Understanding the current protests in Ethiopia: A rejoinder Part II





By Minga Negash

In its September 3, 2016 update of the situation the pro TPLF website www.aigaforum.com reported that “the thugs” in the Amara region are being crushed by the military and the regime’s western allies are condoning the action. The site also revealed that the TPLF/EPRDF is ready to repeat its past strategy of making “concession” to one of the demands raised by Oromo nationalists. Whether these will quell the protests in the Amara and Oromo regions, allow the regime to escape international justice, and get new lease on life remains to be seen. In my February 24, 2016 commentary on the Oromo protests, I argued that the capture of the Ethiopian state by singular cultural group has been untenable, and sooner or later minority rule has to give way for a more representative and decentralized form of governance. The protests in Oromia have now spread to the Amara region. It is the spread of the discontent that obliged the regime to resurrect its old strategy of repression and divide and rule.

The ongoing protests in Gonder and Gojam and the simmering anger in Wello and Northern Shoa indicate that the discontent against the minority regime is showing both qualitative and quantitative changes. There is a sense of solidarity among the protesters. The solidarity protests by the Diaspora brought different cultural groups together and there is a growing consensus that TPLF/EPRDF’s aggression must be checked and repulsed. Amara and Oromo political leaders are now talking about country level issues. Instead the two blocks are demanding ground breaking political reforms for managing diversity, respect for civil and political rights, mechanisms for prevention and management of territorial disputes, better form of governance, mechanism for unfettered free and fair elections, and fairer and just economic opportunities. In short the voodoos of TPLF/EPRDF’s political economy and policy of divide and rule have started to haunt it. Major political groups inside the country and in the Diaspora are talking about a faster “transition” to a post conflict political order and a “new constitutional patriotism”. Neither “pacification” nor blaming corruption nor purge within the ethnic coalition or resurrecting old tactics of divide and rule are likely to resolve the multidimensional conflict.

To reduce the risk of escalating the conflict, TPLF/EPRDF has to cease its monologue and deafening propaganda, bring forward better leaders from its ranks, unconditionally release political prisoners, repeal its repressive laws, return the army to its barracks, and take other confidence building measures. The roads for peace remain closed when political leaders are in prison and there is no credible international investigation that documents the damage. As Nelson Mandela once said “Only free men can negotiate, prisoners cannot enter into contracts”. Hence, the TPLF/EPRDF has to come to terms and acknowledge in no uncertain terms that the resistance is not created by thugs, chauvinists, extremists, terrorist or foreigners. It is a result of the failure of governance; it is the consequences of 100% election “wins”. It is the result of bad economics and population planning of the last 25 years. There are also reasons for the protesters’ choice of slogans and symbols. For instance, protesters in the Amara region value Ethiopia’s tricolor flag because it is a symbol of freedom, liberation, resistance against colonial rule and fascism as Dawit Wolde Girogis aptly articulated, unlike what some foreigners mistakenly think so. Pro-TPLF individuals, such as Mr. Mehari Ashenafi, trying their best, purposely but dangerously, describe as if the uprising is targeted against the entire Tigryan population. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The writing appears to create a story for infusing fear within this population group so that it endorses what TPLF/EPRDF is doing to the rest of Ethiopians. It is also parochial in that it presumes that TPLF/EPRDF alone is correct and indispensable for maintaining the unity of Ethiopia and creating peace with Eritrea. With the protests wide spreading, other Ethiopians are demanding noticeable solidarity with the resistance for the common good of all, or at least a demonstrable action that indicates disassociation with the tyranny and the wanton destruction. This is not uncommon in protest situations; we see it more commonly in labor strikes and wage negotiations. In other words our folks are facing a simple request for cooperation in restraining the TPLF/EPRDF and its ceremonial Prime Minister. This is not an unreasonable request. It is also rational for this and other population groups to join the protest. At the same time it is important to note that hostility to minority social groups derails popular revolutions, and if it exists, it must be condemned. The strength of the pro-democratic movement in part is measured by the protection it affords to minorities. In short minorities that control political power are facing the same problem that the Afrikaners faced in the late 1980s. The Afrikaner Broederbond (brotherhood) had no other home than the Afrikaans speaking population group. Similarly regimes that were toppled by the “Arab Spring” used minorities as shield. Therefore an uprising that does not cater for minorities is more than likely to face difficulties. The troubles in Iraq, Libya and Syria are in part the consequences of minority rules. Understanding the nature and scope of the resistance, the behavior of minority based political parties and the predicaments of minorities in times of conflict are therefore the keys for resolving the conflict, and a better post conflict political order.

Following Bruno Latour, reality is what the mob thinks is right at a given time. The reality is that the discontent is everywhere and the resistance in some parts of the country is backed by an armed response. The regime’s feared solders, the Agazi are being challenged by local militia. This trend is similar to the “militia phenomenon” observed in many of Africa’s conflicts. Furthermore, propaganda, stereotyping and ethnic slurs exacerbate the situation. It is important to note that the regime’s narrative about the conflict is similar to what other minority regimes played out in the past. For instance many of the lead scholars of apartheid (Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd and Dr. Daniel Malan) used to “rationalize” that the now defunct National Party was the “savior” of the Volk (people/ethnic group) and apartheid was a just political order. Today apartheid is dead but Afrikaners are alive and well and the National Party which had been run by the Broederbond for about 60 years quickly vanished as it was not able to stand the tests of democracy. Its die hard members created the Freedom Front, the front continues to contest elections, and the majority either abandoned active politics or joined the Democratic Alliance. The Democratic Alliance has been the main opposition during the last 20 years. Last month it won local elections in four major cities and administers the Cape Province. In other words, black South Africans had no interest in targeting white Afrikaners (minorities) and the anti-apartheid movement was against minority rule that was spearheaded by the Afrikaner Broederbond. Decoupling the members of the Broederbond from the population group was important. The situation in today’s Ethiopia requires a similar wisdom.
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