A year after they got “pardoned” by the government – in connection to the infamous 2005 elections – a significant number of CUD (Coalition for Unity and Democracy) leaders and members decided to once again revive their commitment through restoring their party – they were allowed to with a condition that they had to embrace a new name. Change they did, they became to be known as the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) Party, more commonly known as Andinet, ever since.
Andinet, an Amharic for Unity, is a short form of UDJ’s Amharic version: አንድነት ለዲሞክራሲና ለፍትህ [Andinet le democracy ena lefitih]. And having been formed by a significant number of former CUD leaders and members as well as adopting CUD’s manifesto and bylaws, it is arguably considered as a direct descendant of the CUD.
Officially registered with the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia on August 22, 2008, the party held its Founding Congress on June 17, 2008 in the presence of some 350 participants. On the same meeting, the party elected 60 National Council members (plus 15 standby members), and designated Ms. Birtukan Mideksa and Mr. Gizachew Shiferaw (Eng.) as the first chairperson and deputy chairperson of the party,has opened 34 offices in Ethiopian regions of Afar, Amhara, Oromia, the Southern state, Harari and Addis Ababa; and also incorporated support organizations in all continents. At the time, the party declared its plan of opening 117 offices and recruiting 60,000 full members in Ethiopia. It had also claimed it will have more than two million supporters running at annual budget of more than 900,000 dollars in the year 2008–2009.
However just six months since its foundation, on December 28, 2008, its chairperson Mideksa was re-arrested and sentenced to life in prison. The government claimed that her “pardon” had been conditional on “an apology for her crimes,” and that it had ordered her re-arrest after hearing reports that she had publicly denied having apologized for her actions or asking for aparty, notwithstanding, continued its operations and in February 2009, it was announced that it is in the process of joining Medrek – a coalition of eight political parties and two independent, well-known figures: former president of Ethiopia Mr. Negasso Gidada (Dr.) and former defense minister Mr. Siye Abraha – to contest in the 2010 elections.
Yet as if the imprisonment of its leader wasn’t enough of a blow, the party had found itself in an unfortunate quagmire when a faction led by Professor Mesfin Woldemariam objected the merger of the party with the coalition. After much deliberation, it was reported that the party was forced to expel Professor Mesfin and his followers on the basis of “lack of discipline and misconduct” sometime in July/August 2009.
In November 2009, it was announced that the duo bigwigs of Medrek, Mr. Negasso Gidada (Dr.) and Mr. Seeye Abraha had joined Andinet. The party was also to hold a special congress meeting on November 28, 2009 at Imperial Hotel, Addis Ababa, had it not been cancelled due to a fracas at the meeting venue by the ousted faction of Professor Mesfin. According to the professor, “the change of party programs by new individuals who weren’t even a member during the first congress is illegal”.
2010 GENERAL ELECTIONS
Now with just only a year left before the elections, the executive committee figured out a way to reorganize itself and on its December 15, 2009 meeting, it brought in to its committee Mr. Negasso (Dr.) as its Deputy Chairperson/Head of Foreign Affairs, and Mr. Seeye, as its Deputy chairperson/Head of Public Relations.
However, Andinet/Medrek only won a single seat in the elections; only two seats were won by oppositions in the 547-member parliament, the other seat taken by an independent candidate.
The Medrek coalition had filed an appeal demanding a re-run, arguing that its supporters had been subjected to intimidation and its observers barred from polling stations during Election Day. But their appeals were subsequently turned down by the electoral board and the Supreme Court.
Ultimately, on July 23, 2010, the party also revealed on the first press release it held after the elections that it “identified a lack of adequate preparations and financial and human resource problems, on top of a political field marred by intimidation as its shortcomings”.
Fortunately, a reason to break the election melancholia came three months later when the party’s chairperson, Birtukan, was “pardoned” once more on October 6, 2010. Even though her release was a cause to celebrate, the party was not to fall back on her caliber as before.
Thrown in jail twice in less than one election term of five years, Midekssa became reserved on politics for most of her chairpersonship period after her discharge. Shortly afterwards, in February 2011, she announced her plan to take a break from politics and that she would leave for the United States to pursue her studies – and where she still remains engaged to this day.
Meanwhile, on February 11, 2011, the party disclosed that Dr. Negasso has replaced Eng. Gizachew as its first vice chairman, to become the de-facto interim leader. It had also ratified its next five-year strategic plan, and inducted young leaders into its Executive Committee.
