is described as a Tigrean only unit or sometimes as being full of mercenaries. Anecdotal evidence shows that there are several non-Tigrean Ethiopians within the rank and file of the division including the command. Most dictators have ‘presidential’ guards composed of elite soldiers who have proved their loyalty; this is certainly the case for Agazi. Most of the misinformation is provided by the regime to create a terrifying image of the military and a hostile situation between the army and the people. Critics of the system have further exaggerated, the ‘otherness’ and cruelty of this division, which further terrifies the public.

Despite its role in strengthening loyalty, ethnic composition of the military does not make it more effective against nonviolent resistance. The apartheid system in South Africa had almost an entirely white military. But it did not save the system from crumbling under the weight of people’s power. Nonviolent strategies avoid the regime’s strong pillars and target its weakest links—what Gene Sharp calls Achilles’ heels. Instead of taking the military head on, South African strategists organized a nationwide boycott of white businesses. There was nothing the security and military could do, besides harassing and arresting the key organizers. As months went by, the economic costs were unbearable even to the most racist businessmen. Thus, the cost of repression against the Black community was systematically transferred to the White community that was previously ambivalent or supported the regime. When the going got tough, the White South Africans turned up the heat on the regime, and the resulting crisis brought down the government. The hardliner P. W. Botha was replaced by a moderate F.W. De Klerk, opening the door for ‘pacted’ (bargained) transition.

As illustrated in this example, movements can employ several tactics either to avoid direct confrontation with the regimes’ means of coercion or minimize their repressive capability. The use of low-risk actions (boycotts, work stoppage, traffic jamming, etc) at the initial stage have proved more effective.

In Ethiopia’s case, a detailed assessment is needed to devise realistic strategies to cope with the regime’s means of coercion and dissolve the military’s loyalty to the system. From the limited information available to me, I would argue that, in the face of a carefully planned and disciplined nonviolent uprising, Meles’ violent tactics will not stand a chance.

Here is a list of things to consider:

a. The local police are the primary face of the repressive machinery particularly outside the capital. They are poorly equipped and the least skilled. They also live with people, underpaid (perhaps among the lowest paid state employees). Thus, they are as grieved as the rest of the population. But violence and abusive behaviors are well entrenched traditions of the police. They could be merciless at first encounter but will be the first to wither away as the uprising gathers momentum.

b) Some regional governments have their own special police; a rapid response brigades whose primary responsibility is stepping in when a situation overwhelms the local police. Well armed and with better training than the local police, the rapid response lineup has a good record of containing midsized riots. But its strong regional loyalty is always a threat to federal authorities.

c. The Federal Police, numbered in few thousands, are highly effective in its rapid response, is quick to be mobilized and well trained in crowd control. However, this force’s capability, discipline and morale is in decline because they are underpaid while mostly stationed in camps within in major cities.

d. The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) is believed to have an extended network of agents. But it relies on the Federal Police for muscle which is a source of tension between the leadership of the two agencies. NISS has been expanding and actively recruiting for its new branch of IT security.

The TPLF has built an impressive intelligence apparatus during its rebellion years but the quality of its intelligence has been in a steady decline since they took power. Currently, as part of Meles’ strategy to secure their loyalty, the primary concern for many leading agents is accumulating wealth, through extortion, land sale, and partnership with the black-market sector. Credible sources indicate that, they are busy running their own personal affairs; most agents cook up Intel that is passed on to the politicians. For example, the botched Somalia operation was largely attributed to such problems. It was under the agency’s nose that a top general recruited hundreds of soldiers and defected to a rebel movement. Agents often fail to identify actual rebel operatives, and instead roundup innocent citizens to present to their bosses. Strangely, during last year’s reshuffle Meles has put the NISS under direct control of the Prime Minister’s office indicative of the lack of confidence in the top spy chiefs. Nevertheless, this organ is quite loyal to the system and possibly the last to defect. Yet its culture of Intel fabrication and the widespread corruption works against the status quo.

e. The Ethiopian National Defense Force is combat tested and is relatively in good shape but lacks experience in dealing with civilians. It has been expanding officer’s colleges and also increased production of its own light weaponry. But due to poor infrastructure and outdated vehicles, its tactical mobilization is rated poor. Yet there are several units stationed in barracks within close proximity of the capital. Thanks to Meles’ deeply anti-military sentiment (due to fear of a coup) the morale of the soldiers is low. They draw a small salary from the regime and the rising cost of living has made it difficult, particularly for long serving career officers. Due to perceived ethnic favoritism, mutinies and high profile defections have been taking place. The regime has responded by purging or ‘grounding’ almost all Oromo and Amhara senior officers and replacing them with Tigrean loyalists. This strategy might have prevented potential coups but makes the regime extremely vulnerable to nonviolent strategies. Since the majority of the soldiers feel marginalized, they identity with the grievances of the people, likely to turn on the system on the first sign of weakness on the part of the regime.

