BY TECLE ABRAHAM
The incoming PM of Ethiopia has by his inaugural speech sounded like he is ushering a new era in Ethiopia’s body politics. Like a good preacher reprimanding his flocks for not behaving the way the holy book instructs them to, the PM also described a litany of misconduct and misbehavior by his Woyane dominated EPDRF government albeit indirectly. But he shied away from specifying the legislative and institutional measures he would enact to get rid of these ills.
That notwithstanding, many Ethiopians are pleased hearing his sermon and are hoping that this man is up to something and will deliver their wish. On the other hand, many more are skeptical whether he can at all deliver.
The latter knowing how the system is organized and functions make it clear that the PM, despite its constitutional power, cannot implement anything that is not to the liking of the Woyane “Deep State” that has a considerable leverage on policy formulation and implementation.
If that turns out to be true, then Ethiopia is heading for a deeper crisis that will eventually resolve itself by the demise of the regime itself, unless the religious PM is helped by godly intervention to make miracles.
The current crises of Ethiopia trace its root to the complete break down of state structure following the Woyanes triumphant march supported by the EPLF into Addis Ababa and its consequent fundamentally different structuring of the country according to the wish of Woyane.
By this new structuring, the Woyanes aimed to ensure the prominence of the Tigrai minority in the political, economic, military and media institutions hoping that would after 50 years crystalize Fait Accompli into a reality that no one would be able to reverse it. This was predicated on the unfailing deference of the woyane created parties presumably representing the four major ethnic identities to Abiyotawi Democracy, an ideology so cleverly crafted to impute that for a developmental State a continuous rule of this party is required to transform Ethiopia into a middle-income country or in other words the creation of middle-income class that has no appeal for ethnic affiliation.
This is how Woyane ideologues cleverly veiled their own hidden agenda to establish their dominance or at the minimum their prominence in the country’s politico-economic structure regardless of their minority status.
This nefarious project, short of declaring a one-party system, could only be realized by employing every Machiavelian means that avails itself to ensure EPDRFs rule for eternity. This has been enacted at the electorate and at the opposition parties as well as civic societies activists level. Everyone is familiar with the infamous 1 to 5 incarceration of the society, whereby every citizen whether a farmer or employee is bondage to the party to earn his living.
At the opposition level, parties are prevented to open party offices, recruit members and in any way function adequately to put up a serious contention. When all that fail, outright election rigging, is a weapon of choice.
Political party functionaries, journalists, civic societies leaders were accused of promoting either Tebab or Tmkhetgan ideas, arrested and silenced with lengthy prison terms. To do all these violations of human and democratic rights with impunity, the Woyane lead regime introduced several institutional devices as well as draconian laws that have been faithfully and diligently implemented by a judiciary put at the service of the party.
These are the sources of all Ethiopia’s misery that lead to the upheaval and mobilization of the Ethiopian people fighting for their human and democratic rights.
It is against this complex and obviously intractable backdrop that the new PMs ability to deliver or otherwise on the demand for drastic change of the Ethiopian people should be analyzed. Even proceeding from the assumption that he is truly after a real reform, there are good reasons to be cautious and lower the expectation bar.
To begin with, PM Dr. Abiy is not expected to rock the boat completely. He is after all the Chairman of the EPDRF, which is still guided by Abiyotawi Democracy. Actually, he has everything to owe to the party for all his political journey and ascendency, all he wants to do is introduce some form of reforms to appease the people rather than extricate the country from the prevailing crises and at the same time hoping to win back the support of his constituencies in view of the coming elections in 2020.
Nevertheless, like all things in politics, it is not easy to remove long held vestigial interests. Yet it is even more problematic when it involves entanglement with hidden agenda of an entrenched minority regime that feels insecure with the coming changes. The PM has in general terms described the ills of the system including the constraints of freedoms to speech, organization, and assembly, the lack of judicial independence indicating that he would do some sort of a reform.
Coming from the Oromo people who have been at the forefront of the upheaval and resistance, he may share partly the resentment of his constituency, including ascendency to the helm of PM office, which he has to win after a hard fight against the Woyanes and their cohorts. He seems also to be more liberal than ideological, with an inclination towards liberal democracy, whatever that means in Ethiopia`s context.
