There is no question that Ethiopia is at a crucial crossroads, stemming from the struggle for freedom and democracy that has entered a new and dangerous phase. Spontaneous and grassroots-led uprising, as we are witnessing in Oromia, the north, the south, and Addis, is the new norm. The Oromia uprising is definitely encouraging others, and given festering grievances in all regions, the unrests are only going to multiply, and sooner or later, engulf the whole country. The uprisings rocking Ethiopia emanate from the people’s accumulating anger with injustice, denial of freedom and liberty and the government’s failure to reform. As I said in a previous submission on this subject, since the uprisings are not driven by any defined political entity, the TPLF’s usual tactic of decapitating resistance by targeting opposition leaders is not going to work. The more the TPLF tries to crush the mushrooming unrest, the faster it’s going to multiple and get out of control like a futile game of “Whac-A–Mole.” The TPLF seems to understand this logic, hence its uncharacteristic and tactical retreat on some of the demands of the people. But the people have ample experience with the TPLF’s chicanery and may not fall for it.
Although the uprisings are scattered and appear exclusionist, they share fundamental similarities. They are a grassroots-led, defiant, and resolute repudiation of TPLF’s failed policies. But they also tell us a much deeper story that both the government and the opposition should heed – that the country is under severe stress due to structural governance problems, stemming from the short-sighted and irresponsible decision of the TPLF and its former allies to impose ethnic federalism in the diverse country some twenty years ago. The uprisings lay bare the abhorrent system’s failure and unfitness to address the people’s common enemy of injustice, poverty, and lack of freedom and liberty. The inescapable fact is that the failed system and the toxic environment it has spewed has become the single most important threat to the people, the nation, and regional peace. President Obama, in his speech to the Kenyan people last summer, zeroed in on this lethal threat to nationhood in this manner: “I want to be very clear here — a politics that’s based solely on tribe and ethnicity is a politics that’s doomed to tear a country apart. It is a failure — a failure of imagination.” (Bold and italics mine).
The TPLF’s ethnic policy on steroid promoted ethnic belonging at the expense of national identity for the past two decades. As a result, today ethnic loyalty has eclipsed common nationalistic feelings, and in many quarters, has become the primary form of self-identification, sadly, even in the expression of dissent against a common oppressor. Although the TPLF, bares the lion’s share of responsibility for the state of things in Ethiopia today, let’s be frank that the fractured and redundant opposition, which has failed so far to coalesce around a coherent and viable alternative, is not completely off the hook. As the saying goes, a crisis could be an opportunity and at the same time a challenge. The crisis rocking Ethiopia is no different, the opposition needs to step up and answer the call of history. The people’s movement is in a desperate need of an astute, farsighted and strategic leadership to bring together the scattered struggle and lead it to a decisive victory. The more the scattered crises drags on without the crucial strategic leadership it needs, it could morph into unintended and unpalatable outcomes. A rudderless, elongated struggle also means offering the TPLF desperately needed breathing space and opportunity to once again thwart the people’s yearning for justice, freedom and liberty, at least for the time being.
The opposition should learn from the failure of the TPLF’s ethnic experiment and devise a strategy for eliminating the structural governance problem the country faces once and for all through a process of sober reflection, negotiation, compromise, and reconciliation. It should also learn from the failures of the victorious CUD collation in the failed 2007 elections. As we all know, the CUD eventually succumbed to the TPLF’s mechanization after soundly defeating the later at the polls. It is time for the opposition to shed off its years of outmoded, fractured, and ineffective struggle behind and emerge with a visionary, broad-based, and inspiring coalition that gives confidence to all Ethiopians and the country’s obviously worried partners. This is not going to be easy but it can be done with forgiveness, commitment, fortitude and tenacity to start a new beginning.
One silver lining in the current turmoil is the encouraging signs of enter-ethnic rapprochement ushered by a shared sense of victimhood and destiny, which could pave the way for the collective redemption of all. This rapprochement should be encouraged and nurtured not only among elites but most importantly among the grassroots. The independent press, civil society, and religious and traditional organizations have crucial roles to play in raising public awareness, building enter-ethnic bridges, healing the festering wounds, and applying collective pressure on the government and the opposition to engage in dialogue to a peaceful transition.
Unfortunately, the TPLF has eviscerated the fledgling independent press and civil society after the botched 2007 national elections. Similarly, it has eliminated enter-ethnic social and fraternal platforms for collective action, such as independent trade unions and professional associations. It has coopted most religious organizations into dogmatic institutions devoid of practicing the fundamental essence of their teachings. Sadly, most have absconded their moral authority and responsibility by failing to defend victims of government violence and chastise both the government and the opposition into a compromise. The TPLF has also used various means to keep the Diaspora in check and prevent it from realizing its immense potential as a force for good. So in tandem with the search for a viable political solution befitting a diverse and important nation, one of the top priorities should be to develop a plan for urgently resurrecting and deploying crucial pillars of a healthy society in and outside of Ethiopia.