With the new strategic plan in place, the party continued to bolster its activities; and on May 27, 2011, it announced that it had negotiated to merge with another opposition party called BIRHAN.
Perhaps refreshed by the merger and the accomplishment therein, the party swiftly scaled up its organizational reach and established the Addis Abeba Council in a meeting it held on June 18th. With 46 party members represented from 46 Woredas (districts), the council elected 10 executive members endorsing Mr. Nigatu Asfaw (Dr.) as its chairman, Mr. Demisie Mengistu and Mr. Bekele W/Michael as its deputy chairman and secretary, respectively.
The Public Relations Committee, on the other hand, began organizing a series of public dialogs at the head office throughout the subsequent months. The dialogs cover various national issues ranging from current agendas such as the Nile Dam, the economic inflation, and the political standoff, to topics like free press, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. They were presented by well-known experts and personalities, as well as by the leaders of the party. It was also during this time that the Public Relations began launched its newspaper, Finote Nestanet for the first time after its short-lived Tisnat newpspaper. Finote’s first issue ran on August 2, 2011.
Of all these public relations activities, it was the dialog that took place on September 4, 2011 that had upset authorities the most. The agenda was, “How to realize peaceful change in Ethiopia” and it was presented by none other but the audacious journalist & activist, Mr. Eskinder Nega. The discussion was led by another outspoken young and upcoming leader of Andinet, Mr. Andualem Aragie, who was the vice chairperson and head of Public ten days afterwards that public dialog, on September 14, 2011, the government arrested both Andualem Arage and Eskinder Nega, along with two other UDJ leaders, on allegations of terrorism. The other UDJ senior members are Mr. Natnael Mekonnen and Mr. Asaminew Berhanu.
For a party, which had just been recovering from all the mishaps a year ago, the latest arrests were an unanticipated setback – especially bearing in mind that only a few months remain before the second congress meeting.
In the meantime, MEDREK gave a press release on October 13, 2011 at its Sidist Kilo headquarter revealing its transformation into a Front. It was elaborated by its officials that the Front is yet to be officially endorsed by the respective congresses of member parties, and that each party is entitled to keep on its course.
On November 10, 2012, Mr, Andualem et al appeared before the Federal Supreme Court to receive their charges that accused them under the anti-terrorism law of being members of a terrorist network and abetting, aiding and supporting a terrorist group. To which first vice-chairman Negasso subsequently retorted “laughable and unacceptable”.
And the death of Mr. Kaleab Werede few days prior had aggravated the party’s ongoing sorrow. Mr. Kaleab was a member of EDP-Medhin and later got elected for the Addis Ababa Council representing the CUD. When the Coalition transformed into Andinet years later, he became member of the National Council and was also very instrumental in the activities of Woreda 20 until his death on 8 November 2011.
ADVENT OF THE LAND ISSUE
On November 23, 2011 MEDREK issued a press release on the new land lease that was hastily passed by the parliament a little over a month ago. It alleged the government forwarded the new proclamation as “another of its series oppressive proclamations it put in force since 2005 in order to execute its covert political agendas”.
Perhaps prompted with these new developments – both the arrests anchored in the anti-terrorism law and the land lease proclamation – the National Council’s meeting that was held on November 25 & 26, 2011 introduced a revised party Program that included the issues of terrorism and land grab. The meeting, the very last of its kind in the Nat’l Council’s 3-year tenure, also largely focused on hearing the work reports of the Executive Committee and ratifying the party’s budget for the coming year 2011/2012. The meeting also made changes on the party’s Regulation to reduce the number of Executive Committee members to 11 from the 18 that it had been.
On December 11, 2011, the first vice chairperson, Mr. Negasso (Dr.) was elected party chair in the second regular congress meeting held at Hotel D’Afrique, Addis Ababa. Mr. Nigatu Asfaw (Dr) and Mr. Zeleke Redi (Eng.) had contested Negasso for the chairmanship, although the former withdrew his candidacy halfway into the election and voted for Negasso, and Zeleke despite sustaining a defeat, later on became a member of the new cabinet.
