A discussion Paper on the Recent Protests in Ethiopia: Based on my observation, views of some Medias and Facts

(Hadgu Ataklti)

Introduction: This article seeks to open a discourse about the recent social resistance, protest and their ranges in Ethiopia. It focuses on the development of dissatisfaction groups in Ethiopia in recent times in order to flesh out distinctions and interactions between protests. Mainly, it deals on the recent development of protests. Protest is a physical sort that developed out of its prior sort. Let me deal some details about the theoretical back ground and the essence of protest and its developments.

Motive, Will, and Action: A particular will must have a motive behind it. Easy like, I will to have a son and the internal motive of will-to-have a child. Most of the time, an action is a manifestation of an internal will. For instance, when one plays a particular game there is a particular will-to-play before that physical action of playing a game. Still there must be a motive behind and alongside the will-to-play. However, some actions are not based on a real internal motive and a will-to-act the action in question. In case, one could be forced to act a particular action against his will/internal motive. Thus, internal motive and will are logical predecessors of most physical action like a protest, despite the oddness of forced actions.

Protest: It is not easy to standardize a conceptual definition of protest from a long-standing range of debates. The same is true of political protest. However, protest could be defined as a form of objection to some sort. A political protest is an objection or a form of disobedience to established political system and climate. Political protest is a form of conflict. It usually used interchangeably with other forms of intrastate conflicts; opposition, resistance, uprisings. In general, it is a lack of loyalty to an established system, order, force and perceived ideas. The lack of a cohesive definition of political protest confuses the framework of responses and politicizes other actions.

Political protest is, mainly, a physical action. It is a logical successor of motive and will. It is a manifestation of some sort of will. A protest affiliate could be persuaded/forced participant to do so or motivated by his will-to-protest. The motive of an agent in a protest could be internal, or external, or both. Many external agents have the power to force or persuade to do or to join a protest. In any means, a particular protest must have a motive and is an expression of a particular will. In its essence and magnitude, protest is a negative action. It is an expression of negative feeling to a particular sort. It is anti-thesis of some status-quo. The initial motive and will that drive the seed of the protest is a negative attitude towards some established or perceived sort(s).

Recent Protests in Ethiopia

Having the above discussion, some recent resistances and protests in Ethiopia proved, at least, the existence of some public dissatisfaction and some growing negative feelings in the public. Various individuals/groups taking an active role in an attempt to ensure that the protest is deep-rooted. Some opposition forces got pretext to entertain and wave their agendas in public sphere. Some opposition Medias including the social Media created a huge number of lies out of some real conditions.

In the other case, some state Media refuse to report some of these real conditions to the general public. Both could be good from the perspective of game of politics. But those are very harmful and unnecessary issues. The respective intents to galvanize and mitigate those protests are crystal clear to perceive from the approaches of rebel and loyal Medias. However, in real terms, I deduce that any media is neither free nor impartial.

Almost all, what they give coverage is one that intertwined with their interest and goal or one which is really fabricated sort. But, to some extent, there were also relatively impartial and genuine Medias including social Medias throughout the protests. For me, the ongoing game of the Medias, at least, show that how/why those loyal, rebels and some neutral Media communities approach to the range of the protests.

On Root and Immediate Causes of the Protests

What are the root and immediate causes of the recent protests? I am an average citizen and these times I have been in a close and critical look of the development of the protests. I was at the center of the capital for almost eight months since the protest start in Oromia region. I also have trips to some parts of Oromia, Amhara, as a silent observer of those protests. Let me say some of my views on some supposed causes.

There are a number of factors and activities that contributed to the development of the protests. Lack of responsiveness, lack of transparency and corruption are the main root factors at the very and far eve of the protests. I thought that these create a negative feeling in some groups and individuals. These have the power to create a will-of-protest in the mind of protest affiliate groups, perhaps in the general public too. That creates a real dissatisfaction and discontent in the ground and a critical condition in the political climate of our state.

That growing condition also allows several politically, economically, historically motivated groups to wait and join the protest and to lead the protests from the cyber. It was becoming a good condition to create a more/exaggerated critical political climate for the cyber activist and other opposition affiliate groups. Perhaps, the protest may have been led from government offices too. Perhaps, in a subtle way, by those who are not loyal and that are less committed civil servants and politicians. First they enhance the negative feeling in the public by using their image of bad office representatives and later by conspire the public to protest based on the negative feeling they eventually created. It could be a subtle attempt of interstate color revolution, instead of a direct coup.  

