Wary of a Diasposition Gone Awry by Entehabu Berhe
The dilemma of narrowing and bridging the yawning gap between diaspora opposition (here in after referred to as “diasposition”) politics and the realities on the ground has never been more challenging. It is apparent that diasposition politicians remain cloistered in a reality of their own making, away from the existent and ever changing political dynamics of the horn of Africa. It has been over two decades since the demise of the Dergue, however, the lack of a clearly articulated vision, the deficit of purpose and a sense of urgency in most diasposition political circles has never been more glaring.
Ever since the ascent to power of the EPRDF led government many in the diaspora have been preaching lamentations of a nonexistent reality, collectively hating on a section of our society, a segment they choose to believe is responsible for all perceived afflictions of our country, and have been stubbornly lobbying foreign powers against their countrymen and the government of Ethiopia.
For over two decades opposition politicians have often indiscriminately opposed any policy directions and actions of the ruling party and the government of Ethiopia. Others have simply coat tailed on the agendas of fellow opposition parties or remained passively reactive and tended to depend on the late prime minister Meles’s fumes for their very breath and existence. This type of unhealthy opposition and dependency has now reached a terminal point for two reasons: the lack of common and compelling agendas in many of the reincarnated coalitions and the ensuing changes due to the sudden departure of the late prime minister, Meles Zenawi, from the variables of the Ethiopian political power equation.
In recent times, the reputation of many of the self aggrandizing diasposition leaders has taken a significant hit. Their organizations are spiraling out of control with no clear indication that the leaders are either willing or able to address repeated SOS calls from many current and former members of their organizations; leading some analysts to conclude that a majority of the self proclaimed diasposition leaders are all hat and no cattle. Similar observations have earlier been made by the ruling party and many indigenous political commentators; it has now become evident to many sympathizers and former members of the various diasposition organizations and others that a majority of the diasposition political leaders have failed to inspire the majority of Ethiopians. Some are openly declaring many of the career politicians and leaders have in fact exceeded their best before date and it is time for a change. The relevance of diasposition organizations to Ethiopia’s domestic power politics, when they clearly lack a strong foot hold in the political landscape of the country, and issues of leadership or lack thereof are now being hotly debated and analyzed in diaspora circles and political forums.
Many of the leaders of the domestic legal opposition have now been largely relegated to irrelevance not because of the policy measures of their political rivals, even though that can not be fully discounted, as is often alleged from many quarters including the leaders of such organizations; but mainly due to leadership and organizational shortcomings of the opposition parties themselves. To put it bluntly some of the leaders have simply let the grass grow around them. It seems to me they have failed to cover and tend to the changing Ethiopian political landscape, connect with the people where they live and address their needs. No amount of spin or blaming and shaming the ruling party can change the predicament the opposition parties find themselves in. It is time for an honest reflection and a reality check.
From time to time some leaders of the domestic opposition parties had braved the wrath of the extreme diasposition and candidly tried to bring the disconnected realms of the diaspora politicians and the legal
opposition closer but to no avail. In fact any such attempts were repeatedly rebuffed wholesale. So at
this juncture a significant portion of the diasposition membership have either thrown in the proverbial
towel, “seen the light” or are terribly confounded and disillusioned.
Most diaspora blow hards also seem to be incredibly out of touch. In their usual cynicism and
callousness, the extremists in the diaspora opposition camp continue to abhor pragmatism and
sensibility. In a recent Medrek supporters/opposition members gathering in Seattle, Ato Siye was
publicly mocked simply because he did not stick to the usual script of whole sale condemnation of all
policies, actions and achievements of the government of Ethiopia. At the meeting Ato Siye was
apparently making a case for a measured and deliberate approach to becoming an effective player in the
politics of Ethiopia and on the need for gaining the trust and respect of the Ethiopian public. He had
earlier candidly told opposition media outlets that despite a very public falling out and existing political
differences with the ruling party and the late prime minister Meles Zenawi, the death of his former
comrade in arms can not be a celebratory moment. His comments made him a suspect in the eyes of the
In the Seattle video clip of an opposition event, an animated individual openly ventured if the US State
Department brought Ato Siye to the US and whether they (the US government) are grooming him and
training him on the political arts of statesmanship. He continued to question Ato Siye’s opposition cred
and inquired whether the appeal to moderation was an attempt to look like a “statesman.” It is difficult
to understand what the problem is if, God forbid, any leader of the opposition actually is a statesman or
is striving to become one? Please! The allegations about the involvement of the US government in
shaping the views of opposition politicians, sounds like a conspiracy theory from another era. But
suppose it is true, I fail to see the harm if individuals are afforded opportunities for further learning or
to advance their qualifications? Besides, it is an open secret that many in the diasposition have spent a
significant chunk of their life trying to lobby foreign governments including the US government or
continue to demonstrate in front of the US State Department and the White House whenever they feel
So why do people choose to insult and/or antagonize people left and right and cast stones when they are
living in glass houses?