On Jan 26, 2012 MEDREK gave a press release on the new land lease proclamation at the Front’s headquarter in Afincho Ber. It called the government to hold a referendum on the land issue citing the recently enacted proclamation “unconstitutional”.The Front also staged a public dialog on February 5, 2012 hosted by the Hon Mr. Girma (MP) and Mr. Zeleke (Eng.) at Eyerusalem Hotel, Addis Ababa. It subsequently held another town-hall meeting a week later at Nifas Silk Lafeto Sub-city and discussed the issue at length with residents. Its next meeting at Arada Sub-city was, however, cancelled because the municipality failed to give the Front a permission to convene.
On February 11, 2012 a candlelight vigil – perhaps the first ever – at Andinet headquarters to remember the six-month incaceration of Andualem et al and the ordeals of other prisoners of conscience. Chair Negasso was heard to have remarked on the vigil that “there are roughly 130 PoCs in custody, including Andualem… and until they are released, our candlelight vigils will continue”. But little did party officials knew that their first vigil night was an omen to what’s to befall Andualem few days later.
Sources close to the party revealed that on the evening of Feb 15, 2012, Andualem Aragie was severely beaten by an inmate called Ibbas Asfaw, a convicted felon who is serving life in prison. It was later on reported that this felon attacked Andualem while he was in his cell doing his personal works, and that the two never had any dispute from before since the felon was transferred to Andualem’s unit recently.
The party issued a press release on Feb 21, 2012 citing serious concerns and violations by the government with regards to the treatment of a defendant in custody under the Constitution and Criminal Law of the nation. The party also wrote a letter a the seeking clarification on the assualt and for the prison administration press release on Andualem’s Aragie saftey
An urgent Council meeting was called on February 26, 2012 concerning the safety of its leaders and members and prison. Negasso (Dr.) made known that activities are being undertaken to bring limelight on the recent mistreatment against Andualem. He said the party had also contacted the commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and that their response is much awaited. The meeting concluded with the formation of a five-member task-force that would henceforth be following up matters related with imprisoned members.
MORE COMMITTEES, MORE MEETINGS
In February 2012, two committee were formed under the supervision of the Organizational Affairs Permanent Committee: these were the Youth Affairs Subcommittee and the National Women Affairs Committee.
The Women Affairs Committee was structured with six-member executive members: Ms. Tadelech Abera as the chairwoman, Ms. Zewditu Asferaw as deputy chairwoman, Ms. Melat Wale as secretary and Mrs. Etefwork Bilesti, Ms. Sinknesh Bekele and Mrs. Etagegn Tedenek as executiveYouth Affairs Subcommittee got seven youth executives: Mr. Amanuel Yosef as chairman, Mr. Ephrem Solomon as deputy chairman, Mr. Sintayehu Chekol as secretary and Mr. Million Kasa, Mr. Kidus Berhanu, Mr. Yemaneh Assefa and Mr. Zelalem Solomon as executive members.
In a concerted effort with the Public Relations Committee, the Youth Subcommittee managed to hold no less than three public dialogs in the subsequent three months; the Women Affairs Committee also observed Women’s Day celebration at Hotel D’Afrique on March 10, 2012; and the North America Support Organizations held a fund raising event in Atlanta on March 18, 2012, in which it bid Andualem’s letter from Kaliti and sold it for an “awesum” US 1,000.00.
Several other public dialog events continued to be held both abroad and at home in the premises of Andinet’s headquarters, and the candlelight vigils had by this time became habitual to be held on the third day of every month. The candlelight vigil held on June 10, 2012 also remembered the June 8 Martyrs, the over 200 people massacred in the aftermath of the 2005 elections for protesting the rigged elections.
ANDUALEM ET AL “CONVICTED”
On June 27 2012, twenty-four Ethiopians including Andualem, other UDJ leaders and Eskinder, were convicted of terrorism. Amnesty International (AI) reports that evidence brought against Eskinder and Andualem included public speeches they had made advocating peaceful protest against the government, and is of the opinion that Eskinder and Andualem are “prisoners of conscience [who were] convicted because of their legitimate and peaceful activities”. Similarly, Country Reports 2011 states that “observers found the evidence presented at trials to be either open to interpretation or indicative of acts of a political nature rather than linked to terrorism”. By August 12, 2012, they were sentenced to a minimum of 13 years imprisonment and more.
The party strongly deplored both the verdict and the sentencing on the press release it held on August 14, 2012. Officials described the court’s conviction as one more testament of the regime’s totalitarianism, and that the evidence brought against the defendants would not even warrant an advice, let alone such a verdict and punishment.