Overall, the state of Meles’ forces of coercion is favorable to the resistance than the status quo. Meles knows prolonged crisis will expand the crack and weaken his position. Therefore, he is likely to try intense and deadly repression during the early stage. Below are few strategic recommendations for the resistance organizers to reduce the efficiency of security forces

• Self-restraining and organized action, nonviolent discipline are vital for co-optation

• Increase direct or indirect contact with the military, police and security

• Maximize social contact between the military personnel and population in order to keep them informed and engaged

• Communication should be strategic

o Providing reassurance about their personal and institutional future

o Warning about personal accountability for their action or inaction

o Appealing to their humanity ( future of the children, etc)

• Physical barriers could also be used to reduce mobility of security forces

*Jawar Mohammed is an independent researcher and a recent graduate of Stanford University. He can be reached for comments at; you can also access his articles at or on OPride – Jawar’s Corner.

Part II: Social Fragmentation and Civil Resistance


  11:01:34 pm, by admin, 2498 words  
Categories: Ethiopia

During the Revolutionary Wind of 2011, No Dictator is Safe

During the Revolutionary Wind of 2011, No Dictator is Safe

By Hassen Hussein

February 25, 2011
- The unprecedented street protests sweeping North Africa and the Middle East have toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt. Three more undemocratic rulers--- Yemen's strongman Ali Saleh Abdella, the monarchy in Bahrain, and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi--- are precariously hanging to ropes suspended above a raging river of protests and those ropes are fast decomposing.

Initially, Tunisia’s strongman responded forcefully with a brutal crackdown. But what began as a small and regional protest rapidly exploded into a national torrent of outrage. Ben Ali then tried desperately to mollify the masses with sweet promises of reform, putting on a charm offensive by visiting Mohammed Bouaziz, the young man who immolated himself in protest against police brutality and unemployment and ignited the fury, in the hospital before he died. The tide of the protest continued to rise. Finally, the military was forced to ease Ben Ali out of power.

A month after Ben Ali was given a safe passage to Saudi Arabia; protests began in Tunisia's Eastern neighbor, Egypt, the nerve center of the Arab and African world. Egyptian authorities reacted with contempt: Egypt, they argued, was different. Pundits echoed the same sentiment. A few days into the protest, Secretary of State Clinton proclaimed that "the Egyptian government was stable", a statement she would quickly regret. Eighteen days after her proclamation, the Egyptian dictator, whose sophisticated security state had been bankrolled by the U.S, was forced to bow out.

Mubarak had thought the new protests were like the many others he had easily suppressed in the past. When he realized the real magnitude of the threat, he also tried to appease the protesters by presenting himself as the quintessential soldier-father of his nation and begging to be allowed to serve out his remaining six months in office and then retire with dignity. The crowd would have none of it. Even when all failed, Mubarak believed he could always count on his fellow generals in the army. The latter would have none of it, either: their far-flung business interests, the institutional prestige of the armed forces, and above all the determination of the protesters weighed too heavily against the meager benefits of siding with an out of touch, stubborn leader whose days were clearly numbered. Moreover, the youth protesters dangled before the army an offer it could ill afford to refuse: the prospect of having the final word on the future of Egypt.

Ben Ali and Mubarak played many cards in their sleeves to sniff out the revolution. The fear of "terrorism" was fanned to scare off the U.S and its Western allies. The menace of an Islamic revolution was invoked not only to divide the society but also to frighten Israel into pressuring the West. The protesters were cast as agents of one or another enemy. They were called a malcontent minority. It issued a stern warning that the silent majority, who allegedly overwhelmingly supported the regime, would flood and reclaim the streets. In Egypt, a few hundred rowdy thugs were unleashed on the protesters in a Tahrir square, the epicenter and symbol of the revolution. A generational war was to explode, the authorities blurted. The youth were portrayed as gullible troublemakers. The specter of civil war, mayhem, and anarchy was raised. But the protesters refused to relent. Instead, they became more defiant and having run out of tricks, Mubarak, like Ben Ali, was forced to give up power.

The wily survivor in Yemen tried to make an early strike, declaring that neither he nor his son would run for president in 2013. However, when unrest still erupted, the security forces responded brutally. But they failed to make the storm to subside. Ali Saleh Abdella attempted to foment tribal animosities. Promises of reform were made. But none of this is likely to stem the rising tide of protest. As in Tunisia and Egypt, the regime’s collapse is only a matter of time.

In Bahrain, the regime made a bid to buy off the public before protests broke out by doling out free money. When the protesters gathered anyway, they were greeted with heavy-handed reprisals. Using force and deploying it early was the lesson the monarchy drew from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The protesters did not budge. Rather, the resulting casualties’ poured fuel on the fire as funeral processions swelled the protesters ranks and emboldened them. The authorities then surprised everyone by withdrawing their forces to the sidelines and offering an olive branch, but the numbers of protesters kept rising and their demands became more and more pronounced. Then came another failed round of repressive violence.

The protests that are sweeping North Africa and the Middle East have diverse local roots. While all of the countries in turmoil have been governed by repressive, undemocratic regimes for decades, the economy in Tunisia and Egypt had grown at a moderate rate recently. However, in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, the poorest Arab country, the fruits of any economic gains were skimmed off by tiny elites with lucrative political connections, creating a long simmering resentment among the vast unemployed and underemployed highly educated youth in these countries.

