Medrek: The way I see it

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Oct 21st, 2012
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by T.Goshu

I had a chance to attend one of the town hall meetings held in the United States of America during the working visit paid by the four higher officials of Medrek . As one of the genuinely concerned Ethiopians in the diaspora ,I tried to closely follow not only the one held in DC as the wrap up of  the working visit but also all other meetings held in other states . Believing that not only expressing one’s observation about the working visit of Medrek’s delegation is the right thing to do but also with sincere conviction that expressing one’s opinion is valuable, I want to reflect my observation and comment as follows:

1) I want to start my comment with the general observation I have about the working visit. I found the organizational aspect of the meetings in general and the one held in DC in particular   commendable. The organizers deserve sincere appreciation for their efforts make the events happened, making the discussion forums interesting and engaging, and doing their best to get the desired messages effectively communicated. Compared to our very poor culture about time concept, the punctuality of the meeting in DC was very encouraging and exemplary.  The organizers, the delegation and all the participants/attendees deserve great appreciation in this respect. I hope we will keep going in this kind of highly desirable direction as far as the importance of the time frame we use to accomplish our desired objectives is concerned. Although I have to be honest that I did not give serious attention to how the moderators in other states managed their meetings, I want to say that the moderator of the meeting in DC, Dr. Kasa Ayalew has shown a very effective and admirable performance in controlling both the speakers timing as well as the conduct and timing of the floor (participants/attendees). Especially, the way he dealt with a couple of distractively emotional young attendees who claimed themselves as a members of” EPRP’S Youth Wing “was remarkably wise and matured. Those youngsters tried to use the forum just to let out their uncontrollable and unproductive outrage instead of forwarding their challenging arguments in a real sense of civility and rationality .They used their question and comment time merely for a kind of emotionally charged personal attack on Ato Seye Abraha . I really appreciate the moderator, the participants and members of the delegation for allowing those “young politicians “ to express their emotions as any other decent and rational participant was allowed to do so.  I do also want to appreciate those young men of’ EPRP’ for calming down themselves and continue attending the meeting attentively throughout the rest of the event. I strongly believe that is the way we learn. I hope those youngsters had a good time to have some sort of positive experience in this regard. As a young boy (student) who used to be a member of the youth wing of EPRP (the Ethiopian People‘s Revolutionary Youth League) and survivor of the “red terror” in the second half of the 1970s, I remember how the ideology of the time (socialism/communism) was easily inflammable which was of course the greatest enemy of rational, critical and accommodative way of thinking.  But, I do not think having that kind of state of mind after about forty years make any sense let alone serve the desirable purpose which we want to stand for at this time of critical moment. Do not get me wrong that I am intended to blame one party and to praise the other. What I am trying to say is that the political culture of repeating the same horrible mistakes which have been made by us, not anybody else throughout our political history will never take us to the direction we want to move.

2) Ato Gebru Asrat discussed how Medrek evolved, what it is trying to accomplish, how it is trying to deal with the huge and even dangerous challenges posed by the tyrant ruling circle and what is to be done to move forward.   I found his approach reasonably brief, precise and logically sounding. The recent measure taken by Medrek to strengthen its efforts by stepping up itself from a kind of loose cooperation (coalition) to a much more strong coalition (front) is very encouraging. The reasons for the positivity of this move are enumerated in the discussion paper of Ato Gebiru Asrat and they are so convincing. I sincerely believe that having a political program which makes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country intact under a democratic system is the greatest achievement of Medrek.  Ato Gebiru Asrat has made clear both in his presentation and discussion period that Medrek is working on some differences on some policy issues such as the question of land ownership and factors to be considered in the case of structuring the federal system. I am optimistic that these issues will be resolved either at the political party (Medrek and all other stake holders) level if not with a kind of referendum under a genuine democratic political environment.   I am aware that some skeptics of fellow Ethiopians may argue that as these kinds of moves were not uncommon in the political activities of opposition groups, this move by Medrek is not different. Well, this argument cannot be dismissed out rightly. However, it is equally so wrong to argue that things once or otherwise went wrong or did not work in the past are doomed to fail forever. I strongly believe that our failures whether serious or not should be the sources of revisiting them, learn from them and move forward with successes. This political reality is something to be taken seriously under any normal political circumstance let alone in an extremely complex and challenging political environment going on in our country. For that matter, as all the members of the delegation emphasized, there is no way to change the challenges and failures into opportunities and successes without persistent, meaningful, highly concerted efforts by all concerned Ethiopians. Are we really and satisfactorily committed to pulling all our political, material, financial and human resources together and put legitimate pressure on opposition forces such as Medrek?   If we are honest enough with ourselves, the response to this critical question is not positively encouraging. I wish it could be otherwise. But that is what it is. To my observation and understanding, the central message from all members of the delegation is that what they desperately asking is not for providing with a kind of passive support; but constructive, critical, responsible and qualified support. And that is what the whole purpose of getting things done as far as the critical moment we found ourselves is concerned. And that is the way I see it!