Last but not least of all, he also understands the severe political, economic and security consequence of failing to make serious reforms to meet the main demands of the Ethiopian people as well as the regime’s handlers in the west. For this reason, many people would like to give the new PM their goodwill and confidence.
But many others who know well how the power of the prime ministership is exercised and the intricacies of the EPDRF politics doubt whether he can introduce drastic reforms irrespective of his intention. And there are several good reasons to mention.
First and foremost, his reform agenda and extent of reform is dictated by the decision of the party rather than the will of the PM. That was not lost even to the PM when he shied away from articulating concretely his reform agendas and rather instead dwelling on impressing the parliamentarians and his party’s executive members on general ills of its government.
Secondly, from what we can tell from the proceedings of the executive committee, there are many who don`t share his reform agenda. Thirdly, he will not have a free hand in constituting his cabinet with like-minded ministers who share his reform agenda, while hitherto the EPDRF modalities have been quota based representation.
Indeed as Prof. Merara has rightly pointed out, his greatest challenge will be dealing with his party, not only with the Woyanes but also with other hard-line ideologues of the Abiyotawi Democracy. His limited experience and political weight should also be factored in, whether he can win the internal struggle in order to execute his reform agendas.
Of course, time is on his side. He can make use of the pressure from the people of Ethiopia and the international community, to convince the hardliners that there is no other way. But that finally rests on his Leadership quality, about which we know little, except what is heard during his inaugural speech.
The reform process, of course, cannot be imagined without the full participation of all the stakeholders from inside and outside the country, if the reforms are to mean anything. To start with, the modalities of consultation and discussion should be agreed upon not dictated by the ruling regime. That should not be at all an issue if the PM is really committed to reform.
However, regarding the participation and representation of the opposition, could turn out to be problematic, if the PM is unable to show leadership and commitment. Apart from the opposition parties residing inside the country, there are several genuine opposition parties residing outside the country, some of whom taking up arms against the regime.
The minority regime has condemned many of these legitimate armed opposition groups including the OLF, ONLF, PG 7 as terrorist groups. Of course, there are many others representing various ethnic groups including the Sidama, Gambella, Amara, Afar, Tigray’s TPDM. Many of these armed opposition groups have intensified their operation in tandem with the uprisal of the Ethiopian people and it is unthinkable to hope for the transformation of the country without ensuring the full participation of these groups in the reform process.
And there are many more civic societies and associations in the diaspora that should be involved. The PM has implied by his inaugural address, the importance of involving these stakeholders, however how he goes about it procedurally will be a critical factor.
It is self-evident that the PM is tasked with a transformation that looks like an impossible mission. Whatever changes he may enact will not be far enough for many and too far for some diehard within the party. The pace of changes will be also another factor of contention.
No doubt the PM needs all his leadership quality, intellectual wisdom, energy and probably a bit of miracle to meet the essential demands of Ethiopians notwithstanding the challenges. His personality, unlike his predecessor, has something special. In addition to his religious affiliation, he seems ambitious with an inclination towards the West’s liberal way of exercising politics and thereby want to impress the west by introducing new thinking in his party. In the process, he may turn out to be like Mandela, if he can find someone in the incarnation of De Klerk from the rank of Woyanes or he may end up rocking the boat like Gorbachev or worse another disappointing hypocrite.
Whichever way he will turn only one thing is certain. Whatever PM Dr. Abiy does only end up being a catalyst for increasing the momentum of the struggle for freedom. The Dynamics of the struggle is going to produce further frictions and fractures within the EPDRF, along and within ethnic members of the organization.
Coupled with the increasing determination of the Ethiopian people to fight for their right; through peaceful as well as through armed struggle, the demise of the minority regime will be realized sooner than many think.
As Dr. Mohammed Hassan, a prominent Ethiopian scholar on Ethiopia said it rightly: Woyane is finished and one can only hope that the Woyanes would not play until the Gebetta is finished, as the Eritrean proverb goes.