By Abebe Gellaw
For the last two decades, nonviolent struggle, or civil resistance, appeared to be highly misunderstood and confused in Ethiopia. The resultant effect of this confusion is that so many opportune moments to build a movement for change have been wasted. In fact, a number of leaders failed to provide the necessary leadership to mobilize the oppressed people of Ethiopia to confront their oppressors.
Though Ethiopian Muslims are waging their struggle in a religious context, they are showing us that nonviolent struggle is not “impossible” but a “force more powerful” to crack, stress out and eventually dismantle the tyrannical TPLF regime. While the regime has left no stone unturned to isolate the struggle of Muslims through its confusing and divisive propaganda, the movement is gaining momentum and getting smarter. It now stands out that the movement has reached a critical stage. Despite its best efforts, TPLF has failed to put the genie back into the bottle as the movement has already become irrepressible.
The demands that Ethiopian Muslims have raised are fundamental. It is similar to the demands that Ethiopian Christians have raised in the last two decades. They rejected the appointment of members of the Islamic Supreme Council, the main body supposed to provide spiritual leadership, by the TPLF regime. They also rejected TPLF’s daring effort to impose the Al-Ahbash sect that the late dictator Meles Zenawi chose to import from Lebanon. In his last parliamentary sophistry, he was practically saying that Al-Ahbash was home-gown and every Muslim had to endorse it willy-nilly. He was calling those Muslims who rejected his “spiritual” guidance “terrorists and bandits.”
Followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox church have also suffered for the last two decades, even worse than under the previous two regimes. TPLF denied them the right to have an independent synod. Until Abune Paulos finally followed the man who chose and anointed him to his grave, the patriarch represented and served TPLF’s dictatorship. So many people argued that the divisive patriarch was illegally imposed after Abune Markorios was ousted and forced into exile.
Without going into more details, one can surmise that Ethiopian Muslims and Christians have similar grievances. They both demand religious freedom. They both want to choose their spiritual leaders in accordance of the tenets and spirit of their faith. As much as Ethiopian Christians need none-interference in their religious affairs, our Muslim compatriots are also resisting the meddling of the TPLF in their faith.
In an effort to intimidate and silence those who are in the forefront of the resistance movement, the TPLF has recently “charged” 29 Muslim leaders and activists with “terrorism” offenses. The accused will soon join great Ethiopians like Eskinder Nega, Andualam Aragie, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa, Reeyot Alemu et al, who have already been convicted of being terrorists only for speaking out against the tyranny of the TPLF. Quite obviously, the charges of terrorism are fake that expose the desperation and paranoia that the TPLF regime has been suffering from.
One of the most serious deficiencies of the struggle against the tyrannical regime is the absence of a coherent leadership that can unify all those who have risen against the tyranny of the minority regime. It is due to this undeniable fact that Ethiopians, in and outside of the country, have not been able to unite against their common enemy.
Ethiopian Muslims have emerged as a force to reckon with as their movement is getting bolder and smarter. They have already shown yellow cards and clearly demonstrated that they cannot be crushed easily when they are united as one. It should, however, be underscored that there will be no religious freedom in Ethiopia unless basic rights are respected. When brutal rulers do not even accept their subjects as citizens, religious freedom will remain a far cry.
It is for this very reason that Ethiopian Muslims should leverage on their movement and try to reach out to other oppressed Ethiopia. They should clearly communicate their messages as TPLF is propagating that the movement has no objective but to set up an Islamic government in Ethiopia. Others should also join the resistance against TPLF so that a larger movement that raises religious freedom as one of the demands emerges in full force to unify every oppressed Ethiopian.
Ethiopia is a diverse country. Our unity in diversity is a serious power that needs to be harnessed for change. We cannot afford to let one small group kill, abuse, exploit, dehumanize and oppress the greater majority. Every Ethiopian, except the oppressors who are profiting from their unfair apartheid system, is oppressed and silenced. In order to end this deplorable state of affairs, all Ethiopians that have been suffering silently should unify and defy TPLF’s tyranny.
Ethiopian Muslims are harnessing the power of nonviolent resistant. I have found it very encouraging to see that tens of thousands of Muslims have decided to go to Kaliti jail to visit their leaders. I am very optimistic that others will also join in a similar effort and will unite to demand the release of all those who have been suffering for the sake freedom and justice.
I believe that the time has come for all oppressed Ethiopians to stand in unison and resist the tyranny of the TPLF. Muslims, Christians, Oromos, Amharas, Somalis, Afaris, Gambelans, Welaitas, Tigreans…., should rise up to defend their God-given rights as human beings created as equal. When people rise up to defend their rights, tyranny hardly survives. The movement of Ethiopian Muslims needs to be supported, not in the spirit of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It should be supported in spirit of a movement based on a legitimate cause. Tyranny is the enemy of all that should be resisted, tackled and destroyed with a concerted action.
In fact, Ethiopians, in and outside of the country, need to build trust and get mobilized under their common cause as citizens of a nation suffering under the boots of the TPLF. The death of Meles Zenawi, who epitomized the evil nature of the TPLF, has already weakened, divided and disoriented his cronies. We all know that a puppet like Hailemariam Desalegn will only add further confusion and desperation to the chaotic TPLF camp.
Though Ethiopian Muslims have now taken the lead in the struggle to resist tyranny, they cannot bring about any changes if they stand alone. It is a well-tested fact that tyrants never compromise unless they are forced to do so. Radical change that will address the demands of all and guarantee real equality and liberation that oppressed Ethiopians crave can only be possible if we can wage an effective civil resistance under a broader coalition that brings in all the major stakeholders.
Building a movement needs smart strategies. One of the most critical but difficult stages in civil resistance is creating broader coalitions among those who have various causes but similar grievances. But the difficulty can be overcome with goodwill, building trust and positive messages that transcend sectarian attitudes.
The more we unite, the stronger we get. TPLF is already suffering from stress and paranoia. All those who resist oppression need to find a common vision. After the death of Meles, TPLF is facing the worst crisis in its history. As Gene Sharp—the leading mastermind of modern strategic nonviolence—contends that tyrannies which appear strong are actually weak, decadent and vulnerable. Tyrants actually live in constant fear.
He argued: “Contrary to popular assumptions, extreme dictatorships and other systems of domination are not as permanently powerful as the image they present and as is often attributed to them. These regimes actually have internal problems and dynamics that tend over time to weaken their central control and survival. Resistance activities that aggravate these inherent weaknesses are likely to have greater impact than those activities that do not.”
Quite obviously, TPLF should not be feared. What should be feared is the state of disorganization, fragmentation and lack of direction amongst those who profess to be committed to struggle for freedom. If this sorry state of affairs can be ended with a more focused and united movement, both in Ethiopia and in the Diaspora, it will be possible to dismantle TPLF’s ethno-fascistic rule.
Ethiopia is one of the few place on earth where Christians and Muslims have lived harmoniously since time immemorial. This makes it even more obvious that the rights of one religious group cannot be respected while the rights of all are being denied and violated routinely. It is, therefore, high time to strategize unifying and mobilizing the people so that ethnic-based, militaristic or individual tyrannies will never have a place in Ethiopia again.
Muslims, Christians, believers or nonbelievers alike should wage a more concerted struggle to hasten the downfall of oppressors and the liberation of the oppressed people of Ethiopia regardless of their ethnic, religious, political and class orientations. After all, we are all Ethiopians that will continue to rise and fall together.
United we stand, divided we fall!