By Teshome M. Borago | Zehabesha/Satenaw columnist
As the governing ideology of tribal politics and ethnic-federalism in Ethiopia continue to cause misery, displacement, death and destruction nationwide; it is becoming important to build the momentum of the alternative dogma: citizenship (Zeginet)-basedpolitics. However, the new comments by Ginbot 7 Chairman Dr. Berhanu Nega has already sparked internal dispute with our grassroots leader Eskinder Nega this week. It is vital that Ethiopian nationalists do not repeat the political and strategic mistakes of the past, similar to the one between Berhanu and Lidetu Ayalew.
After the brief honeymoon period of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expired, Ethiopia has already broken world record in 2018, with widespread tribal conflicts leading to displacements of biblical proportions. From Gedeo, to Moyale, Burayu, Benshangul, or virtually all contested towns and ethnic boundaries have endured bloodshed after bloodshed; exposing the ideological bankruptcy of ethnic federalism and the whole EPRDF ruling party administration.
In response, Ethiopian democratic forces led by Dr. Berhanu Nega are successfully building a 21st century political brand with#Zeginet (#ዜግነት) or citizenship-based politics to reject the Stone Age tribal apartheid system. While Berhanu’s party apparatus and campaign are slowly setting up foundations nationwide; the urban Ethiopian youth has been mobilized by activist Eskinder Nega in Addis Ababa; in response to nativist policies and tribalist rhetoric from the Oromo ruling party. In his iconic “We are Oromo …but Addis Ababa belongs to all Ethiopians” speech, Eskinder Nega embarrassed and exposed the ODP ruling party’s unelected mayor Takele Uma. Thus, it is vital that Ethiopians appreciate that both Dr.Berhanu and Eskinder share the same goal, but with different tactics. Dr.Berhanu operates from a nationwide framework obligated to follow regulations of the national election commission; but Eskinder is an independent activist who has inspired a local and emotional reaction to ethnic tyranny in Addis Ababa. Yet both share the same fundamental ideology of individual liberty and democracy.
Both sides of the struggle are necessary and compliment each other. Therefore, both their supporters must not engage in smear campaign and infighting. Dr. Berhanu’s political organization is vital for us to regain electoral mandate. Meanwhile, what Eskinder Nega is doing with Baladera Committee in Addis Ababa must be copied and repeated by pro-Zeginet Ethiopian nationalists in Adama, Hawassa, Dire Dawa and all diverse urban metropolitan areas nationwide. Zeginet politics is a long-term solution to the current politics of tribal nativism, hate and division in Ethiopia. After all, Qeerroo, Fano, Ejetto etc were also inspired and evolved from local committees that addressed the Welkait and Finfinne special interest cases. So they have no more legal basis, nor legitimacy than Eskinder’s Baladera committee. PM Abiy vilifying Eskinder’s Baladera committee while always bending over backwards to appease unelected social media activists driving the Qeerroo, Fano etc agenda is hypocrisy. Abiy’s recent statement that “all Ethiopian politics is ethnic politics” proves that he does not really understand the true meaning of Ethiopiawinet. It says a lot that Abiy’s government gives a blind eye to tribal thugs carrying AK47 in Amhara region and tribal mobs waving machete against minorities in Oromia but flexes its muscles on unarmed progressive non-tribal movements in Addis Ababa.
In fact, Eskinder’s committee defending the civil rights of all Ethiopian citizens of Addis Ababa has the moral high ground compared to those backward committees seeking for the so-called “return” of Welkait to Amhara and Finfinne to Oromo.
However, the minor tactical differences between Dr. Berhanu and Eskinder should not overshadow their ultimate unity of purpose. Similar minor problems were one of the underlying causes of the rift between Dr. Berhanu and Lidetu Ayalew in the 2005 post-election period when our CUD party won the stolen election.
In 2005, Dr. Berhanu was correct to believe that peaceful struggle alone and being a rubber stamp for the TPLF-controlled parliament will never bring real change. Meanwhile, Lidetu Ayalew’s group joined the TPLF parliament to change it from the inside. Both were necessary to put pressure from multiple fronts. But, instead of appreciating both tactics of the same movement, pro-democracy Ethiopians became deeply divided and defamed each other. What happened in 2005 can happen again if we do not appreciate the necessity of multiple fronts and strategies toward a citizenship/ Zeginet based political revolution in Ethiopia.
We can also learn from the tribalist parties like OFC & OLF because Dr Merera Gudina essentially played similar role as Lidetu in 2005 by joining the TPLF parliament. However, while OLF disagreed with Dr. Merera, both the OLF and the Qeerroo youth movement that followed never defamed or attacked Dr. Merera Gudina.
Therefore, while Dr. Berhanu might disagree with Eskinder’s tactics today, we should not let such minor disagreements to divide our common movement and our shared goals of saving Ethiopia from tribalism and conflict. Both Berhanu and Eskinder have the same objective of promoting peace and democracy in Ethiopia based on our Zeginet.
The only lesson we should learn from Dr. Berhanu’s new interview with OBN state-media is that the ruling party today is still using its media monopoly to divide its political opponents in Ethiopia, just like during the Meles Zenawi era. Such blatant abuse of the state media for political instigation, propaganda, and intimidation of Addis Ababa residents must be condemned by human rights organizations. This proves that the Abiy administration is not ready to carry out a free & fair 2020 election. The 2020 election should not take place until taxpayer-funded regional ethnic media monopolies like OBN are disbanded or reformed, so they became independent media.
Meanwhile, pro-democracy Ethiopians must not shoot ourselves in the foot using smear campaigns to exaggerate our minor tactical differences because the suffering Ethiopian people are waiting for Ethiopian nationalists to finally unite our country based on our humanity, not ethnicity. We must continue to fight ethnic-segregation, just like the South Africans fought against Apartheid and the Americans fought against racial segregation. We must replace the current tribal institutions with non-tribal democratic institutions that respect individual rights. We must continue to fight the tyranny of ethnic blocs in Ethiopia and fight for micro federalism that decentralizes power and respect all citizens (Zeginet) as equal human beings with freedom to live anywhere in Ethiopia.