It’s the party’s conviction that the government has really started to be threatened by the peaceful struggle and that of the ways it want to clamp down this development, one is through incarcerating and terrorizing politicians and activists based on false accusations. Indeed, the party wasn’t reserved to stress the fact that the sacrifice currently being made by Andualem et al is in return exposing the regime’s totalitarianism, and that this has resulted for more and more young people to join the party than ever before. They party reaffirmed the struggle and sacrifice for freedom will not be deterred by government crackdown but instead, it will intensify.
Following the death of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the party forwarded a formal condolence on August 22, 2012. Days later, on August 25, 2012, the party called an emergency national council meeting on current national state of affairs. It adopted the following four-point resolution: that there should be a power transfer based on Constitutional order; that its Executive Council has to work jointly with MEDREK in initiating a National Dialogue on current political situations; that members of the National Council are urged to take the lead in organizing members at the grassroots level; and for all POCs and journalist be released effective immediately.
Sadly, the media was further oppressed by the government after its leader’s death. On August 31, 2012 Finote Netsanet newspaper’s publisher refused to print the paper’s 57th issue of the year. The publisher, Brehanena Selam, told the newspaper editorial board that the printing press met a great deal of condemnations for publishing the special edition newspaper (of August 24th) that did a coverage on the late prime minister, and therefore the management has decided to discontinue its service to the newspaper. The party consequently looked for remedy from pertinent government bodies but to no avail. On October 2, 2013, the Editorial Board issued a press release indicating it would take legal measures against Berhanena Selam.
The next month saw a high level of activity with supporters’ organizations in North America arranging public dialogs on the nation’s current affairs. Especially officials of MEDREK, Mr. Seyee Abraha, Mr. Gebru Asrat, Mr. Merara Gudina (Dr.) and Mr. Temesgen Zewdie appeared in different meetings in Washington, Colorado, Georgia, Texas and DC.
Back at home in October, the party suffer the loss of one of its most dedicated leaders, Mrs. Laketch Degefu, who had been serving in the party’s Finance & Human Rights Committees, and a member of MEDREK’s Audit and Inspection Committee. Mrs. Laketch was a founding member of EDP-Medhin and member of CUD’s Central Committee. She later helped found Andinet, served both in the Executive Council and the National Council and had steered the Women Affairs. Right before her death, she had been instrumental in the monthly candlelight vigils, engaged in the Fundraising Taskforce and also took interest in helping citizens who were being displaced in different parts of the country.
Moving on, the party carried out internal evaluation on its past 8-month performance. It had also brought in nine leaders to fill up the posts at the Nat’l Council that were left vacant due to death, promotion and other reasons. On the same event, Mr. Gizachew Shiferaw (Eng.) had returned to the party’s leadership and was among the newly added council members.
2012 LOCAL ELECTIONS
On October 25, 2012 the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia convened political parties at Adama Ethiopia to discuss on the schedule of the upcoming Local Elections. Of the 66 participant parties, 33 of them – which Andinet & MEDREK is a member – petitioned for the election playing field to improve before they decide to contest.
On November 8, 2012 the signatories sent to the Electoral Board 18 issues they believe it can address to ensure a better process; and a month later, they also sent letter containing 13 questions to the Office of the Prime Minister and the House Speaker. Among other things, these letters pretty much stress the parties’ desire to be involved in the election administration, and their request for equal access to government media. However, by December 19th the Electoral Board expressed to the parties that their questions doesn’t hold water and so it has dismissed it altogether.
With their other questions to the Office of the Prime Minister and House Speaker left unanswered, the 33 parties declared, on early February this year, that they have decided to boycott the elections. They had also planned to hold a public meeting on February 3 but, finding a venue proved to be difficult due to a systematic pressure from the government on lessors. Moreover, 28 of the signatories have signed a Memorandum of Understanding by February 26 to form a union that could henceforth challenge the ruling party in a cohesive stratagem.
In February of this year, it was disclosed that Mr. Habtamu Ayalew, chairman of the Balera’ey Wetatoch (Visionary Youths) civic group, has joined Andinet. From the interview he gave to the Finote Netsanet team, it was learnt that he joined politics because the repressive regime couldn’t let him bring the change he desires through the activities of his civic group, and that this has prompted him to join the
concerted peaceful struggle for democracy and justice, currently being pursued by Andinet.
