Gauging Political Dynamics in Ethiopia

Since the former regime in Ethiopia lost power because of the combined pressure from the end of the cold war at global scale, liberation fronts inside Ethiopia, demoralized army and resentful populace, the political environment in Ethiopia has been evolving.    

Eritrea’s independence was endorsed in 1993 by the government in power without any question, even though the decision would render Ethiopia landlocked and further divide the same people such as the Afar into two countries. This is especially notable since Ethiopia’s restructuring by the same government was based on language and national or nationality identity, a tool that became useless when it came to the Afar and some other peoples.  

The Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the ruling party, instituted a constitution that recognized self-determination up to and including succession. That has made many quarters analyze its implications in Ethiopia’s future political direction. It has made some quarters so uneasy, and strangely enough, some elements of some of the minority peoples in the country. Naturally, one would expect the minority people to accept this kind of arrangement as a safety tool. In fact, the concept of self-determination was advocated by Widrow Wilson to ensure the rights of the minority. 

The former allies, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), have waged a two year war that cost over a hundred thousand lives on the Ethiopian side alone, according to some estimates. Meles and his comrades in the TPLF fell out and one of the leading figures in the history of that organization was put behind bars through a hastily enacted legislation.

So many political organizations have mushroomed and many people have been so busy to the extent that at times it would seem every walking adult in Ethiopia or originally from that Empire became a politician. However, for a careful observer, the ideologies of these political organizations fall into two main camps: decentralization and recentralization. On the decentralization spectrum lie three subcategories. The first subcategory includes veteran liberation fronts such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Sidama Liberation Movement (SLM), the Ogadeni National Liberation Front (ONLF). In the second category are included people centered opposition political organizations such as the Oromo National Congress (ONC), the All Amhara People Organization, the South Ethiopia Peoples Democratic Front (SEPDF), and so on. The third category is EPRDF itself, which has the appearance of decentralization but a practice of centralized power.

In the recentralization camp lie elements of the beneficiaries of the former Ethiopian imperial regime who seem not only out of touch with the reality on the ground, but also self-deceptive politicians. Examples of these political organizations are the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP), the All Ethiopia Unity Party (AEUP), the recently formed Ethiopian Rainbow Movement for Democracy and Justice (ERMDJ), and so on. Careful observation of these parties suggests that they are generally Amhara or Amhara dominated parties. In addition, their prominent leaders are not even true to themselves. Obbo Hailu Shawul, the leader of the AEUP party who is reportedly more of an Oromo than an Amhara became a member of the AAPO before the AEUP became a splinter group from the AAPO. There is little justification which such a person with the minimum political integrity chooses to become a member of the AAPO unless his aim was to hijack the organization and take it to the AEUP. In addition, in his own admission, the members of his new party are predominantly from northern Ethiopia with plans to advance to the south. That amounts to modern political conquer.

Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, one of the figures in the ERMDJ, was not true to himself when he declared in the early 90’s that there were no people called Amhara with the full knowledge that his parents may have brought him up as an Amhara boy.

The fifteen-party conference that took place about a year and a half ago in the U.S. brought together entities that have decentralization and recentralization tendencies. It was with such conflicting ideologies that came together and formed a coalition that they named the United Ethiopia Democratic Front (UEDF). It was a front that was a bad mix to start with. True to its nature, it was split into two camps and now appears to be going in two different directions. Some of the recentralization forces have now formed the ERMDJ.  

One of the most striking developments in Ethiopian politics was the subsequent formation of the Ethiopian Democratic Forces (EDF), with the ONC, the SEPDF and the AAPO at its center. This seems to be the most rationale step that may have been taken in the history of the legal opposition parties in the era of the TPLF/EPRDF government. It is the departure point between the recentralizing and decentralizing forces among these parties. It has hit two political targets with a single stroke. First, it seems to have a message that political parties can represent the Oromo people, the Amhara people, and the people of south Ethiopia and then come together as political representatives of their respective peoples and then Ethiopia. In fact, this is a fertile starting ground for free discourse between the peoples in Ethiopia.

Hopefully, the political vultures on the sky above the people whose main interest is to grab the power from the people will get the message. It is long over due for some elements of the Amhara people to stop acting as the sole guardian of Ethiopia or Ethiopians. They should cultivate their Amharaness first and then their Ethiopianness. No Amhara unable or unwilling to cultivate his Amharaness first is a loyal guardian of Ethiopia or Ethiopians. He or she would simply be a subconscious rhetoric.  

What remains to be seen are 1) genuine dialogue between the liberation fronts on the one hand and the decentralizing forces on other hand, and 2) inclusion of representatives of other peoples not represented, such as the Afar people. Ethiopia is headed towards mainly two possible eventualities: 1) genuinely decentralized states in Ethiopia or a few independent new states in East Africa. The fact that Ethiopia has lost ground to exist as a centralized state is a foregone conclusion, and the struggle for that end is futile. How the decentralizing forces of liberation fronts and legal oppositions approach the chronic political problem is going to determine the future of Ethiopia.