Letter #2 to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi

Dear Obbo Mallasaa:

As promised in my last letter, I shall attempt to convince you that you would be much better off creating a political space for the real opposition than pursuing your current path. I don’t harbor any illusion that you will heed my advice, but I am going to offer it anyway. Broadly speaking, I think you have the following four options. I have called them the impossible, the next to impossible, the most likely and the optimal options.

  1. Try and hang on to power by any means necessary. Impossible;
  2. Place a well trusted surrogate as the next prime minister, keeping the leadership of TPLF, until the EPRDF is the only alternative to choose from. Your grand political strategy, but next to impossible;
  3. Get booted by either a popular uprising, or a successful armed struggle, or a combination of both. Most likely;
  4. Create a genuine democracy where all the constituents have a say in the political process and assist in establishing some form of genuine democracy. Optimal, but unlikely.

The impossible option:

Your reckless military adventures in Somalia, saber-rattling against Eritrea, and stupefying bravado against Egypt are almost Napoleonic in their audacity. The casual observer can be forgiven for assuming based on these that you harbor the desire to maintain power indefinitely as a prime minister. However, I do not think you are deluded enough to entertain this as a possibility. I am certain you know that the idea of president for life is soon coming to an end even in the neighborhood, the main reason being it has no takers locally anymore. The population you have brazenly suppressed and exploited for the last two decades are saying enough to your tyranny and arbitrary rule. It must have come as a shock to you that different groups (Oromos, Amharas, Somalis etc.) are willing to put aside their political differences to take you down.

Strong men who came before you have largely been able to dominate the post-colonial African political scene, because they were able to exploit the legitimate national aspirations of the formerly colonized. Whatever rationalizations they came up with to stay in power (unity, territorial integrity, communism, imperialism, neo-colonialism etc.) have understandably lost their meanings to the hundreds of millions of Africans subjected to their misrules. The serious damages your predecessors left behind serve as powerful exhibits against tyranny.

You are attempting to use Islamic fundamentalism (the flavor of the month) to make yourself indispensable.  Thankfully, that has not saved your peers in North Africa and it will not be any different for you. The brave Egyptians and Tunisians might have just tipped the balance of power in favor of the oppressed that the new realpolitik of the globally powerful may be to err on the side of supporting people’s legitimate demands for freedom and dignity. Speaking of the Egyptians and Tunisians, the manner in which your enablers in the West dumped Mubarak and Ben Ali must have given you a chill; nothing personal: foreign policy realism demanded swift actions.

The nearly-impossible option

You are likely to announce sometime in the next two to three years, that you are not running for office, placing a well trusted PDO surrogate as prime minister in the hope that it would mollify the population. You will of course be the power behind-the-curtain as the leader of the TPLF. The key is the security and defense apparatus will continue to be dominated by you through your hand-picked and trusted comrades. Since you are an expert at these types of maneuvers, I doubt you would need any advice on how best to go about doing this. After consolidating power in this manner and establishing the TPLF turned EPRDF on a solid footing, essentially guaranteeing its existence well into the future, your work will be done.  Of course, you will also oversee the transformation of the EPRDF into, let me suggest, the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) at some point.  This is the most likely scenario you are contemplating.

To implement this grand political strategy, you have already laid the ground work by obliterating the real opposition, in effect imposing a one party rule making the EPRDF the only game in town with power bases in the rural population, sort of like the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan. It appears that informed by the remarkably successful experiences of the LDP over the past five decades, you have adopted elaborate patron-client systems, particularly at the local level. Your local boosters are utilized to keep a tab on what the ordinary person is saying and, most importantly, mobilize captive voters as needed. You couldn’t care less if the plurality of the population supports you, as long as you have the dedicated support of your well organized boosters, largely bought with resources you have been looting. Barring miracles, this strategy is not going to work either due to the following two main reasons:

First of all, a significant majority of Ethiopians will remain mired in extreme poverty for the foreseeable future, in spite of your best efforts. Just as you cannot wish the law of gravity away, the inescapable economic realities will soon expose your empty rhetoric of the so-called Growth and Transformation Plan, thus rendering the realization of your grand political strategy impossible. Almost by any measure, Ethiopia is near the bottom of the economic ladder for numerous reasons. It is going to take much longer than you claim to transform the place into a middle-income country. Building roads and a bunch of colleges does not constitute economic development, much as I admire those efforts. If you bear with me, I will explain in the accompanying letter (#3) why the country’s economic outlook is going to remain grim, particularly under your direct or indirect lordship. Suffice to say here that it is going to be impossible to sell the EPRDF as the savior of the country under these circumstances.

Closer to my heart, there is an elephant in the room that this political strategy seeks to circumvent. That would be the decades-old Oromo question. You can’t dodge it, nor fudge it. Your ad-hoc political formula of TPLF-EPRDF-EPDP has no room for the Oromo cause. You have never consulted our true representatives in crafting the formula. I wish to inform you that the formula is in direct conflict with our legitimate aspiration for liberty and freedom. Needless to say our aspiration is just and within the parameters of international law. We demand to exercise our rights of self-determination. We are not interested in playing second fiddle in our father-land any longer. We are potentially 40 million strong and our collective yearning for freedom will be heard sooner than you have planned.  Your vision trivializes our just demand by trying to get around it, only to make us even more dedicated to see your demise. Your grand political strategy is thus doomed.

The most-likely option

Even as you are persistently working for the realization of the aforementioned vision, you are facing a serious probability of getting booted either by a popular uprising, or a successful armed struggle, or a combination of both. If I were a betting person, I would put my money on the latter. Events are shaping up to soon make you, hopefully, the last tyrant who ever ruled Ethiopia. You will be defeated at both battles of Wits and Wills.

In fighting against an organized guerilla movement such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), it might have helped you for a season that you were in that position not long ago. I am certain your generals understand the pros and cons of being a guerrilla force better than most. I suspect you have been using this knowledge to your advantage more than anything else, including the readily assumed geo-political advantages you have. However, this knowledge is no match for what a guerilla force must understand and do in order to survive and thrive. As I am sure you know very well, a guerilla must continually employ ingenuity to achieve its goals. It would have to adapt more, improvise more, and stay more vigilant in updating its information set re: the strength and weaknesses, the likes and dislikes of the enemy than more conventional armies such as yours. You must have a sinking feeling that our brave fighters by now know the battle-field strengths and weaknesses of your occupying army than you know about theirs. I already sense that you don’t necessarily believe in the war exploits of your army as much as you used to. The plucky Somalis have tested the wits and limits of your generals, exposing their weaknesses. I believe that the OLF will teach them a decisive lesson, putting the final nail in your coffin.

I am certain that you are not going to defeat us at the battle of Wills either. Since you came to power, you have crossed ilmaan Oromoo in ways large and small. You have wrecked countless Oromo lives, spilled innocent Oromo blood: I promise you that some of us will work over time to bring this nightmare to a close. We will do whatever it takes to right the wrongs you are perpetrating against our people. We will fight you with everything we have got. We will defeat you at the battle of xiiqii as well.

The optimal option:

If you are as smart as they say you are, you will work to find an intelligent, forward-looking and genuine solution to the Oromo question. There will not be peace in the Horn of Africa until the Oromo question is resolved once and for all. You can save the country another round of bloodshed and destruction by opening the political space you have dominated for two decades, for the real opposition. A real democracy, which allows the true representatives of all the constituents in the country to have a say in the political process, is not inconsistent with the Oromo cause.

You must do this for the sake of the long-suffering population in Ethiopia and the surrounding region in general. If you heed this advice and change course, you just might salvage some positive reputation in the end.


Malkaa Guutuu

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* The author, Malkaa Guutuu can be reached at < malkaa.guutuu@gmail.com > for comments.



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