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Unity of Ethiopian opposition is important for democracy

October 30, 2007

Those who Came Divided Abroad Must Return Home United! Forward with the Democratic movement in Ethiopia!

October 30, 2007
By Mammo Muchie

October 26, 2007 — We have now in Ethiopia political forces that continue to fight both within the rules of the game set up by the ruling power of the time and those who are struggling to make the rule of the game broader and more inclusive. First we have the ruling TPLF/EPDRF Coalition that claims with a self-referential certainty to have established a constitutional order for building multi- party democracy in Ethiopia. The best to this claim manifested in May 2005. But the response to the success of the opposition gains was a ruthless and brutal repression by the ruling coalition making its democratic commitment and credential suspect. The ruling coalition showed fear and mistrust and spread publicly scenarios of Rwanda-type genocide and massacre of any opposition win, thus revealing that the minority ethnic power and economic holders are frightened that any democratic takeover would not respect their newly acquired property or political power. With one hand the ruling power dangles the democracy carrot; with the other hand it dangles the repression stick. Faced with such a dilemma, it remains doubtful that the regime’s commitment to democracy is unconditional and unconstrained by other ulterior motives and fears.

We have opposition parties in parliament and those that are not in parliament and have in fact been in jail. There are also opposition parties whose members are in parliament and outside parliament. At the moment the opposition seems in disarray and there is no clear strategy of how to relate or understand the carrot and stick on offer from the ruling coalition.

There are also ethnically representative parties that are in parliament and that also fight with armed struggle outside against the regime’s army. The response of the ruling coalition is to use military force against those that have been conducting armed activities, and relative tolerance of those fighting through parliament.

We have thus an array of political forces that need to enter into serious negotiation to create an all inclusive rule of the game shared and understood and owned by all the armed and non- armed parties. The question is this: after nearly one hundred years aspiring to modernise, unify, develop and democratise the country, are the current array of political parties, fronts and personalities equipped intellectually, morally and humanely to bring about an honest space for democratic expression? This is the question the current generation of politicians must do better than earlier generations during the time the country is passing in the third millennium? This must be the stuff of debate now where all should be invited to participate and come with a workable arrangement to build an innovative democratic future for all Ethiopians.


Nothing is more central and pressing than founding and embedding as social-political innovation and culture a democratic system to manage all types of conflict in Ethiopia with peaceful means free from resorting to any form of violence and blackmail. The principle that those who submit their programme to the people and win a majority can govern deriving their legitimacy from those who voted and elected them, and the equally important principle of upholding the right of the minority to continue to disagree peacefully with those who govern until the very minorities also convince and create alliances and opportunities to get the right to govern when they too succeed to get the votes – are the key prerequisites for a democratic situation to exist in the country.

In this third millennium Ethiopia needs and deserves to create a nation-wide broad and deep democratic movement for making sure that all the forces that wish to enter into politics and seek power abide by these two principles of demilitarising or’ de-violencising’ politics to couple political transitions with political transformations, balance democratic freedoms with rules, norms, institutions, shared values, procedures and the social order, and try to manage the intricate and complex transactions that will ensue once the rules of the game have been laid down and all the relevant agents are willing to undertake an evolutionary democratic transformative practice based on a shared understanding of supporting the duly and legitimately elected representatives whilst peacefully disagreeing and positioning themselves to win elections and implement the policies and programmes they wish to see.

The necessary condition (though not sufficient!) is to deepen and broaden a nation-wide democratic movement by the pursuit of the democratisations of politics and public life at all levels. Getting the ruling parties, various oppositions and alienated parties and fronts to work together for creating and sustaining a democratic state, economy and society in Ethiopia by following these two principles of elected majority rule and the right of the minority to dissent with peaceful and non-violent methods- should be in the interest of all concerned, and ideally should be the urgent demand of the current array of protagonists and antagonists filling the Ethiopian political landscape often with diverse and at times hostile propaganda and even drawing arms often against each other.

Indeed no greater challenge confronts Ethiopia than turning our politics from its brutal, trust deficit and violent mode of existence to a civilised and peaceful mode of existence where armed violence, visceral mistrust and deception have no place , and where open debate , learning by engaging in productive controversy in a cordial atmosphere has everything to play for.

In this millennium nothing assures the survival of Ethiopia more than the creation and embedding of this democratic culture as a way of life to undertake , deal with and respond to as the case may be with all the major issues confronting Ethiopia.

Those who harm the crystallisation of a democratic situation are indeed playing with the very life of Ethiopia. Democracy is not easy and it is often messy and not so straight forward to manage, but it is better to be governed by those persons elected by the people however disagreeable one may find them than by those who come through their command of the military means of death and threats to kill and who very often end up corrupt and self-seeking and unwilling to change, often by relying more on a patron- clientele connection system based on loyalty to them and their longevity than service to people, nation and country. In Ethiopia it is even more worrying as the patron- clientele connection is contaminated with ethnic selection that has infuriated those who are not selected whilst making those selected to fear that they may be attacked if through fair democratic election the majorities that come decide to redress any ethnic bias and injustice.

Another serious worry is also this: Can those who come through violence and military means be real civilian democratic politicians? In Ethiopia, the previous guerrilla TPLF cadres who now hold civilian posts tell us that is what they are doing converting themselves from empowering peasants through guerrilla military struggles to empowering them through votes and elections? If indeed it were possible for them to change, May 2005 was the greatest opportunity they missed to show that they in fact have changed from reacting with a military response to reacting with a democratic response. Unfortunately, much as one would have liked to see the change, when scratching the democratic pretensions of the current power holders, it is the real killer side and not the democratic side that got revealed to the whole world. They turned to repression at the time, and now they have been jailing new political prisoners even some refugees from Sudan whilst pardoning the CUD prisoners, it seems after forcing them to sign. The terms and circumstances of their release still is not clear to us making us worry that the regime can always find pretext to harm them again. The regime chose to deal with the opposition rather than listening to their concerns with democratic toleration. They lost any good will people had they too might facilitate a democratic transition in 2005 by all of us who witnessed the vibrant debates in the pre-election period.

With the TPLF/EPDRF is it now a case for the opposition a case of total mistrust because it is the case of once smitten twice shy? It is very difficult to take at face value the democratic credentials of the ruling TPLF/EPDRF coalition given the way the great achievements of May 2005 were derailed. They have to do a miracle to change the reality, perception people hold and remember: It is the TPLF/EPDRF that unleashed repression on the people they seemed willing to allow to vote in the first place. How would we know they will not do the same: invite the people to vote and repress when the result goes against their expectations to persons who are in the various opposition parties? What real risk can the opposition take given that the TPLF/EPDRF can behave in such contradictory fashion with carrots and sticks again and again? Can the opposition take a risk? Will the TPLF/EPDRF change and abandon the stick of reprisal and repression for the carrot of democracy? Whilst in principle there is no reason why the TPLF/EPDRF cannot change, the onus of proof lies in the TPLF/EPDRF to show that it is prepared to behave democratically and not militaristically. Until this demonstration the opposition would be always taking a risk unless it plays by the rules set by the ruling coalition!

We in Ethiopia have the challenge of dealing with crafty fellows and ruling parties that have come through the command of violence but who keep talking democracy by spreading a virulent form of ethnic-vernacular politics that has constitutionally legislated relations amongst ethnic groups on the politics of blackmail and monumental doubt. If a certain ‘killel’ feels the union is not worth it, it can leave and set up its own state. A broad and strong democratic movement can challenge both the vernacular-ethnic system and the violence laden preference of the ruling coalition parties to keep themselves in power under the guise of ‘standing for an ethnically enclosed and citizen- parcelled democracy.’

Today, the forces in the opposition will not be judged by mere opposition to the prevailing ruling system. This is one aspect of opposition. The more important aspect is what they offer as an alternative to the existing ethnically fenced and vernacularly contaminated and divided citizens of Ethiopia? It is more what they offer in their programmes to the citizens and how they believe, act, feel, think and do democracy with a degree of coherence that should be presented to the people who must vote for them. If these democrats turn on each other and fight, the people will be disappointed and will naturally prefer the’ devil they know rather than the angel they see fighting one another instead of uniting first in order to unite and rally the people.

Nothing will restore the credibility of those elected persons who were suffering in jail in the eyes of the people unless they come out publicly where they are now and show the whole world that they are democrats who may have controversies but in the larger good of fulfilling the dream of a century for democracy, and spreading hope in the millennium, they are united with their differences. No one can say they should be the same or hold the same opinion. No, that would be very foolish. What democrats say is that even given any non- antagonistic differences, there is no reason why there cannot be a united march together to rally behind the broadest possible popular energy and dynamism for a democratically revitalised and renascent Ethiopia.

We in the NES humbly appeal to all concerned and with utmost gravity call on them: do not go home divided, if indeed you have come divided. We say return or go home united. Never take your divisions’ home. That will be to introduce high risk amongst the people and will probably be to tempt fate to invite self-ruin by allowing all sorts of spoilers and meddlers to have agency by weakening the strength and vitality of those who stand for an undivided and non-divisive, nation-wide and citizen- anchored Ethiopian democracy. What a shame indeed if this generation cannot do better than earlier generations in delivering the Ethiopian democratic nation with a clear national direction to modernise and remove hunger by transforming the age-old agrarian economic structure! The democratic resurgence must not fail. This is no time to retreat or waver or show cold feet over this or that minor disputes. This is time to rise to the great challenges confronting nation, people and country by saying and meaning: forward with Ethiopia’s renascent democratic movement.


Since May 27-28, 1991 the country has fallen for something the current rulers have described as ethnic-based pluralism where much of the state power has been concentrated in the coalition of ethnic parties grouped around the TPLF/EPDRF. The latter have been very worried about any possible loss of control and the kind of electoral competition they permitted have not gone beyond anything that can be said to challenge the power of the TPLF/EPDRF up to and including winning by a potentially successful opposition. In 2005 the situation was created by the momentum of the election process where a pan-Ethiopian national idea competed with the ethnic-based groups and won the votes that appeared to have scared the regime out of its wits. We have seen subsequently all the massacres, mass arrests, harassments accusations and arrests of the elected leaders. After 20 months of incarceration, the elected leaders have been released under a pardon arrangement involving traditional mediation, foreign powers and the regime in Ethiopia.
Regardless of how the ups and downs of the politics between Government parties and opposition parties have been and are going now, the key problem that has not been solved in our country is how to entice and incentivise all those with ideas of how to make either the people in Ethiopia as a whole govern themselves by being ladders for that purpose or as some prefer to do to demand self-determination for parts of the population with particular expressions of vernacular-ethnic identities. There is as yet to emerge a clear shared understanding and political practice where all agree to a rule of the game that through the process of competitive election and through it alone, they are happy to submit to the authority of the people, win or lose, and accept winning and/or losing where those who win become gracious and accommodating of the losers and those who lose hold no grudges and ill-will to the winners. Until now Ethiopia has not reached this democratic threshold. The Rubicon has not been crossed. There are a number of major questions that must be openly presented and addressed candidly:

a- Will the Pan-Ethiopian national revival continue to grow and consolidate its strength, as best demonstrated with the electoral success of CUDP and will the subsequent unstoppable rise in a global Ethiopian democratic movement throughout the world continue to mobilise, broaden and deepen the movement to reach every Ethiopian to make the choice of a united democratic Ethiopian system of government as the priority objective? What are the obstacles to it from the regime side, the internal emerging organisational and other inter-personal mistrust and misunderstanding emerging in the CUDP now, and other opposition parties that compete with the CUDP and possibly are not willing to make alliances with it preferring either to fight, undermine or meddle and spoil its march by slowing the democratic energy and dynamism that the world experienced in the pre-election moment of May 2005?

b- When a country lacks a core politics that is committed to the creation of a national and united Pan-Ethiopian democratic perspective, the ideas and forces organised on fragmentary concerns, identities and other relevant but non- constructive and non-composing programmes and activities fill in centre stage. This is precisely what happened when the centre was vacated and no authority that has a pan-Ethiopian democratic credential was able to fill in the void after 1991. The question that is relevant here is this: Will the ideas and forces organised on particular concerns for only particular citizens (not all citizens of Ethiopia) be prepared to play in a rule of the game that accepts a democratic system where they are prepared to stay in the democratic game whether they lose or gain/win electorally? Supposing the TPLF/EPDRF loses electorally, will they stay in the game accepting with courage losing an election or failing to win an election and taking the defeat as a means to fight better to win the next election? This applies also to those forces that are at the moment fighting the TPLF/EPDRF such as the ONLF, OLF, Sidama Liberation Front and others whose main political approach is based on identity politics and secondarily on other matters? Supposing the rule of the game is agreed by all for a non- violent engagement and competition with an authority and system of separation of powers that is independent that can guarantee the free debate on issues, will all these contrarian forces restrain themselves from spoiling and sabotaging the very regulatory framework, norms, rules and procedures to create peacefully a system for transition from one set of ideas, policies, strategies to another without resorting to violence and deception? What chance exists given the context Ethiopia is now to seek and build a collective lively shared national direction and expect also an ideological and political stability by pursuing a process of democratic competition through democratic election and the establishment of a self-sustaining democratic system? Can the EPDRF enter into a democratic ‘serat’ and not spoil the ‘serat’ by repression when it loses? What guarantee exists it will not repeat what it did in May 2005?

c- The third very relevant factor that influences directly the nature and character of evolution of a democratic civilisation in Ethiopia is the continued state of warfare with the neighbours of Ethiopia. Even if we suppose all the actors in Ethiopia are committed to democratic procedures, competitions, elections, transitions and respect amongst the winners and losers, the regional equation remains a big constraint that can frustrate the internal dynamics and prospects for democratic renewal. The war in Somalia, the seemingly endless quarrel with Eritrea’s rulers, and Ethiopia’s rulers open appeal to the US Government that anything directed at them from Congress or the Senate is tantamount to undermine the current administration’s major foreign policy course to fight global terror- all these factors influence negatively the much desirable and necessary task of completing and establishing a free and democratic system in Ethiopia. When the Cold War was over, Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa lost. And when the global war on terror becomes over, the way our region is now implicated as the No.2 front in the global war on terror next to Pakistan- Afghanistan, it will be once more the cardinal loser. We cannot blame the architects of either the Cold War or the Global War on terror or their global adversaries Jihads for falling in their traps. Other regions in Africa are not in the front line. We must ask why our region is in the forefront of this global confrontation and enter into it lock, stock and barrel. The fault is not the stars of the horn of Africa. The fault lies entirely in the divided and the divisive elites of the Horn of Africa. The blame lies in our destructive selfish, greedy and comprador and aid addicted elite that derives resources from joining one or the other side of the war during the era of the cold war and indeed the current era of the Global war on terror either on the side of the Bush’s foreign policy or the Global jihadist anti-West foreign policy. Elites derive aid as rent from both sides at the expense of the death of millions of Ethiopians, Somalis and others in the region involved in this self-inflicted drama.

d- Another critical matter is the theory related to the fact that poverty in Ethiopia and indeed elsewhere may influence negatively how people may vote in a free and democratic election. Some think there may be the belly vs. conscience paradox that may need to be overcome where in a predominantly poor society where people may crave for food and other necessities, voting and election may be influenced by such concerns rather than political ideas, policies, opinion and conscience. Others say from the depth of deprivation comes hope. From the depth of poverty comes democracy? Some even say to get out of poverty and engage in development the quest for freedom and democracy is necessary. Dr. Berhanu Nega argues with strong conviction often quoting the Indian economist Amartya Sen on this idea of development as freedom and well being. Some say from the state of powerlessness and unfreedom come the desire for freedom and the aspiration to be empowered. These are nevertheless concerns to bear in mind showing the journey for democracy is rough and bumpy and never smooth sailing even if all the elites in one party or different parties help by agreeing on frameworks, norms, procedures for engagement. It is true despite all these concerns, there is a dynamic movement in the Ethiopian case to move from a state of dictatorship to the eras of democracy and development with an irreversible momentum judging by the energy and dynamism sparked globally by the momentum of the May 2005 elections and the continued mobilisation to date that has not shown any reversal.

e- The role of the alienated parties/fronts such as the OLF, ONLF and others that are not able to join the electoral process will continue to impact on the effort to establish a rule of the game where all can peacefully learn to fight without having to resort to the compulsion provided by armed struggles. It looks increasingly the TPLF/EPDRF response to armed insurgency is to intensify armed counter-insurgency. Add to this the connection of the armed insurgencies with the regional conflicts where the logic of the enemy of my enemy is my friend can spoil the best laid plan to create a democratic and security community where insurgents, neighbours, rulers and opposition groups respect a largely peaceful way of competing for power and trying to win or lose and still remain undeterred by failure continue to struggle in periodic elections. That situation does not exist yet. The ruling parties use military force. The insurgents use military force. What chance exists for the peaceful opposition and the Ethiopian people to stop the regime and the insurgents and try to win them over to move from the road of violence to the road of debate and open competition? What role can mediators and others play to bring the parties together, to make the parties that committed violence against each other and the civilian population account truthfully and honestly what they did? The situation in Ogaden has been reported to be a site for horrific human rights violations. Can the regime allow independent verification as a means of incentivsing the ONLF to engage in peaceful competition for the self-determination of the Ogaden region? These are critical issues to convert the environment for democracy. It is very difficult to create a democratic situation when there is warfare. The latter must be controlled to promote a democratic situation.

f- There is also the problem of the ethnicity vs. conscience paradox where the appeal by ethnic difference fanning politicians may undermine the participation of the people as Ethiopian citizens first exercising their democratic rights to vote based on their selection of the ideas, policies and strategies that will transform the conditions of the people from a state of poverty and deprivation to a state of well being. Ethnic parties appeal to ethnic constituencies and this is likely to create problems for those parties that wish to pursue social agendas not contaminated with ethnic frames and assumptions. The appeal of Knjit has been to cut across ethnic boundaries and appeal to all the ethnic communities. It was not only the coming together of different parties, but also the people drawn from all ethnic groups that have made knjit a force for bringing together all those who feel, think and act and speak and are Ethiopians first and foremost in their identity matrix despite the fact they may also have numerous other identities. Whilst ethnic parties and ethnic based voting may take place, the critical matter is that the citizen-based and Ethiopian identity based and policies and programmes for change that are not only for ethnic areas must be built as a priority if indeed Ethiopian democracy is to exist for enduring time. That is why Knjit and parties like it must be supported to emerge as the key actors for democratic change. At the same time pressure to encourage the TPLF/EPDRF and other ethnic coalitions to shed off their ethnicist blinkered divisive politics and come out and be citizen- based parties must be pursued. Whilst encouraging the ethnic based parties to grow out of the politics that divide, support to those based on Pan-Ethiopian citizenship must be pursued as a matter of urgency and priority.

Unless the above factors are fully recognised and honest and non-deceptive debates and negotiations take place, it will be very difficult to see how democracy in Ethiopia will be embedded as a value, framework, norm, institution, process, dynamics, culture for peaceful transformation and transition from violent politics to democratic politics.


Never in the history of Ethiopia has such a vibrant and engaged Diaspora appeared across the world as we have now. The most dynamic Diaspora is in the USA and the North American hemisphere with others in Europe, Africa, Australia and Scandinavia following suit. I had the opportunity during the millennium to travel to Finland, Sweden, Norway, Washington DC, and Seattle, Washington State and finish the millennium celebration round one with a round table in Denmark. What I saw of our Ethiopian communities filled me with so much hope and possibility. The more this Diaspora is organised, I have no doubt that, just like the Chinese and Indian Diaspora before it, and the Ethiopian Diaspora can play a hugely productive and constructive role. Since it has demonstrated valuable contribution for democratic change, it is critically important that its unity, knowledge, resources skills and creativities are stimulated along constructive and non- divisive channels by creating a global Ethiopian knowledge observatory that NES is hoping to establish for the long term development and transformation of Ethiopia…

The Diaspora was engaged prior to the 2005 election to help democratisation. It got even re-engaged when the election was derailed by accusations of rigging and election theft. It got even more vigorous when the massacres, the imprisonments and the incarceration of elected MPs, journalists, civil society actors and others took place. After the elected MPs were freed, the movement seems to go on with a revitalised energy. This Diaspora movement for human rights and democracy became so articulate and convincing that Congress unanimously passed HR 2003- the Human rights democracy and accountability bill. We have new people who have become leaders and opinion makers by no other distinction other than the excellence of the hard work they continue to do with devotion, humanity, fortitude and commitment. Such exceptionally articulate champions of human rights like Prof. Alemayehu Mariam for HR 2003, the inestimable and brilliant Pan-Africanist brother Obang, and the good sister that urged all to go to the Hill and lobby and undertake advocacy work with their Congress reps., Meron Ahadu and numerous human rights activists and new forces have come without any baggage from the past! They speak and reason by fusing their existence in America with their burning desire to see democratic change in their home country. It was simply incredible for me having to experiencing these new people with their new ideas speaking for Ethiopia for embedding full human rights, freedoms, rule of law and democratic governance.

We have not seen any Diaspora that got this far from the developing world as we have now with the Ethiopian Diaspora in the USA and Canada. Whether one agrees with the cause the Diaspora stand for or not, no one can dispute the spectacular mobilisation by opening an external flank to deal with all the dilemmas and difficulties to navigate through the messy and infinitely complex conflicts of a Horn of Africa region that has been a loser in the cold war and is now cursed to repeat the same mistake during the current globalisation and global war on terror in order to promote a society of human rights, democratic freedoms, rule of laws and democratic governance by changing violent political transformations into transitions for bringing about and habituating democratic politics.

At the moment, this same Diaspora is bracing to get the bill passed in the Senate whilst the EPDRF side is sparing no time in contesting this Diaspora surge to put pressure on the regime to enter genuinely and not with any deceptive practice or intent a democratic course.

The reception the Diaspora has given to the CUDP MPs is nothing but phenomenal. It keeps going on and on and the momentum of self- mobilisation and consciousness seems to deepen rather than slowing down from one State of the USA to another, from one City to another.

What we see is a Diaspora deeply engaged in Ethiopian affairs and taking and confronting the challenge to create a democratic system. This Diaspora is contributing in every way possible raising funds, organising and demonstrating to pass a human rights and democratic accountability bill to pressure the regime. We read from this a Diaspora committed to deepen, broaden and unflinchingly continue to change Ethiopia irreversibly into a democratic society. This Diaspora is not willing to be cheated anymore by ‘a democracy talk and authoritarian practice.’ It wants both the talk and the practice to be democracy, freedom and development, and not to use one to deny the other, as it has been often the case. The Diaspora says that as Ethiopia democratises it develops, and conversely as it develops it becomes freer and more democratic. Rather than use poverty to impose authoritarian dictatorship, the Diaspora believes it should do the opposite, precisely because of poverty that democracy and freedom is essential to stimulate and accelerate the development process.

The Diaspora abroad is naturally divided into those linked to parties and those who are interested in making the parties and all others to form the broadest possible coalition as part of civil society and the public sphere to create a democratic society. What comes very clear is that despite various party and non-party allegiances, invariably all the Diaspora stand for reinventing Ethiopia on a democratic foundation and trajectory. This makes some of the distracting talks we hear in recent days to be superseded by this larger purpose the Diaspora seems to be committed to.

It is critical that the Diaspora holds dearly the value of pushing the momentum of a democratic civilisation in Ethiopia. No other affiliation should put in doubt this overriding commitment to see democracy, freedom and development prevail in Ethiopia. The Diaspora can stand for a democracy that stimulates freedom and development and conversely, for a freedom and development that strengthens a democratic system. It should support all elected MPs but the commitment goes beyond personalities to embedding and welcoming a democratic order and saying good bye to any authoritarian and ethnically-divisive order for thousands of years yet to come. In this Third millennium it is a festival welcome time to democracy and good bye time to tyranny and poverty!


After nearly two years in jail the CUDP MPs went abroad and it appears that there are some misunderstandings in the way they wish to present the case for democracy in Ethiopia to the Diaspora.

There was expectation that their moral authority would be judiciously deployed to make the split that crystallised amongst the support groups of Knjit prior to their release heal. No one expected they would be having the sort of disagreements that they freely express now for the various print, virtual, voice and image media. Somebody must be leaking information to the electronic media, as some of the allegations are indeed tasteless and frankly destructive and counter productive. To their credit they started out very well. They appeared to instruct the KIL and KIC groups to allow them to lead the democratic opposition being the elected MPs they are once they are out of jail. For some reason the KIL side seems to say it is disbanded whilst the KIC side says it sees no reason why it should do what KIL did to disband.

Now the five MPs seem to move on their own and the Chairman of CUDP Engineer Hailu also does his own trips when he wishes to do so. The impression that is conveyed is that they have split. But when asked why they are doing this, none of them can say they have major differences, say, in terms of ideas, policies or strategies.

The perspective that is appropriate is not to judge these MPs for doing or not doing this or that , for living or not living up to this or that challenge, for not taking this or that risk to fail or succeed. The relevant perspective is how they are trying to do whatever it is they are doing to create a strong democratic opposition rooted in principles, values, norms, procedures and rules capable of sustaining a democratic system and civilisation in Ethiopia. It is this larger perspective that we must encourage them to attain and by doing so help all both inside and outside Ethiopia to reach and build a strong democratic culture.

As we in the NES are not members of CUDP, we have perhaps no right to comment on how they should handle the internal organisational disputes they may or may not have. Our right to speak comes from our support to CUDP when it was under attack, and even more from our desire to see a system of competitive parties with a shared and inviolate-able rule of the game to usher in an enduring Ethiopian democratic society. Along many other compatriots and people of good will and justice, we in the NES spent endless energy voluntarily to get the prisoners released and we trust whatever we say will be taken by those affected by it to come from the best of intentions to see right prevail over wrong so that, in the end and the long run, the best possible course for opposition, alienated and ruling parties competitive electoral game could be forged..

We repeat it is those organisational members of CUDP that must solve their own problems by setting up regulatory procedures, disciplinary and other steps to build the authority of the organisation by solving any inter-personal and inter-organisational disputes. Outside advice by its very nature even the best one can and is often limited since there is much we do not know why KIL and KIC split and fight so viciously against one another, and even more elected MPs coming out of jail do not wish to appear on the same platform when they were expected to hold hands and greet their supporters who did not discriminate amongst them when they were in jail. Why impose and inflict so foolishly on a very mobilised and vibrant Diaspora doubt and sadness that the people and forces that helped bring the 2005 election degrade to such a position to act and to undo this great achievement? It is a true puzzle that has confounded not only sympathisers even those who opposed CUDP.

When the MPs were in jail KIL/AFD came. UEDF refused to join AFD and we were all exposed and treated to rather casual conversations that the AFD was sponsored by external actors who were perceived to have undermined Ethiopian unity in the past. And soon after, KIL also split. And before the MPs release, KIC was formed. All these developments did confuse all of us. At least we in the NES did not know what to say for a while bewildered by what continued to happen and appear. We did hope for a task force to be organised involving civil society with others to get the journalists, the NGO activists and the elected MPs. There was a strange practice where those in Kaliti sent messages and list of people who should lead on their behalf. That in itself was not a problem except they keep sending different names when the split took place. Then wild allegations start flying. People must have been hurt because the accusations were all over the press. The split must have been widened owing to all these accusations and counter accusations.

What we believe is that these divisions did impact to slow down the broadest momentum outside until the HR 2003 rescued the democratic movement. If it were not for HR2003, there was danger that the democratic movement could have slowed down further and may even have gone to sleep.

Now we have civil society pushing and supporting the elected MPs of CUDP and also struggling to push the HR2003 bill. The problems may be formidable. But the democratic movement is even more formidable.

What we can say for sure is that in spite of all the problems the arrow of the democratic movement is moving gradually and surely forward. It will accelerate further if most of these problems that tend to be divisive can be removed. Our fear is that long after the MPs are gone from USA and Europe, the divisions may linger on. Those who wish to have the MPs move together may be upset when their own communities set ad hoc communities to invite the MPs without making sure all can join together. Let us hope once the MPs are gone all will concentrate on the larger task of building a strong and credible democratic opposition with toleration and forgiveness and not nurse the hurt of being sidelined that some of the statements that came out showed immediately prior to the visits especially of those led by the vice- chair of CUDP. Our suggestion is that once a wrong is done, let us stop dwelling on it. Let us say the unity of the democratic opposition is more important than any real or imagined wrong that may have occurred. This maturity is to be expected from all the MPs in the larger reason of embedding a democratic dynamics and energy in Ethiopia. It is not much to ask. They owe to all those who struggled both inside and outside Ethiopia.


NES agrees with the saying that a divided house will not stand for long. The reason is because meddlers and spoilers often come in and make it harder for those who are breaking their house to mend and re-erect it.

Unfortunately time and time again, a house divided very often tempts misfortune and opens itself to self-inviting meddlers who do not care lives are shattered, families are disrupted and opportunities to do bigger things for people, country and nation are ruined. We see with CUDP now going through a difficult teething organisational problem where it can either re-emerge revitalised or not! CUDP will be revitalised if the CUDP leaders and members are able to create procedures and rules for handling inter-organisational and inter-personal differences by creating mechanisms to resolve conflict, increase trust and social capital. The key for organisational success is building strong basis for social capital and trust.

On the positive side, CUDP leaders continue to stress the problems are not difficult and they can be resolved. This is a hopeful sign they can handle the problem in the end. The real achievement is not in running into problems and challenges. Life is full of such traps. The real achievement is to know how to get out of the traps. All efforts to succeed in refusing to misperceive the problems and prescribe unwanted and disorganising solutions are most welcome. We encourage CUDP leaders to go beyond the current problems and see the overall strategy of creating a credible democratic opposition that can take on effectively EPDRF and its allies and any other parties and beat them with democracy.

At present it appears so many self-inviting forces try to increase the mistrust rather than engaging to decrease and help clear up the real and imagined problems confronting the CUDP delegates especially those travelling in the USA. There are of course many who also comment with sincere interest in promoting the democratic renaissance in our country. Very often the voice of sanity and reason are drowned with the noise and agitation of those who inflame rather than de-flame the misunderstandings between the various stakeholders in the current schism.


NES calls on all those who enjoy fanning the flame of distrust and sow discord to refrain from doing so. We would like to encourage all those involved Enginerr Hailu, Dr. Berhanu and Dr. Taye Woldesamaiyat to learn to unite in order to strengthen a democratic opposition capable of effecting change and transition without exposing the people to the risk of violence and conflict. We would like to remind them that it was the unity of the various parties and coming as CUDP that got the democratic movement to traverse and overcome many hurdles.NES believes it was the remarkable ability of Engineer Hailu and Dr. Berhanu and others to unite and work together that helped brought the notable achievements of the broad democratic movement. NES believes that once again the unity of Engineer Hailu and Dr. Berhanu, and now Dr. Taye and others is critically important to make sure that increased and much more notable successive achievements in deepening and broadening of the democratic movement would be scored ever more and more!. Those who aspire to lead this broad national democratic movement must show great humility and must always go miles and miles to listen and tolerate debate and different views. They must always be good at uniting and not insist if not my way, go to the highway. That was the kind of politics that creates dictators not democratic governance. It is from such arrogant politics that Ethiopia must come out for good… It is either with us or you are with the enemy will not work anymore provided the democratic movement grows and engulfs the whole nation…

My way or the highways or either with us or if not with us you are with the enemy is too crude and simple and does not allow legitimate debate, controversy and learning by fighting and conversation in a tolerant and friendly atmosphere. Any division over non-antagonistic contradictions and failure to contain problems and conflicts that Prof. Mesfin described as conflicts of style and form and not substance is to invite misfortune and derail the emergence of the most potent democratic energy displayed by millions of ordinary people across the vast depth of our beautiful country.
In Ethiopia when there is the wind of conflict blowing in the cracks of any political party or family, it is often extremely difficult to reverse it. A small problem becomes big and something that can be ignored gets exaggerated. It is very much like’ the butter-fly effect’ in complexity theory. Something that starts like a little problem multiplies and spreads like a contagion diseases across the world. And something that can be easily controlled gets out of hand. One wonders why? Perhaps it is to do with the cantankerous proclivities and knee-jerk responses that we are prone to, a tendency to respond to problems with empathy is often in short thrift, and a tendency to deal with others perceived easily as ’enemies’ when they are actually friends heightens contradictions among colleagues into antagonism amongst perceived enemies, and thus compounding rather than containing the perceived and real problems that may exist. How as a people and nation can we come out of this difficult situation is indeed something that we need to reflect and ponder over. We must learn to change antagonistic contradictions into non-antagonistic contradiction and not the opposite. That is a mark of a people with a will to live, to grow, to be free and to develop.


All the delegates have pronounced the problem as a minor hitch or glitch and not something that is beyond their individual and collective capacity to deal with purposefully and effectively. Equally important, we see at least the delegates in the USA not coming together but going apart and busy to explain why they do what they are doing to each other to media outlets that seem to relish to fan this discord way beyond anything that one can recognise why they engage in fanning rumours.

We have been told that there is no ideological difference. There is no policy difference. There is no difference on the perspectives of how to bring democracy in Ethiopia. Then what is the difference? Whatever differences exist, do they merit to be fought with such divisive language and an assorted melange of pal talk gossip rumour mills fanning the flame of discord? Why change differences of form and style into antagonism, into differences of substance? We trust and believe Prof. Mesfin when he said he did not see any difference in substance. He saw some mistrust arising from personalities and the way they understand the opportunities that crystallised after the May 2005 democratic achievements. He thought loyalty to group took precedence to loyalty to CUDP and added also possible rivalries for power amongst the key leaders whose unity was critical for launching the achievements of the May 2005 election. He said he tried to encourage people to focus on the larger purposes and when he could not get them to listen he tried to make the point by even resigning from the leadership council and not from the democratic struggle. Whether his diagnosis is correct or not, the key point is that even if these differences or rivalries and group loyalties exist, they should, could and would not warrant such clashes where supporters turn into rigid camps forestalling conversation, civilised debate and willingness to reach out to each other’s concerns in order to evolve strategies to forge ahead together…


We cannot afford division between one party when we are calling for a national strategy to use a democratic arrangement to make all parties that care to enter into politics to learn to do politics with argument, debate, learning, innovation, creativity, fantasy and imagination. This call is to all – the ruling, the opposing, the alienated and the armed and non-armed!

We must learn from the division that wrought so much havoc in our history. We know what division did during the February uprising. The divided rulers were annihilated. They turned into agents exposing each other to soldiers who could not comprehend what they were hearing. They could not believe that such men that they used to bow to the floor were acting with so much loose moral carelessness against each other. Nobody was spared. They all perished. That is something that the lesson has not been fully grasped yet.

The soldiers that took power also murdered each other with a criminal license that will make the most well known killer look sane. The top killer was able even to sit calmly and run his office whilst beneath his cellar the dead body of murdered emperor Haile Selassie was buried! It makes us all cringe when we realise the extreme limits to which human cruelty can extend beyond anything that any spirit and humanity can bear!

The idealistic generation organised to bring changes in land distribution and democratic Government also split. This was indeed a great and special generation. It had a generosity of collective spirit, and a willingness to sacrifice that cannot be underestimated. The generation that perished through the Red Terror had the overriding ambition to better the condition of the people and the country.

But that wonderful and idealistic generation too fell to historical mis-fortitude. It too split into two camps. When and where this split began? First it began in 1971 in Los Angeles when ESUNA split. It became worse when ESUE and ESUNA split in Berlin in 1973. The most disastrous split indeed began in Berlin in 1973 one year before the 1974 February uprising. Delegates from Europe and America flocked to Berlin to the World Wide Association of Ethiopian Students with members from ESUNA and ESUE and the newly formed World Wide Ethiopian Women’s Group. For two days the meeting run smoothly and we managed to agree to create a weak secretariat to accommodate the sectarian struggles and differences of the time. The ESUE leaders such the late Haile Fida were for a struggle that would take many years- dubbed as ’ rejim Guzzo’. Our side from the USA was for starting a people’s democratic revolutionary movement in the Ethiopian countryside where an integrated development of production, health, rural transformation by building united defence, united Front and nation wide party embracing all nationalities and groups was to be launched. Given the difference we though a weak secretariat was the best option. Though we said we should start going to the countryside, our idea of the struggle was to change the conditions of the peasantry. We wanted to change the countryside with knowledge, education, production and health by building political power from the grassroots. The ESUE side disparagingly described our attempt to enter the world of the peasant and change it- ‘achier guozism’.

After the Berlin meeting was nearly done and over with like a fateful arrow the delegate from Algeria, the late USUAA- EPRP leader Berhane Meskel arrived in Berlin via East Germany. He proposed the idea of the World Wide Federation of Ethiopian Students. ESUE and Haile Fida opposed the idea and saw it as a cover to a hidden clandestine party that they knew was being hatched behind their backs.

As a delegate of ESUNA at the time, I thought it was unfair to impose a Federation idea after we have settled for a world wide secretariat after a two-day deliberation. We had heated argument off- meeting with those who proposed and those amongst the delegation from USA who supported it. The ESUE delegation threatened to oppose the Federation idea and in fact they did risking a possible split. I believed that a split was a horrific alternative. I continued saying it is not wise to split. The federation is not worth it if it comes at the expense of our unity. Serious disagreements ensued. I protested and warned that the division made abroad will be exported inside the country and it would create and bring bloodshed. Those who wanted the Federation would not listen to such reason. They came to split and not unite with the ESUE branch of the foreign Ethiopian student movement.

Finally the resolution was passed. Our delegation voted for the Federation. That means despite all reservations I had our delegation did not have the power even to abstain. Our delegation voted for the federation and hence for split. And I said with tears that have not still dried- since all the young generation that perished lives vividly with us all- said this division would cost Ethiopia dearly. And did it not cost us dearly? Need I say more!!!

The late Haile Fida, one of the key leaders of ESUE and later Meison, wrote in Tiglachin or Tatek stating that Mammo Muchie’ ‘seksek bilo alekese.’ What is true is that there I was in tears and it was mainly the fear that the split will be exported inside the country that made me upset and disorientated. The rest is history. As I feared, that division got introduced and we all know the carnage, red terror and other terrors that ensued afterwards. This episode has not been fully researched and we all have our individual stories with us. I felt compelled to tell mine just to let the CUDP MPs in, what hazards a split might bring unless they handle it with wisdom and have the courage to say to their closest allies who may tell them or brief them to split to refrain from doing so. I hope one day what is left of our generation would record the stories each of us have. I know Haile Gerima has written a script I read a few years ago dramatising cinematically to capture the hopes, frustrations, braveries, fears and bloodshed of the time in a film trying to capture aspects of it with cinematic art. When I read and hear how people behave now around the differences amongst the CUDP MPs, KIL and KIC, my memory goes back to Berlin 1973, the fateful split that led subsequently to the epic fights between Meison and EPRP! I fear still that from that bitter experience appropriate lessons have not been drawn and learnt. I appeal to all the current parties that rule, oppose, and feel alienated to learn from that episode and not ignore such hard lessons from history.


Small cracks and divisions must be sealed and efforts to unite must not be seen lightly. When Prof. Mesfin advises those who want to go it alone to try to patch up , it is because like a butter fly effect what happened in the USA moves and blows, and resonates even in the rural heartland of Ethiopia. It cannot be contained, remain polite. It can be brutal and may lead to fratricidal engagement. At all costs this must be avoided especially if and when the differences never warrant it. So if the delegates have come divided, they must return united. There is no option to this action. Any other action is fraught with danger. The Division from Berlin 1973 later became the epic division between Mission and EPRP. Meison tried to ally with the Derg to vanquish EPRP. The latter tried to ally first with the EPLF which was not successfully consummated. The EPLF had an option to ally with the TPLF and play off EPRP with TPLF. Eventually the EPRP was routed by the Derg in the city and TPLF in the countryside. What we do not know is the counter factual… supposing MEISON and EPRP had united… supposing the World Federation has not been borne by alienating ESUE and the clandestine Meison cells of the time, perhaps history would have been different. What it would have been we may not be able to say, but certainly we may not have been treated to a brutal military dictatorship that facilitated the forces that subsequently came to rule over the country by splitting it into vernacular-ethnic enclaves and the two states of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Perhaps the context and times are different now. One may be tempted to say the division of CUDP would not have risks. The answer to this doubt is simple: that it is better to put ones house in order. Otherwise other uninvited intruders will swarm and scramble to create mayhem. It is much better to learn the bitter lesson than not to learn from it… At least for the sake of building a democratic society with negotiation rather than splitting, I have presented what I know by participating in the movement 34 years ago!!!

It is important that the effort to build the strongest, deepest and broadest democratic and national movement must not be derailed by the misunderstandings and mistrust that seem to exist. In Ethiopia a pan-Ethiopian democratic movement is critical to spread democracy and citizenship to all. The mobilisation has been phenomenal. This is not time to falter; this is time to move forward united!


1. We call on the MPS touring foreign lands to not leave these countries without reaching some agreement how to create an agreed procedure on how to handle past , present and future differences within CUDP at home, and the various support groups in the Diaspora..

2. They owe to the Ethiopian people who put so much trust in them to announce an agreed procedure to deal with any outstanding problems they had and may have now publicly before they return to Ethiopia.

3. Each and all of them individually or as a group must declare never to harm the Ethiopian peoples aspiration for democratic change by showing willingness to enter into a negotiated arrangement to deal with any problem however it may be. The democratic movement is bigger and more important than anything else.

4. As they all are interested in a peaceful struggle, it looks they have to deal with other parties including the ruling parties. It is thus unbelievable that those willing to discuss with the ruling parties cannot discuss with each other to solve what they call minor differences and not differences of ideology, policy or strategy.

5. Differences are always healthy. If not handled well differences can lead to strife. Regulatory mechanisms must be put in place to allow legitimate differences and debate to be expressed whilst agreeing on programmes and positions for shared action. This should not be a big problem to pull off, if there are no hidden agenda that complicates the journey to peace and negotiation.

6. The Diaspora division can be resolved easily if outrageous stories to the media do not appear that incriminate personalities without going through legal and other channels. Verdict of guilt before court hearing is often not a wise move and will only undermine the organisation. So all must refrain and they must hold a moratorium in firing charges against one another.

7. In the name of revealing the truth and the right to know, some web sites and pal talk forums are spreading accusation, defamation of personalities such as Engineer Hailu Shawel, Dr. Berhanu Nega, Dr. Taye W/Semayate and others. These media must stop fanning such attacks. This is no time for false accusations against Engineer Hailu Shawel, Dr. Taye W/Semayate, Dr. Berhanu Nega or the EPRP.

8. Individuals or organisations can make mistakes, but these mistakes should not be used to tarnish all of their contributions and sacrifices, and to label them as traitors. NES is not advocating that these personalities or organisations should be worshipped and their mistakes be concealed. Their mistakes need to be revealed with inconvertible evidence or credible arguments, but not with false accusation by using pseudo-names. Human beings can make mistakes and they should also be given a right to respond in a respectable way and even be forgiven if the mistakes are not ill-intended.

9. It is well known that there are disagreements (but not ideological) between individuals inside CUDP leadership. It was a mistake (but not a failure) of the leadership not to discuss on such disagreements and find out a solution before coming to the divided Diaspora. Because they did not make any cohesive institutional procedure among themselves before facing the divided Diaspora, they themselves are falling into the divided trap. All those who would like the democratic opposition to grow should assist them rather than complicating the path to solve problems and contain them.

10. It should also be understood that the CUDP leadership is coming out of prison after a two year lock up with conditionality, and it was very difficult to make an open political discussion in Ethiopia, therefore preparing for trip abroad could be a one way to have a chance to get a relief by speaking out openly and freely. However, the divided Diaspora groups have made such good intentions into a bad opportunity by appearing to manoeuvre to win group advantages thereby widening the division. The CUDP leadership should have been given our support to unite the struggle, but not to pull them in factions that serves no body, but only hurts the democratic struggle.

11. As CUDP is a merger of four political parties, it could be expected that loyalty and favouritism could happen based on ex-party allegiance. However, the individuals in the leadership position should act as a role model to discourage such allegiance. If the key leaders are engaging in favouring and promoting their ex-members in the coalition, or consistently exaggerating the achievement and virtue of their ex-party while discrediting the others, this is not the way to create an effectively united party called ‘knjit.’ So refrain from reverting and degrading to your old party abode. Embrace genuinely with word and action, thought and feeling the new united party that seems to have stimulated the imagination of the Ethiopian people.

NES believes that if this current difference in the CUDP MPs delegation is not handled with great care and responsibility, the on-going internal difference will be exported back to Ethiopia and will damage the democratic aspiration of the Ethiopian people. We believe that the differences are not substantive, if what we have heard from the interviews and speeches of the leaders is true. There is thus absolutely no credible reason not to patch up whatever it is that creates these differences. We want all of the delegates to show their V sign that unites them together before embarking on the long journey back home.

The Diaspora differences can also be handled as long as there is no major dispute on policy and strategy. This is not time to fight one another; this is time to build a strong democratic opposition that Ato Meles has in various occasions urged the opposition to come up with. We hope the CUDP MPs will not board any plane back home without meeting face to face, letting all to know they have done so and agreeing on procedures how to handle their differences before going with them home. They must also make it clear that they will not suffer fools gladly and make the Diaspora to find a way to debate with differences without fighting in a vicious way but with friendly sentiments and dispositions.

The CUDP delegation say part of the reason for their trip abroad is to thank the Diaspora. Part of the thank you should include adding the wisdom that the Diaspora must remain united. The only way they can foster such unity is for them to come together and appear in front of the Diaspora in Washington DC and say despite what differences we have and however we wish to pursue the democratic struggle that we are not enemies, we are together in the struggle and are open and willing to make alliances in this arduous struggle. Only by coming clean like this can the Diaspora remain behind ‘knjit.’ with resiliency and commitment. Otherwise there is no doubt that history will judge them not so kindly. Let it not be said, they came, they spoke, they collected some dollars, got lots of applauses, praise and gifts, but even as all these were showered on them, they could not heal their own division let alone that of the Diaspora. Let it not be said, they came divided, left the Diaspora divided even more and returned home dividing themselves sadly instead of what was right to do: unite to differ, and differ to unite!!!. It is never late to unite. They can still try to spread hope by coming together and sending a strong message of unity in spite of or even because of the differences borne of their search to fulfil the long- desire to create a democratic Ethiopia.

We spent two years calling to free prisoners, we should not spend time calling for CUDP factions to reconcile. The time should be fully concentrated to realise the dream of a century to create a free and democratic, stable and prosperous Ethiopia that would play a positive role in the region, Africa and the rest of the world.

At the minimum, NES believes they owe this action to all who supported them and struggled to get them out of jail including ourselves.

The author is a Chair of Network of Ethiopian Scholars-Scandinavian Chapter: Professor and Director of Development, Innovation and International Political Economy Research (DIIPER): DIR and Aalborg University, Denmark
Contact address: mammo@ihis.aau.dk.

*NB. A number of people have contributed to this commentary. I would like to mention Dr. Berhanu Balcha for his substantial contributions to it and a number of other compatriots with whom I discussed this problem. But in the end I take responsibility for what has been said.

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