It was in 2001 the rift between the core TPLF leadership has erupted. The split was recorded as one of the major historical episodes in the post Dergue political history of the country thus far both in terms of its depth, scope and impact. Even though it is believed by many the fissure was within the TPLF core leadership, the impact has reached far and beyond the confines of TPLF. The flames of the crisis have roasted the sister organizations and its leaderships and permeates deep into the society as a whole.
Though there is no definitive answer as to the underlying causes of the crisis there are alternative theories and widespread rumors circulating both by the evicted leadership and those who remained in charge of the party as well as the state power. However, there is overwhelming consensus on the way the crisis was handled and eventually concluded.
According to the views of many who involved in the process, the way the crisis was handled was undemocratic and a complete breach of the party principles and other laws including the constitution as it involves the illegitimate intervention of the military and the security apparatus which acted in clear favor of the winning group. This was mainly due to the intransigence of the disputing groups and the prospect of worse crisis if undone by any means including the way it was ultimately treated.
After the crisis the winning party particularly has scrambled to declare its victory and engaged in condemning and demonizing the unfortunate loser. Meanwhile, the conclusion of the disagreement has been taken as a turning point in history of the TPLF and even EPRDF; and it was regarded as a steppingstone for democracy and economic growth.
The period 2001 has been hailed as the rebirth of the true revolutionaries and the party-TPLF/EPRDF who strictly adhered to revolutionary disciplines and committed to fulfill the promises of prosperity, equality, and democracy-the just causes for which tens of thousands of martyrs had paid their lives. In the contrary, the post crisis period has been hellish one for the unfortunate losers as most, if not all, electronic and printed media monopolized by the winner have produced news and stories peppered with distasteful contents and harsh hate propaganda against the unfortunate losers.
Despite reiteration of the victory over the unfortunate evicted and the often praised leadership of TPLF, the victory has enabled the winner neither to preserve the achievements secured by then nor to prevent another crisis from unfolding after 15 years of seemingly peaceful and orderly political situation. Rather these 15 years have laid grounds for another unprecedented political and security crisis from within the party until it brewed and exploded nation-wide.
Causes of the Political Crisis
The causes for the recent political crisis in Ethiopia in general and the party leadership in particular are not as obscure as it were 15 years ago. The secretive nature of EPRDF has prevented the previous crisis from being public and its causes remain largely unknown or little known not only by the larger public but also by many members of the party who were considered to have enjoyed the privilege to access the information about their organization. It was rather largely limited to the giants who involved in a throat to throat struggle for power and prestige.
However, the magnitude and causes of current political crisis unlike the previous one is largely known both by the public and members of the party partially due to the erosion of the party disciplines such as its secretiveness and the availability of alternative sources of information including the internet and social media platforms which were absent 15 years ago. Thus, the public have enough knowledge about what is going on in the country and inside the party and got the courage to vent their frustrations and hopes regarding the problems evident in the country.
As much as the remarkable progress in economic growth and security related issues the country has registered under the leadership of EPRDF, the country has also enjoyed relative peace and order since the end of the Ethio-Eritrea war which had coincidentally brought the TPLF/EPRDF divide to its abrupt end, though a brief instability and political crisis emerged after the most controversial 2005 election. Despite these incredible track-records, little has been achieved in building democracy and good governance in the last 15 years.
Besides, the economic achievements the nation has seen in the last 15 years are not immune from some challenges who have developed along this period. Among them, the establishment of a web of networks of patronage relations and its attendant state capture is a towering challenge to the state and its leadership, mainly the EPRDF leadership. Such state capture has long been nurtured and sustained by family politics which is reinforced by a web of networks across notorious individuals involving in political and economic life.
The development of such political economy atmosphere has laid the ground for transformation of the political leadership in to business elite, and thus created a blurred line between the political and business elite. In short, the political leadership has transformed itself into a leader of business corporations and other for profit business enterprises.
Political and business lives overlap as either come under the control of either then party or other organizations who affiliated themselves to the former, or both. In the meantime, the society is polarized both politically and economically which is the main precursor of the crisis emerged two years back, and whose effects are still unabated.
Even though the government, through a series of party and government meetings, said to have identified lack of good governance as the major problem that triggered the crisis that covered the major heartlands of the country, many have undermined and negated government stands.
One of the principal critics of the government is the fact that it has approached the crisis cowardly and in a most shallow fashion. In this regard, the party and the government have shown no or little determination to diagnose the problem and devise genuine solutions thereto. Thus, it has took the party too long to subside the crisis and more importantly measures other than force were proved futile to contain the problem.
The government has been compelled to declare state of emergency after a long period of procrastination as the best, if not the only, means to restore peace and order. Many have been worried over what had took the party/government this much time to address the political and security challenges and ultimately undone the aftershocks being felt to date. At this point one should understand that the problem was the result of a long time build-up of public grievances and discontents.