To deal in a very deep discussion of the root causes of the protests, let me say something about the supposed causes.

Transparency: The ruling party is a coalition party. They must remain transparent among themselves, to their subordinate units, to the public on strategies policies, plans and other decision making processes. Policies, strategies and plans shall be exposed to critics before their executions. Inclusive discussion on policies, strategies and plans pay a real dividend. The ruling party must allow civil society, independent Medias, genuine professional organization of people and other concerned bodies to participate and share ideas in inclusive discussions. Transparency in governance and administration is also part of the whole notion of transparency.

In relation to the recent protest started in Oromia lack of transparency take its own share as a cause. The pretext was the damped plan of Addis Ababa, I depute that as a real cause and it has been proved that was no longer the real question. Despite that, the government did very little to persuade the concerned bodies in a real and genuine manner. There was lack of transparency on how when and in which manner was discussed about the plan and with whom? I thought that there was an issue of lack of constructive discussion and transparency around that issue. That is one instance, there are many such cases and issues that require real concerns.

Corruption: it has become a working norm for many officials. We should not only aware of grand corruption in higher level. There are plenty of mini corruptions and bunch of corrupt officers and leader almost in every level. It is not only their corrupt activities and behaviors of individual, officials and the less responsive system they created; the worst is the actions and measures to address those who are corrupt officials. It is not possible to create a loyalist for the system by abusing and corrupting the people and the system where they in turn rely on.

In almost every office you go it become a norm to observe individuals who are not loyal and not committed to the service they assigned to serve. They appear to be careless to the public as well to the government. They have no political spirit. They have no political commitment. They are less committed to the system. They seem only responsible of presenting themselves as bad officials of government. Those seem the causes for many dissatisfaction and discontent among many groups. Those requiring further attention as the public dissatisfaction and discontent seem to continue to attest. Mini corruption and unnecessary bureaucratic process in all levels must be addressed. Having said that let me say my view about the other causes of the protests.

Responsiveness: There is lack of responsiveness in all levels of administration units, in both regional and federal levels. For example the question of wolqite identity issue has been a pretext to some protests in Amhara region areas. Prior to those protests, I knew some individuals and groups who reported their threat and case to the Amhara regional state and few federal offices, both in person and in written forms. They were very serious to report threats of their security, their properties’ security and forced expel out of their residences in some Amhara areas. Eventually the supposed and reported threats happened after around four/five months. I wish I had seen that the government responsiveness to save some unnecessary outcomes of the protests. There are also countless examples but it is enough to raise it as a general problem.

Other Factors: There are also many contributors to the escalation of the protests. The developments of the protests were very topsy-turvy during the course of each protest. Perhaps, it is because of mismanagement or miss-control of the protests by the government. In the other way those protests maybe misconstrued their course by some irresponsible medias, blogs, etc.

New communication technologies-especially social media by the internet- have become important resource as a source of information. But recently it serves as a web-fueled public mobilization. The role of social media in the recent protests is noticeable. Some social media call for a collective action and subsequent creation, organization and implementation of physical protests and movements. So that social media really galvanized the recent protests. Irresponsible fabricated ideas, information and feelings enhance the protest affiliates and the range of the protests. And personally, I am a critical of the truth of their ideas, information’s and posts, that they used to persuade followers to be protest affiliate.

There are a number of individual activists who have sufficient knowledge of social media resources to bring people with different motive to the protest by fabricating lies. In majority, these cyber activists are lie creators to unify unsatisfied and discontented peoples into their final cause. They are good at fabricating a good lies that belong and has a power to motivate some unsatisfied groups; youth, farmers, sects.  After that it is up to them to create a hoax that unifies these different groups to be a protest affiliates. But I have no intention to undermine the real questions and critical issues raised by some genuine cyber activists. Indeed I adore them and their views. And I like to give them vote of confidence to continue doing in right way.

The members who led the protest from cyber as well the affiliate on the ground have share of responsibilities in the development of the protest. However all affiliates have no common background and approach to the development and supposed end of those recent protests. Some might have a common agent/external force that might back them for a different reason and outcome. Some may have intent of regime change as their inner will. Some may have intent of total destruction, destabilization, and disintegration of the state, people and values and interests of the state and the people. Their feelings and intentions have been reflected in some views of activist and leaders of the recent protests from the cyber. Meanwhile, majority of the public has many questions and waiting for reforms and remedies. In the meantime, I observe some inclinations from unsatisfied public groups to join ill-calculated protests. Even to protests which seem opposite to their real questions and end. Probably that tells you something about the level of their dissatisfaction.

