It is not about EPRDF, it is about the struggle
By Talila Kamsii
A response to “is EPRDF the sole alternative for Ethiopia? Is our struggle missing its target?”
I have read the article published on this platform written by Nagessa Dube which argues that EPRDF cannot change and the struggle is at risk of missing its target. In this article, I will reflect on my differences with the writer, mainly on his assessment of the current situation and the way forward.
The article presented that the current change within EPRDF as cosmetic and as only a change of Prime Minister who could not handle nationwide protests. This oversimplified assessment of the reasons for the current change omitted many more factors that have brought the current Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed to power. Protests being the main factors driving the change; it started with Oromia Regional State (ORS) when the current leadership started to side with the public protests since they came to power. Many actions taken since the current leadership team led by Lemma Megersa (commonly known as Team Lemma) came to power in October 2016. There have been signs that it was not like any other leadership we knew before.
To mention some, the Oromia Broadcasting Network (OBN) was liberated from its conventional state support narrative and started to side with the public protests; they have recognized the Qerroo struggle and included renowned Oromo struggle activists like Taye Dendea into their new administration. Protests were relatively peaceful and there were clear signs that Oromo People Democratic Organization (OPDO) was not the old OPDO anymore. These changes within OPDO were also strengthened by the public- to -public delegations visits between Oromia and Amhara regions before the infamous EPRDF’s 17 days meeting. The post EPRDF meeting TV presser was a clear sign about the party’s stand in the middle of the crisis. OPDO represented by Obbo Lemma stood tall. It was understood by many that the power dynamics status quo within EPRDF was changing.
These are the few changes that shock TPLF led EPRDF in addition to the continued protests in Oromia and some parts of Amhara that forced the prime minister to resign. It is important to note that the current change within EPRDF is a result of many factors added together not a single EPRDF Prime Minister change but rather a result of a complex dynamics and a sign of possible systemic power shifts.
Is repression ideological?
I agree with the writer’s assessment that EPRDF is the main [or arguably the sole] source of all the problems that we have suffered in the last three decades and EPRDF is not the sole alternative and solution. What I do not agree with is the portrait of EPRDF as an ideologically disciplined organization and the need for clear ideological change to trust its reforms and changes. EPRDF has never been ideologically consistent and meaningful organization, it has always adjusted its ideologies. One thing consistent about EPRDF is its repressive behavior, not ideology. As seen before, EPRDF adjusted its ideology with changes based on the wishes of the late PM Meles Zenawi. Late PM Meles was once an advocate of “white capitalism and multi-party system” then “developmental state then one-party hegemony” (Awera party) style of the political system followed by revolutionary democracy. After his death, EPRDF relied on his legacy as an ideological line (Yemeles Ra’iey). No one can tell what the ideology of EPRDF was for the last 27 years except for the new words they throw to the public. It is impossible to tell which policy (be it justice or economic development) underlines which ideological line. Hence the change in leadership, if the leadership has full control of the party, might mean an adjustment to the new changing situations. What it takes is a person that has a party control and commitment to change things in the right direction. Will Dr. Abiy supported by Mr. Lemma be that leader in the months to come? I am not defending EPRDF or predicting change in vain, but trying to show EPRDF is not a consistent organization when it comes to ideology. Repression and corruption was always the “leading ideology”. Let us not also forget that there are many repressive regimes in the world that are not revolutionary democrats but still repress their people without any ideological pre-text.
Definition of the struggle
The “struggle” has been a word we all use to talk about our yearning for freedom, equality, and dignity of the people. Yet as any other struggle, when some progress is made or milestone is achieved, the likelihood of splits based on the differences between strategies is inevitable. The case of the 2005 national election can be used as an example of a failure to seize the moment and lack of use of proper strategy to move the struggle forward. Our struggle has reached to where we need to talk about the more elaborate expectation of what we want from our struggle. If our target is to totally get rid of EPRDF, it is a good wish but not practical. Do not get me wrong, I really wish to see EPRDF leave power and have a legitimately elected government as the writer of the article does. The question of how is what we should start to talk about. Is that possible to get rid of EPRDF and its million members? Is that possible to take EPRDF down without risking many more lives of younger brothers and sisters? Moreover, is it possible to have an EPRDF free Oromia and Ethiopia without them being part of some process? The answer to all these questions is a no. Those of us who believe in peaceful and non-violent struggle understand that our struggle is to pressure the repressive government to bend to our needs and give an answer to our demands. The Oromo protest is a very successful struggle in that regard. It has changed OPDO, Oromia, and Ethiopia in a way that has never been seen before. It is important to scale up on this success until all demands are fulfilled. But any change that excludes EPRDF will risk falling back to full hands of TPLF’s EPRDF.
EPRDF is the source of the problems not only because EPRDF has military, police and state apparatus, but it has also worked to weaken viable opposition for the last 27 years. But the current fact is that we do not have strong institutions to maintain peace and security and opposition group to replace EPRDF and rule the country. It is sad reality but it is also true. When we criticize the ideology of EPRDF, we should also remember that we currently have an opposition party that has no ideology at all. To be totally honest, most opposition movements have been saved by the success of the public struggle itself. This makes EPRDF an important part of the coming solution. Thanks to Qerroo now at least it looks like some part of EPRDF came out as a willing part of the coalition which wants to be the part of the solution. If we agree the solution is a free and fair election, the only way we can achieve that is if we critically encourage this part of the coalition to take measures that will lead to an election. The composition of EPRDF has changed in the last two years, and we need to capitalize on that to achieve the transition we want. Without recognizing what is changed in EPRDF and the different contributing factors, we cannot give a realistic recommendation for the way forward. If we agree on this, we need to keep the pressure on EPRDF and its current leadership under OPDO, as the same time give the team a chance to deliver. It will be a mistake to see TPLF’s EPRDF and OPDO’s EPRDF the same.
It is a public secret that EPRDF is not recovered from its internal fractions yet and the most military-related power is still in the hands of TPLF. The future of the struggle depends on two factors, the first one is TPLF’s handover of the military and security power and the second one is the establishment of all-inclusive, impartial military and security. Especially, the former can be done if we keep our struggle in a way that takes power away from TPLF not give it back.
We can also contribute at least by recognizing the fact that change of individuals who have good intentions and power can make a positive contribution towards the struggle. It is good that we heard an unequivocal apology from the state for all those who sacrificed for the struggle. It is good that the Oromia regional state is able to appoint its own cabinet without any federal interference; it is good that the progressive group within ANDM gets a promotion in federal cabinet positions; it is good that there are many public promises made. The public hopefulness is not because people get deceived or have special love for the new OPDO led coalition, but because it is not about them. Such strategic decisions are not about EPRDF but the struggle itself. Our decision on what strategy should be used will decide the fate of our people and the more practical it gets the more successful it will be.
The writer of this article lives in Ejeree Oromiyaa- Ethiopia and can be reached by his email address – email@example.com