A former outspoken and prominent member of the diasposition, one of the those who have recently
“seen the light” (his words), has admitted the opposition camp is in shambles. He concluded many
diasposition organizations are either searching for their political soul or standing at the precipice of an
ever expanding internal fault line. Many close observers of diasposition political dynamics have also
reached at similar conclusions. If the diasposition’s recent utterances are any indication it is clear that
all but the circus, without a circus master, remains.
It would all be amusing, if the diasposition circus troupers told us it was all in jest but that sadly is not
the case. So how can the main players of this seemingly horse and pony show continue to pretend it is
all for a worthy cause when their unscrupulous actions and utterances continue to compromise the
interests of our country, the struggle of our people for equality and democracy and the urgent need of
our people in extricating themselves from abject poverty and underdevelopment? This type of
gamesmanship and callousness can’t be allowed to continue unchecked.
The diaspora opposition camp is often represented by people that are known for their rhetorical excess
more than their philosophical, ideological, or intellectual prowess. Responsible leaders need to save the
Ethiopian people from all the grief by reining on the petulant self appointed diasposition spokes people.
The degree of ignorance displayed on the screens of opposition media outlets and the blogosphere is simply astounding. It is not unusual to see extremists that are poised to attack or offend any one that challenges their views or those who dare to ask or beg to differ from them. Some opposition media personalities are notorious for being stiff with poisonous vitriol and aggression. Haters and corrupt politicians should not be allowed to prevail over the power of ideas and sensible approaches to workable solutions.
Behold the power of unrestricted access to people and a microphone. Spot light hogging leaders in the diaspora tend to hang on to their position or the microphone for far too long than is absolutely necessary. Rhetorical hyperboles are never helpful; yet opposition politicians continue to view their speeches as public performances rather than opportunities to effectively communicate their ideas and as a way to connect with the general public or create a positive impression that they can eventually leverage to change their party’s political fortunes.
A friend recently observed that using entertainers as political pitch men was a “tacky idea.” He pointed that “Tamagn and his elk still make a lot of people laugh but probably for different reasons.” The use of silly scenes to lampoon political opponents is not a qualification for high political office. Politicians should rather focus on how their alternative ideas and brilliant agendas can transform Ethiopia and improve the lot of the Ethiopian people. It is not wise to treat political opponents as enemies. It is below the pail to openly disparage those who do not subscribe to the same ideological bent, objectives or organizational principles.
The perpetual silly season is not working; it is time to hit the reset button. Self-destructive actions of self righteous individuals and parties should be reexamined and the leaders need to sober up and show some humility. The Ethiopian people need parties that choose to tackle Ethiopia’s existential challenges including economic and developmental priorities, security concerns, national unity and democratization issues; are willing to work hard to advance our country’s interests and opportunities globally and can deliver tangible and measurable results for the people. Ethiopia needs parties that are able to simultaneously master and competently articulate a coherent vision for the short and long term and execute an agenda that leaves no citizens behind.
Are opposition leaders willing to mend their ways, stay appraised of the current, most pressing and relevant realities of the new Ethiopia? Can they resolve to constructively and loyally contribute to the democratization, development and prosperity of their country of origin?
Some have already started writing political obituaries for many of their former organizations, including a couple of prominent members of the opposition brain trust. Opposition leaders can’t keep serving the same bland and old political entrée to a newly confident and economically resurgent country. The new Ethiopia is getting her groove back, the people are hard at work to realize the renaissance of their country and are hardly in a mood for old style parochial politics. It is time to perform a serious net benefit analysis. If the benefits do not fit, reflect and reevaluate or quit; pretending that is.
Entehabu Berhe, PhD (Can) – is a principal analyst and consultant who specializes in emerging trends, opportunities and options.