The destruction, internal crises, destabilization, and disintegration goals of some individuals, groups and external forces seem got some space to galvanize and back some questions and pretexts into sever protests and destructions. Meanwhile there is no tangible and meaningful way of addressing public issues in that manner. Because those protest never consider a long term values and interests of the state and its peoples. Thus, I can conclude my view that the protests are creating and developing as two poles of different forces are coming to converge at a point. There are forces who question real problems in one side. In the other side, by using those conditions, there are forces who back, misconstrue, and galvanize those questions. In the other word, real unsolved problems and questions on one hand and negative forces who capitalize on those issues in the other side got accidental marriage to challenge the government. So, it seems a coalition of different forces, internal and external, for different reasons and ends.

The Nature of the Protests

Ethiopian broadcasting corporate (EBC) is a national television of Ethiopia. It is one of the credible state media outlets for the general public.  In the early stages of the protest based in Oromia region, the television appear to display destruction of public service facilities (public hospital’s ambulance, ATM machines…) and materials during these protests. In other case, regarding the protest in Amhara region, Bloomberg another media outlet (Sep. 1 2016) reads that, “A Dutch run flower farm in northern Ethiopia was among a series of foreign-owned plantation attacked by anti-government protesters…” and “Militias are also clashing with the army in parts of Gojam and Gondar areas.”

In much other coverage it has been reported that, foreign-owned firms (from Dutch, Israel, Italy, India, Belgium) were also targets of those protests. Based on the evidences of state television, Bloomberg and other media outlets as well social media resources the target of those violent protests are business and service firms (both local and international as well as both private and public). The recent lost lives in the stampede during Irreecha celebration and whole destructions of factories are also the worst forms of those protests. Those targets and actions are enough means to show us that those protests were violent. Based on the evidences I stated above, it is clear to understand the manifestation of those protests as highly violent and destructive.

However I would like to present the other sides of those protests. From observation of different media outlets including social media, I also understand that there were also very rare peaceful means of resistance, disobedience and expression of solidarity to those protest affiliates. Overhead-hands-crossing sign, as solidarity to the resistant and disobedient groups, shaving off hairs as solidarity to the jailed, stay-at-home and refuse to talk and discuss at public meetings are among them. In all means these are peaceful means despite their scarcity throughout the protests. Those all instances in the recent protests in Ethiopia were indicatives of its both peaceful and violent. But those protests were dominated by their violent nature. How could be destruction, crises, destabilization, and disintegration taken as a goal of sane Ethiopian, if they are genuine Ethiopian?

On the legitimacy of those protests there are plenty of big questions. In the recent case of Ethiopia, there were some conditionally legitimate causal factors of protests despite the nature, slogans and the weird actions they used to have during those protests. Waving… unrecognized flags……!? There were many weird slogans, signs, aims and actions. It forces me to think that whose interests and values are questioned in those protests? As an Ethiopian it is heart breaking observation to see passing human lives in some demonstrations and protests as some aiming some other values at the expense of human lives. Those movements appear as herd-morality governed human movements. What those protests wish at the expense of human lives? What is the value beyond human lives? What is the value that aimed wholesale destruction and crises? I have absolutely no idea of what the projects and aims of those all protests are. I feel that, there are no real considerations of long term interests and values of Ethiopia and Ethiopians.

What I like to ask

There are plenty of questions in relation to the recent protests in Ethiopia. Among those possible questions, I like to question the power relation and authorities’ loyalty among the coalition of federal government and their regional and other lower units of the political system. I feel that, there is a sense of loss of power, authority, and loyalty among different levels of administrative units. Regional states and other units under them must reinforce their political commitments to the coalition. The federal government must check whether its system is effectively running up to the lower possible unit in a possible way. The federal government must also deepen the credible and reliable ally and partnership with the people. Both the government and the general public must discern and recognize the fake loyalist to the political system, who double-trade from the system and the people. It seems that, there are groups of so called loyalist to the system but still conspiring to the resistances by promoting public dissatisfaction. This could be an issue of political commitment. I feel that the apparent losing of loyalty, power and authority allow some groups to loss political commitment and to conspire a pilot against the regime.

