(Naty Berhane)

(Fairfax, Virginia, USA)

The May election in Ethiopia is becoming somewhat interesting to follow, even to those who are less inclined to lend their ears to Ethiopian politics. Especially, for those of us who are far away in the ‘Diaspora land’, when we find a break from our hectic lives to sneak peak in what is happening back home through a plethora of internet and video sharing sites and youtube clips, we get to see some confusing, jaw dropping, mesmerizing, boring and at times few funny displays. Let me cherry pick three aspects of my ”The run up to election” observation.

The article writing Doctors and Professors.

Usually, they appear to be spokespersons of the oppositions, here in the diaspora. Leaving the vitriolic ones, who are extremely shrill aside, those who issue way too long articles every week or so in some of the “go to websites”,  instead of making a point for the political opposition in Ethiopia, their writing seems to be a doctoral dissertation. The difference is they focus on dragging the personalities they detest and praising the personalities they adore.  After reading two paragraphs of their cleaver word play, without really understanding of what they are talking about, you would have to switch it off, because you would have better things to do, that actually is worthier of your time. Hence, my advice to the professors and doctors is that “we the regular Joes know that you are highly educated and you master the English language. You don’t have to prove it to us by writing pages after pages. Therefore, please, keep it short. Keep your personal feelings about certain individuals to yourselves and analyze a political ideology, a party stance or Economic policy of your choice, of course leaving a room for us to agree or disagree”.Photo - President voting card

Election Campaigners

The major purpose of political Campaigning for a political office is to convince voters. To say that “I am a better alternative than those guys in power. Give me a chance, and I will be better and nicer. I have a whole lot of great things that I will do for you much better than that other guy did for you” Few days ago however, I was able to see that simple purpose of political campaigning in a completely reverse mode. A chairman of one of the major parties in Ethiopia called a rally and told attendants that “…The infrastructures that have been built will be destroyed like Syria and Libya…” To be fair to the gentleman, what he said may have some nuances, and in a better context he probably had a larger point to make. However, may be that context and larger point should be made with a room full of intellectuals, during a discussion of policy rather than a political rally. It’s important for a campaigning politicians to know that most of the time, perception is reality. Therefore, this particular rally, appears to looks like for the would be voters is that “…everything that has been built will be demolished, unless the ruling party is agreeing with me…”. Most likely those who would hear this speech, in stead of rallying around the guy who would say such things,  they would run a way from from him. Interestingly, the gentleman was making his point standing in front of a pretty good, new built looking building. It seems that, he’s also holding that building a hostage for, if he couldn’t be elected the nice building wellbeing is going to be questionable.

Populism and populists

Populism is a well known part of political thinking anywhere in the world. Those, who try to rise to the top based on populist agenda, however rarely make it to the top, and if they do their tenure would be disastrous. Populists usually exploit people’s frustrations with the issue of the day. They exploit people’s prejudices and biases. They instigate controversies. They create false heroes and false villains. They target, attack and tear down personalities to position themselves as saviors of the people from those personalities. They spend much of their time and resources to do these things, they lack time and energy to develop alternative ideas, long term visions and statesmen like personalities. Petty fight, intrigue  and low level political discourse is more important to them than sober analysis and dialogue. Here in America, we see a monstrosity of populism in a populist group called ‘Tea Party’. Their only goal is to target and tear down the president. Hence, they always position themselves at the opposite end of anything and everything what they believe the president’s position is. Even if it means a policy that benefits them. It is very unfortunate that we see similar populist thinking and methods in many opposition political parties in Ethiopia. Any development, be it a dam or light rail, roads or industry would be opposed by many of them, because it is done, while the ruling party was at the helm. What they seem to fail to understand is that, even though certain loud, emotional folks rally around them, because their stance lack principle and vision, their support evaporates, perhaps, when their supporters start walking on the road they opposed of being built and loving strolling on it. In fact, I wish Ethiopian opposition parties take a serious look at their opponents, take a little break from yelling at them and ask “how do they do it?” “How does the oldest party in the coalition of my opponents sustain themselves enjoying a core unwavering supporters for forty years?” “Could there be anything that we learn from them to be a real contender?” I wish, sooner than later, they start to ask these sober questions and start sobering up. If and when they do sober up, I bet we will get to see a real match.


Naty Berhane

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