Rethinking Ethiopia’s opposition Kinijit
By Maru Gubena*
May 11, 2006 — As many Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia have repeatedly stated, only the [ruling] TPLF leadership and its cadres have persisted in telling God-fearing, honest, innocent and starving Ethiopians – and the international community – that the tireless efforts and wisely crafted policies and strategies of the TPLF leadership have assured continued production in the various economic, educational and health sectors of Ethiopia, as well as incalculable amounts of agricultural and industrial products and goods, and that this has allowed the country not only to feed its entire population but also to realize a huge profit of billions of dollars in foreign exchange. This unsubstantiated news is transmitted on a daily basis by the poorly trained, unprofessionally organized staff of the TPLF-controlled media. For example, they have said that educational outputs in 2005 increased by millions of Ethiopian graduates compared to 2004, and their employment figures suggest that the percentage of unemployed Ethiopians is the lowest in the history of Ethiopia. The health conditions of all Ethiopians too have improved in a most dramatic fashion, due to great increases in the number of hospitals and clinics of all sizes located all over Ethiopia. If the current development trend continues in the coming half decades concurrently with the process of democratization, the Meles-controlled media says blatantly, Ethiopia will undoubtedly be able to help feed not just Ethiopians, but also the people of many other African countries. Such are the astonishingly creative stories invented by the TPLF trained cadres, well-paid foreign lobbyists and personal foreign friends of the TPLF leadership. Saddest of all, these totally fabricated stories are expanded and widely transmitted by the newly created friends who are being cultivated, the Chinese and Reuters websites.
The TPLF’s repressive leadership employs an extreme policy of stifling long-running internal conflicts and differences among its members, as well as the voices and deep-seated grievances of the general population of Ethiopia. This regime has never allowed Ethiopians to know the actual daily events taking place in their country, including the imprisonment and killing of their own family members. But also the repressive, stifling nature of Meles Zenawi’s regime is clear, even against its own core members and ministers: for example, neither Ethiopians in Ethiopia nor those residing in the western world have ever heard or read a single statement of disagreement or criticism from any of the core members of TPLF against any TPLF policy, or against the views, measures undertaken or proposals made by the TPLF leader – Meles Zenawi – before the results of the policy explode and become known to the general public. Yes, it is indeed true that even though many dramatic events have resulted from bad, harsh policies over the past fifteen years, we have never heard a word or statement from a single top member of the TPLF leadership saying “with due respect, I disagree with you, Mr. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, because ….” Never. Ethiopians discover the long-existing disagreements and conflicts among TPLF core members only after one of them has managed to defect to a foreign country and directly or indirectly join the Ethiopian resistance.
The Rationale Behind the Persistent Lies of the TPLF Leadership
Since many may wonder about the rationale behind the blatant and persistent lies of the TPLF leadership, it is probably important to briefly explain, and in particular to address the reason the TPLF leadership attaches so much value to such methods, and has employed lies as an indispensable part of its short and long term policy since it came into being.
As historical records clearly show, the founders of the TPLF took up arms to fight against the political and economic system of the time with the sole objective, at least according to the original goals stated by the founders, of demanding an equal and balanced distribution of the country’s resources from the central government of Ethiopia and freeing the people of Tigray from their socio-economic backwardness. Over time, however, and due to the incalculable crimes committed by the regime of Mengistu Hailemariam, Ethiopia was gradually made a fertile land, ready to be ruled by the enemy of the people – the TPLF, under the leadership of Meles Zenawi. The endless killings of innocent Ethiopians, including members of the Ethiopian armed forces, and the continuous humiliation of a good number of high-ranking officers and generals, were the main forces that drove a disproportionately high number of Ethiopian soldiers into the camps of the TPLF and EPLF. This became a decisive factor in the weakening of the entire power structure and the eventual disintegration of Mengistu’s regime. It is further true that since the very inception of the TPLF, which coincided with Ethiopia’s bloody and most cruel revolution of 1974, the entire political programme and socio-economic policies of the TPLF have been and are still hostile to the unity of Ethiopia and to certain sections of Ethiopian society. The TPLF leadership still considers the bulk of Ethiopian society – which has in fact been responsible for defending Ethiopia’s territorial integrity for centuries, and for shaping and maintaining its social and political fabric – to be the historical and potential future enemy of the TPLF, which deserves to be marginalized and to gradually evaporate from the land of Ethiopia.
It is also to be remembered that when the TPLF leadership, with the full supervision and military leadership of the EPLF, entered Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi and his followers did not come empty handed. They were carrying many variegated bags, each one full of historical and newly minted animosities and hostilities directed at the very people that the TPLF leaders intended to rule. Consequently, for fifteen years now the TPLF leadership has ruled Ethiopians with maximum cruelty and with the barrel of the gun – separating family members from each other and killing Ethiopian youth, the future assets of Ethiopia, every day. Meles Zenewi and his cadres have never shown the slightest respect to the people of Ethiopia – even to well-known or aged Ethiopians. Therefore, it appears that both the immediate and long-term policies of Meles Zenawi and his cadres is simply to find a way to be accepted by countries willing to provide tools to help strengthen the power structures of the TPLF so that it can continue to silence the people of Ethiopia and continue to rule. Lies have thus become the cardinal foundation of the TPLF leadership, a foundation that is rational, given the aim of defeating its enemies and winning the sympathy, the hearts and minds, and the financial and military assistance of donor countries, upon whom the very existence and survival of Meles and his cadres are almost exclusively dependent. The rationale behind the daily transmissions, the postings and presentations on the TPLF-controlled media about the dramatic expansion of various economic, health and educational sectors should be seen in this framework – a concerted effort to win the hearts and minds of those willing to help the TPLF leadership survive and prolong its life span.