While political grievances formed the roots, it was the rising costs of living and economic worries which galvanized the cross section of the population. This is also true to some extent with the uprisings in Yemen.

Bahrain is totally different in the sense that it is a wealthy country, with one of the highest per capita income. However, at issue were not only disparities in the distribution of wealth but also political power between the Sunni minority and Shia majority.
Libya is a total outlier. As an oil rich country, the public relatively enjoyed a comfortable living. Income disparity was not as grave as the rest of the Arab states. Besides, the Libyan regime had been no friend of the West, unlike the regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain. Gadafi’s idiosyncratic mode of autocracy was also considered by some to be benign compared to Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen. It is also peculiar in the sense that it had no obvious and serious opposition.

Libya is also an odd ball because the rebellion was swift, almost a lightning speed, catching the authorities unawares as was the regime's reaction, deadly, cruel, and abhorent but futile. The use of vicious and lethal force, including heavy weaponry, planes, mercenaries, and what not, seems to be perhaps the primary reason that has undone the Gadafi regime, which is all but finished. The thunderous response vowed by the regime has come to pass creating a river of blood. However, rather than breathe precious life into the generic regime or scaring the populace into sumbission, it spelled its imminent decomposition. By so doing, the family that ruled Libya for the last 42 years assured itself the fate of Caucescou or Najibulah.

What becomes apparent from the above is that promises of reform, intimidation, manipulation, and deadly force are ineffective in subduing the revolutionary fervor. These methods served only in exacerbating it.

The world has a recent experience with such tectonic social upheavals. Starting in 1989, the former Socialist block in East Europe, a system that alienated, repressed, and crushed the spirit of their people for fifty years, collapsed like a house of cards. Neither promises of reform nor deadly force were enough to satisfy the hunger for freedom.
The wind of revolution of 2011 has not run its course. No regime built on repression everywhere in the world is immune from it.

The next inevitable and almost certain earthquake is not far from Egypt. Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa, sits at the very center of the fault line. The minority Tigrean dominated overlords in Ethiopia are known for brutal response to street protests as well as dissent. In 1992, a year into its reign of twenty years, it chased OLF, a party that spoke for Ethiopia's largest political community, the Oromo, out into the bushes when it knew that its battle-earned victory was about to be snatched at the ballot box. This was followed by years of brutal repression bordering on genocide. The suppression of dissent is not confined to the vast Oromo country. Ogaden, the Sidama (Awasa), and Gambella saw bloody reprisals. The South, a real mosaic of diversity, was battered in election-related clashes between locals and the Tigrean hierarchy. In 2005, it quashed the CUD, a party dominated by the Amhara, Ethiopia's former rulers and the second largest political community, killing 192 protesters in broad daylight in the capital. The ruling party reached the nadir of its arrogance, and the start of its downhill slide, when it rigged the 2010 election to "win" by a whopping 99.6% margin.

Ethiopia's rulers sit atop a restive population aggrieved by extreme repression, extreme economic deprivation, and extreme domination of the majority by a tiny minority. The economy is ailing. The exhorbitant cost of living is becoming unbearable.
The authorities are banking on the loyalty of its huge security establishment and an ethnic army as the first line of defense. The regime's ultimate weapon is however the country's national, religious, and political diversity, a fertile goldmine which they have been exploiting successfully--- heretofore.

Given his stubbornness, Meles is unlikely to introduce reform. He believes his street cleverness would enable him to cheat fate once more and ride out the storm. Even if he made a gesture, few would find it credible.

The only problem is that as we learned from the experiences of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and now Libya, these tactics, while potent, are no guarantee of success in stamping out people's aspirations for freedom.
Meles has been able to pit the two largest communities, the Oromo and the Amhara, to maintain his highly detested and reviled reign. At other times, he frightened the minority ethnic groups into its arms by presenting the risk of being marginalized by the two giants, the Oromo and Amhara.

As all dictators, he feels the methods, such as divide and rule, intimidation, scare tactics, and violence that had been highly effective would continue to serve him well.
The fact of the matter is that we are dealing with new phenomena. The jinie is out of the bottle. Meles has many choices. For one, he could play a Gadafi. Two, he would warn hell itself would break loose, going as far as allegging that Al-Shabaab would overrun the African Union contingent in Mogadishu. Furthermore, he could threaten the Amhara with the break up of Ethiopia by the Oromo and to the latter, the return of Amhara domination. The propaganda machine would be busy with talk of civil wars, Rwanda-style genocide, and an economic melt down.

If the events in North Africa give any indication, none of these schemes are likely to deter and forestall a gathering storm in Ethiopia. The only unknown is how Meles would respond: a Mubarak, a Ben Ali, a Saleh, or a Gaddafi.