I have discussed the recent protests’ cause, nature and potential consequences, based on my personal observations. I persuaded to conclude those protests were overwhelmingly violent. If so was the case, who is there to guard the security of the citizens (both their lives and property)? I am asking how much disturbance, violence, destruction must be committed before the government is willing to stand up for public guard. Who is there to guard the status of peace from any perceived threat? I question that the extent of perceived threat and threshold of the violence which is enough to call for a governmental action. The perceived threat, threshold of violence, and prudence of the measures could be vary. But, government has both a legal and moral duty to protect me and my property. I think the same goes to you. The same goes to the general public. And the government must be remedial and effective to silence every threshold of threat and violence, both internal and external. We as a public must urge to support a government to do so as quickly as possible. At the same time we must question areas that need improvements and adjustments in a civilized manner.

How is prudent to create bad social and political climate, unorganized protests, ill-calculated destructions and tensions, fake representation of groups at the expense of public lives, properties, peace, values, interest, hope…. One must have to understand with the doubling price and costs of interests and values that lost in affected sides by those protests in all aspects. It is not legitimate for any group/individual to get some undue profits out of the like protests. Aiming to get political profits at a means of human lives is the absurdity of absurdity. If there are internal groups who are ready for constructive dialogue, sharing of ideas, roundtable discussion and consensus on fundamental issues the government must allow atmosphere for that issue. In the same manner groups must be ready to that cause. In that remedial proposal the state and the people could avoid those unnecessary losses of long term values and interests.

There is a real perceivable leap of developments in economy, regional and international diplomacy, infrastructures, despite I am not a technical expert on these areas to confirm the standard of their qualities. The recent initiatives for the construction of GERD, Sugar firms, dams or irrigation sites, industry zones… The strategies and policies as a factor for the growing economy and the diplomatic approaches of the regime are also good. These all are from my personal observation of the real nature and status of our state and the ruling regime. In general, based on a grand image of our state and government, one can have hope of seeming a progressive, advanced and responsible state to its citizen in a near future. I question that, didn’t the Ethiopian government carried away by those economic successes. Being the case aren’t there growing intentions and attempts to pilot of color revolution too, both internally and externally?

What I to learn and be aware?

A protest will not be continuing by these who do it from the cyber, but by these who accept, allow and support it to prevail in the ground. If there are no loyal forces of protest in the ground it is safe condition for the public, government and state from any protest. That means, if there is responsiveness, transparence and less corrupt system in the ground, it is very tight angle to have protest affiliates. We all need to avoid holes in the public sphere as a protective method for the penetration of other forces into the public, government and state. Those who allow and support the cyber activist must have a factor in the ground that forces them to be a loyalist to the like protests and to be a rebel group to the system or regime.

The public must aware the real organizers of the protest and the real motives and support behind the naively calculated attempts of those protests. Subsequently the government, politicians, intellectuals must approach it from a remedial point of view. It might has a potential that escalates from protest to revolution and to disorder or other forms of conflicts, like it has been grew and galvanized out of discontent and dissatisfaction to protests.

Very soon all politicians, government, protest affiliates and cyber activist should recognize that we Ethiopian shall no longer entertain all of that type of violence in a public environment. In the same issue, Media communities, media outlets including social media outlets must base their information on official, credible and trustworthy accounts. And as remedial issues they must call for a constructive dialogue and consensus than hate and galvanized speeches and ideas. The government must also address those issues. After all we have the right to see and hear the truth from Medias. Truth serving Medias must be created. Otherwise ban them all, if possible!!

Eritrea is a tiny state almost in the same category of development to Ethiopia. The persistent claim of Ethiopian authorities that the regime in Eritrea is a trouble maker is ill-claim. That is a recognition and vote of confidence for that regime to do the same act. It calls a big question in the mind of Ethiopian public about the status of their government in relation to that issue. In fact the regime is that evil to same extent. But it is up to our government to silence that regime. Peace? War? No peace no war? All means tried and none of them worked till my time. No politically prudent way and time to blame as such the regime in Eritrea. After all Ethiopia has a military legitimacy to condemn its evil attempts. How is that state after all being omnipresent and omnipotent to us? How come we, as a state, sleep in a comfort chair having the intention and dreams of Egyptian authorities and Eritrean regime as alarms of discomfort? Consider the Arabs too?