3) Dr.Merara Gudina spoke about the major challenges Ethiopians as politicians who had political power in the  past  and present ; or as political groups of either pro-government or opposition forces; or as the  people in general have faced throughout our political history. These challenges which of course are still lingering with their very serious consequences in the process of our struggle for the realization of genuine democratic society, the prevalence of justice and respect for fundamental human rights are: A) The political culture of positioning ourselves with extremely non-compromising stands instead of listening each other’s views and solving common problems with a real sense of mutual understanding. Dr. Merara is absolutely right when he argues that this kind of very damaging political culture has cost   generation after generation unnecessary sacrifices; and we unfortunately are not willing and able to minimize if not to get out of this ugly part of our political culture yet. B) The second problem is of course the direct consequence of the first. The unwillingness and inability to pull all the necessary resources together through various ways of cooperation and coordination such as movements, forums, coalitions, fronts, alliances and etc. in a sustained and forward-looking manner has been and still is one of the major obstacles to carry out a relatively effective struggle for the betterment of our country and her people.   Yes, it is powerfully true when Dr,Merara said that most of the attempts in this regard have faced terrible disintegration before  taking off the ground.  C) The problem of implementing policies, programs, and all other necessary tasks because of very acute shortcomings of resources is another serious challenge. I do not think anyone with his or her rational mind can challenge this self-evident and unfortunate part of our political culture. I want to go here to the extent of arguing that we as a people who aspire to live a very decent lives with a real sense of human dignity are not yet willing and able to pay minimum sacrifices such as attending the public meetings organized by opposition groups both in quantitative and qualitative terms; publicly endorsing all the legitimate demands being made by the opposition forces and try to put the necessary pressure on the ruling circle in a peaceful but critical fashion; extending the support we can afford; and above all getting ready to say enough is enough to the very dirty political game being played by the highly hypocritical and dysfunctional ruling elite  are not yet meaningful enough. I do not think these elements of the struggle are to be feared unless we allow all the unnecessary fears control our state of mind and consequently let the tyrannical regime continue its horrible agenda and practice. D) The inadequate if not absence of clearly defined and well-coordinated division of labor particularly between the forces back home and the diaspora has its own substantial contribution to the problem of moving the struggle at an acceptable  pace . E) The tendency of unnecessarily stretching our debates on the question of peaceful or armed struggle, and devoting our time and energy to these endless debates is another serious challenge to be taken seriously. Yes, as Dr. Merara argues, this unnecessarily invited “tag of war “has a lot to do with our poor political culture which continues costing us unnecessary sacrifice.  It has benefited and continues benefiting the ruling party to perpetuate its dirty political game.  I do not think Dr,Merara is intended to say that there is no need to express our views on those methods of political struggle when he talks about the need to work hard  to face this harmful political culture of ours . I think what is to be noted here is that whenever we engage ourselves in a dialogue in certain political agenda and the question of how to make it practical, it is absolutely necessary to make it in such a way that it advances our common causes. The political mentality of” I am perfectly right but you are deadly wrong” is absolutely undesirable and consequently damaging. F) The last but I strongly believe the worst challenge is the political culture of being victims and captives of the political mess we have come across in our political history. I say ‘we “because especially those of us who have been involved in any political activity in the past have contributed  in one way or another to the politics of “my way not your way” which of course resulted in a regrettable tragedy. I am not saying that those who were or are in a political power and even those various political groups have made the same degree of mistakes and should be equally responsible and accountable. What I am trying to say here is that unless we focus on what is critically important right now and deal with the question of how to treat our terrible mistakes made during our past political experiences in a political and legal environment characterized by the existence of genuine democracy, justice, and the spirit of tolerance and forgiveness, there is no way to get out of the very ugly political vicious circle we found ourselves.