The TPLF's military performance has been stellar, both against foreign enemies, domestic armed groups and civilian subjects. Chances are Meles would pull a Gaddafi. When he does, there is a little rarely talked about incident that protesters can draw valuable lessons from. This comes from April 1991. The place is the town of Ambo in Oromia, 100 miles west of the capital where civilians defeated the TPLF rebel army, chasing it out of town, derailing, even if briefly, its march to power. A repeat of an Ambo-like uprising all over the country is sure to not only blunt the edge of TPLF's military and security prowes but also chase it out of power. Besides, the police, the security forces, and the army are irredeemably and irrepairably plagued by internal division as to offer the TPLF much comfort. TPLF's first line of defense is not a solid wall but rather a hallow facade ready to crumble with strategically coordinated, all-rounded, distributed, and sustained pressure.

It is incumbent on the opposition at home and abroad to immediately enter into dialogue to allay debilitating anxiety about the future, the main obstacle to breaking the fear barrier, by agreeing to a simple platform: the departure of Meles and forming an all-inclusive and broad-based caretaker government. This entails bridging the divergent narratives and a firm belief in our capacity to jointly chart a new mutually agreeable future. In the past, reconciling our divergent aspirations and narratives has been impossible. However, in a time of revolution nothing is impossible.

Victory in this difficult and trying journey requires mobilizing all our material, financial, intellectual, and physical resources. We already have all the resources needed. However, these resources are scattered. Thus heeding Rousseau’s timeless dictum that human beings “. . . cannot engender new forces, but only unite and direct existing ones, they have no other means of preserving themselves than the formation, by aggregation, of a sum of forces great enough to overcome resistance” is vitally important to overcome the many obstacles that would crop up here and there. Those at home need to work in tandem with those abroad. Obviously the youth at home need to take the lead. But the diaspora has a moral responsibility to share in the sacrifices.

While preaching freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights, the international community has been financing tyranny in Ethiopia. We can hardly count on their support. In fact at the outset, we can safely expect them to persist in their emphasis on the false sense of stability provided by the regime at the expense of the aspiration of the people for freedom, democracy, and justice. However, by persevering in the face of the huge sacrifices that our yearning for freedom and democracy demands, we can present the conscience of the international community with a clear moral choice: whether to side with the people or with tyranny, even on its death throes. What we can assure the international community is that the success of people power in Ethiopia, which I believe is all but certain, and, more importantly, the triumph of freedom and democracy there would go a long way in righting the many wrongs afflicting the troubled Horn of Africa region.

The going is bound to be tough. The pain and suffering caused by EPRDF’s determination to cling to power at all costs would be enormous. But we shall prevail at the end. For this to become a reality, we all need to work together across all the divides, freed of mutual animosities, mistrust, ignorance, stereotypes, fixation on past history, dismissing the suffering of others and taking one’s own opinions as the only and eternal truth, and political dogma.

As a people we deserve much better than the starkly depressing binary choices the status quo offers: repression or disintegration. The time to not only remove the dictator in Finfinne/Addis Ababa but also to heal Ethiopia's age-old ills—inequality, injustice, repression, domination, centralization and concentration of power, exploitation, and marginalization of the majority—is not tomorrow but rather today; not later but now.

Enough with tyranny! Beka-gaye!!


  11:53:01 pm, by admin, 3566 words  
Categories: Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Can We Go Egypt on the TPLF Government?

Ethiopia: Can We Go Egypt on the TPLF Government?

By Olaana Abbaaxiiqii* - For eighteen full days, Egypt shook the whole world. Those brave Egyptians inspired us; we were glued to our television sets and watched their every move; we envied them, rejoiced with them and felt their pain; and when finally the dictator fled the city, we joined in their jubilation.

The aftershock of this earth-moving revolution had an immediate effect in North Africa and the Middle East. Movements of the people erupted everywhere, sending shiver down the spine of every authoritarian ruler on this planet. People’s power in action was paraded on TV, not to be ignored any longer. Dictator after dictator scrambled to quell the rising tide, some by outright massacre and some by giving series of concessions to preempt them. To date, the outcomes of these uprisings are not clear. But, the struggle is far from over. It will continue and will reach every corner of the world.

The question in everyone’s mind is, “could Egypt be replicated in Ethiopia?”

Even before Tunisia and Egypt, there was the amazing Oromo Student Movement of Fincila Diddaa Gabrummaa (FDG) of 2001-2005 that raged in most Oromian cities. However, except for some human rights organizations, not many people outside the county had heard about them. Because TV cameras were absent and also because they occurred mostly outside the capital city, where diplomatic corps and international organizations were nonexistent, the vicious suppression of Oromo students had not been adequately recorded and reported; the world did not see or hear them; and thus they did not capture the imagination of the world.

Even though their impact on Oromo society was immense, and even if they garnered huge sympathy from Oromos of all walks of life, beyond becoming a student movement, this movement had failed to bring on board the larger Oromo population to rise up along with it. Not surprisingly, student movements in other parts of the country also went missing during this period. Not a single non-Oromo student organization demonstrated or passed a resolution in support of the Oromo Student Movement, and most Ethiopian websites also chose to ignore them. The historic Oromo Student Movement was finally crushed after several students had been killed. The lesson learnt has been that an Oromo student movement, not supported by other sectors of the society, is powerless against an entrenched repressive government.