Different groups vying for backing and influence, the recent Ethiopian opposition affiliates. There is always a shadow of externals that remained constant threat to ‘Ethiopian existence, essence, and renaissance until their dominance make sure that Ethiopian and Ethiopians are at their arms distance in every aspect. As of my thought, based on the historical, political, and strategic relations and experiences we had as well based on the current conditions in our region Eritrean regime and most Egyptians’ intention remain the most suspected external forces to back those protests. The will of internal and external forces to conspire some historically, economically, politically dissatisfied groups and individuals has a nature of color revolution. Albeit these all internal and external, both by Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians, conspiracy agendas and intentions against the state and ruling regime are possible when the ruling party failed to satisfy the average public. The government must aware that issue.

The ruling coalition party must deepening its heartfelt relationship with the public, must strengthen its social base as ever, must aware the pragmatism of its ideas and policies, if it wish to survive to such protests and conspiracy agendas. Reactive measures to those protests are short term remedies. The distinctions and interactions among immediate causes and root causes, genuine and a pretext questions behind every threshold of threat and violence are very important.

Concluding Remarks

Indeed, we Ethiopian can identify a moment at which notions of and access to development, democracy and freedom were re-created in a new spirit in our history. Let us look the conditions of development, democracy and freedoms of the average public relative to our history, regional and global background, social-economic conditions and time frame we have. The current federalism oriented state structure and administration won hearts of many peoples and ethnic groups. Many groups, peoples thrived as Ethiopians and cultivated many values, interests thought that system of the ruling party. The ideas of the ruling party, mainly the idea of ethnic federalism, might be difficult for some of us to swallow, but there it is. The party has also many viable and better social, political and economic ideas than other political groups in our country so far. And those ideas, policies, strategies of the party could be the means to win public heart and the inertia to stay on power.

In the other side, let us look on to different levels of governmental units and civil servants. There are bold observations of unnecessary bureaucracies, mini corruptions, and lack of political responsiveness and commitments… As years passed, we Ethiopians began to blur the lines among general notions of development, democracy and freedom with particular instances of bureaucracy, corruption, lack of political responsiveness and commitments among different levels of government and officials.

I feel that, the current ruling regime is more of a democrat than a despotic, is more of a bureaucrat than a corrupt, is more of a developmental than a liberal, and is more of a person-led than a system-led… But I didn’t mean that there are no corrupt, despotic, liberal institutions and conditions in the political climate of the state. There are also some growing system-led services. Indeed, we Ethiopians have little choice other than to paint with the same improved brush. A call for improvement and reformation is a real noise that shall incite determination to look the effectiveness of the political system of the ruling regime. Questions that require responses and solutions within the given system must be addressed in a possible responsive manner.

In one extreme, I didn’t wonder that how some people seem to conspire to challenge the very essence of ruling party. Consider that, they have motives to revive the ideas that challenge the ruling party and its political system from its very early history. They have questions that could not addressed within the current political system. Therefore they always wait for conditions that allow them to conspire the whole system and regime.

The cyber based activists intend to create an intense political climate. Any physical movements and protests led and fueled by cyber based resources lack a clear direction, organization and implementation. It is not good means to meet the real change in a cohesive way for the public who organized by the cyber activist. That way of doing protest is less organized; lacks leadership, lacks party platform, and has no physical space and has no structured local recruitment to bid for regime change and national control. Therefore, it is ill-organized and ill-planed and its end is far from positive.  There must be a careful means to approach those protests not to grow into general destruction, destabilization, disintegration, and other forms of social and political violence and crises.

Everyone must aware questions that could be addressed within the current political system and those questions that could not be. At the same time a threat of intrastate and foreign based color revolution and intents to create a hub of terrorist groups and crises center is our state must be tackled at its very infancy.

In the last two centuries, mostly in the last fourteen years I was in a buoyant mood about the improved peace, growing capability and economy, improved diplomatic relations and overall developments of our state. Being at the center of geopolitically strategic area and tough region those shows the strength of the regime to challenge all sorts of threats. Still I rely on the current government and its capability to turn the recent issues into normal. Let us question our government within the system in a civilized manner, at least for time being. Let us, as an Ethiopian together,  stand together to narrow the wholes that allow foreign forces to disturb us, that give space for crises and violence to mount and  that create conditions to loss our long term images, interests and values.



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