By Addissu Admas
The TPLF has been so far somewhat successful, at least among its Western supporters, in promoting the notion that all opposition to it started and is fed by ethnic animus alone. It cannot countenance the thought that most of the opposition to it is sustained by a genuine conviction that its policies have been profoundly misguided, shortsighted or simply wrong. Every time its ideas and practices have been under serious examination, it always questioned their true intentions rather than trying to assess their merit and their conclusions. Its bogeyman has always been that “the others” (meaning the opposition) have been those inciting ethnic hatred. If it had any critical sense it would have come to realize that if anyone is to shoulder the blame for the predicament we are in today it would be its own regime.
When the facts indicate unarguably that the greatest beneficiaries of the current regime in terms of position, rank, wealth and preferential treatment in receiving government services have been the members of the ruling party, their connections and relations, and their ethnic base at large, one cannot be accused of fomenting ethnic animus, or worse inciting discontent and unrest for stating so. The TPLF’s ruse in silencing its critics, even its more informed ones, has been to accuse them of tribalism. This, of course, can no longer work because of the preponderance of the evidence. Yes, we can say it without hesitation: our fundamental and unequivocal charge is that the TPLF, as master-puppeteer of the coalition, has promoted and implemented a naked tribalism which has been obvious to everyone but itself. And if it wants to deny the charge, the burden of proof rests squarely upon its shoulders. I need not recite here the entire litany of its offenses, it would suffice to not that after a quarter of a century in power, its military and security forces are virtually owned and operated – though not funded – by the TPLF, and they are entirely at its service. Let’s not delude ourselves, Ethiopia has not had a national military and security system since the fall of the Derg in 1991. What we have instead is a military and security apparatus designed and operated to do solely the biddings of the dominant party. And as such its aim is not the maintenance of peace and security of the nation, but to keep in power the current political cadre indefinitely.
When the TPLF demobilized the entire military and security apparatus, it did not do so with the intention of rebuilding it along its “federalist” ideology. It did not incorporate the existing military, but it simply disbanded it. And the little cooperation it sought with the previous military brass was entirely intended to facilitate the transfer of power. The fact that the TPLF did not try to build a military and security apparatus based upon the dictates of its “own” constitution shows clearly that it not only distrusted the Ethiopian people, but it wanted to keep the military and security apparatus that would become the ultimate guarantors of its dominance and continuance in power. And the continuing belief of the TPLF is that it can hold on to power indefinitely since the military and security apparatus will do anything and everything to keep it in power. But what history has shown time and again is that nothing is so powerful as to crash the will of the people.
The so called developmental state, engineered by the late Meles Zenawi and his supporters, is now coming to a halt: it appears that it has reached its limits just like the ethnic federalism that they concocted. Today the divide between those who enriched themselves through political affiliation or allegiance, aka the oligarchs, and the disinherited and dispossessed masses has grown far wider than ever before. The expansion of the middle class has been so insignificant under this regime that it doesn’t have the weight to act as a balancing force. It could be argued very well that the Derg, despite all its heinous deeds, has done more to create urban property owners (i.e.: middle class) than the current regime. If we consider simply the number of property owners that have been evicted from their legitimately owned property under this regime without due process nor appropriate compensation “to make room” for very large private dwelling buildings or “corporate buildings” we would see where a net impoverishment of a whole class of small property owners occurred in the capital. In point of fact, even though the regime claims otherwise, these people have been simply thrown in the street to fend for themselves. These have been acts of sheer greed and wantonness. No government can claim indeed any legitimacy when it continues to deprive its own citizens of their most basic right to own their own dwellings.
The situation is even more appalling when one deals with the trigger of the current crisis: i.e.: the expropriation of vast rural lands and the displacement of tens of thousands of people in the name of development. The regime would like us to believe that all was done voluntarily and upon appropriate compensation. Neither of which is of course true. The previous regimes as well as the current one had effectively prepared the people of Ethiopia to fear and submit to government’s will, even when the people knew clearly that they were acting against their best interest. There was also the added fact that the government exploited their immediate needs against their long term benefits: the minuscule compensation they got may have met their pressing needs, but they were relinquishing the very source of their livelihood. This was one of the most callous acts of modern developmental schemes: instead of helping the poor improve their lot, it was in reality about robbing them of their land in the name of development. This is in essence the best way of turning owners into servants, or more appropriately into serfs. And who gets to benefit most from this state of affair? Of course the multinational predators and the oligarchs that invited them. This, in effect, is gambling on the future of Ethiopians. Instead of laying down the structure of a solid economy that could raise the standard of living of all Ethiopians, the EPRDF has been engaged in providing us with a “get rich quick scheme” for the benefit of the few.
The Western media, their governments, and even many well-meaning Ethiopians speak of the country’s “economic miracle” with a blind eye with what goes on behind the glitter. No one needs to be a savvy economist to note that the so-called “Ethiopian Miracle” has come at a very high cost: massive land expropriation, staggering debt, and risible wages for the overwhelming majority. One may for a while fall under the illusion that the country has progressed beyond belief, but everyone knows that it will all come to a crushing end because there is nothing to sustain it. What Ethiopia needs is not an experimental economic program, but a system that has proven to provide her with a long term growth and equable distribution of wealth, even if this requires more time.
The current regime has tried in every way to sell the West the notion that the EPRDF is committed to some form of democracy, and to the liberties that are consonant with such form of government. In reality what the past 26 years have shown us is a regime that has become more and more repressive and contemptuous of the people’s rights: what promised to be a future of an ever self-perfecting democracy during the period of the Transitional Government has now become a rather distant and wistful memory. What we are confronted with now is a regime willing to trample all human and civil rights just to stay in power. In reality, the West knows perfectly that Ethiopia’s regime is one of the most repressive, even by African standards; but is it willing to look the other way as long as the regime is ready and willing to do its biddings.
At this juncture, the TPLF and its coalition partners in the EPRDF have essentially two divergent choices: either try to maintain the status quo by any means necessary, or to open up to a true dialogue with all opposition voices, without preconditions nor restrictions. Choosing the former signifies ipso facto a declaration of war on all dissenting voices, and fomenting civil unrest, and the disintegration of the Ethiopian state, with far dire consequences that anything we have experienced in our history. Choosing the latter will entail returning to the negotiating table and crafting the terms of co-existence of all Ethiopians, the preservation of their fundamental human and civil rights, and the furtherance of their wellbeing. Let’s be clear, there is no third alternative that is neither the former nor the latter: it is everything on the table or nothing.
The obvious fact is that the principal obstacle to achieving the second option is the TPLF’s veiled reliance on its military and security apparatus. No genuine dialogue, not even between the EPRDF and the TPLF, let alone with all the dissenting voices of Ethiopia, can take place without making clear provisions for the military and security apparatus not to interfere in any manner or shape in any and all eventual open dialogue. Or better yet, all dialogue and negotiations would be fruitfully conducted under the aegis of the United Nation, and its peacekeeping corps. This would be indeed a great opportunity for the United Nations to prevent a civil war and all its cruel consequences, instead of trying to interpose itself when things have taken a turn for the worse. It is a truism that there cannot come about any meaningful and lasting change in Ethiopia with a military and security apparatus that owes allegiance to one party alone. The military and security question must be addressed and resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned before any genuine dialogue can begin. All manners of agreement would inevitably be nullified without a military and security apparatus that genuinely serves the nation, and not a political party.