Just when the Oromo Student Movement was waning down, the 2005 election and the massacre that followed suit occurred in Addis Ababa. The Addis population, without any clear leadership, but inspired by CUD, rose up against the TPLF government en masse. Here again, long before Tunisia and Egypt, the younger generation of Addis used the new medium of the time, texting, for the first time to mobilize the population. They confronted the TPLF regime in a heroic manner, but in its usual fascistic manner, the government, mobilizing its Agazee force, acted swiftly and cruelly and killed more than 200 individuals in one day in broad day light in the capital city. Tens of thousands were also imprisoned. Addis Ababa was very tense for about fifteen days. However, the movement did not persist for long, and it did not progress to other cities, and it was finally crushed. Again, because these killings did not occur under the glaring light of TV cameras, they did not capture the imagination of the international community. However, because they occurred in the capital city, they did get the attention of Western governments and international organizations, and they did create some kind of a buzz and temporary rift between TPLF and Western governments.

Even though there were some scattered unrest among Oromo students during the 2005 massacre, by and large the Oromo population was missing from the 2005 uprising. Around this time, Meles, in his usual Machiavellian scheme, invited back the OPDO to Addis Ababa from Adama, where he had banished them previously. Around the same period, he also gave an interview to the media and hinted that he was negotiating with the OLF to bring it back to the legal political process. His intention was clearly to dampen the morale of the Addis Ababa population that rebelled against him and to create a wage between the Oromo and the Amhara.

Several lessons are learnt from the 2005 failed uprising. First and foremost, a movement confined only to Addis Ababa cannot remove an entrenched government like the TPLF. Second, an international community cannot be relied upon to remove the TPLF. They could pass some resolutions and give some warnings, but will continue to do business as usual with TPLF when things cool down. And third, to remain in power, the TPLF will not refrain from taking the risk of instigating a civil war by pitting the Amhara against the Oromo, and vice versa. Finally, it exposed the weakness of the TPLF that it is ruling, not mainly because of its strength, but due to the division between forces that are against it.

Political structure in Ethiopia is ethnic based. All the major nations/ethnic groups, even if controlled by TPLF and its stooges, have their own administrative areas. Amharas have the Amhara State, and Oromos have Oromia. Besides, even though Addis Ababa is located in Oromia, because it’s culturally and linguistically by and large Amhara; it’s counted in the Amhara column. Unlike Eskinder Nega’s assertion, Addis Ababa is not a big melting pot where everyone comes, loses their identity and acquires a distinct Addis Ababan identity. It’s a city where non-Amharas come to and, within a generation, lose their own identities and become Amharanized. Addis Ababa’s identity could be different from other Amhara identities as the Gojjam Amhara is different from the Shewa Amhara identity, but it’s all the same Amhara.

Addis Ababa is the center of Ethiopia in many aspects. It’s the seat of the centralized nominally-federal government – with all its repressive machines. It’s the commercial and financial nerve center of the country. It’s by far the biggest city in the country with a population of more than three million. The highest concentration of educated elites and the middle-class is found here. Addis Ababa is also the home of highest concentration of industrial workers, college students and educated unemployed. Unemployment is rampant; life is expensive; and the population is very young. It’s the seat of the African Union, Embassies, and international organizations. From the very beginning, Addis Ababa hated TPLF by whom it was also hated. Addis Ababa showed its revenge during the 2005 election when it elected the opposition party members to all the 138 seats, but one. TPLF punished it for this act by killing more than 200 of its inhabitants. Still today, Addis Ababa and TPLF do not see eye to eye. All in all, most of the elements necessary for a popular uprising exist in Addis.

But still Addis Ababa is not revolting. Eskinder Nega, in his recent article, appears to argue that ethnic consideration is not a factor that is holding back the Addis Ababans from revolting. I disagree. It’s an elephant in the room. However, even his raising this question and writing an article about it is a proof that this is something in the back of the minds of most Addis Ababans, vexing them. Essential though Addis is, it’s not the whole country. Starting from the legacy of 2005 experience, most are not convinced that they can bring change all by themselves without the support from other parts of the country. And they are not at all sure especially if Oromia will follow suit if they start an uprising in Addis. It’s understandable where Eskinder is coming from. However, neglecting this fact is not helpful at all for the popular movement. The better attitude will be to recognize the problem and try to find the solution. Unless we recognize it as a problem, we cannot start thinking about the solution.

Recently, two articles have appeared on; the articles advise Oromos not to get involved with an uprising that Addis Ababans may launch. The first one specially argues that, because Oromos are not currently adequately prepared, they should not support an Addis Ababan uprising that could lead to empowering the Amhara. This reminds me of a story I heard long time ago. God appears to a man and tells him that He will give him anything he asks Him, but will also give double of what He gives him to his neighbor. Instead of trying to benefit from what is offered to him and asks for something good, the person rather wants to hurt his neighbor, and so he asks God to cut his foot so that both of his neighbor’s feet will get amputated. Instead of thinking “what do I gain from this,” we have unfortunately developed a thinking of “what does my enemy lose?”

