Smelling the Winds of Change Blowing from North Africa

The Ethiopian regime is taking a precautionary measure to preempt the agitated public from smelling the winds of change blowing from North Africa.

While EPRDF members of the rubber stamp parliament are canvassing their constituencies,  regional and zonal leaders from the vast Oromo country are holding secret meetings with none other than the Prime Minister. The discussion has been going on for more than three consecutive days. The focus is how to contain the volatile situation in the country fueled by rising prices and the contagious example of North Africa.

In a change of tactic, the parliamentarians put on a customer-service approach of asking the public what the government can do to help. Regarding the uptick in the cost of living, the lawmakers responded that the Amhara, whom they claim to be dominant among the business community, for hoarding goods to put pressure on the government to realize its long-held political ends.

There rumors that one of the gimmicks considered by the regime is to sow discord among the Oromo and Amhara by officially changing the name of Addis Ababa to its Oromo name, Finfinne. There is also talk of returning Oromo cities currently out of the jurisdiction of the Oromia regional state.

Amazingly, the message box reads differently in the Amhara region. Parliamentarians from the latter are told to relay to their “constituents” that the Oromo are threatening to exercise the right enshrined in Article 39 to secede from Ethiopua and form their own state.

Those who are tasked to rally support for EPRDF were seen to be dumb founded when asked tough questions from the public. To overcome the embarrassment, some are said to badger their superiors as to what to respond if asked this or that question.
Meanwhile the government has been busy jamming opposition radio transmissions. Popular international media such as Al-Jazeera are also blocked. ESAT, a new 24 hour TV program in Amharic, has also been the target of this effort. 

Oromsis Adula’s Comments:

Eight long months before the now forgotten 2010 Ethiopian Election, in Meles Already Told You: Why So Much Huffing and Puffing Now, I wrote the following;

In modern African history, we can count with our fingers how many leaders were changed through a peaceful transfer of power. Many have managed to rule African states since the days of independence. Scores of African leaders have looted resources, massacred innocent civilians, and few are facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity at the International Tribunal. Ethiopian history is a testament to that fact. Never in the recorded history of that empire had a ruler peacefully and democratically gave up a seat of power. The harrowing history of Ethiopia although falsely glorified and distorted to the liking of Ethiopian elites, is full of coups and scenes of beheaded rulers.

A fairly significant reformation was in effect early in the 1990s. And comparatively speaking in some respects, things have gotten better under the current regime (although much of the repressions are covert and only happen after darkness has reigned). Yet, the current regime clearly signaled (long ago) the continuation of that cultural and historical tradition of clinging to power by all means necessary for as long as it is possible.

That was when Mr. Zenawi stated in one of his speeches to the parliament, his party won the control over Ethiopia with bullet through a bitter struggle and that it won’t give it up peacefully per ballot contest. At that time, the opposition that is now crying foul was on Meles’s revolutionary democracy bandwagon and it was mostly the Oromo that received the announcement with greater uproar. That time has passed and the last two elections proved to be a reality check for non-Oromo opposition groups as it was for most people (Ethiopians and otherwise).

Civil Disobedience Is the Only Way Forward in Ethiopia

In that article, I argued that peaceful struggle through election contest is practically and virtually impossible in Ethiopia. An all-inclusive and well coordinated civil-disobedience is the only viable option to rid Ethiopia off the TPLF regime. In our recent memory and throughout the known history of Ethiopian empire, students and other smaller pockets of the society have attempted, without a success, to disobey the government in order to force it to guarantee some citizenship rights. The student movements of the 1960s, many believe, pioneered the changes that happened since. Over the last eighteen years, Oromo students stood up to the current tyrants alone. With no outside or inside reinforcement, hundreds of them lost their precious lives to live bullets fired by cruel TPLF thugs.

In 2005, the opposition (mainly the now annihilated Coalition for Unity and Democracy) rallied the public in urban areas, at first, successfully. But then they were caught off guard and when the leaders were jailed, the public lost touch with the leadership. Since then, the TPLF regime has master-minded and run a successful campaign to dismantle the CUD party structure. And they have done a darn successful job in keeping the once strong opposition group at bay. Just like the Tigrean led regime of Addis Ababa, the people of Ethiopia and Ethiopian opposition groups, need to learn lessons from the past two elections. For starters, the opposition needs to give up ownership of peaceful protests and other non-violent resistance to the people, instead of creating what seems a cult of personality and an interest group owned by a single organization.

The non-violent revolution that swept despots in North Africa was largely successful because there was no one leader on which the movement’s success depended. A group of well-trained and organized youth leaders made it impossible for the regime to single out the movers and shakers of the revolution.

In Ethiopia, every time there was a student uprising in one part of Oromia region, Oromo students at every corner of the country took it to the streets in solidarity with their fellow students. The non-Oromo Ethiopian students went to classes normally. When Oromo students were dismissed in sheer numbers, for others life went on uninterrupted. In light of recent developments north of the country that is the mistake Ethiopians cannot afford to repeat.

Under the current minority junta, as the political environment changed, the demographic pattern in terms of access to political power has drastically shifted. It used to be the case that some sections of Ethiopian ethnic groups were favored. But now, everyone, except for few Tigrean elites, seems to be feeling the heat that the Oromo had felt for well over a century.

For some groups, especially the Amhara, the Meles era marks a beginning of new experience with alienation from power. Even then, the peasants and rural dwellers in the Amhara region may not have been as fortunate as the elites. But the difference is that the peasants were never forcefully subdued, massacred, harassed, and humiliated because of their ethnicity, cultural and linguistic background because it was primarily the Amhara elites who were doing all the wrongs onto others.

A year and half after I wrote the above excerpt, Ethiopians from all stripes of life, especially the youth, are yet to adjust to the new reality. The Ethiopian youth, future heir takers of the country, faces some stark choices. To follow down the path that got the country into the current abyss or to make a departure from it by charting a new, inclusive, and more democratic future for the country.

The elites, for far too long, dragged the reformation project along a path that lead to nowhere. Given the current revolution fever, the Ethiopian youth must be empowered and find its voice in the society. A society that is not accommodating them and their growing needs. As the rest of the world moves forward at a hyper-speed pace, Ethiopians remain poor, unconnected, and uneducated.

Amid a growing high inflation, massive unemployment, and low quality of education, the youth are increasingly resigning to their fate – depicting their situation as a curse from the gods. But as seen in North Africa, it doesn’t have to be. The Ethiopian youth, just as the historic student movement of 1960s, can rise up in one voice and recoup its rightful place.

In recent days, a lot has been said about the similarities and differences of the dynamics at play between Ethiopia and Egypt.  For example, the success of Egyptian revolution, in large part, is attributed to the Egyptian military’s neutral stance. The Egyptian forces, clearly stated from the outset that their role is defending the nation’s sovereignty as opposed to a hodge-podge of party loyalists dominated by hand-picked generals in Ethiopia. The concern is real but grossly diminishes the role of the army at large.

The Tigrean generals cannot fight the battle alone. The makeup of the army is undoubtedly representative of Ethiopia’s multi-ethnic composition.  At the event of a popular and sustainable non-violent resistance, I am inclined to believe the army, perhaps not the generals, will be on the side of the people’s movement. There are several reasons for this

  •  There is a growing discontent within the army about promotion, demotion and deployment.
  •  The concentration of army leadership in the hands of Tigrean native’s raises serious concerns for others equally qualified soldiers 
  • With ever-present tensions of conflict around all the country’s borders (Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea, Djibouti and Sudan), there has always been some level of unhappiness about rotation, vacation and benefits.

I am not naïve, the Ethiopian army is more likely to use force against peaceful dissenters. It was witnessed in the aftermath of the 2005 election and on many occasions in and around Oromia. But emerging cracks within the army’s rank and file offer reasons to be optimistic.

Another popular argument why the Egyptian model will not work for Ethiopia is the role of media and international community. It has been said that as much as the Egyptian youth were prepared to leave the Tahrir square only dead or free, social media and the mainstream western media amplified the pressure on the Egyptian ruler. With the exception of Al-Jazeera, the Egyptian youth utilized social networking sites and mediums like Call-to-Tweet Services to get around the Internet blackout. But broadly speaking, if anything, the Egyptian revolution mystified a popular belief about the role of international community and media.

Egypt is a long standing aid darling much the same way as Ethiopia. Leaders of the free world were forced to walk on a thin ice between upsetting the status quo and supporting a unanimous aspiration for freedom. The Egyptian youth paid them no attention. The fight for justice, dignity and freedom went ahead with or without American support. The backdoor dealings with Egyptian autocrats – their subsequent concessions – were not what the protesters wanted.

Ethiopians must also wake up and smell the truth about the immateriality of an outside influence. The Ethiopian diaspora, the western media, and the international community can only do so much from afar. It is very crucial to get organized around common issues, disregarding the usual cutthroat ideological divergences, to force the Tigrean oligarchy to relinquish power. Up until the day of his departure, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt topped the list of invisible dictators. But leave, he did. There are great lessons that can be learned from Egyptian and other successful non-violent movements.

Here is a list of materials on Non-Violent Resistance, some of which were effectively utilized by the Egyptian youth. The Ethiopian youth may or may not follow the examples of their Egyptian counterparts. But most of the tactics laid out in these literature can be adopted – may not be usable as is.



About the author

Hassen Hussein

Hassen Hussein, a writer, teaches Leadership and Management courses at the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and can be reached at hxhuss10@smumn.edu.

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