4) With respect to the socio-economic situation in our country, Ato Temsgen Zwude has discussed about the fallacy of the so-called agricultural-led industrialization economic policy of the ruling circle. As clearly stated by ato Temesgen  ,   it is powerfully self-evident that  this policy by “ a developmental state “has nothing to do with millions of Ethiopians who cannot afford to meet things necessary for their survival leave alone to live reasonably decent lives. Yes, I do not think that we need to go far in search of evidences about the unprecedented level of impoverishment in our country mainly because of a very ill-guided policy which is of course the function of evil-guided political agenda being carried out by a bunch of tyrannical ruling elites. There is no doubt that the lad which is the most critical resource of the people is owned by the ruling party in the name of public and state ownership. Yes, I strongly agree with Ato Temesgen that besides making the rural land of the country a very good source of income for the ruling elites and their parasitic cronies, it is used as a political weapon by making eighty-five percent of the population political hostage. As one of genuinely concerned Ethiopians whose families and relatives are parts of that population, the horrible consequences of this highly politicized land policy is not only a matter of reading facts but a matter of deeply felt personal experience.

I do not think that any genuinely concerned Ethiopian is unfamiliar with or not aware of the economy of the ruling political party monopoly which of course goes back to the very history of its inception. Is it for the sake of the benefit of the peasantry that the” developmental state “or the inner circle of the ruling party engages itself in the business of selling fertilizers? Is it really for the sake of the benefits of the people that the regime created the so-called “Commodity Exchange “by recruiting the people who volunteer to do any dirty job as long as they get good deal to satisfy their voracious self-interest? The list of very deceptive and corrupt practices is very long.

It is very ridiculously senseless to use a double-digit growth of percentage for the last several years while the Ethiopian people were and are struggling for mere survival. It has been very disturbing to listen to the late PM., Ato Mels Zenawi trying to convince (rather disingenuously deceiving) that the cause of abject poverty (shortage of basic necessities) was due to the high demand as the result of unprecedented economic growth. Even if the recent report by the WB shows that the growth rate for next year will not be more than 6.5%, the ruling party continues singing the same senseless song.

As if doing certain developmental projects and institutions such as roads, hydroelectric powers, schools, clinics /health centers, and other social service facilities is not the very functions and duties of a government, the ruling elites and their parasitic cadres try to tell us that all those things have been done because of the exceptional nature and magnanimity of the TPLF/EPRDF. Well, what is totally senseless is when the inner ruling circle and its cronies tell us that our demand for democratic freedom and respect for fundamental human rights/dignity is a kind of luxury. This is absolutely nonsense even to the people who live decent lives let alone to the people of Ethiopia who struggle for mere survival.

Adding salt to injury, the tyrannical ruling party is selling a very large size and fertile lands of the country for nominal lease by evicting the indigenous people without any guarantee for their survival. As if we are ignorant about the very interest of transnational corporations, the ruling party tells us that the craziness of those corporations about grabbing our fertile lands with a very cheap price (all most free) is a great investment for the betterment of the people. Is this not a very serious insult to the intelligence of the Ethiopian people?  Absolutely it is!  Arguments and other explanations raised by Ato Temesgen Zewde during his presentation and the discussion period were very powerful messages. And that is the way I see it.

5. When we come to Ato Seye’s part, things seemed very bumpy not because he was or is incompetent to deliver his views clearly and convincingly; but because of his position and role before his dissension from TPLF. Some fellow Ethiopians especially in the diaspora have been not only skeptical but also arguably against his decision to join the opposition camp and later UDJ. Some radio show hosts have played a significant part by taking the case of Ato Seye to an extreme line of thinking  that went to the extent of personal attack instead of helping the people to see things in a rational, constructively critical, and above all in a forward-looking manner. I am not saying people should not be given the benefit of the doubt and express their dissension about the political decision taken by Ato Seye Abraha. What I am trying to say is that the way they have done and still keep it doing has not been done in a kind of argument that could help the struggle for the democratic change going in our country. I want to say here that I am one of the people who argue that any politician who claims himself or herself as a fighter for democratic rights should be rationally and constructively engaged let alone a politician who dissented from a tyrannical regime like Ato Seye Abraha.

