Tag Archives: Paris forum

The EPRDF should make or break, says Prof. Merera Gudina

7 Mar

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

Merera Gudina was among the speakers giving remarks at an event organized by the Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) in Paris on February 21. The event, organized by the independent research and debate institution dedicated to international affairs, brought together a number of prominent French Ethiopia watchers, including René Lefort who addressed on a variety of topics. Drawing on the first-hand experience in the opposition politics and as a student of political science, Dr. Merera, a professor at Addis Ababa University and the chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, spoke about the potential, challenges, and threats toward real democratic development in Ethiopia under Abiy Ahmed’s administration.

Dr. Merera started by offering summar of the complex events and the history of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), pinning down the causes of the four years of street protests that has propelled Abiy Ahmed to the throne on 2 April 2018.

The multiparty democracy, a federal system of governance and the ending of the command economy introduced by EPRDF miserably failed, Merera contended. One is the political engineering of the Peoples’ Democratic Organizations (PDOs) which he said were created by TPLF in order to restructure the Ethiopian state according to its own designs. “The PDOs miserably failed. They have lived under the domination of the TPLF. It was probably the old generation have read George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Their life was like that. All animals are equal but some are more equal than others. So until last year, they were in one way or another pushed around by their more dominant group in the EPRDF. This is the first major blunder of the TPLF, creating surrogate groups, which neither represent their own people nor serving well the TPLF itself but contributed for the last twenty seven years to the ongoing crises,” Merera said.

“The second is what we call the constitutional engineering by the TPLF, introducing what we have now as a sort of federalism which is neither federalism nor democracy. In fact, what happened was it became the mother of all problems, the ruling party’s ideology of revolutionary democracy, which is neither revolutionary nor democracy. The federalism which was introduced was devoid of democracy,” he added.

No less importantly, central to the current crisis of the Ethiopian State is ethnic federalism, which he described as neither federalism nor democracy. “The federalism which was introduced by the TPLF was devoid of democracy. So what we had was the British type of indirect rule. Mogzit Astedader, as we say in Ethiopian language, somebody who is not able to define his own livelihood, supported by others kind of thing. That type pf federalism failed to resolve the historical marginalization of some groups, such as the Oromos, much of the south. Secondly, it could not help one way or another, it created a new type of relationship between the various peoples of Ethiopia.

Merera underlined the so-called federalism introduced in 1991 and officially sanctioned in the country’s 1994 Constitution was opposed both by the marginalized groups as well as the so-called relatively better-off groups. He describes EPRDF’s conception of revolutionary democracy as one essentially based on democratic centralism, which means “there is no separation of powers, which means all independent institutions in the country, including the election board, the judiciary, the army, the police are controlled by one group. It means, what we call in political science, privatization of the state, serving the interest of one group. That is why you see massive corruption.”

Dr. Merera also talked about the non-competitive elections held from 1995 – 2015, which he described were neither free nor fair. He quoted Josef Stalin who used to say the people of Soviet: “You vote, we count.” That is the game. So the people of Ethiopia have been voting, the ruling party counting.

Especially after the 2005 elections, EPRDF has introduced a lot of unconstitutional laws, political registration law, media law, anti-terrorism law, electoral law of conduct, all kind of things. These were all aimed at fostering the domination of one group. It has encouraged the rise of a totalitarian state, which has caused crisis and widespread anti-government protests in the country, that have persisted for four years.

Daunting challenges

The EPRDF installed Abiy Ahmed prime minister on 2 April 2018, who has promised to chart a new course and embrace multi-party democracy. Abiy’s reform pledges have opened up some political space. Dr. Merera praised some of policies and strides made by the new administration, such as releasing thousands of political prisoners, including himself has been freed after more than a year in detention, opening political space to political parties inside the country, initiating several legal reform, that include electoral law, anti-terrorism law, civil society law, national dialogue.

But he went on to say: “Lack of unity among the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front members, regarding the pace and depth of the reform is becoming a major handicap.” For example, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which used to be the real ruling party, it appears, is resisting the change. They are accusing the central government of targeting the Tigrayans. “Not a small resistance, it can cost the country as a whole,” he said.

Emerging hostility between Amhara and Tigray regions

Another challenge creating uncertainty for the transition is, he added, “the emerging hostility between the Amhara wing of EPRDF and Tigray wing of EPRDF over the issue Wolkait Tsegede, Raya Azebo, and other issues. In fact, a sort of a cold war is emerging between the two. Certain areas, probably this is true, the Amhara group is saying the TPLF is arming the Kimant and probably the Agew next, against the proper Amhara. That confrontation is serious, dangerous for the two regions and beyond and it can bring down the EPRDF and can lead to major splits within the EPRDF. What is clear is a government within the government is being created,” he said.

“The third challenge is the confrontation between OPDO, to which Prime Minister Abiy belongs and the OLF, the major political force in Oromia and dgroup not yet laid down arms. Some sort of disarmament, negotiations is going on. The elders are trying to do what they could but it might take a long way to properly handle that situation.

Slow pace of reform

“The fourth important thing is the pace of the reform appears to be slow. It took about a year, still no tangible whatever on the ground. So this slowness of the reform, especially at a local level, nothing has been changed. The old robbers are still there. The criminals are still there. People in some areas are fed up to live with them, so which can invite trouble.”

The ailing economy

The fifth challenge, according to Dr. Merera, is the state of the economy, especially youth unemployment.” I think if the present change is worthy, whatever it is, it came with the blood of young people of Ethiopia, especially the young Oromos. Probably, if they don’t have anything to eat, they can turn to eat their own leaders. That is a critical case. Youth unemployment is very massive.”

Let the change to take its course

Dr. Merera underscored the enormous task ahead, saying they current EPRDF leaders were not elected by the people of Ethiopia. “Change has been imposed on them. I think the EPRDF should make or break. Unless EPRDF one way or another seriously take up this change, allow the changes to take its own course, then if it is trying to reverse the change, block the change, it is going to be a disaster for Ethiopia.”

He also called upon all stakeholders to “rethink about their actions, not to engage in anything that could take the country down in whatever way, for simply running after the dream of this group or that group in this delicate period.” For instance, he said, the present federal structure could not be reversed simply because some group wants too. “A lot of damage could happen on the ground. What we need to do it to democratize it as it lacks democratic content. Otherwise to reverse it is calling for civil war,” he warned.

The TPLF, which dominated the coalition before Abiy’s selection, and which seem ill-disposed toward the Prime Minister is no ordinary group, Merera said. “That group has been dominating Ethiopian politics for the last quarter of a century. They have the means, the money. They are in the military security structure. So, you would not simply wish away them.”

“In the interest of EPRDF, even in the interest of the country, TPLF leaders should allow the changes to deepen for all of us, including them. Otherwise, if they push this country into a further confrontation, state collapse like Somalia or Rwanda is a likely scenario. I don’t think they would be beneficiaries out of it. I think they should allow to this change take its proper course,” he concluded.


/Ethiopia Observer



%d bloggers like this: