By Admassu Feleke
Let me premise my opinion by stating that a peaceful transition to a new government is always preferable than any one achieved through armed struggle; the assumption being, of course, that the transition is to a democratic form of government. But the main point I want to make is how the next “transitional” or “provisional” government should be fundamentally different from the ones we have experienced in our recent history.
Since the fall of the regime of Emperor Haile Selassie I, Ethiopia has experienced two transitional governments: the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC) or simply the “Derg”, later to become the Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia, and the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) which eventually recast itself as a coalition government known as the EPRDF. The rationales and objectives of these two transitional governments may appear on the surface to be similar, but as we will see, they are profoundly different.
Both aimed at establishing a mechanism to prevent the country from plunging into civil war and chaos. Both considered themselves caretaker governments constituted to foster the creation of a popularly elected governments. Both were engaged in drafting a constitution that would eventually serve as the foundation for our future polity and rule of law. But here ends their perceived similarities.
The Derg never pretended to be even remotely inclusive. It was overwhelmingly a military affair with the sole objective of maintaining law and order. And this, as a military administration would understand it to be. Either out of conviction or expediency it adopted Socialism as Ethiopia’s State doctrine without any formal referendum. Rather than inviting all aggrieved parties, i.e. the various liberation fronts and political opposition parties, to shape the course of a new Ethiopia, it mercilessly and unrelentingly waged war against them. It soon paved the way for the dictatorship of Mengistu Hailemariam and his disastrous administration we all have come to know and dread.
The Transitional Government of Ethiopia which lasted officially from 1991 to 1995, was the brainchild of the TPLF, and its creation as well as its objectives were substantially different from the Derg’s. It was glaringly clear to the TPLF from before its incursion into the capital, that it could never under any circumstances govern the entire country all by itself. Had it chosen to do so, Ethiopia would have simply plunged into an unending war whose outcome would have been unfathomable. The TPLF, out of pure expediency and political calculation, took on the mantle of peace-maker by inviting all aggrieved parties to participate in a transitional government aimed at creating a more permanent one. Whatever the true reasons may have been, and whatever means have been used to achieve it, we cannot deny the fact that Ethiopia has been spared a violent civil war because of it. But what we should never overlook is the fact that the TPLF and the chief architect of its political agenda, Ato Meles Zenawi, chose this route not out of a strong sense of “Pan-nationalism”, but out of clear awareness that their survival, as a political organization and nationality, was entirely dependent upon it. What we have seen since the initial days of this government – because it is essentially the same government whether it was led during its transitional period and for the ensuing 17 years by Meles Zenawi, or by Ato Hailemariam Dessalegn since his death – is a progressive, ineluctable, and overpowering consolidation of power in the hands of TPLF/EPRDF at the expense of all the other political parties, and the Ethiopian peoples.
Our aim here is to draw valuable lessons from these two examples, not to bemoan the past. The most important lesson we must draw is that we must set a fundamental and inviolable condition that any would be transitional/provisional government be so not in name only, but in the true sense of the word. This means that it should be a caretaker government which should have no other goal than the temporary administration of the daily affairs of the State, the drafting of the essential points of discussion of all the political parties and entities that are officially recognized (a fact that will of course fall under the purview of the transitional government itself), the formation of the constituent assembly, the preparation, conduct and conclusion of the first truly democratic election Ethiopia has ever known. Upon the conclusion of which, the transitional government itself will and must cease to exist.
If indeed the TPLF/EPRDF wants a part in Ethiopia’s future governance, it is now the time for it to create the very conditions for the formation of a genuinely transitional government aimed solely at providing a platform whereby all voices can be heard and a truly democratic dialogue can begin. Thus, it must first of all lift the current State of Emergency and all its attending restrictive measures. Secondly, it should free without any condition all political prisoners who are languishing in prison, granting them total freedom to pursue peacefully their political activities. It should lift all the restrictive measures it has imposed on the free press and all dissenting voices. It should allow all opposition parties active both in and outside Ethiopia (that it has so far persecuted relentlessly) to return and partake in the formation of the transitional government and its outcome.
Our fear is of course that the TPLF/EPRDF would heed not the voice of reason. That it will be entrenched behind a self-righteous and going it alone attitude. But all indications are that all is coming apart at the seams. What are really its prospects other than pushing every reasonable voice to clamor for war? Govern by force alone? It should know by now that the people of Ethiopia have had enough of its misguided, divisive, and cruel ways. All indications are that the majority of Ethiopians want change now. If this regime prefers to ignore the grievances of the people, it will only increase their resolve to seek violent means as it happened in the past year, and will inevitably happen in the coming months. How does it want to be judged by history: as one which led Ethiopia into civil war, or as one which saved her from irreversible fragmentation? The choice is wholly and absolutely the TPLF/EPRDF’s. What will it choose?