This said; let me say few points of mine about Ato Seye’s deliberation during the working visit of the delegation. Let me say first that I was one of the genuinely concerned fellow Ethiopians who raised their eye brows on Ato Seye’s speech and discussion in Seattle, Washington. Why?  a) His comment about the people who expressed their feelings very different from his own feeling about the death of the former PM.,Ato Meles Zenawi was unnecessarily stretched. I have to make clear myself here that I do not believe that politicians who ruled their own innocent people with a horrible political machine deserve a shocking sadness at all. I am a firm believer that it is a good thing to see those evil-minded politicians gone before they cause many more devastating damages to the country and her innocent people. And I strongly believe that this has nothing to do with a real sense of Ethiopian culture or norm, morality or immorality, being ethical or unethical, being sinful or blessed. If somebody tries to tell me that I should shed my tears for a politician who dehumanized, intimidated/mistreated, jailed, tortured, and killed his own innocent people, I strongly dissent. If someone tries to tell me that those innocent compatriots who have been victims of  a tyrannical regime have nothing to with the deadly wrong doing of the late Ato Meles , I strongly argue that is a serious insult not only to those who have been direct victims but also to the people of Ethiopia in general. b) The second reason for raising my eye brows was Ato Seye’s unqualified type of remark about the need to continue the economic development and the prevalence of peace brought about by the ruling party. Were these remarks by Ato Seye adequate enough to justify the political untrustworthiness of Ato Seye? I strongly say not at all! Did they have some sort of contribution to our political culture of emotional and very shallow judgment? I say yes they did!

Then, what happened next?  I was waiting for the meeting in DC eagerly to witness how Ato Seye would deliver his speech and respond to questions including those couple of comments mentioned above. Before going to my impression about the content of his speech ,I want to  express my admiration for a very matured , wise  and above all exemplary tolerance  Ato Seye has shown  and the way he responded  to not only  very emotionally charged accusations  but also rages that went to the extent of ridiculous kind of personal attack by those youngsters (mentioned earlier ) and one elderly women. If we allow ourselves to be open-minded, there was a lot to learn from this kind of experience. That is the way I see it!

When it comes to the content of his deliberation (the speech and discussion), I want to say that I observed that Ato Seye did go to his subject matter without wasting time talking about the death of Ato Meles and how /why people expressed their feeling in very different ways as he did in Seattle, and I believe that was a very interesting approach. It was a good thing to listen to him commenting about the remark on” development and peace “he made in Seattle in a much more qualified or explained fashion. He reiterated that he was not endorsing the dictatorial ruling party as an agent for development and peace in a real sense of good governance .He did say that as it is undeniable that some important infrastructural developments such as hydro-electric dams, roads, educational institutions, heath institutions and the like have been achieved, there is a need to build up on these together with the struggle to bring about a genuine democratic society in our country.  And I think this is a strong and legitimate argument.

With regard to the political arena after Ato Meles, he has effectively communicated his perspective. He surely argues that the political game in our country will never be the same as it was under the late PM.Ato Meles Zenawi who was of course a very tough “KEY RING” of the dictatorial ruling party. He forwarded the necessary political steps to be taken by the new PM.,Ato Hailemariam Desaledge if the country should get out of the dirty political game being played by the ruling party, and move forward with a real sense of bribing about the change the people of Ethiopia are desperately aspiring.

Let me conclude my commentary by saying that the way I see the efforts being made by Medrek is reasonably and cautiously encouraging .Given the very hostile political environment in our country because of the ruthless behavior and action of the ruling circle, the backward political culture we are still dealing with, the lack of coordinated and effective resource support, the unbelievable level of fear we are experiencing, the very worrisome low level of participation from this young generation in general and  students in particular  and all other challenges; I think Medrek  is a relatively strong political opposition force that can have a credible pressure on the  ruling party. However, I have no any illusion that the very serious and complex political hurdle we are facing can be challenged and overcome by the efforts of some opposition political   groupings let alone by one party or coalition of parties. I think that is why there is a very pressing need to work hard to bring all the stake holders who are genuinely concerned about the efforts being made by the ruling party to continue its dangerous political agenda and practice. And from all my observation I have tried to outline, I want to believe that Medrek is moving in the right direction although the pace is slow and the strength is not as it should be. Who should help out Medrek to make its pace faster and its strength more reliable?  It is we and only we as a people who desperately need a democratic political system, a socio-economic development and shared prosperity. That is how I see it!

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