Arena Tigray party should lead or get out of the way

(Haile Tessema)

In a democracy, the opposition party has a very significant role to play as a representative of its constituency s or the people at large by endeavoring to safeguard their political and socioeconomic interests.

Unfortunately, opposition parties in Ethiopia haven’t been effectual in that area and this – notwithstanding hurdles placed by the ruling party – has a lot to do with the congestion of political parties which many of them happen to be weak, shortsighted and notorious for fighting one another as supposed to their common political adversary.

In contrast, there’s only one opposition, Arena, in Tigrai which provides the party an ample opportunity to win the minds and hearts of the people, and cash that into votes. Yet, to the frustration of many who wish to see a capable opposition that keeps the regional government on its toes, Arena has become inconsequential. And there are at least four underlying reasons behind that:

1) Arena’s swinging fetish in regional and federal politics: It’s not unusual for a regional, state or provincial party to have a political and economic ties and cooperation with a federal counterpart that shares its ideology and political platform – conservative, liberal and social democrats parties as seen in many countries that have embraced federal parliamentary system.

But it’s ill-advised for a party that seeks regional votes to merge with a federal party – especially when the political arena in the country’s capital is already overcrowded – which alienates it from its electorate. That’s recklessly putting oneself between the proverbial rock and a hard place or, as my mother warns me when I try to do two things at once, “ስብኣይ ኽልተ ልየይ ላብዝይ ክብል ሞተ” (roughly translated: a husband of two wives dies from having to make too many trips to be with either).

2) Majoring on the minor: While it’s not unusual for a political party to engage in some individual or small group matters from time to time, it’s neither wise nor beneficial to be tied up to day-to-day sensational and controversial issues. Sure enough, there are concerns better left for human rights organizations, the media and investigative journalism to deal with.

Instead, a political party should focus, and dedicate its energy and resources to policy matters and their implementation, and serve as a watchdog of govt. policy and practices. For instance, there are pressing taxation, youth unemployment and other bread and butter issues as well as social and environmental matters Arena ought to be busy tackling instead of being sidetracked by comparatively trivial matters.

3) Lack of political smarts in the leadership: Since the departure of Gebru Asrat, Arena has been unable to produce a leader with the political knowhow the job entails. Take, for instance, the current party leader, Abraha Desta, who doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of an opposition party leader’s duties and responsibilities. Thus, he spends his valuable time revisiting his prison experience or muddying himself up in flavor of the month topics, such as the petty beer politics and Teddy Afro.

Abraha appears to view himself as political activist and human rights champion first and foremost, which is noble, but a totally different role from that of a party leader. When it’s the former, he would of course speak for himself or for the group / organization he represents.

However, in the latter he speaks on behalf of a party that seeks an election and a breakthrough to parliamentary seats, thus he has to exercise caution in what he says lest it adversely affects the party he represents. Otherwise, he is catching up to twitting President Donald Trump minus the political power, prestige and access to the gold codes of the nuclear arsenal.

4) Age matters: In her 1994 “age ain’t nothing but a number” song, Aaliyah popularized the age doesn’t matter saying. But it most certainly does in politics. The other Arena poster boy, besides Abraha Desta, is Amdom Gebreselassie who both may very well be suitable for a party youth wing leadership, but have a long way to go before becoming key party leaders.

Alas, there they find themselves having to lead a party; their emotions – as supposed to their brains – typically taking a good part of them in the process, hence allotting their precious time to a tit-for-tat on social media. Oftentimes, I’m perplexed by what these two write as I find it to be unfit for the position they hold. Then again, it downs on me that they are young offenders whose age should be taken into consideration when brought to the court of public opinion.

Frankly speaking, as it stands now, the Arena party exists in name only or, at best, in the arena of social media. So, instead of challenging the ruling party, what it’s doing is supporting it by giving the perception that an opposition party exists in the region when that is not the reality on the ground.

Now, the questions is, what’s got Arena to do to change that in order to be taken seriously as a contending party to the T.P.L.F., with a shot at forming a shadow cabinet in the regional parliament?

a) It has to put its feet on the regional ground, which entails having to fully focus on issues that affect Tigrai, and thereby put the region and its people’s interest first and foremost.

b) As most of its voters have no access to social media, its leaders should turn their laptop and mobile data off to meet and work with ordinary people and prospective voters.

After all, TPLF’s success for the most part has to do with its early work on political and socioeconomic matters at grassroots level. I realize this is not going to be a walk in the park for Arena, but it has no any other choice than to intensify its efforts to somehow directly connect with the people.

c) Arena has to recruit experienced political heavyweights to partake in party leadership, and nurture the young leaders to political maturity and responsibility.

Failing that, Arena is proving to be nothing more than a tiny protest party in danger of withering to political irrelevance. If so, it’d be better for the party to get out of the way while it’s day, and pass the relay baton to a successor that really is up to the job, and is capable of sprinting to the finish line.


Guest Author

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