It is amazing how some people fall into the trap that Meles has set up for them. They are singing straight from his book, and unwittingly accomplishing a role he has set up for them. It does not matter whether you shout colonialism, independent Oromia, etc. thousands of times each day and dream about free Oromia every night. What matters is not your wish, but the consequence of your act. As long as your acts contribute to TPLF’s remaining in power, you are serving the regime. To remain in power, Meles has to divide the Oromo and the Amhara.

Therefore, anyone, who is serious about dismantling him, should do everything in his power to mend the relationships between Oromos and Amhara. It’s that simple. We should try to undo what enables Meles to remain in power. Before taking any action, we should seriously think whether we are doing what Meles wants us to do or not.

This is a critical time in world history. Wherever there is oppression, people are motivated and inspired by what has happened in Egypt/Tunisia. Instead of seizing the moment and inspiring our people to rise up, some of us prognosticate from afar and advise them that the time is not ripe. We tell them, “wait until we get ready.” It so unfortunate that we are trying to pour cold water over the long simmering tension in Addis Ababa. To say to the people of Addis Ababa at this specific moment that Oromos will not support you is the most damaging thing we can ever do. It’s a move that could kill the uprising before it’s born. Meles could not have done it better. “A single spark can set a prairie fire,” goes an old Chinese saying. Nobody can predict, with any certainty, what could trigger a whole uprising. A simple act could be a catalyst and inspire another action, which in turn could lead to a chain of actions and reactions that no one could foresee the result. A motivation from Egypt could lead to an uprising in Addis Ababa that could engulf the whole region and that could lead to the downfall of Meles or could lead to empowering the Oromos. No one knows when the time is ripe. Every pundit, who has tried the dangerous game of prediction, has failed to tell what could happen in the future. Never dampen the morale of the people. Even if you do not support the uprising of Addis Ababans as a matter of principle, which I find it rather puzzling, there is nothing that Oromos would lose from it and you should not be against it.

Instead of repeating by rot the now tired formula for Oromos, these writers, who try to give advices how Oromos should act or not act, should do some serious reflections and come up with new methods of struggle that can lead us to victory. The current state of our liberation fronts is not something we are proud of. Therefore, a new thinking is in order. More than anyone else, it is Meles and company who are rejoicing in reading these articles I am alluding to, because it’s exactly what they have been praying for. This is what he wants you to do, and by exactly doing what he wants you do, you have become a puppet in his hands. You do not have to love Meles in order to serve him. It’s high time that people sit down and realize who is currently in power. As long as we stop being obsessed with this Amhara thing, it is going to be very difficult to act from the high moral ground and coordinate our struggles with others.

And the second article argues that there is no condition that may lead to an Egypt-type of revolt in Ethiopia and advises that Oromos rather follow the Southern Sudan model. He further argues that the Egypt-type of popular uprising could occur only in a one-nation/state country and could not occur in the case of Oromia, where the system is imposed from outside. He is saying you can revolt against your own rulers, but not against a foreign occupier. I do not know if this writer had heard about India or many other countries that conducted anti-colonial urban uprisings. He also offers his advice that Oromos should follow the Southern Sudan model – without indicating that the South Sudanese had been very flexible in their method of struggle, including and up to working within the system and power-sharing.

A responsible individual, serious about the miseries our people are facing today in the hands of Meles, should not be engrossed in this false dichotomy between the Egypt or the Southern Sudan way. At the time when we are trying to inspire a popular uprising à la Egypt, to advocate only for the Southern Sudan way, is nothing more than putting cold water on a discontent about to catch fire. I am not saying Ethiopia is Egypt. I am simply saying we need Egypt for its inspirational effect. Do not dampen the morale of the people about to rebel by dabbling in unnecessary theoretical sophistry. We should not transport our lack of imagination onto the people. As indicated above, we do not know where a spark set in Addis could take us. The rich matrix of possibilities and consequence of life is beyond our pedantic thinking. We should rather send a firm and clear signal to the Addis Ababans that, if they revolt, then we, Oromos, will be right there with them.

I have gone to a great length above just to score one essential point. The greatest obstacle for Egypt-type of uprising to take place in Ethiopia is the animosity that TPLF is fanning between the Oromo and the Amhara. The fear is not that these two groups will massacre each other in the streets of Addis Ababa. The fear is that, when and if the Amharas revolt, the Oromos will not support them, and vice versa. This is the Achilles’ heel of the anti-TPLF popular resistance. This vulnerability should be overcome for the popular uprising to occur or have the intended effect. This is the time when the political leaders, elites, in fact all concerned about the welfare of our people – of every camp from every sector – try our best to resolve this intricate problem in a very creative way. Egypt should inspire us to come together and fight our common repressive regime. This is an opportune moment, but while we are indulging in unnecessary squabbles, we are running out of time.