Does the Opposition need to employ the Methods of the TPLF Leadership?
What is much more difficult to understand is the recent appearance in the opposition camp of something similar to what has been described above: the repeated transmission of unsubstantiated events and “news” by pro-democracy media outlets, such as Tensae radio and various websites. Every concerned Ethiopian must wonder what the rationale can be, and whether this can possibly be effective. Why are conflicting views, misunderstandings and confusions circulating at this very early stage of our resistance? Why is it that we have become so increasingly dependent upon the brutal killings and measures undertaken by the TPLF leadership against our people at home for the bells of our resistance to ring loudly? Why was, or is it necessary for people within the resistance camp, or for the “Chapters” or “Support Groups of Kinijit” – whose target groups are you and I – to submit unsubstantiated, one-man produced reports and resolutions from small get-together meetings and events and often extremely exaggerated or inflated, to pro-democracy media outlets for transmission and posting – to the point of contributing to a loss of interest and confidence in Kinijit itself among many CUDP or Kinijit supporters and sympathizers? How come critical issues, difficulties and problems within Kinijit and facing Kinijit are not raised, openly and publicly debated, analyzed and resolved? Or, does this silence mean that everything within Kinijit is all right? Do we really believe deep in our hearts and minds that we ourselves are democrats and free from self-imposed or culturally-imposed censorship and dictatorial behaviours, simply because most of us have been living for so long in the western world and continuously shout for the implementation of democracy and the rule of law in our country? Again, the question is: is there a need for Kinijit – a political party that we all consider to be the spirit of all Ethiopians – to follow in the footsteps of the TPLF leadership if what we want to do is to engage, progressively attack and intensify our resistance? Do we really need to feed ourselves with lies? For what reason and toward what purpose? What factors might be considered responsible for the changing face of Kinijit today, compared to some months back? The TPLF leadership’s rationale for telling lies to Ethiopians and the international community have been explained above and are clear. What would be the rationale for Kinijit to employ the same methods and techniques? I sincerely hope some of you will respond to my concerns and worries as stated above and as reflected in following pages.
Missing Elements in Ethiopian Opposition Camps
It has been argued repeatedly and agreed by all actively involved Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia that the participation of Ethiopian opposition political parties in the 15 May 2005 general election occurred without the necessary preparation, and indeed without establishing the necessary power bases both inside Ethiopia and outside, where the opposition parties enjoy a disproportionately high number of supporters and financiers. It is also true that on the eve of the election, very few of the Ethiopians in the Diaspora were physically in Ethiopia, whether for their own businesses or helping and encouraging the opposition party leaders and their supporters. The rest, an estimated 99 percent or more of the total Ethiopian Diaspora, were in essence still in bed – they did not even know that an important election day was to take place in the land of Ethiopia on the following day – and that some 26 million eligible and registered Ethiopians were ready to show the tyrannical TPLF leadership their red cards: to tell Melles Zenawi in clear language that “enough is enough.” In my recollection, it was the day after the election, to be precise, after the declaration of the state of emergency by the leader of the tyrants, Meles Zenawi, on 16 May 2005, that most of the Ethiopian Diaspora began to spring up and show their unlimited support for the opposition and to the people of Ethiopia, and promised to do everything in their power, to sacrifice their energy, time, money, skill and even their lives in support of respect for the vote, voice and freedom of all Ethiopians. Indeed, as promised, Ethiopians at home and those living abroad reacted massively with a collective voice, protesting the brutal killings of innocent Ethiopians and attempting to force a return of their stolen votes to the people of Ethiopia by the TPLF leadership. It is also a fact that all this concerted effort and resistance by the Ethiopian Diaspora was waged spontaneously, depending only upon events and developments – killings and arrests taking place at home – but without any sort of organizational structure and strategy, and without the development of an effective leadership that could support our elected leaders or even take their places if they are arrested or killed, and a leadership that could serve as the voice of the entire Ethiopian people.