Therefore, it is unwise to assume a quick-fix to such extraordinarily complex problems. Second, the party/government was not ready to listen to public heart beats and act accordingly. The result eventually was that the public discontent has reached a boiling point and the government/party has been forced to reform itself, or to undergo deep-renewal as the party would like to call it. In the meantime, the government has declared state of emergency as viable means, and with the inevitable consequence of portraying the situation as an ominous crisis unfriendly to investment and tourist in-flows in the eye of both domestic and foreign entities.
Many factors, apart from the above mentioned one, have play out to engender the political and security challenges facing the nation and its leadership. Those factors are multi- layered and mutually reinforcing in nature. From among the factors, the differences evident among and between the leaderships of various parties including the EPRDF are the most known and troubling one. Lack of consensus and unity of purpose among coalition parties that make up EPRDF and their respective leadership, and the subsequent lack of center of power and political stalemate that left the state at limbo have aggrieved the problems of the state and its people. At least, the situation have made the state of affairs appeared a serious matter worth considerable effort from the part of the public.
Worse, layers of differences between the young and the old leadership, among the top and the medium and lower levels of leadership across parties have undeniable impact on the way the party and the government are behaving and acting toward each other and approaching the problems. However, EPRDF and the government it leads have remained adamant as to the prevalence of such clefts within the party as well as the government.
Consequently, it took superficial measures of change such as reshuffling mistrial cabinets, demoting and firing hundreds of civil servants whom it thinks are problem creators in the bureaucracy. Moreover, many of the parties have taken measures to undone the problems that have suffered their respective administrations, parties and people. However, many of the measures taken by the governments including the federal government were not welcomed by the people as they have not the capacity to cure the deep ailments both the organizations and the public are suffering from. Many who are critical of the measures taken overlooked them as superficial remedies for they disregard the real causes of problems. True, it’s not the actual problems but the symptoms that were targets of the so called ‘deep-reform or renewal’.
As a result, most of the solutions taken both at regional and federal level pertinent to the reshuffle of cabinet members were regarded as unauthentic or cosmetic ones tantamount to face-lifting. It was in short considered as a mere changes of persons without any radical change in character or way doing business. Politicians were replaced by technocrats, whose personality are largely unknown or little known by the public, and who are strangers to political life, without undertaking changes from within the party or the government. And few were relocated from one office to another without receiving punishment of whatsoever for his/her wrongdoing and weakness. Such action of the party and the government can be summed up in one famous Amharic adage: በሽታውን ያልተናገረ መድሃኒት አይገኝለትም whose literal English translation is “He who conceals his/her disease cannot find a medicine to his/her disease”
Winter is Coming: the Dangers that lies ahead and solutions
After years of instability stormed the country, the president of the republic, Mulatu Teshome (Dr.) addressed the two houses and delivered a speech significant part of which includes a list of promises meant to appease the angry people, especially the youth. The promises are good enough at face value as part of a step taken to effect political change. But more importantly, they are an inventory of actions cunningly devised for political expediency as they were accompanied by strict enforcement of the state of emergency that has been extended for additional three months.
Stepping aside all this, when we ask if the government has already delivered the presidential promises thus far, the answer is no. We would also find the same answer when we ask if there is any prospect of delivering them in a short period of time. Government’s attempts at negotiating with the opposition political parties is unsuccessful partly because it was frustration rather than genuine motive that has brought the government to the table. And partly because the opposition political parties are preparing to manipulate the opportunity rather than harnessing it for good.
EPRDF is weaker now than it used to be. Therefore, the government is weaker now than it used to be. The main source of the problem lies in the leadership. The danger is obvious. Unless addresses in time, it may result in state collapse.
Against this background, one must ask him/herself what sort of measures need to be taken at this juncture to disinfect the party/government from its current problems and reconcile itself with the people. It is important to understand that any short-cuts and quick-fix approaches to mitigate the problems are ill-conceived at best, because the problems are the result of a long time build-up of public dissatisfactions and grievances and deep-rooted fissures within the various parties and its leadership, thus inherently demands a far sighted and sustainable solutions. Political will and courage are the first step required and the most important ingredients necessary in the process of devising the solutions and taking it whole. Even the bitter pills should be taken as far as it is required to unbutton the chains which locked the system in mutual deadlock.
In times of crisis such as ours even some undesirable measures might be taken to create a desirable outcome and a better future. Along the political will and courage expected from the leadership of both the party and the government functioning both at regional and federal levels, there need to be a commitment from the same entities to delve in to oneself and carryout a sober analysis of the problems and its real causes. In the process, the leadership should make sure that such an endeavor would create a clear winner with the political and military capacity to hold the loser accountable. That means, the current mutual fear and suspicion and its resultant political and administrative deadlock which prevents the system from taking radical measures, and freed itself from the vicious crisis ought to be resolved. Unless any political dis-equilibrium is maintained through some form of magic, and as long as the stalemate remains on place, we would certainly find ourselves as a society in endless crisis with not only a sheer prospect for healing but with further decadence. As a matter of history, the ball is still at the hand of the EPRDF and its leadership. And it is not too late to act and liberate us all.