Of course, nobody is suggesting Ethiopia is exactly like Egypt. Each country is obviously unique in its own way. On a general level or in some superficial way, there are stark similarities that everyone, who has commented on the possibility of a rebellion in Ethiopia, had pointed out. Both countries are ruled by despots for many, many years; and there are genuine grievances in both countries crying to be addressed.

It’s true that the Ethiopian army is not a national army in the true sense of the word. All the top echelon is totally manned by Tigrean officers, who, we assume, will be loyal to Meles to the end. It’s true that, without the role that the military has played in Egypt and Tunisia, the uprising would not have been easily successful. However, in Bahrain and Yemen, the popular uprisings registered important victories in spite of the army being staunchly behind the ruling governments. In Libya, even though the result is not clear, similar occurrences are happening. The moral of the story is that: yes, having the army totally behind the government makes popular uprising be extremely difficult, but it’s not an insurmountable obstacle. It should also be noted that, over the time, the composition of the TPLF army is changing. Even if, still today, the top brass are Tigrean officers, the privates and non-commissioned officers come from all sectors of the country. If popular uprising could persist for a prolonged period of time, there is no reason why this section of the army will not side with the people. Here comes into mind what some brave Oromo generals and soldiers did few years ago. In addition, the existence of Siye et al. in the opposition camp could also even divide the Tigrean-dominated army. However, for all this to happen, the uprising should not be an event of few days. To have an effect and to spread to all sectors of the society, it has be conducted over an extended period of time.

Some commentators make distinctions between pro-Western governments and others in the way they have dealt with rebellions in their respective countries. They indicate that pro-Western governments have constrained in dealing harshly with the opposition due to pressure they had faced from the US and European countries; and therefore, rebellions in those countries have become successful. It’s very hard to place the TPLF government in either camp. Even though Ethiopia, more than any country, is reliant on foreign nations’ largesse, it’s not accountable to their judgment. Meles parrots the Western words, but mimics the deeds of Stalin and Mao, his heroes. Due to the false image and importance it has created for itself as a result of the Somali crisis and the threat of terrorism around this region, TPLF has managed not to be responsive to external demands. It is Egypt and Libya combined together. Therefore, it may be freer than Mubarak’s regime to harshly deal with the uprising. However, it’s not as free as Libya because it has a lot to lose if it crosses the boundary of freedom the West has set for it.

Given the interest popular uprisings have generated in today’s world, it will be extremely difficult for the TPLF to conduct the massacre, as before, behind closed doors. This time the world will be watching. The moment the news of uprising is indicated, Al-Jazeera and CNN will be there the next morning. This could, to some extent, constrain the TPLF from being repressive as before. Meles’ instinct is to act like Sadam Hussein and Gadffi, and even use fighter jets against the people he rules, but the question is, could he take the chance of alienating the West, which, this time, if the killing is done over the TV, will be forced to cut their aid? This is anybody’s guess, but one thing for sure is, the international situation is much better conducive now.

Before I wind down, let me ask this. Where are the political parties? Where are the liberation fronts? All of them are missing in action. Or the better question is, who needs them when the people can liberate themselves without them. Or even the better question is, isn’t their absence a good thing? The legal opposition organizations in Ethiopia appear to have exhausted their importance to the people. Because they are so conspicuously identified by the security forces, they are the first to be the casualty of any uprising. They know this. Therefore, some have already started to avow their opposition to the Egypt-type of rebellion in Ethiopia. Even if such an uprising starts, to save their lives, they will be the first to try to compromise with the TPLF to stop the uprising. They have started to talk the language of the Constitution as if there is a valid and legitimate Constitution in Ethiopia. Therefore, the uprising should be conducted outside the control of the legal opposition. The liberation fronts and other opposition groups that are considered illegal by the TPLF should also refrain from playing active roles if an uprising is to occur. Their involvement will only give the TPLF a pretext to use more deadly repression. We see how the TPLF always tries to tie every grievance raised in Oromia to OLF so that it could categorize it as terrorism and justify its repression.

Even though the uprising in Egypt appeared to be very spontaneous, at the core of it were very much dedicated young professionals who had meticulously prepared and planned many things behind the scene. This is one of the major lessons that the Oromian/Ethiopian youth must take from the Egypt uprising. Study what they did, learn from them, adopt it to the concrete situation back home. It’s time to start getting ready. Do not expect the Diaspora will come and liberate you. Take your fate into your hands, and decide when you are ready. Let no one tell you the time is not ripe!

The writer, Olaana Abbaaxiiqii, can be reached at

  11:32:03 pm, by admin, 1185 words  
Categories: Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Engaging the Private Sector in Development

Ethiopia: Engaging the Private Sector in Development

By Berihu Assefa -
The long-term policy challenge of the Ethiopian government is to help the now weak private sector to be the engine of the economy. Capital formation (or new investment), the main source of growth, is largely and sustainably supplied by the private sector. Then, the big question is: how can policy makers help the private sector graduate to vibrancy and take the lead in the economy? In this article, I would like to argue that the best way to help the private sector flourish is to institutionalize Public-Private Dialogue (hereafter PPD), a forum for continuous consultation between the government and businesses, to solve business obstacles on a continuous basis. Attempt is made to explain the basic economic rationales for PPD in light of the developmental state model Ethiopia adheres to, and how it addresses the “long-term” policy challenge of the Ethiopian economy.