Certainly, Habtamu’s arrival could only be taken as a stroke of luck, because just a month later the party had relegated one of its top leaders – the Head of the Organizational Affairs Committee, Mr. Zeleki Redi (Eng.). It was reported that as of March 6 Mr. Zeleke had been demoted from his post due to lack of competence and discipline. We are yet to learn about the person who has replaced him and now heading the Organizational Committee.
At the Front, officials successfully attended the 7th Regular Meeting a month ago, and held a press release on March 26 to publicize their latest progresses. They officially introduced the Front’s Manifesto, which in its analysis believe the country to be at crossroads. The Front thus forwarded a 6-point resolution, of which one is the call for establishing a coalition government.
Following this, the National Council of Andinet issued its standpoint on April 27 in a document titled ‘General Evaluation of Andinet/MEDREK Relationship & Cooperation from Coalition to Front’. In this document, Andinet tried to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the Front and laid out short-and-long term solutions. The party advises that without considering its findings, it would be difficult to see the Front’s growth for possible merger.
MILLIONS OF VOICES FOR FREEDOM
Launched on June 20th, the “Millions of Voices for Freedom” was the first ever well-organized nonviolent struggle in the country, along with the ongoing Muslim Ethiopians demands. The three-month campaign called for the regime to end its ever-repressive governance.
The first peaceful demonstration of the campaign took place on July 14th in Gonder and Dessie. Over 20,000 participants took part in what’s considered to be one of the largest rallies ever since the 2005 elections.
However the party shortly got into depression with the loss of its senior Council member, Mr. Girma Senbet. Mr. Girma was a founding member of All Amhara People Organization back in 1992 and later joined Andinet, and has been serving the National Council diligently Until his death on July 29th.
The “Millions of Voice for Freedom” campaign has continued and the team at Finote Netsanet was able to hold its very first Roundtable Discussion on the Anti-terrorism law. The discussion tried to look this new law and its effect on free speech and the political activism. It was chaired by Dawit Solomon with guests, lawyer Mr. Temam Ababulgu and journalist Sileshi Hagos (a friend of the renowned journalist Ms. Reeyot Alemu, who is currently in custody charged of “terrorism acts”.) Perhaps this online discussion was the precursor for the rather contentious televised debate in August on the same topic between five political parties: EDP, EPRDF, MEDREK, Semeyawi and Andinet.
The following month saw a series of peaceful demonstrations at Bahir Dar, Jinka, Arba Minch, Fiche, and Adama. The demonstrations saw The North America support organizations have also showed solidarity by holding their own demonstrations and public meetings in different states.
Although the last demonstration of the campaign was planned to be staged on September 5 in Addis Ababa, it was postponed at the request of the government and was held on September 19; yet again, demonstrators were blocked from congregating at Meskel Square. As in the regime’s tradition, government forces harassed, and at times detained, party members and supporters during pre-demonstration campaigns, and had been blocking roads on demonstration days. For the same reason, the scheduled demonstrations at Bale, Mekelle and others were either barred or postponed indefinitely.
Still, the demonstrations clearly showed the growing grievances among citizens in the regime’s failure to properly govern the country. Demonstrators from the young to the old were seen passionately venting their frustrations in the government. The intimidation of party members and supporters, however, has continued unabated to this day. Which is why party leaders, at the conclusion of this campaign, promised that similar operations will be staged very soon, and that the party will continue to earnestly pressure the government in all form of peaceful struggles until citizens’ rights get respected.
ONE OF THEM WILL TAKE THE CHAIR
Perhaps out of strictly respecting the party’s three-year chairmanship term – since he’s actual tenure began in early 2011 – or simply out of tiredness and wanting to take a well-deserved rest, Chair Negasso has decided to step down from the chair by October.
The five leaders who contested in the primary chairmanship election were Mr. Tigestu Awelu, Mr. Gizatchew Shiferaw (Eng.), Hon. Mr. Girma Seifu (MP), Mr. Shimeles Habte and Mr. Tekle Bekele. In the election that was held on September 21, members of the Council casted their vote and three candidates – Mr. Gizatchew, Hon Mr. Girma and Mr. Shimeles – had won the primaries and are expected to contest for the final elections quite soon.
With its broad official presence both nationally and abroad, Andinet is arguably considered to be the strongest political opposition party in Ethiopia. With 58 offices and support chapters in all continents, and with its over 40,000 members and huge supporters, Andinet is poised to be Ethiopia’s lone hope in the peaceful struggle for unity, democracy and justice.