Much to the disappointment and regret of many Kinijit members, financial contributors, devoted supporters and authors of articles, however, this did not happen. Even serious suggestions made in the early summer of 2005 by actively involved and concerned Ethiopians to reorganize, restructure and strengthen Kinijit’s power base in exile – before our leaders were snatched from the people by the tyrannical leadership of TPLF – did not receive the required attention they deserved; instead, these serious and repeated suggestions were put aside by the leadership of Kinijit and the Ethiopian pro-democracy media outlets. It may also be remembered that in addition to the suggestion to create a shadow cabinet, whether in Ethiopia or elsewhere, the issues of effective strategy and leadership were again raised directly to the CUD leader, Engineer Hailu Shawel, I believe by Mr. Elias Kifle, publisher of the Ethiopian Review. During that telephone interview in the summer of 2005, Engineer Hailu Shawel’s strong, firm responses and statements suggested to all of us that he and the rest of Kinijit leadership had already prepared something unknown to us – something he did not want clarify at that time. But I have come to believe Engineer Hailu Shawel was talking about some kind of alternative Kinijit leadership or popular force that would take responsibility and operate clandestinely in the event that he himself and his colleagues are arrested or silenced by the tyrants. As we listened attentively to the interview, the responses and statements of Engineer Hailu Shawel seemed to many of us to be powerful and convincing. In the course of time, however, the reality appeared to be not only different but disappointing. That is, when Meles Zenawi’s tyrannical leadership wasted no time in carrying out its usual heinous crimes, jailing our elected leaders – our worst nightmare – there was no sign of the clandestine organization we had expected to begin to operate clandestinely in the place of jailed Kinijit leadership.
What about measures undertaken by the Ethiopian Diaspora in response to the atrocious crimes being inflicted on our people by Meles Zenawi and his cadres? Yes, demonstrations have been staged; a huge number of letters have been written to US and European officials, and to other institutions concerned; many articles have been produced by active and concerned Ethiopians; candlelight vigils have been organized; a good number of Ethiopians were and are still engaged in lobbying activities, all directed at expressing our outrage at the brutal killings of our people and the jailing of our leaders and with the overall objective of freeing our people from the yoke of TPLF’s repressive regime. Much to my sadness and disappointment, however, there have been no important, boldly formulated initiatives directed at structural, long-term engagement of our resistance. For example, an international gathering could be convened for five days or a week: this could involve all Ethiopians and aim at assessing current political events at home, including the views, attitudes and policies of major donor nations towards the people of Ethiopia and the TPLF leadership; debating the responsibilities, roles and contributions of the Ethiopian Diaspora and friends of Ethiopia with respect to the political stability and instability in our country; devising a future strategy for Kinijit; and officially electing leaders among those in Ethiopia and in the Diaspora to temporarily replace the jailed Kinijit leaders. This would also be an opportunity to officially and publicly announce Kinijit’s official headquarters and branch offices in exile, and to assess and debate other options, such as possible strategies for supporting and assisting the military struggle inside Ethiopia. These three words – “strategy” and “effective leadership” are the essential missing elements within today’s Kinijit. In my view by supplying those missing, most indispensable elements we can also supply the potential sources for change in the current and future face of Kinijit, including the direction for our resistance. The lack of these elements is directly responsible for the conflicting views that are current among active Kinijit members, supporters, sympathizers and the Ethiopian Diaspora at large. This has become a source of misunderstandings, confusion and fingers pointing at each other. The resulting worrisome disagreements and conflicts both between Kinijit and UEDF and within Kinijit itself probably explain why the bells of our resistance do not ring as loudly as they did prior to the first two or three months of 2006. The lack of an elected and accepted leadership, of common strategies and common rules, has also led to the problems seen recently, such as transmitting and posting unsubstantiated, individually produced reports and resolutions from small events, presenting them to the general public of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Diaspora in an exaggerated way. Each Kinijit Chapter or Support Group wants to be able to say that it has done something meaningful; not knowing what to say to other Kinijit members and the Diaspora, some Support Groups have portrayed what were actually get together meetings as if they had been attended by hundreds of public participants, with reports and resolutions discussed, agreed and produced collectively by conference participants. We have also heard repeated announcements on Tensae radio and various pro-democracy websites of “major international conferences” that are actually small meetings, planned for twenty or thirty participants and one or two speakers. This creates expectations among interested Ethiopians regarding the activities of Kinijit, expectations they will later learn are false. This means transmissions and postings on pro-democracy websites that inflate small get-together meetings may not only be detrimental to the activities of Kinijit within Ethiopian communities in a given country, but can also lead to the eventual destruction of Kinijit itself, as most listeners to Tensae radio and most readers of pro-democracy websites are also themselves involved as participants and observers in the activities of Kinijit Support Groups everywhere in the western world – in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Stockholm, London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Oslo, Geneva or other cities or countries.
It should be abundantly clear that without reorganizing Kinijit forces, without crafting meaningful and workable strategies to be carried out by the Ethiopian Diaspora in cooperation with clandestine Kinijit leaders and supporters at home, without effective leadership and professionally-functioning office staff outside Ethiopia, the future of Kinijit as an effective and viable political organization will be short lived. And unless each of us takes the bold decision to free ourselves from secretiveness, from self-imposed or culturally-imposed self- censorship, and to democratize ourselves and our organizations, there is no way we will be justified in imagining that we will be able to help our people and free our country from the repressive chains of the unelected regime of Meles Zenawi. And continuously crying, imploring major donor countries to stand at our side without showing our firm determination and unity, with no carrots and sticks in our hands, are not just unhelpful; they are obvious signs of our own powerlessness and inability to agree and work together.
* Dr. Maru Gubena, from Ethiopia, is a political economist, writer and publisher. He is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org