The Ethiopian industrial policy, which was drafted in 2002, clearly aims at making the private sector the backbone of the economy. However, a forum (or institution) that brings both the government and business owners to a constructive dialogue in an effort to achieve the goal of creating vibrant businesses has not been institutionalized until very recently. Due to the absence of such institutionalized joint-forum that properly addresses their business obstacles (related to loans, infrastructure, property rights, tax and land policies and regulations); we regularly see the business community demanding a direct talk with the PM himself. As a result, PM Meles held some rounds of discussions with them recently. But how often can the PM attend all their problems on a continuous basis? From institutional and practical point of view, this isn’t totally feasible.

It is only in the beginning of 2011 that the government and the representative of the business community signed a memorandum of understanding to officially start the joint-consultative forum right away. This is highly encouraging but it isn’t an end in and of itself. The government and the businesses should be quite clear that such joint discourses are mutually beneficial.

There are at least 3 solid rationales for why institutionalizing PPD is so important. First, I argue that PPD serves as a crucial mechanism to maintain a proper balance between the role of the state and the market. One of the commonly asked questions about state intervention is how the government cures ills of the market without compromising the position and viability of the private sector. Their territories (roles) can best be demarcated through joint-consultation. The discussions in the PPD offer an important opportunity to both the government and businesses. On the one hand, businesses can access information about investment opportunities and incentives and can discuss obstacles to their business with the government on timely basis at lower transaction cost. On the other hand, the government elicits information from businesses that helps it commit (or direct) its limited resources efficiently (or with minimal government failure) on productive economic activities. Without PPD, the government is likely to make more mistakes than more rights, in which case successes may not more than pay failures. In the language of economics, PPD may be viewed as an equilibrating factor that determines the proper (if not optimal) ‘state-market’ mix. If the state has to assume an active role in the development process, it has to get its actions right most of the times; and definitely the PPD helps to do that.

Second, PPD also plays an important role in matching skills; i.e. it offers a crucial opportunity for the government to know what industrial skills are demanded by the industrialists, and accordingly produce these skills in universities, colleges and TVETs. In other words, the PPD helps the industry-academia linkage to work well, which will help universities and TVETs to produce what is demanded by the industrial sector.

Third, the interaction between businesses and government for mutual benefits requires continuity and regularity. Government information requirement and business requests and problems related to loans, services, infrastructures, tax and land vary with time. This requires continuous engagement – hence, PPD.

I visited some selected Korean Ministries and Public Think-Tanks in November 2010 to study the methodology of policy making in the country since the 1960s. Before the miracle happened on the Han River in the last 50 years, Korea then looked more like contemporary Ethiopia. One of the questions I asked to the officials of the Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE), counterpart of the Ministry of Industry (MOI) in Ethiopia, is that how they communicate with the private sector. They explained to me that there are three direct channels businesses can discuss with the government. First, government holds regular talks with associations representing businesses. Second, the government has a separate window that helps it to listen to and analyze individual businesses’ diverse requests and problems case by case. Third, there is wider forum that consists of government officials, businesses, researchers and academia that discusses when the government enacts new laws, regulations and policies.

As I argued above, done appropriately and committed, PPD will definitely create business friendly environment by aggressively tackling the business obstacles. Similar to the Korean case mentioned above, the government needs to have a separate window to address individual business’s diverse requests on a case by case basis.

Ethiopian government officials show Keen interest in learning the East Asian economic model. Particularly, the experience of Korea is much chanted in Ethiopia. The East Asian model is well established as an alternative to the neoliberal model of development. When developing countries emulate this model, much emphasis is given only to the degree of customization needed in order to fit the local conditions. Yes, customization is important; but there is another subtle concern which is equally important: complementarity.

Many of the policy tools of a certain model are complementary to one another; and hence would bring better results when applied together. Therefore, all the good experiences need to be adapted as a cluster. For example, one of the prominent policy tools learned from East Asia is directing credit to productive industries by the government. To do that, the government needs PPD and lower interest rate policy. In Asia, the Iron Triangle, a profound relationship between government, business and banking, led to the success of the directed credit policy. At the heart of the Iron Triangle is the PPD.

In conclusion, yes, institutionalizing the PPD should be among the priorities, but at the same time allotting a separate window (may be in the MOI) for a case by case treatment of business requests will make Ethiopia’s effort to engage the private sector in development robust and complete. Especially, the fact that Ethiopia adheres to the ‘developmental state model’ and the fact that the current industrial policy that expanded from supporting only exports to adding import substitutes to the existing policy menu makes the PPD a priority. Only then will the private sector wake up and assume the engine of the Ethiopian economy; and the long-term policy challenge of the Ethiopian economy would be adequately addressed.

Berihu Assefa is a PhD candidate in Development Economics in GRIPS, Tokyo and a contributor to

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